SINGAPORE Gold fell for a fourth day on Friday, holding near its lowest point since May last year, as investors await U.S. jobs data for more clues on the health of the world's largest economy.
Strong employment data could prompt the U.S. Federal Reserve to end its bullion-friendly bond-buying programme earlier than expected and dent gold's safe haven appeal as worries about inflation ebb. A drop in bullion holdings in major gold exchange traded funds to their lowest level since August 2012 has also dragged on prices.
Gold eased $1.55 an ounce to $1,551.16 by 0314 GMT, heading for a second week of decline. It fell to a 10-month low at 1,539.74 on Thursday as it failed to react to the shock of the Bank of Japan's unprecedented monetary stimulus and hopes for another European Central Bank rate cut.
"If the data turns out to be strong tonight from the U.S., investors will look to the stock markets as it appears more attractive," said Brian Lan, managing director of GoldSilver Central Pte Ltd. "Gold's direction will really depend on the data released tonight."
China being absent from the physical market this week for a Thursday and Friday holiday has added to the overall weakness in metals, Lan also noted.
Bullion has slipped around 4 percent since hitting a hitting a 1-month high in March as investors dumped the precious metal in favour of more risky assets.
Metals consultancy GFMS said gold is gearing up for the start of a bear market cycle in 2014 after more than a decade of gains as consumer demand for jewellery, coins and bars declines and central bank buying plateaus.
U.S. gold for June delivery was at $1,551.20 an ounce, down $1.20.
The U.S. nonfarm payrolls data due at 1230 GMT will likely show employers added 200,000 jobs last month after hiring 236,000 workers in February. The unemployment rate is seen steady at a four-year low of 7.7 percent.
Tokyo gold futures, which sometime set the tone for the cash market, rallied 2 percent as the yen tumbled to its weakest level in more than three years after the BOJ surprised markets with a radical campaign of monetary expansion to attack deflation.
A weaker yen would make the Tokyo gold futures more affordable to investors holding dollars.
"It's mainly driven by the yen-dollar movements," said a dealer in Tokyo, referring to gains on TOCOM. "I don't think people are worried about inflation yet, and they are happy to buy stocks."
Japanese equities soared and the yen hit a 3-1/2-year low against the dollar on Friday after the BOJ's money move, but Asian shares slipped ahead of U.S. jobs data amid rising concern over the American economy.
"I am still hoping that gold is supported around $1,530. But with recent movements in gold these days, I think more people are getting bearish," said the Tokyo dealer.
After two years of losses, hedge fund manager John Paulson's best-known funds got off to a better start in 2013, but his gold fund notched double digit losses during the first three months of 2013.
(Editing by Tom Hogue)