Yen rises as trade war fears, stock losses spur safety bids

Key Points
  • Trump expected to impose tariffs aimed at China
  • Dollar index rebounds from one-month low
  • Sterling falls after BOE holds U.K. interest rates steady
Dan Kitwood | Getty Images

The yen rose on Thursday, reaching a three-week peak against the dollar, as traders piled into the Japanese currency in a safe-haven move spurred by global trade tension and losses in stocks.

The greenback was little changed, however, against a group of currencies, including the yen. It rebounded from a near one-month trough reached earlier Thursday in the wake of hints the Federal Reserve, led by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell, is not prepared to raise interest rates more than three times in 2018 as data have showed inflation is not accelerating.

"As the dust has settled, the market gave what Powell said during his press conference a dovish spin," said Jack McIntyre, portfolio manager at Brandywine Global in Philadelphia.

The Fed raised U.S. interest rates by 25 basis points to 1.75 percent on Wednesday and signaled two more hikes for 2018, but dollar bulls were expecting a total of four rate hikes in 2018. With the Fed meeting in their rear-view mirror, traders turned to trade tariffs that U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to impose on China, which have stoked concerns about retaliation from the world's second-largest economy.

Fed: 2018 rate outlook unchanged at 3 hikes

Trump will announce the tariffs on Thursday, a White House official said, in a move aimed at curbing theft of U.S. technology.

"We are going down a protectionist path and we don't know what the response is going to be," McIntyre said.

Concerns about a global trade war sparked further selling in equities. The three major U.S. stock indexes were down more than 1.5 percent.

In times of rising anxiety and market volatility, investors tend to favor the yen, U.S. Treasuries and other perceived low-risk investments.

The yen was last up 0.53 percent against the dollar at 129.79 .

The euro also weakened against the Japanese currency, down 0.78 percent at 130.04 yen.

An index that tracks the greenback against the yen, euro and four other currencies rose 0.06 percent, to 89.83.

Meanwhile, the Bank of England as expected left rates unchanged as robust British wage data cemented expectations that the BOE would raise them in May.

The pound extended its overnight rise to hit a near seven-week high of $1.4220. It was last down 0.21 percent to $1.4109.