Wires

FOREX-Euro gains and sterling shines as growth optimism cheers investors

Olga Cotaga

* Dollar ends 2019 at 6-month low, losing ground vs rivals

* Euro at 4-1/2 month highs, Aussie, Kiwi at 5-month highs

* Growth, trade optimism marks turnaround for many currencies

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2019 http://tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh (Adds details, latest prices)

LONDON, Dec 31 (Reuters) - The euro, the pound and a clutch of trade-sensitive currencies rallied as the dollar slid to a six-month low on Tuesday, with investors confident that global growth prospects are improving and U.S.-China trade relations significantly better.

After staying strong for much of 2019 thanks to the relative outperformance of the U.S. economy and investors' preference for a safe-haven currency amid the trade dispute between Washington and Beijing, the dollar's gains for the year have shriveled in December.

The buoyant end-of-year sentiment enocouraged investors to buy up currencies linked to trade and global growth, sending many such as the Australian dollar, Chinese yuan and Scandinavian crowns to multi-month or multi-week highs against the greenback.

The dollar index was last down 0.3% at 96.435, its weakest since July 1.

In thin volumes on the last day of the decade, currencies were also more volatile than many had expected.

Analysts did not attribute the moves to any specific new developments.

"I can't see much reason for the movement in the FX market except end-year position squaring, or just being careful and cutting positions ahead of the New Years holiday and the start of 2020. As a result I wouldnt draw any big conclusions from it," said Marshal Gittler, currency analyst at ACLS Global.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington this week to sign a Phase 1 trade deal with the United States, the South China Morning Post reported on Monday.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said on Monday the trade deal would likely be signed in the next week, but that confirmation would come from President Donald Trump or the U.S. trade representative.

Investors' appetite for risk helped drive the euro up 0.3% to $1.1230, a new 4-1/2-month high.

Signs that the euro zone economy may be stabilizing have lifted the common currency in recent weeks as investors unwound short positions, though the currency has shed around 2% of its value against the dollar in 2019.

Latest CFTC data shows that hedge funds held $9.16 billion of euro shorts, far less than the $14.84 billion seen in May.

The U.S. dollar was weak across the board, cutting 2019 gains for the index that tracks the greenback against a basket of currencies to 0.3%.

MUFG analysts saw a "bearish technical development for the U.S. dollar that signals an increasing risk of further weakness ahead."

"Weakness in the U.S. dollar towards the end of this year has coincided with the renewed expansion of the Fed's balance and the paring back of pessimism over the outlook for global growth," they said.

Versus the Japanese yen, the dollar fell to a near three-week low of 108.50 yen and was last down 0.4%.

"STAND OUT PERFORMER"

Against the Chinese yuan, it shed 0.4% to 6.9586 in the offshore market, a 2-1/2-week low, as strong Chinese economic data helped boost the Chinese currency.

The Australian dollar climbed 0.3% to a new five-month high of $0.7014 versus the U.S. dollar.

The New Zealand dollar firmed another 0.2% to a 5-month high of $0.6742. MUFG analysts noted that the currency "remains the stand out performer of the last quarter, surging nearly 8% over the past three months, largely on the back of more positive sentiment about global trade."

For 2019, however, the Kiwi is up just 0.4%.

Scandinavian currencies also strengthened against the greenback following all-time lows seen this year on the back of global growth fears sparked by the U.S.-Chinese trade disputes.

Sterling hit new two-week highs against the dollar, although the possibility of a 'no-deal' Brexit at the end of 2020 means the currency is still not close to where it was on Dec. 12, the day Prime Minister Boris Johnson won the British election.

The pound galloped 0.8% to as high as at $1.3212 and was 0.5% stronger against the euro at 85 pence.

Sterling has gained around 3.5% against the dollar in 2019 and 5.4% versus the euro as fears of an imminent disorderly exit from the European Union eased and then lifted with the passing of Johnson's Brexit withdrawal agreement in parliament. (Additional reporting by Tommy Reggiori Wilkes Editing by Gareth Jones)