* C$ falls to 97.53 U.S. cents
* Bond prices slump
* Bank of Canada reasserts rate stance, markets wary
By Ka Yan Ng and Jennifer Kwan
TORONTO, March 24 (Reuters) - The Canadian dollar fell on
Wednesday in a general shift out of risky assets in favor of
the U.S. dollar, but it cut losses after a speech by Bank of
Canada Governor Mark Carney was perceived as slightly more
hawkish on raising interest rates.
Pressured by lower oil and equity prices as well as
heightened investor worries about sovereign debt in Greece,
Portugal and others, the Canadian dollar dropped as low as
C$1.0282 to the U.S. dollar, or 97.26 U.S. cents, its lowest
point in two weeks.
It pared losses as Carney said the bank is monitoring firm
inflation numbers, and said that higher than expected consumer
prices in Canada have been the result of both transitory
factors and underlying economic strength. He also put extra
emphasis on the conditionality of the bank's commitment to
current ultra-low rates in language not used before.
In a news conference after his speech, however, Carney
appeared to seek to dampen any market expectations that he
would raise borrowing costs as early as June. [ID:nN24141775]
"Fundamentally nothing has changed for Canada. It continues
to be a coveted currency and Carney's comments today didn't
really change any attitudes towards Canada," said Jack Spitz,
managing director of foreign exchange at National Bank
The Canadian dollar ended at C$1.0253 to the U.S. dollar,
or 97.53 U.S. cents, down from Tuesday's finish of C$1.0161 to
the U.S. dollar, or 98.42 U.S. cents.
The currency has fallen in four of the last five sessions,
after an 11-day winning streak earlier this month that helped
bring it close to parity with the greenback last week.
While the fundamental picture for the Canadian dollar
remains positive, it has been undermined by external factors.
Investors remained cautious over Greece's debt woes ahead
of a European Union summit on March 25-26. Adding to those
concerns was Portugal's sovereign credit rating, which was
downgraded on budget concerns. [MKTS/GLOB] [ID:nLDE62N0XD]
"Other global issues with respect to risk aversion
predominantly coming out of the eurozone were driving price
action today," Spitz said.
Bond prices tumbled on Wednesday, mimicking the move in the
U.S. Treasuries market, after auctions on both sides of the
border, while the Canadian market also took note of Carney's
language on the conditionality of the bank's commitment to low
Yields on overnight index swaps, which trade based on
expectations for the Bank of Canada's key policy rate, edged
higher after Carney's speech was published, showing the market
saw credit tightening as more likely than before he spoke.
The two-year government bond <CA2YT=RR> fell 13 Canadian
cents to C$99.63 to yield 1.695 percent, while the 10-year bond
<CA10YT=RR> dropped 58 Canadian cents to C$101.62 to yield
U.S. Treasuries fell as strong economic data and weak
demand in an auction of five-year notes had investors fleeing
government debt. [US/]
In contrast, the government of Canada's C$3.2 billion
auction of three-year bonds on Wednesday attracted decent
demand and results were in line with the view that domestic
interest rates will rise this year. Canada's government bonds
have met with reasonably good demand because the debt has been
seen as a safe bet globally. [ID:nN24169515]
While supply was digested, the broad focus was still on
debt problems in Greece and Portugal, putting Canada's relative
fiscal position in even better light overall.
RBC Capital Markets analysts said Greece and Portugal are
flashpoints on its "heat map", scoring highest in terms of
fiscal vulnerability and garnering the most negative market
response. Countries like Canada are among those in the "no
risk" category, RBC analysts said during a government debt
outlook roundtable on Wednesday.
Mark Chandler, head of Canadian fixed income and currency
strategy, said Canada last year drew a record level of interest
from foreign investors.
"Very much so the story now in Canada is it's almost like
an insurance play," he said. "Canada is being seen as both a
fiscal winner, a debt and deficit winner, and as well a bit of
an insurance play in terms of the financial sector."
(Reporting by Ka Yan Ng; editing by Peter Galloway)