PRECIOUS-Gold prices steady, focus shifts to timing of US rate hikes

    * Markets looking to speeches by at least 5 Fed officials
this wk
    * Spot gold may break support at $1,233/oz -technicals
    * Holdings in SPDR Gold Trust fall 0.3 pct on Friday

 (Adds comment, updates prices)
    By Arpan Varghese
    Feb 20 (Reuters) - Gold prices held steady on Monday, with
investors looking ahead to a clutch of speeches from U.S.
Federal Reserve officials later in the week for clues on the
timing of possible interest rate hikes.
     Spot gold        had inched down 0.1 percent to $1,233.61
per ounce by 0538 GMT, while U.S. gold futures         fell 0.4
percent to $1,234.8.
    "We expect muted trading to start the week in Asia with a
U.S. holiday today, although a break in gold of $1,231 may flush
away some nervous long positions," said Jeffrey Halley, senior
market analyst at OANDA.
    Bullion may break support at $1,233 per ounce, according to
Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao.             
    U.S. markets are closed on Monday for the Presidents Day
    At least five Fed officials are due to speak this week,
while Fed Board Governor Jerome Powell appears on Wednesday.
    Cleveland Fed chief Loretta Mester said on Monday she would
be comfortable raising interest rates at this point if the
economy kept performing the way it did.             
    Speculation the central bank could hike as soon as March has
generally underpinned the greenback. The dollar was mostly
unchanged against a basket of currencies at 100.92       .      
    Bullion is highly-sensitive to rising U.S. interest rates,
as these increase the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding
bullion, while boosting the dollar, in which it is priced.
    "On the fundamental side, although a stronger dollar and
buoyant U.S. equities could potentially act as a drag on gold,
other variables will likely prevent a more significant selloff,"
said INTL FCStone analyst Edward Meir.
    Concern over U.S. President Donald Trump's policies, as well
as elections in Europe, fueled gold's rise to a peak of
$1,244.67 on Feb. 8, the strongest in nearly three months. 
    The metal has risen nearly 8 percent in 2017.
    "In the short term, bullion prices could be underpinned by
political issues ... However, the end of the year story will
likely be a bearish one simply because of the interest rate
hikes that may be injected into the economy and also a stronger
dollar," said OCBC analyst Barnabas Gan.
    Meanwhile, data showed on Friday that speculators cut their
net long position in COMEX gold for the first time in three
weeks in the week to Feb. 14.             
    In other metals, silver        fell 0.2 percent to $17.96
per ounce, while platinum        shed 0.4 percent to $997.24.
    Palladium        slipped 0.3 percent to $773.10 per ounce,
after touching its highest since Jan. 24 at $795.1 in the
previous session.

 (Reporting by Arpan Varghese in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard
Pullin and Joseph Radford)