Gold Prices Plummet as Fed Considers End to Stimulus (Update 1)

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Updated from 1:17 p.m. EST with settlement prices

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Gold prices plummeted Friday, a day after the Federal Reserve released minutes that reported mixed sentiment among Fed members about the central bank's extremely loose monetary policy. Gold dropped 0.85% on Thursday .

Gold for February delivery plunged $25.70, or 1.5%, to settle at $1648.90 an ounce at the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange. The gold price traded as high as $1,664.50 and as low as $1,626 an ounce, while the spot price was sinking $11.90, according to Kitco's gold index.

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"A market that has been so badly hooked on a single drug (QE-ludes?) will have a problem when the pusher even remotely signals that supplies may be drying up," Jon Nadler, senior analyst at Kitco, wrote in a note on Friday.

Silver prices for March delivery shed 77 cents, to $29.24 an ounce, while the U.S. dollar index was climbing 0.07% to $80.57.

The Federal Open Market Committee -- the Fed's policy-making wing -- said Thursday that there were potential risks to financial stability over a disorderly finish to the fiscal cliff, impending disagreements about raising the debt ceiling and possible deterioration of conditions in Europe.

Major U.S. equity markets and gold prices sank immediately after the Fed minutes revealed that members expressed mixed opinions as to how much longer the open-ended mortgage-backed securities purchases and longer-term Treasury bond purchases should last.

"A few" of the members said ongoing stimulus would be warranted until the end of 2013, according to the minutes, while "several" others thought it would probably be appropriate to slow or end the programs "well before" the end of this year. Still, others said there was a need to continue considerable policy accommodation.

Simply, analysts and gold investors generally view the quantitative easing measures implemented by the Fed as inflationary policy, which makes gold a safe-haven asset to defend against inflation.

Gold prices have soared since the Fed and the U.S. government began massive stimulus packages meant to prop up the tumbling economy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Gold prices came off their lows Friday after an announcement the unemployment rate ticked higher to 7.8% in December from the previous month's 7.7%. The Fed stated last month that it would keep interest rates near zero until unemployment reached 6.5%, and with the rate moving further from that target it likely gave investors some hope that it would give the central bank some incentive to maintain its current policies.

The Fed's minutes did not signal any unity among members for a specific expiration date of easing and low interest rates, and these measures almost certainly won't end in the near term.