Most emerging Asian currencies initially rose on Thursday after the Federal Reserve signalled that further tightening beyond its US rate hike would be slow, but then they weakened as China's yuan hit a 4-1/2 year low. At the start of trading, most regional units were helped by the Fed making clear its first hike in nearly a decade on Wednesday was a tentative beginning to a "gradual" tightening cycle.
But Asian currencies failed to maintain the appreciation mood as the yuan touched its weakest level since June 2011 after China's central bank set its daily guidance rate at a 4-1/2-year low. Most major banks have forecast a 5-7 percent fall in the yuan next year, but some expect the renminbi to lose 10 percent or more. That could encourage more money to leave China and China-related investments, hurting some other regional currencies.
"Our stance remains for a stronger USD/Asia FX outlook, with further depreciation in the CNY adding another layer of pressure on Asian currencies, especially those that are most closely linked to China via trade and competitiveness channels, namely the KRW and TWD," analysts for Barclays said in a note. They referred to the South Korean won and the Taiwan dollar. The won turned weaker as foreign investors continued to sell local stocks.
Singapore's dollar hit its lowest since November 24 after an unexpected slide in November exports raised concerns over a slowdown in the trade-dependent economy. The Malaysian ringgit reversed earlier gains as sliding crude prices added to worries about the country's falling oil and gas revenue.
Indonesia's rupiah bucked the regional slide, rising as traders covered short positions in the second-worst performing Asian currency this year. Jakarta shares jumped more than 1 percent, while most government bond prices also rose. Some analysts said the Fed's stance was not necessarily seen as dovish enough to support emerging Asian currencies for a longer term. "We see the Fed was slightly hawkish," said Jeong My-young, Samsung Futures research head in Seoul. "Given its upgrade in economic forecasts and a hike in a unanimous decision, the Fed is likely to emphasise on policy normalisation and raise rates."
"There was no factor to reverse a strong dollar trend," said Jeong, who expects emerging Asian currencies to weaken. The dollar on Thursday in Asia hit a two-week high against a basket of major currencies. The Singapore dollar lost 0.8 percent to 1.4175 per the US dollar, its weakest in more than three weeks, as leveraged accounts and other funds sold the city-state's currency.
Singapore's exports fell 3.3 percent in November from a year earlier on declining sales to China and Europe. A Reuters poll had expected a 1.5 percent rise. The local currency is seen weakening to 1.4185, the 76.4 percent Fibonacci retracement of its appreciation from November to December, analysts said. The next levels would be 1.4260-1.4265, its lows in November, they added.
The won started the day firmer on improving risk appetite as investors saw the Fed's rate increase as a signal of confidence in the world's largest economy. But the South Korean currency changed direction as offshore funds sold it, with foreigners extending their selling spree in the Seoul stock market to a 12th straight session. "It looks risky to expect risky assets to find support from relief after the US rate hike was not that hawkish," said a foreign bank trader in Seoul. The trader said he'll buy the dollar on dips, adding that Korean authorities "may allow a gradually-weakening won to boost exports."