Coming recession in 2020? Possibly earlier


Negative rates: Pedestrians walking past the Bank of Japan (BoJ) headquarters in Tokyo. BoJ’s goal remains
at keeping real interest rates as negative as possible, as long as the economy performs. — Bloomberg

IT’S mid-term review time as the US yield curve begins to flatten.

This curve tracks the relationship between interest rates of US government debt obligations. Normally the yield curve is rising, with long-term bonds having yields higher than short-term obligations.

But occasionally the curve inverts, with long bonds yielding less than short Treasury bills – a historical predictor of future recessions and bear markets in stocks. Recently, the curve has become noticeably flatter, with short rates rising and longer yields remaining stagnant. This has led many analysts to think that the yield curve will soon invert.

But that does not mean a recession is imminent. Just returned from an extended visit back to Harvard. Touched base with my mentors and professors at both extremes of the economic spectrum. They are all split on what this flattening really means. In the event it does invert (the gap today being below 0.3%), recession has almost always (over the past 50 years) followed within a year or so. But few see a recession soon on the horizon.

The first half has come and gone. The ongoing transition to more normal conditions continue in the context of a robust US economy; continued progress in the orderly normalisation of US monetary policy; and re-awakened sensitivities to geopolitical and protectionist risks.

There will be higher interest rates, some inflation concerns and trade tariffs coming-on in the context of markets more readily accepting two to three more rate hikes by the Fed in 2018. The prospect of a global trade war makes everyone very cautious.

Once we start down the road of tariff increases and threats of more to come, the dangers of retaliatory miscalculations are real and very scary. Still even an inverted yield curve should not be on top of our worry list under today’s accommodative monetary conditions.

Synchronised pick-up

The world economy benefitted from four drivers of higher growth: the healing process in Europe, re-bound from slowdowns in Brazil, India and Russia; soft landing in China; and pro-growth measures in US.

To persist, Europe needs to do much more. Also, there is hope that recent tariff tensions would eventually lead to fairer and still-free trade which recognises the inter-dependent nature of global supply chains, and show greater willingness to protect intellectual property rights, modernize trade arrangements and reduce non-tariff barriers. Yes, more rate hikes from the Fed are still on the cards. But the same by the European Central Bank (ECB) and Bank of Japan (BOJ) demand trickier manoeuvring.

This is an area that warrants close monitoring since volatility will likely persist. At least for now, fears of Japan-like deflation in US and Europe are effectively gone. But OECD is worried global growth is not yet self-sustaining. It’s strength in 2018 is largely due to monetary and fiscal policy support – and lacking in rising productivity gains and sweeping structural reforms. In Europe, the “clock is ticking”; without reforms, more populist uprisings will appear as the upswing ages and then fades. US inflation is not only returning to the Fed’s 2% target, but also likely to exceed it. In Europe, consumer prices were last still lower than a year ago – below the ECB’s target of just below 2%. Fear of the spectre of deflation has led BOJ to remain cautious about tapering its monetary easing program. Will just have to wait and see.

IMF warns that the world’s US$164 trillion debt pile (at 225% of GDP) is bigger than at the height of the financial crisis a decade ago. One-half was accounted for by US, Japan and China. What’s needed is for US fiscal policy to be recalibrated to bring down the government debt to GDP ratio (80%) and for China to deleverage its US$ 2.6 trillion private debt. There is no sign either is being done which runs the risk of triggering yet another financial crisis.

Growth will falter

Growth in US can slow considerably when the boosts from last year’s tax-cuts in US fades in 2019 and 2020. IMF now warns that US will grow at about one-half the 3% annual pace forecast by the White House over the next 5 years, reflecting the effects of growing massive fiscal deficit and continuing trade imbalance. For US, sluggish productivity remains a key determinant. In 2Q18, GDP picked-up to rise 4.1% (2.2% in 1Q18) the fastest pace in nearly four years, reflecting broad-based momentum.

But worker productivity advanced 1.3% from a year earlier, consistent with the sluggish 1.2% average annual rate in 2007-2017, well below the better than 2% annual average since WWII. Spending by consumers, businesses and government as well as surging exports all appeared solid in 2Q18. The expansion enters its 10th year this month, building on what is already the second longest expansion on record. Faster growth which has helped to drive the unemployment rate to its lowest level in 18 years, fueled quick corporate profit growth.

Median estimates place GDP growth at 2.8% in 2018, 2.4% in 2019 and 1.8% over the long run. But everyone has growth slowing next year because of falling business and consumer sentiment, reflecting trade disputes with China and many US allies, and uncertainty whether rising business investment is sustainable.

The big concern is the economy overheating – already, it is bumping up against capacity constraints as labour markets tighten. Still, the consensus is that the next downturn will not arrive until 2020. Most economists expect 3% inflation over the next year. What worries me most is the deteriorating global political and strategic environment.

Not so much the economic outlook directly. The world is changing too much, too fast.

So much so, the geopolitical situation is getting worse – open warfare between Israel and Iran, the disgraceful state of Palestine, and uncertainties surrounding Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, and lack of leadership in Europe. Trade barriers are causing much anxiety. It is as though what’s put in place since WWII isn’t worth a damn anymore.


Europe and Japan

Latest indications from the Brookings-FT Index for Global Economic Recovery (Tiger) show global growth has peaked and momentum has started to fade. Indeed, financial markets are already reflecting mounting vulnerabilities. With weak economic data in 1H’18, Europe and Japan have since cooled. In late 2017, eurozone was still growing at 3.5%: Germany at 4%, France 3%, Italy 2% and Spain 3.5%. But activity slackened to only 1.2% in early April; even Germany recorded a sharp dip – down to only 1%, reflecting waning monetary easing effects and supply-side constraints. The outlook is for a strong above trend upswing for the rest of the year. OECD now expects GDP growth in 2018 to be 2.2% (2.6% in 2017) and in 2019, 2.1%.

For eurozone, the window for reforms is closing – ranging from the implementation of dual currencies for its members to putting European Parliament in charge of economic policy, including the euro-budget. Japanese GDP shrank 0.1% in 1Q18 despite a rise in capital investment. Household spending unexpectedly fell. Still, recovery is expected to be driven by a weak yen brought about by monetary stimulus (BoJ has been buying assets at US$740 billion a year to drive down long-term interest rates). But underlying inflation is stuck at 0.5%. BoJ’s goal remains at keeping real interest rates (after inflation) as negative as possible, as long as the economy performs. OECD forecasts growth in Japan to be 1.2% in 2018 (1.7% in 2017); the same in 2019.

China and BRICS

Many emerging markets (EMs) are still enjoying momentum from 2017, but there is growing concern about rising debt and vulnerabilities to capital flight as interest rates in US rise. For those recently emerged from recession, viz. Russia, Brazil and South Africa, their urge to return to strong levels of activity remains sluggish.

China and India have fewer concerns for their immediate outlook. Still, they need to reform their economies to help raise living standards to catch up. The main challenges will be to execute particular reforms – not just to the financial system but also to SOEs and local governments, including getting rid of corruption.

China’s GDP rose 6.7% in 2Q’18, the slowest pace since 2016. Retail sales held up rather well as did exports. Still, measures to curb rampant borrowing are biting – investments in infrastructure and manufacturing by SOEs and local governments have since slackened. These efforts, in the midst of headwinds from abroad (especially protectionist tariffs), have led to downgrades in growth for the rest of the year. IMF now forecasts GDP growth in China to average 6.5% in 2018 (6.8% in 2017) and about the same in 2019.

Recent depreciation of China’s currency, the yuan, exposes crucial vulnerabilities within the world’s second-largest economy as it faces escalating trade tensions with the US. The currency posted its biggest ever monthly fall against US$ in June (3.4%) and has since lost more ground. This slide marks a departure for the currency often regarded as an anchor of stability for Asia and other EMs.

As Beijing assesses the options, it finds itself between a rock and a hard place because (i) People’s Bank of China (PBoC) intervention means selling its US dollar stash of reserves – which stood at US$3.11 trillion in June; (ii) it could instead raise domestic interest rates, thereby making the currency more attractive which might help to shore up the yuan. But it also risks weakening an already slowing Chinese economy just as the trans-Pacific trade war starts to bite; and (iii) it could impose stricter controls on China’s capital account which will likely spook overseas funds that have rushed into China’s domestic bond and equity markets this year at an unprecedented rate.

However, to internationalise the yuan, China has to keep fund flows relatively unencumbered. The PBoC has sensibly pledged to keep the RMB “generally stable.” In July, China implemented a mix of tax cuts and greater infrastructure spending citing growing uncertainties, as it ramps up efforts to stimulate demand to counteract a weakening economy.

As for India, I wrote extensively on what’s happening there (my July 2018 column: “India: Chugging Along but Needs More Firepower” refers).

What then are we to do

As I see it, China and China-India centred Asia is now the heart of the world economy. Their steady growth has been a source of stability in an otherwise unsteady world.

Of late, developments in China received more scrutiny than usual because of the context: Chinese stock market has since fallen into bear territory, and a growing trade dispute with the world’s largest economy, US. Despite China’s astonishingly sustained expansion, the economy is widely considered vulnerable because growth in output has been underwritten by an even faster increase in debt.

The nation’s gross debt – both public and private – is now estimated at over 250% of GDP. The worry is not just the volume of debt but its quality. China’s domestic policies encourage high savings.

Those savings, held in banks, have been funneled to companies, especially SOEs. The credit quality of the loans is hard to assess but is likely to be uneven. China has since begun to slowly tighten the credit taps, with even tighter rules on shadow banking and more scrutiny for both local government financing and public-private investment projects.

At the same time, a sharp increase in the number of defaults by corporate issuers has revived anxieties about Chinese debt. In my view, it is the tighter credit conditions and defaults, rather than worries about a trade war, that best explain the recent 22% decline in the Shanghai Composite index from its January highs.

Tightening credit policy is also a compelling explanation for the weak macro-economics. Credit growth fell, and growth in fixed investment followed. This appears to be having some effect on consumer sentiment as well.

No doubt, Trump’s tariffs on US$50bil of Chinese imports (and threatens US$200bil more) will have a direct (but unlikely to be catastrophic) impact on growth. But China is now an investment-led rather than an export-led economy.

Still, it is the knock-on effects that are most feared. If the escalation of hostilities leads to a reduction in foreign direct investment in China, the long-term impact could be significant. True, China may be facing a delicate moment economically.

But given China’s deepening role in the world economy, any pain that the US manages to inflict on it would be quickly shared with the US and the broader world – at a moment when Europe’s economy is slowing, and many EMs looking unstable.

On the whole, China’s economy will remain strong and resilient. Whatever happens, I think this won’t change the Chinese situation much.


By Lin See-yan – what are we to do?

Former banker Tan Sri Lin See-Yan is the author of The Global Economy in  Turbulent Times (Wiley, 2015) and Turbulence in Trying Times (Pearson, 2017). Feedback is most welcome.

 

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US Federal Reserve rate rise, Malaysia and regional equity markets in the red


 

Fed’s big balance-sheet unwind could be coming to an early end

NEW YORK: The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet may not have that much further to shrink.

An unexpected rise in overnight interest rates is pulling forward a key debate among US central bankers over how much liquidity they should keep in the financial system. The outcome will determine the ultimate size of the balance sheet, which they are slowly winding down, with key implications for US monetary policy.

One consequence was visible on Wednesday. The Fed raised the target range for its benchmark rate by a quarter point to 1.75% to 2%, but only increased the rate it pays banks on cash held with it overnight to 1.95%. The step was designed to keep the federal funds rate from rising above the target range. Previously, the Fed set the rate of interest on reserves at the top of the target range.

Shrinking the balance sheet effectively constitutes a form of policy tightening by putting upward pressure on long-term borrowing costs, just as expanding it via bond purchases during the financial crisis made financial conditions easier. Since beginning the shrinking process in October, the Fed has trimmed its bond portfolio by around US$150bil to US$4.3 trillion, while remaining vague on how small it could become.

This reticence is partly because the Fed doesn’t know how much cash banks will want to hold at the central bank, which they need to do in order to satisfy post-crisis regulatory requirements.

Officials have said that, as they drain cash from the system by shrinking the balance sheet, a rise in the federal funds rate within their target range would be an important sign that liquidity is becoming scarce.

Now that the benchmark rate is rising, there is some skepticism. The increase appears to be mainly driven by another factor: the US Treasury ramped up issuance of short-term US government bills, which drove up yields on those and other competing assets, including in the overnight market.

“We are looking carefully at that, and the truth is, we don’t know with any precision,” Fed chairman Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the increase. “Really, no one does. You can’t run experiments with one effect and not the other.”

“We’re just going to have to be watching and learning. And, frankly, we don’t have to know today,” he added.

But many also see increasingly scarce cash balances as at least a partial explanation for the upward drift of the funds rate, and as a result, several analysts are pulling forward their estimates of when the balance sheet shrinkage will end.

Mark Cabana, a Bank of America rates strategist, said in a report published June 5 that Fed officials may stop draining liquidity from the system in late 2019 or early 2020, leaving US$1 trillion of cash on bank balance sheets. That compares with an average of around US$2.1 trillion held in reserves at the Fed so far this year.

Cabana, who from 2007 to 2015 worked in the New York Fed’s markets group responsible for managing the balance sheet, even sees a risk that the unwind ends this year.

One reason why people may have underestimated bank demand for cash to meet the new rules is that Fed supervisors have been quietly telling banks they need more of it, according to William Nelson, chief economist at The Clearing House Association, a banking industry group.

The requirement, known as the Liquidity Coverage Ratio, says banks must hold a certain percentage of their assets either in the form of cash deposited at the Fed or in US Treasury securities, to ensure they have enough liquidity to deal with deposit outflows.

The Fed flooded the banking system with reserves as a byproduct of its crisis-era bond-buying programs, known as quantitative easing, to stimulate the economy. The money it paid investors to buy their bonds was deposited in banks, which the banks in turn hold as cash in reserve accounts at the Fed.

In theory, the unwind of the bond portfolio, which involves the reverse swap of assets between the Fed and investors, shouldn’t affect the total amount of Treasuries and reserves available to meet the requirement. The Fed destroys reserves by unwinding the portfolio, but releases an equivalent amount of Treasuries to the market in the process.

But if Fed supervisors are telling banks to prioritise reserves, that logic no longer applies. Nelson asked Randal Quarles, the Fed’s vice-chairman for supervision, if this was the Fed’s new policy. Quarles, who was taking part in a May 4 conference at Stanford University, said he knew that message had been communicated and is “being rethought”.

If Fed officials do opt for a bigger balance sheet and decide to continue telling banks to prioritise cash over Treasuries, it may mean lower long-term interest rates, according to Seth Carpenter, the New York-based chief US economist at UBS Securities.

“If reserves are scarce right now, and if the Fed does stop unwinding its balance sheet, the market is going to react to that, a lot,” said Carpenter, a former Fed economist. “Everyone anticipates a certain amount of extra Treasury supply coming to the market, and this would tell people, ‘Nope, it’s going to be less than you thought’.” — Bloomberg

Malaysia and regional equity markets in the red

 

In Malaysia, the selling streak has been ongoing for almost a month. As of June 8, the year to date outflow
stands at RM3.02bil, which is still one of the lowest among its Asean peers. The FBM KLCI was down 1.79 points yesterday to 1,761.

PETALING JAYA: It was a sea of red for equity markets across the region after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter percentage point to a range of 1.75% to 2% on Wednesday, and funds continued to move their money back to the US. This is the second time the Fed has raised interest rates this year.

In general, markets weren’t down by much, probably because the rate hike had mostly been anticipated. Furthermore for Asia, the withdrawal of funds has been taking place over the last 11 weeks, hence, the pace of selling was slowing.

The Nikkei 225 was down 0.99% to 22,738, the Hang Seng Index was down 0.93% to 30,440, the Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.08% to 3,047.34 while the Singapore Straits Times Index was down 1.05% to 3,356.73.

In Malaysia, the selling streak has been ongoing for almost a month. As of June 8, the year to date outflow stands at RM3.02bil, which is still one of the lowest among its Asean peers. The FBM KLCI was down 1.79 points yesterday to 1,761.

Meanwhile, the Fed is nine months into its plan to shrink its balance sheet which consists some US$4.5 trillion of bonds. The Fed has begun unwinding its balance sheet slowly by selling off US$10bil in assets a month. Eventually, it plans to increase sales to US$50bil per month.

With the economy of the United States showing it was strong enough to grow with higher borrowing costs, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday and signalled that two additional increases would be made this year.

Fed chairman Jerome H. Powell in a news conference on Wednesday said the economy had strengthened significantly since the 2008 financial crisis and was approaching a “normal” level that could allow the Fed to soon step back and play less of a hands-on role in encouraging economic activity.

Rate hikes basically mean higher borrowing costs for cars, home mortgages and credit cards over the years to come.

Wednesday’s rate increase was the second this year and the seventh since the end of the Great Recession and brings the Fed’s benchmark rate to a range of 1.75% to 2%. The last time the rate reached 2% was in late 2008, when the economy was contracting.

“With a slightly more aggressive plan to tighten monetary policy this year than had previously been projected by the Fed, it will narrow our closely watched gap between the yield rates of two-year and 10-year Treasury notes, which has recently been one of a strong predictor of recessions,” said Anthony Dass, chief economist in AmBank.

Dass expects the policy rate to normalise at 2.75% to 3%.

“Thus, we should potentially see the yield curve invert in the first half of 2019,” he said.

So what does higher interest rates mean for emerging markets?

It means a flight of capital back to the US, and many Asian countries will be forced to increase interest rates to defend their respective currencies.

Certainly, capital has been exiting emerging market economies. Data from the Institute of International Finance for May showed that emerging markets experienced a combined US$12.3bil of outflows from bonds and stocks last month.

With that sort of global capital outflow, countries such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Turkey, have hiked their domestic rates recently.

Data from Lipper, a unit of Thomson Reuters, shows that for the week ending June 6, US-based money market funds saw inflows of nearly US$34.9bil.

It makes sense for investors to be drawn to the US, where the economy is increasingly solid, coupled with higher yields and lower perceived risks.

Hong Kong for example is fighting an intense battle to fend off currency traders. Since April, Hong Kong has spent at least US$9bil defending its peg to the US dollar. Judging by the fact that two more rate hikes are on the way this year, more ammunition is going to be needed.

Hong Kong has the world’s largest per capita foreign exchange reserves – US$434bil more in firepower.

By right, the Hong Kong dollar should be surging. Nonetheless, the currency is sliding because of a massive “carry trade.”

Investors are borrowing cheaply in Hong Kong to buy higher-yielding assets in the US, where 10-year Treasury yields are near 3%.

From a contrarian’s perspective, global funds are now massively under-weighted Asia.

With Asian markets currently trading at 12.3 times forward price earnings ratio, this is a reasonable valuation at this matured stage of the market.

By Tee Lin Say StarBiz

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SCO submit, non-Western Eurasia rises


 

First among equals: Putin and Xi had an official meeting before the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Qingdao. Sloppy US policies have helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now.- AFP

 

THE week that was ended with a significant non-Western event often ignored or misunderstood by the West: the latest Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.

The 18th annual SCO summit in the Chinese port city of Qingdao this weekend is only the fourth held in China. Beijing is relaxed about its role in a growing organisation of eight member countries, six Dialogue Partners and four observer nations – a confidence that suggests considerable clout.

China and Russia are the two hulking members of a group that boasts formal parity, being the conspicuous “firsts among equals.” And as two consecutive US administrations unwittingly drive these giants closer than ever before strategically, Western attention is led astray.

Western reports track President Putin’s travel to Qingdao and the diplomatic niceties exchanged there. At the same time, Western commentators are tempted to dismiss the summit as yet another futile talkfest.

Both approaches are wrong or misplaced. While Xi-Putin exchanges may not be the highlight of this year’s SCO summit, neither are they insignificant.

Sloppy US policies helped to build a growing China-Russia alliance for a full decade now. This is evident enough from the meeting rooms of the UN Security Council to the battlefields of Syria to the South China Sea and the Baltics.

The latest SCO summit reaffirms the trend but adds only marginally to it by way of atmospherics. There are more important developments visible at, if not represented by, the Qingdao summit.

It is the first SCO summit at which both India and Pakistan arrive as full members.

Beginning as the Shanghai Five in the mid-1990s, the SCO has grown steadily and now incorporates three giants – China, Russia and India – in the great Eurasian land mass where both the US and the EU have scant inputs.

With Pakistan coming in at the same time as India as an equal partner, the SCO should be free from any sub-regional turbulence within South Asia.

Turkey is also an SCO Dialogue Partner whose interest in full membership is not without broader implications for the West.

Turkey has considerable military strength and is also a member of Nato, hosting its Allied Land Command and a US air base in Izmir. However, Ankara’s years-long effort to join the EU has been snubbed by Brussels.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has famously mulled over choosing between the EU and the SCO, reportedly preferring the latter. How would the West find a Nato member joining a non-Western group led by Russia and China?

Deep-seated discomfort would be a mild way to put a reaction in Brussels and Washington. To US policymakers, Turkey is a strategic country because of its location as well as its status as a prominent Muslim country.

Both China and Russia have sounded positive about Turkey’s prospective membership of the SCO. Nonetheless, SCO members share an understanding of sorts that Turkey may have to forego its Nato membership before SCO membership can be entertained.

However, Beijing and Moscow may be less concerned than Washington and Brussels about Turkey’s SCO membership with its Nato credentials intact. That immediately makes Turkey more comfortable to be in SCO company.

Turkey has already received what amounts to special treatment within the SCO that no other Dialogue Partner has enjoyed. Last year it was elected as Chair of the SCO’s Energy Club, a position previously enjoyed only by full members.

Erdogan has called the SCO “more powerful” than the EU, particularly in a time of Brexit. Bahrain and Qatar seek full SCO membership; Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Ukraine and Vietnam want to be Dialogue Partners; and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Egypt, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Syria want Observer status.

Iran already has SCO Observer status and had applied for full membership in 2008. Following the easing of UN sanctions on Tehran, China declared its support for Iran’s membership bid in 2016.

The recent US pullout from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (“Iran nuclear deal”) has further prodded Tehran to “look East.” These days that means China and a China-led SCO.

Iran already trades heavily with China with myriad deals in multiple sectors. Mutual interests abound, far exceeding the basic relationship of oil and gas sales to China.

As Europe treads carefully, mindful of possible new sanctions on Iran following the US cop out, cash-rich Chinese firms take up the slack. US policy is also pushing Iran, among others, closer to China.

In preparing for Prime Minister Modi’s arrival in Qingdao on Friday, Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale said both countries were determined to work in close partnership and would never be split apart.

This echoed two main points already shared by Indian and Chinese leaders – that their countries are partners in development and progress, and what they have in common are greater than their differences.

All of this seems set to undo the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) that groups the US with Japan, Australia and India, all boasting a democratic system in common in a joint strategic encirclement of China. But India’s relations with China have been on the upswing for half a year now.

The day before Modi arrived in Qingdao, a Quad meeting in Singapore closed on Friday with India expressing differences with the other members. Its Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran said the Quad was not the same as its hopes for an inclusive “Indo-Pacific region” (IPR) that did not target any country.

He added that India wanted closer ties with Russia as well in an IPR. Just a fortnight before, Russia’s recent Ambassador to the US Sergei Kislyak said President Trump also wanted closer ties with Russia.

That was only a small part of the roller-coaster ride of international diplomacy in the first half of 2018.

In January Trump condemned the Taliban for a spate of attacks in Afghanistan, vowing that all talks with them were off. Until then, top US diplomats were carefully planning negotiations with the Taliban.

In March, US officials blasted Russia for allegedly arming the Taliban, which Moscow denied. The following month Nato voiced support for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s efforts to talk with the Taliban to “save the country.”

Meanwhile Trump’s ramparts of trade barriers in the direction of a trade war would decimate allies from East Asia to Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron expressed a European position in reaching out to China on climate and security issues.

By March the EU had dug in, preparing for the worst of US trade barriers while vowing retaliation. The WTO also warned Washington that it was veering towards a trade war with tariffs on steel and aluminium.

In April, China’s new Defence Minister Gen. Wei Fenghe arrived in Moscow for talks with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu. Wei rubbed it in for Washington, publicly announcing that his visit was to show the US the high level of strategic cooperation between China and Russia.

Two days later the Foreign Ministers of China and Russia expressed similar sentiments. They championed negotiations and sticking to pledges while weighing in against the unilateralism of a unipolar power.

Where China has the SCO, Russia has the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).

If any discomfort is felt in Washington, it is from acting as a unipolar power in an increasingly multipolar world.

Source: Behind the headlines by Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

 

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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.
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Crisis of the West or crisis of faith, year of living dangerously?


Global standard: A man walks past a poster showing a US dollar outside an exchange office in Cairo. The dollar has maintained its position as a global standard because it is convenient, cheap to use and a store of value that has so far been subject to minimal political interference. — AP

 

OVER the Chinese New Year holidays, we were all treated to the Trump Reality Show, changing the world we thought we understood with various tweets or executive orders.

This behaviour reminded me of the Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi waking up and was not sure he was a man dreaming that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming that it was a man. Mr Trump is either a butterfly disguised as President or a truly smart politician disguised as a butterfly. The tragedy is that the rest of us have to live with the consequences.

This week, after humiliating Mexico and reversing his position on Nato, Trump and his advisers have switched to stoking a currency fire, accusing China and Japan of manipulating their currency and even suggesting that Berlin is exploiting a “gross undervalued” euro.

Whatever you think of Trump, he was smart enough to appoint someone like Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. You always can judge a leader by the people he or she surrounds himself with. Steve Bannon is pure American success story – Harvard trained, ex-Goldman Sachs, ex-navy, and founding entrepreneur of Breitbart news, a platform that claims to represent the alt-right and third most influential news channel after Bloomberg and Reuters.

In a remarkable 2014 speech (https://www.buzzfeed.com/lesterfeder/this-is-how-steve-bannon-sees-the-entire-world), Bannon claimed that (this) … “is a crisis both of our church, a crisis of our faith, a crisis of the West, a crisis of capitalism.”

Taken on its own, there is nothing wrong with someone having a view of the world in crisis. But Bannon is now in a pivotal position to do something about it.

The dollar has maintained its position as a global standard because it is convenient, cheap to use and a store of value that has so far been subject to minimal political interference.

The rest of the world is now stuck with a “damned if we do, and damned if we don’t” dilemma. If we continue to rely on the dollar, how do we avoid being accused as manipulators, when in reality, so far the market forces are stronger than any central bank on its own? If we don’t rely on the dollar, we will anyway be accused as manipulators, particularly if the currency depreciates against the dollar.

In other words, what is at stake is not a crisis of the West or its faith (which the Rest cannot change), but a crisis of faith within the Rest on the leadership in the West. The dollar remains the anchor of global stability, but when the solo anchor itself is adrift, we need to find alternative anchors. Single anchors are efficient but dangerous if they wobble. We need two or three anchors to triangulate global stability.

Here is another inconvenient truth – it’s Trump’s dollar, but the Rest’s savings. Based on the US Bureau of Economic Analysis, the US has net global liabilities of US$7.8 trillion or 41.7% of GDP at the end of the third quarter 2016. This has deteriorated from US$2.5 trillion or 16.8% of GDP at the end of 2010. The cumulative current account deficit (from trade) between end 2010-2016 Q3 was only US$2 trillion, which meant that the rest (US$3.3 trillion) was due to valuation changes (change in US dollar exchange rate) or financial account flows.

In other words, it is capital flows rather than trade that is the major driver of the exchange rate, with interest rate differentials influencing also the exchange rate.

If that is the case, going forward, the US net debt position will depend largely on the future global savers, mostly Europe and Asia. And if the savers are subject to constant lecturing by the Trump Administration, an alt-dollar solution will have to be found.

During the Asian financial crisis, Europe sided with the US to reject an Asian Monetary Fund in a move against regionalisation. But if today, the America First strategy is designed at isolating the Rest, then the Rest must unite to protect global trade and investments. If the non-dollar zone can maintain currency stability against the dollar, then there will be less accusations of currency manipulation, forcing the debate into how the US can restore its own fiscal and trade balance to maintain its own savings equilibrium.

In short, the Rest needs to remind the US that she is important, but cannot blame the Rest for all her own problems.

The reserve currency central banks have a major role to ensure currency stability, which can be only preserved by ensuring liquidity and discipline. So far, the Fed has shown responsible leadership, with strong support from the European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan and the People’s Bank. But if the dollar is being politicised, then alternatives can and should be found.

All options are now on the table. If the US is no longer dependent on oil and energy, then oil and energy suppliers can price oil trade in currencies other than the dollar. We have seen this before in the competition between different technology standards. The leading standard becomes dominant because it is willing to provide public goods (lots of freebies). But when the dominant standard becomes predatory or extractive in using its monopoly position, then it is time to use alternative standards.

No one should take their position or customers from granted. The Rest will not stand still whilst Trump and his cohorts decide to change allies and foes by the tweet. None of us are against the dollar but for global stability, common sense and mutual respect. The euro, sterling, yen, yuan and SDR’s time has come.

Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

By Andrew Sheng

Year of living dangerously

 

Rash move: The effectiveness of Trump’s executive order banning citizens of seven countries from entering the US is highly questionable. — AFP

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

WHEN the world’s most powerful man conducts diplomacy over Twitter, keeping his words to 140 characters, we’d better prepare ourselves for trouble.

And indeed, since Donald Trump took over as President of the United States, there has been a series of totally unpredictable and unconventional decisions made, some mind boggling, even bordering on insanity.

And it has just been a little over two weeks since he moved into the White House.

There is no question that many Americans are troubled by a possible mass influx of refugees from the Middle East and Africa.

This does not involve just the US but also affects several parts of Europe, including Britain, France and Germany, which explains why politicians who play the right-wing card – with the anti-immigrant agenda – are winning.

Trump clearly understands the pulse of the average American, especially those in the rural mid-west, the US heartland.

These are folks who watch conservative Fox TV and whose interaction with people of other races, religions and cultures is limited.

They are not like the liberal city folks of New York or Los Angeles, who turn up at airports and train stations, waving placards and hugging Syrian refugees, as shown on international TV news.

It is probably a different story in Montana, Nebraska, Arkansas or South Carolina but we do not hear the voices of these rural folks on CNN.

Trump won simply because he understood the fears of the average American well. He has continued to play the Islamophobia card because he knows his fearmongering works.

It doesn’t help that most of these refugees want to go to the US or Britain and not the Muslim-majority nations of the Middle East. The question remains if these Arab countries are even offering places to the refugees or do the refugees themselves prefer Western secular and democratic values.

Nationalist politicians have already whipped up anger, pointing out that if these Middle East refugees hate Western culture so much and refuse to assimilate, then why should they be let in.

But Trump’s executive order banning the citizens of seven countries from entering the US, supposedly to protect the nation from “radical Islamic terrorists”, is highly questionable, especially its effectiveness.

The president has signed the order temporarily suspending the entry of people from Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya and Yemen into the US for at least 90 days.

This is odd because if we wish to identify terrorism acts, then surely there’s a high number of terrorists from Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Indonesia and Afghanistan. Why were these countries not on the list?

Obviously, Trump did not want to offend US allies, especially Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Despite the US’ constant lecture on democracy, we all know these two countries are often “spared”, despite their horrifically poor human rights record because they are strategically important to the US. We also should not forget that at one time, the vital oil supply was from Saudi Arabia.

The fact is that in the past four decades, 3,024 people have been killed by foreign terrorists on US soil.

The reality is that the Sept 11 attacks, perpetrated by citizens of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Lebanon, account for 98.6% of those deaths – 15 of the 19 Sept 11 hijackers once called Saudi Arabia home.

In fact, over that period, no American has been killed on US soil by anyone from the nations named in the present president’s executive order.

The San Bernardino massacre, in which 14 people were killed and 22 injured in 2015 was carried out by Syed Rizwan Farook, who is of Pakistani descent, and his wife Tashfeen Malik, who grew up in Saudi Arabia.

The Pulse nightclub attack in Orlando, where 49 died and 53 were injured last year, was carried out by Omar Mateen, a US citizen of Afghan descent.

The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 was orchestrated by the Tsarnaev brothers, both of whom were Russian, killing three and injuring several hundred people.

But as the world jumped on Trump, news reports have emerged that Kuwait does the same.

Syrians, Iraqis, Iranians, Pakistanis and Afghans have reportedly not been able to obtain tourism or trade visas to Kuwait since 2011.

Passport holders from the countries are not allowed to enter the Gulf state while the blanket ban is in place, and have been told not to apply for visas, it has been reported.

Likewise, the ban on citizens from fellow Muslim-majority nations has failed to prevent Kuwait from being targeted in a number of terrorist attacks over the past two years – including the bombing of a mosque in 2015 which left 27 Kuwaitis dead.

Kuwait is the only country in the world to officially bar entry to Syrians, until the US named Syria among the seven countries whose citizens were banned from entering its borders.

What Trump is doing – and he may not even realise it with his defiant-style of leadership – is making the US a much more dangerous place to live in now, not a safer place as he had hoped.

There will be homegrown terrorists, including Americans – and even radicals entering the US holding other passports – who plan to carry out their crazy acts.

He has also made the work and lives of career diplomats more difficult with his brazen diplomacy. It came as no surprise that 900 State Department diplomats signed a memo to oppose his ban.

According to CNN, the “memo of dissent” warned that not only will the new immigration policy not keep America safe but it will harm efforts to prevent terrorist attacks.

The ban “will not achieve its stated aim of protecting the American people from terrorist attacks by foreign nationals admitted to the United States,” the memo reportedly noted.

Trump has actually provided oxygen to the radicals, who will now thump the noses of moderates in Muslim countries.

There should be no surprises if the recalcitrant Trump expands his list of countries whose citizens would be banned from entering the US.

It won’t be wrong to suggest that 2017 will be a Year of Living Dangerously under Trump. Let’s be prepared for the unexpected from him.

Source: On the beat Wong Chun Wai The Star

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The Zika virus spreading to Malaysia and Singapore


Zika virus was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in rhesus monkeys by researchers monitoring yellow fever. The virus got its name from the Zika Forest in Uganda where it was first discovered. It is classified as a flavivirus, which puts it in the same family as yellow fever, West Nile, Japanese encephalitis viruses and dengue. According to the Brazilian Ministry of Health, Brazil saw 20 times more microcephaly cases in 2015 than usual, following the outbreak of Zika in the country that year.

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/H5IbCDebdBM

The Zika virus, explained 

 https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/OILBAbva6QA


First Zika patient getting better

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Video: http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/09/02/first-zika-patient-getting-better-doc-womans-last-blood-test-turned-out-negative-but-we-will-retest/

The first Zika patient in the country is recuperating well at the Sungai Buloh Hospital.

The hospital’s infectious disease head Datuk Dr Christopher Lee said the symptoms that the 58-year-old woman suffered from, including rashes, had also cleared up.

“We will be doing a blood test on her today and if it turns out to be negative, we can let her go home in a few days’ time,” he said yesterday.

He said her mild rashes cleared up in two or three days and the last blood test was negative but the hospital decided to keep her for a little longer just to ensure there would be no transmission to other people.

The blood test today was to reconfirm that she was free of Zika, he said.

The woman and her husband had visited their daughter in Singapore on Aug 19 and returned on Aug 21.

A week later, the woman developed rashes and fever, and sought medical attention at a private clinic in Klang.

She was referred to the Sungai Buloh Hospital, and on Aug 31, her urine sample tested positive for the Zika virus.

Her daughter, who works and lives in Paya Lebar, Singapore, has also been infected.

The woman’s husband and other family members who lived in the same house in Ambang Botanic have yet to show any symptoms of the infection.

Dr Lee said the most common symptoms of Zika were fever, body aches, rashes and red eyes which would normally clear up within a few days.

He said that if a woman was infected by Zika, the vaginal fluids might contain the virus for up to two months after she had recovered.

“So, if she has sex with a man within the two months, the man can be infected with Zika.

“The virus can also stay in a man’s semen for up to six months after he has recovered.”

Infected pregnant women face the risk of delivering a child with microcephaly, while others might suffer from Guillain-Barre syndrome, a neurological condition.

According to the American National Institute of Neurological Disorder’s fact sheet, Guillain-Barre syndrome is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks part of the peripheral nervous system.

These symptoms can increase in intensity until certain muscles cannot be used at all and, when severe, the person is almost totally paralysed.

Dr Lee recommended that pregnant women who have travelled to affected countries like Brazil and Singapore go for check-ups at nearby hospitals.

By Loh foon fong, wani muthiah, joseph kaos, tho xin yi, shazni ong, christopher tan, neville spykerman, dina murad, victoria brown, mohd farhaan shah, norbaiti phaharoradzi, nabila ahmad, rebecca rajaendram, edward rajendra The Star/ANN

Take precautions when in Singapore 

 

Personal measure: Bus passenger Naizatul Takiah Ali, 21, spraying mosquito repellent on herself at the Larkin bus terminal in Johor Baru.

It is unrealistic to stop Malaysians from travelling to Singapore, but people must take precautions against mosquito bites, says Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam.

There are about 200,000 Malaysians working in Singapore, with some travelling to and fro on a daily basis, so it would be difficult to block people from going to the republic, he said.

“We have to be realistic. The more practical way to prevent the spread of the Zika virus is to take precautions against mosquito bites.

“Apply an adequate amount of mosquito repellent and wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to avoid being bitten.

“If you can avoid visiting Singapore, then avoid.

“But this is only voluntary and not an instruction from Malaysia. Malaysians visiting the republic should take preventive measures against mosquito bites,” he said at a press conference here yesterday.

He said Malaysians who have visited Singapore and have symptoms of the virus such as fever and rashes should seek immediate attention.

Dr Subramaniam also said vehicles coming into Malaysia from Singapore, especially buses, would be sprayed with insecticide as an additional measure.

“We know this does not prevent the spread of the virus 100%, but is an additional precautionary measure on top of other methods that we have carried out throughout the country,” he added.

The minister also said pregnant women or those planning to have a child should seek advice from their doctors, as there has been a reported link between the Zika virus with microcephaly, which causes deformity in babies.

Those who are infected should abstain from having sex, or use protection, as the virus can be spread through sexual activities.

“The virus can stay in an infected man’s body for six months and for two months inside a woman’s body,” he said.

Singapore battling outbreak of Zika virus

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/WR4Fh3GanhI

Foreigners account for half of Singapore cases

SINGAPORE: Half of the Zika cases in Singapore are foreigners who live or work here, and six of them are Malaysians.

According to a report in TODAYonline.com which quoted the Singapore Ministry of Health, the news portal said that out of 115 cases, 57 are foreigners.

The largest group is 23 people from China, followed by 15 from India and 10 from Bangladesh.

Six cases are Malaysians, and one case each from Indonesia, Myanmar and Taiwan.

“All had mild illnesses. Most have recovered while the rest are recovering well,” a ministry spokesperson was quoted as saying.

On Saturday, it was reported that a Malaysian woman is believed to be the first patient infected by locally-transmitted Zika virus in Singapore.

As the 47-year-old had not travelled to Zika-affected areas recently, she was likely to have been infected in the republic. She resides at Block 102, Aljunied Crescent and works in Singapore. — Bernama

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Rio Olympics contingent reported to be Zika-free

Money, culture and the chase for Olympic gold


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https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/63BmkZeq2mo

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/o2h1d6clCeE

Although some countries offer financial incentives to its athletes, a genuine sporting culture may be the best guarantee of success at the Games.

SHOCK and awe just about sums up the stunning achievement of young Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling at the Rio Olympics.

His victory is classic David beating Goliath; he was the underdog from a tiny country that had never won an Olympic gold.

What made it all the sweeter and remarkable is that Schooling beat the mightiest, most decorated Olympian in history – American Michael Phelps who has won 23 gold medals – and set an impressive new record of 50.39 secs for the 100m butterfly event.

When news of Singapore’s first gold medal broke, it quickly overtook other stories emanating from Rio and became the talk of the world.

It eclipsed its Asean neighbours’ own Olympic gold successes: Vietnam’s shooter Hoang Xuan Vinh in the 10m air pistol competition and Thailand’s weightlifters Sopita Tanasan and Sukanya Srisurat in their individual weight classes and certainly overshadowed Malaysian diving duo Pandelela Rinong and Cheong Jun Hoong’s silver in the women’s synchronised 10m platform diving.

All are no small feats but there is a total of 28 sports in the Games, not counting those with multiple disciplines, and the most popular ones for a global audience are gymnastics, track and field and swimming, according to topendsports.com.

Among Asian nations competing in the Games, China and Japan are traditionally strong contenders in gymnastics and swimming although the Chinese gymnasts seem to be doing poorly this time around.

For most other Asian competitors, the sports they excel in tend to be the ones with less mass appeal like archery, shooting, judo, badminton and for some strange reason, women’s weightlifting.

Apart from the Thais, Taiwanese, Filipina and Indonesian female weightlifters have also won medals for their countries.

China remains the sporting powerhouse of Asia, sending its largest delegation of 416 athletes to Rio this year, but they have failed to defend their gold medals in sports they used to dominate like badminton and diving.

As for the glamorous track and field events, there doesn’t seem to be any Asian athlete who can challenge the likes of Usain Bolt.

Meanwhile, the other Asian powerhouse, India, with the second largest population in the world, has never done well at the Olympics, which has been the subject of intense debate among Indian and foreign sports pundits.

India also sent its biggest ever contingent of 118 sportsmen and women, and has so far won only a bronze medal in wrestling.

Winning an Olympic gold medal is the Holy Grail of sports.

The pomp that surrounds the Games gives the gold medallists unparalleled honour and prestige. And the nations they represent go into collective convulsions of ecstasy and nationalistic joy, which make their governments equally happy.

That’s why many nations pour millions into sports programmes to nurture and train promising talents and offer great financial rewards to successful Olympians.

Schooling will get S$1mil (RM3mil) from the Singapore government for his gold medal. Vietnam’s Hoang reportedly will receive US$100,000 (RM400,000), a figure, according to AFP, that is nearly 50 times greater than the country’s average national income, of around US$2,100 (RM8,400).

Malaysia, which is seeing its best ever performance in Rio, thanks to its badminton players and divers, rewards its successful athletes handsomely under its National Sports Council incentive scheme.

An Olympic gold medal winner will receive RM1mil and a monthly pension of RM5,000; a silver medallist, RM600,000 and a RM3,000 pension while a bronze winner gets RM100,000 and a RM2,000 pension.

Taiwan, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea and Thailand have similar monetary reward schemes. North Korea uses a carrot and stick scheme: huge rewards for medal winners and hard labour for the failed ones.

Several western countries have the same financial bait, including the United States, France, Russia and Germany, but at a lower rate.

Does it work?

The Technology Policy Institute looked for a correlation and was mindful of variables like country size and income, “since those are surely the biggest predictor of how many medals a country will win: more populous countries are more likely to have that rare human who is physically built and mentally able to become an Olympic athlete, while richer countries are more likely to be able to invest in training those people.”

The researchers found no correlation between monetary payments and medals and said it was not surprising in some countries. In the United States, for example, a US$25,000 (RM100,000) cash award would be dwarfed by million-dollar endorsements the athlete could get.

The researchers also set out to see if the results were different for countries with lower opportunities for endorsements. Their conclusion: “overall the evidence suggests that these payments don’t increase the medal count” either.

Rather, countries that do well are those with a longstanding sporting culture that values and nurtures their athletes long before they qualify for the Olympics.

That is evident in Western societies where sportsmen, even at the college level, are feted and idolised. In Asia, however, the emphasis is more on book-learning and earning prestigious degrees.

The BBC quotes Indian Olympic Association head Narayana Ramachandran as saying India’s sorry performance is more than just a shortage of cash or organisation.

“Sport has always taken a back seat vis-á-vis education. Most Indian families would prefer their children became dentists or accountants than Olympians,” he says.

But that attitude is surely changing as more Asian sportsmen and women go professional and are able to make a good living.

In Malaysia, its most popular sportsman, badminton star Datuk Lee Chong Wei, is highly successful with a number of endorsements under his belt.

For now, it is still the Western countries that dominate the Olympic medal tally table. But it’s only a matter of time before more Asian nations, once no-hopers at the Games, rise up the charts.

It’s already started. The Rio Games will go down in history as a watershed for Asean, with two member states – Singapore and Vietnam – winning their first gold medals. May it be so for Malaysia, too.

By June H.L Wong Chief Operating Officer (Content Development) The Star, Malaysia.

The writer was the former group chief editor of The Star Media Group Malaysia. This is the eighth article in a series of columns on global affairs written by top editors from members of the Asia News Network and published in newspapers across the region.

Heartbreak again for Chong Wei, Chen Long takes gold

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/63BmkZeq2mo

RIO DE JANEIRO: Lee Chong Wei, the king of Malaysian badminton, will leave the Rio de Janeiro Olympics without the crown – and so will Malaysia without the coveted gold.

The 33-year-old lost his third Olympic final after going down 18-21, 18-21 to Chen Long at the Riocentro Pavilion 4 on Saturday.

It was indeed a painful end for Malaysia as it was the third false dawn. Earlier, Malaysia had also lost in the men’s doubles and mixed doubles finals.

Malaysia thus will return home with a total of four silvers and one bronze.

The other three silvers came from Chan Peng Soon-Goh Liu Ying (mixed doubles), Goh V Shem-Tan Wee Kiong (men’s doubles) and divers Pandelela Rinong-Cheong Jun Hoong (women’s 10m platform synchro). Cyclist Azizulhasni Awang contributed the sole bronze through the men’s keirin.

Both Chong Wei, playing in probably his last Olympics, and Chen Long went onto the court to loud cheers from their countries’ supporters.

Chong Wei, who lost to Lin Dan at the 2008 Beijing and 2012 London finals, looked tentative in the beginning to allow Chen Long to open up a 4-0 lead. But he recovered his composure to lead 5-4.

After that, they traded point until it was 7-7 before Chong Wei pulled away for an 11-7 and then 14-10 lead.

But Chen Long refused to go away and managed to level at 14-14.

Twice Chong Wei surged in front but Chen Long capitalised on the Malaysian’s mistakes at the net to lead 20-17. Although world No. 1 Chong Wei managed to save one match point, his failure to return a smash gave Chen Long a 21-18 win in 35 minutes.

Oozing confidence, Chen Long was always in front in the second game – leading 4-1 and 5-2.

But Chong Wei fought back to go 8-5 up. Chen Long then went on a smashing spree, winning six points for an 11-8 advantage.

The 27-year-old world No. 2 never looked back after that as he always had at least a three-point lead.

Everything looked lost for Chong Wei as Chen Long reached 20-16. The Malaysian saved two match points but then sent the shuttle out to lose 18-21 in 38 minutes.

For Chen Long, it was his first Olympic gold to add to his two All-England and World Championships crowns.

Chong Wei can only look in envy as he’s still without a world or Olympic crown. He also lost in three World Championships finals.

Chen Long’s gold was only China’s second at these Games after Fu Haifeng-Zhang Nan triumphed in the men’s doubles.

Earlier, two-time Olympic champion Lin Dan fell from grace in probably his last Olympic outing after losing 21-15, 10-21, 17-21 to Dane Viktor Axelson in the 70-minute bronze medal playoff.

Medals By Countries – Rio 2016

London 2012 Olympics – Medal Table

Rio 2016 Asia Regional Aug 21 Medal by Countries

 

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