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Tuesday April 22, 2008 - 23:35:52 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Euro rallies through $1.60 as ECB eyed

Tue Apr 22, 2008 4:20pm EDT

(Updates prices, adds quotes)

NEW YORK, April 22 (Reuters) - The euro rose against the dollar on Tuesday and traded above $1.60 for the first time since its 1999 inception amid growing expectations that the European Central Bank's next move may be an interest rate hike.

ECB Governing Council Member Christian Noyer said the bank would do what is needed to bring inflation back to its target of just below 2 percent, adding that the central bank would move rates if needed.

That followed comments from Governing Council member Yves Mersch, who said the ECB has to ask itself each month whether a rate rise is needed to control inflation. For more, see [ID:nL21257173].

European bond prices declined after the policy-makers' comments, widening the yield advantage of German bunds over U.S. Treasuries with similar maturities, further boosting demand for the euro.

"Interest rate differentials are really favoring the euro right now," said Camilla Sutton, a currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Toronto. "The ECB is gearing up to fight inflation."

The comments, combined with a lackluster reading on U.S. existing home sales in March, helped push the European currency through the key $1.60 level.

The euro <EUR=> traded as high as $1.6019, according to Reuters data, but later gave back some its gains. In late trading in New York, it was 0.5 percent higher at $1.5980.

Rising inflation stemming from soaring food and energy prices came firmly into view as U.S. crude oil hit a historic high of $119.90 CLc1.

This gave added impetus to hawkish talk from ECB policy-makers, who are determined to contain the impact of rising prices, which may further propel the euro, analysts said.

"The latest bout of euro strength or dollar weakness can be partially attributed to the sharp rise in oil prices. This continual rise in inflationary pressures raises the risk of a rate hike," said Kathy Lien, a currency strategist at DailyFx.com, in a research note to clients.

"Although $1.60 is an important level, it will not mark the end of euro strength and dollar weakness," she said.

The dollar traded down 0.2 percent at 103.00 Japanese yen <JPY=> and 0.4 percent lower against a basket of six major currencies at 71.329 .DXY on Tuesday.

DIVERGING VIEWS

The euro's rally came after an earlier slide on news that Germany's BdB banking association had taken control of Duesseldorfer Hypothekenbank (DUOGg.F: Quote, Profile, Research) and planned to sell it after the property lender ran into problems linked to the current financial crisis.

Still, the ECB is seen keeping rates at least at a six-year high of 4.0 percent for a while. In contrast, markets expect the Federal Reserve to lower benchmark U.S. rates further from the current 2.25 percent at a policy meeting on April 29-30.

U.S. economic data on Tuesday showed the housing market remains soft, with existing home sales falling 2.0 percent last month to 4.93 million units. [ID:nN22297285]

Elsewhere, the Canadian dollar fell after the Bank of Canada cut its benchmark interest rate by a half percentage point as expected. The U.S. dollar last traded up 0.2 percent at C$1.0071 <CAD=>. (Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani in New York; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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