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Gold steadies with investors cautious as US rate rise looms

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Gold prices flattened on Wednesday, giving back earlier gains as oil prices fell and shrugging off support from the weak U.S. dollar and shares as investors remained cautious ahead of an anticipated Federal Reserve rate hike next week.

The U.S. central bank is widely expected to raise interest rates for the first time in nearly a decade at its next policy meeting on Dec. 15-16.

Higher rates should dent demand for non-interest-paying gold, which has already lost 9 percent of its value this year and is on track for its third year of losses.

Spot gold rose 1 percent to a session high of $1,085.20 an ounce but was flat at $1,074.31 an ounce. The metal is around $35 higher than a near-six-year low reached last week. U.S. gold futures for February delivery settled up $1.20 at $1,076.50 an ounce.

Is gold still an inflation play?

Oil prices fell as the market ignored an unexpected drawdown in U.S. crude stockpiles to focus on a build in distillates, including diesel, that was twice as big as expected.

Weakness in oil could trigger fears of deflation, a bearish factor for gold, which is often used as a hedge against oil-led inflation.

"It has been negative for gold for quite some time and continues to be," said James Steel, chief metals analyst for HSBC Securities in New York, referring to oil prices.

He added that trade was thin and expectations for a U.S. rate hike kept a lid on bullion prices.

"I don't think the rate hike will be a surprise in itself, but it will depend on the language of the Fed, and we may even see some support if that suggests the rate hiking cycle will be slower than people expect," Natixis analyst Bernard Dahdah said.

The dollar fell sharply as investors cleared out long positions on the greenback against the yen, sterling and euro in thin trading, with each rising more than 1 percent.

"We are expecting continued downward pressure for gold next year, depending on whether the market begins to price in more rate hikes or not, as the dollar is going to moderately rise," Citi strategist David Wilson said.

Investors have been boosting bets that gold will soon drop to $1,000 an ounce.

Silver rose 0.2 percent to $14.19 an ounce. Platinum gained 0.8 percent to $852.48 an ounce and palladium was up 0.6 percent at $548.87 an ounce.