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Gold eases as stocks, dollar buoyant ahead of holidays

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Gold inched down for the second straight session on Wednesday, hemmed into a narrow range in thin pre-holiday trade as major stock markets posted strong gains and the dollar climbed along with U.S. bond yields.

The metal has struggled to maintain the past week's gains in thin trade despite a recovery in oil prices, as global stocks extended a rally into a third day and the dollar rose 0.3 percent against a basket of major currencies.

Spot gold was down 0.3 percent at $1,069.15 an ounce at 1:52 p.m. EST (1852 GMT), while U.S. gold futures for February delivery settled down 0.5 percent at $1,068.30.

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Investors are reluctant to take positions into year-end, dealers said.

"Gold has been stuck in a range for such a long time that no one wants to do anything with it. At the end of the year, most books are going to be closed," said Afshin Nabavi, head of trading at MKS.

Gold prices are down nearly 10 percent so far this year for a third straight year of losses, made largely in anticipation of the Fed's interest rate hike, which came this month.

On Wednesday, data showed U.S. personal income in November rose for an eighth straight month, a factor that should bolster economic growth next year. New U.S. single-family home sales that same month rose, though less than expected.

"The narrative here is that the positive economic reports are going to put pressure on gold," Eli Tesfaye, senior market strategist for brokerage RJO Futures in Chicago.

Attention is now switching to the speed of U.S. interest rate hikes next year. Signs that the Fed will lift rates at a steady pace could feed into still softer gold prices, analysts said.

"With the growing confidence about the U.S. economic recovery, the Fed would be quite keen to continue monetary policy tightening, albeit only gradually over 2016, followed by a faster pace in the following year," Societe Generale said in a note.

"This should see the U.S. dollar strengthen over the medium term, putting pressure on dollar-denominated (gold) prices."

Support for gold from physical markets looks bleak. In top consumer China, there are fears of a protracted loss of confidence among buyers, with many predicting that demand could fall for a third year in 2016.

Silver was up 0.2 percent at $14.28 an ounce, platinum was down 0.4 at $866.85 an ounce, and palladium was down 0.3 percent at $551.24 an ounce.