Yen surges on possible Bank of Japan shift, stocks climb

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK (Reuters) -The Japanese yen jumped on Thursday as Bank of Japan policymakers hinted the central bank may shift away from its ultra-low interest rate plan and a gauge of global stocks rose after three straight falls as investors assessed the latest round of U.S. labor market data.

The yen surged 2.39% against the greenback, its biggest one-day jump since Jan. 12, at 143.86 per dollar after Bank of Japan Governor Kazuo Ueda added to speculation that the central bank could move away from negative rates by saying policy management would “become even more challenging from the year-end and heading into next year” and indicated several options of what could be on the horizon.

The BOJ is the only central bank not to start tightening policy. Meanwhile, central banks like the U.S. Federal Reserve and European Central Bank (ECB) are seen as nearing or at the end of their rate hike cycles.

“The comments last night sort of poured rocket fuel into bets on an eventual move back into positive rates territory for the Bank of Japan,” said Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Corpay in Toronto.

The dollar index fell 0.50% at 103.62 while the euro was up 0.28% to $1.0792.

Markets see about a 21% chance that the BoJ hikes rates at its final meeting of the year on Dec. 19, according to LSEG data. Japanese government bonds also saw a sharp sell-off, with yields on the 10-year Japanese government bond up 10.3 basis points, the most since July 28.

On Wall Street, U.S. stocks climbed, led by a 3.22% gain in communication services stocks as Google parent Alphabet rallied and the latest piece of data on the labor market showed an uptick in weekly jobless claims.

After a run of data this week confirmed some softening in the labor market, the focus will turn to Friday’s government payrolls report.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 62.95 points, or 0.17%, to 36,117.38, the S&P 500 gained 36.25 points, or 0.80%, to 4,585.59 and the jumped 193.28 points, or 1.37%, to 14,339.99.

European shares closed lower as a recent rally stalled, with the STOXX 600 index down 0.27%, while MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 0.48% and was poised for its first advance after three straight declines, its longest streak since late October.

Longer dates U.S. Treasury yields were little changed after earlier bouncing slightly off three-month lows, ahead of the U.S. jobs report. The yield on the 10-year was last up 2 basis points at 4.144%.

The cooling of economic data and recent comments from Federal Reserve officials, including Chair Jerome Powell, have heightened expectations that the U.S. central bank has ended its interest rate hiking cycle and will begin to cut rates as soon as March.

While the market widely sees the Federal Reserve holding rates steady at its next policy meeting on Dec. 12-13, expectations for a U.S. rate cut of at least 25 basis points (bps) in March are about 63%, according to CME’s FedWatch Tool, up from about 43% a week ago.

Oil prices gave up early gains after a slight move higher and settled at a six-month low, as investors worried about sluggish energy demand in the United States and China while output from the U.S. remains near record highs.

U.S. crude settled down 0.06% to $69.34 a barrel while Brent crude settled at $74.05 per barrel, down 0.34% on the day.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; additional reporting by Hannah Lang in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham, Nick Zieminski and Lisa Shumaker)