Emerging Markets: Philippines stocks up ahead of central bank meet; virus concerns hit Indian stocks

MANILA, March 25 (Reuters): Philippine shares rose on Thursday on expectations that the central bank would maintain its accommodative monetary policy, while Indian stocks posted sharp losses as rising coronavirus cases raised fears of fresh restrictions.

In line with other regional peers, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) is widely expected to leave its benchmark interest rate unchanged at its monetary policy meeting later in the day.

"BSP is set to continue to cite the need for accommodative monetary policy conditions as the economy grapples with a renewed wave of Covid-19 infections and a slow start to its vaccination drive," Mizuho Bank analysts wrote in a note.

Philippine stocks, which are down nearly 8% for the year, rose more than 1% to hit their highest level in nearly a week.

"The index is just recovering following heavy selling pressure over the past two weeks due to a spike in Covid-19 cases and re-instituted travel restrictions," said Jennifer Lomboy, fund manager at First Metro Asset Management.

In India, shares fell about 1% as daily COVID-19 cases hit a five-month high in Asia's third-largest economy.

South Korean shares, which had shed nearly 3% in the last four sessions, bounced back after the country's parliament approved a $13.13 billion supplementary budget to boost aid for small businesses and those taking a hit from the pandemic.

Among currencies, the Thai baht fell 0.4% to a four-month low against the dollar after data showed the country's exports in February fell more-than-expected from a year earlier.

ING analysts warned the figures should reinforce the downside growth risk to the economy, especially with continued sluggish exports and firmer imports narrowing the trade surplus.

"Such an economic backdrop and sustained political uncertainty should keep THB as one of Asia's underperforming currencies this year," they added.

Most other regional currencies weakened against the dollar, as the greenback hit a fresh four-month high, with the Indonesian rupiah, the Malaysian ringgit and the Taiwan dollar all dropping 0.2%.

The pressure on the forex front is likely to continue, with a Reuters poll showing that investors were bearish on all Asian currencies for the first time in a year and also turned short on the Chinese yuan after a strong run since last summer.

Elsewhere, stocks saw muted moves as a sell-off in Chinese technology shares due to concerns they will be de-listed from U.S. bourses rattled investors.

Geopolitical concerns further added to market caution after North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan, fuelling tensions. - Reuters
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