A broad decline in commodity and stock prices in major world markets lifted the yen on Thursday as investors piled money into low-risk assets due to jitters about prolonged low inflation and negative interest rates.
The yen, which investors prefer in times of market uncertainty, reached a three-year peak against the euro and a five-week high versus the U.S. dollar.
"It's generally a cautious mood today. You have stocks lower and yields lower," said Eric Viloria, currency strategist at Wells Fargo Securities in New York.
German 10-year Bund yield and British 10-year Gilt yields reached record lows at 0.024 percent and 1.222 percent respectively on Thursday, as falling yields put pressure on bank shares and the broader market globally.
Oil prices retreated from their highest levels of the year but held above $50 a barrel.
A late attempt for Wall Street stocks to claw into positive territory helped the greenback to reverse its initial losses against the yen and the euro to half its earlier decline.
The yen was up 0.5 percent against the euro at 121.19 yen after hitting 120.29 yen, which was last seen in April 2013. It was last down 0.1 percent versus the dollar at 107.07 yen after touching 106.24 yen, its strongest since May 4.
The dollar also rose against other currencies, supported by an unexpected drop in domestic jobless claims and a stronger-than-expected rise in wholesale sales in April, soothing some worries about U.S. economic growth decelerating in the second quarter.
The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against the six currencies, rebounded from five-week lows set on Wednesday. It was last up 0.5 percent at 94.063.
Analysts expected the dollar would hold in a narrow range ahead of the Federal Reserve's two-day meeting next week. They said the Fed would refrain from a rate increase given the possible market turmoil if Britain votes on June 23 to leave the European Union, also known as "Brexit."
"The Fed is not going to do anything next week. They are going to wait and collect more data after the Brexit vote," said Peter Ng, senior currency trader with Silicon Valley Bank in Santa Clara, California.
The sterling was down 0.2 percent at $1.4483, while the euro was 0.5 percent lower against the pound at 78.14 pence .
Overnight, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand surprised some investors by leaving key rates unchanged at 2.25 percent, citing concerns over rising house prices and emerging inflationary pressures.
RBNZ's move propelled the New Zealand dollar to its strongest versus its U.S. counterpart in almost a year at $0.7148. The Kiwi was last up 1.4 percent at $0.7122.
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