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Wednesday May 24, 2006 - 21:36:58 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX-Dollar gains vs major currencies after housing data

FOREX-Dollar gains vs major currencies after housing data
Wed May 24, 2006 4:50 PM ET

(Updates prices throughout)
By Nick Olivari

NEW YORK, May 24 (Reuters) - An unexpected rise in new U.S. home sales in April drove the dollar higher against the yen and helped it reverse earlier losses versus the euro.

A 4.9 percent gain in new home sales helped bolster the case for more Federal Reserve interest-rate hikes to control inflation, which would let the U.S. currency keep its yield advantage against other major currencies. For details, see [ID:nN24340956].

The fed funds rate, the U.S. rate for overnight bank loans, stands at 5 percent. Fed funds futures contracts are pricing in a 56 percent chance of a move to 5.25 percent by late June, when the Fed's policy-making panel meets again.

Another increase would help the dollar keep pace with central banks in the euro zone and Japan, both of which are seen on the tightening path. The European Central Bank is expected to lift its refinancing rate -- now at 2.50 percent -- next month by at least a quarter-point.

"Certainly in the case of euro/dollar (investors) are favoring euro longs," said Todd Elmer, currency strategist at Citigroup. "So even a relatively weak trigger such as new home sales can set off stop/loss dollar buying."

Being "long" a currency is effectively a bet it will strengthen. If the currency declines it can prompt investors to sell to reduce potential losses, adding to downward pressure. Speculators' net long euro positions stood at 73,376 contracts, compared with 72,911 the week before, according to the latest Commodity Futures Trading Commission's Commitment of Traders report released on Friday. [nN19253237].

The euro was down 0.4 percent at $1.2762 in New York after climbing as high as $1.2893 overnight on a stronger-than-expected German Ifo survey for May, a key gauge of business sentiment in the euro zone's biggest economy.

"There's so much talk out there about a slowdown in the economy, but strong numbers like this (new home sales data) show things may not be slowing as much as many pundits believe," said Tim Mazanec, senior currency analyst at Investors Bank & Trust in Boston.
BIRD FLU FEARS

The dollar was up 0.8 percent against the yen at 112.72 yen , extending gains seen earlier when reports of deaths from person-to-person transmission of bird flu in Indonesia [nJAK153112] dented demand for the Japanese currency.

But the World Health Organization, or WHO, said it had no immediate plans to raise the bird-flu alert, and traders said yen weakness should prove temporary.
"You'd have to see the dollar break above 113.50 yen to talk of a more serious correction," said Firas Askari, managing director and head of foreign exchange trading at BMO Nesbitt in Toronto.
The solid housing data helped reverse early dollar weakness after the government said orders for durable goods -- products like cars, computers and washing machines that are made to last at least three years -- fell 4.8 percent in April. [ID:nN24276052] Analysts had expected a 0.5 percent decline.

Another key for the dollar will be the U.S. stock market, which has been under fairly steady pressure in recent sessions and was down in midday trade on Wednesday.

The decline in stocks could renew pressure on the dollar, especially against the yen, traders said.

Sterling fell 0.5 percent against the dollar to $1.8700, while the dollar gained 0.7 percent against the Swiss franc to trade at 1.2166 francs .

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.


 

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