FOREX-Dollar holds near lows, focus on U.S. data
(Adds new quotes, updates prices, changes byline)
By Toni Vorobyova
LONDON, Sept 14 (Reuters) - The dollar remained stuck near a 15-year low against a basket of currencies on Friday as investors waited for U.S. data to see whether consumers tightened their belts in the face of housing market troubles.
Worries about the wider implications of the U.S. subprime mortgage market crisis -- and the credit crunch that it sparked -- were fanned by news that major UK mortgage lender Northern Rock became the latest victim of tighter liquidity.
The dollar's woes remain the main focus after the currency tumbled to record lows versus the euro this week on widespread expectations for the Federal Reserve to start cutting interest rates next week to aid the weakening U.S. economy.
A raft of U.S. figures -- including retail sales and industrial production -- will be scrutinised on Friday for any further clues about the Fed policy outlook and signs of credit concerns making the consumer more prone to save than spend.
"If the number is in line or weaker, that will probably just confirm that the Fed will ease next week and provide relief to the market. If it seriously surprised to the downside, we may see similar effect to what we saw with payrolls (last) Friday," said Geoffrey Yu, currency strategist at UBS.
The dollar had sold off sharply after data showed an unexpected contraction in the U.S. jobs market in August.
On Friday, the dollar index rose a touch to 79.586 (.DXY: Quote, Profile, Research), having plumbed a 15-year low of 79.302 the previous day.
The euro steadied at $1.3875 <EUR=>, after striking $1.3927 according to Reuters data on Thursday, the highest since its launch in 1999. It showed little reaction to a downward revision in euro zone August inflation, to an annual 1.7 percent.
The yen edged up to 114.87 per dollar <JPY=> and 159.41 per euro <EURJPY=>. But Japan's currency lost 0.9 percent against the high-yielding New Zealand dollar <NZDJPY=R> as falling market volatility made investors comfortable entering riskier positions such as carry trades.
U.S. retail sales, due at 1230 GMT, are forecast to have risen 0.4 percent in August, which would show household spending holding up at a decent pace (ECON: Quote, Profile, Research).
Still, limited easing of tensions in money markets and signs of a deeper U.S. housing downturn have convinced markets that the Fed will cut rates next week by at least 25 basis points and possibly 50 basis points from the current 5.25 percent.
European equities fell (.FTEU3: Quote, Profile, Research) and investors grew nervous more banks or funds could face liquidity squeeze and report losses tied to U.S. subprime mortgages, or face big commitments to the nearly frozen market for asset-backed commercial paper.
The pound fell to a new 14-month trough against the euro after the Bank of England propped up mortgage lender Northern Rock, which became the biggest British casualty so far of the global credit squeeze.
"The UK is vulnerable to financial sector weakness and sterling is vulnerable to a slowdown in the financial sector more generally," said Paul Robinson, currency strategist at Barclays Capital.
Sterling fell 0.35 percent to 68.83 pence per euro <EURGBP=> and dropped 0.30 percent versus the dollar to $2.0161 <GBP=>.