* Gold neutral in $1,590-$1,620 range -technicals
* Coming Up: U.S. ISM manufacturing index; 1400 GMT
By Lewa Pardomuan
SINGAPORE, April 1 Gold firmed on Monday, as
signs that China's economic recovery was gaining traction could
boost demand for commodities, but prices could be capped by
worries about the debt crisis in Cyprus and the weakness of the
euro versus the U.S. dollar.
Tension in the Korean peninsula has yet to trigger a rush in
purchases from investors in Asia, but a full-scale conflict
between the two Koreas could potentially boost gold's safe-haven
appeal in times of uncertainty.
Gold hit an intraday high of $1,600.81 an ounce and
stood at $1,597.76 by 0647 GMT, up $1.59. The precious metal
ended the quarter down around 4 percent after stock markets
surged and the euro stayed weak against the dollar.
Gold rallied to a 1-month high in March on concerns about
fiscal stability in Europe after the European Union gave Cyprus
an ultimatum to raise billions of euros it needs to clinch a
bailout deal or face a likely exit from the currency zone.
"We are in an uncertain market. Normally a strong PMI data
from China would tend to draw investors towards stocks and not
support gold prices, but this time we see a reverse. The North
Korea tension is adding to the market uncertainty," said Brian
Lan, managing director of GoldSilver Central Pte Ltd.
"We see physical buying by the retail investors during price
dips and this helped to support prices, which should go up above
$1,600. If everything goes well, it seems like gold could move
on to a higher trading range. Gold should test $1,620."
Premiums for gold bars were largely unchanged in Singapore
at 1.20 to $1.50 to the spot prices in London.
Stronger domestic demand helped China's factory activity to
rebound in March, with new orders up sharply in a sign the
underlying economic recovery is strong enough to weather any
risks from patchy export performance, surveys showed on Monday.
Tokyo gold futures <0#JAU:> gave up early gains and
investors closely watched developments on the Korean peninsula
after South Korean President said the country would strike back
if the North stages any attack on its territory.
Tensions have been high since the North's young new leader,
Kim Jong-un, ordered a nuclear weapons test in February,
breaching U.N. sanctions and ignoring warnings from North
Korea's closest ally, China, not to do so.
"There was some early buying on TOCOM. It may be related to
Korea, but nobody talks about it here," said a dealer in Tokyo.
"Some places are still closed for holidays, so the market is
quiet and the volume is thin, which exaggerates movements."
The euro slipped to approach a four-month low on concerns
about the spillover from Cyprus' bailout terms, while the
Australian dollar was tripped up after data showed a slower than
expected rebound in Chinese factory activity in March.
Financial markets in Australia, Hong Kong and Europe are
still closed for Easter holidays.
U.S. gold futures for June were at $1,598.40 an
ounce, up $2.70.
Hedge funds and money managers sharply raised bearish bets
on copper and trimmed net long positions in gold and silver
futures and options in the week to March 26, Commodity Futures
Trading Commission data showed on Friday.
Precious metals prices 0647 GMT
Metal Last Change Pct chg YTD pct chg Volume
Spot Gold 1597.76 1.59 +0.10 -4.59
Spot Silver 28.04 -0.28 -0.99 -7.40
Spot Platinum 1571.99 6.49 +0.41 2.41
Spot Palladium 766.00 -3.50 -0.45 10.69
COMEX GOLD JUN3 1598.40 2.70 +0.17 -4.62 11248
COMEX SILVER MAY3 28.02 -0.30 -1.07 -7.31 6318
COMEX gold and silver contracts show the most active months
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez)