U.S. dollar banknotes (Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg News) 

Dollar Bulls Awaken as Yellen Bolsters Outlook for Rate Increase

(Bloomberg) -- Dollar traders are playing catch-up with the Federal Reserve.

The greenback snapped a two-week losing streak after Fed Chair Janet Yellen said the case to raise interest rates is getting stronger, while Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer indicated an increase is possible in September. Those comments follow statements by officials in recent weeks that may persuade skeptical investors that the central bank is getting closer to tighter policy.

Dollar Bulls Awaken as Yellen Bolsters Outlook for Rate Increase

"There certainly has been a gap in expectations,” said Bill Northey, chief investment officer in Helena, Montana, at U.S. Bank’s private client group, which oversees $133 billion in assets. “This certainly does strengthen the case for the Fed to move by year-end. That provides opportunities for the dollar to strengthen.”

Friday’s rally trimmed the dollar’s loss to 4.2 percent this year on speculation that the U.S. central bank will reduce stimulus and diverge from unprecedented easing in Europe and Asia, boosting the relative allure of the greenback. Currency investors’ sentiment has shifted back and forth in recent weeks on how aggressive the Fed will be after it raised borrowing costs in December for the first time since June 2006.

The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index rose 1.2 percent this week, the largest gain since the week ended May 6. The greenback climbed 1.1 percent to $1.1198 per euro and strengthened 1.6 percent to 101.84 yen.

On Friday, Yellen expressed confidence that tighter labor markets over time will push inflation back to the central bank’s 2 percent goal. The likelihood of a boost to rates at the Fed’s next meeting on Sept. 21 reached 40 percent, up from 32 percent the day before, futures prices show.

“As long as the odds are rising, we are likely to see pressure on emerging-market currencies and U.S. dollar strength,” said Steven Englander, global head of Group-of-10 currency strategy at Citigroup Inc. in New York.

While hedge funds and money managers trimmed net bullish positions on the dollar for the third week, net-long bets still stand near a five-month high, according to data from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Bets the dollar would rise outnumbered bearish wagers by 79,363 contracts in the week to Aug. 23, compared with 125,117 the previous week.

The U.S. currency is forecast to strengthen by the end of the year to $1.09 per euro and 105 yen, according to the median estimates in Bloomberg surveys of analysts.

“We’re positioned for dollar strength,” aid Jason Thomas, Los Angeles-based chief investment officer of Savos Investments, a unit of AssetMark Inc., an asset manager that oversees $31 billion. That’s because the dollar is undervalued relative to the resilience of the U.S. economy, he said.