Gold eases off highs as investors lock in profits

Gold prices inched lower on Thursday, with some investors taking advantage of a recent surge in prices to lock in profits.

Spot gold was down 0.42 percent at $1228.85 an ounce. On Tuesday it hit a more than three-month high of $1,239.68 as a global stock market sell-off spurred interest in the metal, which is considered a safer store of value during times of political and financial uncertainty.

U.S. gold futures were up 0.04 percent at $1,231.6 an ounce.

"Gold is pausing for a breath and is probably consolidating for the next possible move higher. Some speculative investors would be in a position to take profit," said Mitsubishi analyst Jonathan Butler.

"It is running into some resistance around $1,240. The next significant level is the $1,250 psychological barrier," he added.

Gold prices have gained more than 3 percent so far this month, on track to break a six month losing streak, the length of which was last seen in the August 1996-January 1997 period.

European shares attempted to rebound on Thursday after Wall Street suffered its worst day since 2011.

But global stocks are on course for their worst month since the financial crisis a decade ago as investors become increasingly nervous about lofty stock prices, faster rate hikes in the United States and an ongoing Sino-U.S. trade war.

"Further equity weakness is likely to entice participants into the precious complex over the near-term," traders at MKS PAMP said in a note.

They added that gold prices could also move higher if speculative investors who have in recent months ramped up bets on lower prices are forced to abandon their positions.

Markets will be watching for any change in policy guidance or tone at a European Central Bank monetary policy meeting later on Thursday, with a spat between Italy and the European Union once again making investors nervous.

Another sign of rising interest in gold was higher inflows into the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, SPDR Gold Trust.

Holdings in the fund, which saw significant outflows between late April and early October, have risen to their highest since the end of August.

In other precious metals, palladium was down 2 percent at $1,103.30 an ounce, drifting away from a record high of $1,150.50 an ounce hit on Tuesday.

Silver rose 0.13 percent to $14.62 per ounce, and platinum was up 0.05 percent at $827.10 per ounce.