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Wednesday June 18, 2008 - 11:39:22 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Dlr's defensive rally fails to break recent ranges

Wed Jun 18, 2008 7:09am EDT

* Dollar gains slightly but overall rate repricing weighs

* ECB's Stark comments back July rate hike expectations

* Sterling softens; BoE minutes show 8:1 split as expected

(Changes byline, updates prices, adds quotes)

By Veronica Brown

LONDON, June 18 (Reuters) - The dollar mounted a defensive rally against a basket of currencies on Wednesday, but struggled to break free of recent ranges after a run of weak U.S. data clouded expectations for a series of Federal Reserve rate hikes.

U.S. short-term interest rate futures on Tuesday showed that investors had scaled back their expectations for a Fed rate rise in August to around 50 percent, from 90 percent earlier in the week. [ID:nN17614345] The Fed is widely expected to keep rates at 2 percent at a policy meeting on June 24 and 25.

Bets of tightening from the European Central Bank have also been scaled back in recent days, but a move to 4.25 percent in July is still widely expected.

Analysts said that trading conditions were expected to become more volatile, tracking frequent policymaker nuances on the interest rate outlook in the euro area and United States.

"What we're really having to contend with at the moment is how central bank rhetoric and economic data is challenging market expectations for monetary tightening by the end of the year in the U.S. and euro area," said Kamal Sharma, G10 strategist at JP Morgan in London.

"Over the near term, we think euro/dollar is likely to be a tug of war between competing central bank rhetoric," he added.

ECB Executive Board member Juergen Stark stuck to the same song sheet as other ECB policymakers, saying price risks have increased and the bank is on heightened alert and will do everything needed to achieve price stability.

By 1041 GMT, the euro was down 0.1 percent on the day at $1.5481 but was still up 0.45 percent on the week to date <EUR=>. The single currency also hit an 11-month high at 168.03 yen, according to Reuters data <EURJPY=>.

Against a basket of major currencies the dollar was up 0.2 percent at 73.721 .DXY but down 0.5 percent on the week, still struggling after data on Tuesday showed U.S. housing starts growing at their slowest annual rate in 17 years and industrial production slipping in May, while the current account deficit widened in the first quarter. [ID:nN17336776]

The U.S. currency was also still under a cloud after last weekend's G8 ministers meeting failed to give it the clear vote of confidence many observers were looking for.

STERLING PRESSURED

Sterling remained on the back foot against the euro <EURGBP=> and dollar <GBP=> with little reaction to minutes from the Bank of England's last policy meeting that showed a 8-to-1 vote in favour of keeping British borrowing costs on hold at 5 percent.

The market has been speculating on the possibility of a rate hike from the central bank to tame rising inflation as annual consumer price inflation hit 3.3 percent, above the bank's 2.0 percent target and its highest since the Labour government took power in 1997 [ID:nL1771152].

In a letter to the UK Treasury explaining why inflation was above target, BoE Governor Mervyn King blamed soaring fuel and food prices, but doused expectations of a rate hike.

"It's obviously a very difficult time to be a policymaker given the challenges of a slower economy and higher inflation ... a rate increase does not appear to be on the agenda unless there are signs the period of high inflation looks as if it's lasting for longer than the (BoE Monetary Policy) committee currently thinks," Investec economist Philip Shaw said.

King may give further clues on the UK's economic health in a speech due at 1830 GMT.

Wednesday's calendar also features a speech from San Francisco Fed president Janet Yellen at 1545 GMT and weekly U.S. mortgage market data.

(Reporting by Veronica Brown; Editing by Ruth Pitchford)

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