By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss and Alun John
NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) – The Japanese yen soared across the board on Thursday after monetary authorities intervened in the foreign exchange market to boost the battered currency for the first time since 1998, although analysts said Japan may struggle to keep the yen strong.
The dollar was last down 1.2% at 142.33 yen. It hit a low of 140.31 after the intervention, having earlier reached a fresh 24-year peak of 145.9 yen. The spread between the day’s high and low for the pair was the widest since June 2016.
North American traders cautiously pushed the dollar higher against the yen after Japan stepped in, but for now, few are challenging Japan’s action.
“The market is nervous,” said Steven Englander, head of global G10 FX research and North America macro strategy at Standard Chartered (OTC:SCBFF) in New York.
“There is a risk that Japan becomes a permanent presence in the market for intervention to be successful. Not that Japan has to step in everyday, but the market has to be afraid of intervention,” he added.
The euro, pound, Swiss franc, the Australian and New Zealand dollars, among others, also plunged against the yen.
“We have taken decisive action,” Japan’s Vice Finance Minister for international affairs Masato Kanda told reporters, responding in the affirmative when asked if that meant intervention.
Confirmation of the intervention came just hours after the BOJ decided to maintain low interest rates to support the country’s fragile economic recovery.
BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda told reporters the central bank could hold off on hiking rates or changing its dovish policy guidance for years.
In contrast, central banks around the world, most notably the Federal Reserve, are raising rates aggressively and the policy divergence has weighed on the yen.
However, analysts said Japan can’t keep propping up the currency on a sustained basis.
“Over the next three to six months or possibly even longer, as long as those diverging paths of monetary policy are still in place and those differences persist, you’ll continue to see a weaker yen,” said Brendan McKenna, international economist and FX Strategist at Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) Securities.
Even after Thursday’s moves, the dollar is still up 23.6% against the yen so far this year, on track for its largest yearly percentage gain in 43 years.
CENTRAL BANK BONANZA
In a busy day for markets, the pound pared the small advance it had made in London trading after the Bank of England raised interest rates by 50 basis points.
The hike was in line with expectations, although markets had been pricing in a small chance of a larger 75 bp move.
Sterling was last down 0.2% at $1.1251 , not too far from a fresh 37-year low of $1.1213, hit in Asia trading.
The euro was little changed at $0.9832, recovering from a new 20-year trough of $0.9807 hit earlier in the global session.
The dollar index, which measures the greenback’s value against a basket of six major currencies, slipped 0.1% to 111.32, sliding from a 20-year high of 111.81 hit early in the day following the conclusion of the Fed’s policy meeting on Wednesday.
The Fed issued new projections showing rates peaking at 4.6% next year with no cuts until 2024. It raised its target interest rate range by another 75 basis points (bps) overnight to 3%-3.25%, as widely expected.
The dollar was already supported by demand for safe-haven assets after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced on Wednesday he would call up reservists to fight in Ukraine.
Separately, the Swiss franc tumbled after Switzerland’s central bank raised rates by 75 bps, when some had talked up the possibility of a full percentage point move.
The dollar and euro both climbed roughly 1.2% against the franc, with the greenback last at 0.9783 francs and the euro at 0.9619 francs.
The Norwegian crown eased against the euro and dollar after the country’s central bank hiked interest rates by an expected 50 bps, and signalled a more gradual approach to tightening ahead.
The euro was last up 0.5% at 10.2203 crowns, while dollar rose 0.3% to 10.3955.