Military strikes in Yemen weigh on Asian currencies

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Most emerging Asian currencies eased on Thursday as military action against rebels in Yemen and losses on Wall Street undermined risk sentiment.

The South Korean won fell as foreign exchange authorities were spotted intervening to curb its strength, traders said.

Malaysia's ringgit and Indonesia's rupiah slid on corporate US dollar demand. The Philippine peso eased ahead of the central bank's policy meeting later in the day when the authority is expected to keep interest rates unchanged.

Asian stocks skidded as Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies started a military operation in Yemen. U.S. equities on Wednesday also lost ground with the Nasdaq suffering its largest decline in nearly a year.

Regional currencies showed muted reactions to the US dollar's weakness after data showing spending on U.S. durable goods fell for a sixth consecutive month in February.

"Asian currencies saw more impact from risk aversion than the dollar," said Yuna Park, a currency and bond analyst at Dongbu Securities in Seoul.

"However, they may find some relief as money printing in China and Japan, as well as stabilisation in major currencies, could spur more carry trades in Asia," Park added.

The won fell as South Korea's foreign exchange authorities were spotted defending the 1,100 per dollar level, traders said.

The authorities were also seen keeping the won weaker than 9.2000 against the yen, traders said.

The won weakened to near 9.3000 to the yen from the previous close of 9.2110. South Korea and Japan compete in overseas markets for various products such as electronics and cars.

Meanwhile, the Bank of Korea said it boosted the ceiling on its key loan facility for small-to-medium sized businesses by 5.0 trillion won as part of its push to boost the economic recovery at home.

The ringgit slid on quarter-end US dollar demand from local companies.

The Malaysian currency pared some of its losses as oil prices jumped. The Saudi Arabia-led strike on Yemen rebels could pose risks to the security of oil shipments.

Malaysia is a net oil exporter and the recent slide in crude prices boosted concerns over their impact on the country's current and fiscal accounts.

Given those worries, the ringgit was the worst-performing Asian currency so far this year with a near 5 per cent loss against the dollar, Thomson Reuters data showed.

The rupiah skidded with month-end corporate dollar demand increasing.

The official Jakarta Interbank Spot Dollar Rate, which the central bank introduced in 2013 to manage exchange rate fluctuations, was fixed at 13,003 rupiah per US dollar, weaker than Wednesday's 12,932.

Indonesia's central bank expects the rupiah to remain under pressure through June as dollar demand rises for dividend payments, its chief said on Wednesday.

The central bank was spotted intervening to support the ailing unit, but the official support was not seen as aggressive, traders said.

"It just gave some liquidity for the market," said a Jakarta-based currency trader.

Providing some long-term relief was news Japanese companies will invest US$5.6 billion in Indonesia, the head of Indonesia's investment board said, following President Joko Widodo's visit to Tokyo.

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