PRECIOUS-Platinum, palladium extend gains on Chinese data

* 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

belt.

"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

Wilson said.

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,

dealers said.

"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

Jane Baird)

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