Dollar rises as Fed officials put April in play for rate hike

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The dollar edged up on Monday after multiple Federal Reserve officials in separate appearances sounded a hawkish tone, suggesting U.S. interest rate increases were a “live” possibility at the central bank’s upcoming meeting in April.

The U.S. central bank surprised investors last week by lowering its outlook for rate increases in 2016 and sounded a note of caution on the fragile global economy. That triggered heavy selling from traders betting on a stronger dollar.

On Monday, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart said in prepared remarks that there has been “sufficient momentum” in the U.S. economy to justify a rate hike as early as next month. That bolstered the dollar, which hit session highs against the euro and Japanese yen after his comments.

“April is certainly sooner than many were expecting, considering it’s not a meeting where we’ll have a post-meeting press conference,” said Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange Inc in Washington.

“He (Lockhart) reiterated that every meeting is a ‘live’ meeting going forward and I think that overall somewhat hawkish tone to his comments is largely what’s helping support the dollar this afternoon.”

The dollar rose 0.25 percent against the yen to 111.83 yen.

The euro fell 0.2 percent against the dollar to $1.1246.

Lockhart’s remarks followed similar statements from San Francisco Fed President John Williams, Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker and St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, who also pointed to April as being viable for rate hikes.

Lockhart’s testimony stood out because of his reputation as a centrist among the Fed presidents, Esiner noted.

The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency’s strength against a basket of its peers, rose 0.2 percent to 95.298.

The dollar’s strength was also buoyed by a slide in sterling on rising ‘Brexit’ fears. The British pound sank more than half a percent on concerns that a split in the ruling Conservative Party is deepening ahead of June’s referendum on European Union membership.

Worries about Prime Minister David Cameron’s ability to keep his Conservative party together and keep Britain in the European Union jumped after Iain Duncan Smith, a leading voice for the UK to exit the EU, resigned from the cabinet late on Friday.

The pound fell 0.6 percent against the dollar to $1.4397.

“Sterling does not normally react strongly to UK politics so this is probably due to Brexit,” said Richard Benson, head of portfolio investment at currency managers Millennium Global.

Source: Reuters

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