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Monday August 14, 2006 - 10:39:27 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX-Euro holds firm as euro zone growth speeds up

FOREX-Euro holds firm as euro zone growth speeds up
Mon Aug 14, 2006 6:27am ET160

(Releads, adds quotes, changes byline)

By Veronica Brown

LONDON, Aug 14 (Reuters) - The euro held firm against the dollar and yen on Monday after a first estimate of growth in the single currency area for the second quarter came in stronger than expected, boosting expectations for higher interest rates.

The dollar rose to its highest levels in more than two weeks against the yen after robust U.S. retail sales data last week fanned expectations the Federal Reserve might resume raising interest rates soon.

The euro zone economy grew at its fastest pace in six years in the second quarter against the previous three months, data showed on Monday, beating market expectations and reinforcing views that the European Central Bank would raise rates again sooner rather than later after a 25 basis point hike earlier this month.

Individual country data had shown the German economy grew at its fastest rate in over five years in the second quarter, while the French economy grew at its fastest pace in almost six years.

"Today's numbers were no major shock, especially after the French and German data ... all pointing in the direction of a likely positive surprise, which is what we got," said Audrey Childe-Freeman, European economist at CIBC World Markets.

"It will reinforce the market perception for more rate hikes by the ECB, probably strengthened the case for the next ECB rate move to be in October as opposed to November -- you may even get some betting on an Aug. 31 rate hike."

Investors expect the ECB to raise interest rates once or twice more this year after its latest hike to 3 percent

By 0953 GMT, the euro was up 0.14 percent against the dollar at $1.2736 , while the dollar was up 0.21 percent to 116.54 yen .

The euro was up 0.3 percent at 148.47 yen after hitting an all-time high around 148.60 last week, according to Reuters data.

The Japanese currency fell to 220.58 per pound , its weakest since October 1998.

YEN PRESSED

The yen was under pressure across the board as expectations rose that the Bank of Japan will keep interest rates relatively low at a time when other major central banks are tightening.

"Basically the yen is a currency that will remain under pressure. In the end, even though the BOJ is raising rates, most other central banks are tightening even faster, so yield differentials will become more negative as time goes by," said Johan Javeus, currency strategist at SEB in Stockholm.

The dollar meanwhile was finding background support after last week's strong retail sales data set the stage for a strong showing on consumer price index numbers on Wednesday.

"We may be able to live with a stronger headline CPI, but if core CPI comes in above expectations then I think it will make the Fed's life very difficult in the run up to the September meeting," CIBC's Childe-Freeman said.

Last week, the Fed left interest rates on hold at 5.25 percent after raising them 17 straight times, though it kept the gate open for more credit tightening if price pressures persist.

The futures market is attaching around 38 percent probability for a September rate hike.

Earlier on Monday, currency trading at some Japanese banks in Tokyo came to a temporary halt after power outages in large areas of the city caused computer systems to go down, dealers said, though currencies hardly moved on the news.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserv

 

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