PRECIOUS-Gold eases in quiet trade, all eyes on Fed meeting
* US home prices, consumer confidence disappointing
* ECB, BOE meetings, U.S. jobs data due later this week
* Physical demand from India, China wanes
(Updates prices, adds trade comment on Fed, second byline, dateline) NEW YORK/LONDON, July 30 (Reuters) - Gold inched lower in quiet trading on Tuesday as participants largely stayed on the sidelines ahead of a U.S. Federal Reserve policy statement on Wednesday that may provide clues on the pace at which it plans to scale back its bond-buying program. Bullion pared earlier losses on signs of the U.S. economy may be slowing as data showed home prices in May rose less than expected and consumer confidence waned in July. The Fed is scheduled to release a policy statement Wednesday afternoon after its two-day meeting. Traders will be looking for clues as to when the U.S. central bank will start tapering its $85 billion monthly bond purchases. Gold plunged 5 percent after the Fed's June meeting when it gave its most explicit signal yet that it plans to wind down the era of easy money. However, Fed chief Ben Bernanke's subsequent remarks about the need to keep an stimulative policy in place given low inflation and an uncertain market triggered a gold rally. "If Bernanke comes out and specifically indicates that there is underlying weakness in the jobs market, then I think gold is going to go much higher," said Jeffrey Sica, chief investment officer at Sica Wealth, which manages over $1 billion in client assets. Spot gold was down 0.2 percent to $1,324.84 an ounce U.S. gold futures for August delivery fell $3.80 to $1,324.60 an ounce, with trading volume on track to finish below its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed. U.S. Federal Reserve officials this week are likely to have a lively debate on how best to prepare financial markets for a reduction of their bond-buying program, but appear certain to wait for further economic data before curtailing their stimulus.
Gold prices moved above $1,300 last week for the first time in a month, buoyed by Bernanke's remarks that a highly accommodative monetary policy would be needed for the foreseeable future and that any reduction in bond purchases was not set in stone and depended on the strength of the economy.
The Fed previously said it was likely to begin reducing its stimulus program later in 2013 and halt it altogether by mid-2014, which strengthened the dollar, making assets priced in U.S. dollars such as gold more expensive for foreign investors.
VOLATILITY SEEN Analysts said gold may have a choppy ride for the rest of the week because of policy meetings at the European Central Bank and the Bank of England later this week, and the all-important U.S. jobs report for July due on Friday. Gold jewellery demand in top buyer India ebbed and was seen as unlikely to gain traction until late August, when seasonal buying should pick up during the autumn wedding season and religious festivals. Premiums in physical gold on the Shanghai Gold Exchange also fell from last week's levels. Among other precious metals, silver fell 0.4 percent to $19.73 an ounce, almost $1 lower than the one-month high of $20.60 hit last week. Platinum dropped 0.3 percent to $1,435.25 an ounce and palladium was down 1.7 percent to $729.22 an ounce. Prices at 11:53 a.m. EDT (1553 GMT)
LAST NET PCT YTD CHG CHG CHG US gold 1324.60 -3.80 -0.3% -21.0% US silver 19.715 -0.001 -0.8% -34.8% US platinum 1438.50 -4.20 -0.3% -6.5% US palladium 732.00 -12.65 -1.7% 4.1% Gold 1324.84 -2.15 -0.2% -20.9% Silver 19.73 -0.08 -0.4% -34.9% Platinum 1435.25 -4.25 -0.3% -6.6% Palladium 729.22 -12.78 -1.7% 3.9% Gold Fix 1324.15 1.90 0.1% -20.4% Silver Fix 19.68 -42.00 -2.1% -34.3% Platinum Fix 1439.00 3.00 0.2% -5.5% Palladium Fix 738.00 1.00 0.1% 5.6%
(Editing by James Jukwey, Jane Baird and Bob Burgdorfer)