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Friday March 23, 2007 - 19:20:27 GMT
Reuters - www.reuters.com

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FOREX NEWS-Dollar firms vs euro,housing data dims rate cut view

FOREX-Dollar firms vs euro,housing data dims rate cut view
Fri Mar 23, 2007 2:58pm ET163

(Adds details, recasts, updates prices, changes byline)

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK, March 23 (Reuters) - The dollar firmed against the euro on Friday after a surprise jump in U.S. existing-home sales tempered the case for lower benchmark interest rates by the middle of the year.

It also pared losses against the yen sustained overnight when data showed the first annual rise in Japanese land prices in 16 years.

The U.S. report, which showed sales of previously owned homes beat forecasts and rose by a hefty 3.9 percent last month, helped ease fears about the health of the housing sector.

It also reversed dollar losses seen earlier in the week after the Federal Reserve adopted a more neutral monetary policy stance at its latest meeting, suggesting to some investors that a rate cut was imminent.

As expected, the Fed left the overnight federal funds rate unchanged at 5.25 percent.

"The market had been very bearish, but the home sales data and yesterday's fall in jobless claims negate the doomsday scenario that foresees recession in the next quarter," said Boris Schlossberg, currency strategist at DailyFX.com.

Following the data's release, U.S. short-term interest rate futures slipped, trimming the implied chance of a rate cut by the end of June.

By midafternoon, the euro was trading at $1.3285 down 0.3 percent on the day. It hit a two-year high of $1.3411 on Thursday following the Fed's policy shift.

The dollar last changed hands at 117.97 yen , still down 0.1 percent on the day. But it was at 117.85 yen before the housing data and was on track to end the week up about 1.4 percent against the Japanese currency.

The yen got a boost overnight when Japanese Finance Minister Koji Omi told a news conference that recent rises in Japan's land prices reflected a strengthening economy.

Against the Swiss franc, a safe-haven currency, the dollar reversed the losses that were initially sparked by reports that 15 British Royal Navy sailors and marines had been seized by Iran. The dollar was last up 0.4 percent at 1.2187 Swiss franc .

ROCKIER ROAD AHEAD?

In the long run, traders said the dollar's fortunes looked considerably gloomier since higher euro zone interest rates are expected to narrow further the greenback's yield advantage.

"Fundamentally, I see very little reason to buy the dollar at the moment," said Greg Salvaggio, vice president of trading at Tempus Consulting in Washington, D.C.

He said dips in the euro to the $1.3285 area should offer attractive buying opportunities for traders.

Analysts also said investors remained concerned about problems in the U.S. subprime mortgage sector, which caters to home loan borrowers with poor credit history, amid fears the turmoil could spill over to other sectors of the economy.

Friday's relief rally stems, Schlossberg said, from the "enormous amount of fear the subprime situation built into the system."

"Does that mean the problems have gone away? Absolutely not, and we will see further evidence of a U.S. slowdown," he said.

Data next week could provide some clues, starting with a report on February U.S. new home sales due on Monday.

Investors will also be watching durable goods orders for signs of overall economic strength and the release of Germany's Ifo business sentiment index on Tuesday.

(Additional reporting by Lucia Mutikani)

 

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