FOREX-Dollar gains vs euro as investors eye US data

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* U.S. data reflects economic recovery gathering pace

* Euro hits two-week low vs dollar after strong 2013

* Chinese data dampens Australian dollar

* Euro falls after asset quality snapshot

By Julie Haviv

NEW YORK, Jan 2 (Reuters) – The dollar rose against the euro
on Thursday as an array of U.S. economic data further supported
the stance for the Federal Reserve to gradually scale back its
bond-buying stimulus.

The euro, the strongest-performing major currency in 2013
but historically a weaker performer at the start of a calendar
year, dropped to a two-week low of $1.3634 and last traded 0.8
percent lower at $1.3648.

The U.S. dollar hit a high of 105.44 yen, its strongest
level versus the Japanese currency since October 2008, before
erasing gains to last trade down 0.3 percent at 104.94

Japanese financial markets are closed on Thursday and Friday
for the New Year’s break.

Volumes were low in late December and prices driven by
factors such as euro zone banks repatriating funds to shore up
their capital bases before the European Central Bank’s year-end
review of their assets, which supported the euro.

“Last week the market was mainly determined by position
rescaling,” said Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of currency research at
Commerzbank in Frankfurt.

“Today is the first day where fundamentals work out again
… That’s why there is pressure on euro/dollar.”

Against the backdrop of a firming jobs market and
brightening economic outlook, the Fed in December announced it
would reduce its monthly $85 billion bond buying program by $10
billion starting this month.

U.S. construction spending rose to its highest level in
nearly five years in November as a surge in private construction
projects offset a drop in public outlays.

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment
benefits fell for a second week last week, suggesting labor
market conditions continue to steadily improve.

U.S. manufacturing ended the year on a high note, growing in
December at its fastest pace in 11 months, while the rate of job
growth was the swiftest since March, an industry report showed
on Thursday.

While few analysts expect the ECB, which holds a policy
meeting next week, to change interest rates in the near future,
the Fed is closely monitoring the strength of the U.S. recovery
to gauge the pace at which it scales back its bond-buying.

“The sensitivity to surprises in data in the euro zone is
much lower than the sensitivity to surprises in the data in the
U.S.” Leuchtmann said.

Germany’s manufacturing PMI for December came in marginally
above expectations at 54.3 on Thursday, while the euro zone
manufacturing PMI was in line with forecasts at 52.7. Readings
above 50 indicate expansion.

But it offered little sustained support for the single
currency, which was down 1.2 percent against the yen at 143.04

“Over the last 20 years there’s been a relatively strong
tendency for the euro to fall and the dollar to rise in
January,” said Anders Soderberg, chief technical analyst at SEB
in Stockholm.

The Australian dollar was down 0.5 percent at $0.8928
after official Chinese data released on Wednesday
underscored the view that the world’s second-largest economy
lost some momentum in late 2013. China is Australia’s top export

A separate private survey released on Thursday showed
China’s factory activity expanded at the slowest pace in three
months in December.

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