* Fed minutes show consideration to change rate hike path
* Fed not expected to raise rates until later in 2016
* GRAPHIC-2016 commod returns: link.reuters.com/reb25t (Releads, updates prices; adds comment, second byline, NEW YORK dateline)
By Marcy Nicholson and Jan Harvey
NEW YORK/LONDON, Feb 17 (Reuters) - Gold held onto earlier gains and snapped three days of losses on Wednesday, after minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s latest meeting showed policymakers considered changing their planned path of interest rate hikes in 2016.
“If the recent tightening of global financial conditions was sustained, it could be a factor amplifying downside risks” to the economy, according to the minutes of the U.S. central bank’s Jan. 26-27 policy meeting.
Gains were limited, however, as global equity markets rallied.
Spot gold was up 0.6 percent at $1,207.46 an ounce at 2:48 p.m. EST (1948 GMT), while U.S. gold futures for April delivery settled up 0.3 percent at $1,211.40.
“We believe that the Fed won’t be able to raise rates until later in the year and even then the central bank will only be able to raise rates twice, a path that is still more aggressive than what the market has priced in,” said Royce Mendes, director and senior economist at CIBC Capital Markets in Toronto.
Expectations that U.S. rates will stay lower for longer have sharpened appetite for the metal.
“Even those who felt that rates were too low to effectively respond to downside shocks agreed that waiting was prudent,” said Tai Wong, director of base and precious metals trading for BMO Capital Markets in New York, referring to the Fed minutes.
“It’s abundantly clear that the Fed is on hold until at least June which should cheer risky assets and provide no impediment to gold continuing its recent rise.”
Speculation has increased in recent days that the U.S. central bank might resort to negative interest rates to stimulate the economy after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said last week it was an option.
Ultra-low rates, which cut the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding gold, were a key factor driving prices to record highs in 2011.
“Having been long-standing bears (on gold), we have now turned bullish,” ABN Amro said in a note prior to the release of the minutes.
“We no longer expect the Fed to raise interest rates again in 2016. We think it will only resume its rate hike cycle once economic growth strengthens and the economy has absorbed the past tightening of financial conditions.”
Silver was up 0.5 percent at $15.30 an ounce, while platinum was up 1.5 percent at $940.74 an ounce and palladium was up 1.2 percent at $511 an ounce.
Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Singapore; Editing by Dale Hudson, Susanna Twidale and Marguerita Choy