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Tuesday February 26, 2008 - 00:06:59 GMT
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FOREX NEWS - Yen tumbles broadly on improving risk appetite

By Lucia Mutikani

NEW YORK, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The yen fell broadly on Monday as euphoria over the U.S. bond insurance sector boosted the appeal of stocks and other risky assets, helping to underpin high-yielding currencies like the New Zealand dollar.

Standard & Poor's said it had removed MBIA Corp's (MBI.N: Quote, Profile, Research) top "AAA" rating from credit watch negative, but added the outlook was negative, suggesting that a rating downgrade remained likely over the next two years.

That announcement came on the heels of news of a possible rescue plan for troubled Ambac Financial Group (ABK.N: Quote, Profile, Research), the second-largest U.S. bond insurer. Such a step would help limit the damage from the ongoing credit crisis that has fractured investor confidence.

Dresdner Bank, part of insurer Alliance (ALVG.DE: Quote, Profile, Research), on Monday said it intends to support a rescue package for Ambac.

"The market came back after the weekend in a more risk-seeking mode. It's just a reflection of the market being more comfortable with risk at the moment and the yen is suffering as a consequence," said Shaun Osborne, currency strategist at TD Securities in Toronto.

The dollar raced to a session high of 108.21 yen <JPY=> before retreating in late trade to around 108.06 yen, still up 0.8 percent on the day. The euro jumped to a five-week high of 160.41 <EURJPY=> and last traded up 0.7 percent at 160.19 yen.

The euro was little changed at $1.4824 <EUR=>, taking a breather after hitting a three-week peak of about $1.4862 on Friday.

Global stocks have gained on hopes of the Ambac bailout, with Japan's Nikkei index .N225 closing at a six-week high.

Ambac, which insures municipal bonds as well as other forms of debt, is facing billions of dollars of expected losses from guaranteeing repackaged risky subprime mortgages.


A bailout could see Ambac avoiding a ratings downgrade that would force investors to sell billions of dollars' worth of securities, which would lift borrowing costs for consumers and U.S. city governments and further strain an already slowing economy.

The New Zealand dollar <NZD=>, which has the highest interest rates among industrialized countries at 8.25 percent, rose to levels not seen since it was floated 23 years ago.

The kiwi hit a high near $0.8114, according to Reuters data, before slipping to trade little changed at $0.8091. It advanced 0.7 percent against the yen to 87.35 yen <NZDJPY=R>.

The Canadian dollar was also a big winner on the day. The U.S. dollar fell 1.6 percent to C$0.9952 <CAD=>. Against the yen, the Canadian dollar rose 1.3 percent to 107.41 yen <CADJPY=>.

The Australian dollar <AUDJPY=R> and sterling <GBPJPY=> also posted gains against the Japanese currency. The Australian dollar rose 0.9 percent to 100.04 yen, while sterling climbed 0.5 percent to 212.50 yen.

The yen often suffers in times of rising risk appetite because investors borrow it at low Japanese interest rates to fund "carry trades" that invest in higher-yielding currencies and assets.

"Carry trades continue to swing back into fashion as equity markets are performing well," said Michael Woolfolk, currency strategist at Bank of New York Mellon in New York.

"Risk aversion has subsided and appetite among investors to borrow in yen and invest in risky high-return investments such as emerging markets, equities and commodities is back in play."

On Tuesday, investors will watch the German Ifo survey for February for fresh clues on the health of the euro zone economy and the interest rate outlook.

"There might be a small upward surprise, but it's not going to alter the broader outlook for the German economy," said TD Securities' Osborne.

"The underlying impression remains that the euro zone economy is slowing down ... At some point we could see interest rates in the euro zone decline."

U.S. January producer price inflation data will also be released on Tuesday and Federal Reserve Vice Chairman Donald Kohn is due to speak on the domestic economy and monetary policy. (Additional reporting by Nick Olivari; Editing by James Dalgleish)


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