* Euro hits fresh 2-year low, nears July 2012 trough
* Dollar index hits highest since March 2006
* Focus on economic and policy divergence benefits dollar
* Draghi quoted as saying risk of ECB failing its mandate higher than 6 months ago
By Masayuki Kitano
SINGAPORE, Jan 2 (Reuters) – The dollar hit its highest level in nearly nine years against a basket of currencies on Friday, drawing strength from the U.S. economy’s outperformance and the diverging outlook for monetary policies among major economies.
The dollar kicked off 2015 on a strong note after a stellar 2014 when the dollar index surged nearly 13 percent in its best yearly performance since 1997.
The index, which measures the greenback’s value against a basket of major currencies, rose to 90.624 at one point, its highest level since March 2006.
“Many of the themes that were in vogue heading into the end of the year, remain very much firmly in place,” said Callum Henderson, global head of FX research for Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore.
“The U.S. recovery is not stellar but it’s certainly materially better than in most places in the G10,” Henderson said, referring to the market’s focus on macro-economic divergence.
The contrast between the U.S. Federal Reserve’s path toward rate hikes and stimulative policies in Europe and Japan gave a broad boost to the greenback last year and is likely to remain a key theme in 2015.
The latest comments by the heads of the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan in newspaper interviews underscored that contrasting outlook.
ECB President Mario Draghi said in an interview with German financial daily Handelsblatt that the risk of the central bank not fulfilling its mandate of preserving price stability was higher now than half a year ago, and reiterated its readiness to act early this year should it become necessary.
The euro last traded at $ 1.2058, down 0.4 percent on the day. It touched a low near $ 1.2047 earlier on Friday, its lowest level since July 2012, when the euro hit a trough of $ 1.2042.
Jeffrey Halley, FX trader for Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore, said the euro’s fall picked up momentum after triggering stop-loss orders in thin market conditions.
“Liquidity is still at a premium as many market players are still on vacation,” Halley said.
In another sign of its broad strength, the dollar hit its highest level versus the Swiss franc since December 2010, at 0.9982 on trading platform EBS.
The dollar also held the upper hand against the yen, rising 0.4 percent to 120.32 yen.
The dollar, which hit a seven-year high of 121.86 yen in early December, had risen 13.7 percent against the yen in 2014.
The greenback had seen its gains accelerate late last year after the Bank of Japan surprised markets in late October by expanding its monetary stimulus to keep inflation expectations from flagging.
In an interview with the Mainichi daily that ran on Thursday, BOJ Governor Haruhiko Kuroda said the bank has various tools left if it were to ease monetary policy again, stressing its determination to hit its inflation target in the next fiscal year.
Kuroda reiterated that the BOJ was ready to expand stimulus again if needed to meet its 2 percent price target, and ruled out the possibility of watering down the bank’s commitment to hit its inflation target in the fiscal year beginning in April.
Most economists, however, are highly sceptical it will meet its target within that timeframe.
(Editing by Kim COghill)
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