NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - A weakening dollar and short covering drove investors back into gold on Friday, lifting prices to end a sharp four-session pullback that still yielded the biggest weekly decline in almost three months.
Spot gold rallied as much as 1.7 percent to $1,600.49 per ounce, and steadied at $1,596.40 by 4 p.m. EST (2100 GMT,) up from a near 3-month low at 1,560.36 hit in the previous session.
U.S. gold rose 1.31 percent to close at $1,597.90 per ounce, after hitting a high at $1,598.10 per ounce.
David Lee, metals trader at Heraeus Precious Metals Management in New York said he thought gold's push higher on Friday was a function of the yellow metal being temporarily oversold after its nosedive from levels above $1,750 last week.
"Some people were taking the opportunity to scoop it up at lower levels. And, it's still up year to date. So, it wasn't surprising that people wanted to sell it off to raise cash for the year end," Lee said.
He warned, however, that the 1 to 2 percent rebound was not significant relative to the high priced of the yellow metal, adding that prices could come off again if the crisis in Europe worsens before year end.
"If comes back down to the day's low on Sunday night, for example, I'd say dump it really fast. I think it will continue to go down to around $1,550," said Lee.
A slightly weaker dollar against a basket of currencies also
helped boost precious metal prices .DXY. A softer U.S. currency makes dollar-priced commodities, such as gold, more affordable for holders of other currencies.
For the week, bullion lost around 6.60 percent, its biggest fall since late September. It remains vulnerable to a deepening euro zone debt crisis and rising funding stress.
"Gold took a beating this week and today bounced a bit as investors see this as a good moment to buy, but it is still vulnerable," Credit Agricole analyst Robin Bhar said.
"I expect gold will stay under pressure as the funding stress is increasing the need for liquidity, and gold is seen as one of the assets to liquidate."
The need for cash has overwhelmed gold's traditional status as a safe haven in the past few months, putting the metal on course for its first quarterly fall since end-September 2008 when the global credit crunch was at its worst.
Gold has, therefore, benefited recently from developments that have reduced risk aversion and the flight to cash.
It got a boost after Spain attracted solid demand for its bonds on Thursday, helping to ease concerns the country could be among the next to fall in the euro zone's debt crisis.
"At the moment a lot of people are resting their hopes on the fact that physical demand will pull gold back up again, but because of the amount of speculative investment that has gone into this market over the last years, it is obviously exposed on that basis," said Ole Hansen, a senior manager at Saxo Bank.
Gold's 200-day moving average: link.reuters.com/fux55s
Graphic on year-to-date metals performance: link.reuters.com/taj93s
Gold benefits when central banks print money or cut interest rates or when money managers diversify assets.
"With access to liquidity being constrained, market participants have increasing problems to refinance," Credit Suisse said in a research note.
"As a result they have to sell their assets - including precious metals - to raise the much-needed cash. This is the main reason why gold prices fall on days of increasing funding stress."
In other precious metals, spot silver gained as much as 2.68 percent to trade at $29.97 an ounce, before pulling back to $29.64 per ounce late in the session.
Spot platinum rose to a high at $1,436.25, then changed hands at $1,415.24, up from $1,404 at Thursday's close.
Palladium climbed to a session high of $632.52 an ounce and then steadied around $620.72, higher than the previous close at $614.25 per ounce.
"As well as tracking gold, for platinum and palladium there are fears over weak industrial growth, and they may be hit harder as people look to liquidate risk," Bhar said.
"Some support however comes from costs. These metals are already trading very close to their costs."