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Wednesday August 17, 2005 - 16:52:04 GMT
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Forex: Asia Currency Overview

In the wake of the yuan revaluation there has been little to cheer about for dollar shorts/long Asia currency trades. Sure the dollar is mostly lower and the region's currencies are higher. But it is only in the last few weeks that most currency pairs have moved beyond the knee-jerk highs hit versus the dollar on Jul21 when China announced its 2.1% revaluation and managed float (since Jul21 operative word is managed, not float). Why has this trade been such an under performer?

Well it has lots to do with the initial yuan revaluation of just 2.1%...more is needed and more would have prompted a larger move down in the dollar in the region. And another reason is that markets had discounted the move...dollar/won for instance had fallen (won strengthened) for roughly an 18-month stint before Jul21. The Singapore and Taiwan dollars had similar pre-yuan-revaluation appreciation moves versus the dollar.

Is it time to throw in the towel on the regional yuan reval trade? Hardly. One should keep in mind that most of the regions' currencies are still well below the pre-1997-currency crisis levels versus the dollar and the US is running a large trade deficit with the region. Trade adjustment is needed not just with China but with the entire region. Moreover, China has more moves ahead on the yuan and while I would not bank on it, it is possible that another step-like revaluation or widening in the current 0.3% band versus the dollar happens before President Hu Jintao visits President Bush in Washington in September. And there is the US Treasury's mid-October currency manipulation report to Congress that could list China as a manipulator unless more yuan appreciation is seen by say late September. And if the Bush administration's threat of naming China a currency manipulator is not enough to motivate China's political leadership into something more substantial on the yuan, then surely the likes of Senators Schumer and Graham will be back in a flash with protectionist legislation making even President Hu wince.

One also should think of relative value trades for this group of currencies. Granted most do not have full convertibility and betting on FX direction is an NDF trade and not a local market spot trade. That said I like to look at what has happened to this group of currencies since the 1997 Asian currency crisis. Some have rallied a lot since the lows hit in December of 1997 (KRW most notably). But the vast majority of the regions' currencies remain well below pre-currency crisis levels versus the dollar suggesting plenty of scope for appreciation independent of what China does ahead on future revals, band widening or gradual adjustment within the current parameters. The Philippine peso for instance is sitting at record low versus the dollar...there has been no appreciation compared with the 1997 currency crisis. Granted the Philippines is a special case - not a tiger developing economy and often referred to as the only Latin American economy in Asia - but politics aside (President Arroyo facing a possible impeachment in Congress), there is decent upside potential in the peso. The fiscal outlook has been given a big lift with the recent Supreme Court decision to allow the VAT hike to be implemented. Highest risk trade of the lot but also good upside. The Indian rupee is a vastly undervalued currency (capital controls aside) and if not long via NDF's (stay long) worth getting in. THB, SGD, TWD, MYR and IDR all have potential for appreciation versus the USD. And lastly this is an outcome the Bush administration is quite hopeful will happen with China moving toward convertibility.

David Gilmore


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