Picture: 123RF/LEONID IKAN
Picture: 123RF/LEONID IKAN

London — The dollar trampled everything in its path on Thursday after a steep and sudden slide in the yen called into question its safe-haven status ,and other currencies, from the euro to the Australian dollar, were all knocked over.

The dollar has surged almost 2% against the yen since Tuesday, reaching its highest in almost 10 months, and climbed to near three-year highs against the euro.

Its DXY index against the world’s most traded currencies, which is up 3.6%, rose overnight to its highest since May 2017. It also gained to its best levels of the year against China’s offshore yuan and MSCI’s index of emerging- market currencies.

A host of reasons were cited for the move, among them the outperformance of US economic and earnings numbers and worries over the threat of recessions in Japan and the eurozone.

“I think this has really brought into focus the role the dollar is playing as a safe haven,” said Rabobank senior currency strategist Jane Foley. Japan’s proximity to China’s coronavirus problems and recent poor economic data there also turned markets off the yen, she said.

China had reported a drop in new virus cases and announced an interest-rate cut to buttress its economy. But South Korea recorded an increase in new cases, Japan reported two deaths, and researchers said the pathogen seems to spread more easily than previously believed.

European stock markets opened little changed. London, Frankfurt and Paris markets were flat to 0.3% lower after the first hour of trading.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.3%, led by drops on Hong Kong’s Hang Seng and South Korea’s Kospi. Wall Street futures for the S&P 500 were lower.

Dollar bulls

The yen had been undermined by a run of weak data this week, but traders were unnerved when it blew past a support level at ¥110.30 to the dollar. It dropped nearly 1.4% against the dollar, its sharpest fall in six months, and 2% against the Norwegian krone — its sharpest daily drop in almost three years.

The euro slipped 0.1% lower to $1.079. Its dropped 3.7% since the start of the year, its worst start to a year since 2015.

“Nearness to China and dependence on China have not helped the yen as a risk-off [currency]. We have seen the yen and gold diverging for a while and this may not be the end of it,” said Shafali Sachdev, head of forex in Asia at BNP Paribas Wealth Management.

“The kind of classic correlations between US yields and the yen, those have been kind of breaking down ... we need to see past this virus situation to see whether the yen will regain its safe-haven status.”

The skittish mood had investors dumping Asian currencies. The Singapore dollar dropped to an almost three-year low and the Korean won weakened past 1,200 to the dollar.

The Australian dollar fell 0.6% to an 11-year low of $0.6633 after a surprise rise in unemployment.

Bonds were slightly firmer, oil prices held overnight gains that lifted Brent to near $60 a barrel, and gold remained around $1,609 per ounce.

“Markets have taken a step back because the authorities won’t do any major stimulus until they are completely sure the virus has stopped” said Sean Darby, global equity strategist at Jefferies in Hong Kong. “There’s no point in doing it when people are sitting at home. They can’t even spend the money or use it.”

Reuters