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Monday May 17, 2004 - 21:26:07 GMT -

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Dollar Lower On Rising Geopolitical Risks in Iraq

Daily Forex Report 5-17-04

· US Treasury International Capital Data Reports Net Inflows of $78.6bln in March
· Eurozone Industrial Production Falls Less Than Expected
· Iraqi Governing Council President Assassinated


A number of different factors has put the dollar under pressure today, allowing the euro to recoup some of its recent losses. The most important of which is the assassination of the Iraqi Governing Council President Izzedine Salim. Hours later, a bomb containing what is believed to be the deadly sarin nerve agent also exploded near a US military convoy. Tensions continue to rise in the Middle East jostling the markets and increasing fears of terrorism. The heightened risk in the region has sent oil prices soaring above $41/ barrel. With rising concern that higher oil prices could put a brake on the US economic recovery, the Dow tumbled below 10,000. To the surprise of some traders, Eurozone industrial production fell by a less than expected 0.2% in March, after rising an upwardly revised 0.4% during the month of February. Tomorrow, we are expecting the ZEW economic sentiment survey. Its correlation with the IFO survey has broken down recently as investor confidence is expected to fall for the fifth consecutive month, providing further evidence that the economic recovery in the largest country in the Eurozone is still faltering.


Aside from the fresh geopolitical risks weighing on the dollar today, the Treasury International Capital data for the month of March was slightly alarming. The pace of foreign accumulation has been slowing, as foreigners increased their holdings by a net $78.6bln, compared to $83bln in February and $92bln in January. Foreign holdings of US treasuries are at a record high, while holdings of US equities showed a record decline. What is most alarming though is that for the first time since October, official buying (by central banks) totaled $38bln, accounting for close to half of the overall net flows. The expansion in the manufacturing activity in NY (Empire State) slowed more than expected from a downwardly revised 34.03 to 30.21. A reading above zero indicates expansionary conditions. Despite the disappointing headline number, improvements have been seen in shipments, orders and hiring. Prices also rose to a new high. The decline in optimism can be explained by the rising oil prices and prospects for higher interest rates. In a week with light US economic data, we will be looking to the speeches by FOMC member Bernanke and Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan on Thursday for more insight on the Fed’s monetary policy bias. Geopolitical risks have helped to send the “safe-haven” Swiss franc soaring.


There has been a lot of talk that Prime Minister Tony Blair may be forced to give up his seat to Chancellor Gordon Brown. Blair has received a tremendous amount of backlash about Iraq and the lack of a clear exit strategy amid growing tensions. Cabinet ministers rallied in his support over the weekend to kill speculation. The need for cabinet support should be viewed as a negative sign that conditions and sentiment have worsened to the state that warrants official support, instead of a positive sign that his cabinet still stands behind him. This negative development is reflected in EURGBP, which recorded strong gains. The pound rallied against the dollar on broad dollar weakness. This week, a batch of UK data-CPI, retail sales, and MPC minutes-that will be key to maintaining the market's expectations of BoE rate increases. The week starts off with tomorrow’s CPI release. Growth in inflation is expected to increase after falling to a low of 1.1% in March.


Japanese current account data for the month of March fell short of expectations. The surplus was reported at Y1.8trln, down from Y2.2trln. The sell-off in the Nikkei and Japanese repatriation linked to hedging of a Treasury coupon payment has also weighed on the yen. The slide in the Tokyo stock market came on the back a report in Yomiuri newspaper that UFJ Holdings, the fourth largest bank in Japan will probably announce that write offs of bad loans has caused the bank to report a much worse than expected earnings release. Furthermore Koizumi continues to face backlash following Friday’s announcement that he too has missed pension fund premiums.


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