PRECIOUS-Gold holds close to near 8-year peak as virus cases spike

    * Gold on track for third straight monthly gain and biggest
quarterly rise in over four years
    * Specs raise bullish gold positions in week ended June 23 -
    * SPDR Gold Trust holdings rise 0.3% on Friday

 (Adds comments, updates prices)
    By Nakul Iyer
    June 29 (Reuters) - Gold prices steadied on Monday, within
striking distance of last week's near eight-year high and on
track for their biggest quarterly rise in more than four years,
as a spike in global coronavirus cases unnerved investors. 
    Spot gold        was little changed at $1,769.77 per ounce
by 1148 GMT, but only $9.30 shy of its highest since Oct 2012
hit last Wednesday.
    U.S. gold futures        rose 0.2% to $1,784.40 per ounce.
    Cases of the coronavirus have soared in the United States,
with California ordering bars to close and Washington state
pausing plans for re-opening the economy. Infection rates also
remain on the rise in countries such as Brazil and India.
    "The catalyst (for gold to reach $1,800 an ounce) is already
here. Rising cases in the U.S. and concerns about a second wave
in Europe and Asia are likely to slow down any potential rebound
in the economy and that's going to make gold an asset class that
is very much in demand," said Michael Hewson, chief market
analyst at CMC Markets UK.
    He attributed Monday's slight price decline to profit-taking
going into month and quarter end.
    The relentless spread of the coronavirus has curbed optimism
for a swift recovery of the global economy, sending world shares
to a two-week low.             
    However, Stephen Innes, chief market strategist at financial
services firm AxiCorp said a lack of inflation posed a difficult
question for the gold rally.
    "Given inflation is headed lower in both the short- and
medium-term, gold needs (real bond) yields to continue to fall
this year." 
    SPDR Gold Trust      , holdings rose 0.3% to 1,178.90 tonnes
on Friday, while speculators increased their bullish positions
in COMEX gold and silver contracts in the week to June 23.
    Palladium        rose 1.6% to $1,889.65 per ounce, while
platinum        gained 2.2% to $808.10 per ounce and silver
       was up by 0.6% to $17.85 per ounce.

 (Reporting by Nakul Iyer in Bengaluru; editing by David Evans,
Kirsten Donovan)