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FOREX-U.S. dollar gains on nagging worries about coronavirus variant

    * Congress passes U.S. stimulus bill, awaits Trump approval
    * Aussie, NZ dollar fall vs dollar
    * U.S. housing, consumer confidence data disappoints
    * Graphic: World FX rates in 2020 tmsnrt.rs/2RBWI5E

 (Adds analyst comment, updates prices)
    By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss
    NEW YORK, Dec 22 (Reuters) - The dollar rose on Tuesday in thin, choppy trading, as optimism about a
U.S. stimulus bill that Congress passed overnight was tempered by concerns about a coronavirus variant
raging in Britain that has caused lockdowns and travel restrictions to contain it.
    Risk appetite seemed to have taken a hit, with U.S. stocks down except for the Nasdaq, and U.S.
Treasuries rallying. Currencies associated with higher risk appetite such as the Australian and New
Zealand dollars, as well as the euro and sterling were also weaker against the greenback.
    Tuesday's data was weaker than expected, with U.S. existing home sales falling more than expected in
November and the consumer confidence index lower than forecast. The weak U.S
reports reinforced the dollar's rally.
    Overnight, the U.S. Congress passed a $892 billion COVID-19 aid package that aims to shore up the
nation's pandemic response and bolster the battered economy. The coronavirus package is tied to general
federal government funding to avert a government shutdown and is now awaiting President Donald Trump's
approval to become law.
    "The stimulus was already baked in as something that would be done. In fact, it seems small and
Democrats promised they will do more since more is indeed needed," said Juan Perez, senior trader at
Tempus Consulting in Washington.
    The new coronavirus variant, meanwhile, roiled markets earlier on Monday, but concerns have eased as
medical experts seemed to indicate that the vaccines currently being deployed would be effective against
it.
    Moderna Inc, for instance, expects immunity from its vaccine to protect against the variant
and is performing more tests in coming weeks to confirm, the company said in a statement to CNN.

    "Going into the new year, once the vaccines are rolled out more widely, like at the end of the first
quarter, we're going to have an indication of how this virus plays out," said Ronald Simpson, managing
director of global currency analysis at Action Economics in Florida.
    "I still think the dollar is going to remain under significant pressure for the first half of the
year. We have U.S. equities that are overvalued and overpriced. Once COVID calms down there will be more
opportunity in emerging markets," he added.
    In midday trading, the dollar index rose 0.5% to 90.59, as the euro fell 0.6% to $1.2172
.
    The market has been positioned for a weaker dollar. It is pricing in a pandemic recovery that lifts
commodity prices and benefits exporters and their currencies at the expense of the dollar.
    Sterling also slid against the dollar, down 0.8% at $1.3361. The pound sank versus the euro
as well, down 0.2% at 91.10 pence per euro.
    There is a post-Brexit trade deal on the table between Britain and the European Union, and while both
sides want to wrap up negotiations before Christmas Eve, the talks remain strained, the Sun newspaper
reported on Tuesday, citing a senior British source.
    The Australian dollar fell 0.7% to US$0.7532. The New Zealand dollar lost 0.8% to
US$0.7043.
    
    ========================================================
    Currency bid prices at 12:31PM (1731 GMT)
 Description      RIC         Last           U.S. Close  Pct Change     YTD Pct     High Bid    Low Bid
                                              Previous                   Change                 
                                              Session                                           
 Dollar index                 90.5720        90.1320     +0.50%         +0.00%      +90.7210    +90.0550
 Euro/Dollar                  $1.2176        $1.2248     -0.59%         +8.60%      +$1.2257    +$1.2161
 Dollar/Yen                   103.6250       103.3150    +0.30%         -4.65%      +103.7300   +103.2950
 Euro/Yen                     126.17         126.45      -0.22%         +3.46%      +126.6600   +126.1200
 Dollar/Swiss                 0.8887         0.8859      +0.32%         -8.15%      +0.8897     +0.8846
 Sterling/Dollar              $1.3362        $1.3471     -0.78%         +0.78%      +$1.3467    +$1.3305
 Dollar/Canadian              1.2918         1.2858      +0.47%         -0.55%      +1.2933     +1.2845
 Aussie/Dollar                $0.7532        $0.7587     -0.72%         +7.35%      +$0.7590    +$0.7517
 Euro/Swiss                   1.0819         1.0841      -0.20%         -0.30%      +1.0847     +1.0816
 Euro/Sterling                0.9109         0.9094      +0.16%         +7.75%      +0.9155     +0.9084
 NZ                           $0.7043        $0.7096     -0.75%         +4.67%      +$0.7105    +$0.7032
 Dollar/Dollar                                                                                  
 Dollar/Norway                8.7115         8.6340      +1.08%         -0.51%      +8.7490     +8.6325
 Euro/Norway                  10.6101        10.6020     +0.08%         +7.83%      +10.6588    +10.5450
 Dollar/Sweden                8.3202         8.2352      +0.42%         -10.99%     +8.3450     +8.2442
 Euro/Sweden                  10.1306        10.0880     +0.42%         -3.23%      +10.1593    +10.0945
 
 (Reporting by Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss in New York
Additional reporting by Julien Ponthus in London
Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Matthew Lewis)
  
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