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Forex - Yen weakens despite narrower trade gap, Russia crisis in focus

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Shutterstock photo - - The yen weakened in Asia on Wednesday despite a narrower than expected trade gap last month in Japan as a brewing financial crisis in Russia roils markets.

U.S. President Barack Obama will sign into law a bill passed by Congress to tighten sanctions against Russia over its Ukraine incursion, the White House said Tuesday amid a dramatic run on the ruble. The Russian central bank on Tuesday hiked interest rates to 17% from 10.5% to stem the slide to little effect.

In Japan, trade data for November showed a deficit of ¥891.9 billion, narrower than the ¥1.001 trillion expected. Later on, machine tool orders for November are due at 1500 local (0600 GMT).

USD/JPY traded at 116.89, up 0.40%, after the data.

Australia's Westpac leading index fell 0.06 of a point to 97.92 in November. AUD/USD traded at 0.8218, down 0.02%, after the survey.

Earlier, New Zealand recorded a third quarter current account deficit of NZ$5 billion, compared to a gap of NZ$5.35 billion expected, and 2.6% of GDP.

NZD/USD traded at 0.7786, down 0.19%, after the data.

Overnight, the dollar traded largely lower against most major currencies on Tuesday after data revealed groundbreaking on new homes in the U.S. came in softer than expected in November.

U.S. housing starts fell unexpectedly last month, official data showed on Tuesday.

The Census Bureau reported earlier that the number of housing starts fell to 1.028 million units in November from 1.045 million in the preceding month, whose figure was revised up from 1.009 million.

Analysts had expected the number of housing starts to rise to 1.030 million last month.

Building permits took a similar turn for the worse.

The Census Bureau reported that the number of building permits issued in November fell to 1.035 million from 1.080 million in the preceding month .

Analysts were expecting the number of building permits issued to fall to 1.060 million last month.

While a broader analysis of the U.S. housing sector still points to recovery, setbacks such as Tuesday's reports softened the greenback, namely as investors jumped to the sidelines to await the Federal Reserve's statement on monetary policy and interest rates due out on Wednesday.

Meanwhile in Europe, the single currency saw support after data revealed German economic sentiment in December improved to its highest level since May, indicating that conditions are becoming more favorable.

The ZEW Centre for Economic Research said that its index of German economic sentiment jumped to 34.9 in December from 11.5 in November, beating consensus forecasts for a 20.8 reading.

The report came after survey data showed that euro zone private sector activity grew at a slightly faster rate in December, but the rate of expansion was still one of the weakest seen over the past year.

The euro area composite output purchasing managers' index, which measures the combined output of both the manufacturing and service sectors, rose to a two month high of 51.7, off November's 16-month low of 51.1 and better than market calls for a 51.3 reading.

Germany's private sector expanded at the slowest rate in 18 months while French private sector activity remained in contraction territory, though the euro held firm.

The US dollar index, which tracks the performance of the greenback versus a basket of six other major currencies, was up 0.05% at 88.10. offers an extensive set of professional tools for the financial markets.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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