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PRECIOUS-Gold gains on Delta variant worries; U.S. jobs data in focus

(Recasts, adds comment, updates prices)

* Investors await U.S. jobs data due at 1230 GMT

* Palladium set for second straight weekly gain

July 2 (Reuters) - Gold gained for a third straight session on Friday as concerns over the Delta variant of COVID-19 boosted bullion’s safe-haven appeal, with investors awaiting a crucial U.S. jobs report that could shed more light on the Federal Reserve’s next move.

Spot gold rose 0.3% to $1,781.62 per ounce by 0904 GMT. U.S. gold futures gained 0.4% to $1,783.30.

“There is still uncertainty regarding when and how much countries will be opening up,” Xiao Fu, head of commodity market strategy at Bank of China International, said while pointing out “a very rapid rise in new cases in London.”

The highly contagious Delta variant has made countries in Asia and Europe walk back on reopening plans, while White House said it would send out special teams to hot spots around the country to combat the contagion.

However, “if the global economy embarks on a very solid, smooth and strong recovery (aided by vaccines) then gold could be subject to further headwinds,” Fu added.

U.S. non-farm payrolls data is due at 1230 GMT, which is likely to show an increase of 690,000 jobs last month, as per a Reuters poll.

This reading is significant amid Fed Chair Jerome Powell putting focus on a strong labour market and holding on to a transient inflation view.

“A sharper-than-expected rise in employment figures could put renewed pressure on gold because this would increase the probability of an earlier Fed rate-hike,” Commerzbank said in note.

Non-yielding gold tends to fall out of favour among investors when interest rates rise.

Silver rose 0.3% to $26.09 per ounce, while platinum was up 0.6% at $1,088.50. Palladium gained 0.6% to $2,779.98, and was set for a second straight weekly gain. (Reporting by Arundhati Sarkar in Bengaluru; editing by Uttaresh.V)

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