PRECIOUS-Gold up before Christmas, heads for big yearly loss

Tue Dec 24, 2013 1:57pm EST

* Lifted by bargain hunting, portfolio adjustments

* Stronger U.S. data, Fed pullback cast pall on market

By Barani Krishnan and Clara Denina

NEW YORK/LONDON, Dec 24 (Reuters) - U.S. gold futures ended up and the spot price of bullion steadied on Tuesday as bargain hunters were lured by prices that lingered near six-month lows around $1,200 an ounce in the final session before Christmas.

Volume remained thin as most gold investors tried to even out holdings ahead of yearend.

"People are trying to avoid paying higher taxes than necessary for positions that will be marked-to-market at the end of Dec. 31, so there's quite a bit of portfolio evening out that's going on, so to speak," said George Gero, a gold market analyst and vice president at RBC Capital Markets Global Futures in New York.

"There's also been some short-covering and bargain hunting that has emerged since we got to below $1,200 in the last couple of days."

U.S. gold futures' benchmark February contract settled up 0.5 percent at $1,203.30.

The spot price of bullion was at $1,198.23 an ounce by 1:41 p.m. EST (1841 GMT), little changed from late Monday's level.

On Friday, gold tumbled to six-month lows of around $1,185 after the U.S. Federal Reserve said it would start scaling back its long-running monetary stimulus program, which had fed a long gold-buying spree. Gold hit record highs above $1,900 in 2011, as years of increased central bank liquidity and record-low interest rates made gold more appealing to investors.

As the end of the year approaches, gold down is 28 percent for 2013, ending a 12-year rally.

"It is clear in our view that gold can expect little in the way of support from Western investment markets," HSBC said in a note.

"Investors continue to lighten long positions, exit the gold exchange-traded funds or go outright short."

Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, fell 8.40 tonnes to 805.72 tonnes on Monday, the lowest in nearly five years.

Strengthening U.S. economic data have been weakening gold's status as a safe haven. U.S. consumer spending rose in November at the fastest pace since June, data showed on Monday, while consumer sentiment hit a five-month high.

"The broad consensus is that 2014 is going to be a better year for the global economy," Macquarie analyst Matthew Turner said.

"There's less risk of shocks because the euro zone crisis seems to have stabilized, some of the emerging market concerns seem to have faded, the U.S. is reducing QE and inflation is going to remain low," he added. "Without a major shock, investor demand (for gold) seems unlikely to pick up."

Among other precious metals, silver was flat at $19.41 an ounce. Spot platinum was up 0.6 percent at $1,331.24 an ounce, having fallen to its lowest since early July at $1,309.75 on Thursday. Spot palladium was down 0.4 percent at $690 an ounce.