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Gold slips below $1,200 as dollar firms ahead of US payrolls

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Gold fell below $1,200 an ounce on Friday as the dollar regained some lost ground ahead of a U.S. jobs report that will provide clues on when the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates.

U.S. nonfarm payrolls are forecast to show a rise of 245,000 in March after gaining 295,000 in February, according to a Reuters poll of economists.

A weaker-than-expected report could, however, prompt investors to increase bets that the Fed might hold off on raising interest rates until later this year, buoying safe-haven assets such as gold.

Spot gold was off 0.2 percent at $1,199.36 an ounce by 0158 GMT, set to end the week flat after a two-week climb.

Gold jumped nearly 2 percent on Wednesday in its sharpest single-day gain in two months after U.S. private hiring in March missed market forecasts, suggesting Friday's more comprehensive employment report could also come in below estimates.

While a weaker U.S. nonfarm payrolls would support bullion, only an extremely poor outcome would sustain any price rally, HSBC analyst James Steel said.

"Given the steepness of the rally this week in reaction to the (U.S. private hiring) numbers, job gains would likely have to be very disappointing to further boost bullion near term," Steel said in a note.

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"A stronger jobs number is more likely to have a greater impact to the downside for gold."

Gold is particularly sensitive to shifts in U.S. interest rates, which also move the dollar, in which the metal is priced.

The dollar was slightly firmer against a basket of major currencies on Friday after two days of losses fueled by anticipation that the U.S. employment report could disappoint.

Trading activity is expected to be lean with most markets, including those in the United States and Europe, shut for the Good Friday holiday.