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Gold climbs over $1,250/oz as equities retreat

Gold bullion bars and coins.
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Gold rose to over $1,250 an ounce on Thursday as the dollar eased and equity markets retreated, sharpening appetite for the metal as an alternative asset, but moves were muted ahead of Friday's U.S. payrolls data.

Spot gold was up 1.32 percent at $1,256.31 an ounce while U.S. gold futures for April delivery were up 1.26 percent an ounce at $1,257.60.

The dollar extended losses after data showed a rise in U.S. jobless claims last week, though the underlying trend continued to point to a strengthening labor market. U.S. stocks opened lower, while European shares fell 0.6 percent.

Market participants largely stuck to the sidelines however ahead of the U.S. non-farm payrolls report for February. Payrolls are estimated to have risen by 190,000 last month, according to a Reuters poll of economists.

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The report is seen by many as a barometer for the health of the U.S. economy. A strong reading may revive expectations that the Federal Reserve will press ahead with more rate hikes this year, which would weigh on non-yielding gold.

Saxo Bank's head of commodities research Ole Hansen said he expected to see pressure on gold only if the reading came in above 225,000. "That was roughly the average last year, and one that helped bring about the first rate hike," he said.

"The market most certainly is not prepared to let unfriendly news spoil the party at the moment," he added. "Once again it is testing resistance towards $1,246, so let's have the break and see how much is left in the tank."

Gold has risen 17 percent this year, hitting a one-year high of $1,260.60 an ounce last month as stock market volatility picked up on fears over the health of the global economy.

Moves towards looser monetary policy in China, Japan and the euro zone this year in the face of faltering growth, and a growing conviction that the Fed will put off further rate hikes, have prompted some investors to seek out gold.

"There's a sense that the debt problems aren't going to go away, and that's why people have been moving to (gold as a) safe haven asset," Sharps Pixley Chief Executive Ross Norman said.

"There's a sense that the crisis is ongoing, and the central banks are perhaps fallible."

Inflows into gold-backed exchange-traded funds, which issue securities backed by physical metal, have risen sharply, with holdings of the largest, SPDR Gold Shares, hitting 788.6 tonnes on Wednesday, the most since Sept. 2014.

Silver futures were up 0.75 percent at $15.14 an ounce, while platinum futures were up 1 percent at $945.10 an ounce and palladium was up 2.7 percent at $529.05 an ounce.