Dollar sinks to two-year low on US economic concerns
The dollar weakened to a two-year low on Monday as sharp increases in US coronavirus cases and flare-ups around the world weighed on investor confidence.
The dollar index, which measures the currency against a basket of peers, slipped 0.6 per cent to its lowest level since June 2018, as fears mount that the continuing spread of Covid-19 in the US will dampen the economic recovery.
The poor performance of the US currency, which is on track for its worst month since April 2011, has supported a rally in gold prices to an all-time high, rising as much as 2.4 per cent to $1,944.73 per troy ounce.
“The thing that’s changed in the last few days is that it’s not just gold that has gone up against the dollar, but almost everything,” said Kit Juckes, foreign exchange strategist at Société Générale.
“That’s partly driven by a sense that the US is having a harder time controlling the virus than others, which will see the US economy underperform,” Mr Juckes added.
The Japanese yen strengthened 0.7 per cent to a four-month high of ¥105.35 per dollar. The pound rose 0.5 per cent to $1.2852 and the euro gained 0.8 per cent to $1.1742, breaking above $1.17 for the first time since September 2018.
Florida overtook New York on Sunday as the state with the second-highest number of confirmed infections, behind only California, as fatalities in some of the most populous US states have followed the surge in cases.
The S&P 500 was flat at the start of trading on Monday, after falling in the previous two sessions. Meanwhile, the technology-heavy Nasdaq gained 0.5 per cent.
The dollar’s weakness came ahead of Republicans unveiling their proposals for a new round of stimulus later on Monday. Existing benefits, passed at the start of the coronavirus crisis in March, are due to expire at the end of the month and economists fear the withdrawal or reduction of stimulus at a fraught moment for the world’s biggest economy.
Investors are also looking ahead to a meeting of the US Federal Reserve’s rate-setters on Wednesday.
The central bank has already committed to keeping interest rates at zero for the foreseeable future, but some strategists believe it could soon adopt more unconventional measures, including more explicit forward guidance on the future path of the federal funds rate or yield curve control, in which the central bank sets targets for certain Treasury yields.
Taken together, these additional measures are likely to add further downward pressure on the dollar, they said.
“The flare-up of the virus means more stimulus, lower interest rates for longer and therefore less demand for the dollar,” said Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex.
Tension between the US and China was heightened at the weekend by the arrest of a Chinese researcher who US authorities said had been hiding in the country’s San Francisco consulate.
Qi Gao, a currency strategist at Scotiabank, said tit-for-tat closures of consulates in Houston and Chengdu last week had stoked tension to the point that it had weighed on the US currency. “In the coming weeks you’ll see the dollar weakening further,” he added.
European equity markets were slightly lower in afternoon trading, with the regional benchmark Stoxx index slipping 0.5 per cent and London’s FTSE 100 down 0.3 per cent — weighed down by significant losses for airlines after the UK warned on travel to Spain.
“This weekend we perhaps got a glimpse of how challenging life will be this winter without a vaccine,” said Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid, pointing to rising case numbers in the US and parts of Europe and Asia.
Spain has faced a sharp uptick in cases across three regions, with Germany also reporting a rise. The situation has continued to deteriorate across Latin America while Asia, Hong Kong and the Australian state of Victoria have also seen significant increases.
Asian equity markets were mixed. China’s CSI 300 index of Shanghai and Shenzhen-listed stocks added 0.5 per cent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.4 per cent.