EM ASIA FX-Asian currencies fall as worries mount over coronavirus epidemic

By Niyati Shetty

* Thai baht slips 0.9% to more than seven-month low * Taiwan dollar falls most in intraday trade since Aug * S.Korean won on track for 4th session of losses (Adds text, updates prices) By Niyati Shetty Jan 30 (Reuters) - Asian currencies weakened on Thursday, with the Thai baht sliding to a more than seven-month low, hard hit by worries over the rapid spread of a new virus from China and its economic impact. Mounting death toll from the novel pneumonia-like virus has prompted the World Health Organisation to reconvene a meeting later in the day to decide if the outbreak now constitutes a global emergency. The virus has left 170 people dead and infected 7,711 so far in China, and spread to at least 15 countries, including Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore. Calling the epidemic a source of uncertainty for China's economic outlook, the U.S. Federal Reserve said it is likely to slow growth in the world's second-largest economy at least in the near term. "Past experience (during the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak) suggests a cumulative 3%-10% drop in emerging Asian forex but since 2003, reliance on, and sensitivities to, China have amplified," Vishnu Varathan, senior economist at Mizuho Bank, said in a note. Leading the declines among Asian currencies, the Thai baht eased up to 0.9% to 31.27 per dollar, after crossing a key 31.00 per dollar barrier in the previous session. The pace of the virus spread in China led markets to reassess the potential impact on the Thai tourism industry, Maybank analysts said. Thailand, a popular destination for Chinese tourists, has confirmed 14 cases of the virus, more than any country outside China. The Chinese offshore yuan fell 0.2% to 6.9849 per dollar, reversing Wednesday's gains. Onshore markets were closed on account of the extended Lunar New year holidays and will resume trading on Feb. 3. The Taiwanese dollar slid as much as 0.9%, its biggest intraday decline since August 2019, as investors priced in the virus outbreak after returning from a five-day Lunar New Year break. A central bank official told Reuters that the apex bank would keep a close watch on fluctuations in the foreign exchange market and ensure stability if there were unusual ones. South Korea's won faltered 0.7%, heading for a fourth straight session of declines. The central bank said it was premature to say whether the potential impact from the new coronavirus should be countered with further easing. The Indian rupee softened 0.3%, while the Malaysian rinngit, the Singapore dollar and the Indonesian rupiah each lost 0.2%. The following table shows rates for Asian currencies against the dollar at 0515 GMT. CURRENCIES VS U.S. DOLLAR Currency Latest bid Previous day Pct Move Japan yen 108.880 108.99 +0.10 Sing dlr 1.363 1.3604 -0.19 Taiwan dlr 30.262 30.006 -0.85 Korean won 1184.900 1177.2 -0.65 Baht 31.250 30.98 -0.86 Peso 50.970 50.85 -0.24 Rupiah 13645.000 13620 -0.18 Rupee 71.448 71.25 -0.28 Ringgit 4.086 4.079 -0.17 Change so far in 2020 Currency Latest bid End 2019 Pct Move Japan yen 108.880 108.61 -0.25 Sing dlr 1.363 1.3444 -1.36 Taiwan dlr 30.262 30.106 -0.52 Korean won 1184.900 1156.40 -2.41 Baht 31.250 29.91 -4.29 Peso 50.970 50.65 -0.63 Rupiah 13645.000 13880 +1.72 Rupee 71.448 71.38 -0.09 Ringgit 4.086 4.0890 +0.07 Yuan 6.937 6.9632 +0.38 (Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)