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Thursday June 22, 2006 - 11:14:33 GMT
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FOREX-Yen weakens on BOJ rate uncertainty

FOREX-Yen weakens on BOJ rate uncertainty
Thu Jun 22, 2006 6:43am ET170
(Updates prices, adds fresh comment, Walton death)

By Carolyn Cohn

LONDON, June 22 (Reuters) - The yen fell nearly half a percent against the dollar on Thursday on uncertainty over when the Bank of Japan will raise interest rates from near zero.

Bank of Japan Governor Toshihiko Fukui said the bank had made clear that it would not raise interest rates quickly, after comments this week suggested the bank's zero-rate policy might end soon.

In the absence of major U.S. data this week, investors were also looking ahead to next week's Federal Reserve meeting, expected to result in a quarter-point U.S. rate rise to 5.25 percent.

"The Bank of Japan has become extremely important for the markets -- Fukui's comments are consistent with what he has been saying before, the BoJ doesn't want to create another wave of uncertainty in the high-yielding currencies," said Marios Maratheftis, currency strategist at Standard Chartered.

"Major currencies are likely to continue in a range until the June 29 Fed decision."

The unwinding of carry trades, in which investors borrow the low-yielding yen to buy higher-yielding assets, has hit emerging market currencies in recent weeks.

The dollar was trading at the day's highs of 115.39 yen at 1010 GMT, up nearly half a percent on the day. The euro rose as far as 145.62 yen within a quarter yen of record highs set earlier this week and was trading at 145.50 yen, steady from the U.S. close.

The yen was also hurt on Thursday by market rumours that a U.S. military plane had crashed in North Korea. U.S. military spokesmen said they had no information about such a crash.

The euro hit two-week highs against the dollar at $1.2680 on reinforced expectations that euro zone interest rates would rise, then eased to $1.2630, down a quarter percent on the day.

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet suggested this week that interest rates would have to be pushed higher from the current 2.75 percent to fight inflation.

That sentiment was echoed by ECB Governing Council member Erkki Liikanen, who was quoted in a Finnish newspaper on Thursday as saying inflation risks in the euro zone were on the upside and that rates remained historically low.

The New Zealand dollar shed more than one percent to a 10-week low of US$0.6128 after data showed the country's annual current account deficit widened to record levels in the first quarter.

"The data shows the vulnerability of the New Zealand dollar in the absence of any more rate hikes," said Kamal Sharma, currency strategist at Bank of America.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand raised rates to 7.25 percent in December 2005.

RBNZ governor Alan Bollard speaks at a conference in London on Thursday.

Sterling hit two-week lows against the euro and fell a third of a percent from the U.S. close against the dollar after Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee member David Walton, the sole UK policymaker to back higher interest rates for the past two months, died unexpectedly.


After hitting one-year lows against the euro and the pound, the dollar had rallied this month on signs that the Fed would raise rates for the 17th straight time next week and possibly again in August.

The yen gained this week on signs that the Bank of Japan might end zero interest rate policy in July or August, but attention has also centred on Fukui's investment years ago in an equity fund run by financier Yoshiaki Murakami, now under arrest on suspicion of insider trading.

Fukui told a parliamentary committee he wanted to stay on as governor and apologised again in the face of harsh criticism.

Although Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and cabinet ministers have strongly backed Fukui, at least 40 percent of respondents to recent opinion polls have said Fukui should resign.

Market players have said they expect Fukui to survive, adding that the yen would probably fall in the unlikely event that he did step down.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved


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