Gold fell to a six-month low on Wednesday, breaking through support at $1,600 an ounce, as investors were drawn to riskier assets ahead of a closely watched U.S. Federal Reserve minutes later in the day.
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Signs of an improving global economic outlook sent equities to multi-year highs this week, making gold's safe-haven qualities less appealing.
Spot gold fell as low as $1,590.71 an ounce, its lowest since Aug. 15, and was seen at $1,593.40 at 1109 GMT, still down 0.7 percent. Having broken strong technical support at $1,600, the metal is now vulnerable to further losses, with the next downside targets at $1,589 and $1,564, traders said.
U.S. gold futures for April delivery were down 0.7 percent at $1,592.60. Euro-denominated gold fell as low as 1,189.86 euros an ounce.
"There is less money finding its way into the gold market," Tobias Merath, global head of commodity research at Credit Suisse, said.
"Fundamentals for gold haven't really changed, but other asset classes have now become more attractive, and that's leaving prices largely range-bound."
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Over the past few years, gold has become more dependent on investment flows, which now account for one third of global demand compared with just 10 percent a decade ago.
"The problem with this market structure is that prices (have) become a bit more dependent on investment sentiment, and if investors stop buying, prices fail to rally," Merath said.
Holdings of the SPDR Gold Trust, the world's top gold-backed exchange-traded fund, dropped by more than 3 tonnes from the previous session to 1,319.964 tonnes on Feb. 19, the lowest level in nearly five months.
European shares were mixed on Wednesday, consolidating after the previous session's sharp gains on weak earnings and caution ahead of the Fed minute. Earlier Asian shares reached multi-month highs as an improving global economic outlook whetted investor appetite for risk.
The S&P 500 index and Dow Jones industrial average hit their highest level in more than five years in the previous session. The S&P 500 has climbed more than 7 percent so far this year, compared with a 4 percent loss in spot gold.
The euro was firm against the dollar, still supported by Tuesday's data showing a strong improvement in German economic sentiment.
FOCUS ON FOMC
Investors will be focusing on the wording in the minutes of the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting, due later in the day, to gauge the central bank's attitude towards monetary policy, which has helped gold's rally in recent years.
"Any surprise discussion on what an unwinding of quantitative easing could one day look like could lift U.S. yields and the dollar," broker ING said in a note.
A stronger dollar tends to put more pressure on dollar-denominated commodities such as gold by making them more expensive for holders of other currencies.
Physical buying from China and other Asian countries was triggered by a fall to seven-month lows in spot gold contracts on the Shanghai Gold Exchange.
In other precious metals, platinum extended losses seen late in the previous session on news that workers at Anglo American Platinum's South African mines have returned to work after a one-day walkout in response to violence at its Siphumelele mine.
Spot platinum was down 0.8 percent at $1,673.49 an ounce. Palladium fell 0.6 percent to $756.97 an ounce.
"Platinum is still vulnerable to a correction here should longs take profits as macro sentiment sinks," VTB Capital said in a note.
"A close below $1,680 would see the market supported at $1,650 and then back at $1,550 should we see a prolonged correction in our least preferred scenario."
Spot silver also fell to its lowest since August 21 at $29.15 an ounce, before settling at $29.17, still down 0.9 percent. (Editing by Jane Baird)