Friday, February 12, 2016

FOREX-Dollar rises as U.S. data suggests Fed hike still possible

(Updates with new info, data, prices)

* U.S. January retail sales number suggests U.S. economic strength

* Strong retail sales number puts policy divergence theme back in play

* Dollar rises vs yen after four days of losses

By Dion Rabouin

NEW YORK, Feb 12 The dollar rose on Friday after data showed U.S. consumer spending appeared to have regained its mojo in January, supporting the possibility of the Federal Reserve continuing to raise interest rates this year.

The solid data on U.S. retail sales boosted the dollar against the Japanese yen, which had been the primary beneficiary of global growth fears that have persisted through much of the year.

The dollar had fallen to a 15-month low against the yen and was on track for its biggest weekly decline against the Japanese currency since 2008 after falling four straight days this week.

On Friday, the dollar rose 0.3 percent to 112.75 yen. It hit a session high of 113.16 following the retail sales data release.

Retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services increased 0.6 percent last month, according to a Commerce Department report, a figure that outpaced expectations.

The data supports the idea that the Fed "is right in not being overly concerned about a growth slowdown in the U.S.," said Thierry Albert Wizman, global interest rates and currencies strategist at Macquarie Limited in New York.

"I guess the doves in the marketplace have been hoping for worse data to confirm their suspicion that the Fed is not going to hike this year, and any data like the retail sales data, which seems to suggest otherwise, would be good for the dollar."

Fed Chair Janet Yellen testified before congressional leaders on Wednesday and Thursday, reasserting that she does not expect the Fed to reverse the rate hike program it began in December.

New York Fed President William Dudley backed that stance Friday, saying that the Fed's policy is "appropriately quite accommodative" and that the U.S. economy has "quite a bit of momentum."

The statements from Fed officials and the strong U.S. data showed "the theme of policy divergence between the Fed and the rest of the world's central banks is still an intact theme," Wizman said.

The Bank of Japan recently lowered its interest rates into negative territory, joining the European Central Bank and a number of others. The Fed, meanwhile, raised interest rates in December and has forecast four increases this year.

The dollar index, which tracks the dollar against six major world rivals, rose to a session high of 96.133 after the retail sales data release. It was last up 0.5 percent to 96.047. (Reporting by Dion Rabouin; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

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