FOREX-Sterling up as BoE hints at 2015 hike; euro dips on Coeure remarks

Reuters

* BoE could be first major central bank to tighten policy

* Euro hurt by Coeure's comments at Reuters Summit

* Aussie dollar sets 1-mth high on good Chinese trade numbers

By Anirban Nag

LONDON, Feb 12 (Reuters) - The British pound rose to a two-week high against the dollar on Wednesday after the Bank of England raised growth forecasts in its quarterly inflation report and hinted it may raise interest rates next year.

A rate hike in the second half of 2015 probably would make the BoE the first major central bank to raise rates, prompting investors to buy sterling against a host of currencies like the euro, the yen and the Swiss franc .

Sterling jumped to a two-week high of $1.6558, up 0.6 percent on the day, and well above $1.6480 before the report was released as investors brought forward expectations of the first rate hike.

"The BoE seems to become the first major central bank, bar the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, to hike interest rates," said Chris Turner, chief currency strategist at ING. "We are expecting a rate hike in February 2015, so in the short term sterling looks good, especially against the euro."

Sterling's gains against the euro helped the single currency lose ground. Against the dollar, the euro was down 0.35 percent at $1.3595 ; against the yen, it was down 0.7 percent at 139.03 yen.

The euro was also hurt by weak economic data and comments from ECB Executive Board member Benoit Coeure that the bank was "very seriously" considering a negative deposit rate, the rate at which banks park surplus funds with the central bank. The rate is now zero percent.

Output for the euro zone in December fell 0.7 percent on the month, after a downwardly revised 1.6 percent rise in November and much sharper than a 0.3 percent fall forecast..

The euro's losses lifted the dollar index, pushing it away from a two-week low of 80.448. The dollar was also helped by comments from new Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen that the Fed was committed for now to winding down its stimulus measures.

Lack of surprises in Yellen's first congressional testimony underpinned global stocks. Upbeat trade data from China also boosted sentiment.

Earlier, growth-linked Australian and New Zealand dollars hit one-month highs as the improved Chinese trade data eased concern about growth in the world's second-biggest economy, bolstering demand for riskier assets.

"In Yellen's testimony, continuity was emphasised, so that will be positive for financial markets and should support risk," said Yujiro Gato, a currency strategist at Nomura in London. "Undoubtedly, the upbeat Chinese data has helped the Australian dollar. Investors have been short Aussie and some good Australian data of late has led to a short-covering rally."

China's trade performance beat forecasts in January as import growth hit a six-month high, confounding expectations that the world's second-largest economy is slowing down. China is Australia's biggest export market and the data boded well for overall growth.

The Aussie dollar hit a high of $0.9068, its strongest level since Jan. 13, before easing to trade at $0.9040, still firmer on the day. The New Zealand dollar outperformed, rising 0.3 percent to $0.8340, having hit a one-month high of $0.8370.

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