PRECIOUS-Gold hovers below $1,660/oz; eyes on ECB
* Asia's physical demand slows as prices stagnate
* Spot gold may retrace to $1,642.14/oz - technicals
* Coming up: ECB rate decision, 1245 GMT
(Adds details, comments; updates prices) SINGAPORE, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Gold was little changed on Thursday, with investors eying a key resistance level just above $1,660 an ounce and awaiting a rate decision by the European Central Bank at its policy meeting later in the day. The ECB is expected to hold interest rates unchanged, but economists have mixed views on the chances of a rate cut in the next few months due to a murky economic outlook.
Central banks' monetary stimulus was a key driver behind gold's twelfth year of annual gains in 2012, as investors concerned about the side effects of rampant cash printing fled to bullion to hedge against inflation. Gold has been moving in a narrow range of about $25 this week, with the upside capped by signs that the United States might end its easy money policy. Physical buying in Asia has helped support prices above $1,640 an ounce. Gold dropped to a more than four-month low below $1,630 an ounce last week after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's last meeting showed officials were concerned about the side effects of its bond buying programme. "The market got a little concerned about how aggressive the Fed will be," said Jeremy Friesen, commodity strategist at Societe Generale in Hong Kong, adding that the market is expected to rebound. SocGen expected gold to average $1,700 an ounce in the first quarter of the year, as well as in 2013. Spot gold was little changed at $1,656.44 an ounce by 0307 GMT, below the key resistance of the 200-day moving average at $1.661.05. U.S. gold traded nearly flat at $1,656.50 an ounce. Technical analysis suggested that spot gold could retrace to $1,642.14 an ounce during the day, said Reuters market analyst Wang Tao.
The dollar index inched higher, on course for its third day of gains. A stronger greenback makes dollar-priced commodities less affordable for buyers holding other currencies.
ASIA PHYSICAL BUYING SLOWING DOWN Robust purchases on the physical bullion market in Asia were showing signs of slowing down, after prices settled in a range, dealers said. "Prices have been at the current level for a week or so, and we will see some slowdown in physical buying, unless prices go down to $1,640 or $1,650," said a Singapore-based trader. In other metals, spot platinum inched up 0.2 percent to $1,594.25 an ounce, just off a three-week high of $1,599 hit in the previous session. Spot palladium rose 0.4 percent to $685.99.
Precious metals prices 0307 GMT
Metal Last Change Pct chg YTD pct chg Volume Spot Gold 1656.44 -0.85 -0.05 -1.08 Spot Silver 30.34 0.01 +0.03 0.20 Spot Platinum 1594.25 3.25 +0.20 3.86 Spot Palladium 685.99 2.89 +0.42 -0.87 COMEX GOLD FEB3 1656.50 1.00 +0.06 -1.15 5874 COMEX SILVER MAR3 30.36 0.11 +0.37 0.43 2538 Euro/Dollar 1.3046 Dollar/Yen 88.07
COMEX gold and silver contracts show the most active months
(Editing by Tom Hogue)