Rupiah drops to weakest level since 2018 in challenge to BI

by BLOOMBERG

The Indonesian rupiah dropped to its weakest since the emerging market rout of 2018, as a rout in the nation’s bonds and stocks show little signs of abating with a worsening coronavirus pandemic.

The currency slipped as much as 0.8% to 15,057 per dollar on Tuesday, the lowest since November 2018. The benchmark 10-year bond yield surged 16 basis points, while nation’s stock index tumbled 5%.

The rout is challenging the fire-fighting ability of policy makers, who have cut reserve ratio, intervened in markets and tightened stock trading rules to slow outflows from one of Asia’s favorite investment destination. That hasn’t stopped foreign funds from selling more than $4 billion of the nation’s debt this year.

“For IDR, it is very hard to call for a bottom now,” said Mingze Wu, a foreign-exchange trader at INTL FCStone in Singapore. “It’s going to go down doubly hard if Indonesia institutes a full shutdown.”

The market meltdown in Southeast Asia is worsening by the day as the virus spreads through its largest nations. The Philippines became the first country to shut its financial markets after its president locked down the capital city, while Malaysia is shutting its borders until the end of the month.

Rate Decision

Indonesia’s central bank is scheduled to meet on March 19, with economists expecting it to cut the policy rate by 25 basis points, according to a Bloomberg survey. Policy makers from New Zealand to South Korea have already enacted emergency rate cuts to combat the economic and financial fallout from the virus spread.

A rate cut may add to the rupiah’s woes as it’s already the worst performing Asian currency so far this month, with a drop of close to 5%.

Bank Indonesia said on Monday it bought 4 trillion rupiah ($265.7 million) of government bonds to stabilize markets, twice what it was targeting.

The nation has also seen a jump in local virus cases. The country’s Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi also tested positive.

“It has been a perfect storm of realizing that the earlier veneer of insulation from COVID was no more than undetected contagion,” said Vishnu Varathan, head of economics and strategy at Mizuho Bank Ltd. in Singapore.

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