THE PESO and most other emerging Asian currencies fell on Wednesday, while the dollar held firm near a three-week high after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell struck a hawkish tone in debut Congressional testimony.

In his first public appearance as head of the US central bank, Powell vowed to prevent the economy from overheating while sticking with a plan to gradually raise interest rates.

The dollar index was steady at 90.40, after hitting a high near 90.50 on Tuesday, its strongest level in almost three weeks.

The Fed is expected to approve its first rate increase of 2018 at its next policy meeting in March, when it will also provide updated economic projections.

“The tone of Chair Powell’s testimony suggests that on the whole, the Fed policy isn’t about to shift abruptly under his leadership, and that the pace of gradual rate hikes will continue to be the mainstay of the Fed narrative,” said Stephen Innes, head of trading for Asia Pacific at Oanda.

Among Asian currencies, South Korea’s won was the biggest drag, falling as much as one percent, marking its biggest intraday percentage loss in more than three weeks.

The peso weakened for the second straight day on Wednesday, giving up 7 centavos to close P52.10 to the greenback against its P52.03-per-dollar finish on Tuesday. The Philippine currency opened the day retreating by 12 centavos to P52.15 and traded within a weaker 51.99-52.18 range compared to Tuesday’s 51.95-52.07 band.

The Malaysian ringgit slipped as much as 0.5% to its lowest in two weeks, while the Indonesian rupiah and the Indian rupee both lost 0.3%.

The Thai baht slid as much as 0.5%, while the Singapore dollar — like the Philippine peso — inched down slightly.

The Chinese yuan lost 0.2%.

“I think the higher interest rate profile triggers ‘risk-off’ in equities, and higher bond yields in US dent regional bond sentiment — both negative for local currencies,” Oanda’s Mr. Innes said.

Taiwan’s financial markets were closed on Wednesday for Peace Memorial Day.

The Korean won fell sharply against the US dollar on Wednesday, hit by Mr. Powell’s comments that revived concerns of faster-than-expected US rate rises. The won was quoted at 1,080.1 per dollar on the onshore settlement platform, 0.81% weaker than its previous close at 1,071.3.’

China’s yuan weakened against the US dollar on Wednesday, reflecting the greenback’s gathering gained support from Powell’s hawkish tone. China manufacturing growth in February dropped to the lowest in more than one-and-a-half years, raising concerns of a sharper-than-expected slowdown in the economy this year as regulators tighten the screws on financial risks.

“Faster US interest rate normalisation poses the greatest challenge to regional currency sentiment,” Mr. Innes said, “but to rub salt into the wounds, China’s PMI dropped the most in six years.”

The Chinese currency was on course to show a fall over February, its first month of losses since September. — report mainly from Reuters