FOREX -Yen edges higher as risk aversion flares up

Wed Jan 29, 2014 10:34pm EST

* Yen holds firm as safe-haven flows return

* Emerging markets under pressure, rate hikes no help

* Fed cuts bond purchases to $65 bln a month as expected

By Ian Chua and Masayuki Kitano

SYDNEY/SINGAPORE, Jan 30 (Reuters) - The yen held firm versus the dollar on Thursday, clinging to gains made the previous session when investors ploughed back into the Japanese currency as safe-haven demand returned.

The New Zealand dollar fell, coming in the cross hairs of sellers after New Zealand's central bank left interest rates steady.

Renewed stress in emerging markets saw U.S. Treasuries soar, pushing the benchmark yield to its lowest in more than two months on Wednesday. The rally came even after the Federal Reserve cut its bond purchases by another $10 billion to $65 billion a month in a widely expected move.

The loss of yield support knocked the dollar down against the yen and allowed the euro to bounce back from one-week lows.

The dollar eased 0.1 percent to 102.13 yen, after having fallen 0.7 percent on Wednesday.

Some analysts say the yen's recent rise has likely been caused by position unwinding after speculators ramped up bets for the yen to weaken.

"Late last year and early in the new year, positions consisting of buying equities and selling bonds had been built up in developed markets," said Teppei Ino, a Singapore-based analyst for Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ.

"I think you can take the view that there has been an unwinding, and that dollar/yen has been a part of that," he said.

The dollar could find support around its early December low of 101.62 yen during this pull-back phase, although a deeper drop to levels around the bottom of the daily Ichimoku cloud, now near 100.89 yen, cannot be ruled out, Ino said.

When investors' aversion to risk rises, their knee-jerk reaction is often to seek currencies with low, stable interest rates such as the yen, which are often used as funding currencies for riskier bets.

Still, the yen's safe-haven appeal has been eroded by the BOJ's massive quantitative easing and a deterioration in Japan's current account balance, which logged a record deficit in November.

The euro eased 0.1 percent to 139.43 yen. On Wednesday the euro had set a low of 139.04 yen, its lowest level since early December.

Against the dollar, the euro fell 0.1 percent to $1.3652 , but stayed above Wednesday's one-week low of $1.3603.

NEW ZEALAND DOLLAR

Investors were quick to punish the New Zealand dollar after the Reserve Bank of New Zealand kept interest rates steady, dashing some expectations that it might raise them.

The kiwi dollar touched a one-month low of $0.8173 and last changed hands at $0.8187, down 0.3 percent from late U.S. trade on Wednesday.

"The on-hold decision implies a little less urgency from the RBNZ than some participants may have thought, and a modest toning down of expectations is reflected in these adjustments," said Nick Tuffley, chief economist at ASB.

"It is unlikely it will fall too far, with the NZ economic outlook looking solid, and the prospect of higher interest rates just around the corner."

The Australian dollar eased 0.1 percent to $0.8733, struggling to gain traction due to risk aversion and as a private reading on Chinese manufacturing touched a six-month low.

In contrast to the RBNZ, central banks in Turkey and South Africa lifted interest rates in the past 48 hours as they scrambled to stem a panic flight of capital that had sent their currencies and stocks skidding.

Yet sentiment remained fragile with many emerging market currencies under pressure again overnight. Part of the reason for this exodus is less easy money from the Fed and the rate hikes have done little to stem the outflows, traders said.

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