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Saturday September 15, 2007 - 02:28:14 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-Dollar edges up but Fed rate cut remains in focus

  FOREX-Dollar edges up but Fed rate cut remains in focus
Fri Sep 14, 2007 4:21pm EDT

(Updates prices, adds detail)

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK, Sept 14 (Reuters) - The dollar edged up against the yen on Friday but remained near a record low against the euro as consumers braced for what is expected to be the first reduction in U.S. interest rates in four years next week.

Investors expect the Federal Reserve to trim benchmark interest rates by at least a quarter percentage point on Tuesday but pared bets on a heftier half-point cut after mixed data on U.S. consumers was released on Friday.

"The question has been will a quarter-point or half-point cut from the Fed be adequate, and it looks as if markets are concluding that it will be," said Naomi Fink, senior currency strategist at BNP Paribas in New York.

Demand for dollars has eroded as weak U.S. employment and housing data stoked fears a credit squeeze sparked by losses on risky mortgage debt was putting the brakes on U.S. growth.

That set up the scenario for a Fed rate cut and sent the dollar to a record low against the euro and a 15-year trough against a basket of currencies this week.

Lackluster retail sales data weakened the dollar again on Friday but it recovered on a Reuters/University of Michigan report showing consumer confidence inched up in September.

"It's good to know that the U.S. consumer has not moved into hibernation yet," said Marc Chandler, senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.

He said the data and a bunch of options-related barriers helped slow the dollar's fall, prompting traders to move to the sidelines ahead of next week's Fed rates decision.

Late afternoon, the euro was up 0.1 percent at $1.3880 <EUR=>. It hit a record high of $1.3927 on Thursday.

Sterling fell 0.75 percent to $2.0070 <GBP=>, battered after the Bank of England propped up British mortgage lender Northern Rock (NRK.L: Quote, Profile, Research), the latest victim of tighter global liquidity.

Traders said the news provided a modest safe-haven flow into dollars as investors shed the British currency, which also hit a 14-month low against the euro <EURGBP=>.

Against the yen, the dollar rose 0.2 percent to 115.25 <JPY=>. On the week, it was up by about 2 percent, with the yen weighed down by speculation that weaker Japanese growth will keep official Japanese interest rates stuck at 0.5 percent.

High oil prices (CLc1: Quote, Profile, Research) and expectations of lower U.S. interest rates pushed the dollar to a 30-year low against its Canadian counterpart at C$1.0284 <CAD=>.

Analysts said the market was still broadly bearish on the dollar, especially with the European Central Bank seen as likely to lift euro-zone interest rates again by year end.

Rising rates in Europe and falling rates in the United States, where economic growth has shown signs of sputtering, would diminish the appeal of dollar-denominated assets.

"We are still on the bearish side of consensus and expect the Fed to cut rates by 50 basis points (half a percentage point) in what will be the start of an aggressive rate-cutting regime," said Fink, of Paribas.

Whether the euro sets a new high en route to $1.40 next week will depend largely on what the Fed says about its interest rate move next week, said Brown Brothers' Chandler.

"The market still wants to take the dollar down, so as long as the Fed doesn't preclude another rate cut after September, the dollar sells off," he said. "If they cut by 25 basis points and say it's a one-off insurance policy, that would be more dollar positive."

But some strategists said a rate cut may spark a relief rally in stocks, increasing short-term demand for dollars. (Additional reporting by Vivianne Rodrigues)

© Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.


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