The Hong Kong gold market rose on the first trading day of the Year of the Rat on Wednesday, rising to its best lunar year debut since 2016, as investors flocked to the safe haven asset amid concerns over the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. The gold market closed at HK$14,535 (US$1,871) a tael, or 37.9 grams, an increase of HK$125 or 0.9 per cent over its close on Friday, the last trading day of the Year of the Pig. It opened at HK$14,438 a tael on Wednesday before rising to HK$14,525 at one point. “It is always the case – whenever the stock market is volatile, it is a good time to buy gold, as investors like to bet on gold as a safe haven,” said veteran gold trader Jasper Lo. The benchmark Hang Seng Index closed at 27160.63 on Wednesday, down 2.8 per cent, or 789.01 points, for its worst lunar year trading start since 2016, the Year of the Monkey, when it plunged 3.8 per cent on debut. The Wuhan outbreak has contributed to a sell-off in retail, airline and financial stocks. The Hong Kong gold market started the last lunar year, the Year of the Pig, 0.7 per cent down before rising by 17 per cent for the whole year. Hang Seng in worst Lunar New Year debut since 2016 amid virus scare Not surprisingly, its recent best performance coincided with the Hang Seng’s worst – it started the Year of the Monkey in 2016 5.9 per cent up, before rising another 8 per cent for the whole year. “The Year of the Rat will continue to be a strong year for gold, as there are a lot of political uncertainties worldwide,” Haywood Cheung, president of the Chinese Gold and Silver Exchange Society, said in an interview. “The US will have presidential elections this year, while Britain will leave the European Union. The Middle East also has some tensions. These factors will all help to boost the gold price. I believe the local gold could go up to HK$17,000 a tael, rising another 18 per cent this year,” he said. China coronavirus sends health care stocks soaring as airlines tumble The gold exchange held an opening ceremony on Wednesday to mark the start of the lunar new year, which was not open to the public or media because of the Wuhan outbreak. “The gold exchange has held the opening ceremony since its set up in 1910. The only time we suspended this tradition was during 1941 to 1945, during the Second world war. It is important for the local gold market to keep on trading, as a leading gold exchange in Asia,” Cheung said. The local gold exchange is the only market in Hong Kong to still use a traditional method where traders gather to yell out prices and use hand gestures to make trades. The Year of Rat comes first among the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. The 12 animals – rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig – represent a cycle of 12 years.