Gold ends down on strong dollar, Yellen comments

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Gold closed down for a second straight session as the dollar climbed on increasing prospects that the Federal Reserve may start raising interest rates gradually this year.

In a speech on Friday, Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen said an increase in the Fed's benchmark rate "may well be warranted later this year" given sustained improvement in U.S. economic conditions.

"It seems the market is once again focusing on the Fed raising rates," Deutsche Boerse's MNI senior analyst Tony Walters said.

Gold, which does not pay any interest, has benefited from a low interest rates environment and central banks' accommodative policies in the years following the 2008-2009 credit crunch.

fell as low as $1,182.90 an ounce and was down 1.1 percent at $1,185.

U.S. gold futures for June delivery settled $15.40 lower at $1,85.30 an ounce.

Any hike by the Fed, which has kept rates near zero since 2008 to stimulate the U.S. economy, could further reduce demand for assets perceived as safer such as gold. A stronger dollar also makes gold more expensive for holders of other currencies and typically erodes its appeal.

"On the downside, the initial support level stands at $1,182 and then nothing stands out until $1,143," Walters added.

The metal had risen for seven consecutive sessions, touching its loftiest since March 2 at $1,219.40 on Thursday, reacting to a Fed March policy statement that was perceived as more dovish than expected.

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The metal was headed for a second consecutive monthly drop in March.

U.S. jobs data on Friday will be a key event this week and a robust report could see investors position for tighter monetary policy sooner rather than later.

But analysts agree that the Fed will be anything but aggressive in its rate hike path, with many looking at the first rate increase happening in September instead of June as they predicted earlier.

"Given falling oil prices and slowing growth globally they cannot afford to raise rates too early so I think the first rate hike will happen in September," said Lee at Phillip Futures.

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Hedge funds and money managers slashed their bullish bet in gold for the eighth straight week, data showed on Friday.

Investors were also keeping an eye on tensions in Yemen, which aided gold's climb last week, and uncertainty over Greece's debt talks.

Gold is usually seen as an insurance against risk.