Gold slips as upbeat U.S. data lifts dollar

NEW YORK/LONDON Fri Dec 23, 2011 3:43pm EST

Gold and silver bars are pictured at the Austrian Gold and Silver Separating Plant 'Oegussa' in Vienna August 26, 2011. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Gold and silver bars are pictured at the Austrian Gold and Silver Separating Plant 'Oegussa' in Vienna August 26, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Lisi Niesner

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Gold prices slipped on Friday, tracking the euro's declines as upbeat U.S. economic data boosted the dollar, though volumes were exceptionally light even for a market in holiday mode.

Spot gold eased to $1,604.90 an ounce by 2:44 p.m. EST from $1,605.90 an ounce at Thursday's close.

In New York, benchmark February gold futures settled on the COMEX down $4.6 at $1,606, in extremely thin conditions.

Data from the exchange showed trading volume was paltry at 80 percent below its average for the last 30 and 250 days.

"I've actually been trying to trade it (gold) today, but there's just nothing out there. It's listless," said Zachary Oxman at TrendMax in Encinitas, California.

Echoing other U.S. participants, he added that the MF Global bankruptcy debacle has tied up so much money that many players have exited trade earlier than usual as the year winds down, leaving trading volumes lighter than usual.

"The volume in gold and the trading in gold has just been sapped since October. We've had some big down days and that looks like it was long-side liquidation," Oxman said, adding that a pre-holiday session like Friday's would normally have 30 to 40 percent more activity.

All U.S. commodity and financial markets will be closed on Monday for the Christmas holiday.

Gold fell with the euro, which dropped against the dollar, with further declines likely heading into 2012. The festering euro zone debt crisis has spurred investors to shun risk. <USD/>

Dollar gains came with a rise in sales of new U.S. single-family homes to a seven-month high in November, on the heels of other signs of improvement in the U.S. economy on Friday. A higher dollar dampens appetite for dollar-denominated gold among holders of other currencies.

Optimism on the U.S. economic recovery stands in sharp contrast to the worry over Europe, as monetary and political authorities struggle to resolve the region's sovereign debt crisis and hold the euro zone together.

Gold prices remain on track for their first quarterly decline since the third quarter of 2008. For the year, they are up more than 13 percent.

"Markets have now moved into a pretty rock-steady price range, with most investors on the sidelines ahead of the new year," said Pradeep Unni, senior analyst at Richcomm Global Services. "Volatility too has declined significantly."

"In the immediate term it looks like gold will be associated with the other risky assets and may slip lower when we see a spike in the U.S. dollar."

Doubts remain over whether this week's European Central Bank tender of half a trillion euros' worth of cheap loans will be effective in easing the strain for troubled euro zone economies.

LARGEST GOLD ETF HOLDINGS DECLINE

The world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, the SPDR Gold Trust, recorded an outflow of just over 13 tonnes on Thursday. Its holdings were on track the first annual outflow since the fund was launched in 2004.

Inflows into the funds have slackened from the record levels they hit in recent years.

"The accumulated holdings of the 14 biggest gold ETFs fell to 74.909 million ounces from the all-time high of 75.902 million ounces set on 14 December, a decrease of 1 million ounces, or 31.1 tonnes," said HSBC in a note.

From a technical perspective, gold prices are likely to remain in a relatively narrow range ahead of year-end, with gains capped by the 200-day moving average at $1,624.46 on Friday. Analysts at ScotiaMocatta said prices are set to remain supported above $1,590, the December 20 low.

Among other precious metals, silver was up 0.1 percent at $29.11 an ounce. Spot platinum rose 0.1 percent to $1,420.63 an ounce, and spot palladium gained 1.9 percent to $661.31 an ounce.

(Reporting by Jan Harvey in London and Carole Vaporean in New York; Editing by David Gregorio)

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