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Thai Baht Asia’s Best-Performing Currency Faces Reversal

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Thailand, Thai Baht, Central Bank

The Thai baht’s heady gains are petering out, thanks to slowing growth and the central bank taming the currency’s strength.

After clocking an 8% rise this year, Asia’s best-performing currency is losing momentum. Easing U.S.-China trade tensions have also dampened its appeal as a haven.

Falling yields on local bonds and equity outflows are adding to the pressure on Baht

The baht has defied the broad weakness in regional currencies as investors sought refuge in Thailand’s safe but low-yielding debt. A hefty current account surplus and a sizable pile of foreign reserves helped reel in global funds.

But, the tide has started to turn. The Thai baht has climbed just 0.1% in December, making it the region’s worst-performing currency. It has dropped 0.2% to around 30.2 per dollar since rallying to the strongest in more than six years in October.

The Thai baht may continue this under performance if U.S.-China trade relations improve further. Bloomberg’s analysis of 19 emerging-market currencies shows it’s among those that are least responsive.

The Thai baht’s retreat in December came as the central bank lowered its economic growth forecasts. Above all citing global risks. November trade data due Monday may confirm the slowing trend. With Thailand foretasted to have recorded its first trade deficit since April as both exports and imports shrank.

Further Decline Expected for Thai Baht

The Thai baht is expected to decline 1% to 30.5 per dollar by end-2020, a performance that would put it behind all but three of its Asian peers, according to a Bloomberg survey of analysts.

If Thailand’s growth weakens, this could fuel further selling in Thai stocks and weigh on the baht. The 12-month foreign outflow from domestic equities is already above the five-year average.

Bonds may also fall out of favor as yields decline after the central bank slashed the policy rate to a record low this year. Ten-year Thai sovereign debt yield about 1.6%, less than similar-maturity U.S. Treasuries.

Should the Thai baht defy expectations for a drop, the central bank may step in again to check its strength. Policy makers have rolled out a slew of measures including cutting the supply of short-term bonds and easing rules on outflows to rein in the currency’s advance.

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