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Wednesday February 13, 2008 - 21:18:54 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Dollar rallies to 1-mo high vs yen on retail sales

Wed Feb 13, 2008 4:14pm EST

(Updates prices)

NEW YORK, Feb 13 (Reuters) - The dollar climbed to a one-month high against the yen on Wednesday after government data showed an unexpected rise in U.S. retail sales last month, easing concern that the U.S. economy will fall into a recession.

The gain in January retail sales bucked market expectations for a drop in monthly U.S. cash register receipts, though analysts said the outlook for both the economy and the dollar remained uncertain.

"The data is clearly a surprise to the upside. It is somewhat reassuring to a market that had been concerned with a slowdown in consumer spending, which of course raises the risk of recession," said Omer Esiner, market analyst at Ruesch International in Washington.

"On balance, the report is dollar-positive, although I don't think it changes the outlook for further (Federal Reserve interest) rate cuts," he said. "But in the near term, it does ease some recession concerns."

The dollar jumped against the yen after the data, rising to a one-month high of 108.37 yen <JPY=> before easing to 108.25 yen, up 0.9 percent from late on Tuesday.

Yet even at current levels, the dollar remains in a downward trend that began in June 2007, when it rose above 123 yen. To break out of that, it would have to rise above 112 yen, according to Reuters data and analytical tools. With the Federal Reserve still expected to reduce benchmark interest rates, analysts say that's unlikely any time soon.

Some analysts also said the unexpectedly positive sales report does not alter the big-picture view of slowing U.S. consumer spending undermining the dollar.

"We would doubt there's much more upside from current levels and certainly think these are good opportunities to be selling some dollars," said Robert Sinche, head of liquid products strategy at Bank of America in New York.

"Our own preference is to sell against the euro and pound, but in general we think these dollar gains are unlikely to persist much longer."

The euro was down 0.1 percent at $1.4569 <EUR=> after hitting a session low at $1.4533. It rose 0.8 percent to 157.77 yen <EURJPY=>.

Sterling was up 0.1 percent at $1.9639 <GBP=>, in a seesaw session for the pound. The Bank of England said in a quarterly inflation report that it would overshoot its 2 percent inflation target if it cuts rates too quickly.

CMC Markets analyst Ashraf Laidi said the dollar could run out of steam as traders scale back positions ahead of Thursday's testimony by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who may signal more rate cuts to come.

Since September, the Fed has slashed benchmark interest by 2.25 percentage points to 3 percent. Some investors have said this aggressive easing may be helping to keep the economy out of a recession.

Based on interest rate futures, markets expect the Fed to reduce its benchmark interest rate to as low as 2 percent this year. Sinche said that is probably "a little bit further than the Fed wants to go."

But he said Bernanke is unlikely to delve into such details on Thursday.

"Now is not the time to talk about that," Sinche said. "Now's the time to talk about dealing with economic weakness, and I don't think he will want to send a cautionary message until they're more comfortable that a bottoming process in the economy and the financial sector has come into view." (Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss, Nick Olivari and Steven C. Johnson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.


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