Billionaire investors George Soros and Louis Moore Bacon cut their stakes in exchange-traded products backed by gold last quarter as futures dropped the most in more than eight years. John Paulson maintained his holding.

Soros Fund Management LLC reduced its investment in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest fund backed by the metal, by 55 percent to 600,000 shares as of Dec. 31 from three months earlier, a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing showed yesterday. Bacon’s Moore Capital Management LP sold its entire stake in the SPDR fund and lowered holdings in the Sprott Physical Gold Trust. Paulson & Co., the largest investor in SPDR, kept its stake at 21.8 million shares.

The fourth-quarter decisions by Soros and Bacon may bolster speculation that gold’s 12-year bull-run is coming to an end as economic data from the U.S. to China show signs of recovery, curbing haven demand. Global ETP holdings have lost 0.9 percent since reaching a record on Dec. 20. UBS AG reduced its one-month price target yesterday by 6.8 percent, saying economic optimism “takes the shine off defensive assets,” including bullion. Gold futures fell to a five-month low today.

“The reduction in holdings by George Soros may unnerve the market a little bit,” said Nick Trevethan, a senior commodities strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. “The market may also be watching Paulson, and those are steady.”

Gold futures for April delivery fell as much as 1.4 percent to $1,613 an ounce on the Comex, the lowest since Aug. 20, and was at $1,613.30 at 9 a.m. in New York. The most-active contract, which has lost 3.7 percent this year, declined 5.5 percent in the final three months of 2012, the biggest quarterly decline since June 2004.

‘Downside Risks’

Hedge funds have cut bets on a gold rally by 56 percent since reaching a 13-month high in October as manufacturing rebounded from the U.S. to China. It’s increasingly probable that prices peaked in 2011 and so-called downside risks are building as the world expands, Tom Kendall, an analyst at Credit Suisse Group AG in London, said in a report e-mailed Feb. 1. Futures rallied to $1,923.70 on Sept. 6, 2011.

Growth will accelerate in the U.S. and China, the two largest economies, in the coming quarters, according to more than 100 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. In the U.S., claims for jobless benefits dropped 27,000 to 341,000 in the week to Feb. 9, fewer than any of the 49 economists surveyed by Bloomberg projected, the Labor Department said yesterday.

Lone Pine Capital LLC, the hedge fund run by Stephen Mandel Jr., and Scout Capital Management LLC sold their entire stakes in the SPDR Gold Trust in the quarter, filings showed.

‘Looking Better’