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Tuesday February 20, 2007 - 22:07:28 GMT
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FOREX-Yen weakens as spotlight shines on BOJ meeting

NEW YORK, Feb 20 (Reuters) - The yen fell broadly for a third straight session on Tuesday as investors reckoned that any interest rate increase by the Bank of Japan would be unlikely to curb relentless selling of the Japanese currency.

Investors are split on whether the BOJ will raise Japanese borrowing costs by a quarter percentage point to 0.5 percent at the end of a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday. But many said that even if the central bank were to raise rates, it would likely do little to overturn the popularity of carry trades, in which investors have been dumping the yen in favor of vastly higher-yielding currencies like the New Zealand dollar.

"We think they'll take this opportunity to raise rates, but that the impact will be pretty limited, with the yen already having gained ahead of the meeting," said Camilla Sutton, currency strategist at Scotia Capital in Toronto. "I suspect in the next few weeks dollar/yen will test the 122 level again."

The dollar fell as low as 118.98 yen last week, its weakest in more than a month against the Japanese currency. The dollar was trading at 120.00 yen, up 0.4 percent in the session as of late afternoon in New York.

With U.S. markets returning from a three-day weekend and no major new U.S. data to provide direction, the dollar was little moved against most major currencies. It momentarily slipped to a six-week low against the euro after BBC News reported that Washington had contingency plans for air strikes on Iran.

But later in New York trade the dollar recovered, and the euro was trading down 0.1 percent at $1.3135, well off a peak of 1.3190, the highest since early January.

Since the BOJ scrapped its policy of holding rates at virtually zero last July, the central bank has held them steady as the economy has fought to pull out of deflation, with core consumer price changes barely in positive territory.

"A rate hike may not be compelling enough reason to trigger a sharp unwinding of carry trades, so the yen is most likely to remain vulnerable," said Alex Beuzelin, senior market analyst at Ruesch International in Washington D.C.

The Swiss franc, which along with the yen has been speculators' favorite choice of currency to finance carry trades, also softened on Tuesday. The dollar rose 0.25 percent to 1.2360 Swiss francs .

In addition to the BOJ decision, investors are also looking ahead on Wednesday to U.S. consumer price data, as well as minutes from the Federal Reserve's January policy meeting. The U.S. central bank held rates at 5.25 percent for a fifth straight meeting on Jan 30-31.

The U.S. core consumer price index, which strips out the effect of volatile energy and food prices, likely rose 0.2 percent in January from a month earlier, a Reuters poll shows. That would compare to a 0.1 percent rise in December.

The dollar came under pressure last week after Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said inflationary pressures were easing, which taken along with a run of soft U.S. economic data helped revive speculation the Fed will cut rates in the second half of 2007.

"With data expected to continue to trend toward the soft side in the coming weeks we think markets will move gradually in the direction of pricing more easing, to the detriment of the dollar," UBS strategists said in a note to clients. (Additional reporting by Nick Olivari)

© Reuters 2007. All rights reserved


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