Wed, Oct 13, 2010 - Page 10 News List

Asia stiffens resolve to resist inflows

POLICY TOOLS:Bangkok announced a tax on gains and income from foreign investment in public debt, while Japan warned of possible currency intervention


Asian governments yesterday reached for policy tools and rhetoric to resist capital inflows that are boosting their currencies and undercutting the competitiveness of their exports.

Thailand’s Cabinet agreed to impose a 15 percent withholding tax on capital gains and interest income from foreign investment in government debt in a bid to brake the baht, which has climbed to its highest level since the 1997 Asian financial crisis.

Japan said it would wade into the foreign exchange market anew if need be to weaken the yen, despite widespread disapproval by its rich-country peers of a rare bout of dollar buying last month.

Beijing, meanwhile, once again talked down the prospects of a faster rise in the yuan, even as it acknowledged that more money would pour into China over the rest of the year in anticipation that the currency would strengthen.

China’s insistence that the -yuan’s rise must be gradual is a huge obstacle to the appreciation in Asian exchange rates that policymakers say are needed to help reduce global economic imbalances. Countries that compete with China fear losing business if they unilaterally let their currencies rise.

The announcement by Thailand came a week after Brazil doubled a tax on foreign portfolio inflows into bonds and some other financial instruments to 4 percent to reduce upward pressure on its currency.

“It won’t change its direction because the strong baht is in line with other currencies worldwide,” said Thiti Tantikulanan, head of capital markets at Kasikornbank PCL in Bangkok.

The baht has risen 11 percent this year, the second-strongest currency in Asia after the yen, pushed up in part by foreign inflows into Thai assets.

With interest rates in the developed world at record lows, emerging market governments are scrambling to respond to a surge of demand by global investors seeking higher returns.

The tide of money is rising as markets anticipate that the US Federal Reserve will crank up the money printing presses again next month to try to galvanize the -stuttering US economy.

A second round of quantitative easing by the Fed would aim primarily to lower long-term US interest rates, but it would also pile more pressure on the dollar, which is already languishing near a 15-year low against the yen.

Japanese Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda said he had explained to a weekend meeting of the G7 in Washington that Tokyo had intervened on Sept. 15 to prevent destabilizing lurches in exchange rates.

“The G7 reaffirmed that excessive currency moves would hurt stability in the economy and in the financial system ... From this standpoint we will take decisive steps, including intervention, when needed, while watching currency market moves with great interest,” Noda told a news conference.

With governments digging in their heels against currency -appreciation, fears are mounting of a “race to the bottom” that may trigger protectionist trade tariffs that would hobble global growth.

A leading Chinese newspaper acknowledged the risk of conflict.

“The financial crisis could escalate into a currency crisis,” the China Securities Journal said in a front-page editorial. “There will be no winner.”

The US House of Representatives has already passed a bill that would authorize retaliation against China for holding down the value of the yuan, and US Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is to determine by Friday whether China is “manipulating” its currency to gain an unfair trade advantage.

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