SINGAPORE: Most emerging Asian currencies weakened on Wednesday, as fresh doubts about whether the United States and China can end their trade war rekindled worries about global growth.
Beijing said on Tuesday that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will travel to Washington for two days of talks starting on Thursday, setting up a last-ditch bid for a deal that would avoid a sharp increase in tariffs on Chinese goods ordered by US President Donald Trump.
The higher tariffs are scheduled to take effect on Friday, when Liu would be in Washington.
The South Korean won on Wednesday weakened as much as 0.5 percent to 1,172.50 against the dollar.
South Korea's finance minister flagged increasing downside risks for his country, a further sign of weakness for Asia's fourth largest economy following a sharp contraction in first quarter growth and sluggish exports.
Sim Moh Siong, an FX strategist at Bank of Singapore, said sentiment in Asia is "still one of wariness that if trade tensions escalate, there could be a further round of weakness in Asian currencies".
"Markets are trying to make out whether we are likely to see a replay of a tale of two halves or is everything going to collapse into a situation where it is not quite clear whether the U.S. dollar will emerge as the winner if the trade war escalates."
The Indian rupee weakened 0.3 percent to its lowest level in more than a week, while the Indonesian rupiah declined 0.2 percent.
Data released on Wednesday showed China's exports unexpectedly shrank in April but imports surprised with their first increase in five months, painting a mixed picture of the health of the Chinese economy.
However, the yuan snapped four days of losses to edge up against the dollar, supported by a rise in corporate dollar selling after China's central bank set a firmer midpoint.
The Thai baht, bucking the regional trend, strengthened 0.4 percent to its best level in three weeks, ahead of a central bank meeting that is widely expected to keep the benchmark rate unchanged for a third straight review.
The Philippine peso edged lower, ahead of Thursday's release of first quarter growth data and a central bank decision.
With inflation slowing for a sixth consecutive month in April, there are growing expectations that Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas will ease monetary policy.
The Singapore dollar appreciated 0.2 percent against the dollar on the day.
"The Singapore dollar is a safe haven currency in Southeast Asia and so there is definitely some demand due to the tremendous uncertainties around U.S.-China trade negotiations," Margaret Yang Yan, a market analyst at CMC Markets said.
Singapore's central bank said on Wednesday it would disclose more information on the actions it takes to implement monetary policy, including releasing data on foreign exchange intervention every six months.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore manages policy through exchange rate settings rather than interest rates. - Reuters