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5.6-magnitude quake hits Philippines

MANILA: A 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck the centre of Mindanao island in the Philippines on Wednesday (Apr 12), the US Geological Survey said.

The quake, initially reported as a 6.0-magnitude, struck at 5:21am on Wednesday (2121 GMT on Tuesday). It was very shallow, at a depth of six kilometres, which would have amplified its effect. Its epicentre was 75.5 kilometres northeast of Cotabato on the large southern island of Mindanao.

A 5.6-magnitude quake is considered moderate and is capable of causing considerable damage.

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Singapore dollar hits all-time high against Malaysian ringgit

SINGAPORE: The Singapore dollar hovered at an all-time high against the Malaysian ringgit on Friday (Feb 24), peaking at 3.1687 earlier in the day before easing back to 3.1643 in afternoon trade.

An outperformance of the Singapore currency, rather than a weakening in the ringgit, was behind the movements in the SGD/MYR, analysts told Channel NewsAsia.

Alongside broad-based strength in other Asian currencies such as the South Korean won and the Taiwan dollar, the Sing dollar edged up as overnight comments from US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulled down the US dollar.

Speaking to CNBC in his first televised interview since taking office, Mnuchin said he wanted to see tax reform passed before Congress’ August recess, but later acknowledged on Fox Business Network that such a timeline was “very aggressive”. US president Donald Trump previously said he would announce a “phenomenal” plan by early March to cut business taxes.

“Overnight comments from Mnuchin seem to suggest that the tax reforms will only be read in August. If that’s the case, dollar strength will only come later,” said Mr Christopher Wong, senior FX strategist for Maybank.

“Even on Trump’s point of declaring China as a currency manipulator, Mnuchin said there’s no plan to do that so there seems to be a contradiction in there,” Mr Wong added. “This sets the stage for Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress on Feb 28, which markets will be keeping an eye on for more details of his tax reform and infrastructure plans.”

Little clarity on the US president’s proposed fiscal stimulus has reined in the US dollar’s rally since the start of the year, allowing Asian currencies to take a slight breather.

On Friday, even a below-par industrial production report failed to dampen the spirits of the Sing dollar, which was last seen at 1.4050 per US dollar in afternoon trade. Earlier in the day, the local dollar hit 1.4091 against the greenback, its highest since Nov 10.

“The outperformance of the Sing dollar occurred way before the data release but even that had little impact. Simply because the big swing this month in industrial production was due to the biomedical manufacturing, which is typically quite volatile,” Mr Wong said.

Amid expectations of further bouts of US dollar weakness, analysts expect the Sing dollar to continue outperforming.

“The narrative surrounding Trump and his agenda is fraying and that’s causing these movements. With a little bit of recovery in risk sentiment given the push back in moves that could inflate trade tensions, we see low-yielding currencies like the Sing dollar doing better,” said Mr Julian Wee, senior markets strategist for Asia at National Australia Bank.

On the other hand, the Malaysian ringgit will likely continue to underperform most of its Asian counterparts.

One reason for that is Bank Negara Malaysia’s (BNM) lack of adequate foreign exchange reserves to “smooth out the depreciation” of the currency amid a strong dollar environment, Mr Wee noted.

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6.5-magnitude quake hits China's Xinjiang region

BEIJING: A powerful 6.5-magnitude quake rocked a mountainous area of far western China on Friday (Nov 25) night, the US Geological Survey reported, in a zone often plagued with seismic activity.

The tremor struck southern Xinjiang, a vast region bordering central Asia, at a relatively shallow depth of 12 kilometres, the USGS added.

The quake hit near the Tajik border and approximately 172 kilometres west of the Chinese city of Kashgar.

There were no initial reports of any injuries by the state news agency Xinhua.

The Pakistani authorities said the quake had been felt in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the National Disaster Management Authority said. There were no reports of damage.

The USGS said only a relatively small area would have perceived the shaking to be strong.

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Singapore dollar hits 7-month low on lacklustre growth outlook

SINGAPORE: The Singapore dollar fell to a seven-month low on Friday (Oct 14), as a disappointing growth report card and a dovish policy statement from the central bank fuelled concerns over the outlook of the economy.

Gross domestic product (GDP) for the third quarter grew by a slower-than-expected 0.6 percent on-year, compared with forecasts of 1.7 per cent from a Reuters poll. Economic growth also contracted 4.1 per cent on a quarter-on-quarter basis, well off expectations for 0.3 per cent growth.

Despite the disappointing GDP data, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) opted to keep its monetary policy intact on Friday.

Following the MAS announcement, the Sing dollar rose slightly against the US dollar but soon weakened to 1.3872 per US dollar as of 3.40pm, hitting its lowest levels since early March.

“DOVISH HOLD”

While the central bank has opted to stand pat for now, a dovish tone in the policy statement, which implies the likelihood of further easing amid weak inflation and growth outlook, set the stage for weakening in the local currency, analysts told Channel NewsAsia.

In particular, there was the “unusual” introduction of forward guidance in this month’s policy statement, said ANZ’s head of Asia research Khoon Goh, referring to how the MAS stated that “a neutral policy stance will be needed for an extended period to ensure medium-term price stability”.

“Basically, that’s a clear hint that the MAS does not mind further weakness in the Sing dollar,” Mr Goh said. “I think this is one of the few times they provided a form of forward guidance in noting that the neutral policy stance would provide flexibility for the Singapore dollar’s nominal effective exchange rate (S$ NEER) to accommodate near-term weakness in inflation and growth”.

Bank of Singapore’s senior currency strategist Sim Moh Siong described the MAS’ policy statement as a “dovish hold” which signalled a less-than-stellar economic outlook ahead.

“Even though they are on hold, they said that if things worsen from here, there is scope for easing. It is this concern in the statement that says the outlook remains lacklustre therefore there’s a risk that we could see easing at the next meeting,” Mr Sim explained.

Analysts say the odds of further easing at the next meeting have risen, with the MAS likely to opt for a re-centering of the policy band, instead of adopting for a negative slope which would signal “an explicit depreciation policy”.

But for a shift in the policy band to occur, an “adverse economic shock” would need to happen, analysts said.

The central bank is also expected to avoid an inter-meeting move, said Mr Sim, as it did last January when it surprised markets by adjusting the slope to allow the Sing dollar to appreciate at a “slightly” slower pace against its trading partners.

“Inter-meeting surprises are kind of one-off situations and as far as possible, I think they’d want to avoid that because it leaves much to interpretation and could cause market volatility.”

FURTHER WEAKNESS AHEAD

Moving ahead, analysts largely expect the Sing dollar to remain on a weakening trend, likely touching 1.40 against the US dollar by year-end. Apart from faltering growth at home, the possibility of an interest-rate hike in the United States will likely spur further strength in the greenback.

Dutch bank ABN Amro said in a note released on Friday: “Our estimates show that the S$ NEER is slightly below the centre of the policy band. The SGD is testing crucial resistance zone of around 1.3830-1.3890, which had supressed prices since March this year. We maintain our view that the SGD is likely to decline to around 1.40 against the US dollar later this year.”

However, Citi analysts have a differing opinion, noting that the weakness in the Sing dollar will be temporary as the “higher hurdle to re-centering” means it may be “premature to position in anticipation of additional easing down the road”.

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Powerful quake hits Myanmar, damaging famed Bagan temples

YANGON: A powerful 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck central Myanmar on Wednesday (Aug 24), killing at least three people and damaging nearly 200 pagodas in the famous ancient capital of Bagan, officials said.

The quake, which the US Geological Survey said hit at a depth of 84 kilometres, was also felt across neighbouring Thailand, India and Bangladesh, sending panicked residents rushing onto the streets.

Two girls, aged 7 and 15, were killed in Magway region where the quake struck, according to Myanmar’s Ministry of Information.

A collapsed building in a nearby town also killed a 22-year-old man and injured one woman, local police told AFP.

Heavy damage was also reported in Bagan – Myanmar’s most famous archaeological site and a major tourist destination 30 kilometres north of the quake’s epicentre.

Some 171 of the city’s more than 2,500 Buddhist monuments were damaged by the tremors, according to a statement posted by the Ministry of Religious and Cultural Affairs on Facebook.

“Some were seriously damaged,” Aung Kyaw, the local director of Bagan’s culture department, told AFP.

Photos showed clouds of dust billowing around some of the site’s larger temples, with bricks crumbling down their tiered facades.

A police officer from Bagan said a Spanish holidaymaker was slightly hurt when the quake knocked her from the temple where she was watching the sunset.

Scaling Bagan’s ancient structures to watch the sun set over the vast plain of pagodas is a daily ritual among tourists and local pilgrims.

The temples, built between the 10th and 14th centuries, are revered in the Buddhist-majority country and a top draw for its growing tourism industry.

Myanmar, which has opened its doors to a rising tide of visitors since emerging from junta rule in 2011, is eager to see the ancient capital designated a UNESCO world heritage site.

‘STILL SCARED’

Soe Win, a local politician from Chauk – the riverside town closest to the epicentre – said the tremors were the worst he had experienced in years.

“More than eight pagodas in town collapsed,” the 50-year-old told AFP, referring to Chauk. “Two buildings collapsed as well, while some others were cracked. People in town are still scared.”

Damage was also reported in the capital Naypyidaw some 200 kilometres away, with MP Thiri Yadanar posting photos on Facebook of cracked glass windows inside a parliament building.

The earthquake caused high-rise buildings in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon to sway, as well as those in the Thai capital Bangkok and the Indian city of Kolkata.

“Services of the underground railway have been suspended fearing aftershocks of the quake,” Kolkata Metro Railway spokesman Indrani Banerjee told AFP.

The quake was also felt throughout south and southwestern Bangladesh close to the border with Myanmar, with residents running outside.

At least 20 people were injured as workers tried to flee a building in the Savar industrial district outside Dhaka, ATN Bangla television reported.

“All of us ran to the streets leaving the houses and shops unsecured as the quake seemed very dangerous,” Nazmus Sakib, from the southern city of Chittagong near the Myanmar border, wrote on his Facebook wall.

Earthquakes are relatively common in Myanmar, although the country has not suffered a major one since 2012. That powerful tremor – also of 6.8 magnitude – struck the centre of the country, killing 26 people and injuring hundreds.

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6.2-magnitude earthquake hits Vanuatu: USGS

SYDNEY: A 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu on Tuesday (Jun 14), the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said.

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties, and no tsunami warning was issued.

Vanuatu is part of the “Ring of Fire”, a zone of tectonic activity around the Pacific that is subject to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

The quake struck at a depth of 131 kilometres (81 miles), 92 kilometres northwest of the town of Isangel on Tanna island, USGS said.

Vanuatu has been rocked by a series of quakes this year, including some that prompted tsunami warnings.

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