Dollar slips after Powell beckons tapering, holds on rate hikes

Key Points
  • The dollar index, which measures the greenback's performance against a basket of six major currencies, fell 0.42% to 92.6540.

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In this photo illustration, 2, 50 and 100 dollar bills are seen displayed.
Igor Golovniov | LightRocket | Getty Images

The dollar slid on Friday after the market perceived a highly anticipated speech by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell to be dovish, even as he indicated tapering the U.S. central bank's massive support to the economy could start by year's end.

Powell said there had been clear progress toward maximum employment and he was of the view that if the U.S. economy evolved broadly as anticipated, "it could be appropriate to start reducing the pace of asset purchases this year."

But Powell told the Fed's annual Jackson Hole symposium that the timing and pace of tapering should not be seen as a signal for when interest rates will begin to rise, a message the market perceived as being dovish as it will keep credit cheap.

The speech showed Powell has finally committed to a timeline on tapering, but that he did not adopt the hawkish stance of some Fed officials, said Gregory Anderson, global head of FX strategy at BMO Capital Markets.

"It's pretty clear that if you were worried about the timeline, that we announce in September that we're going to taper starting Oct. 1, that's not there in this speech," Anderson said.

"It's not as bad as feared based on the most extreme of the hawks," he added.

The dollar index, which measures the greenback's performance against a basket of six major currencies, fell 0.42% to 92.6540.

The euro rose 0.39% to $1.1797, while the yen rose 0.23% at $109.8200.

After minutes of the Fed's policy-setting meeting in July were released last week, the dollar marched higher because most participants anticipated tapering to begin this year.

Powell was clear to detach tapering from "the rate liftoff," or raising interest rates, said David Petrosinelli, senior trader at Insperex in New York.

Powell wanted to ensure the market does not expect the beginning of tapering to mean the onset of a Fed tightening cycle, Petrosinelli said. "He was very clear to delineate that."

The dollar tumbled as market participants sharply lowered expectations for the Fed's long-term tightening trajectory, said Karl Schamotta, director Of global product and market strategy at Cambridge Global Payments in Toronto.

"Powell is dropping a hammer on the middle of the interest rate curve and compelling traders to search for yield in foreign markets," Schamotta said.

The dollar began to retreat about 15 minutes before Powell spoke, after James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Fed, reiterated his hawkish view that tapering should begin soon and the program end by next year's first quarter.

Benchmark 10-year Treasury yields fell 2.5 basis points to trade at 1.3188%, after jumping to 1.375%, the highest since Aug. 12, on Thursday following bullish comments by another regional Fed president.

Overnight, the safe-haven dollar got some support after Thursday's suicide bomb attack at Kabul airport.

The New Zealand dollar dipped slightly after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that a lockdown against COVID-19 in Auckland is likely to remain in place for another two weeks.

The Swedish crown was flat at 8.7070 after mixed economic data.

The Canadian dollar fell 0.57% to 1.2612 versus the U.S. dollar.