* CME likely to launch contract in Hong Kong - sources
* Contract size expected to be 1 kg
* Rivals have been boosting Asia commodities operations
By A. Ananthalakshmi and Frank Tang
SINGAPORE/NEW YORK, April 24 CME Group Inc plans to launch a physically deliverable gold futures contract in Asia, three sources familiar with the matter said, as the world's No.1 futures exchange targets rising hedging and investor demand in the top gold-consuming region.
An Asian contract from CME could help set a pricing reference for gold futures in Asia, much like its U.S. COMEX gold contract sets the benchmark for bullion futures globally.
The move may also help CME boost flagging revenues from its precious metals futures and comes as its rivals are expanding their presence in Asia to tap demand from China, the world's biggest consumer of commodities, including gold.
CME is most likely to launch the gold contract in Hong Kong, with Singapore also an option, two sources briefed on the matter said, adding the contract is likely to be launched this year.
A third source, a market maker, said CME was looking to launch a 1 kilogram (35.3 ounces) contract.
The plan has not yet been finalised and CME could still scrap it, one of the sources said. No other details of the plan were available.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorised to speak to the media.
"We regularly talk with our customers and market participants about new and innovative ways to help them manage their global price risk," said a CME Group spokesman, when asked about the Asian contract.
CME's COMEX contract - widely used for hedging by jewellers and refiners around the world, and speculation - is mostly cash settled.
In the first three months of 2014, U.S. COMEX gold futures volume fell 10 percent from a year ago. The new Asian contract could help boost volumes for CME.
Asia is the top consumer of bullion in the form of jewellery, bars and coins. Demand for physical gold in Asia has climbed over the past year after the metal's price slumped as western investors dumped the metal on expectations a strengthening economy will dampen gold's safe-haven appeal.
As gold tumbled 28 percent in 2013, China's imports of the metal from main conduit Hong Kong more than doubled to about 1,160 tonnes.
The success of the Asian gold contract, however, will depend on the finer details, such as contract size, trading hours and the liquidity it can garner, said a Hong Kong-based precious metals trader.
CME's U.S. futures are 100-ounce contracts which are too big for Asian clients, the trader said. They are still the most liquid gold futures in the world.
The most-traded Asian gold futures contract currently is the one on the Shanghai Futures Exchange, which is a 1 kilogram contract. But it is closed to foreign investors.
CME's Asian gold contract could be the first among its biggest rivals, who have already been boosting their regional commodities operations.
IntercontinentalExchange Group last year announced the acquisition of Singapore Mercantile Exchange, while Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd, owner of the London Metals Exchange, said this week it was entering the Chinese commodities derivatives market.
And the Singapore Exchange is looking to launch a contract this year, along with the government-backed industry body Singapore Bullion Market Association, as the southeast Asian country aims to get a say on gold pricing, sources told Reuters earlier this year. (Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)