Dollar gains as pandemic drives global demand for cash
The dollar rose against major currencies on Monday as fresh declines in global stocks and worries about tightening liquidity amid the worsening coronavirus crisis accelerated the flight to cash.
The dollar rose against sterling toward its strongest since at least 1985. The U.S. currency hit the highest in almost three years against the euro.
The U.S. currency approached an 11-year peak against the New Zealand dollar as the country prepared to enter lockdown for the next 48 hours to contain the virus. The greenback also rose toward a 17-year high against the Australian dollar.
U.S. stock futures and oil prices came under further pressure in Asian trading, which pushed the dollar higher as more people are placed under lockdown in an effort to contain the virus, traders said.
Investors are also hoping for big fiscal spending to mitigate the damage to the global economy, but uncertainty about the spread of the virus is likely to support the dollar in the future.
“We’ve moved from risk off to a phase where major players are competing with each other for the safety of holding dollars in cash,” said Yukio Ishizuki, FX strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.
“There are still a lot of investors who need to sell riskier assets, and they want to hold their money in dollars.”
The dollar rose 0.45% against the pound GBP=D3 to $1.1671, approaching the strongest since at least 1985.
The dollar initially rose against the euro EUR=EBS to the strongest since April 2017 but then pared gains to trade little changed at $1.0707 per euro.
The greenback closed in on multi-year highs against the Australian AUD=D3 and New Zealand NZD=D3 dollars as the economic costs of self-isolation triggered the largest intraday decline ever in New Zealand shares.
Against the yen JPY=EBS, the U.S. currency bounced between gains and losses but last traded down 0.5% at 110.27.
Investors have been liquidating positions in safe-havens and other riskier investments to keep their money in dollars due to the uncertainty caused by the epidemic.
Major central banks have ramped up efforts to ease a global dollar funding crunch, but the U.S. currency remains in demand due to the high degree of uncertainty about the unknown flu-like virus.
Investors have to pay 71 basis points (bps) over interbank rates to swap 3-month yen into dollars JPYCBS3M=, cross-currency basis swap rates showed on Monday. This is less than a 139 bps premium reached on March 19, but swap rates are still above average.
The dollar has also surged against many emerging market currencies, highlighting the growing sense of risk aversion across the globe.
Uncertainty about U.S. government stimulus added to the tense mood in Asia.
Partisan battles in the U.S. Senate stopped a $1 trillion-plus coronavirus response bill from advancing on Sunday, but talks continued over Democrats’ demands for more funding for medical care and state and local efforts to combat the pandemic.
The bill is Congress’ third effort to blunt the economic toll of a disease that has killed at least 420 people in the United States and sickened more than 33,000.
Nearly one in three Americans was ordered to stay home on Sunday to slow the spread of the disease, while Italy banned internal travel as deaths there reached 5,476.
U.S. President Donald Trump has approved disaster deceleration requests from New York and Washington, while St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard warned unemployment could reach 30% unless more was done fiscally.
Global markets have been upended in recent weeks as the coronavirus spread from central China and governments responded with increasingly strict restrictions on travel and daily life, disrupting businesses and prompting consumers to stay at home and rein in spending.
The virus has now been reported in more than 100 countries and has claimed more than 13,000 lives.