(Reuters) - Gold prices firmed on Wednesday as investors sought safe-haven assets after sombre U.S. economic data exacerbated fears of an economic downturn amid increasing global restrictions and lockdowns to combat the coronavirus pandemic. Spot gold was up 0.9% at $1,585.08 an ounce by 11:02 am EDT (1502 GMT), having earlier risen as much as 1.8%. U.S. gold futures gained 0.3% to $1,601.70.
"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 rate staying in the deep negative territory for a while... Such a backdrop remains favourable for gold investments."
The U.S. manufacturing sector contracted in March, with activity hitting its lowest level since 2009, as the coronavirus outbreak caused widespread shortages, a survey showed.
Also, U.S. 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.
U.S. President Donald Trump warned Americans on Tuesday of a "painful" two weeks ahead in fighting the coronavirus, with a mounting U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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 $1,612.40 and then at $1,625, 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% to 967 tonnes on Tuesday.
Elsewhere, platinum shed 0.1% to $721.59 an ounce, palladium dropped 5.5% to $2,222.19 and silver rose 0.3% to $14.
(Reporting by Sumita Layek and Eileen Soreng in Bengaluru; Editing by Bernadette Baum)