* China Dec exports -4.4 pct y/y, biggest drop in 2 years
* Yen rallies
* Euro, sterling gain marginally over the dollar
* Graphic: World FX rates in 2018 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh (Adds quote, updates prices)
By Tom Finn
LONDON, Jan 14 (Reuters) - The Australian dollar and kiwi dollar, gauges of global risk appetite, fell on Monday on fears of a slowdown in China’s economy prompted by a contraction in Chinese exports.
Market sentiment swung negative after data showed that China’s December exports unexpectedly fell, pointing to weakness in the world’s second-largest economy and a gloomy growth picture.
The data took its toll on the Australian dollar and New Zealand dollar, which both fell more than 0.4 percent.
China is Australia’s largest trade partner and negative sentiment about its economy does not bode well for the Aussie dollar.
Fears of a Chinese slowdown also hit the offshore yuan .
The currency rallied 1.5 percent against the dollar last week, its biggest weekly rise since January 2017, seemingly incongruent with recent sluggishness in China’s economy.
“The (yuan) rally is largely due to the optimism surrounding the (U.S.-China) trade talks,” said Ulrich Leuchtmann, head of FX at Commerzbank.
“As long as the yuan remains steady, we are unlikely to see a significant dollar rally overall,” he added.
Monday’s risk-off mood led traders to buy the safe-haven Japanese yen, which rose half a percent versus the greenback.
The dollar index was at 95.56, down 0.1 percent.
“With the Federal Reserve signalling a pause in the tightening cycle... we don’t expect today’s China trade numbers to have a long lasting negative impact on sentiment,” said Chris Turner, head of foreign exchange strategy at ING in London.
After a stellar 2018 in which the greenback gained 4.3 percent as the U.S. central bank hiked rates four times, investors now expect the Fed to halt its monetary tightening policy.
Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated last week that the Fed has the ability to be patient on monetary policy given that inflation remains stable.
The euro on Monday was relatively unchanged at $1.1464. The single currency lost 0.3 percent on Friday after data showed that Italy, the euro zone’s third-largest economy, was at risk of recession.
Elsewhere, the British pound rose 0.3 percent to a 7-week high of $1.2879 at the start of what is expected to be a highly volatile week.
Prime Minister Theresa May warned on Monday that failure to approve her Brexit deal could lead to Britain eventually staying in the European Union.
She must win a vote in parliament on Tuesday to get her Brexit deal approved or risk a chaotic exit for Britain from the European Union. The numbers are not in May’s favour and her chances of winning the vote look slim. (Additional reporting by Vatsal Srivastava, editing by Ed Osmond Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)