Asian currencies slip, stocks fall as Fed rate cut bets shift


MOST Southeast Asian markets were subdued on Tuesday as rising tensions in the Middle East and a potential delay in interest rate cuts by the U.S. Federal Reserve kept the dollar buoyant, triggering an aversion to riskier emerging market assets.

The South Korean won, the Philippine peso, and the Malaysian ringgit eased the most, falling between 0.2% and 0.7% by 0628 GMT.

Stocks in Singapore, Taiwan and the Philippines lost more than 1% each. Market bets on near-term interest rate cuts by the Fed declined after data last week showed U.S. consumer prices increased more than expected in March.

The Fed's shift to hawkish rhetoric in the March meeting minutes led investors to price in a rate cut in September rather than in June.

That pushed the U.S. dollar nearly 2% higher last week, with the dollar index - a measure of the greenback against six major rivals - currently hovering around Friday's high at 105.880.

In Asia, the Philippine peso hit its lowest level since Nov. 2, with the country's inflation basket likely to be the most sensitive to the recent spike in oil prices, according to analysts at Barclays.

"Higher oil prices are generally negative for economic activity in the region, but our estimates suggest a USD10/bbl increase in Brent only reduces GDP growth by a relatively modest 0.1-0.2 percentage points for most of Emerging Asia," the Barclays note said.

In Malaysia, the ringgit stood at a nearly two-month low, although the country stands out as the only net oil and gas exporter among the major emerging Asian economies and could be a beneficiary of higher oil prices.

Equities in Kuala Lumpur slipped 0.5%. Statements from Bank Negara Malaysia earlier in the day highlighted its efforts to ensure stability in the country's financial markets, with ongoing initiatives expected to bring in flows and liquidity into the foreign exchange market.

In India - another net importer of oil - the rupee was largely range-bound with rising oil prices expected to further pressure the currency.

Stocks in Mumbai slipped 0.8%. Investors now keenly await the country's wholesale price index (WPI) data for March due later in the day. China's yuan traded flat while stocks in Shanghai were last up 0.6%.

The Chinese central bank kept a key policy interest rate steady as widely expected on Monday when rolling over maturing medium-term loans.

Investor focus now shifts to first-quarter gross domestic product data due on Tuesday for more information on the status of a recovery in the world's second-largest economy and Southeast Asia's biggest trading partner.

In Vietnam, the dong depreciated as much as 0.34% to 25,100 per dollar, its lowest level on record amid political uncertainty and leadership changes that shook the Southeast Asian nation.

HIGHLIGHTS:

** Malaysia's palm oil inventories fall to 8-month low

** Markets in Indonesia, Thailand closed for public holiday

** U.S. earnings disappoint, JPMorgan Chase misses expectations - Reuters

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