Fed uncertainty hits Asian markets, India's rupee taps new low

An Indian trader counts Indian rupee notes at a wholesale market in Ahmadabad, India on Aug 21, 2013. India's rupee sank to another record low on Thursday, Aug 22, 2013, as emerging Asian currencies retreated after US Federal Reserve minutes failed t
An Indian trader counts Indian rupee notes at a wholesale market in Ahmadabad, India on Aug 21, 2013. India's rupee sank to another record low on Thursday, Aug 22, 2013, as emerging Asian currencies retreated after US Federal Reserve minutes failed to provide clarity about the future of its stimulus programme. -- FILE PHOTO: AP

HONG KONG (AFP) - India's rupee sank to another record low on Thursday as emerging Asian currencies retreated after US Federal Reserve minutes failed to provide clarity about the future of its stimulus programme.

While traders remain in sell mode on expectations the bank will soon pull the plug on its bond-buying, they were given a fillip by data showing Chinese manufacturing expanded for the first time in four years this month.

The rupee dived to 65.56 against the dollar at one point as worries about the Fed cash were compounded by growing fears about the state of the Indian economy.

However, it retraced slightly to 64.96 later.

Indonesia's rupiah was at 10,825 to the dollar - a four-year low but a slight improvement on the 10,945 seen Wednesday - while the Thai baht slipped to 32.01 from Thursday's 31.77.

In share trading Jakarta was down 1.54 per cent, Kuala Lumpur lost 1.57 per cent and Bangkok shed 1.07 per cent but Mumbai was up 1.50 per cent as dealers picked up bargains after recent losses.

Manila slumped 5.96 per cent as the market played catch-up with the rest of the region after being closed for four days owing to severe flooding and a public holiday. The composite index gave up 389.22 points to 6,136.73.

Investors were left none the wiser about the Fed's plans for its US$85 billion (S$109 billion) a month stimulus known as quantitative easing (QE), which has fuelled an investment splurge in emerging Asia over the past year.

Some board members believed that "it might soon be time to slow somewhat the pace" of the bond purchases, aimed at holding interest rates down, minutes of its July meeting released Wednesday showed.

But others highlighted "the importance of being patient", revealing concerns about whether the economy will pick up pace as expected in the second half of this year.

Fed chief Ben Bernanke has said QE will remain in place until the US economy can stand on its own feet.

Asian market traders reacted initially with a heavy sell-off but early losses were clawed back.

Tokyo closed down 0.44 per cent, or 59.16 points, at 13,365.17, Seoul fell 0.98 per cent, or 18.34 points, to 1,849.12 and Sydney was off 0.48 per cent, or 24.3 points, to close at 5,075.7.

Shanghai finished 0.28 per cent, or 5.84 points, lower at 2,067.12 despite HSBC's preliminary purchasing managers' index (PMI), which showed growth in Chinese manufacturing. However, Hong Kong closed 0.36 per cent higher, adding 77.67 points to 21,895.40.

HSBC said its PMI came in at 50.1 in August, compared with a final reading of 47.7 in July. A reading above 50 indicates expansion from the previous month, while a reading below 50 indicates contraction.

The data comes after recent figures showing a pick-up in Chinese trade and tentatively suggests the under-pressure economy may be about to turn a corner.

It will also provide some respite for regional economies, which rely heavily on China as a source of growth at home.

Against major currencies the dollar stood at 98.26 yen, compared with 97.67 yen in New York on Wednesday. The euro bought $1.3347 and 13116 yen, compared with $1.3358 and 130.46.

On oil markets New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate for delivery in October, rose 43 cents to US$104.28. Brent North Sea crude for October added 29 cents to US$109.90.

Gold fetched $1,372.53 at 0820 GMT from $1,364.17 late Wednesday.

In other markets: - Taipei fell 0.23 per cent, or 18.27 points, to 7,814.38.

Wellington fell 0.48 per cent, or 21.65 points to 4,529.86.