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Markets

Malaysian shares gain on rate cut hopes; Asian currencies firm

  • The Philippines, which has been battling one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Southeast Asia, is set to buy 20 million doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.
20 Jan, 2021

Malaysian shares rose for the first time in five days on Wednesday as investors bet on further policy easing by its central bank to shore up a domestic economy struggling from fresh coronavirus restrictions.

Emerging Asian currencies firmed as US Treasury Secretary nominee Janet Yellen's push for a hefty fiscal relief package knocked the dollar index from a one-month high and lifted appetite for riskier assets.

The Singapore dollar, South Korean won and Thai baht advanced between 0.2% and 0.3% against the greenback.

Kuala Lumpur's benchmark stock index was up 0.8%, and the ringgit held on to a tight range ahead of the central bank meeting later in the day.

Malaysian equities have underperformed their Asian peers this month, as sentiment took a hit after a state of emergency was declared to curb the coronavirus, a day after the imposition of a 14-day lockdown in the capital and five states.

A majority of economists polled by Reuters expect Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) to cut its overnight policy rate by 25 basis points to a historic low of 1.50%.

"The risks of a rate cut by BNM at this meeting have risen versus a month ago due to more restrictions on mobility and building downside risks to growth in the near term," Sophia Ng, an analyst at MUFG wrote in a note.

Ng however said there was also a chance the central bank could view fiscal measures as a more effective tool to support the economy, especially after the government announced new aid measures on Monday.

Indonesian shares were the top gainers among regional equity markets, boosted by strength in financial stocks.

Meanwhile, Vietnamese shares fought to stabilise in volatile trade. The benchmark VN-Index saw its biggest single-session fall in 20 years on Tuesday, with a sudden spike in sell orders causing a trading system freeze.

Philippine shares also trailed, with the index down more than 1% and headed for a fourth straight day of losses.

The Philippines, which has been battling one of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks in Southeast Asia, is set to buy 20 million doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine.

"Investors may be awaiting for further leads on the execution phase of vaccine distribution, in which the pace of business and economic recovery ultimately depends on," said Frances Samorano, a research analyst at RCBC Securities.

"Trading activity has been focused on non-index names, which have no impact on the market barometer."

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