The upward momentum in Asian currencies has continued unabated over recent weeks the gyrations in risk appetite. Most Asian currencies have registered gains against the USD over 2010 with the notable exception of one of last year’s star performers, KRW which after gaining by close to 9% last year has weakened slightly this year. Last year’s best performer the IDR which raked in close to 20% gains over 2009 versus USD has continued to strengthen this year, albeit to a smaller degree. Another currency that has extended gains this year has been the THB, which is on track to beat last year’s 4% appreciation against the USD.
The strength in Asian currencies has in part reflected robust inflows into Asian equity markets. For example Indonesia has been the recipient of around $1.7 billion in equity inflows so far this year. However, India and Korea have registered even larger inflows into their respective equity markets, at around $13 billion and $7.7, respectively, yet both the INR and KRW have underperformed other Asian currencies. The explanation for this is largely due to deteriorating current account positions in both countries. Further deterioration is likely.
The fact that equity flows have had only a small impact on the INR and KRW is reflected in their low correlations with their respective equity market performance. For most other Asian currencies the correlation with equity performance has been quite high, with the THB and MYR having the strongest correlations with their respective equity market indices over the past 3-months although the SGD, PHP and IDR have also maintained statistically significant correlations.
Clearly, for many but not all Asian currencies equity market gyrations are important drivers but at a time when growth is slowing more than many had expected in the US and governments in the eurozone are implementing austerity measures which will likely result in slowing growth and a worsening trade picture in the region, central banks in Asia will become increasingly wary of allowing their currencies from strengthening too quickly.
Increasingly Asian currency strength is being met with intervention by central banks in the region buying USDs against a host of Asian currencies. Over recent weeks this intervention appears to have become more aggressive. Nonetheless, any FX intervention led weakness in Asian FX is likely to prove short lived, with renewed appreciation likely over the coming months unless risk aversion increases dramatically. In other words a drop in Asian currencies will provide better opportunities to go long.
The CNY will play an important role on the pace and pattern of Asian currency movements. Investors in the region will also have one eye on developments on the visit of US National Economic Council director Larry Summers to Beijing. The CNY has firmed over recent days but this appears to be the usual pattern when a senior US official is in town and ahead of a G20 meeting. The fact is however, that the lack of CNY appreciation since the June CNY de-pegging remains a highly sensitive issue.
China is unlikely to yield to US pressure and is set to continue to act at its own pace and comments from officials in China over the past couple of days suggest no shift in FX stance. Although the CNY has not appreciated by as much as many had hoped for or expected since the June de-pegging the path is likely to be upwards, albeit at a gradual pace. For Asian currencies a slow pace of CNY appreciation implies further reluctance to allow a fast pace of appreciation so expect plenty of FX intervention in the weeks and months ahead.