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Dollar ticks up, but yen holds gains as recession fears grow

Japanese yen
John Phillips | Digital Editor for CNBC.com

The U.S. dollar was modestly higher against the yen on Wednesday morning, but the move indicated little change in investor sentiment as the Japanese currency largely clung to its recent gains on growing fears of a global economic downturn.

The yen stood at 105.83 per dollar, 0.10% weaker on the day, but nevertheless close to the 2-1/2-year high of 104.44 hit on Monday as renewed trade tension sent investors into safe-haven assets like the Japanese currency and government bonds.

Two-year U.S. government bond yields rose further above 10-year yields, a deepening of the yield-curve inversion, a widely recognized signal of coming recession. Investors are worried that the trade conflict between the United States and China could tip the world into an economic slowdown.

"Much, if not all, of the decline in dollar/yen is simply down to markets becoming more risk-averse," said Adam Cole, currency strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

The dollar bid on Wednesday however, was unlikely to be the result of a risk-off move.

"This supports our view that as bad as the risks have gotten in the U.S., the rest of the world looks even shakier. Risks of hard Brexit continue to rise, while Italian political drama continues," said Win Thin, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, referring to the potential for the UK to leave the European Union without a deal on Oct. 31.

The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of six currencies, rose 0.19% to 98.186. The Chinese yuan edged lower to 7.1690 in offshore markets, not far from the record low of 7.186 it touched on Monday.

Elsewhere, sterling slumped as much as 1% against the euro and the dollar on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's move to limit parliament's opportunity to derail his Brexit plans.

A government source said the prime minister, who has vowed to take Britain out of the EU without a divorce deal if necessary, would set an Oct. 14 date for the Queen's Speech: the formal state opening of a new session of parliament.

That would effectively shut parliament starting in mid-September for around a month and reduce the parliamentary time in which lawmakers could try to block a no-deal Brexit.

Sterling was last down 0.68% at $1.2204 and 0.62% lower versus the euro at 90.77 pence, just off the day's lows.

The euro was slightly weaker against the dollar, down 0.11% at $1.1078 with little in the way of new economic data scheduled for Wednesday or developments to spark bigger moves.