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EMERGING MARKETS-Sime Darby weighs on Malaysia stocks; most Asian shares, FX to end year higher

    * Indian rupee worst performer in Asian FX in 2020
    * China stocks climb to near 2-year high
    * S.Korea stocks notch biggest annual gain since 2009

    By Pranav A K
    Dec 31 (Reuters) - Malaysian shares slipped on Thursday
after the United States blocked palm oil imports from Sime Darby
Plantation, although  most other markets in the region closed
higher for the year, with South Korea and India leading the
charge. 
    The U.S. ban on Sime Darby, the world's largest
palm oil company by landsize, is due to allegations of forced
labour and follows a similar ban on FGV Holdings in
October, spelling trouble for Malaysia's vast palm oil industry.

    Sime Darby's shares slumped more than 3%, denting the Kuala
Lumpur index, which is set to end the year on a positive
note after two years of decline.
     Asian markets, including Thailand, South Korea
 and the Philippines, have recouped most of their
losses from earlier this year as positive vaccine development
has brightened prospects for trade-reliant economies.
    Emerging Asia's currencies are also set to end the year on a
firmer note, helped by a swift economic rebound in China, the
region's growth engine. 
    Malaysian ringgit strengthened 0.5% on the day and
was on track to record near 2% annual gain, while Singapore
dollar edged higher. 
    China shares climbed 1.7% to their highest level in
about two years, taking the year's gains to 14%, after investors
took heart from a deal that will help redress what Europe sees
as unbalanced economic ties with Beijing. 
    Taiwan's stocks and currency were set to be the best
performers in the region this year, adding 23% and 7.2%,
respectively.  
    Investor confidence in Taiwan improved on its efficient
handling of the pandemic and as a shift to working remotely amid
the pandemic boosted its tech exports. 
    The Indian rupee, however, is set to be the biggest
laggard this year, shedding 2.3%, as lockdowns hurt the
country's economy. 
    The Chinese yuan, which has risen rapidly since
May, dropped on Thursday as traders suspected state-owned banks
were buying dollars to stem the currency's rise and breaching a
key level of 6.5 per dollar.
    Trading volumes in the region were thin as stock markets in
the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and South Korea
remained closed for a public holiday. 
    
    
    
    HIGHLIGHTS:
    
    ** Singapore GDP to extend decline in Q4 - Reuters poll
    ** Top losers on FTSE Bursa Malaysia Kl Index
include Sime Darby Plantation Bhd, down 3.5%, and CIMB
Group Holdings Bhd, down 2%
    ** Singapore's 10-year benchmark yield is down 1.7 basis
points at 0.839%
    
  Asia stock indexes and                                    
 currencies at   0802 GMT                             
 COUNTRY   FX RIC           FX     FX  INDEX  STOCKS  STOCKS
                       DAILY %  YTD %          DAILY   YTD %
                                                   %  
 Japan                   +0.08  +5.35  <.N22    0.00   16.01
                                       5>             
 China                   -0.12  +6.59  <.SSE    1.72   13.87
                                       C>             
 India                   +0.35  -2.29  <.NSE    0.07   14.98
                                       I>             
 Malaysia                +0.47  +1.82  <.KLS   -0.82    2.66
                                       E>             
 Philippi                +0.00  +5.50  <.PSI    0.00   -8.64
 nes                                   >              
 Singapor                +0.15  +1.78  <.STI   -0.89  -11.76
 e                                     >              
 Taiwan                  -0.00  +5.61  <.TWI    0.31   22.80
                                       I>             
 
    
 (Reporting by A K Pranav and Anushka Trivedi in Bengaluru;
Editing by Anil D'Silva)
  
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