U.S. dollar bank notes are arranged for a photograph on September 7, 2017 in Hong Kong.
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The U.S. dollar hovered just below a one-month high on Tuesday, as investors opted for caution in the hours ahead of polls opening on election day in the United States, while the Australian dollar slipped after a central bank rate cut.
Markets are singularly focused on the election result, but rather than outright bets on a particular outcome many traders have flocked to the safety of dollars so that they are well positioned to take advantage of volatility when results arrive.
Against a basket of currencies, the dollar held at 93.996, just under a month-high hit on Monday. The safe-harbor yen has also ground higher in recent weeks and it was steady at 104.72 yen per dollar through the Asia session.
The Aussie fell 0.2% and Australian bonds rallied after the Reserve Bank of Australia lowered its policy interest rate by 15 basis points to 0.1% and announced a bond-buying program, as widely expected.
Across the board, trading volume was lightened by a public holiday in Japan and moves muted as most investors have settled on a pre-election stance.
“We have pared back a lot of our positions,” said Stuart Oakley, a London-based executive at Nomura.
“It’s a bit reckless to position ourselves for one outcome of the election ... We’ve positioned ourselves to trade the post (election) volatility.”
Analysts said a Biden win could weaken the dollar as he is expected to spend big on stimulus and to take a freer approach to trade – boosting other currencies at the dollar’s expense.
But with battleground states too close to call and with the prospect of either a Trump victory or an inconclusive result likely to support the dollar, selling was limited.
Beneath the steady spot prices, volatility gauges are soaring in an indication that things could get bumpy as election results arrive through the Asia session on Wednesday.
One-week implied volatility for the euro and yen were both above 11%, the highest since the beginning of April. One-week implied volatility for the yuan was over 12% and at a five-year peak.
“Early indicators, Texas and Florida, may be cue for shifts in market positioning,” said strategist Terence Wu at Singapore’s OCBC Bank.
That could happen between 0200 GMT and 0400 GMT on Wednesday, he said, with the Australian dollar vulnerable and havens like the yen or Swiss franc attractive if Trump still seems very much in the race.
The yuan is also in the headlights – steady on Tuesday but expected to move with the election news because a re-elected Trump could stoke Sino-U.S. tension.
“A surprise Trump victory could reignite fears of tariffs,” said Mizuho chief Asia foreign exchange strategist Ken Cheung in Hong Kong.
“In our base-case scenario of a Biden victory, we look for more room for yuan appreciation with our target of 6.50 at 2021-end, given the waning risk of a new trade war and China’s robust recovery.”
Elsewhere investors are awaiting a policy decision from Malaysia’s central bank at 0700 GMT, with a slim majority of economists expecting it to hold its overnight policy rate at a record low of 1.75%.
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