PRECIOUS-Gold set for best month in 4 years; silver eyes record monthly gain

    * Platinum on track for biggest monthly gain since January
    * Palladium eyes its first monthly rise in five
    * Dollar set for steepest monthly drop in decade
    * BofA sees gold hitting $3,000/oz in next 18 months

 (Updates prices)
    By Shreyansi Singh
    July 31 (Reuters) - Gold rose on Friday, hovering near its
all time peak, as a sliding dollar and dire economic numbers
from far and wide sparked a rush to safety in bullion, which is
on course for its biggest monthly gain since February 2016.
    Silver        climbed 2.3% to $24.08 per ounce, on course
for a monthly rise of about 33%, its largest on records going
back to 1982, supported by investment and industrial demand.
    Spot gold        gained 0.6% to $1,971.83 per ounce by 2:17
p.m. EDT (1817 GMT), while U.S. gold futures        settled 1%
higher at $1,985.9.
    Prices hit a record $1,980.57 on Tuesday and are up over 10%
so far this month.
    "The macro environment still remains very positive and
prices continue to track real rates ... extreme weakness in the
dollar has helped buoy gold prices further," said Standard
Chartered analyst Suki Cooper.
    The dollar        was on track for its biggest monthly drop
in almost a decade.       
    Data showed the U.S. economy suffered its harshest blow
since the Great Depression in the second quarter due to the
pandemic, while investors also geared up for an uncertain
political situation in the country.                          
    Safe-haven bullion has gained nearly 30% so far this year,
propelled by low interest rates globally and widespread stimulus
from central banks adding to support for the metal considered a
refuge from inflation and currency debasement.             
    "With policy rates already at or even below the zero bound,
support to gold prices will increasingly have to come from
higher inflation, in our view," said BofA Global Research, which
expects gold to hit $3,000 per ounce in the coming 18 months.
    Elsewhere, platinum        eased 0.5% to $898.66 per ounce,
but looked to post its biggest monthly gain since January 2017.
    Palladium        rose 0.4% to $2,090.60 and was set for a
more than 8% monthly rise, its first in five.

 (Reporting by Shreyansi Singh and Swati Verma in Bengaluru;
Editing by David Gregorio and Tom Brown)