By Marcy Nicholson and Jan Harvey
NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - Gold hit four-week lows on Thursday, under pressure from upbeat U.S. data in the run-up to a speech by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen this week that will be watched for clues on monetary policy.
Market players are hoping Yellen will give a clearer signal on the path of U.S. interest rate hikes when she addresses a meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Friday.
As central bankers converged on Thursday for an annual conference on monetary policy, a couple of Fed officials took renewed a push for rate increases, citing improvement in employment and inflation.
Spot gold was down 0.1 percent at $1,322.26 an ounce by 2:25 p.m. EDT (1825 GMT), while U.S. gold futures for December delivery settled down 0.4 percent at $1,324.60.
"Speculative investors seemed to have abandoned their long gold positions on the concern that ... Yellen may signal a firm commitment to hike rates this year in her Jackson Hole Policy Symposium address this Friday," said Bart Melek, head of global commodity strategy for TD Securities in Toronto.
"Some gold observers are even arguing that the FOMC may increase rates as early as September."
Data showed new orders for U.S. manufactured capital goods rose for a second straight month in July, while another report showed an unexpected drop in the number of Americans filing for unemployment benefits last week.
"Initial jobless claims were a good sign," Natixis analyst Bernard Dahdah said. "The chance of a rate hike happening in September is still relatively low, at 32 percent, but that's an improvement, compared to where it was.
"If they do raise rates in September, that could have a big effect on gold, in the sense that the market would be taken by surprise."
Gold is highly sensitive to rising U.S. rates, as these increase the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion, while boosting the dollar, in which it is priced.
"Now what we're seeing is a bit of a wait-and-see mode, where markets are just monitoring the situation and waiting for further comments that might move the market," Capital Economics analyst Simona Gambarini said.
Silver fell for the fourth straight session, dropping as much as 0.3 percent to $18.46 an ounce, an eight-week low.
Platinum fell 0.4 percent to a one-month low at $1,067.40 an ounce. Palladium was up 0.9 percent at $688.20.
(Additional reporting by Nallur Sethuraman in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Meredith Mazzilli)