PRECIOUS-Gold climbs to near 3-week high as equities dip; China demand robust
* Gold rallies for 5th day to highest since Dec. 17 Drop in Asian shares supports prices
* Chinese premiums climb as demand remains strong
(Adds China trading volumes, updates prices) SINGAPORE, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Gold rallied for a fifth day to its highest level in nearly three weeks on Monday, as softer equity markets prompted investors to tap the asset's safe-haven qualities. The metal's rally comes despite a stronger dollar and bullish comments from the Federal Reserve on the U.S. economy, but follows a near 30 percent loss last year. The upswing in prices failed to dent physical purchases in China, the world's biggest bullion consumer, where demand has picked up ahead of the Lunar New Year and trading volumes on the Shanghai Gold Exchange hit an eight-month high on Monday. "Weaker equities will have more of an impact on gold prices than a stronger dollar," said Helen Lau, an analyst at UOB-Kay Hian Securities in Hong Kong. "It is all about allocation by funds. If there is an increase in allocation towards gold and less towards stocks, there will be a decrease in outflows from gold exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and that is a positive for prices," she said. Lau expects gold to average $1,200 for the year, and says it is likely hit $1,300 in the first quarter. Spot gold rose 0.4 percent to $1,240.90 an ounce by 0739 GMT. It earlier hit a near three-week peak of $1,245.86. The metal lost nearly 30 percent of its value last year as global stocks jumped and as the Fed announced plans to begin tapering its bond-buying stimulus programme. Record outflows from gold ETFs also hurt prices. On Monday, Asian shares fell to a two-week low after growth in China's services sector slowed sharply last month. The dollar hovered near a four-week high, supported by an upbeat outlook for the U.S. economy. Physical demand for bullion in China remained strong with premiums on the Shanghai Gold Exchange - a physical trading platform - climbing to about $20 an ounce from Friday's $17. For the 99.99 percent purity gold, volumes traded on the exchange were 24.86 tonnes on Monday - the highest daily volume since May 3.
DATA CUES Economic data releases this week could help determine whether the recent rally in gold prices can hold. U.S. nonfarm payrolls and trade numbers expected later this week will provide clues on the strength of the economic recovery, while the minutes of the December Fed policy meeting - at which the central bank decided to cut back bond purchases - may hint at how aggressive the Fed will be with tapering. Ben Bernanke, who steps down as head of the Fed at the end of January, on Friday gave an upbeat assessment of the U.S. economy in coming quarters, though he did temper the good news in housing, finance and fiscal policies by repeating that the overall recovery "clearly remains incomplete". In what could be his last speech as Fed chairman, Bernanke also said the U.S. central bank is no less committed to highly accommodative policy now that it has trimmed its bond-buying stimulus.
PRICES AT 0739 GMT
Metal Last Change Pct chg Spot gold 1240.9 4.74 0.38 Spot silver 20.08 -0.04 -0.2 Spot platinum 1400.25 -8.49 -0.6 Spot palladium 725.5 0.75 0.1 Comex gold Dec3 1240.5 1.9 0.15 Comex silver Dec3 20.095 -0.12 -0.57 Euro 1.3577 DXY 80.881
COMEX gold and silver contracts show the most active months
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Richard Pullin and Tom Hogue)