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PRECIOUS-Gold inches higher, but improved risk appetite caps gains

Eileen Soreng

* Spot gold to test support at $1,497/oz - technicals

* Speculators raise bullish COMEX gold, silver bets - CFTC (Adds comments, details, updates prices)

Sept 9 (Reuters) - Gold prices edged higher on Monday as expectations of monetary policy easing by major central banks gathered momentum amid soft economic data, although an uptick in equities limited gains in the precious metal.

Spot gold was up 0.2% at $1,509.45 per ounce, as of 0351 GMT, after a near 1% drop in the previous session. U.S. gold futures were also up 0.2%, at $1,517.9 an ounce.

"The renewed global risk appetite has spurred some weakness in safe-haven assets," said Phillip Futures analyst Benjamin Lu.

"We are seeing short-term weakness (in gold prices), but in the long term the trajectory is still bullish."

Global equity markets received a lift after China's central bank said on Friday it was reducing how much cash banks must hold in reserve, releasing liquidity to shore up an economy slowed by the Sino-U.S. trade conflict.

Meanwhile, data on Sunday showed China's exports unexpectedly fell in August as shipments to the United States plummeted, pointing to further weakness in the world's second-biggest economy and underlining the need for more stimulus.

Risk sentiment was also supported by comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell that the U.S. central bank would continue to act "as appropriate" to sustain the economic expansion.

Powell's comments and a mixed U.S. employment report firmed market expectations that the Fed would cut interest rates at its meeting later this month.

Data from the Labor Department on Friday showed U.S. job growth slowed more than expected in August, but strong wage gains should support consumer spending and keep the economy expanding moderately.

Lower interest rates reduce the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion.

"Central banks across the globe look set to remain on a dovish path as the global economy slows, pushing bond yields lower, which helps to support the precious metal... This dynamic is further exacerbated by rising fears of recession," Fitch Solutions said in a note.

Investors now await the European Central Bank's meeting later this week amid hopes it would cut interest rates.

Hedge funds and money managers upped their bullish positions in COMEX gold and silver contracts in the week to Sept. 3, the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) said on Friday.

Spot gold is expected to test a support at $1,497 per ounce, a break below which could cause a further fall to $1,453, according to Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao.

Elsewhere, spot silver dipped 0.6% to $18.04 per ounce.

Spot platinum fell 0.4% to $946.20 an ounce, while palladium was down 0.1% at $1,535.56. (Reporting by Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich and Subhranshu Sahu)