Dollar hits 6-1/2-month high vs euro on Greece woes

By Steven C. Johnson

NEW YORK (BestGrowthStock) – The dollar reached a 6-1/2-month peak against the euro on Thursday as investors remained anxious about the fiscal health of Greece and other small euro zone countries.

A U.S. Senate vote confirming Ben Bernanke for a second term as Federal Reserve chairman had little impact on exchange rates, as analysts said his confirmation was widely expected.

The euro fell (Read more about the trembling euro. ) to $1.3938, its worst showing since mid-July, as investors worried Greece may not be able to service its debt, putting pressure on the euro and raising fears the country could be forced out of the euro zone. The euro last traded at $1.3962, down 0.4 percent on the day.

Germany and France denied a report suggesting an imminent European Union bailout for Greece, while Athens said it had not requested help and was the victim of speculators intent on attacking it as the euro zone’s “weak link.

Adding to pressure on the euro were warnings by credit ratings agencies that Portugal needs a clear plan for further budget cuts beyond 2010 to prevent debt rating downgrades.

“There are a lot of troubling debt situations in Europe, in Greece and beyond, and that is hurting the euro,” said Melvin Harris, strategist at Easy Forex in New York.

The premium that investors demand to hold Greek government bonds rather than benchmark German Bunds rose to its highest level since the euro was launched more than a decade ago.

The cost of insuring Greece’s sovereign debt against default also hit a record high.

Debt worries could push the euro as low as $1.35 in the coming weeks, Harris said, while sterling, which fell 0.3 percent to $1.6120 suffered after Standard & Poor’s said Britain’s banking system was no longer one of the world’s most stable.

The U.S. dollar fell 0.1 percent to 89.90 yen as losses on Wall Street prompted investors to close riskier trades financed by cheap borrowing in the yen. The euro dropped 0.5 percent to 125.52 yen after hitting a nine-month low of 125.07 yen.

Some analysts said the Greek debt worries were overdone and that the euro was just staging a technical retreat after running up strongly in 2009, when it topped $1.51.

Investors appear to be “using the Greece thing as an excuse to just do a correction of the currency’s run since March last year,” said Chuck Butler, president of Everbank World Markets in St. Louis.

Others said European debt worries, White House plans to limit risk-taking at U.S. banks, a slide in global stock markets and Friday’s release of U.S. gross domestic product data all sowed uncertainty, prompting investors to unwind trades funded with cheaply borrowed dollars and yen.

“There’s been a lot to keep the market off balance, and we haven’t regained our feet yet this year,” said BNY Mellon strategist Michael Woolfolk.

In the United States, Bernanke won approval for a second term leading the Fed, although 30 out of 100 senators voted against his confirmation. His confirmation looked less certain last week.

“The surprise, and the impact, would have been much larger if he wasn’t approved,” said Win Thin, currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York.

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(Additional reporting by Wanfeng Zhou; Editing by Leslie Adler)

Dollar hits 6-1/2-month high vs euro on Greece woes