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Tuesday March 31, 2009 - 16:06:31 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Dollar at 3-week high vs yen; euro up with stocks

Tue Mar 31, 2009 11:58am EDT

* Yen down sharply as Japan fiscal year comes to an end

* Dollar hits three-week high above 99 yen

* Euro gains vs dollar; European stocks rise 3.4 pct

* G20, ECB meetings in focus (Updates prices; adds details, comment)

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK, March 31 (Reuters) - The yen fell sharply on Tuesday as the end of Japan's fiscal year and weak economic data spurred investors to deploy funds abroad while a stocks rally lifted the euro against the dollar.

The yen, which rose a day earlier as risk aversion and year-end pressure prompted Japanese investors to bring money home, reversed course as traders closed the books on the fiscal year.

A spike in Japanese unemployment also put pressure on the currency. For details, see [ID:nSP454873]

The dollar rose 1.8 percent to 99.15 yen, a three-week high <JPY=>, putting it on track for a 9.4 percent gain in the first three months of the year, the yen's worst quarter since 2001.

Ahead of a closely-watched G20 meeting in London on Thursday, data showed the global financial crisis has devastated Japanese exports and led to a sharp economic contraction in the fourth quarter, leaving Prime Minister Taro Aso's government vulnerable to collapse.

"Fiscal year-end had been holding people back from selling yen. But the fundamentals are absolutely horrendous, there's policy gridlock, and this lets Japanese investors continue to invest money abroad in droves," said Samarjit Shankar, global FX strategy director at The Bank of New York-Mellon in Boston.

The euro also gained on the yen, rising 2.5 percent to 131.63 <EURJPY=>, off Monday's two-month low beneath 127 yen. The euro rose 0.6 percent to $1.3281 <EUR=> and sterling added 0.6 percent to $1.4343 <GBP=>.

The dollar, lifted by safe-haven flows on Monday, fell as market pessimism eased a bit. European stocks rose more than 3 percent .FTEU3 and Wall Street clawed back some losses caused by bankruptcy fears for General Motors (GM.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and Chrysler.

Data showing U.S. home prices fell by a record 19 percent in the year to January cooled some euro gains. [ID:nNYS004965]

G20, ECB IN FOCUS

Analysts said the market was starting to focus on a summit of Group of 20 leaders of major industrialized and emerging economies in London on Thursday, with investors hoping for agreement on measures to revive the global economy.

The G20 is expected to agree to increase funding for the International Monetary Fund but markets will also watch for any accord on global fiscal stimulus. Japan announced plans for a third stimulus plan ahead of the meeting. [ID:nLV377774]

Any failure to reach agreement would cause a spike in risk aversion, analysts said, with the euro likely to suffer as attention turns to recent credit rating downgrades to Hungary and Ireland and a deepening recession in eastern Europe.

Also on Thursday, the European Central Bank is expected to cut rates half a percentage point to 1 percent and possibly signal plans for some form of unconventional policy such as buying bonds to boost the money supply. [ECB/INT]

Data on Tuesday showing euro zone inflation hit a record low in March from a year ago suggests "the ECB will be forced to adopt more aggressive measures," Tullet Prebon G7 market economist Lena Komileva said.

One question the G20 summit is not likely to resolve is that of the dollar's future as global reserve currency. The issue has gained traction since China suggested wider use of the IMF's Special Drawing Rights currency basket.

But World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the dollar will remain the dominant reserve currency and a strong dollar is needed to pull the world out of crisis. [ID:nLV346311]

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