LONDON (Reuters) – The Russian rouble tumbled to a record low and European currencies including the euro bore the brunt of selling on Thursday after Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine, sparking dramatic moves across foreign exchange markets.
Investors dashed for safe-haven currencies including the dollar, which jumped 0.9%, as well as the Swiss franc and Japanese yen.
Aside from the rouble, it was the currencies of European countries such the Swedish crown, Hungarian forint and Polish zloty that were hammered the most – all losing more than 1% as traders braced for the fallout from a war in Europe’s east and more Western sanctions on Russian assets.
Volatility across FX markets soared, with one commonly followed measure hitting its highest since December 2020.
MUFG analyst Lee Hardman said risk-off sentiment would “dominate in the near-term favouring further U.S. dollar, yen and Swiss franc strength.
“In contrast, risks remain heavily tilted to the downside for the rouble and other European currencies which are more sensitive to negative spillovers from military action in Ukraine,” he said.
The rouble weakened to as low as 89.98 per dollar before recovering some of those losses. The U.S. currency was last up nearly 4% against the Russian currency.
The euro fell as much as 1.2% to $1.1164, the lowest level since Jan. 31.
The Swiss franc, a currency investors buy when they are nervous, soared to its highest since 2015 versus the euro at 1.0292 before falling back. The euro was last down 0.6% at 1.0314 francs.
The U.S. dollar index hit 97.04, a three-week high.
John Goldie, an FX dealer at Argentex, said he had been surprised had the limited reaction in currency markets in recent days but “we are now seeing a concerted move into the dollar.”
“Clearly, many didn’t listen to the words of Putin’s speech the other day and wrote them off as ramblings of an egotist. That blinkered thinking has now given way to a real concern of how bad does this get,” he said.
Moves in the Japanese yen were not as dramatic. The dollar was last down 0.3% at 114.71 yen.
Currencies closely linked to global investment sentiment tumbled.
The Swedish crown dropped sharply to its weakest since May 2020 versus the dollar and the euro. The dollar was last up 1.8% at 9.5715 crowns.
Norway’s crown skidded too, with the euro last up 0.6% at 10.118 crowns.
The Australian dollar dropped 0.8% to $0.7167 and the New Zealand dollar slid 1% to $0.6702.
The falls in the commodity-linked currencies came despite a jump in oil prices to above $100 a barrel.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Howcroft; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)