Dollar thrives, Aussie trampled in rush for liquidity


The dollar held overnight gains against most major currencies on Wednesday, after U.S. yields jumped and as deepening fear around the coronavirus drove a scramble for greenback.

The pound and safe-haven yen made the best efforts at recovery, but only managed to recoup fractions of their losses.

The yen JPY= was last up 0.3% at 107.37 per dollar, the pound GBP= up 0.5% at $1.2108 and the euro EUR= was steady at $1.1000. Commodity-sensitive currencies, like the Aussie and kiwi, were trampled below $0.60 in the stampede.

All are well below where they were a week ago as investors sell just about everything for dollars and businesses seek to draw down loans and hoard cash to ride out the crisis.

“It all stems from a shortage of US dollars,” said Gunter Seeger, senior vice president in investment-grade fixed income at New York asset manager PineBridge Investments.

Dislocation in the U.S. bond market, where the yield on government debt has gyrated wildly for the past week, illustrates the desperation for cash, he said, even as the U.S. Federal Reserve pumps huge amounts of liquidity into the system.

“People are very, very nervous,” Seeger said. “Everyone’s nervous about the virus, about oil prices, about their job, about everything.”

Meanwhile the coronavirus only spreads, as country after country adopts draconian social restrictions and a war-footing mentality to try and contain the outbreak.

The global death toll is above 7,800, the number of cases is approaching 200,000 and the economic fallout of what is in effect a global lockdown is spiraling.

The yield on benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasuries US10YT=RR jumped 34 basis points higher overnight, the largest single-day rise since 2004 – further illustrating how massive selling is testing liquidity in even the deepest and broadest markets.

The higher yield also adds yet more attraction to owning dollars, amid growing signs of tight supply – especially abroad.

Cross-currency basis swap spreads, which show the cost of borrowing dollars abroad, hit their widest in years.

Three-month euro/dollar cross-currency basis swap spreads EURCBS3M=ICAP rose as high as 120 basis points – its widest since late 2011 – before falling back to 39 basis points.

Spreads for the Aussie AUDCBS3M=BGCP and yen JPYCBS3M= also widened dramatically. Risk currencies were also pounded with the mood, and nursed deep losses on Wednesday.

The Australian dollar AUD=D3 has made its first trip under 60 cents since 2003 and last sat at $0.5998, while the kiwi NZD=D3 was at $0.5955. The Australian dollar has lost nearly 15% against the greenback this year.

“In the context of the highly elevated levels of risk aversion and depths to which commodity prices have fallen…we said last week that both Antipodean currencies were on borrowed time above 0.60,” said Ray Attrill, head of FX strategy at NAB.


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