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EMERGING MARKETS-Virus spike hits S. Korean won; Malaysia leads fall in Asian stocks

    * Malaysia set for first weekly drop in seven
    * Thai baht rises to a seven-year peak
    * Singapore dollar eases from 2-year highs 

    By Shriya Ramakrishnan
    Dec 18 (Reuters) - The won closed at a two-week low on
Friday as more COVID-19 cases in South Korea sapped risk
appetite, while profit-taking ahead of the holiday season put
Malaysian shares on course for their first weekly loss in seven
weeks. 
    Asian currencies were largely subdued in the afternoon trade
as the dollar took a breather after plunging close to a
2-1/2-year lows this week. The Philippine peso, Malaysian
ringgit, Indian rupee and Indonesian rupiah
 all traded flat to lower.
    The won weakened 0.6% against the dollar and was
the sole regional currency set to register a weekly fall, as
South Korea reported its second-highest daily tally for new
coroanvirus cases.
    "The near-term outlook for KRW remains contingent on how
well South Korea can contain the latest wave of domestic
COVID-19 cases. Still, a dampened won might ensure the nation's
exports remain competitive," said Han Tan, market analyst at
FXTM.
    The Singapore dollar slipped from two-year highs hit
on Thursday, while the Thai baht leapt to a seven-year
peak, hovering below the psychological 30 per dollar mark during
the day.
    Sentiment in Thailand improved as the country eased travel
restrictions for tourists from over 50 countries. Investors also
expect Thailand's inclusion on a U.S. currency watch list, that
includes Taiwan and India, may temper the central bank's efforts
to suppress an appreciation in the baht.
    Equity and bond inflows in Asia have driven large shifts in
currency markets, prompting some of the central banks of
export-reliant Asian economies to intervene in markets or take
some other steps to curb excessive strength.  
    "The U.S. Treasury report might just give central banks some
pause for thought. If anything, that just means even stronger
Asian currencies because they might think twice about
aggressively intervening by buying dollars," said Mitul Kotecha,
senior EM strategist at TD Securities.
    "Thailand will have to find other ways to recycle capital
flows to try and prevent the continued upward pressure on the
baht, but I don't see it reversing quickly."
    Stock markets across the region were broadly lower, with
Malaysia leading declines, as several analysts pointed
to investors locking in gains ahead of the holiday season in
anticipation of thinner market liquidity.
    Indian shares eased from record highs, dragged down
by weakness among banking stocks.
    
    HIGHLIGHTS:
    ** Thailand's 10-year government bond yields are down 4
basis points at 1.21%
    ** Top losers on FTSE Bursa Malaysia Kl Index
include Public Bank Bhd down 3.81% at 20.68 ringgit;
Genting Bhd down 3.14% at 4.63 ringgit; Malayan
Banking Bhd down 2.87% at 8.46 ringgit
    ** Top losers on the Singapore STI include: Jardine
Strategic Holdings Ltd down 2.42% at S$24.96; UOL Group
Ltd down 1.28% at S$7.71; DBS Group Holdings Ltd
 down 1.14% at S$25.08
    
    
  Asia stock indexes and                                    
 currencies at   0654 GMT                             
 COUNTRY   FX RIC         FX     FX     INDEX  STOCK  STOCKS
                       DAILY  YTD %                S   YTD %
                           %                   DAILY  
                                                   %  
 Japan                 -0.20  +5.13            -0.16   13.13
 China                 -0.08  +6.47            -0.29   11.31
 India                 +0.13  -2.88            -0.21   12.68
 Indonesi              +0.04  -1.42             0.13   -2.83
 a                                                    
 Malaysia              -0.10  +1.29            -1.35    3.96
 Philippi              -0.04  +5.41            -0.35   -6.94
 nes                                                  
 S.Korea               -0.58  +5.16             0.06   26.14
 Singapor              -0.11  +1.33            -0.32  -11.60
 e                                                    
 Taiwan                +1.27  +7.04            -0.06   18.78
 Thailand              +0.17  +0.44            -0.34   -6.40
 



 (Reporting by Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by
Rashmi Aich)
  
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