Saturday, May 17, 2008

Dollar Falls Most Against Euro in Seven Weeks on Sentiment, Oil

By Ye Xie and Bo Nielsen

May 17 (Bloomberg) -- The dollar fell the most against the euro since March as a drop in consumer confidence and record crude oil prices raised concern U.S. economic growth will slow.

The dollar's second consecutive weekly decline against the euro pared its increase from the all-time low reached last month to 2.7 percent. The Australian dollar rose to the strongest level against the greenback since 1984 as oil pushed up prices of other commodities. Mexico's peso rose to a five-year high, while the Brazilian real strengthened to the most since 1999.

``The economic backdrop in the U.S. argues against the continuing gains in the dollar,'' said Nick Bennenbroek, head of currency strategy at Wells Fargo Bank in New York.

The dollar fell 0.6 percent to $1.5577 per euro this week, from $1.5482 on May 9. It touched the record low of $1.6019 per euro on April 22. The yen declined 1.2 percent to 104.04 per dollar this week, from 102.87. Japan's currency fell 1.8 percent to 162.27 per euro, from 159.21, the biggest decline since the week ended April 18.

Crude oil rallied to the all-time high of $127.82 a barrel yesterday as Goldman Sachs Group Inc. raised its forecast for the second half of this year to an average of $141 a barrel, citing supply constraints.

The correlation coefficient between oil and the euro-dollar exchange rate has been 0.95 for the past year, indicating they have moved in the same direction 95 percent of the time. The correlation is calculated based on the price changes of oil and the currencies.

`Higher' Oil

``There is no fresh catalyst to mount a successful rally in the U.S. dollar,'' said Michael Woolfolk, a senior currency strategist in New York at Bank of New York Mellon Corp. ``Oil prices are significantly higher.''

The Australian dollar increased 1.1 percent this week and touched 95.60 U.S. cents yesterday, the highest level since 1984, on higher commodity prices. Exports of raw materials, such as iron ore, account for 17 percent of Australia's economy. The Brazilian real rose to the nine-year high of 1.6402 versus the dollar, while Mexico's peso appreciated to 10.3912 the strongest in almost five years.

Iceland's krona was the best performer against the dollar among emerging-market currencies, increasing 6.9 percent to 74.69 after the central banks of Denmark, Sweden and Norway pledged as much as 1.5 billion euros ($2.3 billion) in emergency funds yesterday. The krona jumped 3.5 percent to 116.17 per euro. Before yesterday, it had slumped 24 percent against the euro this year.

Weaker Yen

Japan's currency fell against all of the major currencies this week as global stock gains and lower volatility increased carry trades, in which investors borrow funds in countries with low interest rates and buy assets where returns are higher.

The yen fell 4.9 percent to 13.95 against South Africa's rand and 4 percent to 63.48 against Brazil's real. The Bank of Japan is forecast by 35 economists surveyed by Bloomberg to hold the target lending rate at 0.5 percent next week. That compares with 11.75 percent in Brazil and 11.5 percent in South Africa.

Implied volatility on one-month dollar-yen options fell to 11.26 percent yesterday, from 12.70 percent on May 9, approaching the lowest since Feb. 27. Lower volatility tends to encourage carry trades by making it easier to predict profit. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 2.6 percent this week, the biggest gain since mid-April.

The dollar weakened yesterday as a report showed confidence among U.S. consumers fell in May to the lowest level in almost 28 years. The Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index dropped to 59.5 this month, from 62.6 in April.

Sales of previously owned homes probably dropped in April to an annual rate of 4.85 million, the all-time low, according to the median forecast of 46 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The National Association of Realtors is scheduled to release the report on May 22.

Fed Rate Outlook

Futures on the Chicago Board of Trade yesterday showed 88 percent odds that the Fed will hold the target lending rate at 2 percent at its next meeting on June 25. The balance of bets is for a reduction of a quarter-percentage point. There's a 21 percent chance of an increase to 2.25 percent in September.

The euro got a boost on May 15 as the European Union's statistics office said gross domestic product in the 15 countries that use the currency increased to 0.7 percent in the first quarter. The pace exceeded the 0.5 percent estimate of 32 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Germany's 1.5 percent expansion from the previous quarter was more than double what economists had expected.

European Central Bank President Jean-Claude Trichet said yesterday the bank can't relax in its fight against inflation.

``There is no place for complacency,'' he said in a speech in Brussels. ``Price stability in the medium term has to be'' ensured. It's ``a necessary condition to sustain economic growth, job creation and social cohesion.''

The ECB has held its main refinancing rate at a six-year high of 4 percent since last June to control inflation, which accelerated to the fastest pace in 16 years in March.

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