Monday, January 12, 2009

Euro Falls Versus Dollar, Yen on Speculation ECB Will Cut Rates

By Anchalee Worrachate and Ron Harui

Jan. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The euro fell for a second day against the dollar as the International Monetary Fund’s Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said Europe is “underestimating the needs” of fiscal stimulus for the economy.

The currency also dropped to a one-month low versus the yen as traders increased bets the European Central Bank will cut its main interest rate to the lowest level since 2005 this week to help pull the 16-nation economy out of a recession. The yen rose against all 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg as falling Asian and European stocks damped demand for carry trades.

“The way to play it in the near term is to short the euro going into the announcement because the likelihood is that the ECB is going to cut,” said Daragh Maher, deputy head of global currency strategy in London at Calyon, the investment-banking unit of Credit Agricole SA. “My preference is short the euro against the yen. Economic reports throughout the week are likely to add to the environment of high risk aversion.”

The euro dropped to $1.3342 as of 8:43 a.m. in London, from $1.3476 in New York on Jan. 9. The currency declined to 120.28 yen from 121.81 and traded as low as 120.11, the weakest since Dec. 12. Against the British pound, the euro rose to 89.16 pence from 88.78 pence. The yen strengthened to 90.13 per dollar, from 90.39 last week.

The yen strengthened to 62.52 against Australia’s dollar from 63.59 and strengthened to 52.79 versus New Zealand’s dollar from 53.49 as investors trimmed holdings of higher-yielding assets funded in Japan.

ECB Futures

The yield advantage for two-year German government bonds over those of Japan narrowed to 1.13 percentage points, the least in 18 years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The euro may weaken to $1.30 to the dollar and 117 yen by the end of first quarter, according to Calyon. The European common currency lost 5.2 percent against the yen, 4.5 percent against the dollar and 7.9 percent against the British pound this year.

Korea’s won fell 1.2 percent to 1,358.75 per dollar, according to Seoul Money Brokerage Services Ltd., after the Hankyoreh newspaper reported, citing a senior Bank of Korea official it didn’t identify, that the economy shrank more than 4 percent in the final quarter of 2008.

The euro dropped for a sixth day against the yen as traders bet the ECB will cut its 2.5 percent benchmark interest rate by as much as 0.75 percentage point on Jan. 15. The implied yield on the Eonia forward contract fell to 1.748 percent on Jan. 9 from 1.813 percent on Jan. 8. Eonia is the euro overnight index average.

‘Soft’ Data

“The recent run of soft euro-zone data has heightened expectations that the ECB will cut,” Danica Hampton, currency strategist at Bank of New Zealand Ltd. in Wellington, wrote in a research note today. “Concern about the euro-zone outlook will likely keep the euro-dollar defensive early this week.”

The IMF’s Strauss-Kahn warned there will be “some decrease” in the fund’s economic forecasts. In November, the IMF predicted global growth of 2.2 percent this year, with U.S. gross domestic product shrinking by 0.7 percent, Japan’s by 0.2 percent and the euro area’s by 0.5 percent. He spoke in a Jan. 9 interview with Bloomberg News.

The ECB cut its main refinancing rate by 1.75 percentage points in the fourth quarter, while the Federal Reserve reduced its benchmark rate by 2 percentage points to as low as zero in the same period.

Scandinavian Currencies

The world’s biggest foreign-exchange traders are snapping up Sweden’s krona and Norway’s krone.

Current-account surpluses and forecasts by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development that Nordic economies will avoid the worst of the global recession made the currencies Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s top picks for 2009, with potential gains of more than 17 percent.

Deutsche Bank, the biggest trader in the $3.2 trillion-a- day foreign-exchange market, said last week the krona and krone are “well placed” for a rebound.

“It’s pretty clear the Scandinavian currencies weakened excessively last year,” said Thomas Stolper, a currency analyst at Goldman Sachs in London. “These economies should hold up better than euroland and with improvements in market conditions some of this misalignment will be reversed.”

Sweden’s krona declined to 7.9790 per dollar from 7.9232 on Jan. 9, while Norway’s krone fell to 7.0327 from 6.9908.

Russia’s ruble may retreat 10 percent against its dollar- euro basket this month as companies and banks buy foreign currency to repay more than $80 billion of debt this year, according to Societe Generale SA.

U.S. Retail Sales

The ruble weakened to 31.0015 per dollar, the lowest level since May 2003, before trading at 30.9545, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Japan’s currency gained for a fourth day against the Australian and New Zealand dollars before a U.S. government report this week that may show retail sales contracted for a fifth month in December, adding to signs a recession in the world’s largest economy is deepening.

Sales at U.S. retailers declined 1.2 percent last month, capping the longest stretch of declines since records began in 1992, according to the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. The Commerce Department will release the report on Jan. 14.

Asian stocks fell, following losses in Europe and the U.S. on Jan. 9. The MSCI AC Asia-Pacific excluding Japan Index of regional shares dropped 2.8 percent.

“We expect the Australian dollar to head lower against the dollar and the yen in line with weaker equity markets,” analysts led by David Woo, London-based global head of foreign- exchange strategy at Barclays Capital, wrote in a research note today.

‘Significant Response’

Any losses in the dollar may be limited as U.S. President- elect Barack Obama is making “significant” changes to his economic stimulus program after members of his own party called elements of the plan inadequate, according to lawmakers.

“He’s clearly setting up expectations for quite a significant response,” said Tony Morriss, a senior currency strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Sydney. “We may see the dollar recover further ground over the course of this week.”

The dollar may rise to $1.3300 per euro this week, Morriss said.

Obama’s plan for a two-year stimulus program of about $775 billion ran into turbulence in Congress last week when lawmakers criticized elements including a job-creation tax incentive and the share dedicated to tax cuts. Some said Obama’s plan wouldn’t do enough to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil while others called for more infrastructure spending.

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