Gold rose on Thursday, rebounding sharply from a nine-month low touched earlier in the session, as a sharp sell-off in U.S. equities prompted investors to buy bullion as a safe haven.
Analysts said gold prices still look vulnerable, however, because of a strong dollar and expectations of higher U.S. interest rates.
U.S. stocks were sharply lower moving into late trading, weighed down by a drop in Apple shares, as each of the major indexes fell more than one percent and the S&P broke below a key support level.
"This is just an initial reaction to the hard sell-off of the equities market right now. I still think gold will fall below $1,200 on expectations of higher U.S. interest rates soon," said Phillip Streible, senior commodities broker at RJO Futures in Chicago.
Spot gold was up 0.4 percent at $1,222 an ounce by 3:46 p.m. EDT (1946 GMT), having earlier hit a low of $1,206.85 an ounce, its weakest since Jan. 2.
U.S. COMEX gold futures for December delivery settled down $2.40 an ounce at $1,221.90, with trading volume about 40 percent above its 30-day average, preliminary Reuters data shows.
Physical demand has been subdued this year after a record 2013, when prices slumped by 28 percent. Buying of physical gold in top market China was light on Wednesday, traders said.
China's net gold imports from main conduit Hong Kong slid to their lowest since May 2011 in August, due to adequate stocks from earlier purchases and as consumer demand remained weak, data showed on Thursday.
News of central bank purchases failed to support gold. Russia added to its gold holdings in August, while Kazakhstan raised its holdings by nearly 800,000 ounces.
Among other precious metals, spot silver was down 0.7 percent at $17.52 an ounce, spot platinum was down 0.3 percent at $1,309.50 an ounce and spot palladium was down 1.8 percent at $799.47 an ounce.
Platinum earlier fell to its lowest since June 2013 at $1,295.25 an ounce, while palladium slid to its lowest in more than four months at $792 an ounce.
(By Frank Tang and Jan Harvey; Additional reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi in Singapore; Editing by Michael Urquhart, David Holmes and Tom Brown)