Dollar off lows as U.S. inflation test looms

The dollar steadied above almost two-month lows against its major peers on Wednesday, ahead of data expected to show a fresh surge in U.S inflation that could seal the case for an early rise in interest rates.

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell on Tuesday gave no clear indication that the Fed was in a rush to speed up plans for tightening monetary policy, putting some downward pressure on the greenback which has benefited from U.S. rate-hike expectations in recent weeks.

And the currency started to nudge higher again as the December U.S. consumer price index (CPI), due out at 1330 GMT, loomed.

The dollar index was last trading at 95.643, steady on the day above the 95.533 low hit during the Asian session, the lowest since Nov. 18.

Headline U.S. CPI is forecast at a red-hot 7% on a year-on-year basis, which would be the highest annual CPI number since 1982.

ING currency strategist Francesco Pesole said since an inflation print above 7% is expected by markets, the immediate reaction in currency markets should be contained.

“At the same time, it should allow consolidation for a floor below the dollar in the near term – further cementing expectations for three Fed hikes and leaving the door open to speculate for four in 2022,” Pesole said.

“We think this is a reason for markets to keep buying the dips in the dollar for the time being.”

In a testimony at his renomination hearing on Tuesday, Fed chief Powell said the U.S. economy was ready for higher interest rates and a run-off of its asset holdings – dubbed quantitative tightening (QT) – to combat inflation.

But he said policymakers were still debating approaches to reducing the Fed’s balance sheet, and that it could sometimes take two, three or four meetings to make such decisions.

Money markets currently price about 85% odds of a rates lift-off by March, and a total of at least three quarter-point hikes by year-end.

April LaRusse, head of fixed income investment specialists at Insight Investment, noted that recent comments from businesses suggested they faced higher price pressures from raw materials and wages, for instance.

“So, it’s unlikely we get an undershoot in the inflation data… and if it’s as expected, there could be relief that it wasn’t higher,” she said.

The dollar was just 0.1% firmer at 115.40 yen, while the euro was steady at around $1.1364. A rise above $1.1387 would take the single currency to its highest since mid-November.

The Australian dollar, often considered a liquid proxy for risk appetite, pulled back from almost one-week highs at $0.72230 as the dollar regained its footing.

But the greenback was stuck at two-month lows against the Canadian dollar at 1.25345.

And sterling was steady having risen to $1.3645 for the first time since Nov. 4, bolstered by a view that the worst of the Omicron COVID surge maybe be passing in Britain – helping pave the way for another near-term rise in UK interest rates.

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