* Euro firms as ECB holds rates and offers no hints of future cuts
* Sterling gains after BoE leaves rates unchanged
* BOJ easing expectations keep pressure on yen
* Technicals show Aussie vs dollar breaking above strong resistance
By Julie Haviv
NEW YORK, Jan 10 (Reuters) - The euro catapulted to an 18-month high versus the yen and hit a one-week peak against the dollar on Thursday after the European Central Bank gave no indication of cutting rates and as robust Chinese export data assuaged concerns about global growth.
The single currency shared by 17 countries rose for the first time in three sessions against the dollar as the ECB unanimously left interest rates unchanged at 0.75 percent.
Market participants had been wary that ECB President Mario Draghi would signal rate cuts in the coming months and when that did not happen, the euro's gains accelerated.
"Mr. Draghi's normal tone of realism was replaced with a certain aura of optimism and giddiness," said Neal Gilbert, market strategist at GFT Forex, in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "He smiled more, defended a potential recovery more, and overall appeared to feel proud of the work he had done."
Draghi said euro zone economic weakness was expected to extend into 2013, but the region should gradually recover later in the year and risks to its outlook were on the downside. .
The euro was last up 1.5 percent at $1.3256 after hitting a session peak of $1.3262, its highest since Jan. 2.
Investors also embraced the euro on raised hopes of a more robust recovery for the global economy this year after China, the world's second-largest economy, reported stronger-than-expected exports.
Against the yen, the euro rose to an 18-month high of 116.97 yen and last traded up 1.8 percent at 116.86 yen.
The euro was also bolstered by solid demand at a sale of mostly two-year Spanish debt, which caused Spain's benchmark 10-year bond yields to fall to a 10-month low.
"We look for a retest on the $1.33 high seen in mid-December and again at the start of the year," said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.
Elsewhere, sterling rose against the dollar after the Bank of England left interest rates and its quantitative easing target unchanged. It was last 0.8 percent higher at $1.6148. [I D :nL9E8LO02F]
The dollar rose for a second straight session against the yen, edging close to a 2-1/2-year high, with the Japanese currency susceptible to further losses on increasing bets of aggressive policy by the Bank of Japan.
The dollar was last up 0.4 percent on the day at 88.18 yen , not far from 88.40 yen hit on Friday, which was its highest since July 2010.
Yen moves should remain volatile ahead of the BOJ's Jan. 21-22 policy meeting.
CHINA EXPORT DATA BUOYS GROWTH CURRENCIES
Data showed China's export growth rebounded sharply to a seven-month high in December, a strong finish to the year after seven straight quarters of slowdown, even as demand from Europe and the United States remained subdued. (ID:nL5N0RM09N]
China's strong exports data knocked the low-yielding yen as investors sought higher-yielding and growth-linked currencies like the Australian dollar, which rose to a four-month high versus the U.S. dollar and a 4-1/2 year high against the yen.
The Chinese report "has reinforced a bunch of recent stronger data releases that has the market believing that China is turning the corner and growth will start to increase there again," said George Davis, chief technical analyst at RBC Capital Markets in Toronto.
"This may be an interesting theme to watch over the next few weeks in terms of whether or not the 'growth optimism' can be maintained," he said.
Davis said from a technical standpoint the Australian dollar/U.S. dollar broke above a strong resistance trendline that dates back to 2011 at 1.0531 today in response to the Chinese data.
"If we get above a double top at 1.0635, it would suggest to me that the positive sentiment is set to continue," he said.
The Aussie last traded at 1.0584, up 0.7 percent on the day, according to Reuters data.
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