Asian currencies dip after Fed, Bank Indonesia in focus

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(Sept 17): Most emerging Asian currencies fell on Thursday against the US dollar, which firmed after the US Federal Reserve upgraded its 2020 GDP outlook, while the Indonesian rupiah rose for the third straight session on expectations the central bank would keep interest rates steady.

Regional share markets followed Wall Street lower, with Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines all down on the day. US stocks rose after the Fed vowed to keep interest rates near zero until inflation is on track to overshoot its 2% target, but investors later took profit.

The Fed announced a policy shift allowing for greater tolerance towards inflation last month, and some analysts said the dovish Fed comments had already been priced in to some extent.

"Dovish commitment was reaffirmed but no further active approach was taken to demonstrate its dovish commitment to meet inflation objectives," Maybank analysts said in a note.

The greenback, which has been under pressure since the Fed announced the policy shift, advanced as the US central bank predicted the world's largest economy would shrink 3.7% in 2020, far less than the 6.5% contraction previously forecast.

The Thai baht, Philippine peso and Malaysian ringgit were among the biggest fallers in the region.

The Bank of Japan also kept its monetary policy steady on Thursday and slightly upgraded its view on the economy.

Investors will also watch Bank Indonesia's (BI) monetary policy meeting this session, where the central bank will have to balance the need to support a sluggish economy with concerns that a rate cut could put additional pressure on a downbeat rupiah. The central bank is expected to keep rates on hold.

Jakarta stocks, which slid more than 2% over the last two days, seesawed in early trading before settling marginally lower.

The BI has been in focus after a panel of internal experts advised the government to increase its involvement in the central bank's monetary policy framework. Investors are concerned this could compromise central bank independence at a time when BI is underwriting government debt issues under coronavirus emergency measures.

Ratings agency S&P Global said in a report on Wednesday that central banks in emerging markets could risk their reputations, sovereign credit ratings and even full-blown economic crises if they continue to monetise government debt after the crisis.

"While the government has expressed that it is not in agreement with some proposed changes, it remains too early to judge how the law will pan out and investors are likely to remain cautious for some time," said Wei Liang Chang, a macro strategist at Singaporean bank DBS.

Singapore's FTSE Strait Times Index climbed as much as 0.5% after higher-than-expected August exports, before reversing course to join its peers in the red by 0330 GMT.

"Contrary to expectations of the global pandemic hitting regional exports hard, Singapore's have held the ground well so far this year," analysts at Dutch bank ING wrote.

"This data should bring more comfort to the central bank to keep the neutral policy stance at the upcoming semi-annual policy review in October."

Highlights

  • Indonesian 10-year benchmark yields are up 3.1 basis points at 6.946%
  • In the Philippines, top index losers are Metro Pacific Investments down 2.84%, JG Summit Holdings down 2.38% and Megaworld down 2.23%