June 3, 2019 / 11:38 AM / 4 months ago

FOREX-Swiss franc races to 2-year highs vs euro as trade concerns rise

* Graphic: World FX rates in 2019 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh

By Saikat Chatterjee

LONDON, June 3 (Reuters) - The Swiss franc rallied to its highest levels in nearly two years against the euro on Monday as U.S. President Donald Trump hardened his trade stance to countries beyond China, prompting investors to move into perceived safe-haven currencies.

Trade tensions have grabbed centre stage for investors in recent weeks after Trump increased tariffs on Chinese imports, threatened to raise tariffs on Mexican imports and removed preferential trade treatment for India.

Rising strains on trade have prompted investors to dump risky assets such as equities and flock to low-yielding currencies such as the yen and the franc with the latter flirting close to levels where the Swiss National Bank has traditionally intervened to keep the currency weak.

“While the Swiss franc has appreciated strongly in recent weeks, much of that gains is due to the wave of risk aversion sweeping across markets and we need to see further substantial gains before the central bank has to step in,” said Manuel Oliveri, a currency strategist at Credit Agricole in London.

Against the euro, the franc rallied more than half a percent to 1.1120 francs per euro, its highest level since July 2017, before trimming some gains to stand 0.2% up on the day.

Monday’s gains come on top of a strong surge in May when the franc gained more than 2% versus the euro, its biggest monthly rise in eight months as trade tensions fuelled a global selloff in risky assets.

The Swiss National Bank, which pursues a monetary policy of negative interest rates and currency intervention, has traditionally intervened when the franc has risen to around 1.10 francs per euro but low inflation and trade tensions suggest the franc has to gain far more from current levels.

Latest data indicate price pressures remain well contained with consumer prices rising 0.6 percent in May from a year-ago period.

The franc wasn’t the only low-yielding currency to shine, with the Japanese yen also broadly gaining against a swathe of currencies.

EURO VULNERABLE

The euro was slightly firmer on the day at $1.1185 but investors remained broadly cautious on the outlook of the single currency as manufacturing data in the eurozone contracted for a fourth month in July.

The weak data comes in a busy week for European Central Bank policymakers as officials may announce details of a new round of cheap multi-year loans for banks.

Meanwhile, expectations of a rate cut have also grown in money markets with futures pricing in a 50% chance of a rate cut before the end of the year.

“With a dovish ECB expected, it is challenging to envision strong gains now for the euro,” said Marc Chandler, chief market strategist at Bannockburn Global Forex.

A senior Chinese official and trade negotiator said on Sunday Washington cannot use pressure to force a trade deal on China and refused to be drawn on whether the leaders of the two countries would meet at the G20 summit in Japan at the end of the month to bash out an agreement.

The dollar dipped after benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury yields hit as low as 2.121% on Monday, their lowest since September 2017.

Against a basket of six major currencies, the dollar was slightly negative at 97.71, though it is still up 1.6% for the year.

Reporting by Saikat Chatterjee; Editing by William Maclean

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