After shunning gold and wheat for most of last year, hedge fund managers are piling back in as the escalating crisis in Ukraine spurs a rebound in the prices of both commodities.

Speculators have the biggest bet on a gold rally since December 2012 and turned bullish on wheat for the first time since November, government data show. Bullion last week reached a six-month high and wheat entered a bull market as Crimea prepared for a referendum. Almost 97 percent of voters in the Black Sea peninsula yesterday backed leaving Ukraine to join Russia, the head of the election commission, Mikhail Malyshev, told reporters. The results exclude one city, Sevastopol.

Global equities erased this year’s gains last week as the turmoil in Ukraine escalated and the U.S. and the European Union discussed sanctions against Russia, poised to be this season’s fifth-biggest wheat exporter. Investors who rejected gold in 2013 are now buying the metal at the fastest pace since 2007, surprising bearish forecasters including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Investors also bought more coffee, sugar and corn.

“We have already seen higher prices for gold because of safe-haven bids, and I expect to see more tensions unfolding if sanctions are imposed,” said Ryan Larson, the Chicago-based head of U.S. equity trading at RBC Global Asset Management (U.S.) Inc., which oversees $290 billion. “The region is a big supplier of wheat, so any disruption is price supportive.”

Gold Rally

Gold futures in New York climbed 3 percent last week to $1,379 an ounce, and wheat jumped 5.1 percent in Chicago. The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Spot Index of 24 raw materials fell 1.4 percent, as energy and copper prices retreated. The MSCI All- Country World index of equities dropped 2.4 percent, while the Bloomberg Dollar Index, a gauge against 10 major trading partners, slid 0.3 percent. The Bloomberg Treasury Bond Index gained 0.7 percent.

The net-bullish position in gold rose 4 percent to 123,007 futures and options in the week ended March 11, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Short holdings fell 20 percent to 21,073, the lowest since October. In wheat, investors had a net-long holding of 10,515 contracts, compared with a net- short bet of 6,040 a week earlier. Gold futures climbed to $1,392.60 on the Comex today, the highest since Sept. 9, before trading little changed at $1,379.40.

This year’s 15 percent gold rally came amid signs of weakening U.S. economic growth and Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. The Ukrainian government, the European Union and the U.S. all consider yesterday’s referendum in Crimea as illegal.

Holdings in exchange-traded funds backed by bullion climbed for three weeks, and hedge funds’ bullish bets more than tripled since December, on pace for the biggest quarterly gain since September 2007.

Wheat Shipments