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Gold holds around $1,200/oz ahead of U.S. payrolls data

PROSPECTING GOLD
AP

Gold ended lower on Thursday, but managed to hold above $1,200 an ounce on a weaker dollar after disappointing economic data raised doubts over the U.S. growth outlook and the Federal Reserve's rates policy ahead of key jobs data.

Spot gold was down 0.2 percent at $1,201 an ounce, having climbed 1.8 percent on Wednesday, the biggest single-day rally since Jan. 30. The move higher came after a 2.4 percent slide in all of March.

U.S. gold for June delivery slipped $7.30 an ounce to settle at $1,200.90.

U.S. private employers added the smallest number of workers in more than a year in March, missing market expectations, data on Wednesday showed. Separately, factory activity hit a near two-year low in March.

Weaker-than-expected data weighed on the dollar, which was down 0.4 percent against a basket of main currencies, while boding well for safe-haven assets such as gold.

Equity markets were also hit by the disappointing data on Wednesday, although economists polled by Reuters forecast Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls to show an increase of 245,000 in March after a 295,000 rise in February.

Trading activity is expected to thin on Friday, when most U.S. markets will be closed for the Easter holiday, while some European markets will close Friday through Monday and reopening on Tuesday.

"The precious metal could face higher volatility as we approach towards the Friday's U.S. non farm payroll number," AvaTrade chief market analyst Naeem Aslam said. "(But) we may actually see a weak number, which could push the dollar lower."

"Having said that, we do need the gold price to stay above the $1,170 level in order for the uptrend to continue...if we do break (that) ...all (bullish) bets are off and we could be heading towards the $1,138 mark."

A weaker nonfarm report could push back expectations for a U.S. interest rate hike which some analysts predicted could come as early as June.

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Gold hit $1,219.40 last week, its highest since March 2, at the end of a seven-day run-up on expectations that the U.S. central bank would go slow in raising interest rates.

Any hike by the Fed, which has kept rates near zero since 2008 to stimulate the U.S. economy, could reduce demand for assets perceived as safer such as gold.

Spot silver fell 0.5 percent to $16.81 an ounce, while platinum lost 0.6 percent to $1,151.65 an ounce and palladium was unchanged at $743.98 an ounce.