By Tom Westbrook
SINGAPORE (Reuters) – The dollar bounced in the Asia session on Thursday after a Russian news report of mortar fire in eastern Ukraine sent investors worried about a wider war scurrying for safety.
Russian-backed rebels accused Ukrainian forces of shelling their territory in violation of agreements aimed at ending conflict in the contested Donbass, the RIA news agency said.
The euro slipped as far as 0.4% on the report, before recovering slightly to $1.1340. The risk-sensitive Australian dollar lost as much as 0.6%. The safe-haven yen rose about 0.2% to 115.24 per dollar.
“There is a lot of anxiety,” said Bank of Singapore strategist Moh Siong Sim. “It’s not clear whether it’s some local event or something which could flare up…right now such headlines are keeping the markets a bit nervous.”
The Russian rouble, which has been sensitive to the prospect of war as sanctions loom, fell 0.6%.
The standoff on Europe’s eastern edge is one of the deepest crises in East-West relations for decades. Earlier in the Asia day, a U.S. official said Russia was increasing troop numbers near its border with Ukraine rather than withdrawing, as Moscow claimed.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said Russia could “launch a false pretext at any moment” to justify an invasion.
Safe-haven Treasuries rallied and U.S. stock futures fell with the mood in Asia, though the lack of clarity around the situation capped larger moves. [MKTS/GLOB]
The Australian dollar was last down 0.3% at $0.7178. The U.S. dollar index was up 0.1% to 95.952.
Economic data also added some support to the dollar on Thursday, offsetting some overnight softness when minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last meeting were less hawkish than some investors had expected.
Data showed Japan ran its biggest trade deficit in a single month in eight years in January, and that follows Europe’s trade gap widening in December as energy prices surge.
Rates expectations held the kiwi and sterling steady.
The New Zealand dollar was last flat at $0.6676 after touching a one-week high of $0.6703.
A 25 basis point (bp) rate hike in New Zealand is fully priced for next week, with swaps trade pointing to a better-than-one-in-four chance of a 50 bp hike.
March hike expectations are also holding sterling firm and it was last steady at $1.3589.
Ahead on Thursday speeches from Bank of Spain governor Pablo Hernández de Cos and European Central Bank (ECB) chief economist Philip Lane at 0800 GMT and 1400 GMT respectively will be closely watched for clues on the ECB outlook.
Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard speaks at 1600 GMT and on Thursday U.S. jobless claims and the Philadelphia Fed manufacturing survey are also due.