Dollar steady as global growth worries bolster safe-haven assets

FILE PHOTO: A picture illustration shows a 100 Dollar banknote laying on various denomination Turkish lira banknotes, taken in Istanbul
FILE PHOTO: A picture illustration shows a 100 Dollar banknote laying on various denomination Turkish lira banknotes, taken in Istanbul, January 7, 2014. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/Illustration

January 15, 2019

By Vatsal Srivastava

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The dollar was marginally firmer than most of its peers on Tuesday, as heightened fears of a slowdown in global growth increased investor demand for safe-haven assets.

The dollar has strengthened over the last two sessions even though markets are increasingly confident the U.S. Federal Reserve will not raise interest rates this year. But a shock contraction in Chinese exports has fanned worries a sharp slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy is imminent, sparking selling of riskier assets.

“There is a strong dislike for the dollar given Fed expectations, but at the same time there is not a compelling replacement,” said Sim Moh Siong, currency strategist at Bank of Singapore. “Over the next 6-12 months, the dollar should trend lower.”

Worries of slowing domestic and global growth as well as tame U.S. inflation are expected to discourage Fed policymakers from raising borrowing costs in the world’s largest economy. Interest rate futures markets are pricing in no further rate hikes in 2019.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said as much last week when he emphasized that the U.S. central bank has the ability to be patient on monetary policy given that inflation remains stable.

The Australian dollar <AUD=> and kiwi dollar <NZD=>, both considered proxies for global risk appetite, were up 0.1 percent each, having recovered from Monday’s lows following the release of weaker-than-expected Chinese data.

The Aussie was at $0.7205, while the kiwi dollar fetched $0.6828.

The Aussie dollar has stabilized around the $0.72 level and most analysts think it points to Chinese growth likely bottoming out in the next few quarters. Given the sharp slowdown in economic activity and the negative impact of the U.S.-Sino trade dispute on the Chinese economy, analysts are hopeful that leaders of the two countries will reach a comprehensive trade deal in the coming weeks.

Trade tensions between the world’s two largest economies had rattled financial markets for most of last year.

The dollar index <.DXY>, a gauge of its value versus six major peers, was marginally higher at 95.56.

The yen <JPY=> weakened by 0.15 percent versus the greenback at 108.36 while the euro <EUR=> was also softer at $1.1470.

Sterling <GBP=> will be in focus as British Prime Minister Theresa May must win a vote in parliament later on Tuesday to get her Brexit deal approved or risk a chaotic exit for Britain from the European Union. The numbers are not in May’s favor and her chances of winning the vote look extremely slim. May needs to secure 318 votes to win.

Analysts expect the pound will take a major beating if May loses the vote by a wide margin.

“Losing by 100 or more votes is a major defeat but there’s some talk that she could lose by 200 votes. A major loss will lead to a knee jerk decline in GBP that could take GBP/USD below 1.25 and EUR/GBP above 91 cents,” said Kathy Lien, managing director of currency strategy at BK Asset Management in a note.

(Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

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