Swiss franc slumps in mini 'flash-crash'; dollar up on trade angst

11 Feb 2019

Swiss franc slumps in mini 'flash-crash'; dollar up on trade angst

By Tom Finn

LONDON The dollar rose on Monday as concerns grew that U.S.-China talks would not heal a rift over trade between the world's largest economies and the Swiss franc slid in a mini "flash-crash".

A brief 1 percent drop in the franc gave currency traders a shock during Monday's Asia session.

A Japanese public holiday meant that markets were quiet and thin liquidity helped cause a mini recurrence of the "flash crash" that hit foreign exchange markets early last month.

Within a matter of minutes, the Swissie slid from 1.0004 per dollar around 2200 GMT on Sunday to as low as 1.0095, the lowest since November, before reversing the move almost as suddenly to trade 0.2 percent stronger on the day.

The move was similar to the whiplash that saw the yen jump 7 percent against the Australian dollar early on Jan. 3, when Japanese markets were nearing the end of a week-long New Year holiday break.

"Since there was no material news during the early Asian session, the move seems owed mainly to some large orders being executed in an environment of very thin liquidity," said Marios Hadjikyriacos, an analyst at broking firm XM.

Other analysts downplayed the move, though.

"There's nothing to comment on... a 1 percent move in thin liquidity is not a crash. If anyone knows about seismic FX market moves... it's the Swiss National Bank," said Viraj Patel, a currency strategist at Arkera, a financial technology firm.

The franc soared as much as 30 percent in 2015 after the SNB shocked markets by scrapping the franc's peg to the euro.

At 12:30 GMT the Swiss franc was down 0.2 percent at 1.002 francs per dollar.

That was largely due to broad strength in the dollar.

The greenback is being lifted by its safe-haven appeal as investors, worried about a sharp global economic slowdown, pile into the world's most liquid currency.

The U.S. currency is headed for an eighth consecutive day of gains.

High-level talks in Beijing this week are a leading focus for investors, many of whom see little prospect for a trade deal and instead expect an extension of the March 1 deadline for deciding whether to increase tariffs.

Emerging market and China-sensitive currencies such as the Australian dollar are most likely to be affected.

The dollar's recent strength has emerged despite the Federal Reserve striking a cautious tone at its policy meeting in January.

"The U.S. currency is currently in demand as a safe haven. This is reflected in the fact that the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen - also typical safe haven currencies - have also been able to appreciate since the start of the month," said Thu Lan Nguyen, an FX strategist at Commerzbank (DE:CBKG) in Germany.

The dollar index, a gauge of its value versus six major peers, was 0.2 percent higher at 96.83.

On Monday morning, when China markets reopened after a one-week holiday break, the dollar was 0.5 percent higher versus the yuan at 6.7753.

The euro was a touch lower versus the greenback at $1.1315.

The euro came under pressure as core European government debt yields touched their lowest in over two years. The single currency has lost 2.5 percent so far this month.

The European Commission on Thursday sharply cut its forecasts for euro zone economic growth for this year and next.

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