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Thursday March 6, 2008 - 11:56:35 GMT
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Forex news - ECB eyed as euro hits record high beyond $1.53

By Simon Falush

LONDON, March 6 (Reuters) - The dollar hit lifetime lows versus the euro on Thursday beyond $1.53, with investors looking to the European Central Bank's interest rate decision and news conference later for fresh signals on monetary policy.

While the ECB is seen holding interest rates steady at 4 percent, all eyes are on the bank's president, Jean-Claude Trichet, for hints of a shift in policy that might provide respite for the greenback's broad fall.

The dollar's decline has been exacerbated by weak U.S. economic data and worries about a recession, which has galvanised the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut borrowing costs sharply to 3 percent, with further easing expected to come.

The euro's latest rally has already prompted some concerned comment from policymakers. Investors will scan Trichet's remarks to see if he echoes those.

"There are fears (Trichet) may comment on the euro's rise. If he says anything about sharp or brutal moves or that he's not happy with the euro's strength, it could lead to a fall in the euro," said Antje Praefcke, currency strategist at Commerzbank Corporates & Markets in Frankfurt.

By 0932 GMT, the euro had risen as high as $1.5345, the highest since the single currency's inception in 1999 <EUR=>.

The dollar struck an all-time low against a trade-weighted basket of major currencies, with the dollar index falling as low as 73.119 .DXY.

The U.S. currency also fell 0.6 percent to 103.33 yen <JPY=> but held above a three-year low of 102.59 yen hit on Monday, according to Reuters data.

The yen rose even though Tokyo share prices rose around 2 percent .N225 and other Asian stock markets rallied.

Sterling reached its highest level this year against the dollar at $1.9981 <GBP=>, though it fell against the euro <EURGBP=> ahead of a rate decision by the Bank of England later on Thursday. The UK central bank is widely expected to keep interest rates at 5.25 percent. [BOE/INT]



Weak data has continued to paint a bearish picture for the U.S. economy, hastening the dollar's decline.

The Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index for February beat expectations on Wednesday, but still showed the service sector shrank for a second straight month. [nN05597489]

On the jobs front, ADP Employer Services said the private sector cut 23,000 jobs in February, stirring worries that U.S. nonfarm payrolls jobs data due on Friday could come in weak.

The lacklustre figures also boosted expectations that the Federal Reserve could cut interest rates by as much as 75 basis points to 2.25 percent by or at its March 18 policy meeting, keeping the dollar under pressure. FEDWATCH

Cleveland Federal Reserve President Sandra Pianalto said downside risks to an already softening economy required bold action from the U.S. central bank, boosting market expectations for more aggressive easing from the Fed.

"There is still general dollar weakness. Pianalto's comments increased expectations that the Fed is going to cut rates even stronger than the market expects, a dollar negative scenario," Commerzbank's Praefcke said.

The New Zealand dollar gained after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand kept interest rates steady at 8.25 percent but said inflationary pressures remained persistent. [nWEL336601]

The Australian dollar also edged higher to $0.9355 <AUD=>.

"The severe weakness of the US economy continues to provide support to high yielding currencies as well as other asset classes such as equities," said BNP Paribas in a note to clients. "But, we think the relative stability we are observing in risky assets is unlikely to be sustained." (Reporting by Simon Falush; Editing by Mike Peacock)

© Reuters 2008 All rights reserved


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