July 24, 2019 / 4:25 AM / 3 months ago

PRECIOUS-Gold crawls higher on Middle East tensions; dollar rally caps gains

* Dollar climbs to a five-week peak

* SPDR Gold holdings fall 0.25% on Tuesday

* Spot gold neutral in $1,412-$1,427/oz range - techs

* Platinum hits over two-month high (Updates prices)

By Brijesh Patel and Harshith Aranya

July 24 (Reuters) - Gold prices rose on Wednesday as escalating tensions in the Middle East drove investors towards the safe-haven metal, while reports of progress in Sino-U.S. trade negotiations, and a stronger dollar limited the metal’s gain.

Spot gold was up 0.3% at $1,421.16 per ounce as of 0717 GMT, after hitting its lowest since July 17 at $1,413.80 in the previous session.

U.S. gold futures were steady at $1,421.50 an ounce.

“We have geopolitical tensions in Iran, and also we remain very cautious and sceptical about the (U.S.-China) trade negotiations expected to begin next Monday, because plenty of things remain unsolved between the two nations,” said Margaret Yang Yan, a market analyst at CMC Markets.

“On the other side, the dollar index is rallying which is having a negative impact on gold prices.”

Uncertainty in the Middle East continued as a U.S. Navy ship took defensive action against a second Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz last week, but did not see the drone go into the water, the U.S. military said on Tuesday.

On the trade front, a report said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer would travel to Shanghai next week for meetings with Chinese officials to hammer out a deal to end the long-drawn trade tussle between the world’s top two economies.

The dollar index extended gains to a five-week high, making gold expensive for holders of other currencies.

The European Central Bank is likely to at least offer a nod to easier policy at its meeting on Thursday, while the U.S. central bank is widely expected to lower interest rate at its meeting ending July 31.

Futures remain 100% priced for a rate cut of 25 basis points (bps) from the Federal Reserve next week, and even imply an 18% chance of 50 basis points.

“If the Fed does a 25 bp rate cut next week, I don’t think gold prices will feel any stronger as it has been already priced in,” said Howie Lee, economist, OCBC Bank.

“But if the Fed surprises with a 50 bp cut, that might push gold prices to test the $1,450 level.”

Meanwhile, holdings of SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, fell 0.25% from Monday to 823.13 tonnes on Tuesday.

Spot gold looks neutral in a narrow range of $1,412-$1,427 per ounce, and an escape from the range could suggest a direction, said Reuters technical analyst Wang Tao.

Among other precious metals, silver rose 0.5% to $16.48 per ounce, while palladium eased 0.2% to $1,523.84.

Platinum was up 0.7% at $859.75 an ounce, after hitting its highest since May 14 at $862.25 earlier in the session. (Reporting by Brijesh Patel and Harshith Aranya in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)

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