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VOL. 42 | NO. 3 | Friday, January 19, 2018

Dollar languishes as US Treasury boss seems relaxed on fall

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DAVOS, Switzerland (AP) — The dollar languished near three-year lows against the euro Thursday after U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin doubled down on his view that a weaker U.S. currency is good for the country's economy, at least in the short-term.

At a press briefing at the World Economic Forum just ahead of the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump, Mnuchin did not seek to clarify the previous day's comment that the fall in the value of the dollar was "good" for U.S. exporters.

The view largely breaks with a longstanding policy in which U.S. officials back a strong dollar and it raised the possibility that the Trump administration may be trying to talk down the currency to give the U.S. economy an edge in trade as part of an "America First" strategy.

"I thought it was actually balanced and consistent with what I've said before which is we are not concerned with where the dollar is in the short-term as it is a very, very liquid market," Mnuchin said. "We believe in free currencies and that there's both advantages and disadvantages where the dollar is in the short-term."

Mnuchin's comment on Wednesday prompted one of the biggest daily falls in the dollar in years. The euro hit a three year high against the dollar and briefly rallied again on Thursday, hitting $1.2461. It later eased back slightly to trade flat at $1.2400.

Many in the markets think that Mnuchin has effectively ditched any idea of a "strong dollar" policy, which has been the mantra — publicly at least — of most Treasury Secretaries for about 20 years. A lower currency makes U.S. products more competitive in international markets, though it does have the potential to stoke inflation by pushing up import costs.

Simon Derrick, chief currency strategist at BNY Mellon, said no U.S. Treasury Secretary in the past 15 years or so "has been quite so blunt in highlighting the advantages of a weaker currency."

Mnuchin said the U.S. is not seeking to use the currency as a weapon in any trade war but that the U.S. government will do all it can to bolster U.S. business.

"We want free and fair and reciprocal trade," he said. "We are not looking to get into trade wars. On the other hand we are looking to defend America's interests."

In the longer-term, Mnuchin said, the U.S. currency's value will reflect the underlying strength of the U.S. economy.

Trump is due later at the World Economic Forum and is expected to argue that his policies, designed to boost the U.S. economy, should be welcomed by the international business community. "

"What's good for the United States is good for the rest of the world in terms of growth," Mnuchin said. "The agenda is gonna be the U.S. is open for business, that the new tax law, the Tax Cuts Act makes investing in the United States very attractive, the ability to move manufacturing jobs to the United States and the opportunities in the United States. He's looking forward to that."

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Theodora Tongas contributed to this report.