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Friday December 12, 2008 - 22:00:32 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Dollar hits 13-yr low vs yen, recovers on car hope

RPT-FOREX-Dollar hits 13-yr low vs yen, recovers on car hope

* Dollar hits 13-year low vs yen; intervention fears rise

* Hopes of White House help for automakers eases concern

* Dollar index has worst week since 1995 (Refiles to recast first paragraph)

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK, Dec 12 (Reuters) - The dollar fell against the yen on Friday, but recovered from a 13-year low after the White House said it would consider steps to stave off a collapse of the ailing U.S. auto sector.

Earlier, the dollar plunged to 88.10 yen, its lowest since mid-1995, after the U.S. Senate rejected a $14 billion auto rescue plan. That heightened recession fears, pushing investors to buy the yen to cover trades that were financed by borrowing the currency at low rates.

It rebounded to 90.97 yen, still down 0.8 percent on the day, after the White House said it may use money from a $700 billion rescue package for banks for an emergency loan to U.S. automakers.

The dollar hit an all-time low of 79.75 yen in 1995.

The euro fell 0.6 percent to 121.81 yen.

"That the Treasury may step up and extend short-term help, at least until the new administration comes in, is positive for risk appetite," said Brian Dolan, chief currency strategist at in Bedminster, New Jersey. "It extends the auto sector lifeline and shows they're going to throw everything but the kitchen sink at this."

The U.S. currency still ended the week firmly in the red, though, suffering its biggest weekly decline against a basket of major currencies since 1995.

Analysts said traders have been taking profits after months of steady gains and speculated that some of the repatriation flows that have lifted the greenback have started to dry up.

On Friday, the dollar was firmer against some rivals as wary investors bought it against higher-yielding, higher-risk currencies such as the Australian and New Zealand dollars.

The euro was up slightly at $1.3371 while sterling fell 0.5 percent to $1.4945 and the dollar rose 0.5 percent to 1.1780 Swiss francs.

In recent months, the dollar has rallied against nearly all the major currencies, save the yen, as risk-averse investors sold overseas assets and snapped up dollars with which to buy safe-haven U.S. government bonds.

But that trend showed signs of fraying this week.

"The environment has become challenging for the dollar," said Shaun Osborne, chief currency strategist at TD Securities in Toronto. "Perhaps people are looking at the dollar and it's not looking great because of the U.S. economy's low growth and low interest rates. We are perhaps looking at the cusp of a big sell-off in the dollar."


Another reason for the dollar's rebound against the yen on Friday, analysts said, was fear Japan would intervene to weaken the currency. A strong yen makes Japanese exports more expensive in overseas markets.

"The risk is there and traders are not willing to push the dollar lower in case Japan intervenes," said David Watt, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.

Japan has a long history of trying to stem yen strength through market intervention, although it has stayed on the sidelines since 2004.

While intervention is a risk, Vassili Serebriakov, a currency strategist at Wells Fargo in New York, said "historical experience tells us it could take months before the general trend of yen strength is reversed."

Indeed, the last time Japan intervened, it took 15 months and 35 trillion yen ($382 billion) to weaken the currency. (Additional reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss; Editing by editing by Gary Crosse)



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