A wave of technical buying sent New York silver prices sharply higher Thursday. The active March 1992 futures contract rose more than 21 cents an ounce to $4.375, its best mark since early October 1991.

Analysts said higher prices were generated by a wave of stop-loss buying triggered above $4.30 an ounce. Traders can affect the market when they program large buy or sell orders at a specific price, as in Thursday's market, analysts said.Aggressive buying from commodity funds also lifted prices and sent Commodity Exchange Inc. silver futures through key technical points. The price of March 1991 silver late Thursday was $4.36 1/2, up 20 1/2 cents.

Analysts noted that the combination of commodity fund and trade buying at these levels also was attracting steady speculative activity.

Fundamentally, ongoing perceptions that the U.S. economy is beginning to recover encouraged renewed speculative buying, analysts said.

Underlying the move was a sense that the U.S. economy is recovering, which should result in increased demand for industrial metals like silver, platinum and copper, analysts said. They noted the economy is dictating trends in the markets, rather than political currents and trends that may have influenced the markets in the past.

"There's a lot of hot money going into silver," Bernard Savaiko, senior metals analyst at PaineWebber Inc. said. "The specs are getting excited."

Comex Feb gold, meanwhile, held early gains, as did New York Mercantile Exchange April platinum, as market players focused on silver. Late gold prices reached $358.70 an ounce, a $4 gain on the day while platinum extended its

gains to $6 at $342.90 an ounce.

Other factors in the precious metals markets on Thursday included chronic energy shortages in Peru that threatens to close the large Centromin mining facility. Although the 70,000 metric-ton-a-year La Oraya copper smelter would be most affected, reductions in by-product smelting are possible, analysts said.

William O'Neill, senior futures strategist at Merrill Lynch, said the slightly lower dollar was lending some support to the market. He said there was little influence from the 0.3 percent increase in the December consumer price index, which was broadly in line with expectations.

Precious metal prices in Asia also jumped to match sharp gains in New York silver on Wednesday.

Tokyo Commodity Exchange metals gained early Thursday, as traders adjusted their prices to reflect the strong closings in New York on Wednesday. Dealers said it is likely Japanese metal prices will take another step higher Friday when traders react to the sharp gains in New York on Thursday.

Japanese metal markets usually take their cue from the New York and London markets, which are closed when Japan trades, analysts said.

"When gold and platinum were plunging at the end of last year, of course, some people couldn't resist selling silver short, too," said a trader at a large Japanese brokerage. "When the other metals recovered, they may have felt they had to hurry up and cover those shorts, but in such a thin market, it's easy to see big price moves on any activity."