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EM ASIA FX-Export-dependent Asian units take comfort from drop in new virus cases

By Shriya Ramakrishnan

* Thai baht leads gains * Indian rupee dips slightly ahead of inflation data * Malaysia c. bank says 'ample room' for rate cut (Adds text, updates prices) By Shriya Ramakrishnan Feb 12 (Reuters) - Currencies of export-focused Asian countries notched gains against the dollar on Wednesday, as a slowdown in the pace of new coronavirus infections fuelled hopes that the worst of the epidemic might be over. China on Wednesday reported its lowest number of new coronavirus cases since late January, lending credence to a prediction from the country's senior medical adviser that the outbreak could be over by April. An uptick in U.S. yields, as bond prices fell, and the accompanying rise in global equities suggested a slow return to higher investor risk appetites, with the dollar losing ground against Asian currencies. "It is important that we see containment efforts materialising into actual containment of the virus - new cases continue to slow, while recovery rises and outside-China spread is contained," Christopher Wong, a senior FX strategist at Maybank Singapore said. The Thai baht strengthened 0.5% to 31.11 against the greenback, while the Chinese yuan edged up. The baht is the worst performing emerging Asian currency this year - a reversal from its position as Asia's best performing currency last year and in 2018 - as the virus outbreak hurts Thailand's lucrative tourism sector. The South Korean won advanced 0.3%, while the Taiwan dollar also gained 0.3% to its strongest level in more than three weeks. The Malaysian ringgit erased early gains to edge down 0.1%. Malaysia's central bank said on Wednesday there was "ample room" for a rate cut after economic growth slowed to the weakest in a decade in the fourth quarter and the coronavirus outbreak threatened to pile more pressure this year. The Indian rupee inched lower, ahead of the release of inflation data later in the day. Inflation is expected to rise to a near six-year peak in January as food prices stayed high, according to a Reuters poll. The Indonesian rupiah traded little changed, while the Philippine peso dipped slightly. CURRENCIES VS U.S. DOLLAR Change on the day at 0545 GMT Currency Latest bid Previous day Pct Move Japan yen 109.850 109.77 -0.07 Sing dlr 1.385 1.3861 +0.09 Taiwan dlr 29.973 30.068 +0.32 Korean won 1177.600 1181.6 +0.34 Baht 31.110 31.275 +0.53 Peso 50.510 50.5 -0.02 Rupiah 13655.000 13660 +0.04 Rupee 71.240 71.23 -0.01 Ringgit 4.135 4.131 -0.10 Yuan 6.960 6.9660 +0.08 Change so far in 2020 Currency Latest bid End 2019 Pct Move Japan yen 109.850 108.61 -1.13 Sing dlr 1.385 1.3444 -2.92 Taiwan dlr 29.973 30.106 +0.44 Korean won 1177.600 1156.40 -1.80 Baht 31.110 29.91 -3.86 Peso 50.510 50.65 +0.28 Rupiah 13655.000 13880 +1.65 Rupee 71.240 71.38 +0.20 Ringgit 4.135 4.0890 -1.11 (Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)