FOREX-Yen retreats after Crimea vote, euro holds ground

Reuters

* Euro flat vs dollar in European trade even after lower inflation data

* Short-term safe-haven bids for yen unwound after calm Crimean referendum

* IMM data shows long dollar bets pared

* China's yuan weakens after trading band widened over weekend

By Anirban Nag and Patrick Graham

LONDON, March 17 (Reuters) - The euro held within sight of long-term highs against the dollar on Monday, resisting selling after a dip in euro zone inflation, the latest indicator to argue for outright money-printing by the European Central Bank to support growth.

The dollar gained against the yen as European stocks and U.S. futures headed into positive territory, helped by the lack of any dramatic further developments in Ukraine after the Crimea region voted in favour of annexation by Moscow.

Over 95 percent of Crimean voters chose in a Sunday referendum to join Russia, an outcome denounced by Western powers and Kiev as illegal and a sham.

The risk of flare-ups in tension between Russia and Ukraine has underpinned demand for safe-haven currencies like the yen and the Swiss franc and some of the bets on those currencies left on ahead of the referendum were unwound on Monday.

"The yen has fallen after the Crimean vote but I would say many people are going to remain cautious," said Jane Foley, a currency strategist with Rabobank in London.

"What we don't really know about is what is going to happen to eastern Ukraine. So people are going to just watch the newsflow carefully."

The dollar was up 0.45 percent at 101.78 yen, still within sight of a two-week low of 101.205 yen struck on Friday and compared to a 1-1/2 month high of 103.77 yen hit on March 7.

The euro was down less than 0.2 percent on the day at $1.3889, unchanged from morning levels after February inflation was revised lower. It has traded within about a cent of a 2-1/2-year high around $1.3967 since last Thursday, when European Central Bank President Mario Draghi knocked it lower by voicing concerns about its strength.

"We have seen some tangible developments on data and from the ECB that should be negative for the euro yet it hasn't weakened substantially," said Foley.

"I think increasingly the euro is exhibiting safe haven properties. If, for example, money is being herded out of eastern Europe it is quite feasible that one of the first places it will go is the euro."

FEWER DOLLAR BULLS

The dollar has failed to deliver the strength predicted by many banks earlier this year, with the euro up four cents from late January lows.

Latest data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released on Friday showed that speculators pared bullish bets on the dollar for a fifth straight week through March 11, with net longs falling to their lowest in more than four months.

Overall, though, investors have maintained net long positions on the dollar for 19 consecutive weeks. The last time speculators were short the greenback was in late October 2013.

A record drop in foreign governments' holdings of U.S. Treasuries led some to speculate that Russia has been reducing its dollar reserves ahead of possible sanctions from the West.

Investors were also considering the implications of Beijing's announcement on Saturday that it will double the daily trading range for the yuan. The step was viewed as a sign of confidence that the central bank had successfully fought off currency speculation.

"Nothing forced them to widen the band this weekend, so it will be seen as a continuation of long-term policy," Citi strategist, Steve Englander wrote in a note. "I would see it as slightly risk-on. Small positive for the Australian dollar, small negative for the yen, but again a second-order impact."

The yuan weakened on Monday.

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