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Wednesday May 12, 2004 - 21:36:55 GMT -

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Dollar Lower on Record US Trade Deficit


The US trade deficit widened to a record 46 billion dollars in March, up from February’s 42.1 billion. Both imports and exports rose to record levels. Surging energy prices contributed to rising imports, as the cost of imported petroleum rose 0.8% month-over-month in March. With crude oil trading above the key $40 dollar level, ECB Chief Economist Issing noted in somewhat hawkish comments that rising energy prices could cause medium-term wage pressures leading to an eventual tightening of monetary policy. In the wake of the trade release, EURUSD tested key Fibonacci support at 1.1940 before coming off to below 1.1900. Before the start of the US session, the single currency enjoyed a bit of a bounce from a strong print in French GDP—the advance Q1 release came in at 0.8% q-o-q.


Continued geopolitical risks due mainly to events in Iraq, US equity losses and steadily rising crude oil prices all helped to keep the dollar offered against CHF during the New York session. The pair traded above 1.30 early, but dropped abruptly following the release of record US trade deficit numbers. USDCHF traded as low as 1.2880 level but recovered to close the session around 1.2940. While expectations are growing for Swiss rate hikes, SNB policymaker comments imply that tightening will not come until the second half of this year. Swiss retail sales data released Friday should show continued improvement and add further fuel to the 2004 rate hike argument. On the M&A front, in a EUR/CHF supportive announcement, Swiss crop chemical maker Syngenta announced an agreement to purchase Advanta, a corn and soybean seed business, for EUR400mm.


Cable enjoyed support from a variety of factors Wednesday, starting with UK data and reports. Strong employment data showed inflation at 30-year lows at 2.9%. Claimant unemployment continued to trend downward, with the latest release recording a slightly better than expected decline of 6,000. The Bank of England’s Quarterly Inflation Report provided an additional boost to sterling, as the central bank’s updated forecasts put UK projected inflation above its target 2% level. Adding to concerns of a housing bubble, the Bank’s regional report on house prices intimated that investors seeking to buy and rent residential properties may be susceptible to a fall in the market caused by excess supply. This “buy-to-let” problem poses stability risks to the economy. Taking the data releases as a whole, cable rallied on the expectation that future monetary tightening is in store this year, trading from below the 1.7600 level to above 1.78 by mid-morning in New York. A wider than expected US trade deficit helped the pair along early in the US session.


For the time being, price action in the yen appears to be tied to Japanese equity performance. Early on in London trading, the yen strengthened to around 112.40 on the back of a 2.3% surge in the Nikkei, the highest single day gain in the index for the year. The US session however was a different story as JPY gave back its gains and then some: USD/JPY traded as high as 113.50 before weakening slightly. Rising oil prices and falling US equity markets pressured the yen as investors anticipated a similar drop in Japanese stocks on Thursday. In official comments, BoJ Policy Board Member Nakahara raised the need for a stated inflation range, perhaps 1% - 2%, in order to stabilize market expectations. Suggesting no near-term changes to the Bank’s monetary policy, Nakahara observed that the zero-interest rate policy would remain in place at least until core inflation breaches the 1% level.


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