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EM ASIA FX-Virus worries, Lunar New Year break keep most currencies in tight band

By Rashmi Ashok

* Outbreak worries mount ahead of Lunar New Year * Indonesian rupiah firms ahead of cenbank rate decision * Bank Indonesia expected to stand pat, retain easing bias * Investors turn bullish on Indian rupee after 5 months - poll (Adds text, updates prices) By Rashmi Ashok Jan 23 (Reuters) - Most Asian currencies were stuck in narrow ranges on Thursday ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, while fears of a China virus outbreak exerted pressure on some markets. A bellwether for risk sentiment in the region, the yuan weakened 0.2% while yields on China's 10-year government bonds tumbled, reflecting persistent worries about the outbreak as the death toll climbed. With hundreds of millions of Chinese expected to travel during the new year holiday beginning on Friday in China until Jan. 30, markets feared the transmission rate would accelerate. However, Chinese efforts to contain the spread, including putting a lockdown on Wuhan - a city of 11 million people at the epicentre of the crisis - has helped calm nerves and limit steeper losses. With no direction from Chinese markets and a number of other Asian countries set to close for the new year break, trade is likely to be muted next week. "Today then represents the last day for investors to rejig their portfolios properly ahead of all the market holidays," wrote Jeffrey Halley, senior market analyst for Asia Pacific at OANDA. "It is thus, quite understandable that some money would be taken off the table until the true extent of the coronavirus issue becomes obvious. No one ever went broke taking a profit." Most Asian currencies were flat, while the Korean won and Thai baht eased 0.2% and 0.3%, respectively. The Indonesian rupiah strengthened marginally ahead of the central bank's policy meeting where Bank Indonesia is expected to keep rates on hold, allowing a series of previous cuts to filter into the economy, according to a Reuters poll. An improvement in Philippine economic growth at the year-end kept the peso afloat. However, even as the economy grew 6.4% in the final quarter, full-year growth slightly missed the government's target, nudging up bets for a February rate cut. BULLISH ON RUPEE A Reuters poll found that investors' positions on the Indian rupee turned bullish for the first time in more than five months. The pace of decline in India's auto sales has eased, while industrial production turned positive in November after a three-month fall, suggesting the country's economic growth is finally bottoming out, analysts at ANZ said in a note. However, they urged caution over a full recovery, given the combination of ongoing stresses in the financial sector, inadequate policy transmission and a recent spurt in inflation. The currency was the region's worst performer in 2019 after the won, weakening 2.3%. The following table shows rates for Asian currencies against the dollar at 0518 GMT. CURRENCIES VS U.S. DOLLAR Currency Latest bid Previous day Pct Move Japan yen 109.570 109.83 +0.24 Sing dlr 1.349 1.3484 -0.04 Taiwan dlr 30.006 29.998 -0.03 Korean won 1167.400 1164.6 -0.24 Baht 30.460 30.375 -0.28 Peso 50.990 50.96 -0.06 Rupiah 13617.000 13640 +0.17 Rupee 71.190 71.20 +0.01 Ringgit 4.064 4.064 +0.01 Yuan 6.925 6.9086 -0.23 Change so far in 2020 Currency Latest bid End 2019 Pct Move Japan yen 109.570 108.61 -0.88 Sing dlr 1.349 1.3444 -0.34 Taiwan dlr 30.006 30.106 +0.33 Korean won 1167.400 1156.40 -0.94 Baht 30.460 29.91 -1.81 Peso 50.990 50.65 -0.67 Rupiah 13617.000 13880 +1.93 Rupee 71.190 71.38 +0.27 Ringgit 4.064 4.0890 +0.63 Yuan 6.925 6.9632 +0.56 (Reporting by Rashmi Ashok in Bengaluru; Editing by Jacqueline Wong )