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EM ASIA FX-Most Asian currencies weaken as virus cases jump

By Shriya Ramakrishnan

* Indonesian rupiah at over 1-month low * Taiwan dollar, Philippine peso strengthen * Thai economy may grow less than 2% this year (Adds text, updates prices) By Shriya Ramakrishnan Feb 13 (Reuters) - Most emerging Asian currencies weakened on Thursday as a surge in the number of new coronavirus cases dampened risk sentiment, prompting a flight to safe-haven assets. The Chinese province at the epicentre of the epidemic, Hubei, reported a record rise in the death toll and health experts warned that it could worsen before getting better. The offshore yuan and onshore yuan slid about 0.2% each above the 6.98 level. Analysts called it a knee-jerk reaction to the new numbers on infections and death in China. Asian currencies have responded to the virus outbreak differently. Export-focused currencies with greater trade-linkages to China have weakened substantially, with the Thai baht dropping 4.1% and Singapore dollar slipping 3.2% so far this year. However, high-yielding currencies and those perceived to be relatively insulated from economic shocks have benefited, with the Indonesian rupiah and Philippine peso fairly resilient this year. The Singapore dollar weakened 0.2% on the day, while the baht dipped slightly. A senior central bank official said on Thursday Thailand's economy may grow by less than 2% this year. The S. Korean won depreciated 0.2%, while the Malaysian ringgit edged down. The Indian rupee traded 0.2% lower. Data on Wednesday showed the country's annual retail inflation accelerated to its highest level in nearly six years, while industrial output unexpectedly contracted. The Indonesian rupiah weakened 0.2% to its lowest level in more than a month. It is, however, the top performing currency so far this year. "From a growth perspective India has kind of lagged and you need an emerging economy of substantial size and growth potential and still offering decent yields. So, the IDR becomes an obvious alternative," said Mahesh Sethuraman, deputy head of global sales trading at Saxo Capital Markets. "If risk-on assets globally are down, then we may see some IDR weakness which is more structural." The Taiwan dollar gained as much as 0.2%, finding some support from the government's plans to spend $2 billion to help cushion the impact on the economy from the coronavirus. PHILIPPINE PESO The Philippine peso strengthened as much as 0.3% against the U.S. dollar. "The peso has been the least affected in this virus spread in Asia so the indirect flight of capital from THB to PHP is logical. Given that tourism from China is such a substantial part of Thailand's revenue, the baht has got some lengths to go in terms of weakness," Sethuraman said. Earlier this week, Fitch Ratings upgraded the Philippines' outlook to "positive" from "stable" and said it expects growth to accelerate in 2020 and 2021 on the back of strong private consumption and rising infrastructure investment. CURRENCIES VS U.S. DOLLAR Change on the day at 0615 GMT Currency Latest bid Previous day Pct Move Japan yen 109.810 110.08 +0.25 Sing dlr 1.388 1.3861 -0.17 Taiwan dlr 29.996 30.032 +0.12 Korean won 1182.000 1179.5 -0.21 Baht 31.180 31.14 -0.13 Peso 50.452 50.54 +0.17 Rupiah 13685.000 13655 -0.22 Rupee 71.473 71.35 -0.17 Ringgit 4.140 4.137 -0.07 Yuan 6.984 6.9718 -0.18 Change so far in 2020 Currency Latest bid End 2019 Pct Move Japan yen 109.810 108.61 -1.09 Sing dlr 1.388 1.3444 -3.17 Taiwan dlr 29.996 30.106 +0.37 Korean won 1182.000 1156.40 -2.17 Baht 31.180 29.91 -4.07 Peso 50.452 50.65 +0.39 Rupiah 13685.000 13880 +1.42 Rupee 71.473 71.38 -0.13 Ringgit 4.140 4.0890 -1.23 Yuan 6.984 6.9632 -0.30 (Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)