By Kevin Buckland
TOKYO, Dec 1 (Reuters) - The dollar tumbled to a three-month low versus the yen on Thursday as traders focused on comments by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell that interest rate hikes could be scaled back "as soon as December."
Powell said on Wednesday that "slowing down at this point is a good way to balance the risks" but added that controlling inflation "will require holding policy at a restrictive level for some time".
The greenback last stood down 0.98% at 136.755 yen , having plunged as much as 1.2% earlier to 136.50 -- its lowest level since Aug. 26. The dollar-yen pair is extremely sensitive to changes in long-term U.S. yields.
The 10-year yield fell after Powell's comments to hit a near two-month low overnight at 3.6%. It last stood at 3.6275% in Tokyo.
"Obviously the speech was less hawkish than feared," said Rodrigo Catril, senior FX strategist at National Australia Bank.
"The yen is leading the charge, and that makes sense when you look at the big, big move in long-term U.S. rates."
However the market reaction "is somewhat surprising," Catril added. "The Fed chair really just reiterated the view of late, which is a smaller hike should be expected next week, but he re-emphasized they're not done yet and we should be expecting a much higher terminal rate."
Markets are currently pricing in a 91% probability that the Fed increases rates by 50 basis points on Dec. 14, and see a 9% chance of another 75-basis-point hike that day. The peak is seen below 5% around May.
In November, the dollar dropped 7.15% versus the yen, its worst month in 14 years, as investors positioned for a Fed pivot.
The dollar index - which measures the currency against six major peers including the yen and euro - extended Wednesday's more than 1% drop into Thursday, dipping a further 0.09% to 105.69. It tumbled 5.2% in November, its worst monthly showing since September 2010.
The euro rose 0.21% to $1.04325, heading back toward the five-month high of $1.0497 marked at the start of this week.
The gains came even as a European survey on Wednesday showed euro zone inflation easing far more than expected in November, raising hopes that price growth is past its peak and bolstering the case for slower tightening by the European Central Bank.
Sterling added 0.23% to $1.2086, edging toward last week's three-month peak of $1.2153.
The risk-sensitive Antipodean currencies also gained, with the Aussie dollar last 0.15% stronger at $0.6799, after earlier touching $0.68155 for the first time since Sept. 13. New Zealand's kiwi added 0.37% to $0.6320 after touching $0.6325, the highest since Aug. 17.
The Aussie and kiwi have also been buoyed by signs the Chinese government will relent on its zero-COVID policy.
The giant Chinese cities of Guangzhou and Chongqing announced an
easing of COVID curbs
on Wednesday, while officials in Zhengzhou, the site of a big Foxconn factory making Apple iPhones that has been the scene of worker unrest over COVID, also announced the "orderly" resumption of businesses.
In cryptocurrencies, bitcoin stuck close to Wednesday's two-week high of $17,223, last changing hands at around $17,133. Ether traded at around $1,283, not far for the previous session's nearly three-week peak of $1,310.
(Reporting by Kevin Buckland; Editing by Stephen Coates and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)