Asian Currency

Surging dollar pressures Asian FX; South Korean won leads losses

(April 19): Emerging Asian equities and currencies were sharply lower on Friday as reports Israel attacked Iran in an escalation of tensions in the Middle East led investors to flee to safe-haven assets, including the US dollar. 

South Korea’s won fell 0.7% against the dollar by 0634 GMT, leading regional declines. The Indonesian rupiah depreciated as much as 0.7% to a four-year low.

MSCI’s emerging market currency index fell by 0.5% to its lowest since Nov 17. The index, hobbled by a strong dollar this year, has lost nearly 0.5% this week, set for its worst week since Jan 19.

Asian equities didn’t fare much better as sentiment soured, with stocks in Bangkok, Seoul and Manila all retreating nearly 2% each.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan sank to its worst week since June 2023, losing nearly 4% so far.

Besides the tensions in the Middle East, the dollar has got support from the hawkish repricing of US interest rate cut expectations due to strong economic data and as Federal Reserve officials said the fight against inflation is not over.

The dollar index — a measure of the greenback against six major rivals — has gained for two straight weeks and was last at 106.18, just below its five-month peak of 106.51 from earlier this week.

“We continue to see dollar strength weigh on EM Asia FX performance in the near term as markets re-price expectations for a rate cut from the Fed this year, with geopolitical tensions in the Middle East expected to further exacerbate pressure on EM Asia assets,” said Aditya Sharma, emerging market strategist at NatWest Markets.

The rupiah is set for its worst week since March 2020, giving up nearly 3% so far. That volatility has dented the appeal of Indonesia’s high-yielding bond market, also hit by the wafer-thin spreads it offers over dollar markets.

Market participants now expect Bank Indonesia (BI) could raise rates as early as next week.

The Philippine peso and Taiwan dollar lost nearly 5% each, while Thailand’s baht fell a marginal 0.2%. The peso lost 1.7% for the week, the most since February 2023.

The Malaysian economy is estimated to have grown 3.9% in the first quarter of 2024 from a year earlier, driven by growth in its services sector. The ringgit was largely flat on the day, while equities in Kuala Lumpur advanced 0.4%.

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