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The yen gained the most since August against the dollar after the worst earthquake in at least a century struck Japan, spurring domestic investors to buy the currency as a haven.
The Japanese currency strengthened after the 8.9-magnitude temblor and as a tsunami of 10 meters (33 feet) engulfed towns along the northern coast, increasing speculation insurance companies and investors will buy back yen to pay for damages.
Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s government set up an earthquake response team as buildings shook violently in Tokyo. The quake struck at 2:46 p.m. local time at 130 kilometers (81 miles) off the coast of Sendai, north of Tokyo, at a depth of 24 kilometers, the U.S. Geological Survey said.
The yen strengthened about 20% versus the dollar in three months after the 6.9 magnitude Kobe earthquake in January 1995, which claimed more than 6,000 lives. The Japanese currency is trading within 2 yen of 80.22 yen per dollar reached Nov. 1, the lowest since April 1995.
"Today’s earthquake may not have the same affect on the currency and growth as the Kobe earthquake did," according to Mamoru Arai, a senior currency trader at Mizuho Financial Group Inc.
“At that time, the yen went higher to a historical level, but we had a very strong trade war between the U.S. and Japan,” Arai said. “There is no economic disturbance between the U.S. and Japan, so I doubt this will lead to severe appreciation in the yen.”
Canada’s dollar touched the lowest in two weeks versus its U.S. counterpart after the nation added fewer jobs than forecast in February. Canada’s employers added a net 15,100 jobs after a gain of 69,200 in January, Statistics Canada said.
The euro has fallen 1% this week against the greenback, after rising for three straight weeks.
The U.S. currency remained lower versus the Japanese currency after a report showed U.S. retail sales gained the most in four months in February. U.S. retail sales rose 1%, following a revised 0.7% increase in January, figures from the Commerce Department showed. Economists forecast a 1% gain, according to estimates in a survey.
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