PRECIOUS-Gold struggles near 3-month low on firm dollar, US jobs data

* Gold holds near lowest since December * Dollar index at 11-year top after U.S. jobs report * Chinese premiums tick up to $ 6/ounce (Adds analyst comments, China premiums) By A. Ananthalakshmi SINGAPORE, March 9 (Reuters) – Gold edged up on Monday, but remained near a three-month low as the dollar hit an 11-year high after a strong U.S. jobs report boosted expectations the Federal Reserve would soon hike interest rates. Spot gold rose slightly to $ 1,169.80 an ounce by 0323 GMT, retaining most Friday’s near 3 percent drop. It reached its weakest since Dec. 1 of $ 1,163.45 in the previous session, when data showed U.S. jobless rate fell to the lowest since May 2008. U.S. nonfarm payrolls increased 295,000 last month after rising 239,000 in January. “The number fuelled expectations that the Fed will now raise rates sooner rather than later, with the consensus now back to a June increase as opposed to September,” said INTL FCStone analyst Edward Meir. “We likely will see continued dollar strengthening and more commodity weakness,” said Meir, adding that gold prices could drop to $ 1,141. The dollar drifted to a fresh 11-year high against a basket of major currencies early on Monday. Higher interest rates could dent demand for non-interest-bearing assets such as gold, while a stronger dollar would also hurt bullion’s appeal as a safe-haven asset. In a sign of waning investor interest, holdings in SPDR Gold Trust, the top gold-backed exchange-traded fund, fell to the lowest in over a month on Friday, while speculators cut net long positions in COMEX gold futures and options for a fifth straight week. Demand for physical bullion due to the price dip could provide some support to prices. “Price sensitive emerging market buyers may react to the decline, especially if the dollar rally abates and $ 1,150 begins to look like good support,” said HSBC analyst James Steel. Premiums in the second biggest gold consumer China ticked up to about $ 6 an ounce on Monday, from $ 4-$ 5 in the previous session, in a sign of increased demand. Traders were also focussing on the outcome of a Monday meeting of euro zone finance ministers, who are due to discuss a recent letter of pledged reforms sent by Greece. Athens and its euro zone partners struck a deal last month to extend its bailout programme by four months, but the cash-strapped country has until April to successfully conclude a bailout review before it receives any further aid. Persistent uncertainty over the debt crisis, which could see Greece exit the eurozone, could boost bullion. PRICES AT 0323 GMT Metal Last Change Pct chg Spot gold 1169.8 3.08 0.26 Spot silver 15.72 -0.14 -0.88 Spot platinum 1151.2 -8.95 -0.77 Spot palladium 821.55 5.8 0.71 Comex gold 1169 4.7 0.4 Comex silver 15.73 -0.077 -0.49 Euro 1.084 DXY 97.725 COMEX gold and silver contracts show the most active months (Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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