The yen advanced to a six-week high against the euro on speculation the spreading swine flu outbreak will increase demand for assets perceived as safer.
Japan’s currency also rose to a four-week high versus the dollar as the World Health Organization raised its pandemic alert to an unprecedented level, fueling concern the virus will deepen the global recession. Singapore’s dollar fell a second day on speculation the flu outbreak will curb tourism. The euro approached a one-week low against the pound as the European Central Bank may start buying bonds to hold down borrowing costs.
“The spread of swine flu has sparked concern over global risk and strengthened risk aversion,” said Yousuke Hosokawa, a senior currency dealer in Tokyo at Chuo Mitsui Trust & Banking Co., a unit of Japan’s seventh-largest publicly traded bank. “Thus demand for the yen as a refuge will increase.”
The yen advanced to 125.58 per euro as of 10:40 a.m. in Tokyo, from 126.14 in New York yesterday. It earlier rose to 125.32, the strongest since March 12. The yen climbed to 96.50 per dollar from 96.77, after reaching 96.28, the highest level since March 30. The dollar traded at $1.3016 versus the euro from $1.3036. The euro bought 89.16 pence from 88.94 pence yesterday.
Swine flu cases in the U.S. doubled to 40 and Mexico’s toll of deaths related to the virus reached as many as 149 as concern among global health officials about other outbreaks spurred an emergency meeting of the WHO. U.S. officials yesterday recommended nonessential travel to Mexico be avoided, and the European Union told travelers to avoid outbreak areas. Australia, Japan, Singapore and South Korea are screening air passengers.
Mexico’s currency was at 14.0275 versus the dollar from 14.0505 yesterday, after falling to 14.1007, the weakest level since April 1.
The peso weakened yesterday against all of the other major currencies tracked by Bloomberg as the government closed schools until May 6 and shut public events to contain swine flu. The currency dropped 5.1 percent yesterday against the greenback, the biggest drop since Oct. 15.
“The outbreak of the swine flu emerged at a bad time and threw cold water on investors who had just started to buy back riskier assets and currencies,” said Taisuke Tanaka, managing director and foreign-exchange strategist in Tokyo at Nomura Securities Co., a unit of Japan’s largest securities broker.
Currencies in Asia fell versus the dollar on concern swine flu may spread to the region.
South Korea is testing a patient suspected of suffering from swine flu, the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Family Affairs said in a statement today. Singapore tested two people for flu symptoms yesterday and the results for both were negative for swine flu, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on its Web site.
“Asian currencies are reacting negatively because overall yesterday the dollar did rally quite a bit,” said Venkatraman Anantha-Nageswaran, chief investment officer for the Asia- Pacific region at Bank Julius Baer & Co. in Singapore. “That’s because of some risk aversion coming in due to the swine flu.”
Singapore’s dollar declined 0.3 percent to S$1.5013 from $1.4965, Indonesia’s rupiah dropped 0.2 percent to 10,860 and Malaysia’s ringgit fell 0.5 percent to 3.6165. South Korea’s won slid 0.4 percent to 1,348.50 per dollar.
The euro may fall for a second day against the dollar on speculation ECB policy makers this week will signal the central bank may lower interest rates and pump additional money into the economy to push down borrowing costs.
The ECB stands “ready to use unconventional measures of quantitative easing” to increase the flow of credit, governing council member Ewald Nowotny said yesterday in New York. Executive board member Lorenzo Bini Smaghi will speak in Geneva today and fellow board member Juergen Stark will speak in Siegen, Germany tomorrow.
“The ECB is likely to take non-traditional monetary easing measures,” said Tsutomu Soma, a bond and currency dealer at Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo. “There’s a large downside risk for the euro,” which may drop to $1.2980 and 124.75 yen today, he said.
Investors in the past week increased bets the ECB will reduce its 1.25 percent target lending rate at its May 7 meeting. The implied yield on the three-month Euribor interest-rate futures contract for June delivery fell to 1.295 percent yesterday from 1.325 percent a week earlier.