FOREX -Yen, Swiss franc rise as Syrian tensions escalate
* Yen sharply higher vs Australian and New Zealand dollars * Swiss franc also rises versus euro, dollar * Emerging market currencies in rout on Syria tension * German IFO survey has little impact on euro/dollar By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss NEW YORK, Aug 27 (Reuters) - The safe-haven yen and Swiss franc gained on Tuesday and riskier currencies like the Australian and New Zealand dollars fell as geopolitical tensions rose with Western countries poised to take military action against the Syrian government. Economic reports such as an upbeat German business sentiment survey have largely been ignored with investors focused on conflict in the Middle East. Western powers told the Syrian opposition to expect a strike against President Bashar al-Assad's forces within days, according to sources who attended a meeting between envoys and the Syrian National Coalition in Istanbul. "Coming within the current nervous state of the markets, any flare-up or intensification of Middle Eastern tensions will surely take a further toll on risk sentiment," said Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman in New York. The Swiss franc and the yen usually climb in times of financial market stress and geopolitical uncertainty while growth-linked higher-yielding currencies are sold off. The dollar extended losses to fall 1.1 percent versus the yen to 97.43 yen, pulling away from a near three-week high of 99.15 yen set on Friday. The euro also struggled against the yen, falling 1.3 percent to 129.98 yen. The dollar fell 0.2 percent against the Swiss franc to 0.9210 francs, while the euro was down 0.4 percent at 1.2288 francs. German, U.S. and British government bond prices all rose as money flowed in to safe-haven markets. On the other hand, stocks were lower as were emerging market assets. The growth-linked Australian dollar was down 0.8 percent at US$0.8957, while against the yen it lost 1.8 percent to 87.32 yen. The New Zealand dollar fell 1.9 percent against the yen to 75.81 yen. Washington said on Monday it believed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on civilians last week in what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called a "moral obscenity." Emerging market currencies tumbled, with the Indian rupee hitting a record low and the Russian rouble, the Indonesian rupiah and a host of others recording multi-year troughs. The rising tension stemming from Syria overshadowed the impact from positive data from the euro zone. The IFO German confidence survey showed business sentiment was at its highest level in 16 months but that had only a fleeting impact on the euro. "IFO beat expectations with both the current assessment and forward-looking expectations better than expected," said Elsa Lignos, senior currency strategist at RBC Capital. "The effect was lost in the general safe haven rally, taking euro/dollar down to a low of $1.3322." The euro was last down 0.2 against the dollar at $1.3348. Data due later from the United States includes consumer confidence and the Richmond Fed survey. Disappointing U.S. data in the past two trading sessions, including one which highlighted the fragility of the housing sector, have weighed on the dollar, although buying at lower levels has checked sharp losses. The dollar index was last little changed at 81.412.
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