By Tom Westbrook
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The dollar began the week on a firm footing, inching toward a milestone peak against the euro on Monday, as a cautious market mood pushed investors to safety while U.S. economic strength and a rapid vaccine rollout also added to the greenback’s shine.
The euro was down 0.1% in the Asia session at $1.1783, not far above last week’s four-and-a-half-month trough of $1.1762 and well below its 200-day moving average of about $1.1866.
The common currency is headed for its worst month since mid-2019 as Europe’s faltering vaccination programme runs into a wave of new infections, a bearish signal as positioning data shows investors remain heavily long euros.
“The euro has continued to fall … even as long-term U.S. yields have lost some upward momentum,” analysts at MUFG Bank said in a note. “It suggests euro weakness was driven more by concerns over the weakening outlook for growth in the eurozone in light of rising COVID cases.”
Virus-driven caution also helped the dollar higher against the Australian dollar, New Zealand dollar and sterling and it rose against oil-liked currencies as the re-floating of the ship blocking the Suez Canal pushed crude prices down by about 1.5%.
Concern in equity markets at the widening fallout from a wave of liquidations linked to investment fund Archegos Capital also put investors in a careful mindset.
Only the safe-haven Japanese yen made headway, scraping from a 10-month low it made on Friday to inch about 0.2% higher to 109.43 — though along with the Swiss franc it remains at the bottom of the G10 leaderboard this year.
Over the quarter, the dollar has posted a 0.7% loss on the pound, which has been supported by Britain’s speedy vaccination rollout, a 0.8% gain on the Australian dollar and a 2.9% gain against the kiwi, which has been hit by housing market reforms.
The yen, which is sensitive to gaps in returns on U.S. and Japanese government debt has fallen about 5.7%, its worst quarterly performance since late 2016, while the franc is down 5.8% for its worst performance since the third quarter of 2014.
This year’s 76-basis-point rise in benchmark 10-year Treasury yields – as the U.S. economy rebounds – has been a large driver, as the better returns offer carry for investors who can borrow the yen and franc very cheaply.
The Aussie was last down 0.3% at $0.7621 on Monday and the New Zealand dollar had dropped 0.3% to $0.6978, while sterling slipped 0.2% to $1.3767.
“The U.S. is also being helped on its own by some pretty good economic data, fantastic rollout of vaccines, good pace of vaccination and (positive) stock markets,” said Westpac currency analyst Imre Speizer.
“The domestic economy is doing better than expected and likely to be the case for the next few months, so that might hold the U.S. dollar up and that’s what’s caused the Aussie, kiwi and emerging-market currencies to pullback in March.”
U.S. jobless claims fell to a one-year low last week and President Joe Biden said he would double his vaccination goal, after surpassing 100 million shots 42 days ahead of schedule.
In contrast, European inoculations have been hit by supply problems and safety concerns.
Investors are looking ahead to Purchasing Managers Index figures due midweek and for some details of Biden’s infrastructure spending plan. However the main data will be U.S. hiring figures due on Good Friday.
“The distribution of forecasts range from 460,000 to 1 million (jobs), where the whisper number sits at the top end of the range,” said Pepperstone’s head of research, Chris Weston.
“One million jobs would set the reflation trades alight … and cause a solid sell-off in bond yields taking USD/JPY and USD/CHF higher,” he said. “The euro should push through last weeks lows of 1.1761 and towards 1.1690.”