Asian stocks, FX slip; Malaysia politics, Indonesia rate decision in focus

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(Oct 13): Asia's emerging currencies and stock markets eased on Tuesday, tracking a weaker yuan and disappointment over a Covid-19 vaccine trial halt, while investors eyed political developments in Malaysia and a central bank decision in Indonesia. 

The yuan, often a key driver for regional currency movements, slipped after the central bank set a weaker than forecast midpoint, pulling the Singapore dollar, South Korean won and Indonesia rupiah lower.

The Taiwan dollar, a consistent outperformer, once again stood out with gains of nearly 1%.  

The Malaysian ringgit and stocks inched lower, as investors awaited the outcome of opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim's meeting with the king about his bid to oust Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and form a new government. 

Anwar added a fresh twist to the Southeast Asian nation's political drama last month after he declared that he had secured a "formidable" majority from federal lawmakers to form a new government. 

The power struggle comes as the country, already grappling with an economy battered by the coronavirus, faces a renewed surge in infections, prompting authorities to impose movement restrictions in the capital city for two weeks.

"How credible is the opposition's threat to topple the ruling administration is still to be seen," said Prakash Sakpal, ING's senior economist for Asia.

"Once domestic political anxiety is put to rest and global oil prices stabilise, MYR may revert to be an Asian outperformer, the status it enjoyed from June through August this year." 

In Indonesia, the rupiah was marginally lower and stocks dipped 0.3% ahead of the central bank meeting later in the day, where it is widely expected to leave its key rate unchanged at 4% in a bid to prioritise currency stability.

The rupiah, Asia's worst performing currency this year, has been under pressure due to concerns over a proposed amendment of the central bank act that could undermine Bank Indonesia's independence and prolong its debt monetisation operations. 

Stock markets across the region were flat to lower, as a post-holiday rally in Chinese shares cooled and Johnson & Johnson temporarily paused its Covid-19 vaccine candidate clinical trials due to an unexplained illness in a study participant.

In South Korea, the benchmark KOSPI fell 0.3% and the won slipped as a triple-digit jump in domestic coronavirus cases weighed on sentiment. 

Financial markets in Thailand were closed for a holiday. 

Highlights:

  • Malaysia's 10-year benchmark yield is down 0.6 basis points at 2.704%
  • Top losers on FTSE Bursa Malaysia Kl Index include DiGi.Com Bhd down 1.69% at RM4.06; MISC Bhd down 1.43% at RM6.89
  • Top losers on the Jakarta stock index include Gunawan Dianjaya Steel Tbk PT down 6.98% at 80 rupiah; Sky Energy Indonesia Tbk PT down 6.92% at 242 rupiah