* C$ stays in C$1.22-C$1.24 range
* Province of Ontario forecasts deficits for six years
* Bonds rise sharply, outperform at belly of curve (Updates to close, adds comments)
By Ka Yan Ng
TORONTO, March 26 (Reuters) - The Canadian dollar finished little changed versus the U.S. currency on Thursday as support for the greenback was undercut by climbing oil prices.
The price of crude oil was up 2.5 percent to above $54 a barrel, and offered support to the Canadian dollar because Canada is a major exporter of oil. Rising oil also helped the Toronto stock market’s main index surge more than 2 percent.
The Canadian currency has taken direction from equity and commodity markets lately, considering them a barometer of risk sentiment, but it has not strayed out of a C$1.22-C$1.24 range against the U.S. dollar all week.
The greenback, meanwhile, advanced against the yen as investors grew more comfortable buying risky assets such as stocks and commodities, dampening the Japanese currency’s safe-haven appeal. [ID:nN26511747]
“The Canadian dollar was caught between, on the one hand, stronger commodity prices supporting it, but on the other hand, a U.S. dollar that was slowly but surely gaining strength,” said Matthew Strauss, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets. “As a result we saw the Canadian dollar itself trading in a very tight range.”
The Canadian currency finished at C$1.2289 to the U.S. dollar, or 81.37 U.S. cents, down slightly from C$1.2285 to the U.S. dollar, or 81.40 U.S. cents, at Wednesday’s close.
The currency shrugged off data that showed the U.S. economy contracted slightly more than had been forecast in the fourth quarter. [ID:nN25435810]
U.S. gross domestic product fell at an annual rate of 6.3 percent in the October-December quarter, compared with last month’s estimate of a 6.2 percent decline. Analysts had forecast fourth-quarter GDP would contract by 6.5 percent.
“The markets are assessing whether the worst has passed in terms of U.S. growth,” said Paul Ferley, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada. “Data today clearly indicated fairly sizable declines in growth in the fourth quarter of last year, but the expectations are that it was the weakest point in the current recession.”
The Canadian dollar’s gains paled in comparison to its commodity-linked cousin, the New Zealand dollar, which rallied to a 10-week high on Thursday as investors searching for yield took the view that interest rates in New Zealand were at, or very near, the bottom.
Canadian government bonds gained across the curve as the U.S. Treasury’s $24 billion auction of seven-year debt went smoother than the previous day’s sale of five-year bonds.
Supply has been an overriding concern in the market, and Canadian bonds have fallen sharply in the past week. But they perked up on Thursday along with U.S. Treasuries. [ID:nN26367724]
The two-year bond rose 5 Canadian cents to C$100.16 to yield 1.175 percent. The 10-year bond rose 55 Canadian cents to C$107.50 to yield 2.893 percent.
The 30-year bond climbed C$1.60 to C$123.65 to yield 3.649 percent. The U.S. 30-year bond yielded 3.657 percent.
Canada bonds underperformed in the two- and 30-year bonds, but outperformed in the belly of the curve. The 30-year bond yield was 0.8 basis points below its U.S. counterpart, compared with 0.5 basis points on Wednesday.
The budgets of the provinces of Ontario and of Newfoundland and Labrador were presented on Thursday and both forecast deficits in coming years, as they expect to spend heavily to offset the recession. [ID:nN26512563]
Also, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the federal government is prepared to revise the economic forecasts and plans it made in its Jan 27 budget, citing the rapidly unfolding financial crisis. [ID:nN26507253] (Reporting by Ka Yan Ng; Editing by Peter Galloway)