Gold rises for 4th day on easing worries, Greece

NEW YORK/LONDON Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:00pm EST

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

Gold 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 rose to a three-month high on Thursday, extending to a fourth straight day of gains, as a dollar drop and expectations of easy monetary policies underpinned gold's inflation hedge appeal.

Profit taking weighed on platinum price, which eased after touching a five-month peak earlier in the session as a damaging strike in major producer South Africa ground on.

Increase in risk appetite lifted gold along with the euro and U.S. equities after data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits held at the lowest level since the early day of the 2007-2009 recession. Silver also jumped 3 percent.

Bullion has benefited from expectations for further easing by China and after the U.S. Federal Reserve last month said it would keep rates near zero at least until late 2014. Lingering economic uncertainty after the Greece rescue package also helped.

"Investors continue to think that the wave of easy monetary policies will still be available for gold to take a ride on, as the Greek bailout deal rekindled fears about central banks printing money," said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist of Janney Montgomery Scott, which manages $54 billion in assets.

The European Central Bank's long-term refinancing operation also put more liquidity into the system, which boosted gold prices, Luschini said.

Spot gold was up 0.2 percent at $1,780.06 an ounce by 3:32 p.m. EST (2032 GMT), having earlier rose to a three-month high of $1,787.11.

Bullion's four-day winning streak was its longest since early January.

U.S. COMEX gold futures for April delivery settled up $15 at $1,786.30 an ounce, with volume about 25 percent below its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed.

Silver was up 3.3 percent at $35.40.

Gold investors took heart as the euro hit a 2-1/2 month high against the dollar and after better-than-expected German data eased concerns about the euro zone's economic outlook.

Gains in crude oil prices also triggered inflation hedge buying. Brent oil powered to a nine-month high above $124 per barrel due to heightened tension between Iran and the West.

OPTIONS-RELATED BUYING

U.S. gold futures are set for an over 3 percent gain so far this week, which would be their largest weekly rally since late January.

The expiry of March COMEX options in New York on Thursday also lifted gold futures prices.

Wednesday's rally brought some hefty strikes into the money, with most open interest at $1,750 and $1,800 calls, which guarantee the holder the right, but not the obligation, to buy the metal at this price up to expiry.

Platinum rose towards $1,730 for the first time since September after news on Wednesday that strike at number two platinum miner Impala (IMPJ.J)'s Rustenburg mine was likely to cut customer deliveries in April by about 50 percent.

Spot platinum eased 0.1 percent on the day to $1,719 an ounce, having gained more than 10 percent in the last month on market expectations for disruptions to South African supply.

Palladium was down 0.8 percent at $713.40 an ounce, having earlier tracked platinum up to a five-month high at $722.75 an ounce.

(Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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