Gold traded flat on Tuesday, retaining gains from the past two sessions as investors waited for action from the European Central Bank in hopes that it would do more to tackle the region's debt crisis.
Investors are on watch for details of the ECB's bond purchasing plans, after bank chief Mario Draghi said last week it would target shorter-dated debt, warming up sentiment on the European government debt market.
That, together with the uncertainty around the U.S. Federal Reserve's future policy moves, will extend the wait-and-see game in gold for a little longer, traders said.
"On the macroeconomic front, things haven't changed dramatically - the U.S. economy is not doing too bad, and the European economy is a mess. The Fed is waiting for a perfect time to make a final strike with a third round of quantitative easing," said a Shanghai-based trader.
A majority of Wall Street economists polled by Reuters expect the Fed to launch QE3 as soon as September, but a top Fed official said new stimulus measures so close to a presidential election would be a mistake.
Spot gold was little changed at $1,611.40 an ounce by 0307 GMT, after rising more than 1 percent over the past two sessions.
The U.S. gold futures contract for December delivery edged down 0.1 percent to $1,614.50.
Technical analysis suggested gold could slide to $1,582.58 an ounce during the day, said Reuters market analyst Wang Tao.
CHINA SEEN STABILISING
Later in the week, China is expected to release its inflation, industrial output and trade data for July, which is expected to show that the world's No.2 economy was, at best, stabilising in the beginning of the second half of the year rather than recovering briskly.
"We continue to like precious metals, even as central bank event risks have been largely removed until September, as further disappointment with politically driven 'growth agendas' should confirm the need for even stronger monetary solutions to reignite nominal growth, a necessary condition in deleveraging global economies," Societe Generale said in a research note.
The world's top gold producer, China, which has overtaken India as the world's top gold consumer, continued to show strong appetite for bullion.
In the first half of 2012, the gold flow from Hong Kong, a main conduit of bullion into China, grew sixfold on the year, although the flow in the opposite direction remained unusually high for the fourth month.
China churned out 36.3 tonnes of gold in June, sending total output in the first half of the year to 177 tonnes, up 7.7 percent on the year.
Precious metals prices 0307 GMT
Metal Last Change Pct chg YTD pct chg Volume
Spot Gold 1611.40 1.01 +0.06 3.04
Spot Silver 27.84 -0.02 -0.07 0.54
Spot Platinum 1401.49 6.09 +0.44 0.61
Spot Palladium 578.97 4.17 +0.73 -11.27
COMEX GOLD DEC2 1614.50 -1.70 -0.11 3.04 3082
COMEX SILVER SEP2 27.80 -0.06 -0.23 -0.41 768
COMEX gold and silver contracts show the most active months