By Jan Harvey
LONDON (Reuters) - Gold steadied in holiday-thinned trade on Monday, underpinned by a slide in crude oil prices to 12-year lows and persistent weakness in world stock markets, which prompted investors to seek assets considered a safe store of value.
Gains were limited, however, as the dollar firmed and oil inched up from earlier lows, pointing to a slight cooling of the risk aversion that lifted gold 1 percent on Friday. U.S. markets were closed for the Martin Luther King Day holiday.
Spot gold was little changed at $1,088.87 an ounce at 1502 GMT, while U.S. gold futures for February delivery were down $1.60 at $1,089.10.
Prices have risen nearly 3 percent so far this year after weak economic data in China and a fresh move lower in the yuan in early January prompted a sell-off in Chinese stocks, which spilled over into global markets.
"The market is now re-pricing the overall macro risk through short covering in the futures market," Julius Baer analyst Carsten Menke said. "Gold is a natural hedge, or insurance you look for when your equity market portfolio is a little more volatile."
Oil prices hit their lowest since late 2003 as the market braced for additional Iranian exports after the lifting of sanctions against the country over the weekend.
A rebound in European stocks quickly fizzled out after markets around the world slumped. Asian equities tumbled to their lowest since 2011 overnight as investors shunned risky assets after weak U.S. economic data.
U.S. retail sales fell in December, along with industrial production.
The renewed weakness in the world's top economy raises doubts over whether the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates again in March.
"Clearly there are growing doubts among market participants that the U.S. Federal Reserve will implement a further rate hike in March," Commerzbank said in a note.
"If interest rates are not raised in the short term, the opportunity costs of holding gold will remain low for longer."
Hedge funds and money managers switched to their first bullish bet in COMEX gold in two months in the week to Jan. 12, U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission data showed on Friday.
Platinum fell to a seven-year low at $812.95, hurt by fears over global growth. As a largely industrial metal, heavily used by the auto sector to make catalytic converters, it is more exposed than gold to concerns over economic weakness.
Platinum was down 1.5 percent at $816.99 an ounce, while silver was up 0.2 percent at $13.94 and palladium was up 0.5 percent to $493.45.
(Additional reporting by Manolo Serapio Jr. in Manila; Editing by David Goodman and David Evans)