Gold perched at $1,200 ahead of US payrolls

Singapore (Apr 3)   Gold held its grip on $1,200 an ounce in holiday-thinned trading on Friday ahead of a crucial US jobs report that will provide clues on when the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates.

US nonfarm payrolls are forecast to show a rise of 245,000 in March after gaining 295,000 in February, according to a Reuters poll of economists.

A weaker than expected report could prompt investors to increase bets that the Fed might hold off on raising interest rates until later this year, buoying safe-haven assets such as gold.

Spot gold was little changed at $1,200.80 an ounce by 7am GMT. With a small weekly gain, bullion may be on course to stretch its winning streak to a third straight week.

Gold jumped nearly 2% on Wednesday in its sharpest single-day gain in two months after US private hiring in March missed market forecasts, suggesting Friday’s more comprehensive employment report could also underwhelm.

While a weaker US nonfarm payrolls would support bullion, only an extremely poor outcome would sustain any price rally, HSBC analyst James Steel said.

"Given the steepness of the rally this week in reaction to the (US private hiring) numbers, job gains would likely have to be very disappointing to further boost bullion near term," Mr Steel said in a note.

"A stronger jobs number is more likely to have a greater impact to the downside for gold." Gold is particularly sensitive to shifts in US interest rates, which also move the dollar, in which the metal is priced.

The dollar was slightly firmer against a basket of major currencies on Friday after two days of losses fuelled by anticipation that the US employment report could disappoint.

Trading activity is expected to be lean with most markets, including those in the United States and Europe, shut for the Good Friday holiday.