(Bloomberg News) Gold traders and analysts are the most bullish in at least seven years as investors accumulate metal at the fastest pace since August to protect their wealth from a widening European debt crisis.

Twenty-one of 22 surveyed by Bloomberg expect bullion to rise on the Comex in New York next week, the third consecutive increase and the highest proportion in data going back to April 2004. Holdings in exchange-traded products backed by gold rose 27.5 metric tons this week, within 1 percent of the record set almost three months ago, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Gold exceeded $1,800 an ounce for the first time in seven weeks on Nov. 8 and hedge funds are holding their biggest bet on higher prices since mid-September, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. The metal is rebounding after tumbling as much as 20 percent in three weeks in September on demand for what are perceived as the safest assets. Almost $9 trillion was wiped off the value of global equities since May and yields on Italian and Greek bonds rose to euro-era records this week.

"Throughout history gold has protected people from the sort of turmoil that we're seeing," said Mark O'Byrne, the Dublin-based executive director of GoldCore Ltd., a brokerage that sells everything from quarter-ounce British Sovereigns to 400-ounce bars. It's "an important thing to own when there is this sort of volatility in stock markets and concern about currency devaluations."

Gold climbed 24 percent to $1,768.50 this year, heading for an 11th consecutive annual advance. It's the third-best performer behind gas oil and heating oil in the Standard & Poor's GSCI Index of 24 commodities, which rose 4.9 percent. The MSCI All-Country World Index of equities retreated 8.5 percent and Treasuries returned 8.6 percent, according to a Bank of America Corp. index.

The gold survey has forecast prices accurately in 223 of 387 weeks, or 58 percent of the time.

While gold is benefiting from mounting investor concern that European nations will default on their debt, other commodities may drop because slower growth will curb demand for raw materials. Traders expect copper, raw sugar and soybeans to decline next week and are equally divided on corn, separate Bloomberg surveys showed.

The 27.5 tons of gold added to ETPs this week is the most since Aug. 19 and investors bought 40.9 tons this month, the most since July. Combined holdings of 2,312.1 tons are now valued at $131.5 billion and exceed the reserves of all but four central banks, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The record of 2,330 tons was set Aug. 18.

All-Time High

Money managers raised their combined net-long position in U.S. futures and options by 6.8 percent to 148,279 contracts in the week ended Nov. 1, CFTC data show. Wagers were a record 253,653 contracts in August, a month before prices climbed to an all-time high of $1,923.70.