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Gold pares gains after US inflation data

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Gold closed higher on Friday after data showing U.S. consumer prices rose in March tempered speculation the Federal Reserve will delay its first interest rate rise in nearly a decade.

The metal held above the $1,200 an ounce level, however, which it broke above earlier this week after a run of downbeat U.S. data led analysts to reassess expectations the Fed would raise rates in June.

Spot gold was up 0.6 percent at $1,204 an ounce, off an earlier high of $1,207.60. U.S. gold futures for June delivery closed at $1,203.10 an ounce, up $5.10 on the day.

Gold is sensitive to U.S. monetary policy, as rising rates would boost the dollar, in which the metal is priced, while lifting the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion.

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"Even if the rate rise gets pushed back, people still see rates rising, and we believe that's still a negative for gold," Julius Baer commodity analyst Warren Kreyzig said. "Maybe there's less sensitivity around the timing than there is about the actual direction (of rates)."

"The delay may give gold a reprieve, but in the long term we think it will still go down."

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The dollar pared early losses against a basket of currencies to turn positive after the U.S. inflation data.

Adding to the rates uncertainty were comments from Fed officials on Thursday that showed officials at odds over the timing of a move.

Expectation once again is for rate rises to be pushed out even later. September or October has been our base assumption for some time, but I've heard talk in the last couple of days of rate rises being pushed out to 2016," Mitsubishi analyst Jonathan Butler said. "That's all positive for gold."

Physical buying in the world's top two gold-consuming countries remained slow this week. Premiums in China improved only slightly and those in India slipped as prices stabilized at $1,200 an ounce.