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Wednesday March 30, 2005 - 07:40:31 GMT

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Dollar slips, but sentiment remains positive

The dollar retreated on Tuesday after a report showing a slight decline in U.S. consumer confidence in March encouraged traders to take profits on recent gains.

Market sentiment, however, remained positive, with the U.S. currency holding near five-month highs against the yen and within a cent of recent six-week peaks on the euro. Analysts said investors continued to unwind bets against the dollar, anticipating more aggressive rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.

By midafternoon in New York, the euro rose against the dollar. It traded at $1.2933, roughly 0.3 percent higher from late Monday, when the euro zone currency fell to a six-week low against the dollar.

"The dollar moved off its best levels overnight on profit-taking. The data out this morning was slightly weaker than consensus but not a whole lot of reaction," said Ron Simpson, director of currency research at Action Economics in New York.

The Conference Board, a private business group, said its gauge of U.S. consumer sentiment eased to 102.4 in March from an upwardly revised 104.4 in February.

"What we're kind of seeing is that the market is jockeying for position between now and Friday. Markets are still long dollars for now and I think they are comfortable being long," Simpson added.

The March U.S. payrolls report due on Friday is expected to show 220,000 new jobs were created, down from 262,000 in February, which was the biggest gain in four months.

The dollar held its gains against the yen, trading at about 107.53 yen up 0.4 percent from late Monday and a bit off a fresh five-month high of 107.58 yen.

Analysts say Japanese data showing a higher jobless rate and a fall in household spending, as well as a 1.6 percent fall in Tokyo stocks, weighed on the yen.

Dealers in Tokyo overnight also reported last-minute dollar buying by Japanese importers ahead of the fiscal year-end on Thursday, as well as positioning ahead of the tankan survey of business sentiment on Friday.

Against the Swiss franc, the dollar fell to 1.2012 francs. Sterling rose to $1.8754

"Right now the market is focused on two things: The Fed's tightening cycle and labor market data," said Kathy Lien, chief currency strategist with Forex Capital Markets in New York.

"Bullish sentiment on the dollar is very strong right now. What's going to shift sentiment is anything possibly showing whether the Fed is going to hike by 50 basis points or not."

The dollar has rallied sharply in the last week since the Fed warned about a recent pick-up in inflation.

Aside from the non-farm payrolls data, reports on U.S. price inflation and an influential survey of the U.S. manufacturing sector are also due this week. Strong readings could further convince the market that the Federal Reserve intends on quickening the pace of rate tightening.

The Fed has been raising interest rates in quarter-percentage point moves since last June. But last week, in its seventh such increase, it warned that inflationary pressures have picked up, raising concern in markets that future hikes could be in more aggressive half-percentage-point moves.

Most market players expect the Fed to keep raising the benchmark federal funds rate, with some forecasting a rise to around 4 percent by the end of 2005, from the current 2.75 percent. (Additional


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