SHANGHAI, July 12 (Reuters) - China's yuan inched up against the dollar on Friday and looked set for its biggest weekly gain in three, as expectations for U.S. rate cuts weighed on the greenback.
However, gains were capped by caution ahead of the release of China's June trade and lending data later in the day, and second-quarter GDP and June activity readings next week.
Prior to the market opening , the People's Bank of China (PBOC) set the midpoint rate at 6.8662 per dollar, 15 pips firmer than the previous fix of 6.8677.
In spot market trade, the yuan opened at 6.8725 per dollar and was changing hands at 6.8713 at midday, 27 pips firmer than the previous late session close.
If the yuan finishes the late night session at the midday level, it would have gained 0.33 percent on the dollar for the week, after losing 0.42 percent a week earlier.
One trader at a foreign bank said the yuan continued to draw support from expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will start to cut interest rates soon.
Though stronger-than-expected job and inflation data have tempered bets on more aggressive easing this month, markets still widely expect the Fed to deliver a 25 basis points (bps) interest rate cut at its policy meeting on July 30-31.
Traders said prospects of global policy easing are positive for the yuan for now, but believe gains will be kept in check by continued worries over Sino-U.S. trade negotiations and the health of the domestic economy.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday that China was not living up to promises it made on buying agricultural products from American farmers as the world's two largest economies work to resolve a trade dispute.
A second trader at a Chinese bank said dollar buying interest quickly emerged when the onshore spot rate rose past 6.87, while selling pressure appeared when it was weakening close 6.89.
"Traders and corporate clients seemed to have a consensus in rangebound trading strategy, which let the yuan stuck in the current thin range," said a third trader at a foreign bank.
Trade data on Friday (0700 GMT) is expected to show China's imports and exports both fell in June from a year earlier, highlighting weakening demand at home and abroad.
Credit data is expected around 0800 GMT.
China will report second-quarter economic growth data on Monday. Analysts polled by Reuters expect growth cooled to 6.2%, the weakest pace in at least 27 years, despite a flurry of support measures to spur domestic demand amid a deepening trade war with the United States.
"To counteract downside risks to growth, we expect more policy accommodation from the authorities," Eugenia Fabon Victorino, head of Asia strategy at SEB Markets, said in a note.
"Aside from expecting 100 bps of additional cuts in the reserve requirement ratio, we now expect a 5 bps reduction in the 7-day reverse repo rate, taking it to 2.50% in the next three months," she said, maintaining her forecast for the yuan to trade at 6.95 by the end of this year.
If the Fed eases, many China watchers believe the PBOC is likely to follow by lowering one of its key short-term money market rates, though some have forecast a more forceful benchmark rate cut.
The global dollar index traded at 96.932 as of midday from the previous close of 97.05.
The offshore yuan was trading at 6.8747 per dollar.
The yuan market at 0404 GMT:
ONSHORE SPOT: Item Current Previous Change
PBOC midpoint 6.8662 6.8677 0.02% Spot yuan 6.8713 6.874 0.04%
Divergence from 0.07% midpoint*
Spot change YTD 0.02% Spot change since 2005 20.45% revaluation
Item Current Previous Change Thomson 93.63 93.62 0.0 Reuters/HKEX
Dollar index 96.932 97.05 -0.1 *Divergence of the dollar/yuan exchange rate. Negative number indicates that spot yuan is trading stronger than the midpoint. The People's Bank of China (PBOC) allows the exchange rate to rise or fall 2 percent from official midpoint rate it sets each morning.
OFFSHORE CNH MARKET
Instrument Current Difference from onshore
Offshore spot yuan 6.8747 -0.05% * Offshore 6.9088 -0.62% non-deliverable