Emerging markets - Thai baht hits lowest since Oct 2023 as Asian stocks rise as Middle East tensions recede

Image from The Nation Thailand/ANN

BANGKOK (Reuters): Most emerging Asian equities rose on Monday as investors sought riskier assets amid easing fears of a wider conflict in the Middle East, while currencies were mixed as the dollar continued to cast a shadow.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares gained 0.93% on Monday after declining 4.5% in the last week, when Mideast tensions heightened from Israel's retaliatory strike on Iran.

Stocks in Singapore rose as much as 2%, while Malaysian shares added as much as 0.8%. In South Korea, shares gained up to 1.5%. Thailand stocks jumped as much as 1.4%, after four consecutive sessions of decline and a loss of 4.6% in the last week.

Bucking the trend, Indonesian shares slipped 0.9% to its lowest level since Dec. 1.

A verdict on two challenges to the outcome of Indonesia's February presidential election is due on Monday, after the losing candidate alleged the state had interfered in favour of winner Prabowo Subianto. But the court had ruled in the favour of Prabowo.

Currencies in the region were mixed as the USdollar remained firm, while comments from Federal Reserve officials and hotter-than-anticipated inflation data last week led to markets scaling back expectations for rate cuts in the US and other developed economies.

"With financial markets lurching in the wake of last week’s US CPI release and the Fed’s less dovish tilt, the sharp depreciation in EM FX will likely complicate the monetary policy outlook for the central banks more focused on external stability," Barclays analysts said in a note.

The Thai baht weakened as much as 0.5% to its lowest level since October 2023, while Taiwanese dollar fell 0.4% to its lowest level since 2016. The Malaysian ringgit and the Philippine peso were largely unchanged.

The Indonesian rupiah gained 0.2%. Indonesia's central bank on Friday intervened "more boldly to maintain market confidence" as the rupiah weakened. Bank Indonesia is set to announce its policy rate decision on Wednesday.

Analysts at Barclays expect the central bank to begin cutting in first quarter of 2025. However, for April, they expect a rate hike, "possibly not just by 25bp but even up to 50bp".

"We think a hike is likely to have more value in terms of its signalling effect rather than its immediate impact on the IDR," they wrote.

Meanwhile, data from Seoul showed exports for the first 20 days of April rose 11.1% from the same period the year before, while Taiwan reports March export orders later in the day.

Additionally, the Vietnamese dong was largely unchanged, hovering near its lowest level on record touched during last week. - Reuters

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