PRECIOUS-Gold firm but heading for worst week since Dec. on rate hike jitters

    March 3 (Reuters) - Gold prices held firm on Friday after
falling more than one percent in the previous session, but gold
was on track for its first drop in five weeks and weakest level
since December on expectations of U.S. Federal Reserve rate hike
in March.
    * Spot gold        was mostly unchanged at $1,234 per ounce
at 0048 GMT. The metal had its worst session since Dec. 15 on
Thursday, when it fell over 1 percent to touch over one-week low
of $1,230.58.
    * U.S. gold futures         rose 0.2 percent to $1,234.90.
    * The dollar index       , in which the gold is priced, fell
0.1 percent to 102.070.
    * The number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits
fell to near a 44-year low last week, pointing to further
tightening of the labor market even as economic growth appears
to have remained moderate in the first quarter.             
    * A surge in business and consumer confidence during
President Donald Trump's first weeks in office has helped push
the Federal Reserve toward its first sustained series of
interest rate hikes in more than a decade, despite a dearth of
firm policies from the administration.             
    * The European Central Bank will stay in the background
through upcoming elections in key European countries and is only
likely to signal a shift away from its ultra-easy monetary
policy toward the end of this year or early next, a Reuters poll
    * Holdings of SPDR Gold Trust      , the world's largest
gold-backed exchange-traded fund, rose 0.21 percent to 845.32
tonnes on Thursday from Wednesday.
    * CME on Thursday lowered margins for COMEX 100 gold futures
(GC) and  COMEX 5000 silver futures (SI) for March 2017.
    * ABN Amro on Thursday raised average 2017 and 2018 gold
price forecasts to $1,248 and $1,350 per ounce.             
    * Commerzbank revised its first half 2017 gold price
forecast upwards to $1,250 per ounce while confirming its
year-end forecast at $1,300 per ounce. 
    * Four more financial firms, including Bank of China
International, have agreed to participate as clearing members in
the London Metal Exchange's new suite of precious metals
contracts when they launch on June 5, the LME said on Thursday.
     0145  China      Caixin services PMI        Feb 
     0700  Germany    Retail sales               Jan 
     0850  France     Markit services PMI        Feb 
     0855  Germany    Markit services PMI        Feb 
     0900  Euro zone  Markit services PMI final  Feb 
     1000  Euro zone  Retail sales               Jan 
     1500  U.S.       ISM-non manufacturing PMI  Feb 
     1800  Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks on U.S. 
           economic outlook before the Executives Club of

 (Reporting by Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; Editing by Joseph
Radford and Michael Perry)