PRECIOUS-Gold hits 3-week low on Fed, firm U.S. dollar

SINGAPORE, March 20 (Reuters) - Gold hit its weakest in three weeks on Thursday as the U.S. dollar jumped on expectations the Federal Reserve could end its bond-buying programme this fall, hurting the metal's safe haven appeal as a hedge against inflation. Janet Yellen, speaking at her first news conference as the Fed chief after the close of the U.S. central bank's two-day policy meeting, said the Fed could start to raise interest rates around six months after its current asset purchase programme ends.


* Cash gold hit a low of $1,325.34 an ounce, the weakest since Feb. 28, and stood at $1,328.84 by 0012 GMT, down $2.00.

* U.S. gold for April delivery fell $11.90 an ounce to $1,329.40, having earlier hit $1,326.10, its lowest since end-February.

* India has allowed five domestic private sector banks to import gold, in what industry officials say could be a significant step towards easing of tough curbs on the metal imposed last year to cut the country's trade deficit.

* As Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrates his seizure of Crimea, European Union leaders hold critical talks on Thursday on how to respond amid growing doubts over whether they are united enough to impose hard-hitting sanctions on Moscow.

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* The U.S. dollar was holding hefty gains in Asia on Thursday as investors wrestled with the risk that U.S. interest rates could rise sooner and faster than previously thought, pressuring stock and bond prices.

* Brent oil futures fell on Wednesday as worries over sanctions affecting Russian oil supplies eased, while U.S. crude oil rose on an inventory draw at the benchmark's pricing hub and ahead of the front month contract's expiration.

DATA/EVENTS (GMT) 0700 Germany Producer prices 1230 U.S. Weekly initial jobless claims 1400 U.S. Existing home sales 1400 U.S. Leading index 1400 U.S. Philly Fed business index


Precious metals prices 0012 GMT

Metal Last Change Pct chg YTD pct chg Volume Spot Gold 1328.84 -2.00 -0.15 10.28 Spot Silver 20.59 0.04 +0.19 6.08 Spot Platinum 1443.49 3.89 +0.27 5.56 Spot Palladium 762.72 1.22 +0.16 6.97 COMEX GOLD APR4 1329.40 -11.90 -0.89 10.62 3738 COMEX SILVER MAY4 20.65 -0.18 +0.00 6.58 796 Euro/Dollar 1.3819 Dollar/Yen 102.34

(Reporting by Lewa Pardomuan; Editing by Ed Davies)