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CURRENCIES

US dollar consolidates gains before Fed meets

London

THE US dollar was little changed on Monday after four straight weeks of gains as financial markets looked for the first rate increase of the year from the US Federal Reserve.

Markets will be focused on whether Fed policy makers forecast four rate increases this year in their "dot plot"projections, instead of the three they projected in December. Bond markets have already priced in one rate hike this week. Yields, especially on the short end of the bond yield curve, have risen more than 30 basis points this year, anticipating a more confident-sounding Fed.

"By itself, a rate hike is not sufficient to lift the dollar considerably from current levels and we would have to see a shift in the Fed's 'dot plot' projections or hawkish talk despite the recent rise in bond yields," said Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX strategy at Commerzbank.

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The dollar index was broadly flat against a basket of six major peers at 90.224. On Friday, the index reached a two-week high near 90.38 after data showed a February gain in US industrial production. Some bank models show investors have already begun unwinding short positions on the US dollar, though futures data reflect a more cautious stance. Morgan Stanley strategists said the gap between short-term US interbank lending rates and overnight money market rates - now hitting 54 basis points - was evidence of quarter-end liquidity pressures.

But investors warned against reading too much into the US dollar's bounce. The US currency was expected to repeat the pattern of the past year by weakening in the aftermath of the rate hikes, according to strategists at BNP Paribas.

Traders are also nervous after weekend polls suggested a drop in public support for Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over his handling of a cronyism scandal.

The euro eased 0.1 per cent against the US dollar at US$1.22755. Sterling was the biggest gainer in currency markets as Britain and the European Union appeared to reach-broad agreement on a post-Brexit transition period and the Irish border. Sterling pushed to its highest level against the euro since Feb 8, rising as much as 0.7 per cent to 87.50 pence per euro and jumped 0.8 per cent against the US dollar at US$1.4063 on relief over the agreement. REUTERS