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Gold gains as virus fears outweigh US data

Diptendu Lahiri

Gold prices have risen as fears of an economic slowdown from the coronavirus outbreak and lower interest rates globally offset strong US economic data.

Spot gold rose 0.3 per cent to $US1,570.52 an ounce by 1842 GMT on Friday (0542 AEDT on Saturday) but was down about 1.2 per cent for the week. It was on track for the biggest weekly loss since early November.

US gold futures settled 0.2 per cent up at $US1,573.40.

"The market seems to be growing more nervous about the outbreak in China," said Tai Wong, head of base and precious metals derivatives trading at BMO.

"This sharp, fast, counterintuitive reaction in gold is very telling. There's good demand here in the face of a very strong economic signal."

US non-farm payrolls increased by 225,000 jobs last month, data showed, higher than 160,000 jobs additions expected by a Reuters poll.

Fears of a global economic slowdown and uncertainty around the coronavirus are keeping gold supported, Edward Moya, a senior market analyst at broker OANDA.

The coronavirus outbreak in China, which has killed more than 600 people and infected thousands, has dented investor interest in riskier assets.

"A big jump in reported cases or even harsher quarantine measures that contravene the story of the official numbers could push gold back to $US1,600 level. However, some incontrovertible good news out of China and/or a sharp bond sell-off could trigger a reversal," BMO's Wong said.

Also supporting gold were low interest rates by major central banks across the globe and their quantitative easing policy.

The US Federal Reserve kept benchmark interest rates unchanged at its January policy meeting, citing moderate economic growth and a strong jobs market.

Gold is a safe haven that investors turn to in times of economic and financial uncertainty, and lower interest rates reduce the opportunity cost of holding the non-yielding metal.

Limiting gold's advance, however, the US dollar rose to its strongest against major rivals since mid-October.

"The environment for gold is still supportive and a clear breakthrough of $US1,575 could open space for another rally to the key threshold of $US1,600," ActivTrades chief analyst Carlo Alberto De Casa said.

Elsewhere, palladium fell 1.2 per cent to $US2,319.23 an ounce but was on track for its first weekly gain in three.

Silver slipped 0.6 per cent to $US17.71, set for its worst week in two months, while platinum rose 0.5 per cent to $US966.36.