Euro slips vs dollar after ECB; yen broadly higher

By Wanfeng Zhou

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The euro fell from a 14-month high against the dollar on Thursday after the head of the European Central Bank dampened market expectations for aggressive interest rate hikes, though any pullback was expected to be limited.

The euro also dropped against the yen, which rallied across the board after a new Japanese earthquake with a magnitude of 7.4 prompted investors to close trades in riskier investments funded by cheaply borrowed yen.

The ECB raised rates by 25 basis points, its first hike since the 2008 financial crisis, to battle rising inflationary pressures. ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet signaled the bank was ready to tighten policy further if needed but added that the ECB had not decided if Thursday’s move was the first in a series.

“His tone is decidedly neutral right now. He’s keeping things very close to his vest,” said Boris Schlossberg, director of research at GFT in New York, referring to Trichet’s comments. “The euro trade has been so focused on interest rate differentials, so some of the fast money might come out of the trade.”

The euro was last down 0.3 percent at $1.4292, off a more than 14-month high of $1.4350 touched on Wednesday. Options traders noted demand for short-term upside strikes in the $1.4400 region, as market players looked to protect against a further rise in the euro.

Some analysts said the euro could fall as low as $1.4200, though losses should be limited to $1.40, given uncertainty over the outlook for U.S. monetary policy.

The euro zone single currency has risen more than 3 percent since March 3, when Trichet strongly hinted at a rate hike in April, earlier than markets had then been expecting.

Investors also were cautious about the euro zone’s debt crisis after Portugal asked for a bailout from the European Union, with the size of the package expected to be up to 80 billion euros ($114 billion). But fears of contagion to Spain eased somewhat after Madrid comfortably sold 4.1 billion euros of a new three-year bond.


Against the yen, the dollar fell to a session low of 84.57 yen after news of the latest earthquake in Japan. It was last at 84.88 yen, down 0.7 percent. Stop-loss orders were triggered below 84.70.

“This could cause some risk aversion to sneak back into the market, but given how other currencies have been screaming higher against the yen since mid-March, the scope for profit-taking was always there around these levels,” said David Watt, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

No damage was detected at the quake-shattered Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (9501.T: Quote, Profile, Research) said. A tsunami warning was also lifted.

The Bank of Japan kept monetary policy steady as expected and signaled its readiness to ease policy further, bucking a global trend of central banks withdrawing excess liquidity put in place during the financial crisis.

The euro fell more than 1 percent against the yen, hitting the day’s low around 120.74 yen, with traders citing real money selling of euros. It was last at 121.32 yen.

Sterling slipped against the dollar after the Bank of England kept rates unchanged, as expected.

(Additional reporting by Nick Olivari and Steven C Johnson; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Euro slips vs dollar after ECB; yen broadly higher