|03 February, 2020

Safe-haven yen, Swiss franc dip as risk sentiment recovers

Sterling under pressure

Image used for illustrative purpos. Japanese 10,000 yen banknotes.

Image used for illustrative purpos. Japanese 10,000 yen banknotes.

Getty Images/ Bloomberg Creative Photos

LONDON: The safe-haven yen and Swiss franc weakened on Monday, retreating from multi-week highs against the dollar as fears surrounding the spread of coronavirus in China appeared to ebb for now.

Chinese markets took a beating in the first trading session after an extended Lunar New Year break.

Yet this was mostly a product of selling pressure that had built up over the holiday and not a reflection of new market fears, analysts said.

European stock markets inched higher at the open, U.S. stock futures rallied ESc1 1YMc1 and safe-haven currencies came under selling pressure.

The yen fell a fifth of a percent to 108.52 per dollar, off a three-week high of 108.305 set on Friday.

The Swiss franc changed hands at 0.96395 franc per dollar, off more than two-week lows.

"Chinese markets are just catching up with the risk off moves in the past week," said Adam Cole, chief currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets in London.

"The fact that we haven't had any more bad news over the weekend means that there is a bit of a sigh of a relief, so dollar/yen and risk markets are faring better."

In an effort to head off any panic, the Chinese government took a range of steps to shore up an economy hit by travel curbs and business shut-downs because of the epidemic, including cutting its key interest rate. 

The Chinese yuan remained on the back foot. Offshore, the currency fell to its lowest since mid-December at around 7.0230 per dollar while the onshore yuan fell over 1% from its levels before the holiday to 7.0268 per dollar.

The Australian dollar fetched $0.66945, up 0.15% on the day but holding near a 10-1/2-year low of $0.6670 touched last October.

The currency is often regarded as a proxy for the yuan, being more freely traded and because of Australia's reliance on trade with China.

"Havens like the yen and dollar were slightly lower while riskier and Asian currencies like the Aussie are off recent lows." London and Capital Group, Jasper Lawler told clients.

But he added: "There will need to be a let up in equity market selling and some other macro catalyst, perhaps U.S. non-farm payrolls to see the ‘risk-on/off’ theme in forex reverse."

Latest U.S. jobs numbers, regarded as a key economic indicator, are released at the end of the week.

The euro stood at $1.1073 EUR=EBS , down 0.2% on the day, while sterling tumbled 0.6% to $1.3126.

Britain laid out a tough opening stance for future talks with the European Union following its exit last week, saying it would set its own agenda rather than meeting the bloc's rules. 

Looking ahead, traders will keep an eye on the start of a U.S. state-by-state process to pick presidential nominees, with Iowa holding caucuses on Monday.

(Reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe; Editing by Giles Elgood) ((Dhara.Ranasinghe@thomsonreuters.com; +442075422684;))

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