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Thursday July 20, 2006 - 20:54:40 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX-Dollar extends decline on Bernanke, FOMC minutes

FOREX-Dollar extends decline on Bernanke, FOMC minutes
Thu Jul 20, 2006 04:09 PM ET
(Updates prices)

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK, July 20 (Reuters) - The dollar continued its slide against the euro on Thursday as minutes from the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting showed policy-makers saw "significant uncertainty" about the path of interest rates.

That bolstered expectations that the central bank may be nearing the end of a rate-hiking campaign that began in 2004. The rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee lifted rates by a quarter point to 5.25 percent -- its 17th straight increase -- at its meeting on June 29.

"What grabs me is that one member said the June increase was a close call. The bottom line is that future rate increases are not preordained, and it seems like some members are very warm to the idea of a pause," said Richard Franulovich, senior currency strategist at Westpac Banking Corp. in New York.

Indeed, that was the message financial markets took away from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's two-day testimony before Congress this week.

On Wednesday, Bernanke told the Senate Banking Committee that U.S. inflation was likely to ease in coming quarters as the economy slows, and he repeated that message Thursday to the House Financial Services Committee.

That dented the confidence of dollar bulls who expected the Fed to prolong its tightening campaign to combat inflation.

Late afternoon in New York, the euro was up 0.3 percent on the day at $1.2630 . Sterling was up 0.35 percent at $1.8477 . Against the yen, the dollar was little changed at 116.87 , well off a three-month high of 117.88 hit earlier in the week.

Bernanke "painted a less hawkish picture than in the past and as a consequence people are betting that we are near the top in rates and that the dollar should fall a bit," said John McCarthy, director of foreign exchange at ING Capital Markets in New York.

DATA DEPENDENCY

After the recent dovish signals from the Fed, rate futures were pricing in just a 51 percent chance of another rate hike at the Fed's Aug. 8 meeting. Before the first leg of Bernanke's testimony on Wednesday, the chances were closer to 90 percent.

A survey from the Philadelphia Reserve Bank on Thursday that showed growth in factory activity in July slowing by more than expected seemed to back the Fed's view that economic growth is set to slow. The survey's business activity index fell to 6.0 this month from 13.1 in June, above forecasts for a dip to 12.0.

But some strategists noted that future interest rate moves will remain closely tied to incoming data.

Matthew Strauss, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto, said the meeting minutes can be considered "slightly dovish" but added that policymakers "are clearly keeping the door open so that if there is a need, they can increase rates again."

Also Thursday, European Central Bank governing council member Nicholas Garganas said inflation risks were worsening in the euro zone now that the economy is growing at a 0.6 percent quarterly rate.

The remarks failed to add much to the euro's climb, though, as markets have largely priced in another rate hike from the European Central Bank when it meets in August.

(Additional reporting by David McMahon and Nick Olivari)

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

 

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