U.S. dollar perks up after ECB policy talk cools euro

Currency signs of the U.S. dollar and Euro are seen at a currency exchange office in Kiev
FILE PHOTO: Currency signs of the U.S. dollar and Euro are seen at a currency exchange office in Kiev, Ukraine June 9, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

April 22, 2021

By David Henry

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar rose against major currencies on Thursday as a shot of positive economic news contrasted with comments from the European Central Bank that euro zone weakness still requires the support of its current pace of bond purchases.

The move was reinforced late in the day by a risk-off, dollar bid when news broke that U.S. President Joe Biden will propose nearly doubling taxes on capital gains for people earning more than $1 million.

The dollar index against major currencies was up 0.2% to 91,303 in the late afternoon in New York after markets sifted through the ECB remarks and news that U.S. new unemployment claims had fallen to a 13-month low, setting the stage for blockbuster jobs growth in April.

The euro had been up about 0.1% against the dollar before the events, but later fell 0.2% on the day to $1.201.

ECB chief Christine Lagarde said policy makers had not discussed any phasing out the bond-buying program “because it premature.” She said the economy is still “clouded with uncertainty” despite signs of improvement and progress with vaccinations.

Euro zone bond yields dipped after Lagarde spoke.

“Until you see better COVID numbers out of Europe, the euro’s upside potential is going to be limited,” said Ronald Simpson, managing director, global currency analyst at Action Economics in Safety Harbor, Florida.

Simpson added that if Biden’s tax proposal goes forward it could hurt the greenback if it spurs stock investors with big gains to sell before it takes effect.

“That might keep pressure on the stock market, on and off, for the rest of the year, which would not bode well for the dollar if we start seeing outflows from U.S. equities,” Simpson said.

The immediate impact was “not too serious,” said Erik Bregar, head of FX strategy at Exchange Bank of Canada.

“We’re seeing an extension of this morning’s move post-ECB,” Bregar said. “It is a classic risk-off, U.S. dollar bid.”

The currency markets initially vacillated over what Lagarde revealed about the timing of interest rate hikes.

Alex Merk, chief investment officer at Merk Investments in Palo Alto, California, said the market heard that the ECB would like to pace its rate moves with those of the U.S. central bank but also that the two economies have different inflation trajectories.

In the end, Merk said, “there was no big substance there.”

The back-and-forth of the currencies on Thursday morning was another example of how markets have been preoccupied with sorting out how quickly different economies will rebound from the pandemic and how their interest rates will fluctuate.

On Wednesday the Canadian dollar rose sharply after the Bank of Canada signaled rate hikes next year and said it was pulling back on asset purchases. The announcement marked the first Group of Seven central bank to move towards withdrawing stimulus.

Now markets are looking toward next week’s meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve and possible comments about how it views future changes in its easy monetary policy.

Yields on were little changed on the day at 1.55% despite rising about four basis points at one point.

Graphic: ECB PEPP – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qzjvqzdlopx/Pasted%20image%201619089119287.png

Sentiment toward the dollar has weakened much of this month after a March spike in Treasury yields reversed course. But some analysts say the outlook over the longer term remains positive due to a strong U.S. economy and more coronavirus vaccinations.

Merk said, “Ultimately what matters is the progress with the pandemic” and what that means for a global recovery, inflation and interest rates.

In cryptocurrency markets, ethereum jumped as much as 10% during the day. Bitcoin slipped about 2% to $52,800.

(Reporting by David Henry in New York and Ritvik Carvalho in London; additional reporting by Stanley White in Tokyo; editing by Larry King, William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)