February 8, 2023

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Singapore dollar to tussle with baht for best regional currency

SINGAPORE – The race to be South-east Asia’s best-performing currency in 2023 looks to be between the Thai baht and the Singapore dollar.

The baht is set to be powered by an influx of Chinese tourists after China rescinded most of its Covid-19 controls over the past month, paving the way for a recovery in outbound travel. The mainland is also Thailand’s biggest export market, so the efforts by the world’s second-largest economy to bolster growth should help too.

The baht may get an early boost to start the year if December inflation numbers due on Thursday show that Thailand’s consumer price index is starting to rise again, as economists forecast.

The Bank of Thailand has already said it expects to keep raising interest rates in the first half of 2023, and any upside surprise in the data may see markets pricing in a longer tightening cycle.

The Thai currency should also benefit along with its Asian peers as the United States Federal Reserve slows the pace of its own rate hikes, pushing down the dollar, said Mr Christopher Wong, a foreign exchange strategist at OCBC Bank.

“The baht is likely to lead gains among Asia ex-Japan (currencies) for 2023 on the China reopening, slower Fed hikes and a moderate-to-soft US dollar profile,” Mr Wong said. “Domestic growth will be supported by sustained recovery in tourism.”

The other potential winner in the region is the Singapore dollar, which was the only Asian currency to appreciate against the greenback in 2022, with a 0.3 per cent gain. The Singapore currency was up 0.26 per cent to 1.3452 per US dollar at 5pm on Tuesday.

The Singdollar has benefited from policy tightening by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which recentred the midpoint of its exchange rate band higher three times in 2022 to fight inflation. Further tightening cannot be ruled out as core inflation remained above 5 per cent in November despite the tighter policy settings.

“The Singapore dollar should remain resilient on the back of macro fundamentals and China reopening optimism,” Mr Wong said.

“The case for further MAS tightening is still plausible if inflationary pressures in Singapore continue. But it could be a case of slope steepening to anchor medium-term inflationary expectations.”

The other main regional currencies are beset with negatives, which means they are unlikely to match the two likely front runners.

The Indonesian rupiah is set to struggle as the central bank has already signalled that its hiking cycle may be nearing its end. The Philippine peso is set to be weighed down by the nation’s trade deficit, while Malaysia’s ringgit is losing its tailwind as the outlook for commodity prices worsens. BLOOMBERG