* Platinum on track for biggest monthly gain since January 2017 * 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)
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