Yen slides through 120 as U.S. hike path steepens

The dollar was buttressed by new bets on U.S. rate hikes on Tuesday, while investors unloaded yen and sent it spearing below the psychological 120 level as the Bank of Japan looks increasingly isolated in its dovish policy stance.

The yen fell 0.8% and hit a six-year low of 120.46 in the Tokyo afternoon, having lost more than 4% on the dollar this month as leaping U.S. yields and a deteriorating trade balance suck cash from the world’s third-biggest economy.

Yen crosses also suffered, with the euro making a five-week high of 132.33, while the Japanese currency slumped to a four-year low on the Aussie and a 6-1/2 year low on the Swiss franc.

Japan must maintain ultra-loose monetary policy lest inflation hurt the economy, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said on Tuesday — a stark contrast with hawkish overnight comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

“Rising energy prices and higher U.S Treasury yields are both bad news for the Japanese yen,” said analysts at Singapore’s UOB in a quarterly outlook note that lifted their year-end dollar/yen forecast from 119 to 121.

Powell had sent U.S. yields to multi-year highs by putting the possibility of 50 basis point (bp) rate hikes on the table.

Fed funds futures moved to price in a 2/3 chance of a 50 bp hike in May and now anticipate the benchmark rate — currently below 0.5% — exceeding 2.5% in 2023.

Two-year, five-year, 10-year and 30-year Treasury yields all stood at their highest since 2019 on Tuesday, widening the gap on pinned Japanese yields while lending the dollar broad support elsewhere.

The euro was down 0.2% to $1.0988. The Aussie and kiwi each dipped 0.1%.

The U.S. dollar index rose 0.2% to 98.700. Sterling eased 0.2% to $1.3144.

The Chinese yuan was also under some pressure and has pulled back from early-month highs as investors await promised monetary easing. It last traded at 6.3648 per dollar onshore.

“Although the Chinese central bank left 1-year and 5-year loan prime rates unchanged … on Monday, we still expect the (People’s Bank of China) to lower the reserve ratio requirement by 50 bp again, as early as Q1 2022,” Scotiabank strategist Qi Gao said. “We maintain our short USD/CNH spot position.”

Cryptocurrencies were bid on Tuesday with bitcoin up 5% at a three-week high of $43,337.

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