London: The dollar limped towards its worst week since last July on Friday and world stocks headed for their first weekly fall in five, as storms surrounding Donald Trump’s US presidency and Latin America’s biggest economy, Brazil, began to calm.
It has been the most eventful week of the year so far for investors, with leading share markets scaling record highs and then plunging in one of the sharpest cross-asset routs in years.
Europe and Tokyo in Asia eked out gains, while demand for safe-haven bonds had also eased.
Jitters persisted in some areas, though. The dollar sagged to its lowest level since Trump’s US election victory in November and safe-haven gold headed higher on the way to its best week since April.
“The frustrating element is that we are now at the mercy of equity markets,” said National Australia Bank’s global head of FX strategy, Nick Parsons.
“We can be pretty confident that 10 points on or off of the S&P 500 is a big figure on or off of dollar/yen,” he added, saying the only thing likely to break the link would be a confident-sounding Federal Reserve at its next meeting.
This week’s roller-coaster was triggered by political uproar over Trump’s firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director James Comey and allegations he pressed Comey to stop investigating his former national security chief and his campaign’s alleged ties with Russia.
Overlaying that is concern that the resultant political damage could hamper Trump’s chances of getting his promised fiscal stimulus — which has spurred markets higher since November — through Congress.
The gradual return of risk appetite on Friday also saw investors switch from highly rated US Treasuries and European government bonds into higher-yielding Italian and Portuguese debt.
Like the dollar, the US yield curve has slumped back to levels not seen since Trump’s election, and the probability given by markets of the Fed raising rates next month has tumbled to below 60 per cent from over 90 per cent last week.
“Everything has turned upside down — European political risks have faded, the economy is looking strong, while in the US everybody is worried,” said DZ Bank strategist Daniel Lenz.
The US currency has also suffered from a resurgent euro, which has gained more than 2 per cent this week — on track for its best performance since June — and rose 0.7 per cent on Friday to hit a six-month high of $1.11745.
It hasn’t only been about Trump though. Emerging markets have also been grappling with an unfolding corruption scandal in Brazil that threatens to engulf its president, Michel Temer.
Brazilian markets cratered on Thursday, with stocks down nearly 9 per cent and the real 8 per cent — the currency’s biggest fall since the 1999 devaluation and crisis, although it looked steadier ahead of the start of local trading.
“For Brazil this is a very serious thing,” said Alejo Czerwonko, director of emerging markets investment strategy at UBS. “But in the medium term, the next three-six months, this is not necessarily a threat to EM more broadly.” MSCI’s main emerging markets index clawed back some ground on Friday but it remained on track for its worst week of the year so far.
In commodities, the story was about supply and demand. Oil was enjoying a third straight session of gains and set for a 4 per cent weekly rise following signals that big producer countries may be closing in on a deal to extend output curbs.
US crude futures hit a three-week high, and were last trading up 0.8 per cent to $49.76 a barrel. Global benchmark Brent was up a similar amount too at $52.89, near a four-week high.
The US political uncertainty also put a shine on gold. It climbed to $1,248.62 an ounce and was set for a weekly gain of 1.6 per cent, which would be its best since April.
“People are still wary of geopolitical risks and not selling the safe-haven asset yet,” said Brian Lan, managing director at gold dealer GoldSilver Central in Singapore.