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Thursday May 15, 2008 - 11:38:39 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Euro rises on strong German GDP, gains trimmed

Thu May 15, 2008 7:30am EDT

(Changes byline, updates prices, adds quotes)

By Simon Falush

LONDON, May 15 (Reuters) - The euro strengthened on Thursday after Germany reported its strongest quarterly growth in 12 years but gains were muted as investors focused on likely slower growth ahead.

German gross domestic product expanded by 1.5 percent quarter-on-quarter in January-March, far exceeding forecasts and highlighting how much Germany has been buttressing the overall euro zone economy [nL15339192].

Along with a stronger-than-expected reading of French GDP growth, this helped the overall euro zone GDP figure for May increase by a stronger-than-expected 0.7 percent for the quarter [nL15156909].

However, the euro pared gains as some investors had expected an even stronger euro zone figure after the German gains came in so high.

"The German number really knocked the ball out of the park and given the sheer scale of the increase it's surprising there was not a bigger kick for the overall euro zone number," said Jeremy Stretch, strategist at Rabobank.

At the same time, figures showed that annual inflation in the euro zone was 3.3 percent in April, below March's record 3.6 percent, suggesting the possibility that inflation pressures may have peaked.

While the regional economy remains on firm ground for now, the Munich-based Ifo research institute's euro region economic climate index worsened to a five-year low in the second quarter, suggesting a slowing economy in coming months[ID:nBEB002089].

"The outlook from here is fairly negative and the lagged effects of slowing growth in the U.S. and the credit crunch are likely to be felt in the euro zone," said Jeremy Stretch, strategist at Rabobank.

The euro climbed as high as $1.5547 <EUR=> after the German data but pared gains to trade up 0.1 percent at $1.5495 by 1111 GMT as investors proved underwhelmed by the euro zone-wide data.

Sterling pulled away from a near three-month low against the dollar after UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that he hoped the Bank of England could cut interest rates, a move seen helping the ailing UK economy. (For details please double click on [nL15491507]).

Sterling was steady at $1.9453 <GBP=>, recovering from the day's low and off the low of $1.9363 since late February hit on Wednesday.

The dollar was little changed at 104.95 yen <JPY=>.


Growth in the euro zone through April has vindicated the European Central Bank's decision to hold interest rates at 4 percent despite nagging inflation risks, analysts said.

"A lot of the people were concerned that the ECB may be worried about an inflation problem that was not as bad as expected. But to be quite honest, the ECB has been right and the market has been wrong," said Steve Barrow, chief currency strategist at Bear Stearns.

The euro has retreated from a record high against the dollar hit last month on expectations that a slowdown in regional growth would require the ECB to cut rates some time this year.

Analysts were cautious in getting too optimistic about Thursday's figures, and some see much harder times ahead for the euro zone as the region's economy feels the pinch of an ongoing global slowdown.

"Looking ahead, we think that no euro-area country will be immune to the downturn," said analysts at Lehman Brothers in a research note. "We thus expect signs of a substantial cooling of activity growth to come through in the Q2 GDP data."

The dollar has been supported by market expectations for the Federal Reserve to pause lowering U.S. interest rates and to start raising them later in the year as the central bank focuses on the threat from inflationary pressures. FEDWATCH

San Francisco Fed President Janet Yellen said on Wednesday that rates had "come way down" in recent months, and with inflation looming the central bank's key lending rate had probably been cut enough for now despite risks to growth [ID:nN14515957].

Investors will eye U.S. jobless and manufacturing data at 1230 GMT for further clues on the prospects for monetary policy. (Additional reporting by Naomi Tajitsu) (Editing by David Christian-Edwards)

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