Gold prices eased in Asia on Thursday, following an overnight decline on prospects the Federal Reserve could raise rates sooner than expected, with copper also in focus on a preliminary manufacturing survey for August.

On the Comex division of the New York Mercantile Exchange, gold futures for December delivery traded at $1,291.80 a troy ounce, down 0.26%, after hitting an overnight session low of $1,288.90 and off a high of $1,298.90.

Silver for September delivery was down 0.19% at $19.460 a troy ounce. Copper futures for September delivery were up 0.06% at $3.172 a pound, ahead of data closely watched for demand by the world's top importer of copper.

The HSBC China August flash manufacturing PMI is due at 0945 local time (0145 GMT). The July figure came in at 51,7 for the final, keeping solidly in expansion territory.

Overnight, gold prices traded lower after the Federal Reserve's July policy meeting minutes revealed that rate hikes could come sooner rather than later if the job market continues to improve.

The Fed said that the overall economy is improving, though slackness remains in the labor market despite growth, which prompted monetary authorities to continue tapering its asset-purchasing program by only $10 billion per policy meeting.

The Fed's stimulus bond-buying program is seen concluding around October, and rate hikes are expected in 2015, though the timing of the latter remains up in the air.

While some monetary authorities favored studying more data before deciding, others felt action should come sooner rather than later.

"Many participants noted that if convergence toward the Committee's objectives occurred more quickly than expected, it might become appropriate to begin removing monetary policy accommodation sooner than they currently anticipated," the minutes released earlier Wednesday read.

"Indeed, some participants viewed the actual and expected progress toward the Committee's goals as sufficient to call for a relatively prompt move toward reducing policy accommodation to avoid overshooting the Committee's unemployment and inflation objectives over the medium term," the minutes added.

Gold prices fell on the news, as Fed bond purchases and rock-bottom interest rates bolster the yellow metal's appeal as a hedge to a weaker dollar.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen has said that the U.S. economy is improving though monetary authorities continue to note slackness in the labor market, though the minutes revealed some monetary authorities feel that slackness may be absorbed in the near future.

"Many members noted, however, that the characterization of labor market underutilization might have to change before long, particularly if progress in the labor market continued to be faster than anticipated."






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