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Investors hold positions on Asian units ahead of high-level trade talks: Reuters poll

By Nikhil Nainan

BENGALURU (Reuters) - Investors held onto their positions on Asian currencies in the past two weeks, a Reuters poll showed, due to uncertainty over the outcome of renewed Sino-U.S. trade negotiations.

Two weeks ago, investors eased short positions on currencies of trade-reliant Asian economies on hopes of a trade deal. However, those expectations largely faded earlier this week as tensions ramped up ahead of high-level talks that begin on Thursday.

Optimism that the two sides could reach a truce were dealt a blow after U.S. President Donald Trump's administration introduced visa restrictions on Chinese officials and added more Chinese companies to a U.S. trade blacklist.

But investors are clinging to hopes of a partial deal, which seems more likely than a broad agreement, as both economies show signs of slowing down.

"We are getting more news, but nothing is ever concrete anymore," said Nick Twidale, a director & co-founder of Sydney-based trade finance provider Xchainge.

"We've just had this sentiment fatigue."

The poll closed on Wednesday, a day before reports suggested that the United States and China may settle some of their disputes, but that the Chinese delegation was planning to cut short its visit to Washington.

Short positions were little changed on the Chinese yuan , the South Korean won and the Singapore dollar , a poll of 14 respondents showed, as the unpredictable nature of the tit-for-tat trade war kept some market participants from making any big bets.

"Risk is still skewed towards defensive positioning especially in the options space but markets are cautious on adding to cash positions due to unpredictability of politics," said a Hong Kong-based trader, who did not wish to be named. 

Singapore's central bank is set to ease monetary policy at its semi-annual meeting on Monday, a separate Reuters poll showed, with the economy likely escaping a technical recession in the third quarter.

Taiwan has been one of the few beneficiaries of the trade war and investors remained bullish on its dollar . The trade-reliant economy has benefited from supply chain diversification as businesses look to avoid tariffs elsewhere.

Among Southeast Asian currencies, participants upped their short bets on Indonesia's rupiah , though only marginally, while bets on the Philippine peso were scaled back further to their lowest since mid-August.

Earlier this week, Philippine's central bank governor said there may be no more rate cuts this year.

"Given the flushed liquidity in Asia and more potential easing from Fed, I'd expect markets to continue to find opportunities to re-enter low beta or low duration trades," said the Hong Kong-based trader, referring to the rupiah, peso and Taiwan dollar.

Long positions on the Thai baht rose slightly to their highest since the start of August, posing a worry for the export-reliant economy.

The Asian currency positioning poll is focused on what analysts and fund managers 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 Thai baht.

The poll uses estimates of net long or short positions on a scale of minus 3 to plus 3. A score of plus 3 indicates the market is significantly long U.S. dollars.

The figures include positions held through non-deliverable forwards (NDFs).

(Reporting by Nikhil Kurian Nainan in Bengaluru; Editing by Aditya Soni)

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