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PRECIOUS-Gold steady ahead of central bank meetings

BENGALURU, July 20 (Reuters) - Gold prices steadied early on Thursday, with the dollar firming as markets waited for clues on the future of key stimulus programs in upcoming Bank of Japan and European Central Bank meetings.

FUNDAMENTALS

* Spot gold was nearly unchanged at $1,240.07 per ounce at 0053 GMT.

* U.S. gold futures for August delivery fell 0.19 percent to $1,239.60 per ounce.

* The European Central Bank is expected to lay the groundwork for an autumn policy shift when it meets on Thursday, emphasizing improved growth while tempering expectations after previously setting off a mini tantrum in financial markets.

* The Bank of Japan is set to paint a brighter picture of the economy on Thursday but cut its inflation forecasts again, reinforcing expectations that it will lag well behind major global central banks in scaling back its massive stimulus program.

* A broad barometer of global stocks rose for a ninth straight session on Wednesday as earnings season in the United States and Europe heated up, while the dollar clawed back from 10-month lows and oil prices jumped.

* Japan's exports rose for a seventh straight month in June led by shipments of cars and electronics, an indication external demand continues to support a gradual economic recovery and backing the central bank's upbeat economic view.

* U.S. homebuilding surged to a four-month high in June, but construction activity remains constrained by rising lumber prices and labor and land shortages.

* Holdings at the SPDR Gold Trust , the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund fell 0.65 percent to 816.13 tonnes on Wednesday from 821.45 tonnes on Tuesday.

* President Donald Trump's son Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign manager Paul Manafort have been asked to appear before U.S. Senate committees next week to answer questions about the campaign's alleged connections to Russia, officials said on Wednesday.

DATA AHEAD (GMT)

Japan BOJ rate decision

0600 Germany Producer prices

0830 U.K. Retail sales Monthly 1230 U.S. Initial Jobless Claims Weekly 1400 U.S. Leading Index chg Monthly

(Reporting by Nithin Prasad in Bengaluru; Editing by Joseph Radford)