PRECIOUS-Gold inches lower ahead of key U.S. data

* Spot gold looks neutral in a range of $1,318-$1,327/oz

* All eyes on U.S. CPI data due at 1230 GMT

March 13 (Reuters) - Gold prices crept lower on Tuesday on a firmer dollar as investors waited for U.S. consumer price data due later in the day to gauge the outlook for inflation and the Federal Reserve's rate hike stance.

Spot gold dipped 0.1 percent to $1,321.34 per ounce

at 0359 GMT.

U.S. gold futures for April delivery rose 0.1

percent to $1,321.60 per ounce.

The dollar index , which measures the U.S. Dollar

against a basket of currencies, was up 0.1 percent at 89.977. "Gold traders are adopting a more neutral stance ... While a March hike is fully priced in, traders usually get a bit anxious awaiting the Fed statement and key forward guidance," said Stephen Innes, APAC trading head at OANDA. "We should expect interest rate uncertainty to weigh on prices over the short term." The U.S. government is expected to release consumer price index (CPI) data at 1230 GMT, a key focus for the day. The median forecast by economists polled by Reuters points to annual core CPI inflation of 1.8 percent in February, which would be flat from January. A higher reading could stoke expectations that the Federal Reserve will likely raise interest rates four times, rather than three times, this year. Higher interest rates increase the opportunity cost for non-yielding bullion. Any outcome above expectations will put gold under pressure, said Richard Xu, a fund manager at HuaAn Gold, China's biggest gold exchange-traded fund. In the longer term, Xu expected gold to be range bound this year, although an expected slowdown in the Chinese economy will provide support. In February, growth in China's manufacturing sector cooled to the weakest in over 1-1/2 years, raising concerns of a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the world's second biggest economy this year as regulators tighten the screws on financial risks. Spot gold looks neutral in a range of $1,318-$1,327 per ounce and an escape could suggest a direction, according to Reuters Technical analyst, Wang Tao.

In other precious metals, silver rose 0.2 percent to

$16.52 per ounce.

Platinum fell 0.4 percent, to $959.00 per ounce, the highest since Sept. 8, while palladium remained unchanged

at $978.50 per ounce.

(Reporting by Nithin Prasad and Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru Editing by Joseph Radford and Richard Pullin)