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Baht’s Sudden Drop in the New Year Shows Battle Lines Drawn

Marcus Wong and Chester Yung

(Bloomberg) -- The battle over the Thai baht intensified in the new year, with the currency dropping sharply even before domestic markets opened.

The baht plunged as much as 1.8% on Thursday, the biggest decline since 2007, to 30.226 against the dollar in early Asia trading. That almost erased all the gains it made in the past three sessions. The currency was trading at about 30.11 against the dollar as of 8:31 a.m. London time.

“It’s likely to be central bank intervention given that the central bank has mentioned that they’ll be fighting against baht strength,” said Mingze Wu, a foreign-exchange trader at INTL FCStone in Singapore. It may also have been due to traders betting the baht will strengthen overextending their positions, he said.

Thailand’s currency appreciated almost 9% in 2019, the best performer in Asia, as its large current-account surplus lured investors seeking haven assets during an intensifying U.S.-China trade war. Authorities have battled markets to keep gains in check, taking measures including interest-rate cuts and easing rules on outflows.

Read: The Thai Baht Reached a New 6-Year High. Here’s Why It’s Surging

Liquidity in the currency market is normalizing even as the baht remains volatile, Bank of Thailand Assistant Governor Vachira Arromdee said on Thursday. There still remains sharp fluctuations in the baht as the market adjusts to the buying and selling of dollars, she said.

New Measures?

The central bank remains concerned about the baht’s appreciation and is ready to consider additional measures, according to minutes of its Dec. 18 rate meeting released on Thursday.

The government also weighed in, with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha saying on Thursday that the need for new currency measures is being considered. A joint commission between the central bank and the finance ministry has also been formed to tackle the issue, Prayuth added.

The baht had jumped as much as 0.9% to breach 30 per dollar on Monday, prompting a statement from the central bank playing down the surge. It said an imbalance in demand and low market liquidity during the holidays had impacted the currency.

Thailand’s reserves and its current-account surplus are key factors luring investors to the baht. The central bank’s foreign-cash pile stands at $222 billion, while the current-account surplus was $3.38 billion in November.

Policy makers need to encourage overseas investments by local investors to trim the current-account surplus, said Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader in Bangkok. Domestic investors’ risk bias is to stay at home and the barrier to change that behavior is “massive,” he said.

(Updates with comments from the Prime Minister in the seventh paragraph)

--With assistance from Anuchit Nguyen, Lilian Karunungan and Liau Y-Sing.

To contact the reporters on this story: Marcus Wong in Singapore at mwong547@bloomberg.net;Chester Yung in Singapore at kyung33@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tomoko Yamazaki at tyamazaki@bloomberg.net, Tan Hwee Ann, Karl Lester M. Yap

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