High-flying euro pushes down European shares

Stocks prices are displayed on an electronic stock board at Asia Plus Securities PCL headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013. Thailand’s baht halted a three-day decline and government bonds rose for a second day amid optimism an improving local economy and relatively higher yields than developed nations will spur more fund inflows. Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg

LONDON (Reuters) – The euro hit a 23-month high on Monday against an ailing dollar, weighing on shares of European exporters before weaker-than-expected German business activity took the shine off the single currency.

The euro touched $1.1684 in Asian trade before pulling back to trade at $1.1648, down 0.2 percent on the day. It hit a low for the day of $1.1638 after preliminary data showing German private sector growth slowed more than expected in July.

The euro’s strength helped push the dollar – hamstrung by political uncertainty in Washington – to its lowest in 13 months against a basket of major currencies.

The euro has risen in recent weeks on expectations the European Central Bank will before long begin to scale back its bond-buying monetary stimulus scheme.

On Friday, the day after an ECB policy meeting, four sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said policymakers saw October as the most likely date to decide whether to claw back stimulus.

European shares fell on Monday. The exporter-dominated German DAX index dropped 0.2 percent. The pan-European STOXX 600 index was down 0.1 percent, after falling 1 percent on Friday as the strong euro weighed on earnings.

German government bond yields edged lower after euro zone business activity data also came in below forecasts.

The 10-year yield – the benchmark for euro zone borrowing costs – fell to 0.49 percent, down 0.4 basis points and its lowest in more than a week. Yields fell on Friday as the strong euro led investors to question the timing of when the ECB would begin to withdraw its stimulus.

‘Path of Least Resistance’

The dollar index was up 0.1 percent from the earlier low. Investigations into alleged Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. presidential election are seen as potential roadblocks to President Donald Trump being able to implement his economic agenda.

“A weaker dollar seems to be the path of least resistance given the soft data coming out of the U.S. and the political uncertainty,” said Michael Hewson, chief markets strategist at CMC Capital Markets in London.

Speculative investors turned negative on the dollar last week for the first time in more than a year, data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission showed on Friday [IMM/FX].

Earlier, MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan reversed earlier losses to edge up 0.3 percent.

But Japan’s Nikkei dropped 0.6 percent, pressured by a stronger yen. Australian shares retreated 0.7 percent and South Korea’s KOSPI edged down 0.1 percent.

Chinese bluechips closed up 0.4 percent and close to 18-month highs as institutional investors stepped up purchases of big companies’ shares.

Oil prices dipped, adding to Friday’s 2.5 percent fall, before a meeting of OPEC nations and other producers. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was down 12 cents at $47.94 a barrel.

Ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other non-OPEC producers will meet in St Petersburg to review market conditions and examine any proposals related to their pact to cut output.

Sources familiar with the talks said the meeting may recommend a conditional cap on production from Nigeria and Libya – two OPEC members so far exempt from output cuts – although some analysts were sceptical the group would make such a move.

The relatively weak dollar helped push copper close to its highest since March. The metal last traded 0.1 percent lower on the day at $6,003 a tonne.

Gold hit its highest in four weeks and last stood at $1,254 an ounce, down 0.1 percent on the day.