[SINGAPORE] Gold struggled to break out of a tight range near a one-month low on Wednesday, as investors waited to hear the outlook for US interest rates from a Federal Reserve policy meeting that kicks off later in the session.
Spot gold was little changed at US$1,104.60 an ounce by 0330 GMT. Prices for the metal have been steady this week, following a drop to a one-month low of US$1,098.35 the week before, with any big moves expected only after the Fed statement on Thursday.
Expectations the central bank will hike rates at the two-day policy meeting have eased recently due to concerns over slowing economic growth in China and volatility in financial markets, but bullion traders still remained cautious.
"We could see some upside in (gold) prices if the Fed chooses to not raise rates," said a trader in Hong Kong. "But I doubt we will be able to hold onto the gains for long because the rate hike is going to come at some point this year." The uncertainty over the timing of a rate increase has weighed on gold all year, sending it down over 6 per cent - the metal's third straight year of declines. Higher rates could dent demand for non-interest-paying bullion, while boosting the dollar.
Data on Tuesday showed US consumer spending grew at a fairly healthy pace over the past two months, pointing to underlying strength in domestic demand that could strengthen the case for the Fed to hike interest rates on Thursday.
While other data showed continued weakness in manufacturing, economists said that was unlikely to have much impact on the US central bank's decision.
Bullion did not receive much support from physical markets.
"The physical gold markets are quiet. Little near term gold demand is coming out of India but China's demand is moderately good," HSBC analysts said in a note.
Prices in India were at a discount of about US$5 an ounce to the global benchmark due to sluggish demand, dealers said.
In China, however, prices were at a premium of about US$5 an ounce on the Shanghai Gold Exchange, indicating good buying interest.