FOREX-Commodity currencies cheer China PMI, yen still fragile
* China PMI steady at 51.4 in November vs expected reading of 51.1
* Aussie & kiwi both firmer in reaction to China data
* Yen still vulnerable after big fall last month
* HSBC's final China PMI next, flash reading was 50.4
By Ian Chua
SYDNEY, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Commodity currencies were the star performers early in Asia on Monday in what would otherwise have been a featureless start to a heavy week of central bank policy meetings.
Investors bought both the Australian and New Zealand dollars after a survey on Sunday showed China's factory growth held at an 18-month high in November, an outcome that was slightly ahead of expectations. Both Australia and New Zealand are highly leveraged to China's economic cycle.
The Aussie rose 0.2 percent to $0.9118, while the kiwi advanced 0.5 percent to $0.8162. Both Antipodean currencies also gained ground on the yen, rising to 93.41 and 83.66.
In contrast, the Japanese currency continued to struggle after slumping more than 4 percent in November against the dollar and euro.
Investors have been selling the low-yielding yen to buy riskier assets in carry trades made attractive by the Bank of Japan's ultra-loose monetary policy.
The dollar bought 102.47 yen, having scaled a six-month peak of 102.61 on Friday, while the euro was at 139.23 yen, near a five-year high of 139.705.
Traders suspect euro/yen could take a breather in the lead-up to the European Central Bank (ECB) policy meeting on Thursday, where investors will be scouring for clues to the central bank's next policy step.
"The focal point will be the ECB forecasts for HICP inflation in 2014 and 2015," analysts at BNP Paribas wrote in a note to clients, referring to EU-harmonised consumer prices.
"The profile of inflation will dictate how the euro reacts this week. The softer the forecast, we would expect euro to remain increasingly under pressure."
Against the dollar, the euro was little changed at $1.3587 . It was struggling to find enough momentum to break above chart resistance at $1.3623, the 61.8 percent retracement level of its late October to early November slump.
The Bank of England, Bank of Canada and Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) are among other major central banks holding their meetings this week. JPMorgan analysts expect no policy changes from them.
For the RBA, all 24 economists polled by Reuters on Friday see the central bank keeping its cash rate steady at a record low 2.5 percent on Dec. 3.
The RBA has repeatedly said there is already a lot of monetary stimulus in the economy and would prefer a weaker local dollar to spur a broad-based economic recovery.
"The bank should keep the cash rate unchanged...although we expect it to retain a weak easing bias because of the high exchange rate," said Kieran Davies, an economist at Barclays Capital in Sydney.
Davies added the RBA is likely to make noises about how a lower exchange rate can help the economy cope with the end of the boom in mining investment.
Asia sees a barrage of economic data on Monday, key among them are HSBC's final report on China's manufacturing sector and Japan's business investment data.
Any disappointment in these numbers could dent risk appetite and force some short covering in the safe-haven yen, traders said.
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