London - Emerging markets struggled for direction in thin pre-holiday trade on Wednesday, though a pause in the dollar and higher oil prices helped Russia's rouble to hit a one-week high.
MSCI's emerging market stock index eased 0.3 percent, with gains in Russia, Poland and some Asian bourses but seeing losses in Asian heavyweights Taiwan and South Korea.
Still reeling from the prospect of higher US interest rates following last week's Federal Reserve meeting, South Korea's won and the Thai baht hit multi-month lows against the dollar.
The weakening came despite a South Korean official in charge of foreign exchange markets cautioning traders about pushing the currency too low.
But a rise in oil prices helped the rouble strengthen 0.5 percent in its third day of gains, while South Africa's rand gained 0.2 percent. The rouble has in recent days overtaken the Brazilian real to become the best performing emerging currency of 2016 against the dollar.
"Markets are waiting for year-end, investors are putting small amounts on the table - no one wants to take on a lot of risk here around the turn of the year," said Per Hammarlund, chief emerging markets strategist at SEB, adding the overall sentiment was generally positive.
Turkey's lira rose 0.4 percent in a second day of gains despite data showing weakening consumer confidence . With the central bank having failed to raise interest rates on Tuesday, Hammarlund said the gains were fragile.
"The lira is hanging by a thread. A renewed upward movement in US Treasury yields, potentially as a result of Trump pushing his infrastructure spending plans or at least a faster rise in US inflation, would send the lira tumbling," he said.
Ukraine's dollar-denominated bonds rose to a 6-week high after the parliament passed the 2017 budget overnight, raising its chance of securing the next tranche of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under a $17.5 billion loan package.
"Although it is too late for a Xmas IMF loan tranche release, this plus the nationalisation of PrivatBank should help secure the $1.3 billion in January," Simon Quijano-Evans, a strategist at Legal & General Investment Management, told clients.
In emerging Europe, Poland's zloty fell 0.3 percent, underperforming its regional peers as senior politicians urged the opposition to abandon their protests and warned it could impact investment.
Polish markets have been under pressure in recent days, and opposition lawmakers vowed on Tuesday to continue their sit-in protest in parliament until a vote on the 2017 budget they say was held illegally outside of the parliament's plenary hall on Friday is re-run with all lawmakers.
And in its latest survey, the Institute for International Finance (IIF), said non-resident investors have pulled a total of $23 billion from emerging market portfolios since early October, including $18 billion since the U.S. presidential election.
The IIF, one of the most authoritative trackers of capital flows to and from the developing world, said the US presidential election had triggered a substantial reversal in fund flows, with nearly two thirds of withdrawals since Trump's victory coming from debt securities.