U.S. dollar hits highest in nearly two years on expected rate increases

The dollar surged to a nearly two-year high on Wednesday after minutes of the last Federal Reserve meeting reinforced expectations of multiple half percentage-point rate increases to control soaring inflation.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback’s value against six major currencies, climbed to 99.7780 , its strongest level since late May 2020. It was last up 0.2% at 99.70.

Fed officials viewed the hefty rate increases as appropriate at future meetings, especially if inflation pressures intensify, minutes showed. They would also have preferred a 50 basic point rise in the target range for the federal funds rate at the March meeting.

“There’s a realization that some of the doves have come over to the 50 basis point hike territory and that is likely what we’re going to see at the next several meetings going forward as inflationary pressures remain elevated,” said Ryan Detrick, chief market strategist at LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“The Ukraine conflict uncertainty likely prevented a 50 basis point hike last month, so it could put a little cold water on extremely hawkish policy. But still, we know multiple hikes are coming very soon,” he added.

Fed officials also agreed to reduce the balance sheet by $95 million per month – $60 billion of its Treasury holdings and $35 billion of mortgage-backed securities – over three months, according to the minutes of the March meeting.

Analysts at Action Economics said the $95 billion balance sheet run-off was close to expectations of $100 billion per month.

The U.S. currency also hit the nearly two-year milestone on Tuesday after Fed Governor Lael Brainard, usually a more dovish policymaker, said she expected a combination of rate increases and a rapid balance sheet runoff to bring U.S. monetary policy to a “more neutral position” later this year. Further tightening would follow as needed, she added.

Analysts said the Fed minutes were less hawkish than Brainard’s comments.

The dollar held gains against the yen, which tracks U.S. two-year yields reflecting Fed policy expectations, traded slightly higher at 123.78.

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