Gold steady as Fed seen readying for rate rise

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LONDON (Mar 18): Gold prices were steady on Wednesday, staying near four-month lows, as investors remained cautious pending the conclusion of a Federal Reserve meeting that may stoke expectations for a mid-year rise in U.S. interest rates.

U.S. Fed officials started a two-day policy meeting on Tuesday. Markets have largely priced in that the Fed will drop the word "patient" from its forward guidance on interest rates, potentially paving the way for the first increase since 2006 in June.

"You can certainly see the price soften again, but how much of it is already priced in?" said Adrian Ash, head of research at online dealer BullionVault.com.

"This reminds me of what happened with stimulus tapering ... gold crashed in 2013 when the Fed start talking about it, but when they finished tapering gold was flat in dollar terms."

Spot gold was unchanged at $1,148.10 an ounce by 1514 GMT, just above its lowest since Nov. 7 at $1,142.86, hit on Tuesday.

U.S. gold futures for April delivery were down 0.1 percent at $1,147.30 an ounce.

"We have a bearish view, especially longer term, as the global economy is incrementally improving and growth risks are reduced, which means that there are simply fewer reasons to buy gold as a safe haven," said Norbert Ruecker, Julius Baer's head of commodity research.

The dollar was little changed against a basket of currencies, while European shares rose, though Wall Street opened lower.

Gold, a non-interest yielding asset, has dropped 3 percent since the start of the year on expectations for a U.S. rate rise.

While the U.S. economy has been strengthening, as evidenced by a firming labour market, the housing sector remained weak, suggesting that the Fed is unlikely to engage in an aggressive rate-rise cycle after an initial increase.

Data on Tuesday showed that U.S. housing starts plunged to their lowest level in a year in February.

Holdings in the SPDR Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, dropped 0.4 percent to 747.98 tonnes on Tuesday.

Platinum was down 0.3 percent at $1,088.15 an ounce, having earlier fallen to its lowest since May 2009 at $1,083.75 an ounce. The metal has fallen more than 8 percent since the start of the year and was trading at a discount of about $56 an ounce to gold, the widest spread since March 2013.

Silver was down 0.1 percent at $15.49 an ounce, while palladium fell 0.6 percent to $756.25 an ounce.