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Most Asian currencies softer ahead of Sino-US trade talks

Investors stayed away from risk-sensitive assets and bet on safe-haven dollar

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The Chinese yuan and Taiwan dollar, both of which began trading after a week-long holiday, weakened 0.6 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively.
Most emerging Asian units started the week weaker against the dollar on Monday, as concerns over slackening world growth and a possible resurgence in US-China trade frictions kept investors on the sidelines.

With the latest round of high-level talks between US and Chinese officials set to kick off on Thursday, investors stayed away from risk-sensitive assets and bet on safe-haven dollar.

The Indonesian rupiah declined 0.5 per cent and was among the top decliners in the region, following data on Friday that showed the country's current account deficit widened to its largest in over four years in 2018's final quarter. A swelling current account deficit has been a cause of concern for Indonesia and partly contributed to the rupiah's plunge in 2018.


This has prompted the central bank to hike rates six times by 175 basis points last year while the government raised import taxes and delayed some big infrastructure projects. Meanwhile, currencies of major oil importers, the Philippine peso and Indian rupee firmed 0.2 per cent and 0.1 per cent, respectively, aided by a drop in crude oil futures .

Boosted by the flight to safety bid, the dollar index firmed about 0.1 per cent, staying near a six-week high. Expectations of a resolution are low heading into the talks after US President Donald Trump last week said he did not plan to meet with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping before a March 1 deadline to achieve a trade deal.

"US-China trade talks over the Valentine's Day will be closely watched for signs of progress. But the reality is that olive branches, rather than rose stalks, are the best that anyone (anchored to reality) may be looking for," Mizuho Bank said in a client note. "The half-empty view, with US trade hawks such as Lighthizer leading trade talks, is that a deal for Trump to sign off will probably elude. But the half-full take on this stalemate alongside lack of Trump-Xi meet-up is that the truce may be extended."

The Chinese yuan and Taiwan dollar, both of which began trading after a week-long holiday, weakened 0.6 per cent and 0.3 per cent, respectively. The South Korean and Malaysian ringgit posted modest losses. The following table shows rates for Asian currencies against the dollar at 0538 GMT.
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