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Thursday May 27, 2004 - 22:48:35 GMT -

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Soft US data sparks dollar sell-off

· Explosives discovered near NATO meeting site
· ECB’s Wellink: Rising oil prices have little effect on global growth
· BoE’s Nickell: Short rates will likely not exceed 7% ceiling


EURUSD rose in the wake of poorer than expected US data Thursday. Initial jobless claims for the week of May 22 were 344,000, on expectations of 335,000, while Q1 GDP was revised higher to 4.4% versus a consensus of 4.5%. EURUSD traded 100-pips higher in the span of less than an hour during the New York morning, and consolidated in a roughly 40-pip range for the remainder of the day, ending around the 1.2280 level. The soft US figures led the market to ease off its aggressive Fed tightening expectations, with the July Fed funds futures contract now pricing in an 84% chance of a 25-basis point hike at the next FOMC meeting (June 29-30), down from over 90% recently. French manufacturers confidence fell for the first time in eleven months to 104 in May, down from a revised 105 reading in April. Falling exports, notably from equipment and machinery makers led the fall in confidence, with the export orders component of the survey falling from –2 to –16. Echoing comments made yesterday by ECB President Trichet, the ECB’s Wellink today noted that the effect of rising oil prices on global growth is limited, as the price of oil remains relatively low in real terms.


USDCHF traded steadily lower during the New York morning before consolidating in a tight range around 1.2445. Traders appeared to use mildly weaker US data to unwind long dollar positions, as USDCHF traded easily through both the 1.2600 and 1.2500 support levels. News that explosives were discovered near a conference hall in Slovakia where 300 NATO officials are scheduled to meet Friday may have also provided some safe-haven support for the Swiss franc. Consistent with Wednesday’s strong leading indicator reading, Swiss employers appear to be hiring in anticipation of increased economic activity. Employment rose 0.4% year-on-year for the first three months of 2004, a pace double that of Q4 2003, suggesting continued labor market improvement. Friday’s Q1 GDP may further confirm the region’s recovery, prompting SNB officials to reassess its schedule of monetary tightening, widely expected to start in the second half of the year.


Sterling continued its march higher against the dollar Thursday, spiking from 1.8250 to 1.8355 early in New York and then grinding higher to around the 1.8380 level. The market seems to be eyeing BoE rate hikes as early as next month’s June 8-9 meeting, and Thursday’s data along with policymaker comments did little to temper this view. The UK’s Nationwide Building Society reported that house prices rose 19.5% year-on-year in May, the largest annual gain in a year. With fears of a housing bubble forming, this latest run-up in prices suggests that the Bank of England may have to tighten sooner and to a greater degree to correct the market. In addition, factory orders recorded their fastest growth in six years, with the orders component of the CBI industrial trends survey surprising sharply to the upside. Adding to tightening expectations, the BoE’s Nickell commented today in an interview that short rates will need to rise over time but will likely not exceed 7%, a level last seen in 1998. At nearly 300 basis points away from the current repo rate, the ceiling is far higher than most observers in the market were anticipating, further fueling cable’s rise.


USDJPY traded lower early in New York, falling from around 111.50 to 110.77 before range trading around the 111.00 level. Larger retailers’ sales printed lower than expected, but yen supportive data came in the form of portfolio flows. International investors bought a record amount of Japanese government bonds last week, purchasing $10.5 billion worth of securities, despite their ultra-low yields. While foreigners were net sellers of Japanese equities for the third straight week, Japanese investors reduced their purchases of foreign stocks and bonds. Net-net then, Japan experienced a capital inflow of around $7 billion last week. Friday sees a wealth of Japanese data: unemployment, CPI, industrial production and household spending. Stronger than expected data across the board could spark a move toward the 110.00 level, especially as liquidity wanes into the long holiday weekend in the US.


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