Euro holds huge gains, dollar looks for jobs

Reuters, Friday 4 Mar 2011

Signs that ECB may hike interest rates

The euro took a breather in its explosive rally ahead of influential US jobs data on Friday, but the single currency is set to stay in demand after the European Central Bank signalled it may raise interest rates as early as next month.

While the ECB had been expected to step up its anti-inflation rhetoric, nobody actually thought ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet would explicitly say an interest rate rise at the next meeting was possible.

"The market was unprepared for Trichet to lay the foundation for an April rate hike," said David Watt, strategist at RBC Dominion Securities.

Euro interest rate swaps soared across the curve with the two-year rate hitting 2.30 per cent, highs not seen since early 2009.

The euro jumped to its highest in about four months of US$1.3976 on trading platform EBS on Thursday and last traded at $1.3956, down 0.1 percent from late U.S. trade on Thursday.

"We think the euro will remain strong in the next week or two, possibly even testing...highs of $1.4280," said Christopher Gothard, head of FX for Brown Brothers Harriman in Hong Kong, referring to the euro's next major peak on charts, its early November high of $1.4283.

"Trichet's comments have bolstered rate hike expectations, and even though we're not certain the scenario of an April hike will play out - Europe still has the fiscal debt issues and poor growth in many areas - for the moment it's providing support," Gothard added.

Against the yen, the common currency eased 0.2 per cent to 114.94 yen, hovering near a four-month high of 115.18 yen hit on EBS on Thursday.

A trader at a Japanese bank said the euro could face some pressure against the yen due to the potential for euro selling by Japanese exporters above 115 yen.

Having taken out resistance around 114.01, the late January high that had capped the euro in February, the single currency now looked poised to test 115.68, the early October high, said Watt at RBC Dominion Securities.

In a sign of its broad strength in the wake of Trichet's comments, the euro hit a 10-month high against the New Zealand dollar of NZ$1.8935 on Friday and touched a five-week high versus the Australian dollar near A$1.3800.

The euro held steady against the Swiss franc at 1.3010 franc after having surged 1.6 per cent on Thursday for its biggest one-day percentage gain since last September.

"We see scope for rates to go up significantly further this year, beyond the hike now widely expected in April," said Kenneth Wattret, analyst at BNP Paribas.

While that could be supportive of the euro in the near-term, there are worries that weaker peripheral euro zone countries will suffer from tighter policy, which will then pressure the single currency.

Strength in the euro kept the dollar stuck near a four-month low against a basket of major currencies. The dollar index was steady at 76.485, hovering near Thursday's trough of 76.385, which was its lowest since early November.

The dollar dipped 0.1 percent against the yen to 82.36 yen, having rebounded after repeated tests of levels around 81.60 in the past few sessions failed to break new lows.

The dollar's near-term direction hinges on U.S. non-farm payrolls data due later on Friday. Analysts polled by Reuters expect the report to show a rise of 185,000, following a tepid 36,000 increase previously.

"That will be good for the dollar and especially dollar/yen. Markets are currently priced for no rate hikes in the U.S. until 2013. I think that (rate) call will start coming back in and that will be positive for the dollar," a trader at a U.S. investment bank said.

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