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Saturday July 15, 2006 - 01:03:04 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX - Dollar up as Mideast tension sparks safe-haven bid

NEW YORK, July 14 (Reuters) - The dollar climbed on Friday against major currencies as the escalating conflict in the Middle East and a stand-off over North Korea's missile launches sent investors into the relative safety of the U.S. currency.

While an up-tick in geopolitical tensions often boosts the Swiss franc, a traditional safe haven, a sell-off in emerging market assets and equities caused a broad dollar rally even as U.S. data showed an unexpected slowdown in consumer spending in June and weaker consumer sentiment in July. For details, see [ID:nNYJ000115] [ID:nN14367291].

The dollar already had been trading on a firm footing after the Bank of Japan raised interest rates but dashed market expectations for a quicker pace of tightening monetary policy.

"I would not even call it a flight to quality as more a flight to liquidity, with the dollar being one of the most liquid currencies," said Shaun Osborne, chief currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Toronto of the dollar's advance. "People want to be parked in dollars in the short run."

Against the Japanese currency, the dollar was up 0.8 percent at 116.19 yen, near two-week highs, while the euro shed 0.4 percent against the dollar to reach $1.2643.

The dollar was also up 0.4 percent against the Swiss franc at 1.2346 francs.

Israeli attacks on Lebanese civilian facilities as well as Japan's insistence on sanctions on North Korea for its missile tests drove crude oil futures to record highs while gold rallied, eclipsing the weaker U.S. economic data for foreign exchange traders.

The University of Michigan's index of consumer sentiment in early July failed to meet expectations for a slight increase from the previous month, while retail sales in June fell.

"Clearly, the (sentiment) report was lower than the consensus and lower than dealer expectations. Surprisingly the dollar is rebounding, which is a little puzzling, but security concerns are of primary importance right now. The dollar is the still-number-one safe-haven currency," said Craig Russell, senior foreign exchange strategist at ODL Securities Inc. in Chicago.

Analysts said Friday's dollar rally could be short-lived, especially given the drop in consumer sentiment and retail sales, key indicators of consumer spending patterns.

Meanwhile the yen fell against other major currencies after the Bank of Japan concluded a two-day policy meeting on Friday with a widely expected quarter percentage point increase in interest rates -- a move that brought to an end its zero interest rate policy of almost six years -- but added that it did not intend to raise borrowing costs further at this point.

The euro was last up 0.4 percent on the day at 146.95 yen and sterling held near eight-year highs against the Japanese currency and was last at 213.57 yen.

The dollar index <.DXY> rose 1.3 percent this week, its best weekly percentage performance in the last five weeks.

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved.

 

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