FOREX-Dollar steadies, attention turns to US data as Ukraine fears ebb

Reuters

* Dollar looking to more data for clues on U.S. economic recovery

* Euro's German-data boost comes off after ECB comments on negative rates

* Risk currencies benefit from easing Ukraine fears for now

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO, Feb 25 (Reuters) - The dollar steadied against its rivals in early Asian trade on Tuesday as traders sought more clarity on the pace of the U.S. economic recovery after a series of soft data releases in the past few weeks.

The dollar index stood at 80.21, near the middle of its range in the past week between 79.93 and 80.42, with safe-haven demand for the greenback receding on growing hopes Ukraine may find some stability after the fall of Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovich.

The immediate focus for the dollar is on U.S. data later in the day, including house price index and consumer confidence. Over the past few weeks markets have had to contend with negative surprises on U.S. hiring, retail sales and housing.

"At the moment, the market does not have a strong conviction on many issues, including whether the latest weakness in U.S. data is all because of bad weather," said Katsunori Kitakura, associate general manager of market making at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank.

Traders will also be looking ahead to Thursday, when Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks to the Senate Banking Committee in her semi-annual testimony about monetary policy.

Yellen's first few comments since replacing Ben Bernanke as Fed chief have largely supported the current pace of the stimulus-tapering, suggesting the recent weakness in the economy was merely a blip.

The yen trammelled familiar ranges of the past couple of weeks, with the dollar trading at 102.47 yen.

While the dollar is widely seen as having an upper hand on the yen due to the Bank of Japan's massive quantitative easing, the market lacks a catalyst to spur fresh yen selling at this point, traders said.

"In December, the dollar was firmer because of the excitement over the Fed's tapering of its stimulus and talk of more easing by the BOJ. But an easing by the BOJ does not look imminent now," said Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank's Kitakura said.

The euro traded at $1.3733, little changed from late U.S. levels but kept its gains since the start of the month from a low of $1.34765.

A surprise improvement in German business morale on Monday sent the euro racing to near seven-week highs of $1.37735.

But the single currency gave up gains after European Central Bank Governing Council member Ignazio Visco said the ECB is ready to consider cutting its deposit rate into negative territory if needed.

While few expect the ECB to adopt negative interest rates soon, concerns that the euro zone is at risk of slipping into deflation has kept speculation of further monetary easing alive.

Highlighting the risk, revised euro zone inflation data showed on Monday consumer prices fell in January at their fastest pace on a monthly basis.

The Australian dollar stood at $0.9041, not far from five-week high of $0.9081 hit a week ago.

Risk currencies such as the Aussie benefitted from Wall Street's rise to near record highs as well as on hopes of stability in Ukraine.

Ukraine's dollar bonds rallied on Monday and its five-year debt insurance costs tumbled as hopes grew that the country would win assistance from Western donors.

But traders say it is not yet clear how Ukraine, caught in a geopolitical tug-of-war between Russia and the West, can secure funds it needs to avoid default and bolster its tottering economy.

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