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Thu 29 Sep 2011 03:53 PM

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Euro on track for worst quarter in more than year

Currency hurt by Greek default fears, bickering by EU policy-makers over response to debt crisis

Euro on track for worst quarter in more than year
The euro has lost nearly 7 percent against the dollar this quarter

The euro gained on short-covering in volatile, commodity-driven trade after riskier assets bounced off intraday lows on Thursday, but was still on track to mark its worst quarter since early 2010, with traders preparing for further falls.

On the day, the euro bobbed up 0.6 percent to a session peak of $1.3638, as stocks and commodities were scooped up on dips after an overnight sell-off, with the rally getting stuck in a layer of offers at $1.3620-40. Stop losses loom at $1.3650.

The euro has lost nearly 7 percent against the dollar this quarter, hammered by nagging worries over the prospect of Greek default and constant bickering by European policy-makers over the response to the crisis.

This in turn has sparked jitters over contagion to Italy and Spain and fueled fears about the sovereign debt exposure of European banks that have seen the euro slide 9 cents from above $1.45 at the end of June, prompting many to think the end of its decline has yet to be reached.

"It's very clear to me ... sell EUR/USD, it's going down," said a trader for a European bank in Singapore, citing the risk of debt restructuring by Greece and the possibility that the European Central Bank may cut interest rates.

"My target is around $1.25 in EUR/USD in one month," he said.

This view echoed the bearish euro stance of other market players, with investors continuing to seek refuge in the safety of the US dollar, putting fresh pressure on battered Asian currencies such as the Korean won and the Malaysian ringgit.

The euro rose 0.4 percent against the yen to 104.12 yen, having bounced from a decade low of 101.90 yen earlier in the week. Tokyo exporters have been spotted selling in transactions related to the end of the quarter, but traders said the majority of them were likely settled by now.

Demand from Japanese retail players has been cited as supporting both the euro and the Australian dollar against the yen. The Aussie gained 0.3 percent to 74.90 yen.

News that Finland voted in favor of expanding the powers of the euro zone bailout fund, agreed in July, is one step forward in helping combat the region's debt crisis, though the measure has to be approved by every parliament of the area.

Germany's turn is on Thursday and Friday and investors are growing nervous due to infighting in Germany's ruling coalition. With the main opposition party supporting the measure, it should pass comfortably. A failed vote would be a major surprise and hamper the bloc's ability to prevent a Greek bailout.

Analysts also say even if the vote passes there is a potential downside risk to the euro if German Chancellor Angela Merkel's leadership is undermined by major dissent within the coalition.

"You would suspect weakness until Germany votes, given that it is the big guy that has to fund it," said Gavin Stacey, head of Australia and New Zealand research at Barclays Capital.

"The euro is most likely to continue its trend deterioration until it gets really bad, forcing a resolution to come," he said.

The euro remains short of $1.3715, a key resistance level that is a 61.8 percent retracement of its decline to $1.3360 from $1.3937. Support looms at $1.3475-85, a 61.8 percent retracement of its advance to $1.3360 from $1.3690.

The dollar index nudged 0.2 percent lower to 77.72, off an eight-month peak of 78.863 struck on Monday, with some analysts saying its recent safe-haven strength may be undermined by expectations of more easing by the Federal Reserve.

In a market fixated on the euro-zone debt saga, comments by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday that the US central bank may act if inflation falls further drew hardly any attention.

But the comments appeared important as inflation expectations are already very low. The gap between yields on 10-year Treasury notes and their inflation-protected counterparts fell to 1.70 percent last week, the lowest since September 2010.

"I feel that the market may gradually wake up to his comments," said Teppei Ino, a currency analyst at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

The greenback was steady against the yen at 76.52, not far from the record low of 75.94 hit in August. The yen has gained 5.7 percent so far this year.

Risk currencies also gained, driven by the rebound in metals and commodities, with the Aussie advancing 0.6 percent to $0.9795.

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