* Gold specs cut net long position by 23,822 contracts - CFTC
* GRAPHIC-2018 asset returns: http://tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl
(Updates throughout, adds LONDON dateline) LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) - Gold prices steadied on Monday after hitting their highest in five weeks as the market weighed an easing of global trade tensions against support from tempered expectations of U.S. interest rate increases.
Spot gold was mostly flat at $1,346,20 per ounce by
1030 GMT, after hitting its loftiest since Feb. 19 at $1,350.76.
U.S. gold futures for April delivery shed 0.3
percent to $1,346.30 per ounce. The United States and South Korea agreed to revise a trade pact criticized by U.S. President Donald Trump, Seoul said, with U.S. automakers winning improved market access and Korean steelmakers hit with quotas but avoiding hefty tariffs.
The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, reported that the United States and China had started negotiating to improve U.S. access to Chinese markets. Analysts said gold continued to be supported by last week's statement from the U.S. Federal Reserve which forecast at least two more hikes for 2018. Many had expected three more increases. "There is no groundbreaking news on the trade war front and gold is taking a bit of a pause," said ETF Securities commodities strategist Nitesh Shah, adding that the two main drivers in gold were dampened interest rate expectations and global trade disagreements. "There is a bit of wait and see before the Trump administration puts out any details on what's included in the list of tariffs," Shah said. Gold is sought as a store of value in times of political and financial uncertainty.
The dollar index , which measures the greenback
against six major currencies, was down 0.2 percent at its lowest since Feb. 20. "Trump and China seem to be narrowing the list of tariffs and it might not be as disastrous as originally thought," a Singapore-based trader said. Meanwhile, investors continued to monitor other developments such as Trump's appointment of John Bolton as national security adviser and fresh tensions between Saudi Arabia and Yemen's Houthi militia. The appointment of Bolton, who has previously advocated using military force against North Korea and Iran, last week provoked strong reactions worldwide. Speculators cut their net long positions in gold in the week to March 20 by 23,822 contracts to 121,838 contracts, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data showed on Friday.
Among other precious metals, silver climbed 0.4 percent to $16.59 per ounce; platinum rose 0.1 percent to
$948.24 per ounce.
Palladium gained 0.6 percent to $982.50 per ounce.
(Additional reporting by Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru; Editing by Dale Hudson)