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PRECIOUS-Gold prices ease as improved risk appetite weighs

Eileen Soreng

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

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

Sept 9 (Reuters) - Gold prices inched lower on Monday as equities rose, but policy easing expectations by major central banks gathered momentum, amid soft economic data, which kept prices steady over the psychological level of $1,500.

Spot gold eased 0.1% to $1,505.20 per ounce, as of 0739 GMT, having fallen nearly 1% in the previous session. U.S. gold futures also dipped 0.1% to $1,514.1 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.

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.

U.S. non-farm payrolls numbers underscores the economic fragility in the world's largest economy, Howie Lee, economist at OCBC Bank said in a note.

"With the ECB and Fed primed to further ease monetary conditions this month, it is unlikely gold will dip below $1,500/oz in the short-term."

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

Hedge funds and money managers hiked 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.

Meanwhile, spot silver dipped 0.8% to $18.01 per ounce.

Spot platinum eased 0.1% to $948.87 an ounce, while palladium rose 0.4% to $1,537.66. (Reporting by Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich, Subhranshu Sahu and Uttaresh.V)