* Gold-platinum ratio at tightest since April 2012
* Coming up: ECB rate decision, 1245 GMT
(Changes dateline, byline, adds quotes, update prices)
LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - White metals stole a march on
bullion on Thursday, with gains in platinum and palladium
outpacing those of gold as data pointed to an improved economic
backdrop in China.
Spot platinum hit a three-week high, while palladium
was on course for a third day of gains - in stark
contrast to gold, which struggled to rally from a recent 4-1/2
month low at $1,625.79.
By 1117 GMT, platinum was up 0.8 percent at $1,606.50 per
ounce, while palladium had surged 1.8 percent to $695.90. Gold
held a firmer tone, rising 0.2 percent to $1,661.54.
With gold and platinum's recent moves in different
directions, the differential between the two narrowed to its
tightest since April 2012.
China's export growth rebounded more strongly than expected
in December from a three-month low, expanding at the fastest
rate in seven months, data showed on Thursday. The outlook for
2013 remained cloudy, however, with U.S. and European demand for
Chinese goods still subdued.
Signs of continuous improvement in U.S. auto sales have also
given a brighter tone to platinum group metals, alongside supply
issues created by labour unrest in South Africa's producing
"The overall (Chinese) trade data is looking positive in
terms of exports. For PGMs there's some positivity,
surprisingly, on the auto sector," Citigroup analyst David
ECB IN FOCUS
Gold rose but was hemmed into tight ranges as investors
waited for a decision on European Central Bank monetary policy.
The ECB is expected to leave borrowing costs unchanged, but
economists have mixed views on the chances of a rate cut in the
next few months due to a murky economic outlook.
Central bank monetary stimulus was a key driver behind
gold's 12th year of annual gains in 2012 as investors were drawn
to bullion as a hedge against inflation.
Gold has been moving in a narrow range of about $25 this
week, with the upside capped by hints that open-ended U.S. bond
buying may be nearing its limit.
Gold hit a more than four-month low after minutes from the
U.S. Federal Reserve's last meeting showed officials were
concerned about the side effects of its bond-buying programme.
"The market got a little concerned about how aggressive the
Fed will be," said Jeremy Friesen, commodity strategist at
Societe Generale in Hong Kong, adding that the market was
expected to rebound.
SocGen expected gold to average $1,700 an ounce in the first
quarter of the year as well as for all of 2013.
Robust purchases on the physical bullion market in Asia were
showing signs of slowing down after prices settled in a range,
"Prices have been at the current level for a week or so, and
we will see some slowdown in physical buying, unless prices go
down to $1,640 or $1,650," said a Singapore-based trader.
(Additonal reporting by Rujun Shen in Singapore; Editing by