Gold futures fall as dollar firms

PROSPECTING GOLD
AP

Gold futures fell on Wednesday as investors seemed to move from the sidelines ahead of a speech by Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen this weekend.

U.S. gold settled down $16.40 at $1,329.70 and was last down 1.36 percent at $1,327.80 an ounce, below its 50-day moving average for the first time since June 24. Spot gold was at $1,324.42 an ounce, down 0.97 percent.

Shares of gold mining companies fell 4.5 percent, on pace for a fourth consecutive day of losses for the first time since a 4-day losing streak ending November 6, 2015.

"Gold and silver prices are modestly lower in subdued early U.S. trading Wednesday," Peter Hug, global trading director at Kitco Metals, wrote in a research note. "The outside markets are in a bearish posture for the precious metals on this day, as crude oil prices are lower and the U.S. dollar index is higher."

Previously, the precious metal had been little changed ahead of Yellen's speech, which will be closely watched for further clues on interest rate policy.

Yellen is scheduled to address a meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Recent hawkish comments from policymakers have raised investors' expectations that she might adopt a less cautious tone on rates.

Gold is highly sensitive to rising U.S. interest rates, as these increase the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion, while boosting the dollar, in which it is priced.

"Volatility (in gold) is very low, and that means people are waiting for new information that they can price in," LBBW analyst Thorsten Proettel said. "Many people are looking to Jackson Hole, and what is going to be said there."

While recent comments from Fed officials have supported expectations that rates will rise sooner rather than later, minutes from the U.S. central bank's July 26-27 policy meeting showed officials remain divided over whether it is time to act.

According to the CME FedWatch tool, markets are pricing in a 21 percent chance of a rate increase in September, and a 50 percent chance of at least one hike by the end of the year.

Expectations that the Fed will hold off on further rate hikes have been behind a more than 25 percent rally in gold this year, with prices further underpinned by concerns over threats to global economic growth.

"Despite the improving U.S.-centric fundamentals, we expect investors to remain long in gold given the need to insure against wildcards into the year, namely the growth risk from Brexit into 2017 and the upcoming November's U.S. presidential elections," OCBC Bank analyst Barnabas Gan said in a note.

Spot silver was down 1.28 percent at $18.54, after a seven-week low of $18.77 touched on Monday.

China's silver imports in July fell 36 percent year on year, customs data showed on Wednesday, while its platinum imports were down by nearly half. Palladium imports rose 17 percent, however, and 28 percent in the first seven months of the year.

Platinum was down 1.66 percent at $1,080.80. Palladium was 1.72 percent lower at $684.50, after hitting a one-week low of $680.20 in the previous session.

— Reporting by CNBC's Gina Francolla.