Dollar gains after Fitch watch heightens debt ceiling jitters
By Kevin Buckland
TOKYO (Reuters) – The dollar pushed to a two-month peak against a basket of its peers on Thursday as worries mounted about a disastrous U.S. default after ratings company Fitch put the United States’ “AAA” debt ratings on negative watch.
The greenback has paradoxically benefited from demand for safe havens with only a week left for a resolution to slow-moving debt ceiling talks before the June 1 “X-date”, when the Treasury has warned it will be unable to pay all its bills.
The U.S. currency has also benefited from a paring of bets for Federal Reserve rate cuts this year, with the economy proving resilient to the effects of the central bank’s aggressive tightening campaign until now.
That contrasts with escalating signs of economic malaise in Europe and China, which have sent those currencies to multi-month lows.
“The dollar has seen a good, solid move higher, and there’s good reasons for it,” said Tony Sycamore, an analyst at IG Markets, pointing particularly to haven demand amid the debt ceiling standoff, as well as the signs of slowdowns in China and Europe.
“I believe the dollar could be on the cusp of another 2% move higher, and Fitch could be the trigger for it.”
The U.S. dollar index, which measures the currency against six major peers and is heavily weighted towards the euro, rose about 0.2% to 104.05, the highest since March 17.
Sycamore said a sustained break above 104 could lead to a test of 106.
The latest sign of weakness out of Europe came from a worse-than-expected deterioration in German business confidence.
The euro slipped about 0.1%, enough to refresh a two-month low at $1.0733.
Sterling eased 0.2% to the weakest since April 3 at $1.2332.
Against the yen, the dollar edged to its strongest since Nov. 30 at 139.705.
The Chinese yuan renewed a six-month low, dropping to 7.0879 per dollar in the offshore market.
The Asian giant has produced a cascade of disappointing economic indicators, all pointing to dull consumer demand and suggesting a post-pandemic recovery has already run its course.
“The PBoC (People’s Bank of China) showed little intention to defend the (yuan),” Ken Cheung, chief Asian FX strategist at Mizuho Bank, wrote in a client note.
He expected the yuan to remain under pressure until the country’s economic data shows improvement or the PBoC takes policy action to stabilise the currency market.
Australia’s dollar has felt the impact of China’s economic weakness acutely due to its close trade ties, slipping to a 6 1/2-month low of $0.65235 on Thursday.
The New Zealand dollar was still reeling from the central bank’s shock dovish tilt on Wednesday, which triggered a 2.2% slide. It slid a further 0.4% to hit its lowest since mid-November at $0.6082.
Meanwhile, U.S. money market traders have trimmed expectations for Fed rate cuts this year to just a quarter point in December, from as much as 75 basis points previously.
They have also ramped odds for another quarter-point hike in June back up to about 1-in-3, after several Fed officials struck hawkish postures recently with consumer inflation still running about twice the 2% target.
“Whether we should hike or skip at the June meeting will depend on how the data come in over the next three weeks,” Fed Governor Christopher Waller said on Wednesday at an event in California.
“I do not support stopping rate hikes unless we get clear evidence that inflation is moving down towards our 2% objective.”
(Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Edmund Klamann)