PRECIOUS-Gold drops below $1,650, focus shifts to equities

Wed Feb 13, 2013 3:27pm EST

* Chinese buying still muted by Lunar New Year
    * Uncertainty over U.S. automatic spending cuts supports
    * Palladium hits fresh 17-month high before retreating
    * Coming up: U.S. weekly initial jobless claims Thursday

 (New updates throughout, changes byline, dateline, previously
LONDON)
    By Frank Tang
    NEW YORK, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Gold fell below $1,650 an ounce
on Wednesday after data showed disappointingly small growth in
U.S. retail sales in January, while some investors stayed at the
sidelines ahead of a G20 meeting later this week, which is
expected to set the tone for the gold trade.
    China's week-long Lunar New Year holiday also curbed
interest in the physical market, traders said.
    Analysts said that some investors turned their attention to
Wall Street and away from gold and other commodities after the
benchmark U.S. equities index S&P 500 rose to its highest
intraday level since Nov. 2007. 
    "More money is piling into the equities and real estate as
the economy is getting better. It doesn't bode well for gold
which is not rising with the stimulus programs in China and
Japan," said Bruce Dunn, vice president of trading at precious
metals dealer Auramet.
    Spot gold fell 0.5 percent to $1,641.74 an ounce by
3:03 p.m. EST (2003 GMT).
    U.S. gold futures for April delivery settled down
$4.50 at $1,645.10 an ounce, with trading volume at 30 percent
below its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed.
    Gold suffered technical selling pressure this week, with
prices sliding to Tuesday's one-month low at $1,638.82. 
    The Commerce Department said on Wednesday U.S. retail sales
barely rose in January as tax increases and higher gasoline
prices restrained spending, setting up the economy for only
modest growth in the first quarter. 
    However, Howard Wen, metals analyst at HSBC, said that
uncertainty over a series of U.S. automatic spending cuts and
resurgent physical demand after the Lunar new year should
underpin gold.
    Silver dropped 1 percent to $30.76 an ounce.
    
    G20, CURRENCY MOVEMENT EYED
    Analysts said they expect prices will edge higher in coming
sessions on investor short-covering before the Group of 20
summit.
    "Although people are not expecting anything dramatic to be
said at the G20 meeting, there is still some uncertainty, which
may see short-term investors cover their short positions in
coming sessions," Societe Generale analyst Robin Bahr said.
    G20 finance ministers and central bank governors are set to
meet in Moscow on Friday, with negotiations around competitive
currency policies likely to dominate. 
    Platinum group metals (PGMs) continued to outperform gold
and silver, with palladium briefly hitting a 17-month high on
supply worries and demand hopes before retreating.
    Spot palladium fell 0.6 percent to $764.22 an ounce.
Earlier in the session, it hit $775, its strongest since Sept.
5, 2011. 
    Platinum edged up 0.3 percent to $1,718, still within
sight of a 17-month peak struck last week. 
    With a 12 percent gain, platinum is the best performer this
year so far, compared with a 10 percent increase for palladium
and a nearly 2 percent fall in gold.    
 3:03 PM EST     LAST/    NET   PCT      LOW    HIGH  CURRENT
                SETTLE   CHNG  CHNG                       VOL
 US Gold APR   1645.10  -4.50  -0.3  1640.50 1655.00  120,819
 US Silver MAR  30.869 -0.150  -0.5   30.730  31.225   32,629
 US Plat APR   1729.70  12.50   0.7  1717.80 1735.90    8,829
 US Pall MAR    772.05   0.65   0.1   766.00  777.60    6,610
                                                               
 Gold          1641.74  -8.66  -0.5  1640.93 1653.20         
 Silver         30.760 -0.320  -1.0   30.750  31.210
 Platinum      1718.00   4.51   0.3  1719.75 1731.00
 Palladium      764.22  -4.78  -0.6   769.00  775.00
                                                               
 TOTAL MARKET              VOLUME          30-D ATM VOLATILITY
                CURRENT   30D AVG  250D AVG   CURRENT     CHG
 US Gold        135,762   184,326   172,646     14.05    0.00
 US Silver       42,355    47,348    51,952     21.31   -0.49
 US Platinum      9,001    16,351    11,059      17.2    0.03
 US Palladium     9,222     4,975     4,759                  
                                                               
   

 (Additional reporting by Clara Denina in London; Editing by Bob
Burgdorfer)
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