INTERVIEW-China gold demand to stay firm at 900-1,000 T in 2017 -WGC

SINGAPORE, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Demand for gold from top consumer China will remain strong at around 900-1,000 tonnes next year, near 2015 levels, although a weaker appetite for jewelry and slowing economy could curb purchases, an official of the World Gold Council said.

Continued firm demand from China should help underpin global benchmark gold prices that have come off two-year highs as expectations of a U.S. interest rate hike by year-end strengthened the dollar. But the precious metal remains up 18 percent for 2016, following a three-year decline.

"We believe we may keep a certain level of about 900-1,000 tonnes of annual consumption (in 2017), but it may face some challenges especially on the jewelry side and also it depends on the price and China's own economic situation," Roland Wang, managing director for China at the World Gold Council, told Reuters on the fringes of an industry conference in Singapore.

He also expects demand in 2016 to be at around 900-1,000 tonnes. China's gold demand reached 984.5 tonnes in 2015.

This year, strong investment demand has countered a drop in jewelry purchases, particularly among leading consumers China and India, taking global gold demand to the second highest on record in the first half, at 2,335 tonnes.

Wang said jewelry traders were seeing "more demand for gold bars since late September" with investors seeking alternate investment options amid China's housing market curbs.

China is restricting home purchases to temper surging prices. A wave of restrictions imposed on housing markets in major cities has unnerved some buyers and developers, cutting the area of new homes sold in places such as Beijing and Shenzhen by more than half during the week-long National Day holiday in early October.

A weaker yuan is also pushing investors to gold, Wang said.

But some jewelry manufacturers are looking at producing more innovative and "more colorful" products in a bid to draw in younger buyers and boost sales, said Wang.

"That's becoming a new trend in the market," he added.

(Reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr.; Editing by Himani Sarkar)