EM ASIA FX-Thai baht hit by weak GDP data; yuan up as US eases curbs on Huawei

By Aby Jose Koilparambil

* Thai baht hits near 2-week low * Chinese yuan, Philippine peso, Korean won appreciate * Singapore dollar capped as Q1 growth slips (Adds text, updates prices) By Aby Jose Koilparambil May 21 (Reuters) - The Thai baht on Tuesday slipped to its weakest level in nearly two weeks on soft economic data, underperforming most of its counterparts which were relieved by Washington's decision to ease some of its restrictions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. But the underlying tone in markets remained cautious as the trade war between the United States and China showed no signs of easing, with the broad impact filtering through to many economies. The trade-dependent Thai economy, the latest to show the effects of the trade tensions and cooling global demand, grew at its slowest annual pace in more than four years in the first quarter, hurt by softer exports. Southeast Asia's second-largest economy expanded 2.8% from a year earlier, missing the 3.0% forecast in a Reuters poll. The baht weakened as much as 0.5% to 31.890 against the U.S. dollar, though it remains the best regional performer this year, gaining more than 2%. "Today's GDP print affirms recent signs that growth in Thailand is on a clear downswing... Structural weakness in vehicle demand globally and a cyclical downturn in the semiconductor sector poses continued external headwinds for Thailand's manufacturing sector," said Noelan Arbis, economist at HSBC Global Research, in a note. Currency markets in Asia took some comfort after Washington temporarily eased restrictions imposed last week on Huawei, a move aimed at minimizing disruption for its customers. The Chinese yuan gained by as much as 0.2% on the day. The currency has fallen about 2.5% since U.S. President Donald Trump said on May 5 he will raise tariffs on $200 billion of imports from China to 25% from 10%, deepening a rift between the two economic superpowers. Among other gainers, the Philippine peso and the South Korean won strengthened 0.2% each, while the Indian rupee rose slightly. The Indonesian rupiah weakened a bit on a day when incumbent President Joko Widodo was declared winner in last month's election, amid claims of widespread cheating by opposition. SINGAPORE DOLLAR The Singapore dollar was little changed, not helped by data showing the city-state's annual economic growth slipped to the lowest in nearly a decade in the first quarter. That prompted the government to downgrade its full-year growth forecast. Gross domestic product (GDP) expanded 1.2% year-on-year in the three months ended March 31, down slightly from the 1.3% seen in the government's advance estimate and the fourth quarter's revised 1.3% pace. The result, which was below the 1.5% growth forecast in a Reuters poll, marked the slowest annual expansion for any quarter since April-June 2009. The following table shows rates for Asian currencies against the dollar at 0524 GMT. CURRENCIES VS U.S. DOLLAR Japan yen 110.150 110.05 -0.09 Sing dlr 1.376 1.3763 -0.01 Taiwan dlr 31.429 31.385 -0.14 Korean won 1193.400 1194.2 +0.07 Baht 31.870 31.72 -0.47 Peso 52.564 52.626 +0.12 Rupiah 14470.000 14450 -0.14 Rupee 69.750 69.74 -0.02 Ringgit 4.184 4.175 -0.22 Yuan 6.903 6.9133 +0.15 Change so far in 2019 Currency Latest bid End 2018 Pct Move Japan yen 110.150 109.56 -0.54 Sing dlr 1.376 1.3627 -1.00 Taiwan dlr 31.429 30.733 -2.21 Korean won 1193.400 1115.70 -6.51 Baht 31.870 32.55 +2.13 Peso 52.564 52.47 -0.18 Rupiah 14470.000 14375 -0.66 Rupee 69.750 69.77 +0.03 Ringgit 4.184 4.1300 -1.29 Yuan 6.903 6.8730 -0.44 (Reporting by Aby Jose Koilparambil in Bengaluru Editing by Shri Navaratnam)