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Friday February 19, 2010 - 11:38:09 GMT
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FOREX NEWS - Dollar hits 8-mth high after Fed discount rate hike

6:21am EST

* Dollar rises versus basket of currencies

* Euro hovers near nine-month low

* Analysts eye further strength in greenback

* U.S. CPI due at 1330 GMT

(Adds quote, detail)

By Neal Armstrong

LONDON, Feb 19 (Reuters) - The dollar hit an eight-month high against a currency basket on Friday in the wake of the Federal Reserve's surprise increase in the interest rate it charges banks for emergency loans.

The Fed said late on Thursday the discount rate would be increased to 0.75 percent from 0.50 percent, effective Friday, although it left the benchmark federal funds rate, its main policy tool, unchanged near zero. [ID:nSGE61I036]

Currency markets took the decision as a signal that the U.S. central bank was coming closer to tightening its benchmark rate, despite assurances from Fed policymakers to the contrary.

"Even though this is not an official tightening, it shows that the Fed is at least 'moving'. The Bank of Japan may require more quantitative easing and the ECB cannot change its stance, so the dollar can rally further against the yen and the euro," said Antje Praefcke, currency strategist at Commerzbank.

At 1100 GMT, the dollar was up nearly 1 percent versus a basket of currencies <.DXY> after rallying to an eight-month high of 81.342.

The euro <EUR=D4> traded at $1.3495, hovering close to an earlier nine-month low of $1.3444 versus the dollar. It had recovered briefly back above $1.3500 before running into strong supply in the $1.3520 area.

The dollar has made gains over recent weeks on the back of positive U.S. economic data, while structural problems in the euro zone have weighed on the single currency, prompting it to fall more than 10 percent against the greenback since December.

"We continue to favour the dollar and expect that further improvement in U.S. data. combined with persistent euro zone sovereign credit concerns will be dollar-supportive," UBS analtsys said in a note.

Against the yen, <JPY=> the dollar rose to its highest levels in a month at 92.10 yen, remaining buoyed around the 91.80 level in European dealing.

Technical analysts eyed the 200-day moving average as the next resistance level to watch at 92.30.

US CPI data due at 1330 GMT will provide a fresh look at the inflationary picture in the U.S. economy. Economists in a Reuters survey expect a 0.3 percent increase in January compared with December's 0.2 percent rise.

"CPI should be relatively benign, and I don't think that will be a key driver of the dollar today. The key will be how risk in general reacts to the events from overnight," said HSBC currency strategist Paul Mackel.


While the timing surprised the market, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke had said last week the central bank could soon raise the discount rate. He stressed that the move would not be akin to tightening monetary policy.

St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President James Bullard said investors' belief in the high probability of a rise in the Fed's benchmark rate this year was 'overblown' and that the discount rate rise should not be seen as a policy signal.

Another Fed policymaker, Dennis Lockhart, voiced a similar view. [ID:nN18242630]

The Australian dollar extended losses despite hints by Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Glenn Stevens that further interest rate rises were likely. [ID:nSGE61H03Z]

The Aussie fell 0.5 percent to $0.8879 <AUD=D4> and shed 0.7 percent against the yen to 81.63 yen <AUDJPY=R>. It also backed off a decade high against the euro set the previous day.

Sterling also remained under pressure, dropping to a nine-month low of $1.5345 versus the dollar <GBP=D4> as the pound struggled after weak UK retail sales data. [ID:nONS004813]

(Editing by Nigel Stephenson)

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