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Markets

Indonesia leads Asian shares lower on virus woes

  • The Thai cabinet approved a further 700 billion baht ($22.26 billion) of borrowing on Tuesday to support the government's COVID-19 response.
19 May 2021

Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore on Wednesday led losses among Asia's risk-sensitive stock markets, tracking cues from a soft session on Wall Street, while concerns over a resurgence in COVID-19 cases in the region also weighed.

In Jakarta, stocks fell 1.1% to their lowest in 3-1/2 months, while benchmark indexes in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur dropped nearly 1% each, as investors trimmed their exposure towards riskier bets.

"Sentiment is likely to remain cautious as a viral resurgence in parts of Asia remains on top of traders' minds," Margaret Yang, a DailyFX strategist, said.

The rupiah, favoured by foreign investors seeking to tap Indonesia's high-yielding debt, weakened 0.3%, unmoved by the soft dollar. Most of Asia's other emerging currencies flitted between trading flat and slightly higher.

Taiwan's dollar eased from a one-week high as the island nation raised its COVID-19 alert level.

Investors, meanwhile, are awaiting minutes from the US Federal Reserve's most recent meeting, due later in the day, which are expected to confirm that policymakers think a rate hike is still some time away.

Singapore, Taiwan and Malaysia have imposed coronavirus measures to combat the health crisis amid worries of more contagious variants, at a time when the West is seen easing restrictions.

Government officials in Indonesia were concerned that mass gatherings during the Eid holiday could trigger a surge of new cases in the world's fourth-most populous nation.

"Asian central banks have generally been held back by the virus situation," Duncan Tan, a rates strategist at DBS, said in a client note.

"We don't think Asia can be expected to deviate from the global policy normalisation trend for an extended period of time," he added, referring to other central banks in advanced and emerging economies that are turning less dovish.

Minutes from the Thai central bank's latest meeting showed policymakers viewed Thailand's financial system as more vulnerable from the latest coronavirus outbreak, posing significant risks to the economy.

The Thai cabinet approved a further 700 billion baht ($22.26 billion) of borrowing on Tuesday to support the government's COVID-19 response.

Inflationary pressure remains a worry as recent data shows consumer prices rising in Britain and the United States, though the Fed has thus far stuck to the narrative that it would be transient and monetary policy should stay accommodative.

Markets in South Korea and Hong Kong were closed for holidays.

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