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Gold ends above $1,300; boosted by weak US data

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Gold settled at a three-month high on Thursday, breaking above $1,300 after disappointing U.S. economic figures further hurt the dollar and equity markets.

U.S. retail sales fell 0.4 percent in January, led by a drop in automobile sales, against an expected 0.2 percent increase. Separately, initial claims for state unemployment benefits rose to a seasonally adjusted 339,000 from 331,000 the week before, and against a consensus fall to 330,000.

U.S. gold futures for April delivery ended $5.10 higher at $1,300.10 an ounce.

Spot gold rose to $1,300.35 an ounce, its highest since Nov. 8 earlier, and was last up 0.6 percent at $1,299 an ounce.

"The short-term drivers seem supportive for gold because we had quite a lot of weak U.S. data over the past few weeks,'' ABN Amro commodity analyst Georgette Boele said.

"The technical picture is also looking more optimistic, and people are looking to buy on dips,'' she added. "But that does not mean that I'm all of sudden positive on gold, I remain negative in the medium term as I expect the U.S. economy to recover and the dollar to rally.''

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"The $1,300 psychological barrier... could be breached as long as the (short-term) environment for the metal remains positive, with some uncertainty in the equity markets and a lower dollar," Quantitative Commodity Research owner Peter Fertig said.

The dollar fell 0.5 percent against a basket of major currencies, while a rally in global shares ended after a week of gains made on relief over continuity in U.S. Federal Reserve policy, hints that the European Central Bank could provide more support in the euro zone and an easing of pressure on emerging markets.

Usually, gold holds an inverse correlation with the dollar, with a weaker U.S. currency making the metal cheaper and increasing demand. Meanwhile, investor risk aversion tends to increase interest in gold, often regarded as a safe haven.

But at times over the past few sessions the metal has moved in the same direction as equities.

Recent U.S. data, including two straight months of weak jobs growth, have raised questions over whether the world's biggest economy can sustain the strength it showed in the second half of last year and made some investors hope the Fed would take a slower approach to tapering its monthly bond purchases.

Higher gold prices over the past few sessions have curtailed physical buying from China, the world's biggest gold consumer, after trading volumes hit their highest since May at the start of the week.

—By Reuters

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