SINGAPORE Gold held sharp overnight gains on Wednesday as soft global economic data and a tumble in equities sent investors scurrying towards the safe-haven metal.
* Spot gold XAU= eased 0.2 percent to $1,228.30 an ounce by 0040 GMT on profit taking, but retained most of its 1.3 percent gain on Tuesday.
* Bullion rose along with other safe-haven assets such as the Japanese yen as economic data out of Europe and the United States prompted a retreat from riskier assets.
* Data on Tuesday showed the U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in February as a rebound in exports was offset by an increase in imports, the latest indication that economic growth weakened further in the first quarter. Other data showed activity in the vast services sector picked up in March.
* German industrial orders unexpectedly dropped in February, while Britain's economy appeared to have slowed since the start of this year according to a closely watched survey.
* The MSCI All-World Index .MIWD00000PUS dropped 1.4 percent on Tuesday, its worst day since early February. The dollar fell to its weakest level against the yen since October 2014. [MKTS/GLOB]
* Concerns remained over the timing of U.S. interest rate hikes after recent comments from Federal Reserve officials.
* Gold had posted its biggest quarterly rise in nearly 30 years in the March quarter, rallying 16 percent as expectations faded that the Fed would move to normalize interest rates due to concerns over the global economy. The U.S. central bank raised rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade.
* But recent hawkish comments have worried bullion investors. Gold is highly exposed to rising U.S. interest rates because they lift the opportunity cost of holding non-yielding assets.
* Boston Federal Reserve President Eric Rosengren said on Monday it was "surprising" that futures markets currently imply only one or no interest rate hikes this year, a prediction he said could prove "too pessimistic".
* Chicago Fed President Charles Evans also made similar comments on Tuesday.
* Elsewhere, a federal court in New York fined two United Arab Emirates residents more than $2.6 million to settle charges of "spoofing" in the gold and silver futures markets and permanently banned them from trading, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said on Tuesday.
* SPDR Gold Trust (GLD), the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, said its holdings fell 0.28 tonnes to 815.44 tonnes on Tuesday. [GOl/ETF]
(Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Richard Pullin)
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