Most Asian currencies weakened against a stronger dollar on Wednesday as expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will hike interest rates next week and fears of a sharp slowdown in China kept investors looking for safer bets.

The U.S. dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, stood at its highest level since the early days of the pandemic in March 2020, with the yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes sliding 5.5 basis points.

"For Asia rates, the backdrop remains challenging," DBS analyst Eugene Leow said.

"While rising USD rates was creating angst, this decline in USD rates is not likely to be welcomed as it came amid shaky risk sentiment and a strong USD. Underperformance of Asia rates is likely in the near term." Most currencies in Southeast Asia were in the red. The Thai baht slipped to its weakest level since May 2017, while the Taiwan dollar weakened 0.2%. 

Thailand's central bank said on Tuesday was closely monitoring the baht and was ready to take action if it was unusually volatile, adding that the factors influencing local currency moves were mainly external.

"An environment of softer global outlook, hawkish Fed, continued absence of Chinese tourist revenues etc., could lead USDTHB to remain in buoyant trading ranges in the interim," analysts at Maybank wrote.

The South Korean won weakened 0.8% to its lowest level since March 2020 as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged to speed up development of his country's nuclear arsenal. North Korea's state media showed him overseeing a huge military parade that displayed intercontinental ballistic missiles on Monday night.

South Korea's foreign exchange authorities were suspected of selling U.S. dollars to curb the won's fall on Wednesday, two dealers told Reuters.

Bucking the trend, the Philippine peso firmed 0.2% against the dollar. The country's central bank is expected to consider a rate hike at its policy meeting in June to keep inflation under control, its governor said in a television interview on Tuesday.

The country's stock index fell to over a month low following the news. Philippines has kept its key rates unchanged at record lows since November 2020.

Stock markets across the region were in the red, coming off the back of a weak Wall Street session overnight, where the Nasdaq closed at its lowest level since December 2020.


** Thailand's 10-year government bond yields are down 32.39 basis points at 2.79%

** In Philippines, top index losers are JG Summit Holdings Inc down 3.9%; Aboitiz Equity Ventures Inc down 2.9%

(Reporting by Indranil Sarkar in Bengaluru; Editing by Kim Coghill)