* Palladium edges up after hitting lowest since Dec. 18
* GRAPHIC-2018 asset returns: http://tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl
(New throughout, updates prices, market activity and comments; adds second byline and NEW YORK dateline) NEW YORK/LONDON, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Gold prices were nearly unchanged on Thursday as markets anticipated U.S. jobs data due at the end of the week for guidance on monetary policy for the remainder of the year.
Spot gold shed 0.01 percent at $1,344.56 ounce by
1:36 p.m. EST (1836 GMT). It touched $1,332.30 an ounce in the previous session, its lowest since Jan. 23.
U.S. gold futures futures for April delivery settled
up $4.80, or 0.4 percent, at $1,347.90 per ounce. The U.S. Fed held interest rates unchanged on Wednesday but raised its inflation outlook and flagged "further gradual" rate increases. "One thing that could throw a wrench into the Feds plans to raise three times this year is wages. Employment has certainly continued to march higher with unemployment dropping, but wages have been sticky," said Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at St. Louis-based EverBank. Stronger-than-expected jobs data, lower unemployment and higher wages would signal strength in the economy, and could in turn strengthen the dollar and pressure gold, Gaffney added. Gold gained just 3.2 percent in January as the dollar fell to three-year lows against a basket of major currencies. It hit a 17-month peak of $1,366.07 on Jan. 25. "We remain somewhat friendly to gold in the short-term. The dollar seems to be adrift, as investors are unsure what direction to push it," said INTL FCStone analyst Edward Meir. The dollar index inched lower after the Fed signaled its confidence about inflation and growth in the U.S. economy, reinforcing views it will raise rates several times this year.
Inflation worries generally boost gold, which is seen as a safe-haven against rising prices. But expectations that the Fed will raise interest rates to fight inflation make gold less attractive because it does not pay interest. Holdings of the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded
fund, New York-listed SPDR Gold Shares , fell another 4.1
tonnes on Wednesday, data from the fund showed, cutting its inflow for January to just 3.9 tonnes.
In other precious metals, silver slipped 0.6 percent to $17.20 per ounce and platinum fell 0.5 percent to
Palladium was 0.3 percent higher at $1,030.97 per
ounce after touching $1,013.72 earlier in the session, its lowest since Dec. 18. The metal is down about 3.5 percent so far this year. "I wouldn't be surprised to see prices reach $1,000 because demand is strong but its not strong enough for the price to be at $1,100," said Natixis analyst Bernard Dahdah, adding that this was the beginning of a correction for the metal.
(Additional reporting by Nithin Prasad and Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; Editing by Alison Williams and David Gregorio)