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Wednesday March 5, 2008 - 11:35:03 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX NEWS - Dollar rallies broadly but vulnerable to US data

By Veronica Brown

LONDON, March 5 (Reuters) - The dollar gained ground against the euro and a basket of major rival currencies on Wednesday, but was still close to record lows ahead of data that could again derail sentiment about the world's biggest economy.

Weak readings from the Institute for Supply Management's index of service sector activity due later in the day and U.S. nonfarm payrolls on Friday, would bolster the case for more sharp interest rate cuts to help stabilise the U.S. economy.

A jobs report by ADP Employers Services, due at 1315 GMT, is considered as a prelude to the crucial jobless numbers.

"The focus has turned from the asset markets back to macro data in the U.S. and in particular the early indications on payrolls that we get today," said Adam Cole, global head of FX currency strategy at RBC Capital Markets.

"Both the ADP and the ISM non-manufacturing data have the potential to change expectations for Friday's payrolls data quite significantly," he said.

Against a basket of six major currencies, the dollar was up a third of a percent at 73.917 .DXY, while the euro was down 0.3 percent at $1.5157 -- but still fairly close to this week's record $1.5275 <EUR=>.

The single currency hit a record high against a struggling pound at 76.87 pence <EURGBP=>. Sterling also dropped sharply versus the dollar <GBP=> as soft UK consumer confidence data weighed heavy.

The dollar was up 0.3 percent versus the yen at 103.65 yen <JPY=>, holding gains after a boost from U.S. stocks on Tuesday following a report that a deal to rescue ailing bond insurer Ambac Financial Group (ABK.N: Quote, Profile, Research) was near.

The dollar has fallen roughly 5 percent against the yen in the past week while the euro has climbed around 3.5 percent versus the U.S. currency, with further pain seen for the greenback.

U.S. policymakers continued painting a bearish picture on Tuesday, with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warning that mortgage delinquencies and foreclosures would likely rise as house prices fell.

Markets are pricing in a 70 percent probability of U.S. rates being cut by 75 basis points at its March meeting FEDWATCH to add to 225 basis points of easing since September.

KEY DATA

The ISM's non-manufacturing index at 1500 GMT is expected to produce a reading of 47.0 in February, above January's 44.6 but still below the level of 50 that separates expansion from contraction.

A second month of shrinkage in the sector would lend considerable support to analysts who say the United States is already in recession.

According to a history of the index's composite gauge, the non-manufacturing component hit a record low in January.

"If we see a weak ISM reading and then weak jobs figures later in the week, we could see a push in the dollar/yen towards 100 yen," said Hideki Amikura, a forex manager at Nomura Trust and Banking.

Also due on Wednesday are a reading on U.S. factory orders and the Federal Reserve's Beige Book, which market participants will pore over for clues on how much pain the economy is in.

By contrast, China's foreign exchange reserves jumped $61.6 billion in January to reach $1.5898 trillion compared with $1.5282 trillion at the end of 2007.

The figures are likely to renew debate as to whether China is attracting new inflows of speculative money, because the increase is twice as great as the combined inflows from the trade surplus and foreign direct investment (FDI) in January.[nPEK237459]. (Reporting by Veronica Brown; Editing by Mike Peacock)

 

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