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EM ASIA FX-Taiwan dollar, Korean won climb on upbeat U.S. import data

By Rashmi Ashok

* December U.S. imports up 3.2% to seven-month high * Yuan climbs, China to slash tariffs on some U.S. imports * Philippine peso, Indian rupee flat ahead of rate decisions (Adds text, updates prices) By Rashmi Ashok Feb 6 (Reuters) - Currencies of export-reliant Taiwan and South Korea firmed on Thursday after data showed sharp growth in U.S. imports, while the yuan climbed on China's plans to slash tariffs on some U.S. imports. U.S. goods imports rose 3.2% to a seven-month high after three straight months of declines, partly helping a rally on Wall Street overnight. The won opened firmer and jumped as much as 1.1% - its biggest intraday percentage gain in more than four weeks. The Taiwan dollar added nearly 0.6% to hit a two-week high. The yuan climbed 0.2% after China said it would halve tariffs on some goods imported from the United States starting Feb. 14. The currency rose to 6.959 against the U.S. dollar, its strongest since Jan. 23. Other Asian currencies also traded slightly higher on the news, although rising worries over the coronavirus outbreak that had claimed 563 lives in China by Wednesday limited the gains. Meanwhile, the Indian rupee and the Philippine peso were little changed ahead of central bank policy decisions. A Reuters poll showed the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas is expected to cut interest rates, in a bid to buttress the economy against the negative impact of the virus outbreak, given that January inflation stayed within the central bank's target range. On the other hand, economists largely expect the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to keep rates on hold, as high inflation throws a spanner in its accommodative plans. The RBI lowered policy rates by a total of 135 basis points in 2019, leading to a spike in inflation even as growth stagnated. "Unfortunately for the RBI, no matter what its decision is, it is likely to be received negatively by both the currency market and the onshore equities market. Such are the joys of stagflation," Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at OANDA, said in a note. Among losers, the Thai baht slid 0.4%, a day after the Bank of Thailand cut interest rates in a surprise move as it strives to cushion the tourism-reliant economy in the wake of a hit from the coronavirus epidemic. The Singapore dollar slipped for a second straight session after the Monetary Authority of Singapore's comments on Wednesday were seen by markets as an indicator of policy easing in its April meeting. The following table shows rates for Asian currencies against the dollar at 0520 GMT. CURRENCIES VS U.S. DOLLAR Currency Latest bid Previous day Pct Move Japan yen 109.950 109.8 -0.14 Sing dlr 1.384 1.3812 -0.22 Taiwan dlr 30.005 30.152 +0.49 Korean won 1178.400 1191.5 +1.11 Baht 31.090 30.96 -0.42 Peso 50.720 50.73 +0.02 Rupiah 13610.000 13670 +0.44 Rupee 71.220 71.19 -0.05 Ringgit 4.117 4.1195 +0.06 Yuan 6.962 6.9753 +0.19 Change so far in 2020 Currency Latest bid End 2019 Pct Move Japan yen 109.950 108.61 -1.22 Sing dlr 1.384 1.3444 -2.88 Taiwan dlr 30.005 30.106 +0.34 Korean won 1178.400 1156.40 -1.87 Baht 31.090 29.91 -3.80 Peso 50.720 50.65 -0.14 Rupiah 13610.000 13880 +1.98 Rupee 71.220 71.38 +0.22 Ringgit 4.117 4.0890 -0.68 Yuan 6.962 6.9632 +0.02 (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)