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Dollar Shines, Euro Suffers as COVID Fears Flare over Europe

The safe-haven U.S. dollar traded close to a 16-month high to the euro on Monday on growing anxiety over the impact of surging COVID-19 infections in Europe, with Austria reimposing a full lockdown and Germany considering following suit.

The greenback was near its strongest since early October against the riskier Australian and Canadian dollars, with the commodity-linked currencies also pressured by a slump in crude oil.

The dollar got additional support from bullish comments by Federal Reserve officials Richard Clarida and Christopher Waller on Friday who suggested a faster pace of stimulus tapering may be appropriate amid a quickening recovery and heated inflation. 

A more rapid end to tapering raises the possibility of earlier interest rate increases too. Currently the market is priced for the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to start hiking rates by the middle of next year.

The dollar index , which gauges the currency against six major peers, traded little changed at 96.148, staying within sight of last week's 16-month high of 96.266.

The euro slumped 0.25% to $1.12705 -- the 16-month low hit on Friday.

"EURUSD has been in free-fall and will likely get the lion's share of attention from clients looking for a play on growing restrictions and tensions across Europe," Chris Weston, head of research at brokerage Pepperstone in Melbourne, wrote in a note to clients.

"For momentum, trend followers and tactical traders, short EUR remains attractive here."

Europe has again become the epicentre of the pandemic, accounting for half of global cases and deaths. 

A fourth wave of infections has plunged Germany, Europe's largest economy, into a national emergency, Health Minister Jens Spahn said, warning that vaccinations alone will not cut case numbers.

Austria becomes the first country in western Europe to reimpose a full COVID-19 lockdown from Monday.

Worries that a slowdown in Europe could hit energy demand dented crude oil, which was also in retreat over the prospect of a U.S.-led release of emergency stockpiles.

The dollar added 0.10% against the oil-linked Canadian loonie to C$1.2640, closing in on Friday's high at C$1.2663, the strongest level since Oct. 1.

The Aussie gained 0.22% to $0.72525, supported by a rise in iron ore prices, after earlier dipping to $0.72275 for the first time since Oct. 6.

"We expect AUD to remain heavy in the near‑term (and) a dip to $0.70 is possible," with a slowing Chinese economy and the Reserve Bank of Australia's dovish policy stance dragging on the currency, Joseph Capurso, a strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, wrote in a report.

Meanwhile, "USD can extend its recent rally this week and set a fresh 2021 high," he said. "Another round of strong U.S. inflation can further propel market pricing of FOMC rate hikes and the USD."

The minutes of the FOMC's meeting at the start of this month, when policymakers announced a start to tapering, are due Wednesday and may provide more insight on how many Fed officials are considering faster tapering or earlier rate increases.

U.S. President Joe Biden is also likely to announce his nominee for Fed chair this week, after interviewing incumbent Jerome Powell and Fed governor Lael Brainard.

"Governor Brainard is more dovish and her nomination could prompt some kneejerk USD selling," Westpac strategists wrote in a note.

The dollar gained 0.1% against its fellow safe-haven Japanese currency , changing hands at 114.15 yen per dollar, in the middle of a range seen over the past week and a half.

In crypto, bitcoin traded around $57,500, consolidating after its retreat from an all-time high at $69,000, marked earlier this month.

Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Ana Nicolaci da Costa

Source: Reuters

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