Bearish bets that the Indian rupee will weaken rose to their highest level in five years over the past two weeks, a Reuters poll showed, as the unit hit fresh lows, while most emerging currencies reeled from dollar strength and trade tensions.
With the index measuring the U.S. dollar against a basket of currencies up more than 3 percent this year, though slightly weaker on Thursday, investors in emerging Asian units were spooked by tensions around global trade conflicts and fears of contagion from recession-hit Argentina and Turkey.
Appetites for risky assets were further reduced by South Africa's economy also slipping into recession.
"With growing concerns about Emerging Market (EM) contagion, risk appetite for Asian assets may remain very selective in the near-term," OCBC Bank in Singapore said in a note.
Traders say the Reserve Bank of India has intervened multiple times to put a floor under the sliding rupee.
On Thursday, however, the rupee breached a psychologically important mark of 72.00 for the first time on lack of supply of dollars in the forex market.
Concerns over India's trade deficit and inflation, due to high oil and commodity prices, have prompted several foreign investors to exit long positions in the rupee, which is Asia's worst performing currency this year, weakening more than 12 percent against the dollar.
Worries over some economic fundamentals have also caused investors to cut their long positions in the Indonesian rupiah.
Bearish bets on the rupiah piled up in the past two weeks and reached their highest since September 2015, the poll of 11 respondents showed. That came despite attempts by Bank Indonesia (BI) to shore up the currency via market intervention, among other measures.
BI has also raised policy rates four times since May, by a total of 1.25 percentage points.
On Thursday, Indonesia's finance minister raised import taxes on over 1,000 goods, ranging from cosmetics to cars, to cut imports and support the rupiah.
The rupiah, which was 0.2 percent stronger against the dollar on Thursday afternoon, has fallen nearly 10 percent this year and has been hovering around levels last seen during the Asian Financial Crisis 20 years ago.
Investors were also more bearish on the Philippine peso, the survey showed, even though the central bank has raised its benchmark rate three times since May, by a total of 100 basis points, to try to tame inflation.
Philippine annual inflation hit a near-decade high in August, and raised the chances for a fourth rate hike soon. The next central bank policy meeting is on Sept. 27.
Meanwhile, bearish bets on the Singapore dollar remained largely unchanged, while those in the Chinese yuan decreased marginally.
The People's Bank of China is likely to increasingly intervene to support the currency over the coming year if the dollar remains strong and trade pressures persist, a separate Reuters poll found.
The Reuters survey is focused on what analysts believe are the current market positions in nine Asian emerging market currencies: the Chinese yuan, South Korean won, Singapore dollar, Indonesian rupiah, Taiwan dollar, Indian rupee, Philippine peso, Malaysian ringgit and the Thai baht.
(Reporting by Rushil Dutta; Additonal reporting by Nikhil Nainan in Bengaluru)