* Fed tapering, better overall economy seen bearish -trader
* 80 pct of Swiss gold exports head for Asia
* South African union vows to prolong platinum strike
* Coming up: U.S. existing home sales Friday
(Adds comment, second byline, dateline, updates market activities) NEW YORK/LONDON, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Gold rose on Thursday due to disappointing U.S. and Chinese manufacturing data, but overall improvement in global economic conditions and continued stimulus tapering by the Federal Reserve could dent safe haven demand, traders said. The yellow metal benefited after data showed factory activity in China fell to a seven-month low and a closely watched gauge of the U.S. manufacturing sector fell sharply.
Bullion's gain on Thursday followed two consecutive days of losses. Minutes of the Fed's latest policy meeting showed several policymakers wanted to keep cutting monetary stimulus, weighing down on gold's inflation-hedge appeal. "There is no real indicator right now as to which direction the economy is going. The belief is that it is turning around and Fed tapering will likely continue, so there is no need for safe-haven physical assets," said Thomas Capalbo, a precious metals trader at Newedge, a brokerage in New York. Spot gold was up 0.9 percent at $1,323.31 an ounce by 3:23 p.m. EST (2023 GMT). Gold rose in tandem with a U.S. equities market, with the S&P 500 index up about 0.7 percent. The strong inverse correlation between gold and equities earlier this year has shown signs of weakening lately, traders said. U.S. COMEX gold futures for April delivery settled down $3.50 at $1,316.90, with trading volume about 20 percent below its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed.
ASIAN BUYERS STEP IN AS PRICES FALL On the physical market, dealers expected jewellers across Asia to buy on dips, while India's plan to keep tax on gold imports at current levels could underpin sentiment in the physical market as it will lead to more smuggling.
The top five recipients of Swiss gold exports in January were in Asia, with Hong Kong the top destination for shipments out of Europe's leading refining centre, data from the Swiss customs office showed on Thursday. Among other precious metals, silver rose 1.5 percent to $21.85 an ounce. Platinum eased 0.2 percent to $1,410.60 an ounce, while palladium was up 0.3 percent at $732.60 an ounce. Platinum group metals were underpinned by news South Africa's Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) vowed to continue a strike against the world's top three platinum producers.
3:23 PM EST LAST/ NET PCT LOW HIGH CURRENT SETTLE CHNG CHNG VOL US Gold APER 1316.90 -3.50 -0.3 1307.10 1323.70 115,651 US Silver MAR 21.684 -0.166 -0.8 21.400 21.865 55,246 US Plat APER 1412.50 -12.00 -0.8 1406.50 1418.60 7,831 US Pall MAR 736.30 0.90 0.1 728.20 737.95 4,301 Gold 1323.31 12.06 0.9 1307.90 1323.31 Silver 21.850 0.330 1.5 21.430 21.850 Platinum 1410.60 -2.65 -0.2 1409.50 1416.50 Palladium 732.60 1.85 0.3 731.75 736.50 TOTAL MARKET VOLUME 30-D ATM VOLATILITY CURRENT 30D VGA 250D AVG CURRENT CHG US Gold 131,111 165,254 183,267 15.85 -0.51 US Silver 77,223 60,004 57,325 27.95 0.06 US Platinum 8,554 10,800 13,321 17.8 -0.60 US Palladium 6,499 6,374 5,692 14.56 -0.63
(Additional reporting by Lewa Pardomuan in Singapore; Editing