Gold bars. - File Photo.

LONDON: Gold held near $1,760 an ounce on Friday ahead of key US payrolls data later in the day, having earlier hit its highest since mid-November as expectations that US monetary policy will remain ultra-loose boosted investors' appetite for bullion.

Spot gold was at $1,757.00 an ounce at 1200 GMT, down 0.1 per cent, having hit a high of $1,762.90. US gold futures for February delivery were flat at $1,759.30.

A US Federal Reserve pledge last month to keep interest rates at rock-bottom levels and hints of another round of monetary easing, which would keep the dollar weak and the opportunity cost of holding bullion low, have helped lift gold prices by 12.5 per cent this year.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday defended the bank's policies against charges from Republican lawmakers they risked sparking inflation, saying the economy still needs plenty of support.

“Yesterday's reaffirmation from the US Fed (chairman) that he is committed to keep rates low... (has) given gold the necessary boost to hold gains and also break key resistance,” said Richcomm Global Services senior analyst Pradeep Unni.

“Any better-than-expected jobs figure today will further add to risk appetite, which may push gold above $1,784,” he added.

“Disappointment in jobs data may drag gold below $1,730, but an extended sell-off is not envisaged.”

A push higher in the euro lifted both gold and platinum prices to their highest in 11 weeks.

The euro was largely range bound versus the dollar, however, ahead of the US payrolls numbers. The data due at 1330 GMT, which is expected to show an increase of 150,000 in payrolls last month, will be closely watched for its impact on both the dollar and wider investor sentiment.

European share prices edged up on Friday to hit a new six-month high, helped by encouraging macroeconomic data in the euro zone and the UK. Stock markets were awaiting firmer direction from the payrolls numbers.

GOLD EYES KEY CHART LEVELS From a technical perspective, gold is approaching key levels, according to analysts who study past price movements for clues as to the future direction of trade.

“Having cleared the December 8 high (at 1754), the next resistance is at 1769, which is the 61.8 per cent Fibonacci retracement of gold's fall from grace in the last quarter of 2011,” said Scotia Mocatta in a note.

“Gold was strongly rejected at this level in early December. Clearing this level would open up a full retracement back to the September high of 1921.”

Among other precious metals, silver was down one per cent at $33.94 an ounce. Its ratio to gold - the number of silver ounces needed to buy an ounce of gold - eased back to 51.3 from a high of 57.4 hit in December.

Silver was the best performing of the major precious metals last month, rising more than 20 per cent. Silver coin sales under the US Mint's American Eagle programme totalled 6.107 million ounces in January, their highest in a year.

Spot platinum was down 0.1 per cent at $1,626.24 an ounce, while spot palladium was up 0.3 per cent at $707.50 an ounce. Platinum earlier hit its highest since Nov. 16 at $1,632.50.

Platinum prices are up 16.7 per cent this year, supported by concerns over output of the metal from major producer South Africa. Natixis said it expects output growth to slow from its estimate of a six per cent increase in 2011.

“South African producers are suffering from high costs due to lower ore concentration, leading to deeper drilling, and an increase in energy costs,” it said.

“For 2012 we expect output to grow by around three per cent to 206 tonnes as investment in South Africa and Zimbabwe become operational.”

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