Dollar higher as U.S. debt ceiling concerns keep traders nervous

By Karen Brettell and Saqib Iqbal Ahmed

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. dollar hit a two-month high against a basket of currencies on Tuesday as a lack of progress in talks over increasing the U.S. debt limit hurt investors’ appetite for risk-taking.

Representatives of President Joe Biden and congressional Republicans ended another round of debt ceiling talks on Tuesday with no signs of progress as the deadline to raise the government’s $31.4 trillion borrowing limit or risk default ticked closer.

“I think the dollar saw a modest boost today as stocks have declined, mostly due to the lack of progress on the debt ceiling deal,” said John Doyle, vice president of trading and dealing at Monex USA.

While most market participants expect a deal eventually, the delay in getting it done was keeping traders nervous, Doyle said.

Meanwhile, better-than-expected economic data and hawkish comments from regional Fed presidents including James Bullard and Neel Kashkari brought the possibility of further rate increases, also supporting the greenback.

The dollar index, which measures the U.S. currency against a basket of major peers, reached 103.65, the highest since March 20, and was last at 103.55.

The greenback also rose to 138.91 against the Japanese yen, the highest since Nov. 30, before falling back to 138.57.

“The focus is slowly going back towards inflation and all this hawkish Fed speak we’ve been getting,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA in New York.

“We’re probably looking at a market that is repositioning itself for a little bit more dollar strength here as these Fed rate cut bets get pushed back a little bit further and higher for longer.”

The more hawkish tilt this week by Fed officials comes after comments by Fed Chair Jerome Powell on Friday were viewed as dovish.

Powell said on Friday that it is still unclear if rates will need to rise further, as central bank officials balance uncertainty about the impact of past hikes in borrowing costs and recent bank credit tightening with the fact that inflation is proving hard to control.

Moya noted that minutes from the Fed’s May meeting due on Wednesday will be watched for any further signs of whether the Fed is likely so pause its rate hikes next month.

Traders have ramped up bets that the Fed funds rate will stay elevated, with markets pricing in almost a 30% chance of a rate hike in June and the Fed funds rate seen at about 4.75% in December.

Data on Tuesday showed that sales of new U.S. single-family homes jumped to a 13-month high in April. S&P Global’s flash U.S. Composite PMI Output Index, which tracks the manufacturing and services sectors, also climbed to a reading of 54.5 this month. That was the highest level since April 2022 and followed a final reading of 53.4 in April.

(Additional reporting by Samuel Indyk in London; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrea Ricci)