Investors became increasingly bearish on most Asian currencies as the detection of a possibly vaccine-resistant coronavirus variant and subsequent mobility restrictions by several countries soured risk appetite, a Reuters poll showed on Thursday.
Bullish bets on the Indonesian rupiah and Malaysian ringgit reversed, while short positions on the Thai baht, Singaporean dollar and South Korean won rose, a poll of 10 respondents found.
Long bets on the yuan, however, consolidated and were at their highest since early June, as strong corporate demand for the Chinese currency saw it gain against broad dollar strength and provide some support to currencies in the region.
Traders say strong corporate demand and China’s strict virus measures and travel restrictions should continue to support the yuan.
“The Omicron (coronavirus) variant is the latest uncertainty in the pandemic world and adds to the demand for CNY, given China’s zero-Covid management that could impart some safe-haven quality to the currency,” analysts at Maybank said.
Many Asian countries have already closed their borders to visitors from several southern African nations, including South Africa – where the variant was first detected.
“The most important things to know about Omicron are its contagiousness levels, the severity of the infection itself and the effectiveness of existing vaccines,” said Sim Moh Siong, a FX strategist at Bank of Singapore.
Early indications suggesting Omicron might be more contagious than previous variants have rattled financial markets as new restrictions could choke off a tentative recovery from the economic ravages of the pandemic in 2020.
“The Omicron variant introduces uncertainties as to how fast the economies can re-open now,” Siong said.
Earlier this week, authorities in Singapore said the city-state would hold off on further reopening measures even as it closed in on vaccinating all eligible people against COVID-19.
Short bets on the Singaporean dollar rose to their highest since mid-August.
Investors raised their bearish bets on the baht after cutting a fortnight ago, as the possibility of travel curbs threatens to derail Thailand’s efforts to revive its battered tourism industry.
Meanwhile, an end to crisis-level interest rates in the United States looms large following hawkish comments from U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, sparking further sell-offs in riskier Asian assets.
Investors also raised their short positions on the won, as South Korea’s coronavirus cases hit record highs and authorities temporarily halted quarantine exemptions for fully vaccinated inbound travellers.
The Asian currency positioning poll is focused on what analysts and fund managers believe are the current market positions in nine Asian emerging market currencies: the Chinese yuan, South Korean won, Singapore dollar, Indonesian rupiah, Taiwan dollar, Indian rupee, Philippine peso, Malaysian ringgit and the Thai baht.
The poll uses estimates of net long or short positions on a scale of minus 3 to plus 3. A score of plus 3 indicates the market is significantly long U.S. dollars.