FOREX -Dollar touches 7-week low vs yen on emerging market concerns

Sun Jan 26, 2014 10:03pm EST

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By Hideyuki Sano and Masayuki Kitano

TOKYO/SINGAPORE, Jan 27 (Reuters) - The dollar slipped to a seven-week low against the yen on Monday as a sell-off in emerging market currencies late last week prompted investors to seek shelter in the safe-haven Japanese currency.

The dollar fell as low as 101.77 yen, its lowest level since early December, and last stood at 102.36 yen, steady from late U.S. levels last week. It has fallen about 2.1 percent in the past three sessions.

"It was all driven by stop-loss selling in thin, pre-Tokyo markets," said Jeffrey Halley, FX trader for Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore, referring to the dollar's earlier drop to a seven-week low against the yen.

"The market is definitely focusing on EM, particularly the weak EM countries," he said.

Halley said, however, that U.S. names and Japanese importers have been good buyers of the dollar on dips, adding that the dollar seemed likely to be supported at levels near 101.80 yen for now.

Emerging market (EM) currencies from Turkey to Argentine were dumped last week, making investors nervous that the shakeout in markets could lead to a full-blown financial crisis.

Some of the selling in emerging markets also had its roots in domestic factors. In Turkey, political concerns had a negative impact on markets, while Argentina abandoned support of its peso on the open market last week, sending the currency skidding to its biggest drop since the 2002 financial crisis.

However, an underlying concern was that tighter U.S. monetary policy could encourage a shift of funds back to the United States from emerging markets that had enjoyed a flood of cheap money from the Federal Reserve's money printing programme, known as quantitative easing.

In addition, tightening credit conditions in China as the government seeks to curb growth in high-risk lending heightened fears about a possible slowdown in Asia's economic powerhouse.

"Market positioning also likely played a role in the volatile price action. For some currencies, positioning has become slightly stretched, particularly in the yen," Barclays analysts said in a note to clients.

"In a context of market liquidation of the magnitude we witnessed on Friday, it is logical that some of the previously strong performing trades were unwound," they said.

Indeed, data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed speculators' net selling in yen futures traded in Chicago remained high. As of last Tuesday, net yen short positions stood at 114,961 contracts, near a 6-1/2-year high of 143,822 contracts set late December.

Investors had sold the yen heavily on the notion that a cocktail of a solid global recovery and Japan's hyper-easy monetary policy will spur yen-carry trades - borrowing the yen and converting it to higher-yielding currencies, many of them in emerging markets.

Mitul Kotecha, the Hong Kong-based head of global foreign exchange strategy for Credit Agricole, said risk aversion will probably remain fairly elevated in the very near term, such as during the course of this week.

That points to the potential for more downside pressure on dollar/yen for now, especially since U.S. Treasury yields have also come down, he said. The 10-year Treasury yield touched a near two-month low of 2.706 percent on Friday.

"You need to see an improvement in risk sentiment, but also I think you need to see a jump in U.S. yields for there to be a big (upside) move in dollar/yen," Kotecha added.

The Swiss franc, another safe-haven currency, hovered near a one-month high against the euro, which last traded at 1.2244 franc, not far from Friday's low of 1.2227.

The Swiss franc stood near 0.8947 per dollar, having hit a one-month high of 0.8904 on Friday.

The euro inched up 0.1 percent versus the dollar to $1.3686 , having risen to a three-week high of $1.3740 on Friday.

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