Dollar pulls back as risks ebb, set for biggest loss in decade

Reuters | Mar 27, 2020 at 7:13 AM

* Dollar slips on U.S. stimulus

* Dollar index on track for biggest loss in decade

* Market could see more volatility toward month-end

* Mexican peso pares gains after credit downgrade

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2020

TOKYO, March 27 (Reuters) - The dollar was on track for its biggest weekly fall in more than a decade on Friday as a series of stimulus measures around the world, including a $2.2 trillion U.S. package, helped temper a rout in global markets triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

An unprecedented jump in U.S. jobless claims on Thursday underscored the virus' devastating impact on the economy, but a subsequent bounce in Wall Street shares raised hopes that a torrent of selling in risk assets may have run its course for now.

That eased a run on the dollar since last week, with many market players -- from leveraged investors who faced margin calls to avoid forced selling to companies hoarding dollars to brace for recession -- feeling less need for the currency.

The dollar fell about 1% to 108.57 yen, due largely to Japanese repatriating funds ahead of their fiscal year-end in March, after having shed 1.44% the day before.

The euro ticked up 0.2% to $1.1049 building on a jump of 1.40% on Thursday. The British pound gained 0.3% to $1.2183 .

The number of Americans filing claims for unemployment benefits surged to a record of more than 3.28 million last week as strict measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic unleashed a wave of layoffs.

That eclipsed the previous record of 695,000 set in 1982 and was up 3 million from last week. The forecast ranged from one to five million or even larger.

"Until last week, we had been fussing over the difference of tens of thousands in this data. What we can say now is, basically markets have factored in the fact that the economy will be hit hard," said Kazushige Kaida, head of foreign exchange at State Street Bank.

"It helped that the U.S. Senate has passed the stimulus bills. There appears to be no repeat of the nightmare during the previous crisis," he said.

He was referring to market shocks after the U.S. House of Representatives voted down an emergency financial bailout bill in late September 2008 following the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

The unprecedented $2.2 trillion stimulus was expected to be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday, or on Saturday.

The number of U.S. coronavirus infections climbed above 82,000, surpassing the national tallies of China and Italy.

The dollar's index against six other major currencies lost 0.4% after having shed 1.5% on Thursday, its biggest daily fall in almost four years.

So far this week it is down 3.1%. If sustained by the end of U.S. trade, that would mark the biggest weekly decline since 2009, underscoring the currency market's extreme volatility after last week racking up its biggest weekly gain since the global financial crisis more than a decade ago.

The dollar funding squeeze in the interbank market has abated considerably this week.

Currency basis swap spreads, the premium investors need to pay over interbank rates to fund dollars through foreign currency swaps, have fallen considerably.

Even the dollar/yen basis, which had stayed elevated until the middle of this week, has dropped, with the three-month spread now at around 40 basis points, compared with a high around 140 basis points last week.

Highly choppy currency trade could continue until the end of the month, when there tends to be large flows from corporate and investors to hedge their currency exposures.

In particular, many asset managers may need to adjust their currency hedge positions after wild swings in global share prices.

The dollar's rises until last week, in particular against the Australian dollar and the New Zealand dollar were primarily driven by such currency hedge adjustments, analysts at National Bank of Australia said in report.

"We can well believe that we are in for an extremely rocky ride in the currency markets between now and month-end," they said. "Some will not yet have adjusted and some will now find themselves under-hedged given the big equity reversal so far this week. And, some may be looking to implement changes to strategic hedge ratios at the same time. Buckle up."

The Australian dollar rose 0.4% to $0.6086, having gained more than 10% from its 17-year low of $0.5510 touched on Thursday last week.

The New Zealand dollar fell 0.25% to $0.5944.

The Mexican peso dropped 1.5%, giving up a part of its recovery this week, after credit ratings agency S&P on Thursday cut Mexico's sovereign rating to BBB from BBB+ in anticipation of an economic hit from the coronavirus pandemic and a plunge in oil prices.

The peso traded at 23.226 to the dollar, down about 1.3%. Still i,t is up more than 5% so far this week.