GLOBAL MARKETS-Yen up ahead of G20 statement, shares flat

Fri Feb 15, 2013 8:19am EST

* Yen gains on euro and dollar as G20 statement eyed

* European shares weighed by growth concerns

* U.S. stocks seen lower

* Oil slides under $118 a barrel, gold at 6-mth low

By Richard Hubbard

LONDON, Feb 15 (Reuters) - The yen strengthened on Friday as investors awaited the outcome of a meeting in Moscow of finance officials from the Group of 20 economic powers, while renewed fears over global growth weighed on shares and commodities.

U.S. stock index futures pointed to a lower open on Wall Street where the S&P 500 index is likely to struggle to extend its streak of weekly gains to seven.

A series of conflicting comments from policymakers has put the spotlight on the G20's final communique, which currency markets will scrutinise to decide whether to resume the current trend for a weaker yen and stronger euro.

The possibility that officials might express disapproval of Japan in particular encouraged traders to take profits on the yen's recent sharp falls on Friday. This sent the Japanese unit up 0.3 percent to 92.60 yen and the euro down 0.6 percent to near a two-week low at 123.35 yen.

However, the yen's gains could be only temporary with hints emerging from Moscow that the final text would not single out any country for criticism. One delegate said that in discussions on a draft, Japan had not been singled out.

"The long term weakening trend for the yen remains intact," said Howard Jones, adviser at RMG Wealth Management. "We are comfortable with our view the dollar will rise to 100 yen in the coming months. It is an easy trade to make money."

FX TARGETING

At the heart of the current debate is whether the loose monetary and fiscal policies being pursued by the United States, Japan, Britain and the euro zone amount to strategies of "competitive devaluation" or currency manipulation intended to boost exports and growth.

Attention has been focused mainly on Japan because the new government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has appeared to specifically target a weaker yen to stimulate the economy.

But European political leaders have also raised the possibility of political interference in exchange rate policy, with French President Francois Hollande last week calling for a medium-term target for the euro.

The Group of Seven rich powers - four big EU economies, Japan, the United States and Canada - weighed in on Tuesday by reaffirming a shared commitment to market-determined exchange rates, but some then quickly undermined the united front with off-the-record briefings critical of Japan.

"There is an issue of 'who started the fire?' You can say that Japan is getting really aggressive but then they might say, 'well, what have the Americans done?', 'what about the British?' and so on," said William De Vijlder, chief investment officer at BNP Paribas Investment Partners.

An apparently frustrated European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said in Moscow on Friday that all the loose talk on currencies was "inappropriate, fruitless and self-defeating".

Traders is the yen were also watching developments in Tokyo where premier Abe was said to be close to selecting his nominee for Bank of Japan governor. A decision could come in the next few days, sources told Reuters.

GROWTH WORRIES

Meanwhile share markets were broadly flat with the pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index steady at 1,163.65 points following dismal gross domestic product data from across the euro zone on Thursday.

Frankfurt's DAX and London's FTSE and Paris's CAC-40 were all little changed, while the weaker growth numbers contributed to a 0.1 percent dip in the MSCI world equity index.

The surprisingly sharp contraction in the region's economy during the final three months of 2012 has undermined hopes of an early recovery from recession, though it has also boosted talk that the European Central Bank may have to ease further.

European shares have risen strongly from a low point last June, buoyed by an ECB pledge of new measures to tackle the region's economic problems, and any fall back in prices is expected to be temporary.

"There is some scepticism out there that February is not going to be a great month, but I think there's more room to run. The momentum is still intact," said Terry Torrison, managing director at Monaco-based McLaren Securities.

The weaker demand outlook implied by the both the euro zone GDP data and weaker growth in Japan helped send Brent crude under $118 a barrel and puts it on course for its first weekly loss since mid-January.

Front-month Brent futures were down 40 cents to $117.60 per barrel and U.S. crude shed 40 cents to $96.91 per barrel.

The gyrations in the currency market, which have strengthened the dollar versus the euro, sent gold to a six-month low of $1,625.44 an ounce on Friday. The metal is headed for its biggest weekly drop since June, down 2.4 percent.

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