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Tuesday December 23, 2008 - 21:47:26 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Dollar gains vs yen, down vs euro in thin trading

Tue Dec 23, 2008 4:13pm EST

* Dollar rises vs yen, but falls against euro

* Dismal housing, growth data weigh on U.S. outlook

* Trading desks thin out as holidays approach (Updates prices, adds comment, changes byline)

By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

NEW YORK, Dec 23 (Reuters) - The dollar drifted higher against the yen in thin pre-holiday trade on Tuesday, as investors continued to lock in profits on the Japanese currency's recent steep gains, cautious not to push the pair lower in case Japan intervenes.

Against the euro, the dollar slipped after European Central Bank President Jean-Claude-Trichet said market participants have underestimated the importance of the steps the central bank has taken so far. Analysts said Trichet's comments suggested that the ECB may hold interest rates steady and not cut them in January, giving the euro a boost.

"The biggest mover of the day is still dollar/yen, and that has something to with yen weakness more than anything else given the risk of Japan intervention," said Matthew Strauss, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.

"For now, the risk is a little smaller because the dollar is above 90 yen and verbal intervention from the Bank of Japan seems to have worked. But traders overall are not willing to push the dollar lower."

Japan, which is battling a recession, is concerned with checking the appreciation of the yen in order to protect the competitiveness of its exporters.

By late afternoon trading in New York, the dollar was changing hands at 90.81 yen <JPY=>, up 0.7 percent on the day but not far from last week's 13-1/2-year low near 87 yen.

The euro rose 1.0 percent to 126.91 yen <EURJPY=> and was 0.2 percent higher against the dollar at $1.3972 <EUR=>, well off a $1.4020 session high.

The euro zone currency gained following Trichet's remarks at the Paris Montaigne Institute on Tuesday, saying the central bank's monetary policy efforts have been effective so far. He added that three-month interbank rates were much lower than they were in past weeks. For details, see [ID:nWEA0323].

ECB ON HOLD IN JANUARY?

"Trichet's comments suggest that the ECB may hold rates in January," said Kathy Lien, director of currency research at GFT Forex in New York. "Despite the euro having risen 13-14 percent since the November lows, it doesn't seem that Trichet is willing to commit to cutting interest rates next month."

An earlier poll showed that analysts expected the ECB to cut benchmark interest rates in January from their current 2.5 percent given the bleak economic outlook for the 15 countries that use the euro.

U.S. data showing the economy shrank 0.5 percent in the third quarter and home sales continued to decline had little impact on a thin currency market since traders had already priced in the weak numbers [ID:nLN072227]. But that did little to ease the anxiety about prospects for the U.S. economy going into 2009.

"The data are still very grim and after seeing the third-quarter GDP, the market is prepared to see the economy contract by 4 or even 5 percent in the fourth quarter," said Brian Dolan, chief currency strategist at Forex.com in Bedminster, New Jersey.

In other currencies, sterling fell 0.6 percent to $1.4739 <GBP=>, hit by data showing the UK economy contracted 0.6 percent between July and September [ID:nLN438486]. The euro rose 0.9 percent to 94.79 pence <EURGBP=>, setting up a possible move to parity over the coming weeks.

The dollar fell 0.7 percent to 1.0850 Swiss francs <CHF=> but rose sharply against the Australian <AUD=> and New Zealand <NZD=> dollars. The drop in oil and gold has weighed on these commodity-linked currencies. (Additional reporting by Steven C. Johnson; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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