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CURRENCIES

Dollar hits two-week high as traders eye Fed meeting

London

THE US dollar rose to a two-week high on Monday as strong economic data led investors to think again about how dovish the Federal Reserve is likely to sound at this week's meeting.

Broader currency markets were quiet, as traders hesitated to put on large positions before the Fed's two-day meeting, a meeting of European Central Bank policymakers in Portugal and the Bank of England's interest rate decision on Thursday.

Strong US retail sales on Friday reduced the already-low chances of a rate cut this week and lifted the dollar, although Fed chairman Jerome Powell may lay the groundwork for a rate cut later this year.

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Expectations of a rate cut at the Fed's June 18-19 meeting have fallen to a probability of around 20 per cent. But bets for monetary easing at its July meeting remain high, with money markets pricing in 24 basis points of cuts from current rates.

Investors are scaling back their dollar long positions, according to CFTC data published last week.

But analysts are not convinced that the euro can seize on dollar weakness to move higher.

"We are still quite confident that new lows in the EUR, GBP and the RMB (Chinese renminbi) versus the USD will be observed before the current cycle is over. The fact that USD shorts were being trimmed heading into a more 'dovish' Fed and a bout of USD weakness is astounding, in our view," said Stephen Gallo, European head of FX strategy at BMO Capital Markets.

The dollar index, which measures it against a basket of currencies, hit a two-week high of 97.603, up marginally on the day.

The euro was little changed at US$1.1213, as investors awaited policymakers speeches at the ECB meeting in Sintra in Portugal and Tuesday's eurozone inflation data.

Fears that a protracted Sino-US standoff could tip the global economy into recession have prompted rate cuts in India, Philippines, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. The ECB has also signalled the prospect of more stimulus.

Analysts say the path for rate cuts will depend on US-China talks to resolve a conflict over trade.

"Markets are pricing a high probability of a July (Federal Reserve) cut, despite there being unusually high uncertainty, particularly around trade. We find it hard to believe that the Fed would cut rates if post-G20, for example, there were a de-escalation of tensions with China (for examcple, simply a resumption of talks)," said RBC strategist Elsa Lignos.

The dollar was up 0.5 versus the Japanese currency to 108.63 yen.

Sterling slid as low as US$1.2573, its weakest since January and heading for a 2019 low. Investors worry that Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to replace Prime Minister Theresa May, could put Britain on a path towards a no-deal Brexit. REUTERS