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SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Gold recouped early losses on Monday on firmer equities and after last week's drop to a 7-month low spurred physical buying in Asia, but investors were cautious over the outcome of an unpredictable election in Italy and its impact on the euro zone.
Investors shrugged off slower growth in China's manufacturing sector in February, which is unlikely to change expectations the world's second-largest economy is enjoying a gentle recovery.
Gold rose $3.31 an ounce to $1,583.61 by 0326 GMT after posting modest gains on Friday. It hit a seven-month low of $1,554.49 on Thursday after minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting triggered worries the central bank might stop or slow its bond buying programme.
"After the drop, hopefully the worst is over for gold, although the support is still at $1,527. I believe (after) a break above $1,585, you might see a trend that it should test $1,600," said Brian Lan, managing director of GoldSilver Central Pte Ltd in Singapore.
U.S. gold for April was at $1,583.20 an ounce, up $10.40.
The euro bounced from a six-week low around $1.3145, but further upside may be limited as investors eye the vote in Italy, where exit polls will be published shortly after 1400 GMT on Monday.
An unstable government in Italy could cause another crisis of confidence in the European Union's single currency. Gold struck a record of around $1,920 in September 2011, when a worsening debt crisis in Europe ignited a buying rush.
"It's cheaper to buy at $1,600. We've seen buying from China, and we can say it's from the investment side and the jewellery sector. People in Asia are still buying gold," said a physical dealer in Hong Kong.
"Premiums are still steady at $1.70. There could be some buying from India too," said the dealer, referring to premiums for gold bars against the spot London prices.
The wedding and festival season are underway in India, the world's top gold consumer, with jewellery a key part of celebrations.
In other markets, shares edged higher on Monday, while the yen fell to fresh lows on news a reflationary advocate could head the Bank of Japan next month, lifting yen-based gold contracts on the Tokyo Commodity Exchange.
"We have downgraded our average 2013 gold prices by 6.7 percent to $1,690 an ounce, from an expected slowdown in investment demand for gold in the West and a move towards more growth-oriented assets," said ANZ in a report.
"While we have downgraded our near-term views, gold prices should accelerate in the second half on improving demand from India and China."
Hedge funds and other big speculators cut their bullish bets on U.S. commodities by the most in nearly 10 months just before oil and metals prices tumbled this week on rumours a commodities fund was dumping positions, trade data showed on Friday.
Russia and Turkey both raised gold holdings for a second consecutive month in January, data from the International Monetary Fund showed, highlighting central banks' interest in diversifying part of their reserves into bullion.