* Fed speakers temper "taper" expectations * Dollar rises vs Japanese yen, sell orders at 98.70 * Euro off four-week lows but ECB dovish bias to check gains By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss NEW YORK, June 27 The dollar slid against the euro on Thursday, after two days of gains as Federal Reserve officials downplayed expectations the U.S. central bank would start scaling back its stimulus program and said the Fed could buy bonds again if the economy weakens. U.S. economic data on Thursday was also not strong enough to bring forward investor expectations for the timing of the official end to this round of the Fed's so-called quantitative easing. While U.S. consumer spending rebounded in May and new applications for unemployment benefits fell last week, they were not blockbuster numbers, which suggested that the U.S. economy remains on a moderate growth path. Meanwhile, the Japanese yen fell, partly pressured by the Fed officials' comments. When talk about the Fed tapering its bond-buying program started weeks ago, the yen had benefited along with the dollar as investors started moving away from riskier currencies and toward safe havens. Greg Moore, a currency strategist at TD Securities in Toronto, said the overall message of the latest Fed comments seemed to be that the market had been a little aggressive in pricing in an early reduction of the U.S. central bank's asset purchase program. "Basically, the Fed speakers were saying that nothing has changed and the exit from quantitative easing remains data-dependent. And that may have taken the steam out of the dollar a little bit," he said. William Dudley, the influential head of the New York Fed, said on Thursday the U.S. central bank's asset purchases could be more aggressive than Bernanke outlined last week if economic growth and the labor market turn out weaker than expected. Also on Thursday, Fed Board Governor Jerome Powell said financial markets have over reacted to the U.S. central bank's statements and have brought expectations of the first Fed rate hike too far forward. That said, analysts said the dollar's uptrend remained intact. Even if the Fed does not start reducing stimulus measures later this year, as indicated by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke last week, the U.S. economic recovery still leads that of other major economies, such as the euro zone, Japan and China. Overall, the U.S. dollar still remains the strongest net bought currency across the board, according to data from BNY Mellon. In early afternoon trading, the euro was up 0.2 percent against the dollar at $1.3032, with the session low at $1.2999. The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of currencies, was little changed at 82.949, after earlier touching a three-week high of 83.171. The greenback overall has benefited from a rise in U.S. yields as more investors factored in the probability the Fed will start to wind down its $85 billion monthly asset purchase program later this year. The dollar gained against the yen as U.S. Treasury yields rose after data showed pending home sales data for May rose 6.7 percent, far above economists' estimates of a 1 percent gain but that was not enough to alter the overall theme for currency trading. The dollar last traded up 0.7 percent at 98.38 yen, edging toward Monday's peak of 98.70 yen. But traders said its rise could be capped on large sell orders above 98.70 yen. BUYING OPPORTUNITY The broad trend for dollar strength in the coming months will hinge upon expectations of reduced Fed stimulus, said Asmara Jamaleh, an economist at Intesa Sanpaolo in Milan. U.S. data this week and next week could see the dollar drop if it lags forecasts, but any falls would provide a buying opportunity, she said. Sterling fell to a trough of $1.5200 on Thursday, its lowest in more than three weeks, after an unexpected downward revision to UK year-on-year first-quarter growth. The pound was last down 0.4 percent at $1.5245. Analysts were also a bit more bleak on the euro's outlook after it closed below its 200-day moving average at $1.3073 and European Central Bank officials said the ECB was not ready to wind down stimulus. The euro/dollar formed a so-called death cross with the 100-day simple moving average at $1.3071, now below the 200-day SMA at $1.3072. A death cross occurs when the shorter-term moving average drops below a longer-term term moving average. With the 50-day SMA at $1.3077, it is probable that there will be both a second and third occurrence of a death cross in coming days when that SMA moves below both the 100-day and 200-day simple moving averages.
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