Gold was trapped in a tight range around $1,660 an ounce on Friday, ahead of a meeting of euro zone finance ministers that may boost the bloc’s bailout power, and sluggish physical demand weighed on sentiment.
Spot gold rallied to a two-week high near $1,700 earlier in the week after U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke defended the low interest rate policy and cautioned it was premature to declare victory on economic recovery, triggering hopes for further monetary easing.
But the momentum faded fast, and prices dropped to a one-week low just below $1,645 in the previous session before recovering to $1,661.60 an ounce by 0634 GMT.
Spot gold was on course for a quarterly rise of 6 percent, after a slide of 3.6 percent in the last quarter of 2011, but it was headed for a monthly loss of 2 percent, its second straight month in the red.
U.S. gold gained half a percent to $1,660.70 an ounce.
Gold has been stuck in range of roughly $1,630 to $1,700 in recent weeks, as investors try to digest mixed signals from policymakers. Sluggish physical demand has dampened the mood in gold.
“We don’t expect to see real physical demand until prices drop below $1,600,” said a Singapore-based dealer.
“The physical market has stopped playing an important supportive role. There is so much physical material, yet we don’t see any good offtake, as people are worried that it’s not the right time to invest in gold now.”
He said the cautious tone in the market might last until the second quarter due to the uncertainty around global growth.
Market participants will wait for China’s official purchasing managers’ index data on Sunday, to gauge the chance of a further slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.
A cooling economy and easing inflation could take the shine off gold, which has attracted explosive investor interest in the past few years in China.
The World Gold Council expects the country to displace India as the world’s biggest gold consumer this year.
The euro firmed against the dollar on Friday, as investors expect the euro zone finance ministers’ meeting later in the day to deliver an agreement on temporarily almost doubling the bloc’s bailout capacity as one of the final moves to end the sovereign debt crisis.
“We could see gold post gains in April as it is the beginning of the new quarter, but gains will be moderate as demand is likely to be sluggish,” said Li Ning, an analyst at Shanghai CIFCO Futures.
Li said investors would watch for signs of substantial progress in the euro zone, which could strengthen the euro, weaken the dollar and support gold. A cheaper greenback makes dollar-priced commodities more attractive to buyers holding other currencies.
The euro zone will witness elections in Greece and France in the second quarter, and April will see large refinancing needs from nations in the region.
Spain will unveil deep budget cuts on Friday despite stiff popular resistance, increasing concerns that austerity measures demanded by the EU will only push the economy deeper into recession.