Gold futures on the COMEX division of the New York Mercantile Exchange ended modestly higher on Thursday due to increased uncertainty about whether leaders in Washington can reach a budget deal before yearend. The most active gold contract for February delivery edged up 3 dollars, or 0.18 percent, to settle at 1,663.7 dollars per ounce. The February gold contract once reached 1,666.1 U.S. dollars in early trading on Thursday, but pulled back after the U.S. Labor Department said that first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell last week to one of the lowest levels of the year. Initial jobless claims dropped by 12,000 to a seasonally adjusted 350,000 in the week ended Dec. 22, the Labor Department said. According to market analysts, the U.S. dollar bumped higher following the report, putting some pressure on gold futures. Prices for dollar-denominated commodities such as gold tend to become less attractive to holders of other currencies when the greenback strengthens. The ICE dollar index, which measures the U. S. unit against a basket of six rival currencies, rose to 79.708 from 79.627 late Wednesday. Silver for March delivery rose 20.5 cents, or 0.68 percent, to close at 30.24 dollars per ounce.