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PRECIOUS-Gold falls to lowest since July ahead of Fed meeting

* Dollar index steady ahead of Fed meeting

* GRAPHIC-2017 asset returns: http://tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl

* Platinum discount to palladium at deepest since April 2001

(New throughout, updates prices, market activity and comments; adds second byline, NEW YORK dateline) NEW YORK/LONDON, Dec 12 (Reuters) - Gold prices retreated to a near five-month low on Tuesday as investors braced for a widely expected U.S. interest rate increase this week and looked for clues about further hikes from the Federal Reserve.

Spot gold fell 0.1 percent to $1,240.64 an ounce by

1:36 p.m. EST (1836 GMT), after hitting its lowest since July 20 at $1,235.92.

U.S. gold futures for February delivery settled down

$5.20, or 0.4 percent, at $1,241.70 per ounce. Global markets are watching the U.S. central bank's two-day meeting for clues about the Fed's future rate path. "The rise is already in the price so it's more about the outlook the Fed gives," said ABN Amro commodity strategist Georgette Boele. Gold is highly sensitive to rising U.S. interest rates as these increase the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion and boost the dollar, in which it is priced. Higher equity prices and an increased interest in crypto currencies, including bitcoin, have likely stolen the shine from gold lately, causing prices to break below the most recent trading range, said Josh Graves, senior commodities strategist at RJO Futures in Chicago. Between mid-October and early-December, gold prices had stayed between $1,265 and $1,300 an ounce. "The path of least resistance is down on the FOMC meeting," Graves said of the metal's response to outgoing Fed Chair Janet Yellen's last meeting in charge. "We will likely see continued selling down to a psychological $1,200 area before you see any recovery." In other markets, U.S. stocks hit record levels as Boeing rose and bank stocks gained, while the dollar strengthened.

Oil prices slipped after peaking above $65 a barrel for the first time since mid-2015 on an unplanned shutdown of the UK's biggest North Sea oil pipeline.

Among other precious metals, silver dropped 0.3

percent at $15.66 an ounce.

Platinum fell for its eight straight session, down

0.9 percent at $876.60 an ounce, after earlier touching its lowest since February 2016 at $868.80. Platinum is more heavily used in diesel vehicles, which have fallen out of favor since Volkswagen's emissions-rigging scandal. Its sister metal, palladium, has benefited from the switch to gasoline engines and expectations for growth in hybrid gasoline-electric vehicles.

Palladium was unchanged at $1,010 per ounce.

The platinum discount to palladium widened to around $120 last week, the steepest since April 2001.

(Additional reporting by Apeksha Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Louise Heavens and Adrian Croft; Editing by David Gregorio)