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Monday March 30, 2009 - 21:27:18 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Auto, bank worries lift safe-haven dollar, yen

Mon Mar 30, 2009 4:35pm EDT

* U.S. auto, financial-sector fears dull risk appetite

* Dollar, yen up broadly, euro slides below $1.32

* Heavy event risk this week as ECB meeting looms (Updates prices, adds quotes, details)

By Wanfeng Zhou

NEW YORK, March 30 (Reuters) - The dollar and yen rose on Monday as fears of bankruptcy for U.S. automakers General Motors and Chrysler and persistent worries about banks worldwide boosted safe-haven flows into the two currencies.

The euro continued to retreat from last week's two-month high above $1.37, falling below $1.32 after Spain was forced to take over a regional savings bank, while Standard & Poor's cut the credit ratings of Hungary and Ireland.

Despite the United States being at the center of global financial crisis, the dollar has gained in recent months as anxious investors sought shelter in U.S. Treasury debt.

The yen has also served as a refuge in times of trouble, rising as traders repatriate funds from riskier assets.

"(There) is a reemergence of risk aversion and that has obviously been spurred on by what's going on with both GM and Chrysler," said Matt Esteve, a foreign exchange trader at Tempus Consulting in Washington. "With markets around the world tumbling ... investors are flocking back to the dollar and also to the Japanese yen."

In late New York trading, the euro was down 0.8 percent at $1.3189 <EUR=>, off a session low of $1.3115 -- its lowest level since March 18 -- according to Reuters data. Against the Japanese yen, the euro lost 1.4 percent to 128.22 yen <EURJPY=>.

The dollar shed 0.6 percent to trade at 97.22 yen <JPY=>, with risk aversion and Japan's fiscal year-end boosting demand for the yen.

Wall Street stocks closed sharply lower on Monday after the Obama administration rejected funding pleas from General Motors (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Chrysler and forced out GM's CEO, pushing the carmakers closer to possible bankruptcy.

The news added to worries stoked over the weekend when U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said some banks will need "large amounts of assistance." For details, see [ID:nN29303541]

"While (Geithner) hasn't actually asked Congress for additional funds, it was pretty obvious that that's what he was preparing us all for," said Chris Gaffney, vice president at EverBank World Markets, in St. Louis, Missouri.

"That combined with news out of Europe that looks to push the (European Central Bank) into maybe more rate cuts caused the dollar to run up and the euro to sell off," Gaffney added.

ECB MEETING LOOMS

The ECB is widely expected to cut interest rates to 1 percent on Thursday. Markets are keen to see if it will follow the U.S., British and Japanese central banks in buying government or corporate debt to boost the availability of credit.

ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet said on Monday that no such decision has yet been made. He also said euro-zone growth is likely to remain sluggish this year before starting to rebound in 2010. [ID:nLU207331]

Dan Cook, a senior market analyst at IG Markets in Chicago, said the ECB may not be able to resist adopting unorthodox monetary policy for long.

"We still look to dollar strength as Trichet is eventually forced to move into this type of bond buying," he said.

In the latest sign of stress in the euro zone, Spain was forced to bail out regional savings bank Caja Castilla la Mancha, its first bank rescue since the financial crisis began.

Also on Monday, S&P's cut Ireland's prized 'AAA' credit rating to 'AA+' and warned it could drop further. The ratings agency also lowered Hungary's credit rating to one level above "junk." [ID:nLU728522]

Win Thin, senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, said while expected ratings downgrades in 2009 for some euro zone members is of course negative for the region, the currency market has already discounted much of this.

"Bigger news would be if the agencies started to downgrade some of the stronger credits such as Germany and France," he said in a note.

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