Asian currencies struggle on Fed issues

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HONG KONG: Currencies in developing Asia struggled on Wednesday as concerns grow that the US Federal Reserve will soon begin to unwind its massive stimulus program, diverting cash back to the West.

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Asian share markets were mixed as investors awaited the release later in the day of minutes from the Fed’s July policy meeting. They are anxious to see if higher US interest rates are in the offing, which would lessen the appeal of emerging markets for investors.

The Indian rupee recovered slightly from the previous session’s record low but Indonesia’s rupiah and the Thai baht faced more selling pressure, as foreigners shift back to safer assets in the West after a year-long investment splurge elsewhere.

In the afternoon Mumbai’s Sensex share index was up 0.67 percent after losing almost 6 percent in the previous three days, while Jakarta was up 1.43 percent, capping a four-day losing streak that saw it shed more than 11 percent. However, Bangkok slipped 0.44 percent.

Among Asia’s major stock markets Tokyo edged up 0.21 percent, or 27.95 points to 13,424.33, Sydney ended up 0.43 percent, or 21.8 points at 5,100, while Seoul closed 1.08 percent, or 20.39 points lower at 1,867.46.

Shanghai was virtually unchanged, adding 0.37 points to 2,072.96. Hong Kong slipped 0.69 percent, or 152.56 points to 21,817.73. Manila was closed for a public holiday, while Taipei was shut due to the approach of tropical storm Trami.

Wellington shares rose 0.96 percent, or 43.15 points to close at 4,551.51. Analysts will read the Fed minutes closely for an idea of the board’s plans for its bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing (QE).

With the US economy showing increasing signs of strength, many analysts said that the bank will start cutting down on the $85-billion-a-month scheme next month.

Expectations of such a move have seen foreign investors in recent months repatriate some of the vast sums that poured into emerging economies when QE was unveiled in September 2012, in turn hitting currencies and equities.

The growing crisis has increased pressure on central banks to raise interest rates to support their currencies. However, such a move could be counterproductive to struggling nations such as India, where the economy is hobbled by weakening growth as well as a huge current account deficit.

In forex trade, the rupee sank to a record low of 64.1 to the dollar on Tuesday but clawed back slightly on Wednesday, strengthening to 63.65 in the afternoon.

The unit is Asia’s worst performing currency this year, losing about a fifth of its value against the dollar in the past three months, with fears over the Fed’s stimulus adding to a severe slowdown in India.

However, the Indonesian rupiah weakened to 10,680 against the dollar—its lowest point since mid-2009—from 10,495 Tuesday, while Thailand’s baht sat around a one-year low of 31.77 from 31.69.

Against other major currencies the dollar bought 97.52 yen, compared with 97.32 yen in New York City on Tuesday, while the euro fetched $1.3398 and 130.60 yen, against $1.3420 and 130.60 yen.

The European unit broke $1.34 in New York City for the first time since January, after US Treasury yields fell to 2.81 percent from a two-year high of 2.88 percent reached on Monday, as bond prices perked up after sinking for more than three months. Bond prices move inversely to yields.

On Wall Street, shares ended mixed despite some upbeat earnings from retailers. The Dow edged slightly lower, while the S&P 500 gained 0.38 percent and the Nasdaq rose 0.68 percent.

AFP

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