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Dollar clings near 11-year high ahead of US data, ECB

[TOKYO] The dollar held firm near an 11-year high versus a basket of major currencies on Wednesday, as investors awaited US economic data and a European Central Bank meeting later this week for fresh clues on policy direction.

The dollar index edged up 0.1 per cent to 95.451 . On Tuesday it had touched a high of 95.570, its strongest level since September 2003.

The dollar index has gained about 5.7 per cent so far this year, helped by the US economy's better performance against other major world economic regions and relatively higher US interest rates.

Its rise has slowed over the past month or so, however, as investors have seen fewer catalysts to move the dollar higher given the uncertainty over whether the US Federal Reserve will start raising interest rates by mid-year or wait a while longer.

Against the yen, the dollar held steady at 119.75 yen . Earlier on Wednesday, the dollar had slipped to an intraday low near 119.50 yen, down from Tuesday's high of 120.27 yen, its highest level in nearly three weeks.

A decline in Japanese equities on Wednesday and the previous day's drop in US shares were tempering risk sentiment and helping to weigh on the dollar versus the yen, said a trader for Japanese bank in Tokyo.

That was offsetting the dollar-positive impact from rising US bond yields, the trader said, adding that the bond market seemed to be bracing for the possibility of the Fed changing its forward guidance in its policy statement due later this month.

The US two-year bond yield has risen about 6 basis points this week and last stood near 0.68 per cent.

Some investors and analysts expect that the Fed will drop the word "patient" in its forward guidance at its policy meeting on March 17-18, paving the way for a possible rate rise in June.

Later on Wednesday, the dollar could take its cues from the US ISM services report and a reading on US private sector employment, ahead of US jobs data due on Friday.

The euro eased 0.1 per cent to US$1.1169, after having slipped to a low near US$1.1155 on Tuesday, its lowest level since late January.

The euro's moves have been subdued over the past few sessions and it has struggled ahead of the ECB's policy meeting on Thursday and the implementation of its government bond buying programme, due to start this month. "In interest rate markets there is a focus on the actual start of quantitative easing," said Masafumi Yamamoto, market strategist for Praevidentia Strategy in Tokyo, referring to the ECB's bond-buying scheme. "The QE is weighing on the overall sentiment toward the euro," he added.

The Australian dollar got a slight lift as the market took comfort in data showing the economy grew as expected last quarter, when the risk had been for a softer outcome.

The Aussie dollar touched an intraday high of US$0.7835 after the data but later eased off that peak and last stood at US$0.7812 , down 0.1 per cent on the day.


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