PRECIOUS-Gold slips as investors book profit, holds on to near 9-year high

    * GRAPHIC-2020 asset returns:
    * Silver eases off seven-year peak

 (Adds comments, details, updates prices)
    By Brijesh Patel
    July 23 (Reuters) - Gold eased on Thursday as investors
booked profits from a  strong rally, but held on to a near
nine-year high due to U.S.-China tensions and bets on more
global stimulus to support pandemic-hit economies, which could
fuel inflation.
    Spot gold        was down 0.2% at $1,867.36 per ounce by
0333 GMT, after hitting its highest since September 2011 at
$1,876.16 in early Asian trade.
    U.S. gold futures        rose 0.1% to $1,867.
    "With tension between the United States and China rising,
U.S. bond yields continuing to edge lower, and a weaker dollar
very much in evidence, the case for higher gold prices remains
strong," said Jeffrey Halley, a senior market analyst at OANDA.
    "Most likely we're seeing some short-term profit-taking in
Asia before the uptrend resumes in European hours." 
    In a marked escalation between the world's two biggest
economies, the United States gave China until Friday to close
its consulate in Houston amid accusations of spying, which also
hit risk sentiment.                         
    Hopes for another round of U.S. stimulus measures also
helped gold, which is considered a hedge against inflation and
fears of currency debasement.             
    The dollar index        held near a more than four-month low
hit in the last session.       
    "The spread of the virus and attendant impact on economic
growth, rising geopolitical tensions are leading investor to
seek safe haven assets like gold," said National Australia Bank
economist John Sharma.
    Coronavirus cases continued to surge in the United States,
while more than 15.01 million people have been infected by the
virus globally.             
    Elsewhere, silver        retreated sharply, falling 2.2% to
$22.53 per ounce, having rallied to a near seven-year high,
helped by hopes for a revival in industrial activity.
    Platinum        dropped 1.2% to $910.14, while palladium
       slipped 0.5% to $2,136.17.
    "We see demand contracting for both palladium and platinum,
flipping the platinum market balance to positive, while
narrowing the palladium deficit," ANZ analysts said in a note,
adding weaker auto sales will be a drag.
    Platinum and palladium are used in emission-controlling
devices for automobiles.

 (Reporting by Brijesh Patel in Bengaluru;
Editing by Vinay Dwivedi)
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