The Japanese yen jumped to the day’s high on Wednesday as the United States bond yield curve inverted for the first time since 2007 as investors, gripped by worries of a looming global recession, fled to the safety of perceived safe-haven assets.
An inversion of the U.S. Treasury yield curve — when short-dated bond yields fall more than their longer-dated counterparts– is considered as a classic recession warning and the drop in bond yields sent a chill through global markets after concerns of a U.S.-China trade dispute receded somewhat.
The yen, which was already trading stronger on the day, received a further boost and headed towards a near 1-1/2 year high versus the U.S. dollar.
“What this (yield curve inversion) means is that markets are signalling that central banks are running out of options. Away from the headlines on the trade war, it points to a bigger broader picture of major industrial economies such as China and Germany haemorrhaging growth,” said Stephen Gallo, European head of forex strategy at BMO.
Data on Wednesday showed that the Chinese economy continued to slow. Industrial output rose in July at the slowest pace in more than 17 years. Elsewhere, slumping exports sent Germany’s economy into reverse in the second quarter.
The Japanese currency strengthened to 106.12 versus the dollar, its highest on Wednesday, up 0.6% on the day.
Overnight, it had fallen to a one-week low after U.S. President Donald Trump backed off his Sept. 1 deadline for imposing 10% tariffs on remaining Chinese imports, delaying duties on cellphones, laptops and other consumer goods. The announcement came after renewed trade discussions between U.S. and Chinese officials.
China’s offshore yuan gave up some of its earlier gains on Wednesday as weaker-than-expected economic data tempered the optimism generated by the U.S. decision to delay tariffs.
The fall in the yuan and the rise in yen mirrored analysts’ views that the delay in tariffs, although encouraging, wasn’t even close to resolving the U.S.-China trade war.
“No one really believes this is a firm step towards a deal” between the United States and China, said Neil Mellor, senior forex strategist at BNY Mellon.
“The markets already moved on…and longer term the yuan will continue to weaken,” Mellor said.
The offshore yuan had jumped to a one-week high against the dollar on Tuesday after the tariff delay, but it fell back 0.4% against the dollar to 7.0396, still more than seven to the dollar, the level it reached last week when the 10% tariffs were announced.
China fixed the onshore yuan at 7.03, “the only sign so far of China making any concessions” to the United States, said Esther Reichelt, an analyst at Commerzbank.
Elsewhere, major currencies were little changed. The dollar index, which is down around 1% since the start of August, was flat around 97.7 despite the yield curve inverting.
Same goes for the euro, which was flat at $1.1180 after first estimate of second-quarter eurozone gross domestic product showed growth in the euro area remained stable as quarter-on-quarter GDP rose 0.2% as expected.
Sterling was slightly higher against the dollar and the euro, last by 0.2% at $1.2087 and 92.49 pence versus the common currency , even though inflation in Britain was 2.1% in July, above Bank of England’s target.
However, current levels in sterling suggest investors aren’t willing to take the British currency away from the deep lows it reached last week.