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Dollar hurt by 'dovish' Powell; yen up on BOJ policy shift speculation

Published 03/06/2024, 08:21 PM
Updated 03/07/2024, 03:46 PM
© Reuters. A U.S. Dollar note is seen in this June 22, 2017 illustration photo.   REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File photo

By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The dollar fell across the board on Thursday, as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the U.S. central bank is "not far" from getting enough confidence that inflation is heading to its 2% goal to start cutting interest rates.

The euro initially stumbled after the ECB kept rates steady despite acknowledging cooling inflation, but recovered to log its biggest daily gain against the greenback in about a month. The common currency hit a six-week high against the broadly weak dollar.

"We are waiting to become more confident that inflation is moving sustainably to 2%. When we do get that confidence, and we're not far from it, it will be appropriate to begin to dial back the level of restriction so that we don't drive the economy into recession," Powell said in a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee.

Powell had told lawmakers on Wednesday that interest rate cuts were still likely in coming months but only if warranted by further evidence of falling inflation.

"Powell seemed more dovish today than he did yesterday," Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex, said.

Investors' growing appetite for riskier assets, including stocks, also weighed on the dollar, Chandler said.

The euro was 0.45% up against the dollar at $1.0944.

The European Central Bank cautiously laid the ground to lower rates later this year.

"We are making good progress towards our inflation target and we are more confident as a result - but we are not sufficiently confident," ECB President Christine Lagarde told a press conference.

While the policymakers did not discuss cuts for this meeting, they are just beginning to discuss the dialling back of their restrictive stance, Lagarde said.

That discussion signals "the ECB is getting closer and closer to that starting point for dialling back stimulus," said Bipan Rai, North America head of FX strategy at CIBC.

The euro's strength on Thursday had more to do with the dollar's broad weakness than any big change in investors' attitude toward the common currency, analysts said.

"We're viewing it as mainly a function of dollar dynamics," Simon Harvey, head of FX analysis at MonFX, said.

"Long positioning that was built pre-Powell on a higher for longer Fed stance has been flushed out of markets over the past 24 hours," he said.

Data on Thursday showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits was unchanged last week as the labor market continued to gradually ease. The Labor Department's February employment report is due on Friday.

Meanwhile, the yen was set for its biggest jump versus the dollar this year on Thursday, driven by growing speculation that the Bank of Japan could finally raise rates this month.

Against the yen, the dollar was down 0.92% at 148.04, the weakest in more than a month.

BOJ board member Junko Nakagawa said on Thursday Japan's economy was moving steadily towards sustainably achieving the central bank's 2% inflation target.

The yen has been under pressure for most of the past two years because of the gap between sub-zero Japanese interest rates and a global rise in rates, as other major central banks aggressively hiked interest rates to tame inflation.

With market participants significantly short the Japanese currency, anything that even mildly supports the yen can spark a sharp move in the Japanese currency, CIBC's Rai said.

"Everybody is quite considerably short the yen, I think that's what is behind the move today," Rai said.

Speculators' net short positioning on the yen stood at 132,705 contracts, the largest bearish position in more than six years, according to CFTC data for the week ended Feb. 27.

© Reuters. A U.S. Dollar note is seen in this June 22, 2017 illustration photo.   REUTERS/Thomas White/Illustration/File photo

The pound rose 0.58% against the dollar after UK finance minister Jeremy Hunt's spring budget offered a raft of tax cuts, but little in the way of surprises for the market, leaving more focus on the direction of the U.S. dollar.

In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin remained below the record high struck earlier in the week, but rose 1.8% on the day to $67,676.81.

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