TORONTO, Feb 29 (Reuters) - The Canadian dollar's jump to a 12-week high has threatened to break its longer-term bearish trend and worried some unhedged exporters, but strategists said the currency is unlikely to strengthen much further given the sluggish economy.
The currency has rebounded nearly nine percent against the U.S. dollar since hitting a 12-year low of C$1.4689, or 68.08 U.S. cents, in January. Stabilizing oil prices, potential fiscal stimulus and diminished Federal Reserve rate hike expectations helped fuel the move.
But currency forecasters warn that a too rapid rebound could hinder a pick-up in exports that the Bank of Canada hopes will rebalance an economy now heavily dependent on overleveraged consumers.
The Canadian dollar is trading at "very precarious" levels and the central bank may lean against further strengthening, said Mazen Issa, macro strategist at TD Securities.
The implied probability of a Bank of Canada rate cut by mid-year has dropped to 32 percent from around 60 percent a week ago as oil prices firmed and the government confirmed stimulus plans.
The unwinding of extreme short positioning has added to buying of the currency. Bearish bets by speculators against the Canadian dollar have been cut by 45 percent since reaching five-month highs in January, according to Commodity Futures Trading Commission data.
Exporters that held off hedging earlier this year are now "panicked," said Michael Goshko, corporate risk manager at Western Union Business Solutions.
But the rally may not last, given drags including a stagnant economy, said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman.
Canadian gross domestic product data on Tuesday is forecast to show the economy did not grow in the fourth quarter, while firm U.S. consumer spending and an uptick in inflation have kept Fed rate hikes on the table.
"The market is too complacent on the Fed," CIBC World Markets wrote in a research note on Monday.
While many strategists saw little further near-term upside for the Canadian dollar, there is also a growing belief it has already hit its weakest level for the year.
"It will be a challenge to regain the lofty levels that we hit above C$1.45 in late January," said George Davis, chief technical strategist at RBC Capital Markets. (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Meredith Mazzilli)