* Unexpectedly hawkish Fed comments pressure gold
* Easing tensions over Ukraine pressure bullion
* Amplats unveils wage deal with NUM; AMCU strike ongoing
* Coming up: CFTC weekly Commitments of Traders report Fri
(Adds comment, second byline, dateline, updates market activities) NEW YORK/LONDON, March 20 (Reuters) - Gold prices were little changed on Thursday, helped by bargain hunting after the metal's sharp drop the previous day on comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen that suggested U.S. interest rates could rise sooner than expected. Earlier Thursday, the metal fell as the dollar rallied for a second straight day after Yellen said the U.S central bank will probably end its massive bond-buying program this fall, and could start raising interest rates around six months later.
Bullion's rebound was limited on easing geopolitical tensions after Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a treaty on Tuesday making Crimea part of Russia again but said he did not plan to seize any other regions of Ukraine. "Gold's rally and its subsequent pare back this month is a reflection of the safe haven price premium built over the Crimean standoff between Ukraine and Russia along with the consequent easing of tensions," said James Steel, chief precious metals analyst at HSBC. Spot gold extended losses to $1,320.24 an ounce on Thursday, its lowest since Feb. 28. It was down 0.1 percent at $1,329.84 an ounce by 2:57 p.m. EDT (1857 GMT). U.S. gold futures for April delivery settled down $10.80 an ounce at $1,330.50, with trading volume about 10 percent above its 30-day average. Gold prices dropped about 2 percent on Wednesday. Record low interest rates, which cut the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion above other assets, had been a key factor driving the precious metal to all-time highs in recent years. "The Fed... (is) nurturing the ground for a change in rhetoric down the line, and maintaining the pace of QE tapering which will ultimately see it run out before the end of 2014," VTB Capital analyst Andrey Kryuchenkov said. Concerns that a confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine could escalate battered stock markets and sent gold to six-month highs near $1,400 an ounce earlier this month. Analysts said geopolitical tensions should still underpin gold prices despite recent weakness. "The risk related to Ukraine has not gone away, but moved to the sidelines for the time being," Saxo Bank's head of commodities research, Ole Hansen, said. In physical market news, gold jewellery exports from number two consumer India edged up 1 percent year-on-year in February to $718.36 million, an industry body statement said on Thursday.
Among other precious metals, silver fell 1.2 percent to $20.31 an ounce. Platinum was down 0.8 percent at $1,427.75 an ounce. Prices extended losses after number one miner Anglo American Platinum said it had signed a new wage agreement with the NUMSA union, although a strike by members of the AMCU union has continued into an eighth week. Palladium was up 0.6 percent at $766.25 an ounce. Standard Bank is set to list South Africa's first palladium-backed exchange-traded fund on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange on Monday, the bank said late on Wednesday.
2:57 PM EDT LAST/ NET PCT LOW HIGH CURRENT SETTLE CHNG CHNG VOL US Gold APR 1330.50 -10.80 -0.8 1320.80 1335.30 155,452 US Silver MAY 20.430 -0.396 -1.9 20.140 20.730 43,543 US Plat APR 1434.80 -16.90 -1.2 1424.20 1454.00 14,675 US Pall JUN 771.65 3.45 0.4 746.30 772.70 8,123 Gold 1329.84 -1.00 -0.1 1320.90 1334.60 Silver 20.310 -0.240 -1.2 20.170 20.700 Platinum 1427.75 -11.85 -0.8 1425.00 1449.25 Palladium 766.25 4.75 0.6 748.00 770.00 TOTAL MARKET VOLUME 30-D ATM VOLATILITY CURRENT 30D AVG 250D AVG CURRENT CHG US Gold 185,311 170,341 185,495 17.76 0.00 US Silver 46,053 73,784 58,191 27.54 -0.10 US Platinum 19,148 13,087 13,136 19.7 0.66 US Palladium 8,261 8,138 5,690 21.39 -0.59
(Additional reporting by Lewa Pardomuan in Singapore; editing