April 17, 2018 / 3:36 AM / 7 days ago

FOREX-Dollar steadies as Syria woes give way to lingering trade concerns

* U.S. dollar index steadies near 2-week low

* Trump accuses Russia, China of devaluating currencies

* Yen braces for Trump-Abe meet

* Pound hits post-Brexit referendum high

By Hideyuki Sano

TOKYO, April 17 (Reuters) - The dollar steadied on Tuesday as the market’s focus shifted back to U.S. trade policy as investors wagered U.S.-led attacks on Syria would not escalate into a wider conflict in the Middle East.

An index that tracks the dollar against a basket of six currencies steadied around 89.430 after a 0.4 percent fall on Monday, not far from its two-week low of 89.355 last week.

Against the yen, the dollar softened to 107.04 yen, off its seven-week high of 107.78 yen touched on Friday as traders braced for a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tokyo is eager to avoid being pushed into talks on a two-way free trade agreement aimed not only at market access but at monetary and currency policies.

But traders suspect Washington could put pressure on Japan after the U.S. Treasury’s semi-annual currency report published on Friday kept Japan on a monitoring list for possible manipulation.

Trump himself also accused Russia and China on Monday of devaluing their currencies, triggering selling in the dollar, even as the rouble’s dive this month was set off by U.S. sanctions while the yuan has been strengthening in recent months.

“His comments seem to tell us that at the bottom of his heart he wants a weaker dollar,” said a trader at a U.S. bank.

The euro traded at $1.2380. It has been stuck in a tight range around $1.22-25 since late January.

As uncertainty on trade loomed large, markets showed a largely muted response to other economic news.

U.S. retail sales rebounded in March after three straight monthly declines as households boosted purchases of motor vehicles and other big-ticket items

China’s economy grew 6.8 percent in the first quarter of 2018 from a year earlier, official data showed on Tuesday, slightly above expectations and unchanged from the previous quarter.

“Markets are focusing more on trade and political headlines than economic data. These days it is hard to tell in advance what will move markets. We just have to deal with whatever headlines that come out,” said Shinichiro Kadota, senior FX strategist at Barclays in Tokyo.

Since last month, Trump came up with a series of raid-fire tariff proposals, some of them already in place, heightening worries they could lead to a damaging trade war and disrupt the global economy.

Elsewhere the British pound briefly rose to $1.4355 , marking its highest levels since the Brexit referendum in June 2016.

Expectations of a Bank of England rate hike next month and hopes the UK may clinch a better Brexit deal than previously thought have been supporting sterling. (Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

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