LONDON Gold steadied near a two-week high on Wednesday after jumping 4 percent in the past three days, with investors keeping their powder dry ahead of an expected European Central Bank rate cut and pivotal U.S. jobs data.
With trading subdued by the U.S. Independence Day holiday, spot gold dipped 0.2 percent to $1,614.78 an ounce by 2.10 p.m. EDT, resisting deeper losses in adjacent markets such as oil and copper. It may struggle to break above $1,630, the top of its trading range since early May.
Investment demand for bullion has flagged over the last few months, in light of uncertainty over the impact of the euro zone debt crisis on the global economy that has resulted in the dollar's emerging as the safe-haven asset of choice, to the detriment of gold.
Holdings of gold in exchange-traded funds, often used as a gauge of longer-term investor demand, have eased this week, but remain less than half a percent off March's record high above 70.89 million ounces.
This week could be decisive in determining the likely course of monetary policy in the United States and the euro zone, where low interest rates in both regions have been instrumental in creating demand for gold.
The ECB on Thursday is widely expected to cut euro zone rates to a record low to try to contain the debt crisis, without resorting to buying the sovereign bonds of heavily indebted nations such as Spain and Italy to lower their borrowing costs.
More crucially for the gold market is U.S. monthly employment data on Friday, which will offer some proof of the ability of the economy to generate jobs and the scope for the Federal Reserve to take additional policy measures to stimulate growth.
COMEX gold futures for August delivery traded down 0.4 percent on the day at $1,615.10 in electronic dealing.
Bullion is still up nearly 1 percent on the week, potentially heading toward its first back-to-back weekly gains since late February.
"With the U.S. off, volumes are half of what was traded yesterday and yesterday was a low-volume day. There has been a bit of profit-taking and I still see resistance at $1,630.00," Andrey Kryuchenkov, an analyst at VTB Capital, said.
"At the end of the day, people are still very cautious."
The U.S. monthly jobs report is expected to show 90,000 workers were added to nonfarm payrolls in June and the unemployment rate held at 8.2 percent.
The May report showed the slowest growth in payrolls in a year and revived speculation that the Fed could resort to more asset purchases to anchor borrowing rates to boost the economy, particularly ahead of this November's presidential election.
FED TRUMPS ECB
The ECB's widely expected decision on Thursday to cut rates by 25 basis points to a record low 0.75 percent could prove positive for gold, even if shifts in U.S. rates have more impact on the dollar price of the metal.
"Gold tends to benefit from easier monetary policy," HSBC analyst James Steel said.
"....while an ECB rate cut might be initially bearish for the euro it should ultimately help support the euro to the extent that it relieves financial market pressures in the euro zone. Based on the positive correlation between the euro and gold prices, an ECB rate cut could therefore be near-term bearish but eventually bullish for gold."
The correlation between the euro/dollar exchange rate and the gold price touched its strongest in 2-1/2 months on Wednesday, rising to 0.60 from below 0.40 in late June, meaning the two assets are more likely to move in tandem with each other than they were two weeks ago.
In fundamental news for gold, output in China, the world's largest producer, stood at 31.2 metric tons in May, up from 28.8 metric tons in April and the highest monthly figure this year.
The slightly weaker tone in gold extended to silver, to which it tends to be positively correlated. The correlation between the two rose to 0.89, from around 0.85 late last week, the highest since March.
Silver was last down 0.3 percent at $28.11 an ounce.
Platinum slid 0.65 percent on the day to $1,472.73, while palladium dipped by 0.4 percent to $591.95. The palladium price staged its biggest one-day rally since late December on Tuesday, when it rose by 3.82 percent.
The previous session's weakness in the dollar, which makes it more profitable for non-U.S. investors to buy dollar-priced assets, together with data that showed car sales in the United States beat expectations in June helped trigger the rally.
The figures, which showed a 22-percent rise in sales in the world's second-largest car market last month, showed an annualized sales rate of 14.1 million vehicles, compared with analysts' estimates of 13.9 million.
Palladium is employed mainly in the catalytic converters of gasoline-powered vehicles, which are the most commonly used in the U.S. market.
(Editing by Alison Birrane, Keiron Henderson and Dale Hudson)