TOKYO The dollar got off to a weaker start against the yen on Monday, well below last week's four-year high after the United States explicitly said it would watch to ensure Japan's policies were not aimed at weakening its currency.
In a semi-annual report on currency practices of major trade partners, the U.S. Treasury Department said it would press Japan to adhere to the commitment it made in February as a member of the Group of Seven and Group of 20 nations to let the market determine exchange rates.
The dollar bought 98.36 yen, above Friday's session low of 98.08 yen, though still well shy of a four-year peak of 99.95 yen struck on trading platform EBS on Thursday.
While the U.S. currency statement took some of the wind out of the dollar's sails on its recent sojourn higher against the yen, analysts said the yen weakening trend would likely resume in light of the Bank of Japan's radical monetary policy overhaul that will pump about $1.4 trillion into the economy in less than two years.
"We do not think the report is suggesting that the U.S. government will increase their contempt on JPY weakness, as long as it is determined by the market," Tohru Sasaki, head of Japan rates and FX research at JPMorgan Chase Bank, wrote in a note to clients.
While the dollar might not strongly rebound against the yen ahead of the G20 meeting on Thursday and Friday, "we think this correction will provide a good opportunity to buy," Sasaki added.
Friday's U.S. data also undermined the dollar. Retail sales fell 0.4 percent in March, suggesting the economy may have faltered at the end of the first quarter.
Currency speculators decreased their bets in favour of the dollar in the latest week, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released on Friday.
Strategists and market participants say the pace of the dollar's upward progress against the yen will largely be determined by whether the BOJ's massive asset-buying prompts Japanese investors to increase their overseas investments, and the extent to which those investments will be unhedged.
"The yen bears have been frustrated by a series of developments," said Marc Chandler, global head of foreign exchange strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.
"They were unpleasantly surprised by news that the Japanese themselves were large sellers, not buyers, of foreign bonds in the first full week of the new fiscal year," he said in a research note.
One potentially dollar-supportive factor is the escalation of tension on the Korean peninsula, and any negative developments on that front could prompt investors to buy back the U.S. unit.
North Korea has threatened for weeks to attack the United States, South Korea and Japan since the United Nations imposed new sanctions on the rogue state in response to its latest nuclear arms test in February, fuelling speculation it might launch another missile.
Japan and the United States cannot allow North Korea to possess nuclear weapons, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said on Sunday after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
The euro was slightly firmer at 128.87 yen, above Friday's low of 128.70, though still below a three-year high of 131.10 yen set on Thursday.
Against the dollar, the euro slipped about 0.1 percent to $1.3100.
Later in the session, investors will be watching Chinese economic data, including reports on gross domestic product, industrial production and retail sales for trading cues.
A GDP reading above the expected 8 percent growth could give the Australian dollar a lift, as China is the resource-rich country's biggest export market.
The Aussie was firm against its U.S. counterpart, buying $1.0510, up about 0.1 percent from Friday's levels and moving back toward a three-month high of $1.0582 marked on Thursday.
(Reporting by Lisa Twaronite; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)