PRECIOUS-Gold hits 11-week high, briefly tops $1,400
* Gold hits 11-week high of $1,406.01 before easing
* Fed could announce first step in tapering in Sept - official
* SPDR sees inflows, speculators boost bullish bets in gold
(Updates prices) SINGAPORE, Aug 26 (Reuters) - Gold was trading near 11-week highs on Monday after briefly breaking above the $1,400 mark, buoyed by weak U.S. data and inflows into the world's biggest bullion-backed exchange traded fund. The precious metal jumped in early Asian trading to $1,406.01 - its highest since June 7 - running on from a rally on Friday and supported by political tensions in Syria, before giving back some gains. "We are generally coming out of the summer doldrums and people are looking for gold trade ideas," said one Hong Kong-based precious metals trader. "We are in the aftermath of a highly distressed slowdown so people still see some value in it, at least as a trade if not a longer term investment." Spot gold was little changed at $1,396.43 an ounce by 0635 GMT. The metal, seen as a safe-haven, gained 1.6 percent on Friday after weak U.S. home sales, which potentially weakened the case for a tapering of economic stimulus. A top U.S. central banker said on Saturday the Federal Reserve could announce a cautious first step in tapering bond purchases at its meeting next month, provided there were no "really worrisome" signs the economy was faltering.
In South Africa, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) gave gold mining companies seven days on Saturday to meet its demand for pay rises of up to 60 percent or face strike action.
NUM, the main mining union, walked out of deadlocked wage talks with the companies last week, setting the scene for a gold industry shutdown in a country that accounts for 6 percent of total gold output.
INVESTOR SENTIMENT Hedge funds and money managers boosted bullish bets in gold futures and options to their highest level since early February, buoyed by the uncertain timing of the Fed's planned unwinding of its bond-buying stimulus, a report by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed on Friday. SPDR Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, said its holdings rose 0.72 percent, or 6.61 tonnes, to 920.13 tonnes on Friday. The fund has seen positive flows over the last two weeks, as gold prices gained on shifting sentiment and technical buying. Friday's inflow was the biggest this year, according to Barclays.
Precious metals prices 0635 GMT
Metal Last Change Pct chg YTD pct chg Volume Spot Gold 1396.43 -0.01 -0.00 -16.61 Spot Silver 24.12 0.13 +0.54 -20.34 Spot Platinum 1533.74 0.54 +0.04 -0.08 Spot Palladium 750.97 2.01 +0.27 8.52 COMEX GOLD DEC3 1396.30 0.50 +0.04 -16.68 26953 COMEX SILVER SEP3 24.18 0.44 +1.84 -20.23 10182 Euro/Dollar 1.3381 Dollar/Yen 98.46
COMEX gold and silver contracts show the most active months
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Richard Pullin)