Panic over bank turmoil sparks flight to safe haven currencies
Safe haven currencies like the US dollar and the yen were in demand on Thursday on renewed fears of a global banking crisis, after contagion from the implosion of US-based Silicon Valley Bank spread across the Atlantic to Swiss bank Credit Suisse.
In the latest blow to investors' confidence in the financial sector, Credit Suisse's shares on Wednesday plunged as much as 30%, after its largest shareholder said it could not provide further support to the bank.
The rout in its shares prompted the Swiss National Bank to throw a financial lifeline to the embattled lender, and Credit Suisse said on Thursday it intended to borrow up to 50 billion Swiss francs ($54 billion) from the bank, reports Reuters.
Currency markets showed little reaction to the news, however, as mounting worries that the recent stress unfolding across banks in the US and Europe could be a harbinger of a widespread systemic crisis remained at the top of traders' minds.
That sent them flocking to the greenback and Japanese yen, which are considered safer bets in times of turmoil, keeping the two currencies buoyed on Thursday.
The yen jumped about 0.5% in early Asia trade, extending Wednesday's 0.6% gain, and last stood at 133.02 per dollar.
Against the Swiss franc CHF=EBS, the dollar pared some of its previous session's 2.15% surge - the largest daily gain since 2015 - but kept the Swissie pinned near a one-week low.
"We've got some fresh turmoil in the European banking sector and things are still very fluid at the moment," said Carol Kong, a currency strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).
"Given the elevated uncertainties and concerns about broader financial contagion, the dollar, as well as the yen, will be the main beneficiaries because of safe haven demand."
The euro EUR=EBS was nursing deep losses on Thursday, last rising 0.12% to $1.0591, after tumbling 1.4% in the previous session. Likewise, sterling GBP=D3gained 0.15% to $1.2074, having fallen close to 0.9% on Wednesday.
Against a basket of currencies, the US dollar index =USD was last 0.07% lower at 104.58, after jumping nearly 1% in the previous session.
Credit Suisse, which is battling to recover from a string of scandals that have undermined the confidence of investors and clients, was the latest casualty to be caught up in a crisis of confidence after the collapse of SVB last week.
SVB's shutdown on Friday, followed two days later by the collapse of Signature Bank, forced US President Joe Biden to rush out assurances the financial system was safe and prompted emergency US measures giving banks access to more funding.
Investors remain on tenterhooks as they await further clarity on how widespread the fallout could be, with rescue measures from authorities doing little to soothe heightened fears thus far.
The focus has also turned to how central banks will navigate their paths on future rate hikes, with policymakers left in a bind on how much further they should raise rates to stem inflation without triggering a financial sector shakeout.
The European Central Bank (ECB) meets later on Thursday and is due to announce its interest rate decision following the meeting.
Ahead of that, traders have quickly moved to scale back their bets on a 50-basis-point rate hike, as the rout in Credit Suisse shares fanned concerns about the health of Europe's banks.
Two supervisory sources said that the ECB has contacted banks on its watch to quiz them on their exposure to Credit Suisse.
"There is certainly a risk that the ECB will not follow through with its pre-commitment of a 50-basis-point hike because of financial stability concerns," said CBA's Kong.
"It will definitely be a tough call for any major central bank to stick with its tightening path."
Elsewhere, the risk-sensitive Australian and New Zealand dollars were struggling to make headway after having slid close to 1% each on Wednesday.
The Aussie AUD=D3 was last 0.09% higher at $0.66275, while the kiwi NZD=D3 fell 0.57% to $0.61525, further pressured by weak economic data released on Thursday which showed New Zealand's economy shrinking in the fourth quarter.