By Jan Harvey
LONDON (Reuters) - Gold prices steadied on Wednesday after falling nearly 2 percent in the previous session, underpinned by escalating tensions in Ukraine but still under pressure from a weak chart picture and concerns over a slowdown in Chinese demand.
Ukrainian government forces and separatist pro-Russian militia staged rival shows of force in eastern Ukraine amid escalating rhetoric on the eve of crucial four-power talks in Geneva on the former Soviet country's future.
That helped gold steady after the metal broke through its 200-day moving average at $1,300 an ounce on Tuesday, unleashing stop-loss selling that took spot prices to a low of $1,290.34.
Spot gold was at $1,302.20 an ounce at 0908 GMT, little changed from $1,302.04 late on Tuesday. U.S. gold futures for June delivery were up $2.40 an ounce at $1,302.70.
"The early April uptrend is now broken, and if it wasn't for Ukraine, we would be closer to $1,280," Andrey Kryuchenkov, an analyst at VTB Capital, said. "There is hardly any physical consumer demand or investor interest to support gold on price pullbacks."
"Pre-holiday profit-taking could intensify once more should the Ukraine summit on Thursday result in a mutually agreed plan on further de-escalation of the crisis," he added.
Representatives of the United States, the European Union, Russia and Ukraine will meet in Geneva on Thursday for crisis talks on the stand-off. "It looks as if all parties are keen to start negotiating," Kryuchenkov said.
Gold prices were hit by a wave of profit-taking after reaching Monday's peak, as a firmer dollar and concerns over demand from top consumer China pushed the metal through a series of key chart levels.
The dollar eased 0.1 percent against a basket of currencies on Wednesday, ahead of U.S. housing starts data and scheduled comments from Federal Reserve speakers including Fed Chair Janet Yellen. [FRX/]
Stock markets made broad gains after China reported economic growth a touch above forecasts, a relief for investors who had feared a much weaker outcome, although concerns over Ukraine kept a lid on gains. [MKTS/GLOB]
CHINESE BUYING WEAK
Gold prices also came under pressure from slack demand from China, with interest not improved by Tuesday's price fall.
"There was some chatter of the Chinese likely to have some physical interest at these levels, but on the contrary they were sellers on the open and the catalyst for the metal falling through $1,300," precious metals group MKS said in a note.
Chinese consumption has already been hit over the last few weeks by discounted rates in the local market as banks, which hold ample stock, held off buying as the yuan weakened.
Chinese retail data showed jewellery sales fell 6 percent in March, the first monthly drop in at least two years.
On the investment side, SPDR Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, saw holdings rise 0.60 tonne to 806.82 tonnes on Tuesday - the second straight day of inflows after three weeks of outflows. [GOL/ETF]
Among other precious metals, silver was down 0.1 percent at $19.55 an ounce, having dropped to a 2-1/2-month low at $19.24 an ounce on Tuesday. Spot platinum was up 0.1 percent at $1,436.50 an ounce, while spot palladium was up 0.9 percent at $798.20 an ounce.
(Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Dale Hudson)