Gold prices firmed as investors sought safe-haven assets after sombre US economic data exacerbated fears of a economic downturn amid increasing lockdowns and other restrictions globally to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

Spot gold was up 0.6 per cent at $1,580.29 an ounce, having earlier risen as much as 1.8 per cent.

US gold futures settled 0.3 per cent lower at $US1,591.40.

“The unprecedented macroeconomic backdrop has been drawing more investors to real assets like gold. Central banks across the world are loosening their balance sheets and getting ready for further easing to mitigate the impact of the outbreak,” said Soni Kumari, commodity strategist at ANZ.

“We therefore see real interest rates staying in the deep negative territory for a while … Such a backdrop remains favourable for gold investments.”

The US manufacturing sector contracted in March, with activity hitting its lowest level since 2009, as the coronavirus outbreak caused widespread shortages, a survey showed.

Also, US private payrolls dropped in March for the first time since 2017, supporting economists’ views that the longest employment boom in history ended last month.

As evidence mounted that the pandemic was sending the global economy into a deep recession, equity markets began the new quarter with steep losses.

US President Donald Trump warned Americans on Tuesday of a “painful” two weeks ahead in fighting the coronavirus, with a mounting US death toll that could stretch into the hundreds of thousands even with strict social distancing measures.

The contagion has infected over 851,000 people worldwide and killed 42,053, according to a Reuters tally.

On Tuesday, the US Federal Reserve broadened the ability of dozens of foreign central banks to access dollars during the crisis by allowing them to exchange their holdings of US Treasury securities for overnight dollar loans.

“Technically, the gold bulls still have the overall near-term technical advantage but they are fading this week and need to show fresh power soon,” Kitco Metals senior analyst Jim Wyckoff said in a note.

Resistance lay at around $US1,612.40 and then at $US1,625, Wyckoff added.

Reflecting investor sentiment, the Perth Mint’s gold product sales in March soared to their highest in about seven years.

Holdings in SPDR Gold Trust , the world’s largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, rose 0.3 per cent to 967 tonnes on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, platinum fell 1.4 per cent to $US711.76 an ounce, palladium dropped 5.3 per cent to $US2,228.16 and silver shed 0.6 per cent to $US13.88.

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