U.S. gold settled down at $1,341 on Friday, after earlier falling to a two-month low under $1,340 an ounce on word the New York Mercantile Exchange raised the margins requirements for gold and silver futures investors.

The metal is heading for a third consecutive weekly loss and its weakest monthly performance since July as a more optimistic view of global economic growth and stability boosted investment in stocks and other assets seen as higher risk at gold's expense.

Spot gold [XAU=X 1342.22 0.03 (+0%)] was last bid around $1,343 an ounce, against $1,345.40 late in New York on Thursday.

U.S. gold futures [GCG1 1341.6 -4.90 (-0.36%)] for February delivery settled down $5.50 to end at $1,341 an ounce.

Spot prices hit a low of $1,337.50 an ounce as financial markets opened in New York, their weakest since Nov. 18, tracking losses in U.S. gold futures. Traders cited a rise in margin requirements for precious metals futures.

More broadly, analysts say outflows from products such as physically backed exchange-traded funds suggest investor appetite for gold is slackening after a run of firmer-than-expected U.S. economic data and as concerns over euro zone sovereign debt levels recede.

"There is a real lack of catalysts to provide any sort of support," said Macquarie analyst Hayden Atkins. "Day-by-day the data does seem to be supportive of the theory that activity is pretty good for now, and the expectation is growing that things will be okay through the year."

"There is nothing definitive either way to push it, and at the margins (investors) are maybe putting their money somewhere else rather than putting it in gold."

Gold's slide was limited on Friday by a retreat in the dollar to two-month lows versus the euro, with the single currency reaching its highest level since late November, helped by improving confidence in the euro zone.

Stock markets moved higher, meanwhile, in both Europe and the United States as strong earnings from key U.S. companies lifted appetite for equities.

"Gold used to be a fear indicator, and as this fear appears to be leaving the market, the gold price is under pressure," said Commerzbank analyst Eugen Weinberg.

Indian Buying Resumes

Some fresh demand emerged in India, the world's biggest consumer of the precious metal, as prices hit their lowest since late November, according to dealers in Mumbai.

"I may have booked for 200 kgs of gold from yesterday at $1,346-$1,349," said one. "Buyers all want to take maximum advantage of falling prices."

Meanwhile silver prices extended losses to a fresh seven-week low at $27.10 an ounce, pressured by a further outflow from the world's largest silver-backed exchange-traded fund, the iShares Silver Trust [SLV 26.83 -0.02 (-0.07%)].

Holdings of the trust fell by just over 10 tons on Thursday after recording their biggest one-day drop since late November in the previous session. It has seen outflows of more than 346 tons so far this year.

Investment demand was a major driver in silver's more than 80 percent price gains last year.

"Industrial demand for the metal remains at risk from substitution, given recent price gains," said Barclays Capital in a report. "Investor interest is critical for silver given its poor supply and demand dynamics."

The gold: silver ratio — the number of ounces of silver needed to buy an ounce of gold — rose back towards 50 on Friday, its highest since late November, showing gold is becoming increasingly expensive compared to silver.

Silver [XAG=X 27.47 -0.01 (-0.04%)] was last bid around $27.32 an ounce against $27.48. Elsewhere, platinum [PLC1 1813.7 --- UNCH (0)] was last near $1,820.74 an ounce against $1,808.50, while palladium [PAC1 813.85 --- UNCH (0)] last touched $805.72 versus $808.47.


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