NEW YORK (Dow Jones/AP) – Fund buying enabled the New York precious-metals to close sharply higher Thursday, with gold hitting its strongest level in a quarter century.

Traders cited generally strong sentiment and chart-based momentum in gold and silver, with stronger crude oil and recent dollar weakness also playing a role.

The most-active June gold contract settled up $7.20 to $599.70 an ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It peaked at $601.90 overnight, the first time such gold futures have been over $600 since early 1981.

The nearby April contract settled up $7.30 to $595.20 an ounce. This remained below the psychological $600 level, however, peaking at $595.60.

Meanwhile, the most-active May silver futures settled up 34 cents an ounce at $12.045 an ounce and peaked overnight at $12.08 an ounce. This was the loftiest price for this metal since 1983.

“It was continued fund buying,” said Dave Meger, senior metals analyst with Alaron Trading.

Silver has also been boosted lately by a pending silver ETF. The Securities and Exchange Commission has approved listing a Barclays Global Investors silver ETF on the American Exchange, but a registration statement is still pending. After Thursday’s close, an SEC representative said this was “not yet effective.”

July platinum settled up $16.20 at $1,096.80 an ounce.

June palladium settled up $15.40 at $358.05 an ounce.

The most-active May copper contract settled up 5.05 cents at $2.6465 per pound.

May crude oil futures settled up 87 cents at $67.94 a barrel.

May heating oil settled up 2.19 cents at $1.8907 a gallon.

May gasoline settled up 5.28 cents at $1.9999 a gallon.

May natural gas fell 9.7 cents to settle at $6.972 a million British thermal units.

On the New York Board of Trade, May Arabica coffee settled 0.8 cent higher at $1.0885 a pound.

The most active May cocoa contract settled down $7 at $1,496 per metric ton.

The May contract for raw sugar in foreign ports settled 0.07 cent lower at 17.77 cents a pound.

On the Chicago Board of Trade, May corn rose 3.5 cents at $2.3950 per bushel. May soybeans rose 2.5 cents higher at $5.64. May wheat ended up 4.25 cents at $3.47 per bushel.

AP-ES-04-06-06 1736EDT