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Thursday October 12, 2006 - 00:02:36 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX-Dollar hit by NY crash, edges higher on Fed minutes

FOREX-Dollar hit by NY crash, edges higher on Fed minutes
Wed Oct 11, 2006 4:28pm ET165

(Recasts; updates prices, adds comment)

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK, Oct 11 (Reuters) - A renewed focus on inflation nudged the dollar higher versus the euro on Wednesday, but news that a small plane had crashed into a New York building knocked it off multi-month peaks touched earlier in the session.

U.S. officials said they had no evidence that a small aircraft collision with an apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side on Wednesday afternoon was tied to terrorism.

But for traders, the memory of Sept. 11, 2001, when two jets crashed into lower Manhattan's World Trade towers, was enough to prompt a knee-jerk flight-to-safety bid.

"Everyone's reaction when they heard the news is probably the same. You get this gut-wrenching feeling, like, 'Oh no, is this another one of those events?'" said Warren West, head trader at Greentree Brokerage in Philadelphia.

In the FX market, the Swiss franc was the main beneficiary, as the dollar fell from a 5-1/2-month high at 1.2737 francs to around 1.2690 before recovering to around 1.2722 in late trade, up 0.2 percent.

The euro also pared losses against the dollar suffered when minutes from the Federal Reserve's last policy meeting revealed Fed officials remain "quite concerned" about inflation.

Late afternoon, the euro was at $1.2518 , down 0.1 percent on the day but off a session trough at $1.2503. The dollar was up 0.1 percent at 119.70 yen , off a fresh 10-month high at 119.83 yen.

"The market is just being cautious right now," said Andrew Busch, global FX strategist at BMO Capital Markets in Chicago. "Bonds have rallied back a bit, and that's scared away some of the dollar longs. "

INFLATION FOCUS

Before the crash reports, the dollar had galloped toward key psychological levels against the euro and yen, boosted by Fed officials' continued focus on upside inflation risks.

The Fed held interest rates steady at 5.25 percent at its Sept. 20 meeting, saying slower growth was expected to cut inflation over the coming months. It last lifted rates in June, its 17th straight hike dating back to mid-2004.

But the minutes showed officials remained "quite concerned" about the inflation outlook and felt core inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, was still too high.

That dashed a dwindling market expectation that the Fed could cut interest rates in early 2007 amid a softer housing market and a more sluggish U.S. economy.

In a separate speech on Wednesday, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said the Fed must remain "quite vigilant" in its quest to keep inflation under control and said rates should rise if inflation does not moderate as expected over the near-term.

Lacker was the sole policy-maker to vote for a rate hike and against leaving rates unchanged at the last two Fed meetings.

Fed officials are "clearly making an effort to tell the market they are very concerned about inflation and not likely to do anything to jeopardize inflation expectations," Busch said.

Meg Browne, senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York, said the minutes "leave the door open for a Fed hike, which we think could happen in the first quarter of 2007."

While the chances of near-term tightening still appear slim, fed funds futures were pricing in a 4 percent chance of a hike.

Throughout this year, the market has maintained a disciplined focus on relative interest rates differentials and has pushed up the currencies of economies where the central bank has a tightening bias.

(Additional reporting by David McMahon in New York)

© Reuters 2006. All Rights Reserved.

 

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