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Dollar looks worse for wear, breakout fails after Yellen comments, weak inflation

  • Weak inflation data Friday and cautious comments from Fed Chair Janet Yellen earlier in the week have brought down expectations for higher interest rates.
  • That, in turn, hit the dollar, which had been poised for a possible breakout before Yellen's testimony Wednesday.
  • The dollar could still gain by the end of the year, but it appears to be stuck in a lower range for now.
People walk past a currency exchange shop displaying a giant US dollar in downtown Cairo, Egypt on November 3, 2016.
Khaled Desouki | AFP | Getty Images

The dollar is back in the doldrums, and it looks to be stuck that way for a while.

After surprisingly weak CPI inflation data, the dollar index sank to a new low of 95.186 Friday, the lowest since September of last year. The dollar's decline was broad-based, falling to a 10-month low against the British pound and a 15-month low against the Australian dollar. It lost a half percent against the euro.

Just days ago, currency strategists said the dollar may be ready to break out and move higher, based on the outlook for Fed interest-rate hikes.

"I think there was a window of opportunity. The window shut because of our poor data," said Marc Chandler, chief currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman. The dollar traded lower most of this year, after gaining sharply in the fourth quarter on expectations that President Donald Trump's election would lift the economy.

Some strategists had expected the dollar index could rise to about 100 into the year end, reversing most of a 6 percent decline so far for this year. But Fed Chair Janet Yellen's comments on inflation and interest rates Wednesday sent the dollar sliding, and soft inflation data Friday gave it another nudge lower.

"I think it will be a delayed process," said Robert Sinche, chief global strategist at Amherst Pierpont. He still expects the dollar to reach 100 at year end, but the currency is no longer ready to step up. He sees support at 95.

"We need inflation more than anything else. The employment numbers don't matter, growth numbers don't matter. All that matters is inflation," he said.

Chandler said there's not much on the near-term horizon that will drive the dollar higher, but it could still adjust if the Fed raises interest rates at the end of the year.

"The June inflation and retail sales don't matter for the December decision," he said.

Chandler said in the near term, the euro could reach $1.16. It was at $1.145 Friday. The dollar could go to 111.50 yen, from Friday's 112.66. The pound could head to $1.32 from Friday's $1.308.

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