May 21, 2019 / 11:01 AM / 4 months ago

FOREX-Pain in Asia pushes dollar to 2-1/2 week high as investors seek safety

* Poor data from Singapore, Thailand, pushes investors to dollar

* Greenback hits 2-1/2 week high against basket of currencies

* Aussie down as RBA governor signals possible June rate cut

* Euro at lowest since May 3 ahead of EU vote

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2019 (Adds quote, updates prices)

By Abhinav Ramnarayan

LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - Signs that Asia is already feeling the pinch from a trade conflict between the United States and China triggered some safe haven flows into the U.S. dollar on Tuesday, while higher U.S. Treasury yields helped the move.

Data showed economic growth in Singapore was its lowest in nearly a decade in the first quarter, while in Thailand it was at its lowest in four years, raising worries that major Asian economies will be hurt by global trade tensions.

Elsewhere, Australia’s top policymaker Philip Lowe said on Tuesday the Reserve Bank of Australia would consider the case for lower interest rates at its June policy meeting, pushing the Aussie dollar half a percent lower to $0.6873.

“The situation in Asia is difficult - Thailand, Singapore, export decline in Korea - which shows that the trade conflict is hurting even without a further escalation,” said Commerzbank FX strategist Esther Maria Reichelt.

“This is the main cause behind the dollar strength, if anything I was little bit surprised we didn’t see a more pronounced risk movement,” she added.

The dollar hit a 2-1/2 week high against a basket of six major currencies, rising 0.2% to a high of 98.11.

“The Fed turned (dovish) and you would expect the dollar to weaken but for the fact that every central bank and his dog are doing the same, so the upside to the dollar is reinforced by the other central banks,” said Neil Mellor, an FX strategist at BNY Mellon.

“Also the dollar rightly or wrongly does have a reputation as a safe-haven play. Every country will be expected to suffer on back of the trade war but the dollar has a status as a liquid safe haven.”

The greenback may have also been helped by higher U.S. Treasury yields, with the 10-year yield rising to a one-week high of 2.428% on the back of some positive comments on the U.S. economy from policymakers.

Yields also rose as the U.S. government temporarily eased trade restrictions imposed last week on China’s Huawei, a move aimed at minimising disruption for its customers.

Conversely, the euro — which makes up a significant chunk of that basket — hit a 2-1/2 week low of $1.1142, down 0.2% on the session.

The single currency is being hurt by dollar strength and also by upcoming European parliamentary elections in which eurosceptic parties may fare well.

A successful outing for right-wing Italian parties in particular could mean new domestic elections in the euro zone’s third-largest economy, and potentially a new coalition of right-wing parties led by Matteo Salvini’s League.

“That would be decidedly negative for the euro, because Salvini has been much less willing to abide by EU rules — he recently said he’d break the EU’s budget deficit rules if necessary to get employment up,” said Marshall Gittler, a strategist at ACLS Global.

Sterling fell below $1.27 for the first time since mid-January ahead of a UK cabinet meeting in which senior ministers will consider the merits of whether lawmakers should hold indicative votes on Brexit options. (Reporting by Abhinav Ramnarayan Editing by Catherine Evans)

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