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US dollar sags against yen as Syria concerns sap risk appetite

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The US dollar struggled against the yen on Thursday as investors sought shelter in the safe-haven Japanese currency on concerns over the possibility of Western military action against Syria.

[TOKYO] The US dollar struggled against the yen on Thursday as investors sought shelter in the safe-haven Japanese currency on concerns over the possibility of Western military action against Syria.

The geopolitical tensions shifted some focus away from the US-China trade standoff, with the US dollar last trading little changed at 106.81 yen after losing 0.4 per cent overnight. The yen often draws demand in times of market turmoil and political tensions.

The US dollar had risen to 107.40 yen on Tuesday after comments from Chinese President Xi Jinping calmed fears over a US-China trade war, which had gripped global financial markets over the past few weeks.

The respite for the greenback was short lived, however, as focus shifted to the possibility of wider military conflict in the Middle East.

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Tensions increased after US President Donald Trump warned Russia on Wednesday of imminent military action in Syria over a suspected poison gas attack, declaring that missiles "will be coming" and lambasting Moscow for standing by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"The yen has gained against the dollar on geopolitical concerns. The dollar has weakened against other currencies as well, but other factors are more at play, such as higher commodity prices and ECB monetary policy expectations," said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief forex strategist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo.

"As for the Syrian tensions, divisions are seemingly being drawn along Cold War era lines with the United States, Britain and France on one side and Russia on the other, suggesting any standoff could be prolonged," Mr Yamamoto said.

The euro was up 0.05 per cent at US$1.2375 and on its fifth session of gains, supported this week as comments from European Central Bank officials reinforced views that the central bank is on track to normalise monetary policy.

Commodity-linked currencies were also buoyant against the US dollar with crude oil prices at their highest since late 2014 due to the Syria tensions. The Canadian dollar reached a seven-week high of C$1.2545 per US dollar overnight and last traded at C$1.2570.

The Australian dollar was steady at US$0.776 after touching US$0.7773, the highest since March 22.

The US dollar index against a basket of six major currencies was down 0.1 per cent at 89.457 after dipping overnight to a two-week trough of 89.355.

With attention on Syria the US dollar did not receive much support from hawkish-sounding Federal Reserve meeting minutes.

All of the Fed's policymakers felt that the US economy would firm further and that inflation would rise in the coming months, minutes of the central bank's last policy meeting on March 20-21 released on Wednesday showed.

The Hong Kong dollar fell to a new 33-year low of 7.8500 per US dollar early on Thursday morning, hitting the lower end of the monetary authority's targeted trading band, as the interest rate gap between US dollar and Hong Kong dollar widened further.

REUTERS