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Major currencies mark time as investors brace for key risk events

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12/10/2019 | 12:14am EST
FILE PHOTO:  U.S. dollar notes are seen in this picture illustration

The dollar and yen mostly held the safe-haven high ground on Tuesday, with investors wary of a looming deadline for U.S. tariffs on China, the British election and upcoming Federal Reserve and European Central Bank meetings.

Front of mind is whether Washington will go ahead with a fresh round of tariffs on Sunday, or whether a deal with China can be reached before then.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on Friday that the Dec. 15 deadline is still in place, but Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on Monday raised the possibility the tariffs are not imposed.

"There's risks both ways," said Westpac FX analyst Imre Speizer.

"Trade's still the flip-floppy factor, but I think markets are still reasonably upbeat about risk-seeking. All these little movements are only smoke and noise, and don't really tell you what's going on. Cautiously positive would be the overall mood."

Soaring inflation in China, ahead even of lofty expectations, had little effect on a market waiting for trade news.

Against the Japanese yen, the greenback found support after last week's declines, steadying at 108.62 yen. The dollar dipped slightly against the euro to $1.1066 and was steady against a basket of currencies at 97.623.

The New Zealand dollar <NZD=D3> rallied as bears trimmed short bets following a slew of recent upbeat economic data, rising 0.2% to $0.6560 and dragging the Australian dollar higher with it to $0.6828 <AUD=D3>.

The U.S. dollar's recovery after weakness last week has been supported by a surge in hiring in November.

That has investors almost certain that the U.S. Federal Reserve will hold rates steady when their two-day meeting concludes on Wednesday, increasing investors' focus on the outlook and on finding a trade-war truce.

China said on Monday it hoped to make a trade deal with the United States as soon as possible, though gave no new details or insight into the progress of the talks.

"We expect regional currencies to stay moribund as we await news on the trade front," said OANDA analyst Jeffrey Halley.

Elsewhere, the European Central Bank is likewise expected to keep interest rates steady, while the pound's fate is in the hands of voters at Thursday's British election.

Sterling <GBP=D3> nudged higher to $1.3150, just below a seven-month high hit last week, as polls pointed to a Conservative victory decisive enough to secure a parliamentary majority.

Growth data due at 0930 GMT, followed by a YouGov poll due at 2200 GMT will offer the latest updates on economics and politics.

"If the UK bookies' prices are a reasonable guide to market expectations for Thursday's election, it is hard to see much more upside for GBP on the outcome," said Adam Cole, chief currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

"Despite the confidence with which markets predict a Conservative victory, there are still several major uncertainties," he added, pointing to unpredictable turnout and polling showing a sizeable chunk of undecided voters.

By Tom Westbrook

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