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Tuesday February 24, 2009 - 21:14:30 GMT
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FOREX NEWS-US dollar jumps versus yen as risk aversion mounts

Tue Feb 24, 2009 3:52pm EST

* US dollar hits 3-month high against broadly weaker yen

* Bernanke warns U.S. economy remains at risk

* U.S. consumer confidence low but adds to dollar allure

(Adds details, updates prices)

By Vivianne Rodrigues

NEW YORK, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The U.S. dollar reached a three-month peak against the yen on Tuesday after U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned that unless government efforts succeed in restoring financial stability, the nation's recession may not end in 2009 and could drag into 2010.

Bernanke, in testimony to the Senate Banking Committee, said the shrinking economy was at further risk from a mutually reinforcing cycle of weak growth and financial market strain. For more details see [ID:nN24402092][ID:nN24405808].

Bernanke was delivering the Federal Reserve's semi-annual report on monetary policy.

Bernanke's comment fuelled the safe-haven bid for the U.S. currency which was also fed by a separate report showing U.S. consumer confidence plunged to another record low in February.

For more see [ID:nN24401372].

"The price action on forex continues to play out in a counter-intuitive way where weak U.S. data and commentary continues to be bullish for the dollar," said Brian Dolan, chief currency strategist at in Bedminster, New Jersey.

"The implication of a weaker economy in the States has bigger and deeper implications across the globe. For now, the dollar remains the ultimate destination for risk aversion".

In late afternoon trading in New York, the dollar rose to a three-month high of 96.94 yen <JPY=>, according to Reuters data, before retreating to 96.83, still up 2.5 percent on the day. The greenback was on track for its best day versus the yen since November.

The euro had climbed to as high as 124.75 yen <EURJPY=>, to trade last at 124.47, up 3.6 percent on the day.

Euro strength against the yen also helped buoy the the euro versus the dollar. The euro was last up 1.1 percent against the dollar at $1.2844 <EUR=>.

The U.S. Conference Board, an industry group, said on Tuesday that its sentiment index on consumer confidence fell to 25.0 from a downwardly revised 37.4 in January. The February reading was an all time low for the index, which began in 1967.

"We just got the worst consumer confidence number ever on record," said Matt Esteve, foreign-exchange trader, Tempus Consulting in Washington. "Investors remain risk averse and that's going to benefit the dollar obviously."


While the dollar was enjoying safe-haven status, investors were giving up on the yen, prompting a sell-off across the board in the Japanese currency.

The former linkage between a strong yen gaining on a perceived safety bid as stock markets tumbled has been taken over by worries about Japan's sharp economic downturn and as a lack of convincing policy steps by Japan erodes confidence.

Japanese Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano on Tuesday said the government was looking at stock buying and other methods to support the share market. For more details see [ID:nT359930].

The rally in the dollar versus the yen "has been voracious," said Kathy Lien, director of currency research at GFT Forex. But "the state of the U.S. economy is not driving the dollar higher. Instead it is the expectation that if the U.S. doesn't recover, no one else will."

Lien added USD/JPY could be headed to 98 in the short term.

Sterling rose earlier 1.8 percent to 139.45 yen <GBPJPY=> while the Australian dollar <AUDJPY=> gained earlier 2.6 percent to 62.21 yen, according to Reuters data.

Traders are also still keeping an eye on developments in the U.S. banking sector after a report on Monday that the government could end up owning a stake of up to 40 percent in Citigroup.

(Additional reporting by Nick Olivari)

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