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EM ASIA FX-Yuan leads gainers as U.S. removes China currency manipulator label

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* Yuan hits 6-mth high, set for 6th straight session of gains
* Taiwan dollar up; denies swap intervention in FX market
* Baht strength a thorn in the side of the authorities - economist (Adds text, updates prices) By Niyati Shetty Jan 14 (Reuters) - The Chinese yuan firmed to its strongest level in six months on Tuesday, leading most other Asian currencies higher, as the U.S. Treasury Department removed its designation of China as a currency manipulator.

The yuan strengthened as much as 0.4% to 6.8661 per dollar and was poised for its sixth straight session of gains.

Monday's announcement comes ahead of the signing of a Phase 1 trade deal between the United States and China due on Jan. 15, expected to ease tensions between the two countries. "While there had been little changes to Asia economies' participation to the U.S. FX report watchlist, this lifting of China's currency manipulator label may see to some relief for USD/Asian declines which would be beneficial to regional markets," said Jingyi Pan, market strategist at IG.

The U.S. Treasury report cited continued concerns about the currency practices of nine other countries, including Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

The South Korean won advanced 0.2%, while the Malaysian ringgit and the Singapore dollar were little changed. Taiwan's dollar was up 0.2% even though the U.S. report said the country was close to triggering thresholds to be added to the currency monitoring list. A senior official of Taiwan's central bank told Reuters on Tuesday that the bank has never used swaps to intervene in the currency market, after the Treasury Department cited an analyst report suggesting the island was doing so.

Adding to the cheer in Asian markets, China's trade data for December beat forecasts with exports rising for the first time since July 2019 and imports rising 16.3% from a year earlier. BAHT FALTERS ON CENBANK CONCERNS The Thai baht pared losses from a decline of 0.3% earlier in the session, after the Bank of Thailand's (BOT) briefing ended with no surprises.

A deputy central bank governor said on Tuesday that BoT is still concerned about the strength of the baht and is ready to take further action if necessary. Baht's outperformance is a thorn in the side of the authorities as this is inconsistent with weak macro conditions, said Radhika Rao, economist at DBS Group. The unit was the best performing currency in Asia last year, advancing about 8% against the dollar.

The following table shows rates for Asian currencies against the dollar at 0432 GMT. CURRENCIES VS U.S. DOLLAR
Currency Latest bid Previous day Pct Move Japan yen 110.040 109.93 -0.10 Sing dlr 1.346 1.3463 +0.00 Taiwan dlr 29.886 29.952 +0.22 Korean won 1153.400 1156 +0.23 Baht 30.240 30.23 -0.03 Peso 50.520 50.46 -0.12 Rupiah 13655.000 13665 +0.07 Rupee 70.855 70.86 +0.01 Ringgit 4.060 4.061 +0.02 Yuan 6.874 6.8925 +0.27
Change so far in 2020
Currency Latest bid End 2019 Pct Move Japan yen 110.040 108.61 -1.30 Sing dlr 1.346 1.3444 -0.14 Taiwan dlr 29.886 30.106 +0.74 Korean won 1153.400 1156.40 +0.26 Baht 30.240 29.91 -1.09 Peso 50.520 50.65 +0.26 Rupiah 13655.000 13880 +1.65 Rupee 70.855 71.38 +0.74 Ringgit 4.060 4.0890 +0.71 Yuan 6.874 6.9632 +1.30

(Reporting by Niyati Shetty in Bengaluru; Editing by Shailesh Kuber)

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