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Dollar tramples yen and safe-haven status, gold gains

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – The strong dollar got stronger on Thursday, rising to a three-year high against a basket of trading partner currencies, after a steep slide in the Japanese yen called into question its safe-haven status while the rally in U.S. equities took a pause.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the opening bell in New York, U.S., February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Gold prices hit their highest level in seven years as investors sought safe-haven assets after a rise in the number of new coronavirus cases in South Korea and the price of oil rose, supported by China’s efforts to bolster its virus-weakened economy.

The dollar has surged almost 2% since Tuesday against the yen, reaching its highest in almost 10 months, and the greenback climbed to near three-year highs against the euro.

The dollar index of the world’s most-traded currencies rose 0.12% to its highest level since May 2017.

The index is up 3.6% this year. It also gained to its best levels of the year against China’s offshore yuan and MSCI’s index of emerging-market currencies.

A host of reasons were cited for the dollar’s move, ranging from the outperformance of the U.S. economy and corporate earnings to potential recessions in Japan and the euro zone.

A run of dire economic news out of Japan has stirred talk the country is already in recession and that Japanese funds were dumping local assets in favor of U.S. shares and gold.

“The strongest explanation (for the yen’s decline) is a widespread selling by Japanese asset managers amid growing fears about the health of Japan’s economy,” said Raffi Boyadijian, investment analyst at XM.

The yen’s slide is unusual because the exchange rate with the dollar has been unraveling from its close correlation to the price of gold and U.S. Treasury yields, a development that must be watched, he said.

“This raises question marks about whether the yen is losing some of its shine as the world’s preferred safe-haven currency,” Boyadijian said.

China reported a drop in new virus cases and announced an interest rate cut to buttress its economy. But South Korea recorded an increase in new cases, Japan reported two deaths and researchers said the pathogen seemed to spread more easily than previously believed.

A rally that had lifted major U.S. and European stock indexes to record highs this week lost steam, as investors fretted about the spread of the coronavirus outside of China.

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.84% and emerging market stocks lost 0.95%.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.62%.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 283.03 points, or 0.96%, to 29,065. The S&P 500 lost 30.99 points, or 0.92%, to 3,355.16 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 131.33 points, or 1.34%, to 9,685.85.

Morgan Stanley’s multibillion-dollar buyout for E*Trade Financial boosted the discount brokerage’s shares.

E*Trade jumped 24.4% after Morgan Stanley offered to pay $13 billion in an all-stock deal, the biggest acquisition by a Wall Street bank since the financial crisis.

Morgan Stanley’s shares fell 3.6%.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan slipped 0.5% overnight, led by drops in Hong Kong’s Hang Seng and South Korea’s KOSPI.

Spot gold rose 0.3% to $1,616.74 an ounce, after hitting its highest since February 2013 at $1,622.19.

Oil prices rose further after a U.S. report showed a draw in gasoline inventories and a much smaller-than-anticipated rise in crude stocks.

U.S. gasoline stockpiles fell 2 million barrels in the week to Feb. 14. Analysts had estimated an increase of 400,000 barrels.

Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed that crude inventories rose only 414,000 barrels last week, compared with a 2.5 million-barrel rise that analysts had expected in a Reuters poll. [EIA/S]

Brent crude futures rose 58 cents to $59.70 a barrel and West Texas Intermediate gained 91 cents to $54.20 a barrel.

Demand for safe-haven U.S. Treasury debt was robust, driving the 30-year bond yield below the psychologically significant 2% level to its lowest since September 2019.

The 30-year bond last rose 39/32 in price to push its yield down to 1.9626%.

Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 17/32 in price to yield 1.5135%.

Reporting by Herbert Lash; additional reporting by Ritvik Carvalho in London; editing by Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Zuckerberg meets EU officials as bloc’s new tech rules loom

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has met top European Union officials on a visit to Brussels

LONDON —
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg met top European Union officials on a visit to Brussels on Monday, days before the bloc is expected to release new proposals on regulating artificial intelligence.

The billionaire social network founder is the latest U.S. tech executive to make the trip to the headquarters of the EU, which is becoming an increasingly important player in technology regulation. Zuckerberg’s visit came as the company warned that potential regulation risked stifling innovation.

Zuckerberg met Margrethe Vestager, the EU’s powerful executive vice president in charge of making Europe “fit for the digital age.” He also had audiences with Thierry Breton, commissioner for the internal market, and Vera Jourova, vice president for values and transparency.

Vestager is set on Wednesday to release the first draft of the EU’s proposed regulations on artificial intelligence, including facial recognition, and a digital strategy, which could have major implications for tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple.

The EU has already pioneered strict data privacy rules and issued multibillion-dollar antitrust fines against the likes of Google.

In an op-ed published in the Financial Times, Zuckerberg said big tech companies such as Facebook need closer government supervision.

“I believe good regulation may hurt Facebook’s business in the near term but it will be better for everyone, including us, over the long term,” he wrote. He said new rules should be clear and balanced and it shouldn’t be left up to individual companies to set their own standards.

Also Monday, Facebook released a “white paper” on content regulation outlining challenges and principles for authorities to consider when drawing up new rules on how to deal with harmful material such as child sexual exploitation or terrorist recruitment.

Well-designed frameworks for regulating harmful content can outline clear ways for governments, companies, and civil society to share responsibilities and work together, the company said. “Designed poorly, these efforts risk unintended consequences that might make people less safe online, stifle expression and slow innovation.”

Facebook said tech companies shouldn’t be punished for publishing illegal speech, because it would be impractical to require internet platforms to approve each post. “Retrofitting the rules that regulate online speech for the online world may be insufficient. New frameworks are needed,” the paper said.

The company’s recommendations include requiring companies to set up “user-friendly” channels to report harmful content and regularly release enforcement data. It suggested that governments should define what illegal content is.

Speaking after their meeting, Jourova said Zuckerberg was coming around to the European approach on regulations. But it’s unfair for the company to shift all the burden to authorities, she added.

“Facebook cannot push away all the responsibility,” because regulations will never solve every problem, she said. “It will not be up to governments or regulators to ensure that Facebook wants to be a force of good or bad.”

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