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Wednesday February 18, 2009 - 21:32:52 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-US dollar at 6-week peak vs yen, Obama targets foreclosure

Wed Feb 18, 2009 4:13pm EST

* Dollar rallies to six-week high versus yen

* Euro falls to 3-month low vs dollar, bank woes weigh

* Obama administration releases plan to help homeowners

* Fed takes step toward inflation targeting

(Updates prices)

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK, Feb 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. dollar stormed above 93 yen for the first time in six weeks on Wednesday and neared a three-month peak against the euro after President Barack Obama pledged up to $275 billion to stem U.S. home foreclosures.

Worries about euro zone banks with exposure to struggling Eastern European countries kept investors wary of the euro, while demand for the yen evaporated amid fears about Japan's economy, which contracted sharply in the last quarter of 2008.

That left the dollar as the main alternative for investors eager for a safe place to park their money. Hope that Obama's plan would help stabilize the battered U.S. housing market lent the greenback modest support, analysts said. [ID:nN17400254]

While the plan is far from perfect, investors will welcome it if it cuts down on mortgage foreclosures, said Fabian Eliasson, vice president of FX sales at Mizuho Corporate Bank in New York.

"He's trying to turn around housing, and as housing put us in this mess, I think housing will be what takes us out," he said. "But the dollar strength is still more of a flight to safety."

Early afternoon, the dollar was up 1.5 percent at 93.75 yen <JPY=> after earlier hitting 93.94 yen, the highest level since Jan. 7. The euro rose 1.2 percent to 117.60 yen <EURJPY=>. Earlier it fell to $1.2514 <EUR=>, its lowest level since November. It was last at $1.2548, down 0.3 percent on the day.

Sterling fell 0.2 percent to $1.4212 <GBP=> after minutes from the Bank of England's February meeting showed officials voted unanimously to seek government consent to buy gilts and other securities [ID:nBOE001752].

Minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting revealed the central bank will consider adopting explicit inflation targets. The central bank also cut its economic forecasts and now sees the United States shrinking anywhere from 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent this year. [ID:nWAT011001]

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, taking questions after a speech, said the long-run projections will help prevent inflation or deflation expectations getting out of control.[ID:nN18497644]

The Obama plan would help as many as 9 million families restructure or refinance mortgages to avoid foreclosure, but fresh data showed just how steep a climb the U.S. economy still faces. In a sign of more trouble, new housing starts and permits dropped to record lows in January.[ID:nN18424301]

That kept a lid on investor demand for risk, benefiting the relatively safety of dollar-denominated assets. A dismal outlook for other major economies also contributed.

"There's no bottom yet in sight for the U.S. economy," said Matt Esteve, foreign-exchange trader at Tempus Consulting in Washington. "But the truth is that the outlook for the rest of the world is even worse. That should sustain the dollar bid."

The euro remained under pressure after Moody's Investors Service warned this week that the recession in emerging Europe would put ratings of local banks and their western parents under pressure.

Japan, meanwhile, reported this week that its economy contracted at its fastest clip in 35 years in the fourth quarter. Because it's heavily dependent on exports, Japan stands to suffer most among advanced economies from a prolonged global slump, analysts say. Exports plunged 35 percent in the 12 months to December.

"The momentum has shifted a bit," said Eliasson. "The yen had been an outperformer in the past year but since we are seeing more weakness coming out of Japan, the dollar is seen as more of a safe haven now."

(Additional reporting by Wanfeng Zhou; Editing by )

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