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Thursday September 14, 2006 - 10:49:38 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX-Majors steady ahead of U.S. data, G7; kiwi rallies

FOREX-Majors steady ahead of U.S. data, G7; kiwi rallies
Thu Sep 14, 2006 6:06am ET135

(Changes byline, adds quotes, updates prices)

By Toni Vorobyova

LONDON, Sept 14 (Reuters) - Major currencies were tightly traded on Thursday, with investors cautious ahead of this weekend's G7 meeting and U.S. retail sales data later in the day that could yield further clues on the interest rate outlook.

The New Zealand dollar bucked the steady trend, hitting a six-month high against the U.S. dollar as the Reserve Bank of New Zealand sounded a hawkish note after leaving rates on hold.

Ahead of this weekend's G7 gathering, the International Monetary Fund said the global economy was set for another year of strong growth, but warned rising inflationary pressures and a U.S. economic slowdown posed growing dangers. [nSP212944]

Speculation has rippled through the market on the likelihood, or not, of the low yielding yen becoming a focal point at the gathering after a German finance ministry official said last week that its recent weakness would be discussed, spurring a rally in the Japanese currency.

Another uncertainty is the outlook for U.S. interest rates, with Thursday's retail sales data and Friday's inflation numbers eyed for clues on whether the Federal Reserve's next move will be a hike or a cut.

"We have had a lot of comments about the G7, about China, about whether they will discuss the yen... If anything, the big unknown is how much criticism Japan will get, how much talk there will be about the yen," said Niels Christensen, senior currency strategist at Societe Generale in Paris.

A G7 source said on Thursday that the weekend's communiqué would be unlikely to include an extra statement on global imbalances, as had been included after the April meeting.

"Looking beyond the G7 meeting, I think the FOMC meeting next week will be the bigger mover," Christensen said.

The euro was steady against the dollar at $1.2687 by 0950 GMT, while dollar stood at 117.63 yen -- little changed on the day. The euro was flat at 149.21 yen .

U.S. retail sales for August, due at 1230 GMT, were expected to show a median 0.1 percent fall compared with a 1.4 percent rise in July. Excluding automobiles, sales are seen up 0.3 percent compared with a 1.0 percent rise in the prior month, according to economists surveyed by Reuters.

An as-expected result was seen backing up the U.S. Federal Reserve's expectations for growth to moderate, which had prompted the central bank to pause rates last month at 5.25 percent.

CENTRAL BANK DECISIONS GALORE

Thursday was a busy day for central banks, with rate decisions from New Zealand, Iceland and Switzerland.

The New Zealand dollar hit a six-month high against the U.S. currency at US$0.6607 after the RBNZ left rates steady at 7.25 percent as expected, but said it had become less confident that no further tightening would be needed given rising inflationary pressures.

"The RBNZ effectively ruled out the possibility of a rate cut but re-opened the door to the possibility of further tightening," said RBC Capital Markets analysts in a client note.

The Icelandic crown jumped around half a percent to one-week highs versus the euro and the dollar after a 50 basis points rate hike to 14 percent, in line with expectations.

The Swiss National Bank is due to announce its rate decision at 1200 GMT, with investors positioned for a 25 basis point hike to 1.75 percent. Any expectations of a bigger rise took a knock earlier this week after SNB board member Philipp Hildebrand said in a magazine interview that the central bank was expecting a slowdown of the economy next year.

His comments sent the Swiss franc to 6-1/2 year lows versus the euro , and put the focus firmly on the tone of SNB's post-decision statement.

"It is a question how hawkish they can be, especially if they only move by 25 basis points. It's difficult to see that they could or would step up the tightening pace, especially with the comments earlier this week," said SG's Christensen.

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