December 31, 2018 / 4:49 AM / 6 months ago

PRECIOUS-Gold set for first annual decline in three years

(Updates prices)

* Gold, silver set for best month since January 2017

* Palladium sole gainer in precious complex in 2018

* Platinum suffers worst year since 2015

* GRAPHIC-2018 asset returns: tmsnrt.rs/2jvdmXl

By Karthika Suresh Namboothiri

BENGALURU, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Gold held steady on Monday as equities gained on likely progress in Sino-U.S. trade standoff, but bullion prices were heading for their first annual decline since 2015, losing to the dollar mostly on trade worries and higher interest rates.

However, the precious metal was on track for its best month since January 2017, having scrambled back from sharp declines in the year due to volatility in equities and a subdued dollar, along with worries over slowing global growth.

Spot gold was steady at $1,281.23 per ounce as of 0815 GMT, near a six-month high of $1,282.09 it hit on Friday.

U.S. gold futures were near flat $1,283.4 per ounce.

“The trade war concerns between the U.S. and China is slightly cooling down and that has lent support to the equity market,” said Ajay Kedia, director at Kedia Commodities in Mumbai, adding that there is some profit booking in gold ahead of the year-end.

China’s President Xi Jinping said on a telephone call with U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday that he hopes to push forward a Sino-U.S. relationship that is coordinated, cooperative and stable, Chinese state media reported. Gold prices jumped about 5 percent in December. The metal declined nearly 2 percent for the year.

The dollar index has gained 4.6 percent this year as the U.S. currency had been the preferred safe haven this year as the U.S.-China trade conflict unfolded against a backdrop of higher U.S. interest rates, denting gold’s demand.

Higher interest rates make gold less attractive since it does not pay interest and costs to store and insure.

Gold dropped over 15 percent from a peak of $1,365.2 in April to a 1-1/2-year low in August this year to $1,159.96. The yellow metal has gained nearly 10 percent since then.

“Over concerns of a slowdown of global economic growth and rate hike, gold is likely to recover the loss since mid-June and rise back to the trading range between $1,300 and $1,350,” Wing Fung said in a research note.

Among the precious metals, palladium gained 0.1 percent to $1254.30 per ounce and has been the best performer this year, surpassing gold for the first time since 2002 on strong demand from autocatalyst makers amid production shortages.

The metal rose 18.3 percent in the year and was set for a fifth consecutive month of gains.

Silver rose 0.4 percent to $15.40 per ounce in the session. However, it declined over 9 percent in the year.

Spot Platinum gained 0.42 percent to $792.74, but slipped about 14.2 percent in 2018.

Additional reporting by Nallur Sethuraman and K. Sathya Narayanan in Bengaluru; editing by Rashmi Aich

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