Gold edged lower on Wednesday, pausing after four sessions of consecutive gains driven by safe-haven flows on a cloudy global economic outlook, but sentiment has turned cautious as investors seek further clues to growth.
Euphoria over a US economic recovery was cut short by a disappointing employment report that showed far slower jobs expansion than expected, and led investors to question the outlook for the world's largest economy.
"Gold is vulnerable to the next leg of risk sell-off, as it doesn't like being the only metal to be trading higher in a sea of red," said a Singapore-based trader, since investors tend to liquidate gold positions to cover losses elsewhere.
Spot gold inched down 0.3 percent to US$1,654.59 an ounce by 0400 GMT, after hitting a one-week high of US$1,662.60 on Tuesday. US gold also lost 0.3 percent to US$1,656.00.
Gold, the dollar and US government debt had benefited from the latest bout of safe-haven interest from investors, with gold rallying more than 1 percent and US Treasuries yields hitting 4-week lows in the previous session.
The prospect of more monetary easing, which strengthens the outlook for higher inflation, also supports the sentiment in gold, regarded as a hedge against rising prices.
"If weak data continues, the Fed will have to intervene again to stimulate consumption," said Jeremy Friesen, commodity strategist at Societe Generale in Hong Kong.
"The next couple of years will be really challenging for global growth and central banks will be relied on as a crutch to get us through."
Investors will closely watch the European government debt market, after Spanish and Italian government debt encountered slumping demand as investors fretted over the fragility of peripheral euro zone economies.
Hong Kong's gold exports to China rose 20 percent in February on the month, as China's appetite for gold remains strong and the country is expected to overtake India as the world's top gold consumer this year.
Some suspected the number could include purchases from the public sector, as the market was largely quiet during a post-Lunar New Year holiday slump in February.
"On the public level, China's central bank will continue to accumulate gold, which is easier than liberalising their capital account and currency," said Friesen of SocGen, adding that building gold reserves would help China's push to turn the renminbi into a global currency.
Accommodative monetary policy will remain an incentive for private investors to buy into gold, he added.
Recent price gains suppressed demand in the physical market, but India's return after a three-week strike helped support the sentiment.
"There is some light buying and a bit of scrap selling," said Dick Poon, manager of precious metals at Heraeus in Hong Kong, "At this point I don't think China's gold demand growth this year will be as strong as last year, as a lot of people prefer to keep cash rather than making an investment."
Spot platinum fell to a US$1,573.99 an ounce, its lowest in more than two months, before regaining some lost ground to US$1,588.24, tracking losses in industrial metals and equities hit by downbeat sentiment on global growth.