Fed rate delay lifts Singdollar, emerging market currencies but stocks fall

An employee counting Singapore banknotes at an OCBC bank branch.
An employee counting Singapore banknotes at an OCBC bank branch. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

HONG KONG (AFP) - The US dollar retreated Friday (Sept 18), with emerging market currencies seeing healthy gains, after the Federal Reserve held off hiking interest rates, but most equities markets also fell after the bank's downbeat outlook on the global economy.

The news pushed the US dollar lower. It was buying 119.98 yen in Tokyo early trade, compared with 120.90 yen in Asia on Thursday. The euro was at US$1.1414 against US$1.1302 a day earlier.

Struggling emerging market currencies, which have been rising this week on hopes the bank would hold fire, were also higher. The South Korea won added 0.05 per cent, the Malaysian ringgit gained 0.60 per cent and the Singapore currency was 0.15 per cent higher. The Singdollar was trading at 71.46 cents per US dollar as of 9:35 am from its close of 71.51 cents on Thursday.

After one of the most eagerly awaited meetings in years, the US central bank's head Janet Yellen said the crisis in China and recent turmoil in world markets had played a role in keeping borrowing costs at zero.

The Fed's decision followed warnings from across the world about the dire impact a lift-off could have, with the World Bank predicting this week it would cause a "perfect storm" in financial markets.

Following the announcement, Ms Yellen told a news conference: "A lot of our focus has been on risks around China, but not just China, emerging markets more generally and how they may spill over to the United States.

"We've seen significant outflows of capital from those countries, pressures on their exchange rates and concerns about their performance going forward," Ms Yellen said of the emerging market economies.

"The question is whether or not there might be a risk of a more abrupt slowdown than most analysts expect."

"For emerging-market central bankers, the Fed has given them some much-needed breathing room," Jonathan Lewis, a principal at New York-based Samson Capital Advisors LLC, said.

"Postponing a Fed tightening gives these central bankers room to be more accommodative, without their actions being offset by a tighter Fed," he added, according to Bloomberg News.

Economists had warned a rise now could severely hurt emerging economies as investors likely have withdrawn cash to the United States for better and safer returns.

This, in turn, would have forced other central banks to hike rates - at the same time as trying to foster growth - in a bid to support their currencies and prevent a flight of capital.

While the news means US monetary policy remains more accommodative, Ms Yellen's comments on the state of the world economy also spooked investors, with regional stock markets lower.

Tokyo tumbled almost two per cent in early trade, having climbed for the past three days. Sydney and Seoul also retreated.

However, Tai Hui, the Hong Kong-based chief Asia market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management, said a hike was still on the cards as the US economy continues to pick up strength.

"The reality is that the rate hike is still going to come, whether it's before the end of the year or in 2016," he told Bloomberg TV in Hong Kong. "So I don't believe we've cleared anything."