Rising virus deaths hit Indonesian shares; Asian currencies dip

Indonesian shares fell more than 1 percent on Friday after the country reported a record jump in COVID-19 deaths for the second time this week, while a steady dollar put a brake on recent rises in Asian currencies.

The record fatalities and sharp rise in daily cases in recent weeks have put Indonesia's hospitals under serious strain, even as the country began a mass vaccination campaign earlier this month.

Shares in Jakarta slipped 1.6 percent and the rupiah dipped 0.34 percent. The country's central bank kept key policy rates unchanged on Thursday, but vowed to direct all instruments toward supporting growth.

“The risk is that with more governments in the region (Asia) procuring vaccine deals, the hopes of mass immunization run
ahead of the reality resulting in a pre-emptive move back to pre-COVID normality and a further deterioration in the pandemic
situation,” analysts at Mizuho Bank wrote in a note.

Most emerging Asian currencies weakened as the dollar index picked up steam after three days of declines, as optimism
about more pandemic relief in the United States under the Biden administration drove up demand for riskier assets.

The South Korean won weakened 0.4 percent against the greenback, and the Malaysian ringgit and Singapore dollar each traded 0.2 percent lower.

Philippine shares also sank more than 1 percent on a continued sell-off led by foreign investors, with almost all sectors in the red. The benchmark index was headed for a sixth straight day of losses and a near 3 percent drop for the week.

“Week-to-date, foreign stock investment declined about US$70.86 million.. that is the most in over one month,” said Daniel Dubrovsky, a strategist at trading firm DailyFX.

“I think some of the pessimism had to do with the government's preference for a Chinese vaccine which has a lower efficacy rate compared to others.”

Stocks in Thailand shed half a percent and the baht gave up 0.2 percent as the country's finance minister warned the economy could grow less than earlier forecast this year, following its biggest coronavirus outbreak yet.

Taiwan's dollar extended its winning streak to a fourth consecutive session, strengthening more than 1 percent against the dollar.

Taiwan's central bank said on Thursday it would punish four unnamed foreign banks for helping grains firms speculate in the deliverable forwards foreign exchange market, as it moved to slow the Taiwan dollar's rise.

The currency's strength risks making manufacturing exports less competitive. The Taiwan dollar is up nearly 2 percent this year
following a 5.3 percent gain in 2020.

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