Indonesia's rupiah at 5-year low, Thai baht weakens as US Fed meets

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Indonesian rupiah fell half a per cent to hit its lowest levels since 2008 against the dollar on Wednesday, losing the most in Asia as investors cut positions just hours before the Federal Reserve ends a policy meeting that could decide when and how fast US monetary policy will be tightened.

The rupiah, deemed Asia's most vulnerable to a turn in the Fed's five-year quantitative easing policy because of Indonesia's dependence on foreign portfolio flows, fell to a low of 12,175 per dollar, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The relatively lower volatility in offshore rupiah non-deliverable forwards suggested domestic factors were driving the weakness in the rupiah, which is Asia's weakest currency this year with losses of more than 20 per cent.

Trading onshore was characterised by a lack of liquidity and a dearth of dollar supply as market participants positioned for further rupiah weakness. The country's vice finance minister said the economy should brace for a weaker currency.

"Indonesians cannot expect 1 dollar at 9,000 rupiah like in 2011," Bambang Brodjonegoro told a conference in Seoul. "It is hard but of course currency should reflect economic fundamentals of Indonesia."

The Thai baht was also among Asia's worst performers on Wednesday, falling nearly half a percent as anti-government demonstrators said they would step up their protests. The risk that the opposition Democrat party will boycott the February snap elections called by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra could prolong the currency's underperformance.

Overall, it was a case of underperformance by Southeast Asian currencies such as the baht, rupiah and Philippine peso as market participants waited for the Fed to indicate the timeline for scaling back its monetary stimulus.

The odds still point to no major policy change when the Fed ends its Dec 17-18 meeting. But most of the recent US domestic economic data suggests the beginning of the end of the Fed's massive bond-buying programme is coming sooner than later, and Wednesday's meeting could end some of the uncertainty over the timing and scale of stimulus-tapering.

The Indian rupee gained, however, rising a quarter of a percent after the country's central bank refrained from raising rates at a policy review on Wednesday to rein in high inflation, citing weakening growth and an improving external balance sheet.

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