* Platinum, palladium retreat after rally
* Spot gold abandons bullish goal at $1,701/oz - technicals
* Coming up: U.S. housing starts and building permits, Dec; 1330 GMT
SINGAPORE, Jan 17- Gold traded flat on Thursday as investors, concerned about the duration of ultra-loose monetary policy, refrained from betting big on an economic recovery while easing concerns about immediate supply shortages from South Africa clipped platinum's seven-day rally.
Economic activity gathered steam across the United States in recent weeks, although businesses and consumers were wary due to uncertainty over fiscal policy and conditions in Europe, the Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book report.
Earlier this month, Fed meeting minutes showing concerns about the side effects of monetary stimulus hammered gold prices, as an exit from the loose monetary policy would tarnish the metal's shine as an inflation hedge during a period of rampant central bank cash printing.
"If growth continues to be really good, it could shift central banks' bias from easing to tightening, which would not be good for the precious metals complex," said Jeremy Friesen, commodity strategist at Societe Generale in Hong Kong.
But the U.S. debt ceiling issue, which would force the world's top economy to default on its debt as early as mid-February if lawmakers fail to agree to raise the borrowing limit, might support gold's safe have appeal, he added.
"Right now the market isn't sure which direction to go," said Friesen.
Gold investment, fuelled by negative real interest rates and debt concerns, is expected to drive prices to a record average high this year, according to Thomson Reuters GFMS.
Spot gold was flat at $1,678.64 an ounce by 0305 GMT, trapped in a tight range of about $2.
U.S. gold inched down 0.3 percent to $1,678.80.
Technical analysis suggested that spot gold has abandoned the bullish target at $1,701 an ounce as it failed to maintain the momentum, said Reuters market analyst Wang Tao.
Physical buying interest ebbed in Southeast Asia, dealers said.
"Buying has slowed as prices are once again locked in a range," said a Singapore-based dealer.
Spot platinum lost 0.6 percent to $1,673.75 , pulling away from a three-month high of $1,699.50 hit earlier in the week.
Anglo American Platinum (Amplats) miners will end an illegal walkout from Wednesday night and want talks to prevent further action, a labour leader said.
Potentially tempering the sentiment in platinum, demand for new cars in recession-bound Europe fell to a 17-year low in 2012, leaving mass market manufacturers little hope for this year as they try to cut costly excess factory capacity and aggressive discounting dents their margins.
Platinum usage in Europe's automobile industry accounted for 18 percent of the world's total demand for the metal in 2011, data from refiner Johnson Matthey showed.
Spot palladium inched down 0.4 percent to $718.75, easing from a near 16-month high of $724.50 hit in the previous session.
Precious metals prices 0305 GMT
Metal Last Change Pct chg YTD pct chg Volume
Spot Gold 1678.64 -0.25 -0.01 0.24
Spot Silver 31.36 -0.06 -0.19 3.57
Spot Platinum 1673.75 -9.50 -0.56 9.04
Spot Palladium 718.75 -2.52 -0.35 3.87
COMEX GOLD FEB3 1678.80 -4.40 -0.26 0.18 5306
COMEX SILVER MAR3 31.39 -0.15 -0.48 3.84 1467
COMEX gold and silver contracts show the most active months