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By Herbert Lash and Dhara Ranasinghe
NEW YORK/LONDON (Reuters) - The dollar soared to highs last seen in July 2020 against other major currencies on Thursday, a day after the Federal Reserve said it could deliver faster and larger interest rate hikes in the months ahead.
With the Fed flagging that it was ready to start lifting rates in March to contain surging inflation, money markets moved to price in as many as five quarter-point increases by year-end.
The Fed's hawkish tone on Wednesday brought dollar bulls out in force. The dollar index, which measures the greenback's value against other major currencies, rose to 97.299, the highest since July 2020. The 0.8% jump was the biggest single-day gain in more than two months.
The euro slumped 0.95% to $1.1133, its lowest since June 2020. The greenback also hit its highest levels in more than a year against the New Zealand dollar, a seven-week peak against Australia's currency and rose broadly against emerging market currencies.
The outlook for aggressive rate hikes has led to a major reset globally, said Ed Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA.
"You just don't know how far the Fed is going to go because we don’t know exactly when inflation will really peak," he said.
While there is optimism that inflation will subside by midyear, it could get worse and lead to more aggressive Fed action, he said, adding, "you got a little bit more left in this dollar move."
The Fed indicated it was likely to raise rates in March, as widely expected, and reaffirmed plans to end its bond purchases that month before significantly reducing its asset holdings.
The Fed also said it may be warranted to increase the federal funds rate "sooner or at a faster pace" than had been earlier anticipated.
Chair Jerome Powell later stressed at a news conference that no decisions had been made, but in response to a question about whether the central bank would consider a 50-basis point hike, he did not rule it out.
Much of the Fed's outlook depends on an economy that may be weaker than it appears. U.S. gross domestic product increased at a 6.9% annualized rate in the fourth quarter of 2021, and the economy grew 5.7% in 2021, its strongest since 1984, the Commerce Department reported on Thursday.
Robust growth supports a rate hike in March. But inventory rebuilding accounted for almost three-quarters of the strong GDP number, noted Joe LaVorgna, chief economist for the Americas at Natixis. "This is not the stuff of a robust economy," he said.
(Graphic: The dollar index rises as Fed rate hike bets rise, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/gkvlgjmrgpb/dollar2701.PNG)
Rising U.S. Treasury yields at the short end provided a further impetus to the dollar's gains. The two-year Treasury yield, which typically moves in step with rate expectations, rose 7.9 basis points to 1.170%.
After rallying 0.7% against the yen on Wednesday in its sharpest rise in more than two months, the dollar firmed further, leading the yen to weaken 0.49% to 115.21 per dollar.
The rouble jumped off a near 15-month low hit on Wednesday to extend gains after Russia said even the idea of war with Ukraine was unacceptable, soothing fears of increased tensions. The rouble strengthened 2.09% to 77.77 per dollar.
Elsewhere, China's yuan took a hit as data showed Chinese industrial profits grew at their slowest pace in more than 18 months, bolstering the case for policy support.
In offshore trade, the yuan was down 0.52% against the dollar at 6.3668, on track for its biggest one-day fall since last July. [CNY/][EMRG/FRX]
After a battering last week, volatile cryptocurrencies held their ground in the wake of the Fed's meeting, with bitcoin slipping 1.5% to $36,276.
Currency bid prices at 2:05PM (1905 GMT)
Description RIC Last U.S. Close Pct Change YTD Pct High Bid Low Bid
Dollar index 97.1760 96.4820 +0.73% 1.582% +97.2990 +96.4790
Euro/Dollar $1.1146 $1.1243 -0.86% -1.96% +$1.1243 +$1.1131
Dollar/Yen 115.2150 114.6650 +0.49% +0.09% +115.4850 +114.4800
Euro/Yen 128.42 128.91 -0.38% -1.46% +129.0100 +128.3700
Dollar/Swiss 0.9306 0.9243 +0.69% +2.03% +0.9337 +0.9240
Sterling/Dollar $1.3387 $1.3465 -0.57% -1.01% +$1.3467 +$1.3360
Dollar/Canadian 1.2723 1.2663 +0.48% +0.63% +1.2743 +1.2651
Aussie/Dollar $0.7037 $0.7115 -1.08% -3.18% +$0.7121 +$0.7025
Euro/Swiss 1.0373 1.0385 -0.12% +0.04% +1.0397 +1.0369
Euro/Sterling 0.8324 0.8350 -0.31% -0.90% +0.8358 +0.8321
NZ $0.6585 $0.6654 -1.13% -3.89% +$0.6660 +$0.6578
Dollar/Norway 8.9500 8.9525 +0.01% +1.63% +9.0130 +8.9255
Euro/Norway 9.9796 10.0408 -0.61% -0.33% +10.1171 +9.9553
Dollar/Sweden 9.3837 9.2890 +0.00% +4.06% +9.3997 +9.3038
Euro/Sweden 10.4596 10.4598 +0.00% +2.20% +10.4990 +10.4084
(Reporting by Herbert Lash, Additional reporting by Dhara Ranasinghe in London and Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Editing by Alison Williams, Bernadette Baum, Andrea Ricci and Jonathan Oatis)