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

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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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On Mcoin, Bitcoin and points of investment


MCOIN is still very much a talking point, especially in Penang. To the uninitiated, it is the “digital currency” of MBI International, a company involved in a myriad of activities and hogging the limelight for the wrong reasons after being flagged as one of the entities not recognised by Bank Negara.

Since Bank Negara’s warning two weeks ago, the company’s accounts amounting to some RM177mil have been frozen. The cash in question is significantly much more than the previous major scheme that came under probe by Bank Negara and other agencies.

In 2012, the authorities froze RM99.8mil in bank accounts of Genneva Malaysia Sdn Bhd. Also, 126kg of gold were carted away from the office. It has been five years and the investors, most of them ordinary wage earners looking to earn an extra buck from their savings, have yet to receive their money.

One of the reasons is likely that the liabilities of Genneva Malaysia are 10 times more than the assets recovered.

MBI International, which is primarily based in Penang, has a network stretching up to China. According to reports, it has come under pressure from some investors wanting a return of their money.

However, outlets in M Mall in Penang are still accepting Mcoin for the purchase of goods and services. There is no rush to cash out, as one would have expected, considering that the accounts of MBI International have been frozen.

Nonetheless, it is only a matter of time before the value of Mcoin and the ability of MBI International to return money to its investors is put to the test.

Based on previous events that led to companies having their bank accounts seized by the central bank, it would be a long time before the investors are able to retrieve their cash.

There are some who are completely ignorant of the new global order of currencies and money, making comparisons between Mcoin and the rise of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.

If anybody is harbouring any hope that the value of Mcoin would rise just like the phenomenal bull run seen in the world of cryptocurrency, they had better stop dreaming.

There are fundamental differences between instruments such as Mcoin, which in essence is a token to redeem goods at a few outlets, compared to cryptocurrency that is fast gaining traction as an alternative currency around the world.

Mcoin has unlimited supply and its value is controlled by one entity. How the value is derived is not clear.

In contrast, cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin have a limited supply. And the supply is decentralised – meaning no one entity controls the supply. There is a ledger that tracks all transactions and measures the amount of supply and how much more is available.

The objective of the people behind cryptocurrency is to come up with a currency that is not controlled by central banks. New supply can only come about after hours of a process called `mining’.

The mining process is a complicated one. It involves many hours of programming and utilising high computing skills to predict the next chain in the block of coins. The data used is based on historical transactions and it is said that one block is created every 10 minutes.

Only one successful miner is rewarded with a slice of the cryptocurrency at any one time. He or she can then transact it in an exchange.

The first cryptocurrency is Bitcoin, which began operating in January 2009.

Bitcoin is only one of the hundreds of cryptocurrencies in existence. There are many more new coins coming up, improving on the technology pioneered by Satoshi Nakamoto.

Nobody knows who is Satoshi or if he really exists. However, the legend is that he wanted a currency that is not under the control of central banks, hence the birth of Bitcoin, the first decentralised currency.

The market capitalisation of all cryptocurrency was US$27bil as of April this year – four times more than what the value was in January this year.

Much of the rise is attributed to the volatile US dollar. A few years ago, if anybody had said that cryptocurrency such as Bitcoin would be used to hedge against the US dollar, many would have laughed it off.

Today, however, it is the reality.

The cryptocurrency fever has picked up in China, which has the largest number of “miners” in the world. One reason is said to be because some see it as one way to take capital out of the country.

In India, when the government decided to demonetise the popular 1,000 and 500 rupee notes, there was a 50% increase in the trading of Bitcoin, as people saw it as one way to legalise their black money.

Bitcoin soared past the US$2,500 mark last week, which is a four-fold increase since January this year. There are many other cryptocurrencies, such as Ethereum, that are all seeing a bull run.

The world of cryptocurrency has taken a life of its own. Computer geeks with “blockchain” expertise, the technology that drives the decentralisation settlements of cryptocurrency, are commanding more than US$250,000 per annum.

It is said to be more than what a consultant or a software engineer can earn.

Those who have put their money into cryptocurrency would be laughing all the way to the bank now. But dynamics and fundamentals are complicated. The strength of the cryptocurrency is not based on historical numbers. It does not have an asset backing it.

It is based on future expectations of what the designer of the cryptocurrency offers. It is a complicated investment not meant for the unsophisticated investor.

Only fools will go for investment schemes that are unregulated and offer promises of returns that are unsustainable. They will lose all the time.

The smart investor will rely on traditional stocks and shares with earnings that are visible. Those who are not greedy will surely gain.

The super-smart geeks are banking on the world of cryptocurrency that has a volatile history. Their fate is uncertain.

Source: The Star by M. Shanmugam

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One phone to rule all; Fintech, the healthy disruptors of forex


Software rules: Less than 20 of the iPhone comprises hardware and labour costs. The real profit is in software, which is all about knowledge and mindsets. – Bloomberg

WHO dominates the phone dominates the Internet. The whole world of information is now available in your hand, replacing your own mind as a memory base for instant decision-making.

The reason why traditional bank shares are dropping like a stone is that mobile phone companies and financial technology (FinTech) platforms “get it”. Banks and conventional financial institutions are stuck with so much legacy hardware (branches and outdated mainframes) and complex regulation that their CEOs feel beseiged by bad news – cyberattacks, privacy leakages (like the recent Panama leak), capital requirements and huge fines.

No wonder top bank talent is leaving the industry. In Silicon Valley they get fat bonuses to become “cool” without regulations. Regulated bank CEOs are held personally responsible for everything that goes on in their bank, having to deal with soul-destroying staff and expenditure cuts, on top of their own pay cuts.

I was at the Singapore Forum this month moderating a panel on FinTech when the Alibaba strategist mentioned that the current battle for market share is all about “mindset and handset”. The mindset of the Internet age is that you do not need to own any assets – you simply share or rent them from those who have excess capacity. The mobile handset is where most of the world’s population is moving towards doing business, from dating to buying a house, phone, using your fingerprint and retina as digital signature.

Finance today is an information business and FinTech (see below) can deliver payment services at 1-2 cents per transaction compared with US$10-US$12 per paper-based payment. Increasingly, we spend more on apps and software than on the actual hardware.

Did you know that the fastest adopters of technology in the world are porn, gambling and politics, in that order?

The financial consultants Oliver Wyman have come up with a major report on “Modular Finance”, which argues that technology has transformed finance into modular parts – modular supply (provision of financial services by specialists); modular demand (buying new services from such specialists).

Oliver Wyman’s report begins with a cartoon about a customer buying a house, arranging a mortgage and insurance, selling stocks and wealth products for the downpayment and paying for all fees through a single mobile phone. Equipped with the latest encryption, digital signatures and right apps, the mobile phone has empowered the customer to everything what used to take several visits and weeks to the bank, the lawyer, real estate agent and even land registry to complete the transaction.

In short, the game of finance is being fought by one super-bank to rule them all (Goldmans?) or one phone to rule them all.

The global supermarket model (one brand to rule them all) is having a serious re-think about being labelled G-SIFIs (global systemically important financial regulations), requiring special regulatory attention and additional capital and liquidity requirements. Increasingly, these universal banks do not need to own and supply all services in-house – they simply outsource the back-office or even key services to trusted specialists.

On the other hand, FinTech aims to change our lifestyles through different types of technology. First, frictionless and seamless inter-operability integrates businesses like logistics with payments, such as Alibaba, making it easier to buy, pay and deliver in one pass.

Second, Big Data analytics, which Amazon uses suggest to you what to buy next and understand how customers are changing. Third, Blockchain and Distributed Ledger technology, which makes systems more secure. Fourth, artificial intelligence, such as robo-advisers on investments.

Fifth, data secrecy and unique identity codes that ensures privacy and confidentiality.

FinTech platforms have less staff, less legacy assets, less regulation and more flexible mindsets. These barbarians at the gate are only stopped by regulations that currently protect the banking franchise. This is not to say that they don’t have defects, such as lack of attention to anti-money laundering, terrorist funding and cyberattacks. When they reach super-scale, they are also Too Big to Fail.

The rapid evolution of FinTech means that Asia now has the money and the technology to transform our antiquated financial systems into the 21st century.

The Asian population is young, tech-savvy, mobile and willing to experiment with new services and equipment, which we are creating in Asia. The good news is that if our young startups get it right, the world is their market. The bad news is that if our regulatory and government support services don’t allow our startups to compete, our markets and jobs will be someone else’s lunch.

What is holding back this transformation to FinTech Asia is still mindsets. Look at how Jakarta taxi drivers are protesting against Uber. Regional banks are expanding their footprints by buying the franchises of retreating European and American banks in investment and private banking. But they and their regulators have not thought through how to use FinTech to cut back their legacy systems, many of which are obsolete and operating under-scale, because many regulators still insist on each bank owning and running their own hardware and branches. To be fair, not all regulators think that way.

Barriers to FinTech are sometimes regulatory mindsets. Asian regulators are more willing to accept the entry of financial institutions from outside the region than from their neighbours. Without regulatory concurrence, many banks and financial institutions do not dare to experiment with new technology.

We now have Asian customers moving to global service providers like Apple, Google and Amazon, if Asian financial service providers do not get their act together. Compe-tition is good – look at how Sri Lanka is negotiating with Google to provide balloon-suspended cheap high-speed wifi coverage.

Asian bankers and regulators need to think hard about what Asian customers really want to achieve global scale in terms of efficiency, stability and trust.

FinTech and mobile handsets are not the solution to all our problems, but they will change how the problems are resolved. The real problem is our mindset. Less than 20% of the iPhone comprises hardware and labour costs. The real profit is in software, which is all about knowledge and mindsets.

That belongs to the realm of politics and education, which is another story.

Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

Image for the news result

Fintech, the healthy disruptors of forex

SINCE the global financial crisis of 2008-2009, investment banks have spent much of their time and energy on regulatory compliance, leaving them “on the back foot” innovation wise.

Faced with growing regulatory demands in recent years, investment in new technology has had to take a back seat. This does not come as a surprise given the lack of deals and flows as well as the broad-based decline in commodity prices. That little space innovation wise has been quickly filled by fintech firms.

There are traditional fintech firms that act as ‘facilitators’ (larger incumbent technology firms supporting the financial services sector) and there is emergent fintech firms who are “disruptors” (small, innovative firms disintermediating incumbent financial services firms with new technology).

The fintech space can be further broken down to four major sectors – payments, software, data and analytics and platforms.

In the foreign exchange market environment, a typical trading would include sourcing for the best price either via electronically or via the voice broker.

In Malaysia’s financial market landscape of foreign exchange trading, the wholesale price or in other words interbank market is dominated by investment banks facilitated by money brokers who source the best available price to match foreign exchange trades.

With the wholesale market dominated by firms with deep pockets and ample liquidity, customers are subject to a spread cost, whereby prices they receive naturally takes into account a spread from the screens and a spread from the interbank price as well as a spread that is subject to the credit profile of the customer.

Global fintech firms however are altering this process or at least are gradually making inroads.

These firms provide a platform that offers a comprehensive foreign exchange solutions, including live mid-market exchange rates updated in real-time, customised foreign exchange rate alerts, a fully automated transaction information dashboard, multi-user and multi-subsidiary control panel as well as on-demand forex reports.

The best part is, these firms charge a flat fee of which is detailed before each currency trade with absolutely no additional or hidden fees.

Until recently, SMEs have had little choice in terms of where to go, other than to the banks, but now it seems a different foreign exchange model is emerging in the fintech sector, giving banks a run for their money.

The crux of these business models by fintech firms in the foreign exchange business is service via the use of technology.

The automation of the process, eliminates the middlemen and therefore reducing cost, fintech has enabled companies to be more transparent with their pricing.

In the case of Malaysia, SME’s play a vital role in Malaysia’s economy, with foreign exchange risks increasingly being a volatile variable in their cost structure.

These form of fintech solutions are likely to witness exponential growth, but the cost would be, a gradual erosion of SMEs foreign exchange business that are currently held by our local investment banks.

Fintech firms’ foreign exchange model broadly encompasses four major steps, namely, the SME firm carries out their foreign exchange transaction by selecting the currency, the amount, delivery date and beneficiary account and confirm the exchange rate.

Once this is done, the next step is, the SME firm sends the fund to the fintech firm whereby the fund is segregated and held in a local bank.

Bear in mind these funds don’t form the part of the assets of the fintech firm and are held separately to ensure full client fund security at all times.

The third step is, the fintech firm’s matching engine will proceed to the exchange, matching the SME firm’s fund with another company or through the wholesale foreign exchange market.

Throughout the process, the SME firm is provided full transparency on prices, giving the SME firm the liberty to be fully in control.

Once the trade is matched, the funds are sent to the chosen beneficiary account of the SME firm, either its own, a subsidiary or directly to its supplier.

A four-step approach that uses the middle rate of the foreign exchange, removes the so called spread cost that is usually charged by banks to these SME firms and finally gives full transparency on the whole process itself.

With the clout and importance of these fintech firms, the Monetary Authority of Singapore recently announced the formation of a new FinTech & Innovation Group (FTIG) within its organisation structure.

FTIG will be responsible for regulatory policies and development strategies to facilitate the use of technology and innovation to better manage risks, enhance efficiency, and strengthen competitiveness in the financial sector. The upcoming Singapore FinTech Festival, to be held in Singapore from Nov 14 to Nov 18 will be an event to watch.

Organised in partnership with the Association of Banks in Singapore, the week-long event, which is the first of its kind in Asia will bring together a series of distinct, back-to-back fintech events.

Bottom-line, Malaysia’s financial sector, in particular its foreign exchange market needs vibrancy and fintech firms are likely to add spice to the local foreign exchange market, aside from creating value added business processes and technology intensive jobs, it would provide a healthy competition to the local investment banking scene.

Suresh Ramanathan believes gone are the days when foreign exchange trading was noisy, loud and unruly. It’s more about savvy technology driven trading. He can be contacted at skrasta70@hotmail.com

By Suresh Ramanathan Currency Insights.

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The market is saying that this recovery in oil prices will be pretty positive for the Malaysian economy,” said
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Malaysia’s ringgit has done a stunning about-face as China starts buying Malaysian bonds


The market is saying that this recovery in oil prices will be pretty positive for the Malaysian economy,” said Kelvin Tay, chief investment officer for southern Asia Pacific at UBS Wealth Management in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s ringgit has done a stunning about-face this year, with surging capital inflows turning it into Asia’s best-performing currency from the region’s worst in 2015.

Still, few expect the ringgit to regain all the ground lost last year, as inflows may have peaked as Malaysian risk assets are starting to look pricey to investors and analysts.

The ringgit strengthened 10 percent against the U.S. dollar in January-March, its largest quarterly gain since 1973, Thomson Reuters data shows.

In 2015, the ringgit had its worst year since 1997, shedding 18.5 percent on the back on plunging oil prices, anticipated higher U.S. interest rates and a financial scandal at state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Driving the currency’s U-turn is the return of foreign investors, who have poured into Malaysian stocks and bonds on better crude oil prices, a surprisingly resilient economy and easier monetary policies from major central banks.

“The market is saying that this recovery in oil prices will be pretty positive for the Malaysian economy,” said Kelvin Tay, chief investment officer for southern Asia Pacific at UBS Wealth Management in Singapore.

In February, exports rose faster than expected. Sales of electrical and electronic products, the biggest item, increased 8.9 percent from a year earlier.

JACKED-UP HOLDINGS

Through the week ended April 1, foreign investors bought a net 5.5 billion ringgit ($1.4 billion) of Kuala Lumpur stocks this year, data from the research arm of Malaysian Industrial Development Finance showed. Last year had total outflows of 19.5 billion ringgit, it said.

Offshore investors have raised their local bond holdings by 11.8 billion ringgit in January-March, central bank data shows, with increased interest in longer-tenor debt. For all of last year, foreigners slashed holdings by 11.1 billion ringgit.

The cautious stance of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on U.S. rate hikes has caused investors to seek higher yields in Asia, aiding flows into Malaysia.

“This combination of an attractive currency valuation and higher yields in a world of low or negative interest rates is drawing foreign investors back to the local Malaysian market,” said Eric Delomier, Asia fixed income investment specialist for Capital Group of the U.S.

Analysts and investors have concerns, including valuations of Malaysian assets and leadership of the central bank as its internationally-respected governor, Zeti Akhtar Aziz, retires at the end of April, and her successor has not been named.

Malaysian bonds seem “a bit rich,” said Maybank Investment Bank’s fixed income analyst Winson Phoon in Kuala Lumpur. Earlier this month, the 10-year yield fell to 3.77 percent, the lowest since February 2015.

SMALL INFLOWS AHEAD?

“I don’t expect to see a repeat large inflows in months ahead, although the direction should remain slightly positive,” Phoon said.

On share valuations, “Malaysia is actually not particularly cheap or attractive, compared to other markets,” Tay of UBS said. “We don’t think earnings growth has actually improved among Malaysian corporates.”

Local stocks were trading at about 17.3 times the past 12 months’ earnings, according to Thomson Reuters data. That compared with 11.8 times for Indonesian stocks, according to exchange data.

Zeti has led Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) since 2000, and investors are hoping for a successor with her credibility to help Malaysia’s standing at a time of political crisis for Prime Minister Najib Razak, chairman of 1MDB’s advisory board.

“Given the near-term challenges to a new BNM governor, oil prices and festering political risk from 1MDB, among other things, the ringgit’s upside is limited,” said Andy Ji, Asian currency strategist for Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Singapore.

His year-end target for the ringgit is 3.70 per dollar, 16 percent appreciation from its 2015 closing. Late Friday, the ringgit was at 3.90.- Reuters

China starts buying Malaysian bonds

Ong: ‘The Chinese government is keen to buy more Malaysian bonds

KUALA LUMPUR: China’s government has started buying more Malaysian government securities (MGS) and this inflow of new foreign money could rise to 50 billion yuan (RM30bil) in total, according to International Trade and Industry Minister II Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan.

In an exclusive interview with The Star, Ong said a senior representative of the Bank of China told him about this development recently when he met with the bank on issues pertaining to the use of yuan and ringgit in Malaysia-China direct trade.

“This could be one of the key factors contributing to the strength of the ringgit lately. China’s purchase of our MGS, which I am under the impression could rise to 50 billion yuan, will be very positive for our currency as it shows China’s confidence in our economy,” Ong said.

Other factors that had contributed to the strength of the ringgit in recent weeks included the recovery of crude oil prices, softer US dollar and the successful debt rationalisation of 1MDB, he added.

If China were to buy RM30bil worth of MGS, it would mean supporting 8.5% of Malaysia’s debts in the current MGS market. According to Bank Negara’s website, the value of outstanding MGS stood at RM352.06bil as at April 5, 2016.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s debt markets saw inflows of RM11.5bil, versus RM1.4bil of outflows in February. The March foreign inflow was the largest monthly inflow since May 2014, according to a Nomura research note on April 7.

The inflows pushed foreign holdings of MGS to a historical high of RM171.5bil, the Japanese research house said. As a result, foreign ownership in outstanding MGS has risen to 48.7%.

Ong noted that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had pledged to support the Malaysian economy – which was hit by a slowdown, local political problems, heavy outflow of funds and consequent plunge of the ringgit – when he visited Kuala Lumpur last November.

On Nov 23, the Chinese leader announced at a local forum that China would buy more MGS, issue yuan bonds in Kuala Lumpur and grant local institutional funds a quota of 50 billion yuan under the Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor programme to invest directly in Chinese equities in the mainland.

The following day, the ringgit reacted positively gaining about 1% and the currency stabilised at around 4.25 to a US dollar in early December. MGS also gained.

“I was told China would use its reserves to buy our bonds. Its international reserves are high, at US$3.21 trillion (RM12.5 trillion) in March. With this development, I don’t think our ringgit will fall to 4.46 again,” said Ong.

Last month, Bank Negara said there were now more foreign governments and central banks holding MGS. A total of 29% was held by these two groups and 13% by pension funds.

The presence of these long-term investors is seen as reducing the risk of Malaysia facing sudden and massive outflows of capital in the event of unfavourable conditions, just like what had occurred last September, which saw the ringgit weakening to a multi-year low of 4.46.

Foreign inflow into the local stock market might be another factor that has boosted the ringgit. According to a Credit Suisse report, Malaysia saw a record net foreign equity inflow of RM6.1bil in March, which contributed to the ringgit’s 10.3% rise against the dollar in January-March 2016. At late trades on Friday, the ringgit stood at 3.9096.

Due to the recent new inflows, Bank Negara’s foreign exchange reserves had risen to RM412.3bil (US$96.1bil) as at March 15 from RM408.5bil (US$95.1bil) as at Jan 15.

This reserves figure is an important buffer against capital flows and has an impact on the ringgit and the sovereign credit rating of the country. Moody’s recently noted this buffer has improved.

Ong also said China would like to see Malaysia conducting roadshows in the mainland so that there is better understanding of Malaysia’s fundamentals and its bonds.

“The representative of Bank of China also told me the Chinese government is keen to buy more MGS, but they also hope our central bank could go there to market our MGS. I have conveyed this to Bank Negara. It is up to them to act,” says Ong.

Ong, who is also MCA secretary-general, noted that China’s huge direct investments had also boosted the ringgit’s sentiment.

The ringgit rose sharply in March partly due to the conclusion of the sale of 1MDB’s energy assets to China’s state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp for RM9.83bil, as the absorption of all the debts of Edra Global Energy Bhd has reduced the systemic risk to pubic finance, banking system and economy.

Ong is confident that Kuala Lumpur is able to attract more major Chinese investments into the country this year due to Malaysia’s strong bilateral ties with China as well as the many free trade agreements – including the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – Malaysia has signed with various countries and groupings.

By Ho Wah Foon The Star

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Currency spikes in London provide rigging Clues!


An employee counts a stack of U.S. one hundred dollar bills inside a currency exchange center in Mexico City. Photographer: Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg 

In the space of 20 minutes on the last Friday in June, the value of the U.S. dollar jumped 0.57 percent against its Canadian counterpart, the biggest move in a month. Within an hour, two-thirds of that gain had melted away.

The same pattern — a sudden surge minutes before 4 p.m. in London on the last trading day of the month, followed by a quick reversal — occurred 31 percent of the time across 14 currency pairs over two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. For the most frequently traded pairs, such as euro-dollar, it happened about half the time, the data show.

The recurring spikes take place at the same time financial benchmarks known as the WM/Reuters (TRI) rates are set based on those trades.

Video:
http://bloom.bg/16dWm85

Fund managers and scholars say the volatile forex trading patterns look like an attempt by currency dealers to manipulate rates -AFP

Now fund managers and scholars say the patterns look like an attempt by currency dealers to manipulate the rates, distorting the value of trillions of dollars of investments in funds that track global indexes. Bloomberg News reported in June that dealers shared information and used client orders to move the rates to boost trading profit. The U.K. Financial Conduct Authority is reviewing the allegations, a spokesman said.

“We see enormous spikes,” said Michael DuCharme, head of foreign exchange at Seattle-based Russell Investments, which traded $420 billion of foreign currency last year for its own funds and institutional investors.

“Then, shortly after 4 p.m., it just reverts back to what seems to have been the market rate. It adds to the suspicion that things aren’t right.”

Global Probes

Authorities around the world are investigating the abuse of financial benchmarks by large banks that play a central role in setting them.

Barclays Plc (BARC), Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and UBS AG (UBSN) were fined a combined $2.5 billion for rigging the London interbank offered rate, or Libor, used to price $300 trillion of securities from student loans to mortgages.

More than a dozen banks have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission over allegations traders worked with brokers at ICAP Plc (IAP) to manipulate ISDAfix, a benchmark used in interest-rate derivatives. ICAP Chief Executive Officer Michael Spencer said in May that an internal probe found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Investors and consultants interviewed by Bloomberg News say dealers at banks, which dominate the $4.7 trillion-a-day currency market, may be executing a large number of trades over a short period to move the rate to their advantage, a practice known as banging the close.

Because the 4 p.m. benchmark determines how much profit dealers make on the positions they’ve taken in the preceding hour, there’s an incentive to influence the rate, DuCharme said. Dealers say they have to trade during the window to meet client demand and minimize their own risk.

Currency Patterns

“There are some patterns in currencies that are very similar to what I have seen in other markets, such as the way the price-fixings’ effects disappear so often by the following day,” said Rosa Abrantes-Metz, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, whose August 2008 paper, “Libor Manipulation?,” helped trigger the probe into the rigging of benchmark interest rates. “You also see large price moves at a time of day when volume of trading is high and hence the market is very liquid. If I were a regulator, it’s certainly something I would consider taking a look at.”

WM/Reuters rates, which determine what many pension funds and money managers pay for their foreign exchange, are published hourly for 160 currencies and half-hourly for the 21 most-traded. The benchmarks are the median of all trades in a minute-long period starting 30 seconds before the beginning of each half-hour. Rates for less-widely traded currencies are based on quotes during a two-minute window.

London Close

Benchmark providers such as FTSE Group and MSCI Inc. base daily valuations of indexes spanning different currencies on the 4 p.m. WM/Reuters rates, known as the London close. Index funds, which track global indexes such as the MSCI World Index, also trade at the rates to reduce tracking error, or the drag on funds’ performance relative to the securities they follow caused by currency fluctuations.

The data are collected and distributed by World Markets Co., a unit of Boston-based State Street Corp. (STT), and Thomson Reuters Corp. Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, competes with Thomson Reuters and ICAP in providing news and information as well as currency-trading systems.

Reuters and World Markets referred requests for comment to State Street. Noreen Shah, a spokeswoman for the custody bank in London, said in an e-mail that the rates are derived from actual trades and the benchmark is calculated anonymously, with multiple review processes to monitor the quality of the data.

“WM supports efforts by the industry to determine and address any alleged disruptive behavior by market participants and we welcome further discussions on these issues and what preventative measures can be adopted,” Shah said.

Opaque Market

The foreign-exchange market is one of the least regulated and most opaque in the financial system. It’s also concentrated, with four banks accounting for more than half of all trading, according to a May survey by Euromoney Institutional Investor Plc. Deutsche Bank AG (DBK) is No. 1 with a 15 percent share, followed by Citigroup Inc. (C) with almost 15 percent and London-based Barclays and Switzerland’s UBS, which both have 10 percent. All four banks declined to comment.

Because they receive clients’ orders in advance of the close, and some traders discuss orders with counterparts at other firms, banks have an insight into the future direction of rates, five dealers interviewed in June said. That allows them to maximize profits on their clients’ orders and sometimes make their own additional bets, according to the dealers, who asked not to be identified because the practice is controversial.

‘Incredibly Large’

Even small distortions in foreign-exchange rates can cost investors hundreds of millions of dollars a year, eating into returns for savers and retirees, said James Cochrane, director of analytics at New York-based Investment Technology Group Inc., which advises companies and investors on executing trades.

“What started out as a simple benchmarking tool has become something incredibly large, and there’s no regulatory body looking after it,” said Cochrane, a former foreign-exchange salesman at Deutsche Bank who has worked at Thomson Reuters. “Every basis point is worth a tremendous amount of money.”

An investor seeking to change 1 billion Canadian dollars ($950 million) into U.S. currency on June 28 would have received $5.4 million less had the trade been made at the WM/Reuters rate instead of the spot rate 20 minutes before the 4 p.m. window.

“Funds that consistently trade using the WM/Reuters fix are basically trading against themselves, and their portfolio is taking a hit,” Cochrane said.

FCA Complaint

One of Europe’s largest money managers, who invests on behalf of pension holders and savers, has complained to the FCA, alleging the rate is being manipulated, said a person with knowledge of the matter who asked that neither he nor the firm be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

The regulator sent requests for information to four banks, including Frankfurt-based Deutsche Bank and New York-based Citigroup, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Chris Hamilton, a spokesman for the FCA, declined to comment, as did spokesmen for Deutsche Bank and Citigroup.

Bloomberg News counted how many times spikes of at least 0.2 percent occurred in the 30 minutes before 4 p.m. for 14 currency pairs on the last working day of each month from July 2011 through June 2013. To qualify, the move had to be one of the three biggest of the day and have reversed by at least half within four hours, to exclude any longer-lasting movements.

The sample was made up of currency pairs ranging from the most liquid, such as euro-dollar, to less-widely traded ones such as the euro to the Polish zloty.

Pounds, Kronor

End-of-month spikes of at least 0.2 percent were more prevalent for some pairs, the data show. They occurred about half the time in the exchange rates for U.S. dollars and British pounds and for euros and Swedish kronor. In other pairs, including dollar-Brazilian real and euro-Swiss franc, the moves occurred about twice a year on average.

Such spikes should be expected at the end of the month because of a correlation between equities and foreign exchange, said two foreign-exchange traders who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly on behalf of their firms. A large proportion of trading at that time is generated by index funds, which buy and sell stocks or bonds to match an underlying basket of securities, the traders said.

Banks that have agreed to make transactions for funds at the 4 p.m. WM/Reuters close need to push through the bulk of their trades during the window where possible to minimize losses from market movements, the traders said. That leads to a surge in trading volume, which can intensify any moves.

Index Funds

For 10 major currency pairs, the minutes surrounding the 4 p.m. London close are the busiest for trading at the end of the month, quarter and year, according to Michael Melvin and John Prins at BlackRock Inc. who examined trading data from the Reuters and Electronic Broking Services trading platforms from May 2, 2005, to March 12, 2010.

Reuters and ICAP, which owns EBS, declined to provide data on intraday trading volumes for this article.

Index funds, which manage $3.6 trillion according to Morningstar Inc., typically place the bulk of their orders with banks on the last day of the month as they adjust rolling currency hedges to reflect relative movements between equity indexes in different countries and invest inflows from customers over the previous 30 days. Most requests are placed in the hour preceding the 4 p.m. London window, and banks agree to trade at the benchmark rate, regardless of later price moves.

Opposite Effect

“Since the major fix-market-making banks know their fixing orders in advance of 4 p.m., they can ‘pre-position’ or take positions for themselves prior to the attempt to move prices in their favor,” Melvin and Prins wrote in “Equity Hedging and Exchange Rates at the London 4 P.M. Fix,” an update of a report for a 2011 Munich conference. “The large market-makers are adept at trading in advance of the fix to push prices in their favor so that the fixing trades are profitable on average.”

Recurring price spikes, particularly during busy times such as the end of the month, can indicate market manipulation and possibly collusion, according to Abrantes-Metz.

“If the volume of trading is high, each trade has less importance in the overall market and is less likely to impact the final price,” said Abrantes-Metz, who’s also a principal at Chicago-based Global Economics Group Inc. and a World Bank consultant. “That’s exactly the opposite of what we’re seeing here. That could be a signal of a problem in this market.”

‘Massive Trades’

U.S. regulators have sanctioned firms for banging the close in other markets. The CFTC fined hedge-fund firm Moore Capital Management LP $25 million in April 2010 for attempting to manipulate the settlement price of platinum and palladium futures. The regulator ordered Dutch trading firm Optiver BV to pay $14 million in April 2012 for trying to move oil prices by executing a large number of trades at the end of the day.

Melvin, head of currency and fixed-income research at BlackRock’s global markets strategies group in San Francisco, and Prins, a vice president in the group, said that because banks could lose money if the market moves against them, their profit may be viewed as compensation for the risk they assume. Both declined to comment beyond their report.

“Part of the problem is it’s all concentrated over a 60-second window, which gives such an opportunity to bang through massive trades,” said Mark Taylor, dean of the Warwick Business School in Coventry, England, and a former managing director at New York-based BlackRock.

World Markets, the administrator of the benchmark, could extend the periods during which the rates are set to 10 minutes or use randomly selected 60-second windows each day, said Taylor, who began his career as a currency trader in London.

‘Fiduciary Duty’

Trading at the highly volatile 4 p.m. close instead of at a daily weighted average could erase 5 percentage points of performance annually for a fund tracking the MSCI World Index, according to a May 2010 report by Paul Aston, then an analyst at Morgan Stanley. (MS) For an asset manager trading $10 billion of currencies, that equates to $500 million that would otherwise be in the hands of investors. Aston, now at TD Securities Inc. in New York, declined to comment.

Fund managers rarely complain about getting a bad deal because they’re assessed on their ability to track an index rather than minimize trading costs, according to consultants hired by companies and investors to help execute trades efficiently.

“Where possible, I would always advise clients not to trade at the fix — but minimizing tracking error is so important to them,” said Russell’s DuCharme. “That doesn’t seem to be the right attitude to take when you have a fiduciary duty to seek the best execution for pension holders.”

– Contributed by 





China says it can’t use forex reserves to save Europe


Foreign currency reserves and gold minus exter...

BEIJING: Europe cannot expect China to use a big portion of its US$3.2 trillion foreign exchange reserves to rescue indebted nations, a top Chinese foreign ministry official said, Beijing‘s strongest rebuttal yet to suggestions it should bail out the eurozone.

Vice-Foreign Minister Fu Ying said at a forum the argument that China should rescue Europe did not stand and that Europeans might have misunderstood how China managed its reserves.

She did not explicitly rule out using part of China’s reserves for more targeted measures, but implied China was not going to ride in with a big chunk of its “savings” and bail out crisis-stricken Europe.

“We cannot use this money domestically to alleviate poverty,” Fu said. “We also can’t take this money abroad for development support.”

Economists estimate that Beijing has already invested a fifth of its reserves in euro assets.

While the size of China’s reserves is the largest in the world, analysts say two-thirds of that is locked up in dollar assets that cannot be sold, giving Beijing a more modest portion of about US$470bil to invest each year.

Fu said China’s reserves were akin to the country’s savings and that the 1997 Asian financial crisis taught Beijing how important reserves were to the nation.

China’s foreign ministry does not exert direct influence over how the country invests its foreign exchange reserves but can comment on that policy.

Fu said Beijing’s refusal to use its reserves to ease Europe’s debt woes did not count as a lack of support for the region, which was also China’s biggest export market.

“I say the idea that China should save Europe does not stand. What I mean is the money cannot be used this way,” Fu said. “China has never been absent from any international efforts to help Europe. We have always been an active participant, and a healthy particpant as well.”

As the owner of the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves, China is one of the few governments with pockets deep enough to buy a sizeable portion of European government debt and help pull the region from its economic malaise. – Reuters

China says it can’t use forex reserves to rescue Europe

02-Dec-11, 8:41 PM | Agence France Presse

BEIJING – China’s vice foreign minister on Friday ruled out using the nation’s vast foreign exchange reserves to bail out Europe, as the debt-laden continent tries to stave off the risk of a massive default.

“The argument that China should rescue Europe does not stand,” vice foreign minister Fu Ying told an EU-China forum.

“We cannot use foreign reserves for… rescuing foreign countries. We need to ensure safety, liquidity and profit for the foreign reserves.”

European leaders have lobbied China, the world’s second largest economy, to help struggling eurozone countries by contributing to a bailout fund, but so far Beijing has not made a firm commitment.

The Asian powerhouse, which has the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves at $3.2017 trillion, has said it is keen to seek more investment opportunities in Europe, but has held back from agreeing to contribute to the fund.

Fu pointed to China’s purchase of European bonds, increased imports and expanded investment in the continent, which would “create jobs and restore growth”.

But she insisted China was not seeking to use its considerable financial clout to exert power over the continent.

“China is no old-fashioned power or empire. China has no intention of seeking power through financial means,” she said.

China’s commerce minister Chen Deming said last month Beijing would lead an investment delegation to Europe next year, and the head of China’s sovereign wealth fund has said it is keen to invest in European infrastructure.

But some in Europe have expressed concern about the potential cost of accepting Beijing’s help.

In October, Francois Hollande, the Socialist candidate for next year’s French presidential elections, asked if China was really “riding to the rescue of the euro… without making any demands in return?”

Fu also reiterated China’s confidence in Europe, just as European leaders prepare to meet at a summit next week that some have billed as their last chance to restore the credibility of eurozone economic governance.

“We have reason to believe that Europe has the wisdom, capacity and resources to make it this time by accelerating adjustment and reform,” she said.

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