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Gold steadies with rates rises in focus, palladium at record high

Gold bars are seen at the Austrian Gold and Silver Separating Plant 'Oegussa' in Vienna, Austria, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

By Maytaal Angel

LONDON, (Reuters) - Gold steadied around a 3-1/2 month high on Thursday as prospects for further U.S. rate hikes put a brake on a recent rally, while palladium touched its highest ever levels on tight supplies.

The dollar hit a 3-1/2 month low versus the euro amid optimism about the euro zone economy. Gold, which tends to move counter to the greenback, was unable to capitalise on the dollar weakness given its recent gains.

"(Gold) is beginning to look over-valued. Our fair value for gold assuming a (U.S.) rate hike in March and June is around $1,230 so at current prices it looks expensive," said James Butterfill, head of research at ETF Securities.

He added, however: "Gold is being used very much as an insurance policy against geopolitics and uncertain monetary policy, that's why we think its likely to continue to range trade between $1,200-1,300 over the next six months."

Spot gold was flat at $1,313.01 an ounce at 1258 GMT, while U.S. gold futures dropped 0.3 percent to $1,314.30 an ounce.

Spot gold marked its highest since Sept. 15 at $1,321.33 on Wednesday, but eased as the dollar recovered after minutes from the Federal Reserve's December policy meeting bolstered expectations for more U.S. interest rate hikes.

The U.S. currency was also given a boost on Wednesday by strong manufacturing and construction data.

Gold is highly sensitive to rising U.S. interest rates as they increase the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding bullion, while boosting the dollar, in which it is priced.

"People are looking to lock in some gains after a pretty strong rally over the past weeks," said ANZ analyst Daniel Hynes.

"Geopolitical issues have certainly been a huge power point of gold's rally into the year-end ... It is going to be a U.S. dollar type story going forward with markets taking a neutral view," he said.

Palladium rose 1.7 percent to $1,100.50, having touched an all-time high of $1,102, surpassing the record high set on Tuesday.

Palladium jumped 56 percent last year due to fears of a shortage fuelled by Chinese car sales growth, tightening emissions controls and a swing away from diesel cars in Europe.

"We see no reason that the fundamental tightness in the (palladium) market will change any time soon. We see palladium prices remaining well supported, although there is a danger from here of a short-term pullback as investors take profits," said Mitsubishi in a note.

Silver rose 0.1 percent to $17.15, after hitting a six-week high on Wednesday at $17.24.

Platinum was down 0.3 percent at $953.50.

(Additional reporting by Nallur Sethuraman; Editing by Adrian Croft and Edmund Blair)