GROUP OF 7 HAS STABILIZED EXCHANGE RATES

GROUP OF 7 HAS STABILIZED EXCHANGE RATES

The Group of 7 major industrial nations has succeeded, perhaps in spite of itself, in stabilizing exchange rates, making it difficult for currency traders to make a living.

The dollar weakened Friday on a soft April U.S. employment report that threw cold water on recent market talk that the Federal Reserve would move to tighten monetary policy.However, traders said the jobs report was not significant enough to enable the dollar to break out of its recent trading range.

"There is no trend. We've been stuck in a trading range for two to three months," said John W. Cooney, senior currency trader at MTB Banking Co. in New York.

"The focus is off the dollar and traders buy the currency with the least negative story of the day," Mr. Cooney said.

The British pound rallied on Friday, he said, "because the market (participants) didn't think things could get any worse in the United Kingdom."

A worst-case scenario had been built into the market against sterling, said Susan Babcock, chief corporate foreign exchange dealer at Hongkong Bank in New York.

Friday's rise in the pound to around $1.66 reflected a sense of relief that the local U.K. elections were out of the way, she said.

The currency markets had discounted the loss of 600 Conservative seats, but the ruling party lost only 200.

"When the markets are neutral on the dollar, traders tend to look to high-yielding currencies such as the British pound and the Australian

dollar," Ms. Babcock said.

U.S. non-farm payrolls grew by only 64,000 in April - and would have shown a decline without 80,000 census workers - while the unemployment rate rose to 5.4 percent from 5.2 percent, raising questions about the economy's momentum going into the second quarter.

"This weak jobs report relieves the Fed of having to worry about a tightening move soon," said Ms. Babcock of Hongkong Bank.

"With this slower growth scenario, the Fed may have to ease sometime in the summer," she added.

With U.S. interest rates on hold, the focus could shift to the Bundesbank, the West German central bank, which is anxious to head off any inflationary problem as a result of monetary union with East Germany beginning July 2.

"There is a strong probability the Bundesbank eventually will tighten its monetary policy," Ms. Babcock said. "It will stick to its money-growth bands and use those as a meter."

The West Germans most likely will wait to see the real effects of monetary union in July before taking any action, currency traders said.

With the dollar in the doldrums, cross trading - direct trading of one foreign currency for another without using the dollar as an intermediary - has gained in importance.

Trading of the deutsche mark against the Swiss franc and of the mark against the Japanese yen have become popular, said Mr. Cooney of MTB Banking.

Last week was one of the slowest in recent years in the foreign exchange market and trading volume is unlikely to pick up much in the near term, traders said.

Some dealers blamed the slow trading on the Golden Week holiday in Japan and said they hoped activity would increase today.

The main problem, however, is that traders lack conviction. There is no clear reason, they said, to believe the dollar should be higher or lower than it is.

"There is no dollar momentum, so its value is now a function of what the foreign currencies are doing," Ms. Babcock said.