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Asian Currencies Gain as U.S. Housing Data Boosts Export Outlook

Asian currencies strengthened, led by South Korea’s won, as housing data in the U.S. beat economists’ estimates, brightening the export outlook.

Housing starts in the U.S. increased 9 percent to a 685,000 annual rate in November, exceeding the highest estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News, government figures showed yesterday. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao pledged to take steps to bolster exports, including rebates and capital support to small companies, according to a statement posted on the central government’s website today.

“Risk sentiment is running high today as there’s some strong and positive news out there supporting stocks,” said Albert Lee, a Taipei-based fixed-income trader at Cathay United Bank Co. “But concerns over Europe are still looming.”

The won gained 1.1 percent to 1,149.25 per dollar in Seoul, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The Singapore dollar climbed 1 percent to S$1.2918, the Philippine peso advanced 0.5 percent to 43.645 and Malaysia’s ringgit strengthened 0.5 percent to 3.1650.

Payrolls in America increased in 29 U.S. states in November, while the jobless rate declined in 43, Labor Department data showed this week. The MSCI Asia-Pacific Index of stocks rose 2.3 percent, the most in three weeks, as the Bloomberg-JPMorgan Asia-Dollar Index gained for a second day.

The yuan advanced on Wen’s comments and as the People’s Bank of China raised the currency’s reference rate by 0.16 percent to 6.3248 per dollar, the strongest level since Nov. 9. The yuan strengthened 0.13 percent to 6.3387.

Thai Insurance Inflows

“Wen’s comments and the U.S. housing data have boosted market sentiment,” said Banny Lam, a Hong Kong-based economist at CCB International Securities Ltd., a unit of China’s second-largest bank. “Inflation is easing but it will still hover at a relatively high level next year. That favors a stronger yuan to lower import prices.”

Thailand’s baht strengthened 0.2 percent to 31.22 per dollar and touched a one-week high on speculation fund inflows to pay for insurance claims related to the nation’s worst floods in almost 70 years will boost demand for the local currency. The country has recorded about $2 billion of inflows from overseas insurance, Bank of Thailand Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul said on Dec. 18.

“Fund inflows from overseas insurance companies like Japanese insurers are providing an underlying support for the baht,” said Disawat Tiaowvanich, a foreign-exchange trader at Bangkok Bank Pcl.

Taiwan’s dollar rose 0.2 percent to NT$30.285 per dollar, the biggest gain since Dec. 1, after the Financial Supervisory Commission said it will let Chinese banks buy stakes in local lenders and financial holding companies, starting Jan. 2. Vice Premier Sean Chen said the island’s government will buy stocks to support the local markets when necessary.

Elsewhere, India’s rupee rose 0.5 percent to 52.6200, Indonesia’s rupiah dropped 0.7 percent to 9,143 and Vietnam’s dong fell 0.1 percent to 21,043.

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