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Gold holds below $1,720/oz, all eyes on Greece

Gold held steady near $1,720 an ounce on Tuesday, awaiting a breakthrough on talks over a second bailout deal for Greece as its leaders fight to avoid a chaotic debt default, with European leaders demanding that it accepts painful reforms.

Spot gold was at $1,719.10 an ounce at 5:45 a.m. ET, little changed from $1,719.20 late on Monday. U.S. gold futures for February delivery were down $3.10 at $1,721.80.

The precious metal has climbed 10 percent this year after December's sharp drop, supported by a Federal Reserve pledge to maintain ultra-loose monetary policy and also from a rise in stock markets and other commodities like crude oil. A retreat by shares markets kept it under pressure on Tuesday.

The euro held its ground against the dollar meanwhile as traders clung to hopes Greece would finally clinch a rescue package despite its politicians postponing a decision to accept painful terms by yet another day.

Optimism remained on a knife-edge, however, with safe-haven German Bund futures also pushing higher as investors fretted over Greek indecision on the strict terms of the bailout deal, which is vital to avert a default.

"Frankly I do not see the end of tunnel as far as Europe, and especially Greece, is concerned," said Afshin Nabavi, head of trading at MKS Finance in Geneva. "Uncertainty generally generates demand for the metal, so should push it higher."

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos negotiated through the night with Greece's European Union and IMF lenders, ending at 4 a.m. (0200 GMT) when a 24-hour national strike was about to begin, closing ports and disrupting public transport.

"Not only have talks with private creditors continued to stall, but yesterday Athens once again delayed the much awaited coalition talks over the next bailout package in parliament," said VTB Capital in a note.

"As ever, the ongoing uncertainty would keep gold prices underpinned, limiting the downside at the moment."

Other commodities such as crude oil, copper and aluminum slipped, meanwhile.

China Hoardes Gold

Hong Kong's shipments of gold to mainland China in 2011 more than tripled from a year earlier, confirming China's rapidly growing appetite for bullion, data released by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics bureau showed on Tuesday.

This came despite the gold flow from Hong Kong to China dropping about 62 percent in December on the month to 38,605 kilograms, its lowest level since July.

"The 38.6 tonnes shipped... might be interpreted by some as gold-negative," said UBS in a note. "We, however, think the real outliers were shipments in October and November, which... were greatly in excess of previous months' volumes."

"And while December's activity is the lowest since July, it's still 245.2 percent higher year-on-year. Here's a statistic that should lay to rest any doubts over Chinese gold consumption: the 2011 trend of imports from HK was up 258 percent from 2010."

Among other metals, silver was down 0.5 percent at $33.45 an ounce, spot platinum eased 0.5 percent to $1,613.49 an ounce, and spot palladium was down 1.1 percent at $695.22 an ounce.

Platinum has narrowed its historically unusual discount to gold to around $100 an ounce on Tuesday, down from a record high of around $230 an ounce hit in January.

In a report, BNP Paribas lifted its 2012 and 2013 price forecasts for platinum group metals, citing threats to output of the metal from South Africa and Russia, the chief producers of platinum and palladium respectively.

"We now expect platinum mined output to be flat in 2012, and to rise by 2.5 percent in 2013," it said. "Palladium output may contract by 1 percent in 2012 and increase by 2 percent the following year."

Platinum miners say work stoppages linked to safety and industrial action and operational issues such as power outages are curbing their ability to produce the metal.

South Africa's mines minister said on Tuesday that industry chief executives should be held liable for avoidable fatalities, also raising the possibility of court action.

Reporting by Jan Harvey; editing by Keiron Henderson | Reuters
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