COMMODITIES-Gold has best gain in 3 months, natgas extends rally
* Gold boosted by sluggish Chinese data, weak equities
* Natgas futures extends rally on U.S. cold snap
* U.S. crude futures rise 1 pct
* Coming up: CFTC Commitments of Traders report Friday
NEW YORK, Jan 23 (Reuters) - Spot gold surged more than 2 percent on Thursday, lifted by sliding U.S. equities and disappointing Chinese manufacturing data, while brutal cold in the United States boosted natural gas futures to a third consecutive daily rise. A nearly 1 percent drop in the U.S. dollar after data showed strong manufacturing activities in the euro zone broadly underpinned dollar-denominated commodities. The Thomson Reuters/Core Commodity Index, a benchmark for global commodities made up of 19 components, rose 0.3 percent to a three-week high. Bullion investor sentiment received a boost after manufacturing data in China showed that a mild slowdown at the end of 2013 in the world's second-largest economy had continued into the new year. The news sent the Standard & Poor's 500 index down 1 percent. "Market participants were ready to sell their equities holdings and to add to their gold positions on the weaker-than-expected Chinese data," said Carlos Sanchez, a portfolio manager and director of commodities and asset management at CPM Group in New York. Spot gold's rose 2.1 percent to $1,262.03 an ounce by 4:09 p.m. EST (2109 GMT), its biggest daily rally in three months. U.S. gold futures for February delivery settled up $23.70 an ounce at $1,262.30. Among industrial metals, copper fell more than 1 percent on the weak Chinese data.
U.S. NATURAL GAS SPIKES U.S. natural gas prices rose more than 10 percent on brutal cold that lifted heating demand and pushed gas to the largest three-day gain since October 2012. The United States is due for another Arctic plunge over the next five days and is trending even colder over the next six to 10 days, weather forecaster MDA Weather Services said Thursday. Front-month natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange closed up 4.1 cents, or 0.87 percent, at $4.73 per million British thermal units. U.S. crude oil futures also rose, settling up 59 cents at $97.32 per barrel. In agricultural commodities, wheat futures rose to an eight-day high as cold weather across the U.S. grain belt raised fears of crop damage and major importers returned to the market following a recent drop in prices to a 3-1/2 year low. Cocoa futures rallied on technical buying as investors and funds covered short positions.
(Editing by David Gregorio)