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Gold posts first loss in three months, but markets focus on Fed's 'hawkish pause'

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(Kitco News) The gold market posted its first monthly loss since February, wrapping May down about $36. As markets eye the crucial Congress vote to lift the debt ceiling, some Federal Reserve speakers are pushing for a "hawkish pause" at the June 13-14 meeting.

The House of Representatives is set to vote on a bill to lift the $31.4 trillion debt limit on Wednesday - a critical step to avoid a default before the June 5 deadline provided by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Voting is said to start late afternoon and end before 9 pm ET time.

"The far wings of both parties are expected to show some resistance, but this bill is expected to advance," said OANDA senior market analyst Edward Moya. "The Senate might have some difficulty passing the bill, but expectations are elevated that the U.S. will avoid defaulting on its debt."

For gold, a debt deal does not necessarily mean lower prices, Moya said in a note Wednesday. "The details behind the proposed piece of legislation include significantly lower spending, which will be a major blow to the economic outlook and likely trigger a much harder-hitting recession," he noted.

The more significant risk to the gold price is what the Fed decides to do in June and July, with market expectations shifting drastically in the last few weeks.

At the time of writing, the CME FedWatch Tool was back to projecting a 70% chance of a pause at the June meeting. The market leaned towards another 25-basis-point hike only a few trading sessions ago.

U.S. rate futures also started to price in a 70% chance of a pause by the Fed Wednesday, which is a u-turn from earlier in the session, according to Refinitiv's FedWatch.

Fed speakers trigger re-pricing

Expectations shifted after several Fed speakers leaned towards pausing or skipping a rate hike in June, which is a reversal from previous hawkish sentiments.

Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker said Wednesday that he supports a "skip" in rate hikes.

"I am in the camp increasingly coming into this meeting thinking that we really should skip," Harker said. But Friday's employment data "may change my mind," he added.

Fed Governor and vice chair nominee Philip Jefferson also said skipping a rate hike makes sense because it gives policymakers time to examine more data.

"Skipping a rate hike at a coming meeting would allow the (Federal Open Market) Committee to see more data before making decisions about the extent of additional policy firming," Jefferson said at a financial stability conference in Washington.

But not all Fed officials share this view. Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President Loretta Mester said no "compelling" evidence exists not to raise rates. "I don't really see a compelling reason to pause," Mester told Financial Times in an interview Wednesday. "I would see more of a compelling case for bringing the rates up and then holding for a while until you get less uncertain about where the economy is going."

In the meantime, macro data releases have supported more tightening by the U.S. central bank. The Federal Reserve's preferred inflation measure — the annual core PCE price index — accelerated to 4.7% in April versus the consensus forecast of 4.6%.

And the latest JOLTS job openings data showed that the labor market remains tight.

All eyes are on the U.S. April nonfarm payrolls report, scheduled to be published on Friday. "Market calls that the Fed is done hiking won't be able to shake off this labor market strength if Friday's NFP report confirms this trend," Moya said.

Despite gold's failure to maintain its gains after testing record highs earlier in May, analysts say it is a good sign that gold can trade above $1,950 an ounce. But the risk of falling back to the $1,900 remains, said Kinesis Money market analyst Rupert Rowling.

"Assuming the U.S. does ratify its new debt ceiling agreement, then June looks set to be a more challenging month for gold with more bearish factors than bullish ones," Rowling said Wednesday. "Attention will quickly switch to the U.S. jobs data and then the inflation data that comes out before the Federal Reserve meets to decide its June interest rate decision in the middle of the month."

At the time of writing, August Comex gold futures were trading at $1,981.20, up 0.21% on the day.

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