* Sterling edges higher, in sight of 2012 peak vs dlr
* BoE’s King, Weale comments weigh on QE expectations
* Euro likely to find support vs sterling around 83.33 pence
By Neal Armstrong
LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) - Sterling edged higher on Thursday, shrugging off slightly weaker-than-expected UK manufacturing data, as reduced bets on further quantitative easing and hopes that the British economy would escape recession supported the pound.
The manufacturing PMI survey ticked down to 51.2 in February, below forecasts of 51.8, but held above the 50 level that divides expansion from contraction.
Analysts said the slowdown was slightly disappointing but not severe enough to shake the view that the UK economy will hold up and avoid recession.
Better data in recent weeks has pared expectations that the Bank of England will pump more money into the economy to stimulate growth. BoE governor Mervyn King nudged the bar higher on Wednesday when he told lawmakers the bank will be guided by upcoming data when deciding whether to print more money.
The pound was last up 0.3 percent against the dollar at $1.5966, off Wednesday’s 3-1/2 month high of $1.5993. Technical strategists said Wednesday’s close above the 200-day moving average at $1.5905 for the first time in 6-months opened the door for a test of the mid-November highs near $1.6100.
“You have to look at (the data) on the back of the big increase last month. We could now have consolidation at an okay level indicating trend growth which we would be happy about,” said John Hydeskov, chief analyst at Danske Markets.
“The idea of a mild, technical recession has been put to bed. I think we’ll make a test of $1.60 relatively soon.”
Policymaker Martin Weale reinforced King’s comments when he said the BoE would probably have no reason to sanction an expansion of QE when current purchases are complete in May.
Quantitative easing is seen as negative for a currency as it involves flooding the economy with cash, which can stifle demand for the unit. Policymakers expanded asset purchases by 50 billion pounds in February, and some market players speculated there may be more easing to come later in the year after minutes showed two members voted for a increase of 75 billion pounds.
Danske Bank’s Hydeskov said policymakers may aim for a “soft landing” in QE and vote for another smaller injection of 25 billion pounds later in the year, but market expectations would be further diminished if there is robust data from the dominant services sector next week.
The latest Reuters poll suggested the Bank of England will refrain from expanding its asset purchase programme past 325 billion pounds ($519 billion) of newly printed money. Economists polled on Feb. 9 thought it would extend to 350 billion pounds.
The euro fell 0.3 percent against sterling to 83.46 pence, extending losses from Wednesday when the single currency came under broad pressure after a massive injection of cheap funds for the European Central Bank.
Some analysts said the break below 84 pence may mark the start of more sustained weakness for the euro, which could be reinforced if investors seeking to cut exposure to the euro zone debt crisis continued to buy UK assets.
“EUR/GBP looks like it has topped out and we believe it is on the cusp of a move lower,” said Credit Agricole CIB in a note to clients.
However, traders said the euro was likely to find strong support from UK importers around 83.33 pence, the level that corresponds with 1.20 in sterling/euro.
“It seems right now there is a better sentiment around sterling and the LTRO should drift the euro lower. But on the import side people will buying euros around 83.33 pence, it’s a massive psychological level for them,” said Lee McDarby, head of corporate dealing at Investec Bank PLC. (Additional reporting by Nia Williams; Editing by xxx)