Yen supported, yuan frail on coronavirus concerns

South Korean won, Chinese yuan and Japanese yen notes are seen on US 100 dollar notes in this file photo illustration shot April 15, 2017. ― Reuters pic
South Korean won, Chinese yuan and Japanese yen notes are seen on US 100 dollar notes in this file photo illustration shot April 15, 2017. ― Reuters pic

TOKYO, Jan 22 — The yen was supported while the yuan was on the back foot today as investors tried to assess the risk of the outbreak of a new coronavirus in China disrupting the country’s economy and trade partners.

The virus, which causes a type of pneumonia, has spread to cities including Beijing and Shanghai as the number of patients in China more than tripled. More cases were also reported outside China, including the United States.

Against the yen, the US dollar slipped to 109.86 yen from yesterday’s high of 110.23.

The offshore yuan lost 0.6% yesterday, its biggest fall in more than a month, and last stood at 6.9100 yuan per dollar.

The Australian dollar, often used as a proxy bet on the Chinese economy, fetched US$0.6844, near its lowest levels in 10 weeks.

News of the coronavirus evoked memories of the 2002/03 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally and led to a sharp downturn in tourism in Asia.

“The obvious comparison people are making is with the SARS. While we still don’t know how lethal the new virus will be, my sense at the moment is that markets are not taking it as dire as SARS,” said Kyosuke Suzuki, director of currencies at Societe Generale in Tokyo.

“Back then, virtually every company was banning travel to Hong Kong. We haven’t seen that kind of reaction yet,” he said.

Tohru Sasaki, head of Japan market research at JPMorgan, said that while the SARS outbreak caused massive economic downturn in Hong Kong and Singapore for about eight weeks through a drop in tourism, the pandemic had limited impact on supply chains in Asia.

“If the latest virus reaches a similar magnitude, some economies such as Thailand, Singapore and Malaysia could be negatively affected by a drop in tourism. But its long-term impact on the global economy and the currency market will be limited,” he said.

The euro stood at US$1.1083, after dipping slightly on Monday.

Sterling traded at US$1.3050, having gained a tad yesterday after data showed the British economy created jobs at its strongest rate in nearly a year in the three months to November.

The strong data slightly dented expectations of an interest rate cut by the Bank of England at the end of this month, though markets are still pricing in about a 60% chance of a 0.25 percentage point cut. — Reuters

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