* C$ up at 94.88 U.S. cents
* Bernanke signals U.S. rates to remain low
* U.S. home sales drop to record low in January
* Bonds lower, Canada underperforms U.S.
(Updates to close, adds details, quotes)
TORONTO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The Canadian dollar gained
slightly against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday as investor
appetite for riskier assets was whetted by remarks from U.S.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who reaffirmed his vow
to keep interest rates low.
Bernanke told Congress that a weak job market and low
inflation would likely allow the U.S. central bank to keep
interest rates at very low levels for "an extended period".
But the Canadian currency hit some bumps earlier in the day
after dismal data showed sales of newly built U.S.
single-family homes hit their lowest level since records
started in January 1963, hinting at possible troubles for the
fragile U.S. housing market's recovery. [ID:nN24373288]
"It's been kind of a mixed bag today and on balanced we
haven't really moved that much from opening levels," said
George Davis, chief technical strategist at RBC Capital
"Bernanke went out of his way to emphasize that there is no
change to the Fed's monetary policy despite what people may
have been thinking from last week's increase in the discount
rate... (and) that basically settled the markets down."
U.S. stocks and oil prices also turned higher as investors
welcomed the promise of more cheap money. [.N] [O/R]
"The risk trade is tentatively back on. Equities are up,
various other asset classes such as commodities are edging
higher and the Canadian dollar normally enjoys an upward tilt
when that happens," said Eric Lascelles, chief economics and
rates strategist at TD Securities.
The Canadian dollar closed at C$1.0540 to the U.S. dollar,
or 94.88 U.S. cents, slightly up from Tuesday's close at
C$1.0566 to the U.S. dollar, or 94.64 U.S. cents.
With U.S. equity markets higher, Canadian bond prices were
lower across the curve.
The two-year Canadian government bond
Canadian cents to C$100.315 to yield 1.340 percent, while the
10-year bond lost 13 Canadian cents to C$102.370 to
yield 3.448 percent.
Canadian bonds also lagged their U.S. Treasury
counterparts, with the difference between 10-year yields
narrowing about 1.6 basis points to 24.1.
"I think part of the story is from a technical perspective
the U.S. market had seemed quite cheap and there was quite a
great appetite to buy U.S. bonds to resolve that issue,"
"Whereas in Canada the perception was that there was never
much of an outlier, and it's still the case that Canadian bonds
are roughly fair valued and just haven't fully participated in
the recent movement."
Also souring market sentiment, Canada's auction of 30-year
real return bonds met with weaker demand than usual as marginal
investors shied away from lower-yielding but safer
inflation-protected government debt. [ID:nN2499749]
"It seems as though the real return bond market is no
longer the one-way ticket to riches that it was, going back a
few months ago," Lascelles said.
(Reporting by Claire Sibonney; editing by Peter Galloway)