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PRECIOUS-Gold retreats from near 3-month high after Fed comments

Jan Harvey and Clara Denina
Tuesday, 11 Feb 2014 | 9:40 AM ET

* Fed Chair Yellen voices commitment to tapering

* Gold retreats from highest since mid-November

* Traders await further Fed comments at 1500 GMT

(Releads, updates prices, adds comment)

LONDON, Feb 11 (Reuters) - Gold retreated from a near three-month high on Tuesday after incoming Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen reiterated the U.S. central bank's commitment to a measured tapering of its bullion-friendly policy stimulus.

Yellen said in prepared comments ahead of testimony before the House Financial Services Committee later that she strongly supports the current monetary policy strategy, suggesting the bank's current reduction in asset purchases was on track.

A string of disappointing U.S. data had prompted speculation that the Fed might hold off further reduction of stimulus, which had strongly supported gold by keeping interest rates at rock bottom while stoking inflation fears.

That had helped push gold to its highest in mid-November in earlier trade, at $1,288.20 an ounce.

Spot gold was at $1,279.60 an ounce at 1430 GMT, still up 0.4 percent, while U.S. gold futures for February delivery were up $5.20 an ounce at $1,279.90, off a high of $1,288.30.

"With Janet Yellen seemingly continuing the hawkish policy begun by her predecessor, that may take some of the wind out of gold's sails in the next few weeks," Mitsubishi analyst Jonathan Butler said. "It looks a bit over-extended compared to where it has been."

"It'll be interesting to see what the press conference in the next hour or so will bring."

Yellen gives her first testimony before the House Financial Services Committee at 1500 GMT, and will likely face questions on the state of the labour market and the future pace of tapering.

Yellen's testimony comes at a tricky time given two months of soft employment growth and as a deadline looms on raising the U.S. government borrowing limit before a possible debt default.

MIXED DATA

Gold prices have risen around 6.5 percent since the beginning of the year, after a 28 percent drop in 2013, as mixed economic data in the United States and emerging market turmoil weighed on some equity markets.

Investors, however, continue to regard these macroeconomic events as insufficient to derail the global recovery, which makes the investment case for gold, usually seen as a safe haven in times of trouble, still unattractive.

In the physical markets, Chinese demand eased due to the gains in prices. Premiums for 99.99 percent purity gold on the Shanghai Gold Exchange eased to $7 an ounce from $12 on Monday.

India's trade ministry said it has recommended easing curbs on gold imports, after a 77 percent drop in imports for January that helped narrow the country's trade deficit.

India had imposed curbs last year including a record 10 percent duty to discourage gold purchases.

Silver fell 0.3 percent to $20 an ounce, tracking a retreat in gold.

Platinum gained 0.1 percent to $1,382.25 an ounce as strikes in South African mines continued. Top platinum producers and the AMCU union are set to hold separate meetings with a state mediator this week to discuss the stoppage over wages.

Palladium was up 0.4 percent to $717.47 an ounce.

(Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Singapore; editing by William Hardy)