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Dollar steady before Powell talk, kiwi jumps on RBNZ comments

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2019

* Traders look to Powell’s comments for policy clues

* Futures show strong expectations for Fed rate cuts

* Powell may temper his message on rates

* New Zealand dollar jumps after RBNZ Orr (Adds Chinese yuan, Group of Seven)

By Stanley White

TOKYO, Aug 23 (Reuters) – The dollar held firm in Asia on Friday on expectations Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell will, in a pivotal speech, stick with his message that the U.S. central bank has not entered a prolonged monetary easing cycle.

The greenback hit another 11-year high versus the Chinese yuan on Friday.

The New Zealand dollar jumped from a three and-a-half-year low after the Pacific nation’s central bank chief said he was “pleased” with where interest rates were, hosing down expectations of more immediate rate cuts to follow this month’s aggressive easing.

Powell gives the highly-awaited speech later Friday at a meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole. Doubts about further easing emerged after two Fed officials said they saw no reason to cut interest rates again without new signs of economic weakness.

Currency markets have in recent months been driven by global central banks’ shift to much more accommodative policy settings as economic demand slows and trade disputes intensify.

Expectations that the Fed will cut rates at its next meeting in September are still very high, according to interest rate futures, but the currency market is likely to react if the tone of Powell’s comments does not match these dovish expectations.

In addition to the Jackson Hole meeting over the weekend, a Group of Seven summit in France from Saturday could also rattle currencies. The European Union hopes to ease tensions with the United States to avoid punitive tariffs on EU autos.

“The rates market is well ahead of the Fed in pricing in aggressive rate cuts, but Powell may not be as dovish as the market is pricing in,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief currency strategist at Mizuho Securities.

“Powell will keep the option of rate cuts on the table, but won’t lean too strongly in that direction. This would be supportive for the dollar.”

In onshore trading in China, the yuan fell to 7.0961 per dollar, its weakest since March 2008. In offshore trade, the yuan weakened to 7.0987.

Concern about China’s economy is growing because U.S. tariffs on roughly $150 billion of Chinese goods will take affect from Sept. 1. Earlier, President Donald Trump said tariffs on $300 billion of imports would kick in Sept. 1, but then he delayed this on some items, such as consumer electronics, until Dec. 15.

The New Zealand dollar rose 0.47% to $0.6392, its biggest daily gain since Aug. 8, and rose 0.49% to 68.08 yen . Reserve Bank of New Zealand Governor Adrian Orr told Bloomberg TV he can afford to wait on monetary policy after stunning investors earlier this month with a sharp 50-basis-point rate cut.

The U.S. dollar was little changed at 106.50 yen on Friday. The dollar fell 0.2% versus the yen on Thursday following slightly weak U.S. manufacturing sector data.

For the week, the greenback was on course for a 0.1% gain versus the yen.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was little changed at 98.170.

Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President Patrick Harker and Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank President Esther George both said on Thursday they saw no immediate need to cut rates.

Powell is likely to acknowledge later Friday that fallout from the U.S.-China trade war may worsen a global economic slowdown and ultimately make more U.S. rate cuts necessary.

But he is expected also to try to ensure he is not seen as bowing before repeated attacks from Trump for not easing policy further.

Interest rate futures traders are pricing in a 91% probability of a rate cut at the Fed’s September meeting, according to the CME Group’s FedWatch tool. In July the Fed cut rates for the first time in a decade to 2.00%-2.25%.

The euro held steady at $1.1073, on course for its second weekly decline against the greenback.

Transatlantic rifts are set to feature prominently when Trump arrives at the G7 summit in France to discuss differences over trade, Iran and climate change.

If Trump slaps tariffs on EU cars and car part imports, which he says pose a national security threat, it would pose a new risk to Europe’s economic outlook. (Reporting by Stanley White; Editing by Sam Holmes and Richard Borsuk)

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