FOREX-Yen slides as Russia sanctions seen as modest

Mon Mar 17, 2014 10:58am EDT

Related Topics

* Short-term safe-haven bids for yen unwound after calm Crimean referendum

* United States, EU impose sanctions on Russia

* Euro firm despite Russia crisis, seen as safe haven

By Gertrude Chavez-Dreyfuss

NEW YORK, March 17 (Reuters) - The safe-haven yen fell broadly on Monday after the United States and the European Union imposed what investors perceived to be modest economic sanctions on some officials of Russia and Ukraine following Crimea's vote to join Moscow over the weekend.

Although investors are not ruling out another flare-up in tensions between Russia and Ukraine, many do not expect contagion to major markets. The lack of military conflict between the two countries has also appeased investors.

Over 95 percent of Crimean voters chose in a Sunday referendum to join Russia, an outcome denounced by Western powers and Kiev as illegal and a sham.

As a result, the United States on Monday announced sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for Russia's military incursion into Crimea, including two top aides to Russian President Vladimir Putin. The U.S. order freezes any assets in the United States and bans travel to the 11 individuals named as responsible for the Russian move into Crimea.

The European Union, meanwhile, is to impose sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans on 21 officials from Russia and Ukraine after Crimea applied to join Russia on Monday, Lithuania's foreign minister said.

"The sanctions don't sound particularly aggressive," said Richard Franulovich, senior currency strategist at Westpac Securities in New York. "Also some of the worst case scenarios they were anticipating over the weekend, such as actual military engagement, did not really materialize."

In mid-morning trading, the dollar rose 0.4 percent against the yen to 101.76 yen, rising after four days of losses as investors had bought the safe-haven Japanese currency in the midst of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.

The euro also gained 0.6 percent to 141.83 yen, and climbed against the dollar as well to $1.3941, despite a dip in euro zone inflation, the latest indicator to argue for outright money-printing by the European Central Bank to support growth.

Europe's common currency has traded within a cent of a 2-1/2-year high around $1.3967 since last Thursday, when ECB President Mario Draghi voiced concerns about the euro's strength.

"We have seen some tangible developments on data and from the ECB that should be negative for the euro yet it hasn't weakened substantially," said Jane Foley, a currency strategist with Rabobank in London.

"I think increasingly the euro is exhibiting safe haven properties. If, for example, money is being herded out of eastern Europe it is quite feasible that one of the first places it will go is the euro."

Another safe haven, the Swiss franc, also struggled on Monday as risk appetite improved. The euro was up 0.1 percent versus the franc at 1.2152.

FEWER DOLLAR BULLS

The dollar has failed to deliver the strength predicted by many banks earlier this year, with the euro up four cents from late January lows.

The latest data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission released on Friday showed speculators pared bullish bets on the dollar for a fifth straight week through March 11, with net longs falling to their lowest in more than four months.

Overall, though, investors have maintained net long positions on the dollar for 19 consecutive weeks. The last time speculators were short the greenback was in late October 2013.

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