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ASEAN Outlook – US Dollar, Fed, Philippine Peso, US CPI, Trade Wars, Powell Put

  • Powell Put speculation left US Dollar weaker last week as ASEAN currencies appreciated
  • Philippine Peso eyes trade data, US China meet for trade talks before CPI data is released
  • Jerome Powell may clarify and emphasize data dependence this week, boosting USD next

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The US Dollar succumbed to selling pressure towards the end of last week despite an unexpectedly impressive local jobs report. Fed Chair Jerome Powell increased speculation that the central bank will pay attention to market woes, saying that they will be patient and prepared to be flexible with policy. Fed funds futures are now pricing in greater probabilities of a cut in 2019 than a hike.

This boded well for Emerging Market currencies, particularly in the ASEAN bloc. The notable outperformer was the Indonesian Rupiah which appreciated as the Jakarta Stock Exchange Composite Index climbed to its highest since May 2018. A strong local bond auction and currency intervention from the Bank of Indonesia also helped.

In the Philippines, the softest inflation outcome since May 2018 likely prevented further gains in PHP prices. Headline CPI clocked in at 5.1% y/y versus 5.6% anticipated. The Philippine Central Bank then forecasted low and stable inflation this year and in 2020. Local government bond yields fell, reflecting fading hawkish monetary policy expectations.

US Dollar 5-day Performance Versus ASEAN FX

In the week ahead, we may witness signs that Southeastern Asia countries are facing less pressure to uphold their currencies given the hesitation in the US Dollar in recent months. As such, this opens the door for countries such as the Philippines to accumulate foreign exchange reserves in the event of further selloffs in their currencies. These are due to cross the wires early into the week.

Speaking of the Philippines, the nation will release November’s trade data. Last time, the Philippine Peso depreciated as imports outpaced exports which placed downside pressures on PHP. More of the same is expected as imports rise 15.6% y/y while exports gain only 6.4%. As such, another trade deficit is anticipated, albeit smaller than in October.

All eyes will also be on China for a couple of reasons. First, we will get the first physical encounter between US and Chinese officials since the trade truce in December. These trade talks will occur over Monday and Tuesday. Disappointment here can easily reverse the upside performance seen in major benchmark indexes in recent days. Second, China has promised tax cuts to stimulate their economy. Positive outcomes on both these fronts may induce further ‘risk on’ trade and boost ASEAN bloc currencies.

Outside of the region watch closely December’s US inflation report. Headline CPI is expected to tick down to 1.9% y/y which would follow the pace of slowing price growth on the chart below. This may also be the case due to the declines in oil prices. But, the impressive NFPs report from last week left wage growth tied with the pace in October which is its fastest since April 2009.

How CPI Data Impacts the US Dollar

This puts the Fed in an awkward place after Jerome Powell’s speech on Friday. If wage growth and inflation outperform but the markets are not optimistic, which way will the Fed go given that it is open to changing normalization? Mr. Powell does have a speech on Thursday at the Economic club of Washington DC. He will probably receive questions about this dilemma after ‘Powell Put’ bets were triggered last week.

But, he may just place the emphasis on being data dependent given that more press conferences are in store this year to gauge economic outcomes. This may boost the US Dollar along with reducing dovish monetary policy bets. Such an outcome would help to send it higher again against ASEAN currencies such as the Singapore Dollar and Malaysian Ringgit.

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--- Written by Daniel Dubrovsky, Junior Currency Analyst for DailyFX.com

To contact Daniel, use the comments section below or @ddubrovskyFX on Twitter