GRAPHIC-Back to square one: Euro/dollar returns to original launch rate

LONDON, July 27 (Reuters) - The euro on Thursday topped the levels at which it began trading in 1999, hitting a 2 1/2-year high close to $1.18 that left it stronger than it was before the European Central Bank announced an expansive asset-purchase programme in January 2015.

The euro began trading on financial markets on Jan 4, 1999, at $1.1747, though it was not introduced in physical form until three years later.

It fell below parity with the dollar at the end of 1999 and required repeated intervention from the ECB and other Group of Seven central banks to support it in 2000. It climbed back above $1 six months after euro notes and coins went into ciruclation, in July 2002.

The single currency reach a record high above $1.60 in July 2008, before reversing sharply during the global financial crisis.

In January, as the "Trumpflation" trade drove the dollar to its highest levels in fourteen years, the euro fell back close to $l.03.

It has since recovered almost 14 percent, on bets the ECB will start to unwind its bond-buying monetary stimulus policy next year, just as the dollar has retreated on doubts that U.S. President Donald Trump will be able to follow through with pro-growth tax and spending policies.

(Writing by Jemima Kelly; Graphic by Ritvik Carvalho; Editing by Larry King)