GOLD held near two-week highs on Wednesday and was set for its second successive weekly gain, thanks to a modest decline in the dollar that may sharpen investor appetite for the metal, although a US public holiday will likely temper any gains.
Investment demand for bullion has flagged over the last few months, in light of the high degree of uncertainty over the impact of the eurozone debt crisis on the global economy that has resulted in the dollar emerging as the safe-haven asset of choice, to the detriment of gold.
Yet holdings of gold in exchange-traded funds, often used as a gauge of longer-term investor demand, have eased this week, but remain less than half a% off March's record high above 70,89-million ounces.
This week could be decisive in determining the likely course of monetary policy in both the United States and the eurozone, where the low interest rates that prevail in both regions have been instrumental in creating demand for gold.
The European Central Bank (ECB) meets on Thursday to discuss monetary policy and is widely expected to cut eurozone rates to a record low to try to contain the debt crisis, without resorting to buying the sovereign bonds of heavily indebted nations such as Spain and Italy to lower their borrowing costs.
More crucially for the gold market is US monthly employment data on Friday, which will offer some proof of the ability of the economy to generate jobs and the scope for the Federal Reserve to take additional policy measures to stimulate growth.
Spot gold was bid at $1615,99 an ounce at 9.53am GMT, down 0,1% on the day and was up nearly 1% on the week, set for its second consecutive weekly rally, its longest stretch of gains since late February.
COMEX gold futures for August delivery traded down 0,4% on the day at $1616,20 on the Globex electronic platform.
"We are still not seeing any notable pick-up on a sustained basis in physical demand from key Asian markets and I don't think the bigger institutions are going to get heavily involved again until we get more certainty about the Fed's actions," Credit Suisse analyst Tom Kendall said.
"For now, there is a pretty strong technical cap between$1635 and $1640."
The US monthly jobs report is expected to show 90000 workers were added to non-farm payrolls in June and the unemployment rate held at 8,2%.
The May report showed the slowest growth in payrolls in a year and revived speculation that the Fed could resort to more asset purchases to anchor borrowing rates to boost the economy, particularly ahead of this November's presidential elections.
FED TRUMPS ECB
The ECB's widely expected decision on Thursday to cut rates by 25 basis points to a record low 0,75% could prove positive for gold, even if shifts in US rates have more impact on the dollar-price of the metal.
"Gold tends to benefit from easier monetary policy," HSBC analyst James Steel said.
". ...while an ECB rate cut might be initially bearish for the euro it should ultimately help support the euro to the extent that it relieves financial market pressures in the euro zone. Based on the positive correlation between the euro and gold prices, an ECB rate cut could therefore be near-term bearish but eventually bullish for gold."
The correlation between the euro/dollar exchange rate and the gold price touched its strongest in 2-1/2 months on Wednesday, rising to 0,60 from below 0,40 in late June, meaning the two assets are more likely to move in tandem with each other than they were two weeks ago.
In fundamental news for gold, output in China, the world's largest producer, stood at 31,2 tons in May, up from 28,8 tons in April and the highest monthly figure this year.
The steadier tone in gold extended to silver, to which it tends to be quite strongly positively correlated. The correlation between the two rose to 0,89, from around 0,85 late last week, the highest since March.
Silver was last flat on the day at $28,41 an ounce.
Platinum slid 0,8% on the day to $1470,29, while palladium rose by 0,3% to $596,25. The palladium price staged its biggest one-day rally since late December on Tuesday, when it rose by 3,82%.
The previous session's weakness in the dollar, which makes it more profitable for non-US investors to buy dollar-priced assets, together with data that showed car sales in the United States beat expectations in June helped trigger the rally.
The figures, which showed a 22% rise in sales in the world's second-largest car market last month, showed an annualised sales rate of 14,1-million vehicles, compared with analysts' estimates of 13,9-million.
Palladium is employed mainly in the catalytic converters of gasoline-powered vehicles, which are the most commonly used in the US market.