FOREX-Dollar steady, riskier currencies fall on Omicron fears

By Elizabeth Howcroft

LONDON, Dec 20 (Reuters)Currencies including the Australian dollar and British pound fell on Monday we fears further curbs could be imposed in Europe to contain the Omicron variant coronavirus.

With last week’s slew of major central bank meetings out of the way, investors turned their focus to the rapid spread of the variant.

The Netherlands went into lockdown on Sunday and local newspapers in Italy reported that new restrictions were being considered there too.

“Investor risk sentiment has been undermined by further evidence over the weekend of the disruptive impact of the new Omicron COVID variant,” MUFG currency analyst Lee Hardman wrote in a note to clients.

“The stricter lockdown in the Netherlands will heighten fears that similar measures will be adopted in other European countries in the coming weeks.”

The “risk-off” tone was clear as European markets opened, but pulled back slightly as the session went on.

The Australian dollar, which is seen as a liquid proxy for risk appetite, was down 0.2% at $0.7109 at 1230 GMThaving earlier hit its lowest in 13 days AUD=D3.

Britain’s pound was down 0.2% at $1.32105GBP=D3. GBP/

British Health Minister Sajid Javid on Sunday did not rule out the possibility of further lockdowns before Christmas.

A slump in oil prices also hurt commodity-linked currencies. The Norwegian crown fell, with the euro up around 0.4% versus the crown EURNOK=D3.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if sterling, the Swedish crown and Norwegian crown are the G10 currencies which suffer from being the chosen ones to sell in a risk-off environment,” said Kit Juckes, head of FX strategy at Societe Generale.

“Sterling really is the market’s favorite to go after.”

A further hit to market sentiment came from uncertainty over US President Joe Biden’s domestic policy bill, known as “Build Back Better”.

A moderate Democrat who is key to passing the $1.75 trillion bill said on Sunday he would not support the package, citing concerns about inflation.

Goldman Sachs cuts its US growth forecasts and the US 10-year Treasury yield US10YT=RR fell to its lowest since Dec. 6 on Monday.

The US dollar index was at 96.544 at 1231 GMT, not far from last month’s peak of 96.938, which was its highest since July 2020.=USD

Speculators’ net long bets on the US dollar, or bets that the dollar will rise, edged higher in the week to Dec. 14, reflecting a growing desire among market participants to hold the greenback.

Elsewhere, the euro was up 0.3% at $1.12695only partly recovering after tumbling 0.8% on Friday EUR=EBS after the European Central Bank took tentative steps to exit its pandemic-era stimulus.

China cut its lending benchmark rate for the first time in 20 months to prop up its slowing economy, sending the yuan to a 10-day low.

Turkey’s lira sputtered to another record low on Monday despite $6 billion in central bank interventions this month, after President Tayyip Erdogan doubled down on his unorthodox low-rates policy by referring to Islamic usury doctrine.

Meanwhile, cryptocurrencies bitcoin and ether were on track for at second consecutive day of decline. Bitcoin was around $45,765.67having fallen far below year all-time high of $69,000 hit in November.BTC=BTSP

World FX rates

(Reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft; editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa and Jason Neely)

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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