SINGAPORE Gold gave up early gains and ticked down on Friday ahead of talks to prevent the United States from plunging off a "fiscal cliff" of tax increases and spending cuts, but prices remained on track for their first weekly gain in a month.
Failure to clinch a deal in the U.S. would likely spur safe-haven buying of bullion, but since many investors have both equities and gold in their portfolios, the metal may also track stock markets higher if the White House and Congress finally reach an agreement.
Gold fell $1.58 to $1,661.71 an ounce by 0649 GMT after rising to as high as $1,665.99. For the year, gold is up around 6 percent, but well below a record of around $1,920 hit in September 2011, when a worsening debt crisis in Europe sparked a buying rush.
"We do expect a ... deal to happen at the last minute, but it will be a minimal deal," said Dominic Schnider, an analyst at UBS Wealth Management in Singapore. "I think that should be gold supportive."
President Barack Obama will meet congressional leaders at the White House on Friday to try to revive negotiations to avoid tax hikes and spending cuts - together worth $600 billion - that will begin to take effect on January 1.
Even a partial agreement on taxes that would leave tougher issues like entitlement reform and the debt ceiling until later could be enough to keep markets calm.
U.S. gold for February eased $1.20 an ounce to $1,662.50.
In other markets, the yen fell to its lowest level in more than two years on Friday, lifting Japanese stocks to 21-month highs on expectations of drastic monetary easing, while shares in the rest of Asia rose as Washington races to avoid a fiscal crisis.
The euro held steady against the dollar at $1.3243 with investors waiting to see whether a last-chance round of U.S. budget talks will achieve a deal.
Gold is traditionally a safe-haven and inflation hedge that investors rush to in times of trouble, but it has lately behaved like any risk asset. The precious metal sometimes rises and falls with the stock market and even follows movements of the dollar.
Gold is heading for a 12th straight year of gains on rock-bottom interest rates, concerns over the financial stability of the euro zone, and diversification into bullion by central banks.
Global gold demand in 2013 should be led by further strength in Chinese demand and a recovery in India, helping the precious metal continue its bull run into its 13th year, the industry-backed World Gold Council has said.
Premiums for gold bars were unchanged in Singapore at $1.0 to $1.20 an ounce to spot London prices.
"Of course there's some buying but you don't see heavy activity. Indonesia is pretty quiet, which is partly because there are not many stocks available in the market," said a physical dealer in Singapore.
"India hasn't been very active for some time," said the dealer, referring to the world's main gold consumer.
(Editing by Joseph Radford and Himani Sarkar)
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