Signs of a strengthening U.S. housing market helped push gold prices below $1,300 an ounce on Monday, despite heightened geopolitical tensions over the situation in Ukraine.

U.S. data showed contracts to buy previously owned homes rose in March for the first time in nine months, a sign the housing market could be stabilizing after suffering a setback from a rise in interest rates and a severe winter.

On Monday, the United States froze assets and imposed visa bans on seven powerful Russians close to President Vladimir Putin and also sanctioned 17 Russian companies in reprisal for Moscow's actions in Ukraine.

Last week, signs of escalating violence in Eastern Europe between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian militants sent gold above $1,300 an ounce for its third weekly gain in the past four weeks.

"While the price break over $1,300 may be construed as positive for the bullion market, gains that have historically been boosted by bouts of rising geopolitical tensions tend to be fleeting and can be erased just as fast as they materialize," said James Steel, chief precious metals analyst at HSBC.

Spot gold was down 0.5 percent at $1,295.79 an ounce by 3:41 p.m. EDT (1941 GMT).

The metal remained lower, largely ignoring choppy trading in U.S. equities.

S&P 500 equities index rebounded after trading mostly lower in the afternoon session, dragged by heavy losses at Bank of America Corp. The second-largest U.S. bank said it will suspend a planned increase in dividend and its latest stock buyback program because it miscalculated a measure of the capital on its books.

U.S. gold futures for June delivery settled down $1.80 an ounce at $1,299, with volume about 30 percent below its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data showed.

CHINESE IMPORTS FROM HONG KONG SLOW

In physical-market news, Hong Kong customs office data showed China bought less gold in March from Hong Kong than in the previous month, although the drop was smaller than expected, analysts said.

Net gold flows into China from Hong Kong fell to 85.128 tonnes from 112.314 tonnes in February, the data showed.

Among other precious metals, silver eased 0.4 percent to $19.53 an ounce. Platinum inched down 45 cents to $1,414.75 an ounce, while palladium was down 0.8 percent to $799.72 an ounce.

Platinum outperformed other precious metals after marathon wage talks to end the 13-week strike in South Africa collapsed on Thursday, prompting producers to take their latest wage offer directly to employees. 

(By Frank Tang and Jan Harvey; Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Singapore; editing by Jane Baird, Matthew Lewis and Tom Brown)