| NEW YORK
NEW YORK Gold prices rose 1.5 percent to a two-week high on Tuesday, as signs of a slowing U.S. economy fuelled investors' expectation that central banks around the world will introduce new monetary stimulus.
The metal also benefited from inflation-hedge buying because of sharp rallies in crude oil on tensions over Iran's nuclear program rose, and as grain prices climbed as a drought in the U.S. Midwest spurred supply fears.
Gold has gained almost 5 percent in the past two sessions after data showed U.S. manufacturing shrank in June for the first time in nearly three years. New orders for U.S. factory goods rose more than expected in May but the trend has appeared softer this year and has added to concerns the economic recovery is losing steam.
Slowing U.S. growth, the European debt crisis and signs of cooling in the Chinese economy suggested policymakers will be more likely take bold steps to avoid a recession.
"We believe if evidence continues to mount that the U.S. economy is slowing and may require further monetary stimulus, then gold prices could get a boost rally," said James Steel, chief commodity analyst at HSBC.
Spot gold rose 1.5 percent on the day to $1,619.90 an ounce by 2:23 p.m. EDT (1823 GMT).
U.S. gold futures for August delivery settled up $24.10 an ounce at $1,621.80.
Silver rose 2.9 percent to $28.27 an ounce.
Trading volume remained light for a second straight session at 40 percent below its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed, as trading desks were thinly staffed ahead of the U.S. Independence Day holiday on Wednesday.
The key U.S. non-farm payrolls data due on Friday will be scrutinized by investors eager to predict the next move by the Fed. Employers are expected to have added 90,000 new workers to their payrolls, a Reuters survey said.
EASING HOPES BRIGHTER
Hopes for more monetary stimulus, including a third round of a U.S. assets-buyback program known as quantitative easing (QE3), boosted U.S. equities and industrial commodities like copper.
The European Central Bank (ECB) could cut interest rates to a record low later this week. Gold soared 3 percent last Friday on a deal by European leaders to shore up banks and cut borrowing costs.
"Commodities are very sensitive to central bank liquidity and we think gold did a great job recently of forecasting further easing before the fact," said Mark Arbeter, chief technical strategist of S&P Capital IQ.
However, physical demand was still lagging. Buying in Asia's physical gold market remained thin after short-lived excitement late last week when bullion briefly dropped below $1,550 per ounce, before Friday's 3 percent rally.
A near record low rupee also curbed gold purchases from India, traditionally the world's top bullion consumer.
In platinum group metals, platinum rose 2.3 percent to $1,482.25, while palladium was up 3.8 percent at $593.20.
(Additional reporting by Veronica Brown and Jan Harvey in London; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)