December 5, 2013 / 3:18 AM / in 4 years

FOREX-Yen firmer but still shaky; focus shifts to ECB meeting

* Yen holding off five-year trough vs euro

* Euro in slim range vs USD ahead of ECB policy decision

* Markets also cautious as U.S. payrolls loom

By Ian Chua and Masayuki Kitano

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE, Dec 5 (Reuters) - The yen nudged away from a five-year trough on the euro and a six-month low versus the dollar on Thursday, but the moves lacked conviction as investors held their bets ahead of key events, including crucial U.S. jobs data.

The dollar eased 0.1 percent to 102.25 yen, having earlier this week risen as high as 103.38, while the euro slipped 0.2 percent to 138.89, still not too far from a five-year peak of 140.03 scaled on Tuesday.

Traders said the downtrend in the yen remained intact thanks to the Bank of Japan’s ultra-loose monetary policy and expectations that it will provide even more stimulus next year.

Adding to the pressure on the safe-haven yen were expectations for a fairly nerveless year-end compared to the last few years, when markets were rattled by the euro zone’s debt crisis and the U.S. fiscal cliff, said Satoshi Okagawa, senior global markets analyst for Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation in Singapore.

“There is very little of the type of year-end fear that had been present the last few years, with regard to Japan, the United States and Europe,” Okagawa said.

Investors often flock to liquid currencies such as the yen in times of market stress and the low-yielding Japanese currency can also gain on position squaring if investors unwind yen bearish bets during bouts of risk aversion.

The yen could gain if U.S. jobs data on Friday were to disappoint, but even then the impact might be short-lived, Okagawa added.

For now though, the focus is on the European Central Bank and Bank of England, a day after the Bank of Canada (BOC) held interest rates steady and sounded slightly more dovish in its outlook.

The Canadian dollar touched a 3-1/2 year low versus the dollar at C$1.0708 on Wednesday, before steadying at C$1.0675 .

Investors appeared reluctant to take major positions ahead of the ECB meeting. The euro held steady at $1.3589, remaining stuck in this week’s $1.3524-$1.3616 range.

The ECB is widely expected to hold off any fresh policy action on Thursday, but new staff forecasts will be in focus for signs of prolonged price weakness that could lead it to act again next year.

In any case, BNP Paribas analysts said the euro could come under selling pressure given the ECB is likely to stay very dovish.

“The ECB’s December staff inflation projections are likely to be well below the ECB definition of price stability...the press conference should signal a continued easing bias,” they wrote in a client note.

The BOE is also expected to stand pat on policy but the sterling’s recent strength and its potential to hurt the economic recovery could see the central bank try to talk down the currency.

Sterling held steady at $1.6379, not far from a two-year peak of $1.6443 set earlier in the week.

Investors were also cautious ahead of the influential U.S. jobs report on Friday. The ADP National Employment Report showed that U.S. private-sector hiring rose in November at the fastest clip in a year, offering a brighter outlook for the labour market.

Any upside surprise in the payrolls report will no doubt keep alive expectations the Federal Reserve might start scaling back its massive bond-buying stimulus program later this month.

That could lift the U.S. dollar and keep the pressure on commodity currencies like the Australian dollar.

The Aussie edged up 0.1 percent to $0.9042. On Wednesday, the Aussie had skidded more than 1 percent and set a three-month low of $0.8999, after third quarter economic growth disappointed investors.

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