Inside the News: Rebound runs out of steam, Thomson Reuters: Reuters Insider
(Reuters) - To reach their goal of turning the yuan into a global currency, China's leaders are willing to push for full convertibility and eventually swing open the country's capital account.
That was the apparent message Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang delivered on his visit to Hong Kong last week, when he outlined a series of steps to boost the territory as a place where the yuan can trade with fewer constraints.
The measures, which include allowing foreign investors to buy up to 20 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) of mainland Chinese stocks and bonds, encourage foreign demand for yuan by giving investors more places to invest the currency.
To be sure, a freely convertible yuan isn't right around the corner -- China's leaders face an arduous journey that will involve numerous political and economic pitfalls.
"Things are all going as planned but an international yuan is four or five years away, at the earliest," said Mark Williams from Capital Economics in London. "To say right now how China's future currency regime would look is pure speculation at best."
China has already made significant progress in Hong Kong, its testing ground. The yuan is nearly convertible in that territory.
But, among other steps, China needs to first free its interest rate market, relax investment curbs in its equity and bond markets, and allow investment funds to leave and enter China with ease before the yuan can be made convertible.
Last week's announcements merely add up to another stride in China's long march toward the internationalization of the yuan, a goal that academics predict the country will reach by 2020.
"Li's visit sent a positive message. It set in stone the trend of yuan internationalization," said Zhang Zhiwei, chief China economist at Nomura in Hong Kong.
Having a convertible yuan -- or one that can be readily bought or sold with few restrictions -- is a precondition for Beijing's long-sought goal of promoting the Chinese currency as one used for global trade and investment.
That would burnish China's rising economic prowess and could also help China kick its dollar addiction by staunching a rapid build-up in its dollar reserves.
By encouraging the free trade of the yuan in Hong Kong and creating new channels for that money to flow in and out of the mainland, Beijing is refining a template that could prove valuable once it decides to liberalize the currency more widely.
"It is an important step to develop the offshore yuan market Hong Kong," said Wang Jun, an economist at CCIEE, a government think-tank in Beijing. "The yuan can now go out of mainland China and also flow back."
Even before Standard & Poor's triggered a rout in world financial markets this month by stripping the United States of its top-notch debt rating, Beijing had already made clear it intended to relax its grip on the yuan.
Under the five-year plan unveiled in March, Beijing aims to expand the use of the yuan in international markets and "gradually make the yuan convertible on the capital account."
Its latest actions, including this week's move to let merchants across China settle trades in yuan, shows Beijing is acting on its yuan ambitions as planned, analysts said.
But the unprecedented cut in the U.S. debt rating made the task more urgent, since China keeps an estimated 70 percent of its $3.2 trillion foreign exchange reserves in dollar assets.
In theory, letting the yuan rise sharply would slow the accumulation of foreign exchange reserves, but such a move would threaten the country's export sector.
Enabling China's customers to use yuan to pay for imports is naturally more attractive -- if an American company pays for its shipment of toys in yuan, that transaction wouldn't lead to more dollars being added to China's foreign exchange reserves.
To get to the point where the yuan can be a truly international currency, China wants to use affluent Hong Kong to create a deep and liquid offshore yuan market where investors can trade yuan freely and get decent returns, and use the territory as a test-bed for nurturing global yuan demand and easing capital controls, analysts say.
Beijing is making progress.
The yuan is already fully convertible in Hong Kong, where the pool of yuan deposits is estimated to hit 2-3 trillion yuan in coming years, paving the way for the yuan's full convertibility and setting the benchmark for China's reforms to make the onshore yuan rate more market-driven.
"They will first open up channel between the offshore and onshore yuan market, allow markets forces to find an equilibrium rate for the yuan on the offshore market, and then influence the onshore market," said Chen Xingdong, chief China economist at BNP Paribus in Beijing.
Until then, analysts say it is to early to judge if Beijing would allow a free yuan to emulate the Singapore dollar and trade in a managed float as that depends on how U.S. and European economies recover from their debt in coming years.
Of course, risks abound.
A top concern is that Hong Kong's exploding offshore yuan market may complicate Beijing's fight against inflation by attracting waves of speculative hot money into China.
"Along with increased renminbi convertibility and the opening of the domestic financial market, cross-border capital inflows would increase, posing a challenge to China's financial stability," a group of Chinese officials and researchers said in book on the internationalization of the yuan.
Another worry is that the plan could backfire: rather than shrink, Beijing's foreign exchange reserves might actually balloon.
With few of China's trade partners holding enough yuan on hand to pay for goods, more merchants might use the yuan to pay for Chinese imports than exports, said Mark Williams from Capital Economics.
This leave China's central bank saddled with even more foreign currencies -- mostly dollars.
But China appears willing to try its luck.
"China is building this step by step," said Dong Tao, an economist at Credit Suisse on Hong Kong.
"If you get your currency internationalized, you don't have to keep buying foreign currencies and you will have less reserves."
(Reuters) - Gold tumbled nearly 3 percent on Thursday to more than $200 below Tuesday's record highs, as investors cashed in scorching gains in the precious metal after the CME Group hiked gold trading margins for a second time this month.
Investment appetite for gold has cooled ahead of a widely awaited central bankers' meeting at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, as speculation grows over whether or not the Federal Reserve will signal a further round of U.S. monetary easing.
More quantitative easing -- or money printing -- from the Fed could significantly lift gold, but it could have further to correct if no additional action is signaled.
Spot gold was down 1.6 percent at $1,722.50 an ounce at 9:51 a.m. EDT in volatile trade, having earlier touched a low of $1,702.44.
Investors cashed in on gold's latest rally after the yellow metal surged nearly 20 percent in early August to record highs at $1,911.46 an ounce.
Spot prices fell 4.3 percent on Wednesday, their biggest one-day drop since December 2008, after U.S. durable goods data beat expectations. U.S. gold futures also posted their sharpest slide since 1980.
"Gold seemed to be running ahead of where equity markets were pointing to in terms of downside risks -- those markets were stable and gold kept wanting to push higher and higher," said Macquarie analyst Hayden Atkins. "Once we got an upside surprise in data, we saw some of those longs washed out."
Any recovery from these lows will be dependent on what happens in the next few days. "It's not really clear what the Fed's intentions are," said Atkins. "People are waiting and watching."
Holdings of the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, the SPDR Gold Trust, declined by more than 27 tonnes on Wednesday, their biggest one-day outflow since January 25. They have dropped nearly 60 tonnes this week, worth around $3.25 billion at today's prices.
Gold's losses were exacerbated late on Wednesday after the CME Group, the world's largest commodities exchange, raised margins on gold futures by about 27 percent, the biggest hike in more than 2-1/2 years and the second increase in a month.
But the metal's overall uptrend, which has seen it climb more than 20 percent this year, is still intact, analysts said.
"To be convinced you'd seen the top of the market you would have to see more signs of the issues that had lifted gold being resolved, such as the euro zone crisis, and U.S. growth coming back," said Mitsubishi analyst Matthew Turner.
Assets seen as cyclical or higher-risk than gold rose on Thursday as gold declined. European shares climbed after a raft of positive corporate results, oil prices firmed and the euro strengthened against the dollar.
U.S. gold futures for August delivery were down $29.40 an ounce at $1,727.90.
EXPECTATIONS SCALED BACK
All eyes are now on Jackson Hole. Fed chief Ben Bernanke's speech on Friday is being closely watched for hints of a fresh round of quantitative easing, which some have speculated could be necessary to kick-start growth.
Bernanke is likely to use his speech to acknowledge disappointment over the pace of the recovery and explain how the Fed will tackle sluggish growth.
"It is fair to say that gold should be one of the bigger beneficiaries of another round of quantitative easing; anticipation of such has been a driver of gold's strength recently given worries about financial stability and a deteriorating economic outlook," said UBS in a note.
"That yesterday's U.S. durable good data release surprised on the upside raised a red flag, along with equities trading again in positive territory, and climbing Treasury yields.
"As expectations of what Fed Chairman Bernanke can say at Jackson Hole tomorrow are scaled back, gold should be one of the assets that reacts most," it added. "But there is also a positive aspect to this, in that gold appears to have already discounted disappointment at Jackson Hole."
Among other precious metals, silver was down 0.1 percent at $39.64 an ounce, spot platinum was up 0.1 percent at $1,804.74 an ounce, and spot palladium rose 0.8 percent to $749.50 an ounce.
(Reuters) - As far as investors can see, the outlook for Apple's shares remains as bright as an iPad screen despite the resignation of Steve Jobs, the company's legendary co-founder, as chief executive.
But many investors worry that the outlook for the medium- to long-term has become very cloudy.
Jobs exits as CEO at Apple's high, with revenues having steadily grown each quarter over recent years and analysts expecting a terrific performance in the next holiday season. Shares fell just 0.65 percent on Thursday, withstanding steep falls in the broad market.
But with many equating Jobs' vision with Apple's success, there is a fear that competition will finally gain on the company years down the road.
"In the long term, if Steve Jobs' health deteriorates or if he becomes more disengaged and does not lead the strategic aspect of the company, we will probably cut back our position by half," said Channing Smith, co-manager at Capital Advisors in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "Guys like Jobs don't come very often."
While Apple's product lineup should hold an edge over the competition in the next couple of years, it is the long-term outlook that has investors worried.
"The impact of Steve Jobs' absence will be limited at least for the next two years because all the products that come out during this period will have his finger prints all over," said James Meyer, chief investment officer at Tower Bridge Advisors in West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.
Even after passing the baton to Tim Cook, Apple's chief operating officer, Jobs will remain on investors' radar. Most still hope that from seat as the company's chairman he will provide guidance on key projects.
But the stock could take a dive if it becomes clear that he is no longer able to contribute to Apple's strategy.
"In the long-run, considering that he is an irreplaceable icon, ... is Tim Cook the man? We don't know," Meyer said.
"We're witnessing a business legend moving toward the exit door. Time only will tell if the company maintains the innovation and the creativity that he put in place there," said Keith Wirtz, chief investment officer at Fifth Third Asset Management, with $16.3 billion in assets.
Wirtz, who like many other fund managers has Apple as one of the largest holdings in its portfolio of large-cap companies -- about 6 percent -- is sticking with his existing commitment to Apple shares. He is betting that Jobs' culture will continue to inspire the company, especially if in his new role as chairman he remains involved in major development projects.
And a number of investors said they'd be more likely to buy shares if the stock stumbled.
David Rolfe, chief investment officer at Wedgewood Partners, said he was buying on the dips for his new Riverpark/Wedgewood Fund.
"It just so happened that we got some cash inflows in the last 24 hours so we have been buying Apple in the fund. If the stock had been hit harder, we would have added to it in our separate accounts as well," he said.
Bank analysts overwhelmingly kept "buy" recommendations on the stock, with price targets ranging from $460 to $525 for the next 12 to 18 months, although many warned of increased volatility risk.
So far, selling Apple's stocks after each of Job's health scares has proved to be a bad investment decision. The stock has taken a hit right after the announcement of each of his three health-related absences, but quickly recovered.
In January 2009, the shares dropped almost 11 percent within the first week after Jobs announced his medical leave, but by end of that month they had more than recovered all their losses.
"This is the lesson for the last seven and a half years because Steve Jobs has been sick or recovering or in remission for all of it: Wall Street cares less about Steve Jobs' health than it does about Apple's health and Apple is healthier than its ever been," said Stephen Coleman, founder of Daedelus Capital LLC, which manages $4 million, 75 percent of which is in Apple.
(Reuters) - European shares gained in early trade on Monday, tracking a late rally in Wall Street on Friday, as Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke raised hopes for more stimulus for the economy at the U.S. central bank's September meeting.
At 0706 GMT (3:06 a.m. ET), the FTSEurofirst 300 markets/index?symbol=gb%21FTPP">.FTEU3 index of top European shares was up 0.7 percent at 925.81 points, after falling 0.7 percent on Friday. The index has lost more than 17 percent so far in 2011.
Trading volume was set to be lighter, with London markets closed for a holiday.
Heavyweight banks to gain included Credit Suisse (CSGN.VX), Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) and UBS (UBSN.VX), up between 2.9 percent and 3.4 percent.
"It's one of these days when you go back to the underlying valuations of the companies - and say it looks good. We have oversold this market. It's a bounceback from lower prices, not based on anything fundamental. Bernanke has pushed it back to the politicians," Justin Urquhart Stewart, at Seven Investment Management, said.
(Reuters) - Global stocks jumped almost one percent on Monday while the dollar struggled after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke left the door open for further action to stimulate the U.S. economy and fight unemployment.
World shares .MIWD00000PUS rose 0.9 percent, with Asian markets tracking a strong bounce for Wall Street, which closed up 1 percent following Bernanke's keynote speech in Jackson Hole on Friday.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde also added to market pressure for policymakers to do more to prop up a flagging global economy at the meeting of central bankers, telling officials they must "act now" to save the recovery.
European stocks finance/markets/index?symbol=gb%21FTPP">.FTEU3 also gained, up 0.7 percent, and U.S. stock futures rose around 1 percent after Hurricane Irene, downgraded to tropical storm status, spared the nation's financial center the worst.
London markets are closed on Monday for a holiday.
Bernanke gave no details of further action to boost the U.S. recovery but said the central bank's policy panel would meet for two days next month instead of one to discuss additional monetary stimulus, offering some hope to investors of a move then.
Analysts said a bad run of data before the Fed's meeting may prove crucial.
"The change to a two-day meeting to 'allow a fuller discussion' is something that will likely keep market expectations elevated about the possibility of further monetary policy stimulus," Barclays Capital economist Michael Gapen said in a note to clients.
"Mr Bernanke said the Fed is in a data-dependent mode and there will be many discussions at the two-day FOMC in September."
Both the dollar and euro gained around 1 percent against the Swiss franc, in which investors are now facing negative rates of return following the Swiss National Bank's moves to flood the market with liquidity.
But the possibility of more monetary stimulus in the U.S. kept the dollar broadly under pressure, down 0.3 percent .DXY against a trade-weighted basket of currencies.
Against the yen, the greenback traded at 76.62 yen, recoiling from a recent high around 77.69.
"The fact that Bernanke did not talk about inflation risk has helped equity markets and put pressure on the dollar," said Manuel Oliveri, currency strategist at UBS in Zurich.
"But there is not much more potential for the dollar to sell-off with markets now focusing on FOMC minutes and the U.S. employment report this week," he said.
Debt troubles and political issues on both sides of the Atlantic make monetary policy the only viable short-to-medium-term policy response to slowing growth, said Viktor Shvets, regional strategist at Samsung Securities in Hong Kong.
But following through with another round of bond buying will be harder this time around, some analysts say, citing rising core inflation in the U.S. and a split regarding policy within the Fed as obstacles.
"He (Bernanke) has a much, much harder decision this time," said Jim Walker, founder of Asianomics and former chief economist at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets, in a Reuters television interview.
"What he's got to do is convince the dissenting voices in the Fed and there are now three of them that economic growth is so bad that it is time to use even more extraordinary measures," said Walker.
Japan's Nikkei .N225 closed up 0.6 percent on subdued volumes. South Korea's KOSPI .KS11, the Asian market considered to be the most geared to a global economic recovery, jumped more than 3 percent, then cooled to be up 2.8 percent.
MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS rose 2.1 percent. It is down 11 percent so far this month in its worst performance since October 2008, reflecting the scale of concern over global growth and its impact on the region's energy and commodity stocks.
Brent crude traded just above $111 on Monday, dipping as oil refiners and terminals along the U.S. east coast weathered the worst of tropical storm Irene, easing fears of fuel supply disruptions.
NYMEX crude for October delivery was up 0.2 percent.
(Reuters) - Bank of America Corp is selling about half its stake in China Construction Bank for $8.3 billion, in its latest effort to shed assets and boost capital.
A group of investors is buying 13.1 billion CCB shares from Bank of America, with the deal expected to close in the third quarter. The U.S. bank declined to name the investors but two sources said Singapore state fund Temasek was among the buyers.
Bank of America needs to boost capital by some $50 billion in the coming years to meet new global rules, according to multiple analyst estimates.
CCB is the second-largest bank by market value in the world, and Bank of America's ties with the Chinese bank are seen as an important source of future growth, particularly as economic growth in the United States is likely to be tepid for now.
Bank of America's willingness to sell part of its CCB investment as soon as it was contractually able to shows how far it must go to meet new capital requirements, analysts said.
"Bank of America's decision to sell that stake is wrong strategically in the long run, but they need money," said Josef Schuster, founder of Chicago-based IPO research and investment house IPOX Schuster.
The bank has said it can raise the capital it needs through earnings and selling off assets, but a number of investors have expressed concern that the bank will need to issue more common shares.
Those dilution concerns helped push the bank's shares this month to their lowest level in two-and-a-half years. Investors are also concerned about the bank's potential losses from mortgages and related litigation. Bank of America's 2008 purchase of Countrywide has brought it billions of dollars of losses and legal payouts.
Bank of America shares gained 8.1 percent to close at $8.39 on Monday.
A $5 billion investment from Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway last week stopped the fall in Bank of America's shares.
For CCB, analysts said the sale helps soothe investor worries about when a sale might take place.
"This removes an uncertainty that's been hanging on China Construction Bank for a while now," said Ivan Li, deputy head of Hong Kong research at Kim Eng Securities.
In the CCB deal, Bank of America sold each share for HK$4.93, an 11 percent discount to the Chinese bank's most recent closing price of HK$5.55.
As lock-up provisions expire on a number of Chinese financial stocks, big investors will have the contractual right to start selling shares. Fears of those transactions have weighed on the sector, along with concerns about the Chinese economy's growth trajectory.
Bank of America will record a $3.3 billion gain in the third quarter as a result of the sale, and a $3.5 billion increase to its core capital under current rules, a spokesman said.
Under proposed Basel III rules, the sale will generate an $8.3 billion gain for Bank of America.
The deal could add 0.3 percent to the bank's core capital until current industry rules and 0.2 percent under proposed Basel III rules, wrote David George, Robert W. Baird & Co bank analyst, in a research note to clients.
For Basel III, the bank's tier one capital levels after the deal are about 5.7 percent, while the bank is targeting somewhere around 6.75 percent or 7 percent by 2013, George said.
In recent weeks, Bank of America has also agreed to sell an $8.6 billion Canadian credit card portfolio to TD Bank Group and is in talks to sell $1 billion of real estate assets to Blackstone Group.
In the last six quarters, Bank of America has generated some $30 billion of proceeds from asset sales.
Fears about the bank's ability to meet its capital requirement have cut the bank's stock price by a third since the beginning of August, including a 20 pct plunge on August 8.
TAPPING INTO GROWTH IN 2005
Temasek has a history of buying CCB shares. In November, it bought Bank of America's entitlement to buy 1.79 billion CCB shares in the Chinese bank's rights offering.
The Singapore fund has another link to Bank of America -- Greg Curl, the U.S. bank's former chief risk officer, is now president, overseeing the financial services sector for the fund.
A Temasek spokesman declined to comment.
Before CCB's IPO in 2005, Bank of America paid $3 billion for a 9.9 percent stake in the Chinese bank.
At the time, then Bank of America Chief Executive Kenneth Lewis said the partnership was designed to give the bank increased access to roughly 1.3 billion Chinese consumers, while CCB would benefit from Bank of America's U.S. retail banking experience.
The U.S. bank increased its holdings in following years to 25.6 billion shares, including 23.6 billion that came out of lock-up on August 29. After the share sale, Bank of America will still have about 12.1 billion CCB shares, worth nearly $9 billion.
Last week, CCB President Zhang Jianguo told Reuters the two companies were in talks to extend their current cooperation agreement for another five years.
(Reuters) - The Swiss franc leaped against the euro and the dollar on Wednesday as the absence of new measures to contain the currency's strength from the Swiss National Bank and euro zone debt worries spurred a relief rally.
Demand for the safe-haven Swiss franc returned with the SNB conspicuous by its absence from the currency forwards market since last week. The SNB announced no new measures after making an announcement on three of the four Wednesdays in August.
The euro was last down 1.9 percent to 1.1620 francs, while the dollar slumped 1.9 percent to 0.8048 franc, retreating from a recent high of 0.8239 struck on Monday. Traders cited Swiss franc buying by U.S. and Swiss investors.
Switzerland's economy minister said the currency is "massively overvalued.
Mounting concerns about European sovereign debt and the prospect of additional U.S. Federal Reserve stimulus drove investors back into the safety of the Swiss franc, according to Omer Esiner, chief market analyst at Commonwealth Foreign Exchange in Washington.
"While the threat of SNB intervention may slow the franc's rise, it is unlikely to meaningfully deter investors from the safe harbor offered by the franc."
The SNB's intervention in the swap market and moves to flood the Swiss banking system with francs and cut interest rates to near zero has toppled the Swiss franc from record highs hit earlier this month.
Investors took profits after the euro failed to break through 1.2000 francs earlier this week, analysts said, while the Swiss franc looked oversold on daily charts, having hit its lowest level since early July on Monday.
In the United States, data showed the pace of U.S. private sector job growth slowed in August for the second month in a row.
The ADP data precedes Friday's key U.S. Labor Department report on August's unemployment and payrolls.
The labor market is key to U.S. Federal Reserve monetary policy and continued weakness could increase the likelihood of another round of bond buying by the Fed.
A German cabinet decision that set policymakers on course for parliamentary ratification of changes to the euro zone's bailout fund helped push the single currency briefly to a session high of $1.4470 versus the dollar.
But it was last down 0.2 percent at $1.4412. Traders said month-end demand for dollars from investors rebalancing their stock and bonds portfolio was weighing on the euro.
"The difficulty the market has at the moment is finding a reason to buy any currency. The euro zone has got a peripheral problem, the U.S. has got a potential QE problem," said Daragh Maher, deputy head of FX research at Credit Agricole.
"The Swiss franc remains a safe play. If numbers do not improve, people remain nervous and the euro zone situation remains grim, we can expect to see the franc strengthen again."
Minutes from the Fed's August 9 meeting showed policymakers discussed a range of unusual tools they could use to help the economy, adding to expectations the Fed may flag a third round of quantitative easing at its two-day meeting in September.
The dollar was up 0.1 percent at 76.74 yen.
With the yen hovering near a record high against the dollar of 75.941 hit earlier in August on trading platform EBS, market players remain wary of the potential for Japanese authorities to intervene to sell the yen.
(Reuters) - Asian stocks rose on Thursday following gains on Wall Street, with technology and consumer shares outperforming, and credit spreads tightened on optimism central banks around the world will have to do more to support industrial activity.
Slumping exports slowed factory activity in some of Asia's biggest economies in August, although China managed modest improvement thanks to solid domestic demand, a series of surveys released on Thursday showed.
Brazil shocked investors by slashing its key interest rate to 12 percent from 12.5 percent on Wednesday citing concern over the mounting global slowdown as well as weaker growth in Latin America's largest economy.
But investors cautioned that gains would likely be limited ahead of key U.S. manufacturing and jobs data due later this week. Signs of a weakening economy have led to speculation the Fed will step in with a new round of monetary expansion.
"The China PMI data gave some immediate relief to the market, but the U.S. data, particularly the employment numbers, are still to come," said Yutaka Shiraki, senior equity strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
The MSCI Asia Pacific ex-Japan index .MIAPJ0000PUS rose 1.4 percent, having fallen 9 percent in August when global markets were roiled by a sovereign downgrade in the United States, persistent debt problems in the euro zone and downward revisions in growth expectations.
In Japan, the Nikkei .N225 gained 1.4 percent to clear the key 9,000 level for the first time in two weeks, while South Korea's KOSPI .KS11 added 2.2 percent despite economic data showing the country's manufacturing sector shrank in August for the first time in 10 months.
Credit spreads on Asia ex-Japan iTraxx investment grade index have tightened in early deals to 143.5/144 basis points compared with Wednesday's close of 147.86 bps, after recording their worst monthly performance of 2011 in August, IFR reported.
China's official PMI offered some reassurance about the pace of growth, rising on Thursday to 50.9 in August from a 28-month low of 50.7 in July and signaling some stabilization in the manufacturing sector on solid domestic demand.
However, the result was just below expectations and the sub-index for new export orders dipped to 48.3 from 50.4, suggesting that exports may weaken in the future.
In Australia, signs of a recovery in retail sales lifted retail stocks, with department store Myer (MYR.AX) adding more than 4 percent.
U.S. economic data overnight showed the economy continues to struggle, and the U.S. Institute for Supply Management's national manufacturing index is due at 8:30 a.m. EDT, followed by the U.S. Labour Department's employment report on Friday.
Fears that the ISM index may fall below 50 have been eased by a brighter than expected reading of manufacturing activity in the Chicago area released on Wednesday.
Among currencies, the Swiss franc held on to gains made the previous day after a top government official said Switzerland would have to live with a strong currency, while commodity currencies steadied after an initial dip on Brazil's rate cut.
The Australian dollar was at $1.0697, below from a one-month high of $1.0722 hit on Wednesday.
The euro eased slightly to $1.4370, slipping further from a two-month high at $1.4550 hit at the start of the week, though traders say the currency is essentially playing in a range.
In commodity markets, spot gold held steady to be little changed at 1,824.54 an ounce, to be up 29 percent this year.
U.S. crude oil futures were steady after a slight decline the previous day on the back of a larger-than-expected build in U.S. crude inventories.
(Reuters) - The euro fell broadly on Thursday, hammered by a fall in manufacturing across the euro zone and at risk of more losses if U.S. figures later in the day offer a similar picture.
Weak readings from the purchasing managers surveys highlighted economic weakness, boosting the Swiss franc against the euro and the dollar as investors looked to test the resolve of the Swiss National Bank to stem the safe haven currency's strength.
The euro fell around 0.8 percent on the day to a session low around $1.4260.
Ahead of U.S. ISM manufacturing PMI at 1400 GMT and key jobs data on Friday, the single currency is seen as having the most to lose from signs of weakness both in the European and global economy, given that the region remains far from a solution to its debt crisis.
Data showing contractions in the manufacturing sectors of most euro zone countries was the driver of broad euro selling, analysts said. This weakness extended to Germany, the euro zone's biggest economy, where manufacturing barely expanded in August and weakened from July.
Confidence about the euro zone's stability has been shaken by signs that officials are dragging their feet on steps to ease debt problems in Greece and other countries, creating tensions in funding markets and raised worries about the health of financial institutions in the region.
"Concerns about Greece's debt burden in general is the main factor weighing on the euro, and complicating that today has been the euro zone economic data flow," said Stephen Gallo, head of markets analysis at Schneider FX.
Not helping the euro's cause was sluggish demand at a Spanish bond auction, days after a weak response to an Italian sale, highlighting increased investor wariness about two of the euro zone's biggest countries.
The euro broke below technical support in the $1.4320-1.4365 range, where many of the single currency's moving averages were clustered.
It sank below trendline support at $1.4280 -- drawn from lows hit in July and August -- and a slight recovery from the day's low was capped by offers from a U.S. investment bank around that level.
The franc rallied across the board, up roughly 1.5 percent lower to 1.1377 francs.
The euro's tumble from a session high around 1.1615 gained traction after stop-loss sell orders were triggered below 1.1500 francs and 1.1450, with traders citing selling by Swiss names and macro funds.
Broad franc strength pushed the dollar 1 percent lower to 0.7958 francs, just above bids seen at 0.7950 francs.
The yen stayed under pressure on dollar buying by Japanese accounts, lifting the U.S. currency to around 77 yen and soothing jitters that another round of intervention by Tokyo authorities may be on the way.
WEAK ISM EXPECTED
The U.S. ISM manufacturing index is due later in the session and analysts expect a reading of 48.5 in August versus 50.9 in July, indicating a contraction of the sector.
"There is a risk of a sub-50 reading in the U.S. ISM manufacturing index. If that happens, cyclical and commodity linked currencies will underperform," said Audrey Childe-Freeman, EMEA head of currency strategy at JP Morgan Private Bank.
"The global economy is clearly going through a marked slow-down in economic activity, and the market is trying to assess whether this will be just a soft patch or whether we are heading toward a recession."
Such concerns are driving more investors into the perceived relative safety of currencies such as the Swiss franc and the yen.
The franc extended gains following a rally on Wednesday, after a top government official said Switzerland would have to live with a strong currency and there was little sign of action from the Swiss central bank.
The SNB has been quiet since mid-August, when it flooded the market with francs, cut rates to near zero and intervened in the swap market to bring the franc down from record highs.
Traders cited chatter that the SNB was checking rates in the Swiss franc forward market, although it was not seen actively intervening to drive down forward rates. Analysts said some traders considered its absence in the forwards market as a green light to push the franc higher.
"The SNB's sight deposit target of 200 billion francs has likely been reached by now and, given the silence from the SNB, investors might now try to test the SNB's resolve," said Chris Walker, currency strategist at UBS.