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Dollar rallies as investors brace for global downturn

  • Australian, New Zealand dollars slip, British pound down.
  • Emerging market currencies tumble.
  • Yen gains vs dollar; euro also supported.

The dollar gained broadly against riskier currencies on Wednesday, with markets staring at what is likely to be one of the worst economic contractions for decades as the world locks down to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

The greenback advanced against the Australian and New Zealand dollars, sterling, and most emerging market currencies as fresh selling in global shares highlighted growing risks from the pandemic that has shown little sign of abating.

The Australian dollar dropped 0.35% to $0.6115 and the New Zealand dollar fell 0.3% to $0.5945 while the British pound shed 0.4% to $1.2376.

Emerging market currencies were hit harder, with the Mexican peso falling more than 1% to 23.960 to the dollar, while the South African rand gave up 0.7% to 17.952 per dollar. Most Asian currencies also dropped.

While the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency makes it a natural safe haven, investors also flocked to the safe-haven yen, which gained 0.2% against the dollar to 107.33 per dollar.

The euro eased 0.2% to $1.1015 but gained against most other currencies as its vast liquidity is attractive at times of economic stress.

“In my view, markets have still not fully priced in the damage from the coronavirus, with some people still talking about V-shaped recovery,” said Masahiko Loo, portfolio manager at Alliance Bernstein in Tokyo.

“The U.S. and Europe are hit by the first wave now, but as you can see in Asia, there could be more waves from re-imported cases. Human psychology also does not quickly recover either after an experience like this.”

The dollar held beneath overnight highs against most majors and was well below multi-year peaks made last month, before the Fed pumped more dollars into the system to calm markets.

The Fed on Tuesday broadened the ability of dozens of foreign central banks to access dollars during the coronavirus crisis by allowing them to exchange their holdings of U.S. Treasury securities for overnight dollar loans.

“The whole experience is testing the maxim in the market of ‘don’t fight the Fed,’” said Kyle Rodda, analyst at broker IG Markets in Melbourne.

“The Fed clearly wants to do everything it can necessary to ensure dollar liquidity, which puts downward pressure on the dollar,” he said. “But by the same token there is still this very structural push to buy dollars right now because liquidity is coming at an absolute premium with so much risk in the market.”

Against a basket of currencies the dollar gained 0.3% to 99.290. 

Sharp contraction 

Manufacturing data in Asia painted a bleak picture. Factory activity in Japan and South Korea posted the biggest contractions in about a decade.

The Bank of Japan’s “tankan” corporate survey showed Japanese manufacturers turned pessimistic for the first time in seven years.

Surveys due later on Wednesday from countries including Germany and the United States are expected to do similarly little for investor confidence, while U.S. private employment data is likely to show a drop in payrolls. 

The virus has now killed more than 42,000 people and infected more than 851,000 in 205 countries.

Goldman Sachs on Tuesday said it now forecasts a real GDP sequential decline of 34% in the United States this quarter, on an annualised basis, compared with an earlier estimate of a 24% drop. 

“In the absence of either a material improvement in global risk sentiment, or commodity prices, then together with ongoing dollar strength, we are not convinced the Australian dollar can easily maintain its foothold back above $0.60,” National Australia Bank analysts said in a note.

Source: CNBC/Reuters

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