By Harshita Swaminathan Dec 19 (Reuters) – Most Asian currencies firmed on Monday, lifted by prospects of slowing rate hikes and China’s policy support for the economy, while Chinese markets weakened after the country reported its first COVID-related deaths since a recent easing in virus curbs. Thailand’s baht THB=TH strengthened 0.4% to 34.825 against the dollar, and the Philippine peso PHP= rose 0.2%. China officially reported its first coronavirus-related deaths since the unwinding of some of the strictest pandemic control measures earlier this month. China’s yuan CNY=CFXS pulled back 0.1%, while the main stock index .SSEC dropped 1.6%. CNY/ The country is also expected to deliver a key interest rate decision on Tuesday, after keeping the rate steady for three straight months. The US dollar index .DXY was down 0.2%, pressured by a stronger yen JPY= following a report that Japan is set to amend its inflation target, a move that may give the central bank greater flexibility to tighten policy. FRX/ “We retain the view that as Fed tightening slows and goes into a late cycle, we believe the upside for USD can be limited as such and that broader risks of USD for 2023 may be skewed to the downside,” said Christopher Wong, a currency strategist at OCBC. Last week, the Federal Reserve delivered a 50-point (bps) hike to the lending rate, after four consecutive 75-bps hikes, indicating that the pace of tightening is likely to taper down, implying limited upside for the dollar. This, along with Chinese policymakers late on Friday promising greater support for the economy heading into the new year, helped the sentiment in Asian FX. “We anticipate COVID-19 infections to ease off early next year, as well as flow through of the stimulus measures to be positive for the economy,” analysts at UOB said. The Singapore dollar SGD= edged 0.1% higher. Data showed Malaysia’s exports in November rose more than expected, while imports grew slower than expected. The ringgit MYR= was marginally higher on the day. Asian yields dipped, with Singapore’s SG10YT=RR and Indonesia’s ID10YT=RR benchmark yields shedding 1.7 bps and 0.9 bps, respectively. Equities across Asia were mixed, with markets in the Philippines .PSI dropping 1.3%, and those in Indonesia .JKSE sliding 0.4%, while Singapore .STI gained 0.6% and India .NSEI rose 0.4%. HIGHLIGHTS: ** Australia’s foreign minister to visit China this week, says Australia PM; meeting will mark the first visit by an Australian minister to Beijing since 2019 ** Macau to cancel regulations on COVID risk zones in mainland China, govt says Asia stock indexes and currencies at 0617 GMT COUNTRY FX RIC FX DAILY % FX YTD % INDEX STOCKS DAILY % STOCKS YTD % Japan JPY= +0.47 -15.41 .N225 -1.02 -5.37 China CNY=CFXS -0.10 -8.98 .SSEC -1.84 -14.57 India INR=IN +0.26 -10.07 .NSEI 0.44 5.74 Indonesia IDR= -0.19 -8.80 .JKSE -0.37 3.12 Malaysia MYR= +0.02 -5.81 .KLSE -0.24 -5.90 Philippines PHP= +0.23 -7.94 PSI -1.33 -10.00 S.Korea KRW=KFTC +0.25 -8.71 .KS11 -0.38 -21.05 Singapore SGD= +0.09 -0.62 .STI 0.62 4.39 Taiwan TWD=TP -0.15 -9.97 .TWII -0.66 -20.78 Thailand THB=TH +0.37 -4.12 .SETI 0.06 -2.27 Graphic: World FX rates https://tmsnrt.rs/2RBWI5E Asian stock markets https://tmsnrt.rs/2zpUAr4 (Reporting by Harshita Swaminathan; Editing by Sherry Jacob-Phillips) ((Harshita.Swaminathan@thomsonreuters.com)) The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.