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Wednesday September 20, 2006 - 10:54:34 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX-Yen strength continues, market awaits Fed

FOREX-Yen strength continues, market awaits Fed
Wed Sep 20, 2006 6:06am ET164

(Updates prices, adds fresh quotes, SNB comments, changes byline)

By Carolyn Cohn

LONDON, Sept 20 (Reuters) - The yen extended this week's gains against the dollar and the euro on Wednesday, shrugging off a coup in Thailand as attention turned to the interest rate decision by the Federal Reserve due later.

The Fed is seen leaving rates steady at 5.25 percent, given signs of a slowdown in the economy, highlighted by Tuesday's data showing a tumble in U.S. housing starts. Investors are focusing on the accompanying statement, with an rate announcement expected around 1815 GMT. The yen benefited from Tuesday's comments from a European official who said markets may need time to digest weekend remarks from some G7 policymakers calling for a higher yen.

"That comment reintroduced two-way risk into the yen, after investors have built up short positions in the last month or so," said Paul Mackel, currency strategist at HSBC Markets.

"The risk from the Fed is that there will be a slightly more dovish tone in the language, with regard to housing and potentially inflation data."

By 0955 GMT the yen was up 0.25 percent on the day at 117.40 per dollar , off earlier highs just beyond 117 yen. It hit a one-week high of 148.27 per euro , up half a percent on the day, before easing to 148.69.

The yen has rallied nearly 2 percent against the euro from record highs set late last month.

The euro was steady at $1.2680 .

On Tuesday the Thai baht, Asia's best performing currency this year, suffered its largest one-day fall in three years after the Thai army ousted the prime minister. It slid nearly two percent to 7-week lows, and was trading close to those lows on Wednesday.

SWISS RATES

The Swiss franc fell briefly after Swiss National Bank vice chairman Niklaus Blattner said the central bank did not need to speed up its policy tightening programme as inflation indicators did not signal danger ahead.

But Blattner also said if exchange rates created inflationary pressure, it would be a problem.

The SNB raised rates by 25 basis points last week, aiming for a mid-point of 1.75 percent of its new target band for three-month Swiss franc LIBOR of 1.25-2.25 percent.

Sterling was little moved after the minutes of the Bank of England's September policy meeting showed a unanimous 8-0 vote for steady rates of 4.75 percent.

STANDING PAT?

Investors are expecting the Fed will stand pat again after breaking a two-year string of 17 straight rate increases in August, because U.S. inflation appears to have decelerated since the last Fed meeting.

Price pressure is likely to ebb as the economy cools, with latest retail sales data suggesting consumer spending may be faltering on top of a housing slowdown.

"The market is well positioned for a (Fed) pause and I don't see any pressing need to change the language. In general we've had quite soft numbers in U.S. housing and there would be nervousness about that in the Fed," said Daragh Maher, currency strategist at Calyon.

The weekend G7 meeting made no mention of yen weakness in its communique but on the sidelines some officials, including Japanese Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, said the yen should reflect fundamentals.

The yen had been under pressure as investors sold the currency to finance investment in higher-yielding currencies.

The euro was the chief beneficiary in carry trades among the majors, as recent hawkish comments from European Central Bank officials reinforced expectations euro zone interest rates are set to rise further from the current 3 percent.

The market also brushed aside the election on Wednesday of a new president for Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe cruised to victory, paving the way for him to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister next week.

Abe said he wanted the Bank of Japan to support the economy and reforms through monetary policy. The BOJ raised rates in July for the first time in six years, to 0.25 percent.

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

 

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