FOREX-Euro steady before ECB decision; Aussie up on strong data

Thu Feb 6, 2014 4:14am EST

Related Topics

* Focus on ECB policy review later on Thursday

* Aussie bolstered by upbeat retail sales data

* Yen holds steady after recent rally

By Patrick Graham

LONDON, Feb 6 (Reuters) - Global currency markets trod water ahead of interest rate decisions in Britain and the euro zone on Thursday, although the Australian dollar stood out with a gain of more than half a percent against its U.S. equivalent.

While there is much speculation the European Central Bank will take action to bolster banking liquidity, few players are ready to bet heavily on a cut in euro rates, judging the bank has room to wait after a mixed bag of data in January.

Euro zone inflation fell to just 0.7 percent last month and retail sales numbers on Wednesday were disappointing but recent business sentiment surveys continued to be more positive.

Most banks are convinced the ECB will have to take some form of action to support growth in the next few months, however, and that has left many downbeat about the euro's prospects against the dollar this year.

"We don't think the bank will want to be seen as reacting every time there is a poor readout on (current) inflation, so I would say nothing on rates today," Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi-UFJ's head of global market research Derek Halpenny said.

"On liquidity, there may be more uncertainty. But any squeeze higher for the euro (on a lack of action) will be relatively limited."

Australia's dollar has jumped more than 2 percent this week thanks to the Reserve Bank dropping its bias towards lower interest rates and toning down a long-term call for the currency to weaken.

That put a halt to a months-long slide in the Aussie due to worries over Australia's economic prospects in the face of lower commodities prices and a slowdown in China.

A batch of more positive data overnight helped it gain 0.6 percent against the dollar and some traders reported a handful of banks going long on the Aussie against the euro ahead of the ECB decision.

"The positive macro story in Australia is starting to build," said Phyllis Papadavid, strategist with BNP Paribas in London. "We have been positive on the Aussie for some time and have gone long against the (New Zealand) kiwi."

The euro held steady at $1.3528, above a two-month low near $1.3477 that had been set on Monday. Against the yen, it was little changed near 137.08 yen, staying above an 11-week low of 136.25 yen struck on Tuesday. The dollar also held roughly steady at 101.36 yen.

So far this week, the dollar is down around 0.5 percent against the yen, with the Japanese currency benefiting from its role as a safe haven in the recent selloff of emerging market equities and currencies. The emerging sector was mostly higher on Thursday.

Mixed U.S. data on Wednesday offered little support for the greenback. Growth in the service sector picked up pace in January while private employers added 175,000 jobs in January, the smallest gain since August.

Still, many analysts are optimistic that the closely watched U.S. non-farm payrolls report on Friday will show January hiring rebounded after a weak December, which saw a payroll gain of just 74,000..

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