By Devika Syamnath
(Reuters) - Investors shaved bearish bets on most Asian currencies over the past two weeks but went short on the rupee for the first time in over three months, a Reuters poll showed, as election euphoria faded against the backdrop of slowing growth in India.
Investors had turned bullish on the rupee in March for the first time in nearly a year when billions of dollars worth of foreign funds poured into India ahead of general election in the world's biggest democracy.
With the election done and dusted, inflows have tapered off, the central bank has cut interest rates for the third time this year and Fitch Ratings posited another 25 basis point cut in 2019.
"My base case on India is that growth will slow this year and that it will weigh on the INR," SEB Chief EM Strategist Per Hammarlund told the Reuters Global Markets Forum on Wednesday.
Bets on the rupee turned bearish for the first time since late February, a poll of 14 respondents showed.
"There is a relatively large risk/possibility that the new Modi administration kick-starts the reform agenda again. If they do, I think it is the only way that the INR can recover."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi secured a second term after a landslide election victory last month, and the government's main think tank has hinted at 'big-bang' economic reforms to please foreign investors, unlock growth and prop up employment.
(Graphic: An Affair To Remember - Indian election and inflows: https://tmsnrt.rs/31Byr54)
(For an interactive graphic on foreign flows into India, click https://tmsnrt.rs/2N1QtKw)
Short bets were trimmed for most other regional currencies on perceived weakness in the greenback as the U.S. Federal Reserve firmly leans towards policy easing. However, nervousness over the lingering U.S.-Sino trade war kept bullish bets in check.
Diplomatic talks were rekindled between leaders of the two countries on Wednesday, though most doubt a breakthrough deal will be reached when U.S. President Donald Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit in Osaka next week.
All 13 participants in the poll were bearish on the Chinese yuan, cautioned by weak economic data following the drawn-out trade war saga.
Short bets on the South Korean won and the Taiwan dollar unwound slightly but stayed in bear territory. The U.S. scrutiny of Chinese technology companies has hurt demand for electronic parts that are a key export for these economies.
The Philippine peso saw bearish bets strengthen slightly, a poll of 12 respondents showed. The central banks of both Indonesia and the Philippines are expected to announce their policy decisions later on Thursday.
The Philippines is seen cutting rates for the second meeting in a row, according to a Reuters poll that suggested it would be a close call as policymakers try to strike a balance between supporting growth and curbing inflation pressures.
A poll of 13 respondents showed bearish bets ease on the Indonesian rupiah. Bank Indonesia is expected to keep its benchmark interest rate steady, a Reuters poll showed.
The Thai baht has been the best performing regional currency this year and bucked the wider trend in this poll to see long positions strengthen. Investors bet on its relatively strong economic fundamentals backed by strong exports, manufacturing and local consumption.
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.
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 included positions held through non-deliverable forwards (NDFs).
(Reporting by Devika Syamnath in Bengaluru, additional reporting by Aaron Saldanha and Shriya Ramakrishnan in Bengaluru; Editing by Subhranshu Sahu)