* Fed minutes show policymakers split on job market view
* India to relax gold import rule
* Palladium hits fresh near three-year highs
* Coming up: US existing home sales Thursday (Adds comment, second byline, NEW YORK dateline, updates market activities)
By Frank Tang and Clara Denina
NEW YORK/LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - Gold fell on Wednesday as the dollar climbed and equities maintained gains after minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting showed the central bank began to lay groundwork for an eventual retreat from stimulus but no final decisions were taken.
Palladium also rose to a near three-year high and platinum rose near a two-month high, as labour strikes in top producer South Africa dragged on for a 17th week.
Minutes of the session released on Wednesday said Fed staff presented several approaches to raising short-term interest rates, but said the discussion was simply “prudent planning” and not a sign rate hikes would come any time soon.
Inflation expectations were also tamed as a number of officials argued there was likely more slack in the labor market than suggested by the nation’s 6.3 percent jobless rate, with sluggish wage gains cited as supporting evidence.
“The verbiage is definitely bearish. In the long run, I still think that the downside range is limited because there are some underlying factors out there like problems in Ukraine,” said Phillip Streible, senior commodities broker at RJ O‘Brien.
Spot gold was down 0.2 percent at $1,290.84 an ounce by 3:03 p.m. EDT (1903 GMT).
U.S. COMEX gold futures for June delivery settled down $6.50 at $1,288.10 an ounce, with trading volume in line with its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed.
As a gauge of investor interest, holdings of the SPDR Gold Trust, the top gold-backed exchange-traded fund, fell by 1.79 tonnes on Tuesday.
On the physical side, India’s finance ministry and central bank officials will recommend the new government relax strict gold import rules to head off a surge in illegal buying in the world’s second-largest consumer of the metal.
Spot silver edged up 0.1 percent to $19.38 an ounce.
Platinum group metals rose after a Tuesday report by refiner Johnson Matthey said both the platinum and palladium markets were expected to post big deficits this year.
South Africa, currently facing its longest and costliest platinum miners’ strike ever, is expected to supply a quarter of a million fewer ounces of metal in 2014 than last year. Platinum is mainly used to make emissions-capping catalytic converters in automobiles.
Platinum rose 0.6 percent to $1,470.50 an ounce, not far from a two-month high of $1,483.50 hit last week, while palladium was up 0.4 percent at $827.30 an ounce, having touched its highest level since August 2011 at $832.70 in earlier trade. 3:03 PM EDT LAST/ NET PCT LOW HIGH CURRENT
SETTLE CHNG CHNG VOL US Gold JUN 1288.10 -6.50 -0.5 1282.90 1296.30 118,987 US Silver MAY 19.307 -0.060 -0.3 19.295 19.295 1 US Plat JUL 1474.90 6.00 0.4 1469.40 1484.50 11,010 US Pall JUN 830.45 4.60 0.6 825.45 834.50 7,474 Gold 1290.84 -2.96 -0.2 1283.90 1296.15 Silver 19.380 0.020 0.1 19.290 19.490 Platinum 1470.50 9.40 0.6 1470.40 1481.00 Palladium 827.30 3.35 0.4 827.05 832.70 TOTAL MARKET VOLUME 30-D ATM VOLATILITY
CURRENT 30D AVG 250D AVG CURRENT CHG US Gold 141,908 138,793 179,722 14.5 0.57 US Silver 31,368 56,299 55,695 20.62 -0.88 US Platinum 11,614 9,830 12,517 17.02 -0.67 US Palladium 11,234 5,854 5,827 23.9 -0.72 (Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Singapore; Editing by David Evans, Pravin Char and Marguerita Choy)