EM ASIA FX-Most units tepid amid virus outbreak; S.Korean won firms on solid data

By Rashmi Ashok

* China response to virus outbreak plugs Asia FX selling * Do not expect major reversal in Asian gains - analyst * The Philippine peso rebounds after six sessions of losses * Malaysia central bank policy rate decision due 0700 GMT (Adds text, updates prices) By Rashmi Ashok Jan 22 (Reuters) - Most Asian units were trading subdued on Wednesday as concerns about a coronavirus outbreak in China kept risk appetite on the backfoot, although the South Korean won found support amid upbeat GDP data on the trade-reliant economy. The death toll from a new flu-like coronavirus in China rose to nine on Wednesday with 440 confirmed cases, health officials said. Sentiment, however, got a lift as China's response to the outbreak tempered fears of a global pandemic. The Chinese yuan steadied after weakening 0.6% in the previous session, although it still traded above the 6.9 level against the greenback. Most analysts say fears of a repeat of the SARS virus outbreak in 2003 that plunged the region into economic chaos are unfounded, as countries are now better equipped to fight an epidemic. "We do not see a huge reversal of Asian gains and expect merely modest unwinding of stretched positions," analysts at Maybank wrote in a note. However, investors are unlikely to embrace risky Asian assets anytime soon and will likely wait for further updates from Beijing before placing big bets. The World Health Organization meets later in the day to consider whether the outbreak is an international emergency. "If the authorities around the world show signs of failing to contain the coronavirus for an extended length of time, that could prompt a sustained risk-off period in the markets," wrote Han Tan, market analyst at FXTM. While most currencies were flat, the Philippine peso strengthened 0.5% after weakening for six consecutive sessions. The Thai baht flitted within a tight range as investors shrugged off data that showed the country's customs-cleared exports in December dropped 1.28% from last year, but came in better than as forecast in a Reuters poll. Malaysia's central bank is expected to stand pat on its benchmark interest rate at a policy review due at 0700 GMT, as global confidence about economic growth continues to improve in the wake of the Sino-U.S. Phase 1 trade pact. SOUTH KOREAN WON TICKS HIGHER The Korean won, while more sensitive to export numbers, traded 0.3% stronger after data showed that a surge in government spending helped the economy post its fastest quarterly growth in more than two years. "GDP growth rebounded more strongly than expected at the end of last year, and the economy should continue to stage a recovery over the coming quarters," Alex Holmes, Asia Economist at Capital Economics wrote in a note. "The strong outturn in Q4 means we no longer think that the Bank of Korea will cut rates again this year," he added. The central bank had cut its policy rate twice in 2019 in response to slow growth and low inflation. The following table shows rates for Asian currencies against the dollar at 0518 GMT. CURRENCIES VS U.S. DOLLAR Currency Latest bid Previous day Pct Move Japan yen 110.020 109.86 -0.15 Sing dlr 1.349 1.3499 +0.05 Taiwan dlr 30.002 29.998 -0.01 Korean won 1164.000 1167 +0.26 Baht 30.370 30.35 -0.07 Peso 50.850 51.08 +0.45 Rupiah 13660.000 13650 -0.07 Rupee 71.190 71.20 +0.01 Ringgit 4.072 4.0705 -0.04 Yuan 6.901 6.9050 +0.05 Change so far in 2020 Currency Latest bid End 2019 Pct Move Japan yen 110.020 108.61 -1.28 Sing dlr 1.349 1.3444 -0.36 Taiwan dlr 30.002 30.106 +0.35 Korean won 1164.000 1156.40 -0.65 Baht 30.370 29.91 -1.51 Peso 50.850 50.65 -0.39 Rupiah 13660.000 13880 +1.61 Rupee 71.190 71.38 +0.27 Ringgit 4.072 4.0890 +0.42 Yuan 6.901 6.9632 +0.90 (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru, Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips)