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Friday, April 29, 2016

Yen Extends Surge as Asia Currencies Strengthen

Asia Currencies Strengthen as Yen Extends Surge

APRIL 29, 2016

SINGAPORE—The Japanese yen hit a fresh 18-month high against the U.S. dollar Friday, triggering shock waves in Asian currency markets as the Chinese yuan was fixed more than half a percent higher, its biggest daily increase in more than a decade.

The yen gained further in Asia trading, breaking the key ¥ 107 level as the currency builds on Thursday's 3.3% rise after the Bank of Japan disappointed investors by keeping monetary policy unchanged. Markets in Japan were closed Friday for a national holiday.

The surge of the yen, which hit a high of ¥ 106.92 to the dollar in late Asia trading from its Thursday close of ¥ 108.8, has triggered bandwagon-style bets, as more traders pile in, increasing the momentum of the moves. Also fueling the rise is a view among traders that a BOJ policy change in the near future now seems less likely.

Amid the yen's recent strength, there were bets that the BOJ might announce additional easing measures, such as increasing the size of its asset-purchase program, or dropping interest rates deeper into negative territory, which would have weakened the currency.

Meanwhile, below-forecast first quarter U.S. economic data, which showed the nation growing at its slowest pace in two years, also lent support to the yen Friday, traders say. The weak data could delay the Federal Reserve's next rate increase until the latter half of this year.

The BOJ's inaction might be a "wait-and-see for current negative rates to filter through the economy, or an admission that current policy measures are ineffectively dealing with both economic and currency woes," said Stephen Innes, senior trader at foreign-exchange brokerage Oanda.

Thursday's yen rally likely had a hand in the stronger China yuan fixing Friday, with China allowing the steepest one- day gain in the yuan since the currency was depegged from the dollar in 2005.

China's central bank gave the yuan a 0.57% boost against the dollar, setting the currency's daily midpoint at 6.4589 to the dollar from Thursday's 6.4954, in a tacit acknowledgment of the yen's massive rise. Most currency analysts had expected a strong yuan fixing, though perhaps not by this much.

The magnitude of the shift exceeded that on Nov. 2, when the yuan benchmark was strengthened 0.54%.

"The central bank is trying to fix the [dollar-yuan benchmark] by following the moves of major currencies against the dollar," said Iris Pang, a senior economist at French lender Natixis, in a note.

The yen is part of China's currency-basket benchmarking model. After setting the exchange rate each day, the People's Bank of China allows the yuan to trade within a 2% band in onshore markets.

Asian currencies have almost all appreciated mildly against the dollar because of correlation with the yen. The basket-managed Singapore dollar and the South Korean won, which are more sensitive to the moves of their peers, gained the most.

Others were only marginally up due to risk aversion as stocks in the region slipped in reaction to the Nikkei's 3.6% slide Thursday.

The dollar also retreated against the euro and the Australian dollar, as traders reacted to the plunge of the industry benchmark ICE U.S. dollar index, currently at its lowest level since August, as a result of the yen soaring.

Meanwhile, in the commodities space, gold prices surged to a six-week high in Asia on Friday amid the stronger yen and weaker dollar. Gold usually has an inverse relationship with the dollar.

"The BOJ's decision not to ease saw a surge in the yen and stronger investor demand hit the gold market," lender ANZ said in a note. Spot gold prices hit an intraday high of $1,280.99 an ounce, before edging down to $1,278.71 an ounce.

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