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Monday July 17, 2006 - 20:39:44 GMT
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FOREX-Dollar climbs as Mideast tensions persist

FOREX-Dollar climbs as Mideast tensions persist
Mon Jul 17, 2006 4:19pm ET177
(Updates prices, adds quotes)

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK, July 17 (Reuters) - The dollar jumped 1 percent against major European currencies on Monday and hit a three-month high versus the yen as rising Mideast tensions drew investors to the world's premier reserve currency.

Israel bombarded Lebanon for a sixth straight day, while tensions continued between the West and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program.

Economic data also supported the dollar. A report that showed U.S. factory output rising at twice the forecast pace in June lifted the currency to its session peak against the euro.

But for now, analysts said, news on the economy was taking a back seat to Israel's ongoing offensive against Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.

"The market is supporting the dollar mainly because of geopolitical concerns," a trend likely to continue until fighting cools down, said Charmaine Buskas, FX analyst at Moody's in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Strategists said that while there was little sign of big flows out of risky assets and into safe havens such as U.S. Treasuries, rising tensions prompted investors to buy back dollars to cover short positions.

The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of major currencies, rose 1 percent to 86.97 <.DXY>, its biggest one-day gain in five weeks

The fighting may also have led U.S. investors to sell some foreign stocks, supporting the dollar as they bring the proceeds back home, UBS said in its daily note to investors.

The MSCI World stock index <.MSCIWO> fell for a fifth straight session on Monday to its lowest level in a month.

Late afternoon in New York, the euro was on track for its worst day in more than a month, down 1 percent to $1.2521 . The single currency had risen as high as $1.2861 earlier this month before the Middle East flare-up.

The yen was broadly weaker, extending Friday's losses after the Bank of Japan raised interest rates for the first time in six years but hinted it was in no hurry to hike again.

The dollar rose 0.9 percent to 117.15 yen . The yen hit eight-year lows versus sterling and the Swiss franc .


Rising global tensions should continue to support the dollar, but analysts said investor focus will likely drift back to the economy as activity heats up on the domestic side.

Wednesday's consumer price data and the start of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's semi-annual, two-day testimony before Congress will be most closely watched by investors.

Both could result in more dollar strength, said Sophia Drossos, currency strategist at Morgan Stanley in New York, though this time driven by price pressures and expectations of higher U.S. interest rates.

The Fed has raised rates 17 straight times since mid-2004, and the market is split on the chances of a move to 5.5 percent at the central bank's August policy meeting.

"People are cognizant of the potential for a strong message on inflation. Bernanke is likely to be as vigilant on upside inflation risks as other central banks have been," Drossos said.

Monday's report showing a 0.8 percent gain in U.S. factory output in June "definitely adds to the case to me that the Fed will keep on hiking rates," said Tim Mazanec, senior currency strategist at Investors Bank and Trust in Boston.

Buskas, though, said Bernanke "will leave characterization of the risks as ambiguous as possible" to keep a lid on volatility in "already fragile financial markets."

(Additional reporting by Amanda Cooper)

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved


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