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Dollar keeps sinking while gold tops $1,500

April 21, 2011 | 12:56 pm

The dollar is getting trashed again, driving a key index of the U.S. currency’s value to its lowest level in more than two years.

And as the greenback slumps further, gold and silver -- the hard-money alternatives to paper currencies -- are hitting new highs. Gold closed above $1,500 an ounce for the first time.

The DXY index, which measures the dollar’s value against six other major currencies (including the euro, the yen and the Swiss franc), slid to 74.10 on Thursday, down 0.4% from Wednesday and the lowest since August 2008.

Dxy421 Year-to-date the DXY index (charted at left) is down 6.2%.

“It’s a ‘sell the dollar, buy everything else’ market,” said Win Thin, a currency strategist at Brown Bros. Harriman in New York.

The euro hit a new 16-month high of $1.454 on Thursday, up from $1.451 on Wednesday. The dollar also hit a record low of 6.52 Chinese yuan, down from 6.56 yuan a month ago, as the Chinese government allows its currency to steadily strengthen.

The buck’s slump this year has been fueled in large part by the widening gulf between U.S. interest rates and rates abroad. While many foreign central banks are raising rates to combat inflation, the U.S. Federal Reserve is holding its benchmark rate near zero.

Money naturally flows toward higher-yielding assets, so the rate differential is bolstering other currencies at the dollar’s expense.

On Wednesday Brazil’s central bank raised its key short-term rate to 12% from 11.75%. Brazil’s currency, the real, rose to its strongest level against the dollar since August 2008: The buck now is worth just 1.566 reals, down 5.7% from 1.661 at the start of this year and down nearly 11% from 1.756 a year ago.

The dollar’s continuing weakness means Americans’ purchasing power abroad is sinking (good luck with that foreign dream vacation), but it’s a boon for many U.S. exporters because it makes their goods less expensive for foreign buyers.

The stock market clearly thinks a falling dollar is a good thing: Wall Street is broadly higher for a third straight session Thursday, with the Dow Jones industrial average up 52 points to 12,505, its highest level since June 2008.

Currency traders say the dollar’s slide this week got a push from credit-rating firm Standard & Poor’s warning Monday about U.S. debt levels. S&P said it might cut its rating on U.S. Treasury debt from the current top AAA level within two years if the government fails to pare its massive deficits.

Although the dollar rose Monday as global markets were temporarily roiled by S&P’s warning -- which drove some investors into the greenback as a haven -- it has been falling since then.

Matt Zeman, a metals trader at Kingsview Financial in Chicago, said gold and silver have been prime beneficiaries of S&P’s threat. “People are saying, ‘We really are in trouble. I need to get my hands on some hard assets,’ ” Zeman said.

Silvereagle April gold futures in New York rose Thursday to the first-ever close above $1,500 an ounce, up $4.90 to a record $1,503.20, unadjusted for inflation.

But silver remains the star in the precious metals market: April futures rocketed $1.60, or 3.6%, to $46.06 an ounce, the highest nominal price since the spike of late 1979 and early 1980, when the Hunt brothers briefly cornered the market.

Silver, a favorite of many small investors, has surged 49% year to date to gold’s 6% gain.

“Silver hitting $50 an ounce is just becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Zeman said.

-- Tom Petruno

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 Photo: An American Eagle silver coin. Credit: U.S. Mint

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