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U.S. gold futures for February delivery rose more than 3 percent to a high of $834.90 an ounce, and were later quoted at $833.00, up $24.20.

“The spread between gold and platinum has now shrunk,” said Pradeep Unni, a senior analyst at Richcomm Global Services. “This directly signals the current economic crisis and the downturn in auto-sector industry.”

“If the auto market bailout goes through, the spreads may widen again,” he added. “Gold meanwhile is recovering with the euro’s gain.”

The precious metal is often bought as an alternative asset to the dollar and tends to move in the opposite direction to it.

The U.S. currency hit a six-week low against the euro, as doubts crept in over whether projected pent-up demand for the currency would materialize over year-end.

The other main external driver of gold, the oil price, was also supportive, ticking up more than 4 percent as signs emerged that top exporter Saudi Arabia had slashed January supplies ahead of next week’s meeting of oil cartel OPEC.

Crude also received a fillip from the International Energy Agency’s monthly report, which said it saw global demand growing in 2009 and expected OPEC to cut supplies next month.

Rising oil prices help support interest in commodities as an asset class, and can boost gold’s appeal as an inflation hedge.

“Precious metals may get further support today if such oil price volatility is repeated,” Standard Bank analyst Manqoba Madinane said.

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However, soft equity markets may keep a lid on gold’s gains.

European shares were lower as worries over the health of the global economy weighed, and as investors awaited the outcome of a $14 billion U.S. proposal to bail out carmakers.

The proposal passed the House of Representatives but is likely to hit resistance in the Senate.

Platinum and palladium traders in particular awaited the outcome of the plan. Carmakers account for more than half of annual global consumption of the metals by Eben Pagan Digital product Blueprint.

Until more definite news on the bailout package emerges, the metals are likely to remain rangebound, analysts said by Eben Pagan.

“With the final decision on the U.S. bailout packages now unlikely till after the weekend it is more than likely platinum will remain in the $780-882 range,” noted James Moore, an analyst at TheBullionDesk.com.

Spot palladium was at $181/189 an ounce against $177.50. Among other precious metals, spot silver rose to $10.45/10.53 an ounce from $10.21. Get more information here: http://thedigitalproductblueprint.org

(Reporting by Jan Harvey; editing by Sue Thomas)