PRECIOUS-Gold down 1 pct on day, posts 5th straight monthly drop
* Gold lost 5 pct in February, down for fifth straight month
* SPDR Gold Trust on course for sharp monthly outflow
* Lack of Fed stimulus surprise, U.S. budget cuts weigh
* Coming up: US personal income, consumer confidence Friday
(New throughout, updates prices and market activity, changes byline, dateline, previous LONDON) NEW YORK, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Gold fell more than 1 percent on Thursday, as gains in U.S. equities and economic optimism sapped safe-haven demand for the precious metal, which ended February with its fifth straight monthly drop, the longest string of monthly declines since 1996. Bullion fell sharply for a second day, after U.S. data showed the economy grew slightly in the fourth quarter while new claims for unemployment dropped last week. Signs of an improving U.S. economy have sent the Dow Jones industrials and the S&P 500 stock index within striking distance of record highs. Gold fell 5 percent in February and bullion holdings in gold-backed exchange traded funds posted sharp monthly losses. "Investors are reassessing where they have their money allocated at, and they are now focusing on the equity markets which have been holding up very firm," said Phillip Streible, senior commodities trader at futures brokerage RJ O'Brien. Spot gold fell 1.1 percent to $1,578.86 per ounce by 3:18 PM ( 2018 GMT). U.S. gold futures for April delivery settled down $17.60 to $1,578.10, with trading volume about 5 percent above their 250-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed. Earlier this week, gold lost some appeal as an inflation hedge when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke did not strongly advocate new stimulus measures in testimony before Congress, and investors worried that deep U.S. spending cuts could actually lead to deflation. It is unlikely that Congress will act to stop the $85 billion in across-the-board cuts, due to start Friday, that were mandated by a 2011 deficit reduction law.
GOLD ETF HOLDING DROPS AGAIN Reflecting the negative sentiment among fund investors, an exodus from the SPDR Gold Trust, the world's biggest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, continued for a seventh consecutive session, marking the longest outflow in the fund's history. "What we are seeing just now is a lack of love from investors towards gold," Credit Suisse commodity analyst Karim Cherif said. "Why would you be in a market that doesn't pay any dividends and yield, and is most likely to underperform in an environment where economic indicators are seen improving?" Cherif said. Bullion has struggled so far this year after 12 years of rising prices as signs of improving economic conditions in China and the United States. Stabilization in much of Europe have also lured investors away from safe-haven assets. Among other precious metals, silver was down 1.8 percent at $28.47 per ounce. Platinum fell 0.7 percent to $1,584 per ounce, while palladium was down 1.8 percent to $727.50.
3:18 PM EST LAST/ NET PCT LOW HIGH CURRENT SETTLE CHNG CHNG VOL US Gold APR 1578.10 -17.60 -1.1 1574.30 1602.50 175,949 US Silver MAR 28.395 -0.548 -1.9 28.390 29.140 1,357 US Plat APR 1583.50 -16.60 -1.0 1581.40 1607.50 10,823 US Pall MAR 732.60 -10.55 -1.4 724.95 748.50 306Gold 1578.86 -18.35 -1.1 1575.43 1602.60 Silver 28.470 -0.520 -1.8 28.430 29.160 Platinum 1584.00 -11.92 -0.7 1584.00 1605.50 Palladium 727.50 -13.50 -1.8 728.77 746.75TOTAL MARKET VOLUME 30-D ATM VOLATILITY CURRENT 30D AVG 250D AVG CURRENT CHG US Gold 188,553 200,742 177,166 14.96 -0.55 US Silver 46,716 62,649 53,040 22.72 -0.52 US Platinum 11,586 13,868 10,879 18.63 0.08 US Palladium 5,228 8,840 5,227
(Additional reporting by Clara Denina in London; Editing by David Gregorio)