U.S. dollar falls on dovish remarks by Fed’s Powell

The dollar fell on Friday, after two days of gains, as Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck a cautious tone on further interest rate moves, saying that the risk of under- or over-tightening is now more balanced.

The market viewed his comments as dovish, with investors pricing in expectations that the Fed is likely done raising rates.

Powell said it was clear that U.S. monetary policy was slowing the economy as expected, with a benchmark overnight interest rate “well into restrictive territory.” Powell noted, however, that the Fed is prepared to tighten policy further if deemed appropriate.

“Powell just gave the thumbs up to the other side of the camp believing that the Fed has acted correctly and can afford to wait-and-see without (hiking), but not necessarily cutting,” said Juan Perez, director of trading at Monex USA in Washington.

The U.S. dollar index – which tracks the currency against six major counterparts – was last down 0.2% at 103.23 after ending November on Thursday with its weakest monthly performance in a year. It is poised to end lower for a third straight week.

Following Powell’s remarks, U.S. rate futures on Friday priced in a 64% chance of a rate cut by the March meeting, compared to 43% late on Thursday, according to the CME’s FedWatch tool. For the May meeting, U.S. rate cut chances surged to 90%, from about 76% the day before.

Powell’s remarks came after data showed the U.S. manufacturing sector remained weak in November, affirming his comments that Fed rate hikes have started to slow the economy.

The Institute for Supply Management (ISM) said its manufacturing PMI was unchanged at 46.7 last month. It was the 13th consecutive month that the PMI stayed below 50, which indicates contraction in manufacturing.

Softer U.S. and euro zone inflation data on Thursday reinforced expectations that central banks in both regions might be done raising interest rates, leading traders to bet on earlier cuts next year.

Goldman Sachs on Friday said it expected the European Central Bank to deliver its first rate cut in the second quarter of 2024, compared to a previous forecast of a cut in the third quarter.

Mixed economic data across Europe failed to set the tone for the euro, with a survey showing a downturn in euro zone manufacturing activity eased slightly last month but remained deeply in the red. Britain also reported contraction in manufacturing but an improved reading for a third straight month.

The euro was last down 0.1% at $1.0874, cutting losses and benefiting from a sell-off in the dollar following Powell’s comments.

Sterling rose 0.5% to $1.2699.

Against the yen, the dollar dropped 0.9% to 146.855 yen. The yen was on course for its third straight week of gains, pulling it away from the near 33-year low of 151.92 per dollar touched in the middle of November.

Rising expectations of the Bank of Japan abandoning its ultra-easy monetary policy next year along with a drop in U.S. yields have buoyed the Asian currency in the past few weeks.

In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin continued to strengthen, rising to an 18-month high of $38,839. It was last up 2.8% at $38,788.

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