Gold held steady near $1,235 an ounce in Europe on Friday as buyers took to the sidelines ahead of key U.S. economic data due later in the session and a hotly awaited speech from Federal Reserve chair Ben Benanke.

The precious metal remains on track to end the week in positive territory after touching a two-month high at $1,244.00 an ounce on Thursday on concerns over economic growth.

Spot gold was bid at $1,235.50 an ounce at 10:19 a.m., against $1,234.94 late in New York on Thursday. U.S. gold futures for December delivery fell 20 cents to $1,237.50.

Financial markets are awaiting further clues on growth from Bernanke, who will deliver his speech on the economic outlook to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City Economic Symposium at 3 p.m.

Today's market action is likely to be glued to the what the Fed chairman says about the U.S. economy, said Richcomm Global Services senior analyst Pradeep Unni. Any fresh fears from the Fed, though unlikely, may lead to further gains in gold.

Gold is vulnerable if investors have to sell positions to cover any sharp fall in equity markets caused by continued scepticism about the global economic recovery, he added.

European shares fell in early trade and were on track for a third week of losses as investors worried about the pace of economic recovery.

Asian stocks earlier rounded off a week of losses on concern that the U.S. economy may suffer another recession.

On the currency markets, the dollar was little changed against the euro but rose against the yen, trimming earlier losses on wariness over possible measures from Japanese authorities to stem the unit's rise.

The financial markets are awaiting key U.S. data as well as Bernanke's presentation.

The main focus later on today will be the release of the revision to U.S. second quarter GDP, followed soon after by Bernanke's speech from Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the afternoon, said CMC Markets analyst Mark Hewson in a note.


Some commentators are suggesting that the Fed may be close to introducing some new easing, or stimulus measures and today's speech by Bernanke will hopefully give some insight into that.

Further quantitative easing would likely benefit gold, potentially sending it back towards its current record high at $1,264.90 an ounce, analysts said.

Meanwhile, analysts were optimistic for a recovery in physical demand from key consumers like India, where buying has been pressured by high prices. A Reuters poll showed that India's gold imports are seen rising to 504.5 tonnes this year.

In supply news, South Africa's largest union on Friday threatened to bring mining and other industries to a halt next week in a strike to support labour action by 1.3 million state workers.

South Africa is one of the world's largest gold miners and the biggest platinum producer by far.

Silver was at $18.91 an ounce versus $18.90. The metal has retreated from the two-month highs it hit on Thursday at $19.15 an ounce, but is still on track to rise more than 5 percent this week, its biggest one-week climb since early April.

Analysts report good fund buying of silver. Interest in silver-backed exchange-traded funds increased, with holdings of the largest, New York's iShares Silver Trust, up nearly 46 tonnes so far this week.

The ratio of gold to silver -- how many ounces of silver are needed to buy an ounce of gold -- slipped to its lowest since early August on Friday at 65.21 as the white metal became increasingly expensive compared to gold.

Platinum was at $1,528 an ounce against $1,525, while palladium was at $498 against $497.63.

(Reporting by Jan Harvey; Editing by Alison Birrane)