Dollar hits five-month high against yen as inflation talk boosts US yields

Dollar hits five-month high against yen as inflation talk boosts US yields
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TOKYO (Feb 17): The US dollar held the upper hand against low-yielding currencies on Wednesday, hitting a five-month high against the yen as US bond yields jumped on the prospects of further economic recovery and a possible acceleration in inflation.

Bitcoin traded just below the US$50,000 mark, a day after the cryptocurrency hit that level for the first time, bringing its total market capitalisation to more than US$900 billion, as traders bet on its further acceptance among major companies.

The dollar's index against six other major currencies jumped back from a three-week low of 90.117 hit on Tuesday to last stand at 90.665.

Soaring US bond yields boosted the US dollar, with the 10-year yield rising to as high as 1.333% from around 1.20% at the end of last week.

"The move up in yields has been driven by increasing inflationary concerns amid a rise in energy prices along with the prospect of a big US fiscal stimulus and the global recovery entering a more solid stage as vaccine roll-out lead to the reopening of economies," said Rodrigo Catril, senior FX strategist at National Australia Bank in Sydney.

The yen, which is sensitive to US yields, reacted the most with the US dollar jumping to as high as 106.225 yen, its highest since September, before retreating to 105.91 yen.

"I think the dollar's downtrend is over. At the start of the year, speculators were betting on a fall in the dollar below 100 yen. They seem to have abandoned such a view now," said Yukio Ishizuki, senior strategist at Daiwa Securities.

A sign of dwindling bets on the US dollar's fall against the yen is apparent in the options market, where short-term US dollar call options, or bets on the US dollar, have become more expensive than US dollar puts, bets against the currency.

The one-week risk reversal spread is now in favour of US dollar calls for the first time in almost five years.

"If one thinks US yields will rise further, we could see more gains in the dollar," said Jun Arachi, senior currency strategist at Rakuten Securities.

"I would say this trade could continue until Biden Administration's stimulus package will come into effect, possibly in March, at which point people could start unwinding their bets to 'sell-on-fact'".

Biden tried to build public support for his US$1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan in a town hall.

The euro slipped slightly to US$1.2085 though its fall was less pronounced due to its gains earlier on Tuesday following strong German economic sentiment data.

The New York Federal Reserve's Empire State manufacturing report released on Tuesday offered an upbeat economic picture, with a rise in its "prices paid index" stoking fear of faster inflation.

That optimism was echoed by St Louis Fed President James Bullard, who told CNBC that US financial conditions were "generally good," and that inflation was likely to heat up this year.

San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly, however, said pressures on inflation are still downward, pushing against critics warning low interest rates and government spending could overheat the US economy and spark high inflation.

"Her comments are not resonating with market players preoccupied with inflation at this point," said Daiwa's Ishizuki.

The positive mood on the economic outlook is underpinning risk-sensitive currencies.

The British pound held firm at US$1.3895, having reached its highest level since April 2018 on Tuesday. Against the euro, the pound traded at its highest level since early May at 87.02 pence per euro.

The Australian dollar stood at US$0.7750, down slightly but still not far from Tuesday's one-month high of US$0.7805.

The offshore Chinese yuan stepped back slightly to 6.4359 per US dollar after hitting a 2½-year high of 6.4010 earlier in the week.