Forex losses by Bank Negara Malaysia, Facts were concealed; Mahathir, Anwar and Nor Mohamed implicated: RCI


Important report: RCI Secretary Datuk Dr Yusof
Ismail speaking to media after submitting a police report over Bank
Negara forex trade losses in Putrajaya.

THE Royal Commission of Inquiry into the foreign exchange losses suffered by Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) back in 1990s has recommended that three people be probed over their involvement and liability.

They are former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, his then finance minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and ex-Bank Negara advisor Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop, whom the report also named as “principally liable for criminal breach of trust”.

The 524-page report also called out Tun Daim Zainuddin, who served as finance minister from July 14, 1984 to March 15, 1991, for having aided and abetted Nor Mohamed by leaving BNM “to its own devices”.

The commission found that the Cabinet in the 1990s was not given the full picture by Anwar on the forex losses, adding that he had “deliberately concealed facts and information and made misleading statements”.

“The Commission is of the opinion that there was deliberate concealment as BNM’s annual reports did not state the actual losses incurred from the forex dealings from 1992 to 1994.

“It is also of the opinion that the then prime minister (Dr Mahathir) had condoned the actions of the finance minister,” it said.

The RM31.5bil losses, it said, were hidden using “unconventional accounting treatments”, such as booking losses to reserves in the balance sheet and the absorption of the remaining losses by the transfer of shares from the Government to BNM as well as the creation of a “Deferred Expenditure” to be repaid in instalments over a decade.

“All the actions to conceal the losses were discussed and approved by the board of directors before the accounts were signed off by the Auditor-General.

“No further action was taken by the Finance Minister and Treasury secretary-general (as a board member) despite being informed by the Auditor-General on the losses and the unusual accounting treatments,” said the report.

Anwar, noted the Commission, had been informed about the actual forex losses suffered by BNM.

Dr Mahathir, it said, was informed by Anwar together with then Treasury deputy secretary-general Tan Sri Clifford Francis Herbert in late 1993 that BNM had suffered estimated losses of RM30bil on the forex dealings for 1992 and 1993.

However, in the extract of minutes from three Cabinet meetings on March 30, April 6 and 13 in 1994, Anwar had made “no mention of the actual losses of RM12.3bil for 1992 and RM15.3bil for 1993.”

Anwar had chaired the March 30 meeting as the deputy prime minister. The losses for 1993 were reported as RM5.7bil.

“The prime minister, who chaired the meeting on April 6, did not correct or offer more information when the forex losses for 1993 were recorded as only RM5.7bil,” it pointed out.

“The Commission is of the view that it is the finance minister’s responsibility to inform the Cabinet the significant financial affairs about BNM as the Cabinet has collective responsibility with the finance minister and the prime minister for the country’s affairs.”

Dr Mahathir, it said, claimed to have no knowledge of the real amount of losses, which was untenable with his meticulous nature, as well as that under the law, BNM was the banker and financial agent to the Government with the remainder of its net profit to be paid into the Federal Consolidated Fund.

The report said as pointed out by Herbert, he had expected Dr Mahathir to be outraged but his reaction was quite normal with him uttering “sometimes we make profit, sometimes we make losses”.

“His reaction to and acceptance of the huge forex losses suggest that he could have been aware of the forex dealings and its magnitude,” said the report.

The RCI also found Dr Mahathir’s claim that he could only remember the amount of RM5bil forex losses when informed about it in a meeting with Anwar and Herbert in late 1993 to be “questionable”.

It said this was because based on testimonies of other witnesses and documentary evidence, the RM5.7bil only surfaced when Bank Negara’s 1993 annual report was presented to the Cabinet on March 30, 1994.

“Despite his denials, the Commission is of the opinion that a thorough investigation should be carried out to determine the extent of his involvement and liability,” said the report.

By Martin Carvalho, Hemananthani Sivanandam, Loshana K. Shagar, and Rahmah Ghazali The Star

Police set up taskforce to probe possible criminal offences over Bank Negara’s forex losses

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun says police will
open investigation paper following a report that was lodged by Royal
Commission of Inquiry (RCI) secretary Datuk Dr Yusof Ismail. (Image is
for illustration purpose only).

KUALA LUMPUR: Police have set up a taskforce to investigate possible criminal breach of trust and cheating which may have been committed during Bank Negara Malaysia’s foreign exchange losses in 1990s

Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Mohamad Fuzi Harun said police would open investigation paper as the forex Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) had lodged a police report this afternoon.

“A taskforce has been formed and it will lead the investigation. We are investigating the case under Section 409 of the Penal Code for criminal breach of trust,” he told the New Straits Times when contacted.

RCI’s secretary Datuk Dr Yusof Ismail, who is the Finance Ministry Strategic Investment Division director, had lodged a report at Putrajaya police headquarters at 4.10pm asking police to start an official investigation.

In the police report, it was stated that those who were involved in the alleged wrongdoings were Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) officers, BNM Board of Members, National Audit Department, Finance Ministry and the prime minister who served during the period.

Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) secretary Datuk Dr Yusof Ismail seen
leaving the Putrajaya police headquarters after lodging a report. Pic by
AHMAD IRHAM MOHD NOOR

The RCI, in its 528-page report that was tabled in Parliament today, said it believed that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was Finance Minister at the time, had misled the government and concealed the actual losses suffered by BNM.

RCI also said it believed that the prime minister at the time, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, had approved Anwar’s “misleading statements”.

The commission also revealed that the losses were far larger than that what was initially reported by the central bank, RM31.5 billion as against RM5.7 billion, in the period of three years.

Yusof spent almost 40 minutes at the police headquarters and later spoke to reporters who were waiting outside.

He said in the report, the commission had requested the police to start a official investigation on the possible criminal breach of trust, forgery and other wrongdoings which may have been committed during the forex activities.

“Our report is basically requesting the police to start investigation and for the Attorney-General Chambers to take action based on the findings by the police,” he said.

Putrajaya OCPD Asst Comm Rosly Hassan who confirmed that the report was made, said a special unit in Bukit Aman would investigate the case.

By TEOH PEI YING and HASHINI KAVISHTRI KANNAN New Straits Times
Related Links:

 PROBE NOR MOHAMED, DR Mabatbjr, ANWAR – PressReader

It recommends that they be investigated for possible CBT, fraud

FILE PIC
Former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin after giving his statement to the Royal Commission of Inquiry in September.
THE RCI believes Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim had concealed Bank Negara’s actual forex losses from the cabinet, and that Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad condoned his actions. The panel, in confirming that RM31.5 billion was lost, says there are grounds to investigate them for criminal breach of trust and fraud.
THE Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) into Bank Negara Malaysia’s (BNM) foreign exchange (forex) losses in the 1990s has recommended investigations against former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and his one-time deputy, Datuk Seri
Anwar Ibrahim.
The RCI, in its 528-page report that was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday, said the duo had
concealed facts from the cabinet.
It also recommended that Dr Mahathir and Anwar be investigated for criminal breach of trust and fraud.
“There is a basis for an official police investigation into BNM board of directors, National Audit Department, then finance minister and prime minister for criminal breach of trust and fraud in the performing of the speculative forex transactions and in hiding the losses from the cabinet and Parliament,” the report said.
Former BNM adviser Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop was also implicated as the commission found that he was responsible for the billions of ringgit in losses.
RCI had recommended that Nor Mohamed be investigated for alleged criminal breach of trust and for allegedly contravening the Central Bank Ordinance 1958.
The commission also found that former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin had allegedly abetted Nor Mohamed. Daim was finance minister until 1991 before he was replaced by Anwar.
BNM lost RM31.5 billion in forex trading between 1992 and 1994. Nor Mohamed was
in charge of several portfolios in BNM at the time, including the management of external reserves.

 

BN and Opposition reps at loggerheads over report – Nation

RCI says Dr M helped in concealing RM31.5bil forex losses 

RCI says Dr M helped in concealing RM31.5bil forex losses …

‘Probe Nor Mohamed for possible CBT’ – Nation

Royal commission recommends CBT probe on Nor Mohamed over ..

RCI: Daim abetted Nor Mohamed in committing CBT | Free Malaysia …

Royal commission recommends criminal probe against Anwar …

Related posts:

Recalling Bank Negara’s massive forex losses in 1990s

The Asian financial crisis – 20 years later

Malaysia must retool education, skills to adapt to knowledge economy

Angry & frustrated investors lodged report, tell off staffs trying to buy time!

Advertisements

Chinese are the unsung heroes of South East Asia: Robert Kuok Memoirs


They are the most amazing economic ants on Earth, ‘Sugar King’ writes in memoir

Good Chinese business management is second to none; the very best of Chinese management is without compare. I haven’t seen others come near to it in my 70year career. Robert Kuok

The overseas Chinese were the unsung heroes of the region, having helped to build South East Asia to what it is today, said Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok (pic).

He said that it was the Chinese immigrants who tackled difficult task such as planting and tapping rubber, opening up tin mines, and ran small retail shops which eventually created a new economy around them.

“It was the Chinese who helped build up Southeast Asia. The Indians also played a big role, but the Chinese were the dominant force in helping to build the economy.

“They came very hungry and eager as immigrants, often barefooted and wearing only singlets and trousers. They would do any work available, as an honest income meant they could have food and shelter.

“I will concede that if they are totally penniless, they will do almost anything to get their first seed capital. But once they have some capital, they try very hard to rise above their past and advance their reputations as totally moral, ethical businessmen,” Kuok said based on excerpts of his memoir reported in the South China Morning Post .

“Robert Kuok, A Memoir’ is set to be released in Malaysia on Dec 1.

Kuok said the Chinese immigrants were willing to work harder than anyone else and were willing to “eat bitterness”, hence, were the most amazing economic ants on earth.

In the extracted memoir published by the South China Morning Post, Kuok, pointed out that if there were any businesses to be done on earth, one can be sure that a Chinese will be there.

“They will know whom to see, what to order, how best to save, how to make money. They don’t need expensive equipment or the trappings of office; they just deliver.

“I can tell you that Chinese businessmen compare notes every waking moment of their lives. There are no true weekends or holidays for them. That’s how they work. Every moment, they are listening, and they have skilfully developed in their own minds – each and every one of them – mental sieves to filter out rubbish and let through valuable information.

“Good Chinese business management is second to none; the very best of Chinese management is without compare. I haven’t seen others come near to it in my 70-year career,” he said.

“They flourish without the national, political and financial sponsorship or backing of their host countries. In Southeast Asia, the Chinese are often maltreated and looked down upon. Whether you go to Malaysia, Sumatra or Java, the locals call you Cina – pronounced Chee-na – in a derogatory way,” he said.

He added that the Chinese had no “fairy godmothers” financial backers.

“Yet, despite facing these odds, the overseas Chinese, through hard work, endeavour and business shrewdness, are able to produce profits of a type that no other ethnic group operating in the same environment could produce,” he said.

Kuok ultimately attributed the Chinese survivability in Southeast Asia to its cultural strength.

“They knew what was right and what was wrong. Even the most uneducated Chinese, through family education, upbringing and social environment, understands the ingredients and consequences of behaviour such as refinement, humility, understatement, coarseness, bragging and arrogance,” he said.

 

Related Links:

JPMorgan CEO warns he will fire any employee trading Bitcoin for being “stupid.”


 
Tough stand: Dimon has warned that he will fire JPMorgan traders who traded in bitcoin ‘in a second. For two reasons: It’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous.’ — AFP

NEW YORK: JPMorgan Chase & Co chief executive officer Jamie Dimon said he will fire any employee trading bitcoin for being “stupid.”

The cryptocurrency “won’t end well,” he told an investor conference in New York on Tuesday, predicting it will eventually blow up. “It’s a fraud” and “worse than tulip bulbs.”

If a JPMorgan trader began trading in bitcoin, he said: “I’d fire them in a second. For two reasons: It’s against our rules, and they’re stupid. And both are dangerous.”

Bitcoin has soared in recent months, spurred by greater acceptance of the blockchain technology that underpins the exchange method and optimism that faster transaction times will encourage broader use of the cryptocurrency.

Prices have climbed more than four-fold this year – a run that has drawn debate over whether that’s a bubble.

Bitcoin initially slipped after Dimon’s remarks. It was down as much as 2.7% before recovering.

Last week, it slumped after reports that China plans to ban trading of virtual currencies on domestic exchanges, dealing another blow to the US$150bil cryptocurrency market.

Tulips are a reference to the mania that swept Holland in the 17th century, with speculators driving up prices of virtually worthless tulip bulbs to exorbitant levels.

That didn’t end well.

In bitcoin’s case, Dimon said he’s sceptical authorities will allow a currency to exist without state oversight, especially if something goes wrong.

“Someone’s going to get killed and then the government’s going to come down,” he said.

“You just saw in China, governments like to control their money supply.”

Dimon differentiated between the bitcoin currency and the underlying blockchain technology, which he said can be useful.

Still, he said banks’ application of blockchain “won’t be overnight.”

The bank chief said he wouldn’t short bitcoin because there’s no telling how high it will go before it collapses.

The best argument he’s heard, he said, is that it can be useful to people in places with no other options – so long as the supply of coins doesn’t surge.

“If you were in Venezuela or Ecuador or North Korea or a bunch of parts like that, or if you were a drug dealer, a murderer, stuff like that, you are better off doing it in bitcoin than US dollars,” he said.

“So there may be a market for that, but it’d be a limited market.”— Bloomberg

 

Related Links:

 

Related posts:

Malaysia must retool education, skills to adapt to knowledge economy


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia needs to reinvent its education system to adapt to the knowledge economy, which has led to a sharp reduction in unskilled jobs and spike in demand for data analysts.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong, said Malaysia needs to retool its education and skills, and experiment across the spectrum, in positioning itself in the new economy.

“Formal education is outdated because of the speed of new knowledge. Companies do not spend on ‘on the job’ training, because of cost cuts and staff turnover,” he said during his presentation at the NCCIM Economic Forum 2017 yesterday.

Between 2007 and 2015, the loss of unskilled jobs was 55% relative to other jobs while demand for data analysts over the last five years has increased 372%.

In the global supply chain, old economy companies are quickly losing their edge as digitisation moves faster than physical goods while unskilled jobs will be quickly replaced by robotics due to the fast adoption of artificial intelligence (AI).

“Moving up the global value chain is about moving up knowledge intensity. If you don’t get smarter you won’t get the business.

“We are already plugged into the global value chain. We are very successful in that area but we cannot stay where we are. Remaining still is no longer an option. We need to move from tasks to value added growth to high value added production. In order to do that, we need to learn to learn.”

Sheng said the Malaysian economy is doing well but faces many challenges, including subdued energy prices, growing trade protectionism, geopolitical tensions and is still very reliant on foreign labour.

“Are we ready for the new economy? The way trade is growing is phenomenal but the new economy’s challenges are great and very complicated politically because technology is great for us as it gives us whatever we want but at the cost of our jobs,” he said.

When education fails to keep pace with technology, the result is inequality, populism and major political upheaval.

“What the new economy tells us is that robotics or AI (artificial intelligence) calls for Education 4.0, which means that we have to learn for life,” he said.

Sheng noted that Malaysia has successfully moved quietly into education services, medical tourism, higher quality foods, all through upgrading skills, branding and marketing.

“But formal education has become bureaucratised, whereas we are not spending enough on upgrading our labour force, prefering to hire imported labour,” he said.

Although Malaysia cannot compete in terms of scale and speed, especially against giants such as China, it can compete in terms of scope with strength in diversity, soft skills and adaptability.

“We are winners … but have we got the mindset?” Sheng questioned.

He said Malaysia must upgrade its physical technology through research and development, harness its unique social technology and digitise its business model in order to create wealth.

While the government can help, he added, true success comes from community self-help irrespective of race or creed, and retired baby boomers who have wealth of experience must mentor the youth to start thinking about the new economy.

Eva Yeong, sunbiz@thesundaily.com
Related Links:

 Andrew Sheng – Institute for New Economic Thinking

Andrew Sheng
is a distinguished fellow at Fung Global Institute, chief adviser …
member of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the sovereign wealth fund of Malaysia.

MALAYSIA should leverage on social technology, which is its true strength, … Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, who is a distinguished fellow at Asia Global Institute, … the new economy as it involves lifelong learning to adapt, innovate and create. … To enhance the skills of the civil service, he pointed out Singapore’s …

Andrew Sheng – Project Syndicate

Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the UNEP Advisory Council on Sustainable …

Related posts:

Checks on local news reports show EBA bestowed ‘awards’ not just to Penang councils but also other Malaysian institutions. GEORGE TOWN…
  Dubious honours : (Above) Former Penang Island City Council mayor Patahiyah Ismail with the trophy and certificate for Best Munic…

GEORGE TOWN: More than RM60mil collected from developers as drainage contributions in Seberang Prai has reportedly not been given to t.

 

  Hard lesson: After settling his assessment arrears, Chua Yung Lin, 37, finally receives the key (inside envelope) to unlock the chain…

Bitcoin must not in your retirement financial planning portfolio


Bitcoin investments have undeniably become a trend among savvy investors in search of the golden goose, but one financial planner is against the use of it as part of the financial planning portfolio for retirement.

Max Growth Wealth Education Sdn Bhd managing director Nicholas Chu said one should not use bitcoin as part of the retirement portfolio and the public must be well aware of the risk in bitcoin trading before getting in.

“It is not asset-backed, it is very unsecure. It is, basically, you want to participate in the future changes. It’s not a proper financial planning way. It is just an experimental thing that you want to go through in this era, but it is not a proper investment product,” he told SunBiz.

“I definitely don’t agree if they use this for their financial planning. But for those who are able to try new ventures, they can go ahead provided they have extra money. If this doesn’t affect their existing financial planning, then I’ll leave it to them. We need to tell them the pros and cons of this investment. It’s up to the clients to do the final decision,” he said.

Chu cautioned on the uncertainties of bitcoin trading, which is driven by market forces.
“It is beyond anybody’s control, all the participants contribute to the bitcoin value. From that, I can say that there are a lot of uncertainties in the future,” he said.

Nonetheless, with the setting up of a few bitcoin exchanges, Chu noted that there will be demand and supply with tradeable markets available.

Bitcoin was the best-performing currency in 2015 and 2016, with a rise of 35.8% and 126.2% respectively.

Year to date, bitcoin prices have leaped more than three times. It stood at US$2,840 (RM12,140) as at 5pm last Friday.

Bitcoins are by the far the most popular cryptocurrency, which exists almost wholly in the digital realm and has no asset backing it. Bitcoin generation, known as mining, while open to anyone with a “mining application” on their computer, needs a great deal of computing power to solve complex algorithms which are later verified with the entire bitcoin network.

Colbert Low, founder of bitcoinmalaysia.com, said the recent spike in bitcoin prices could be partly due to the legalisation of bitcoin by the Japanese government.

He is unsure if the sharp rise in bitcoin prices will create a price bubble, but stressed that one cannot judge its price movement based on the “old economic theory”.

“This is a new economy based on a different model. It’s very hard to say,” Low opined, noting that there has been a growing number of retail outlets that accept bitcoin.

He foresees the usage of bitcoin propagating, especially in different types of payment methods.

However, Low opined that there will not be any “big movement” in the local market if the regulators do not regulate bitcoin.

“Our new Bank Negara governor is forward thinking and he is very much into fintech, technology and innovation. So there would definitely be improvement,” Low said.

The positive development of blockchain will be a catalyst for the growth of bitcoin, he added.

“Blockchain is a real thing that will change the way the IP system is architectured. We need to go down to a deeper level to see how blockchain can change the current problem and solve it.

“There are a lot of projects right now, over 500 companies are looking at this (blockchain) right now. Even IBM, HP and Microsoft are looking at it.”

Blockchain refers to distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, secure from tampering and revision. Bitcoin is just an application or software that runs on blockchain technology.

“If you look at blockchain technology, government agencies like the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are looking at it. This is the best way to secure your data,” Low said, noting that the usage of bitcoin will help reduce operating cost.

Currently, there are about 16 million bitcoins in the market and the number is capped at 21 million.

Bank Negara has said that it does not regulate the cryptocurrency and advised the public to be cautious of the risks associated with the usage of such digital currency.

Source: By Lee Weng Khuen sunbiz@thesundaily.com

Related Links:

Related posts:

Bitcoin, digital currencies rally, caution

Bitcoins As Digital Currency's Rally Crushed Every Other Currency in 2016

prevails; virtual currency in property

What is a BitCoin? Explained – Tech Tip Irrational exuberance is alive and well. A textbook bubble in Bitcoin prices is developing… 

Dollar bulls face perilous start to second half of 2017


Losing streak: The greenback finished the first half of 2017 on a four-month losing streak – the longest such stretch since 2011. – AFP

https://www.bloomberg.com/api/embed/iframe?id=386fc1f7-12e9-49ed-b7d6-f4a868fc9d5c

After the worst start to a year for the greenback since 2006, the end of the first half couldn’t come quick enough for the dwindling ranks of dollar bulls. Yet if history is any guide, it could soon get even worse.

A week that’s certain to get off to a slow start with U.S. markets closed Tuesday will culminate with Friday’s jobs report. The release hasn’t been kind to those wagering on greenback strength. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index has slumped in the aftermath of nine of the past ten, despite above consensus reports as recently as February, March and May.

“The dollar has not been responding to positive data surprises, but continues to weaken substantially on negative news,” said Michael Cahill, a strategist at Goldman Sachs. “As long as that persists, the risks are skewed to the downside going into every data release.”

The greenback finished the first half on a four month losing streak — the longest such stretch since 2011 — wiping out its post-election gain. The currency’s 6.6 percent decline in the six months through June were the worst half for the dollar since the back end of 2010. Unraveling optimism around the Trump administration’s ability to boost fiscal growth has outweighed Fed policy or positive data, according to Alvise Marino, a strategist at Credit Suisse.

“What’s happening on the monetary policy front is not as important,” said Marino. “It’s more about the dollar remaining weighed down by the unwinding of financial expectations.”

The sudden hawkish tilt by global central banks hasn’t helped. The dollar weakened more than 2 percent against the euro, pound and Canadian loonie last week as officials signaled a bias toward tightening monetary policy.

Yet there are reasons for optimism, according to JPMorgan Chase analysts led by John Normand, who recommended staying long the greenback in a June 23 note. A cheap valuation relative to global interest rates, the market underpricing the likelihood of another Fed hike this year, and a still positive growth outlook make for a favorable backdrop to motivate dollar longs in an “overstretched” unwind, the analysts wrote.

Hedge funds and other speculators disagree. They turned bearish on the dollar for the first time since May 2016 last week. Wagers the greenback will decline outnumber bets it’ll strengthen by 30,037 contracts, Commodity Futures Trading Commission data released Friday show.

Source: Bloomberg

Related Links

Ringgit is Asia’s strongest currency

 

China and Germany Step Up to Fill U.S. Leadership Void

North Korea Claims Its First Successful Launch of an ICBM 
Related posts:

The government is moving ahead to investigate whether there were
any wrongdoings in the massive foreign exchange losses suffered by Ba…
https://youtu.be/eocI_JZK5_g East Asian Economies Remain Diverse It is useful to reflect on whether lessons have been learnt and i…

The Asian financial crisis – 20 years later




East Asian Economies Remain Diverse

 

It is useful to reflect on whether lessons have been learnt and if the countries are vulnerable to new crises.

IT’S been 20 years since the Asian financial crisis struck in July 1997. Since then, there has been an even bigger global financial crisis, starting in 2008. Will there be another crisis?

The Asian crisis began when speculators brought down the Thai baht. Within months, the currencies of Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia were also affected. The East Asian Miracle turned into an Asian Financial Nightmare.

Despite the affected countries receiving only praise before the crisis, weaknesses had built up, including current account deficits, low foreign reserves and high external debt.

In particular, the countries had recently liberalised their financial system in line with international advice. This enabled local private companies to freely borrow from abroad, mainly in US dollars. Companies and banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand had in each country rapidly accumulated over a hundred billion dollars of external loans. This was the Achilles heel that led their countries to crisis.

These weaknesses made the countries ripe for speculators to bet against their currencies. When the governments used up their reserves in a vain attempt to stem the currency fall, three of the countries ran out of foreign exchange.

They went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout loans that carried draconian conditions that worsened their economic situation.

Malaysia was fortunate. It did not seek IMF loans. The foreign reserves had become dangerously low but were just about adequate. If the ringgit had fallen a bit further, the danger line would have been breached.

After a year of self-imposed austerity measures, Malaysia dramatically switched course and introduced a set of unorthodox policies.

These included pegging the ringgit to the dollar, selective capital controls to prevent short-term funds from exiting, lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and rescuing failing companies and banks.

This was the opposite of orthodoxy and the IMF policies. The global establishment predicted the sure collapse of the Malaysian economy.

But surprisingly, the economy recovered even faster and with fewer losses than the other countries. Today, the Malaysian measures are often cited as a successful anti-crisis strategy.

The IMF itself has changed a little. It now includes some capital controls as part of legitimate policy measures.

The Asian countries, vowing never to go to the IMF again, built up strong current account surpluses and foreign reserves to protect against bad years and keep off speculators. The economies recovered, but never back to the spectacular 7% to 10% pre-crisis growth rates.

Then in 2008, the global financial crisis erupted with the United States as its epicentre. The tip of the iceberg was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the massive loans given out to non-credit-worthy house-buyers.

The underlying cause was the deregulation of US finance and the freedom with which financial institutions could devise all kinds of manipulative schemes and “financial products” to draw in unsuspecting customers. They made billions of dollars but the house of cards came tumbling down.

To fight the crisis, the US, under President Barack Obama, embarked first on expanding government spending and then on financial policies of near-zero interest rates and “quantitative easing”, with the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US banks.

It was hoped the cheap credit would get consumers and businesses to spend and lift the economy. But instead, a significant portion of the trillions went via investors into speculative activities, including abroad to emerging economies.

Europe, on the verge of recession, followed the US with near zero interest rates and large quantitative easing, with limited results.

The US-Europe financial crisis affected Asian countries in a limited way through declines in export growth and commodity prices. The large foreign reserves built up after the Asian crisis, plus the current account surplus situation, acted as buffers against external debt problems and kept speculators at bay.

Just as important, hundreds of billions of funds from the US and Europe poured into Asia yearly in search of higher yields. These massive capital inflows helped to boost Asian countries’ growth, but could cause their own problems.

First, they led to asset bubbles or rapid price increases of houses and the stock markets, and the bubbles may burst when they are over-ripe.

Second, many of the portfolio investors are short-term funds looking for quick profit, and they can be expected to leave when conditions change.

Third, the countries receiving capital inflows become vulnerable to financial volatility and economic instability.

If and when investors pull some or a lot of their money out, there may be price declines, inadequate replenishment of bonds, and a fall in the levels of currency and foreign reserves.

A few countries may face a new financial crisis.

A new vulnerability in many emerging economies is the rapid build-up of external debt in the form of bonds denominated in the local currency.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught that over-borrowing in foreign currency can create difficulties in debt repayment should the local currency level fall.

To avoid this, many countries sold bonds denominated in the local currency to foreign investors.

However, if the bonds held by foreigners are large in value, the country will still be vulnerable to the effects of a withdrawal.

As an example, almost half of Malaysian government securities, denominated in ringgit, are held by foreigners.

Though the country does not face the risk of having to pay more in ringgit if there is a fall in the local currency, it may have other difficulties if foreigners withdraw their bonds.

What is the state of the world economy, what are the chances of a new financial crisis, and how would the Asian countries like Malaysia fare?

These are big and relevant questions to ponder 20 years after the start of the Asian crisis and nine years after the global crisis.

But we will have to consider them in another article.

By Martin Khor Global Trend

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
Related Links:

Related posts

The government is moving ahead to
investigate whether there were any wrongdoings in the massive foreign
exchange losses suffered by Ba…
Unique gift: Ahmad Shabery (centre)
presenting kain songket made of pineapple fibre to China’s General
Administration of Quality Supervi…
%d bloggers like this: