CANADA FX DEBT-C$ rises to near 5-month high on retail data, oil prices
* Canadian dollar at C$1.2964, or 77.14 U.S. cents * Currency touched strongest level since Oct. 19 at C$1.2924 * Bond prices lower across maturity curve By Fergal Smith TORONTO, March 18 (Reuters) - The Canadian dollar strengthened to a nearly five-month high against its U.S. counterpart on Friday, supported by firm domestic retail sales data and an extended rally in crude oil prices. Canada's retail sales rose 2.1 percent in January, data from Statistics Canada showed, much better than the 0.6 percent gain analysts had expected. Excluding the auto sector, sales were up 1.2 percent, while overall volumes gained 2.1 percent. "The retail sales number was a barnburner, really sets up monthly GDP for a strong result," said Nick Exarhos, economist at CIBC Capital Markets. It followed strong manufacturing data on Wednesday which also caught the market's attention. The retail sales data vindicates the Bank of Canada's decision to keep interest rates unchanged in January, said Andrew Kelvin, senior rates strategist at TD Securities. The implied probability of a Bank of Canada rate cut by year-end dipped to 33 percent from 36 percent before the data. It had been 87 percent before the release of the same two reports a month ago. However, the currency has strengthened to a degree that it could impact "steering" of monetary policy, Exarhos said. It has rebounded 13 percent since hitting a 12-year low in January at C$1.4689. U.S. crude prices were up 1.84 percent to $40.94 a barrel on expectations of a production freeze by major exporters, stronger seasonal demand and U.S. dollar weakness. At 9:37 a.m. EDT (1337 GMT), the Canadian dollar was trading at C$1.2964 to the greenback, or 77.14 U.S. cents. That was stronger than Thursday's close of C$1.2989, or 76.99 U.S. cents. The currency's weakest level on Friday was C$1.3031, while it touched its strongest level since Oct. 19 at C$1.2924. Canada's consumer price inflation report, typically a major driver for the market, was overshadowed by the retail sales data. The annual inflation rate slowed to 1.4 percent in February as a drop in gasoline prices pulled inflation away from the mid-point of the Bank of Canada's 2.0 percent target, data from Statistics Canada showed. Canadian government bond prices were lower across the maturity curve, with the two-year price down 2 Canadian cents to yield 0.542 percent and the benchmark 10-year falling 5 Canadian cents to yield 1.295 percent. The Canada-U.S. two-year bond spread was 2.9 basis points less negative at -30.6 basis points, while the 10-year spread was 2.3 basis points less negative at -59.0 basis points as Canadian government bonds underperformed. (Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Paul Simao)
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