Dollar hits one-week high on hawkish Fed views, Omicron fears; Aussie slides

FILE PHOTO: A money changer counts U.S. dollar banknotes at a currency exchange office in Ankara

TOKYO (Reuters) – The dollar scaled a one-week high versus a basket of major rivals on Tuesday, supported by expectations of a hawkish Federal Reserve meeting this week and haven demand amid continued uncertainty about the Omicron coronavirus variant.

qatar airways

The risk-sensitive Australian dollar dropped as much as 0.64% to a one-week low.

The Fed’s two-day meeting that begins later Tuesday headlines a string of central banks announcing policy decisions this week, including the European Central Bank and Bank of England on Thursday and the Bank of Japan on Friday.

The dollar index, which measures the currency against six peers, rose as high as 96.464 for the first time since Dec. 7 before trading 0.04% firmer at 96.404.

The U.S. central bank is expected to announce it will wrap up its bond buying stimulus sooner than previously communicated, potentially setting up earlier interest rate increases next year.

Money markets currently price good odds of a rate hike by June, with another as early as November.

“That leaves a very high bar for the Fed to deliver a ‘hawkish surprise’,” Westpac strategists wrote in a client note.

“But even if the Fed merely matches elevated expectations, they are still streets ahead of the ECB, who is looking for ways to maintain accommodation” after its Pandemic Emergency Purchase Programme (PEPP) is due to end in March.

Although the dollar index’s advance has slowed recently, pullbacks into the mid-95 level are a buy, the strategists said.

A Reuters poll of ECB-watchers found the ECB would halve the amount of assets it buys each month from April.

The euro slipped 0.07% to $1.1278 after touching a one-week low of $1.12605 overnight.

Sterling lost 0.08% to $1.32035, edging back toward the one-year low of $1.31615 reached last week.

Britain reported the first publicly confirmed death globally from Omicron, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Monday, a day after he warned of a “tidal wave” of infections from the new variant.

British scientists announced findings that two doses of current COVID-19 vaccines do not induce enough neutralising antibodies against Omicron.

Meanwhile, mainland China detected its first case of Omicron infection, state media said Monday.

The dollar was little changed at 113.565 yen, another safe haven, consolidating in the upper end of the pair’s trading range this month.

The Aussie declined 0.39% to last trade at $0.71060.

Leading cryptocurrency bitcoin rose 0.49% to $46,957.11, lifting off Monday’s low of $45,750, a level not seen since Dec. 4, when the digital token plunged below $42,000 for the first time since September.

(Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Sam Holmes)