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Gold falls to two-week low on U.S. rate hike prospects

NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Gold prices slid on Monday and hit a two-week low as upbeat comments from Federal Reserve officials on the U.S. economy boosted expectations that the central bank could lift interest rates sooner rather than later.

The symbol AU for the chemical element of gold is seen next to one-gram gold bars on display at the annual meeting of German Sparkasse savings banks in Duesseldorf, Germany, April 27, 2016. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay/Files

The Fed’s No.2 policymaker, Stanley Fischer, said on Sunday the central bank is close to hitting targets for full employment and 2 percent inflation.

That followed comments last week from New York Fed President William Dudley that the labour market is improving, and from San Francisco Fed chief John Williams that waiting too long to lift rates could be costly for the economy.

Gold is highly sensitive to rising U.S. interest rates, which boost the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding gold, while lifting the dollar, in which it is priced.

Spot gold was down 0.2 percent at $1,338.01 per ounce by 2:38 p.m. ET (1838 GMT) after hitting a session low of $1331.35, its lowest since Aug. 9.

The most active U.S. gold futures for December delivery settled down $2.8, or 0.21 percent, at $1,343.4 per ounce.

“We definitely think the U.S. recovery is on track. Inflation is starting to pick up, employment is pretty much at the natural rate, so everything is coming together to suggest there’s a very high probability of a rate hike before the end of the year,” Dan Smith, analyst at Oxford Economics, said.

“I don’t think that’s wholly priced in (to gold). It does have the potential to have an impact,” he said. “I don’t see why we can’t go below $1,300 before the end of the year.”

Central bankers from around the world will gather from Aug. 25 for an annual meeting in the mountains of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with Chair Janet Yellen due to speak the following day.

The dollar rose against the yen and euro on Monday as traders reassessed expectations for Fed action on rates after policymakers’ comments last week. [FRX/]

Speculators cut their bullish positions in COMEX gold contracts in the week to Aug. 16, but remains near the record high touched early last month.

“Sizable long positions plus technical vulnerability, the strength in the dollar and then the hawkish news - all of that is working against gold,” said Eli Tesfaye, senior market strategist for brokerage RJO Futures in Chicago.

If prices fall below Monday’s low, the market could see further liquidation, Tesfaye said.

The world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, New York-listed SPDR Gold Shares, reported an outflow of 4.5 tonnes last week, adding to the near 20-tonne drop in its holdings the previous week.

Silver hit a seven-week low of $18.77 an ounce and was later down 2.31 percent at $18.84.

Platinum was down 1.19 percent at $1,097.25, after falling to its lowest in nearly a month. Palladium was 2.82 percent lower at $688.

Additional reporting by Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; editing by Adrian Croft and Marguerita Choy