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Dollar nears 30-month high

Fed minutes show some policymakers concerned about bond buying

Gulf News

New York: The dollar climbed to a nearly 2-1/2 year peak against the yen on Friday after Federal Reserve meeting minutes the previous day showed growing concern about further stimulus for the economy, with speculation of more monetary easing in Japan also weighing on the Japanese currency.

Injecting stimulus into the economy involves flooding the market with dollars, which would tend to lower the currency’s value. Any doubts about that stimulus are viewed as positive for the greenback.

The US currency, however, erased its gains versus the euro after a key US jobs report showed US hiring eased slightly in December, which suggested the Fed may be in no rush to tighten monetary policy.

US nonfarm payrolls grew by 155,000 last month, in line with analysts’ expectations and falling short of the levels needed to bring down the country’s unemployment rate, which remained at 7.8 per cent.

The data came a day after minutes from the Fed’s December meeting showed some policymakers were contemplating an end to their bond-buying programme, also known as quantitative easing, as early as this year.

Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said on Friday that the US central bank’s latest bond-buying plan threatens the central bank’s credibility and raises the risk of future inflation. Lacker dissented at every Fed policy meeting last year.

“People have kind of reduced expectations about quantitative easing and that has supported the dollar, especially against the yen,” said Brian Kim, currency strategist at RBS Securities in Stamford, Connecticut.

“Investors have also been buying dollar/yen in anticipation of further easing from the Bank of Japan.”

Option barriers

The dollar rose as high as 88.40 yen, according to Reuters data, the highest since July 2010. It briefly pared gains after the jobs data before rallying again to last trade at 88.21 yen, up 1.1 per cent. Traders cited more option barriers at 88.50 and 89 yen.

The dollar posted gains of 2.7 per cent this week, its largest weekly rise in more than a year.

The yen has struggled in recent weeks on expectations Japan’s new government, led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will push to weaken Japan’s currency and force the Bank of Japan to implement aggressive monetary stimulus to beat deflation.

Analysts said the dollar’s break above the 88-yen level is significant, with some expecting yen weakness to continue.

“The recent bullish trend (in dollar/yen)...remains intact, suggesting an intraday pullback later today or early next week could still present a strong buying opportunity,” said Matthew Weller, currency strategist with GFT in Jersey City.

“The confluence of trend line support and previous-resistance-turned-support around 87.40 should put a floor under rates, giving traders an opportunity to join the established uptrend at value,” he added.

The euro was last up 0.2 per cent at $1.3073, rebounding from a three-week low of $1.2997, according to Reuters data.

Against the yen, the euro rallied 1.2 per cent to 115.15 .

The Fed said in December it would keep interest rates near zero until the unemployment rate falls to 6.5 per cent for as long as estimates of medium-run inflation do not exceed 2.5 per cent.

Unemployment data

“The most important point is that the latest unemployment rate data has been broadly steady for four months now, so even with decent employment growth no downward progress has been made on the unemployment rate,” said Alan Ruskin, head of G10 FX strategy at Deutsche Bank in New York.

The data “will if anything push out the date for an end to QE, represents solidly risk-positive numbers and will lead to some minor squeeze on recent US dollar longs.”

The dollar typically weakens when investors increase risk exposure by buying higher-yielding and growth-linked currencies such as the euro and Australian dollar, and gains when investors are risk-averse and seeking safe havens.

Some analysts expect the safe-haven dollar will strengthen in the coming weeks as investors increasingly focus on more political wrangling in Washington on budget issues, including further spending cuts and the federal debt ceiling.

But analysts cautioned that the uncertainty on the US fiscal front will hurt business investment and economic growth. That means the Fed will have to keep its monetary stimulus for longer, which will hurt the dollar.

Separate data showed the vast US services sector in December grew at its fastest clip in 10 months.