Incoming central bank governor Yang Chin-long (楊金龍) is likely to steer the monetary policymaking body in a similar fashion to his predecessor, Perng Fai-nan (彭淮南), after being his deputy for a decade and colleague for nearly 30 years.
Yang, who is to take the helm today when Perng retires, has to strike a balance between keeping inflation malleable and supporting the economy.
The ongoing appreciation in the New Taiwan dollar poses an immediate challenge for him, while there is pressure for the central bank to be more transparent and accountable. The persistently negative output gap would also prove a limiting factor for him.
Photo: Huang Yao-cheng, Taipei Times
Yang has been inclined to follow his mentor and give priority to market stability, but, ultimately, he would demonstrate his own leadership, analysts said.
Yang, 64, who received a doctorate in economics from the University of Birmingham in 1989, has served in the central bank’s research, foreign exchange and banking departments, and was its representative in its London office, before becoming deputy governor in 2008.
Chen Nan-kuang (陳南光), 53, who teaches economics at National Taiwan University, is to fill the vacancy left by Yang.
“People tend to act one way as a deputy, but behave more distinctly as the head if given enough time,” Taiwan Institute of Economic Research economist Gordon Sun (孫明德) said by telephone.
Yang could demonstrate his professional prowess and resolve by being more hawkish in dealing with hot money inflows, which have rattled the currency market and eroded corporate profitability, Sun said.
The NT dollar has gained 1.73 percent against the US dollar so far this year after picking up 8.14 percent last year, according to data on the central bank’s Web site.
Foreign-exchange losses last year totaled NT$176.1 billion for domestic life insurance companies alone, erasing their profits by 60 percent, the Financial Supervisory Commission said.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (台積電) chairman Morris Chang (張忠謀) at a public event last month said that the NT dollar’s appreciation is unfavorable for local firms, but that he had no choice but to put up with it.
The central bank under Yang’s guidance could be more assertive now that the US Department of the Treasury has removed Taiwan from its currency monitoring list, Sun said.
The foreign-exchange debate suggests that the central bank could be more transparent and accountable, although it no doubt deserves praise for guiding Taiwan unharmed through the technology bubble, the global financial crisis and Europe’s debt woes, Yuanta-Polaris Research Institute (元大寶華綜經院) president Liang Kuo-yuan (梁國源) said.
Analysts and academics have mostly been quiet about foreign exchange rates because the central bank has reportedly made sure to issue rebuttals whenever critics have raised challenges.
“Under Perng’s 20-year stewardship, the central bank has operated like a mysterious body with few people knowing how it forms its policy or the rationales behind it,” Liang said.
The bank’s quarterly news statements and board meeting minutes are not enough to enlighten the public or quell criticism, as they are couched in vague and technical language, Liang said.
Domestic financial service providers have long blamed thin profitability in part on the low interest rate environment.
Property developers and brokers, on the other hand, have cited low borrowing costs and excessive liquidity as support for housing prices, despite sluggish transactions.
The central bank should shed more light on how it conducts its research and shapes policy decisions so that different sectors can gain a better understanding of its policy stance and take due precautions, if necessary, he said.
What matters most is currency stability, rather than the direction of its movement, so that corporations can plan their budgets, Liang said, adding that better communication could help the central bank improve the effectiveness of its policies.
“Yang should take a departure from Perng by being more accessible,” said Liang, one of the few who would express their views about the central bank.
Yang will be calling the shots for the first time on March 22 at a board meeting to set the policy rates.
Many expect him to leave the rediscount rate unchanged at 1.375 percent for the seventh quarter to lend support to GDP growth, which might slow somewhat due to seasonality in the technology market.
The next governor must carry out his duty cautiously to avoid being caught in the trade dispute between the US and China, Chung-Hua Institution for Economic Research (中華經濟研究院) head economic researcher Liu Meng-chun (劉孟俊) said.
Being small and open, Taiwan’s export-reliant economy is susceptible to external demand volatility and therefore cannot afford to alienate either, Liu said, adding that the US is the world’s largest technology device consumer, while China accounts for 40 percent of Taiwanese exports.
In the past few years, the central bank has taken more cues from the People’s Bank of China, instead of the US Federal Reserve, when setting interest rates, he said, attributing the shift to Beijing’s rising economic importance globally and Taiwan’s growing trade dependence on China.
It would take a long time to reshape the nation’s economic structure and the central bank cannot achieve this goal single-handedly if local firms are not interested in change, Liu said.
Most Taiwanese exporters rely on the production of intermediate goods and services that generate tiny profit margins and run the risk of swinging to losses when the local currency gains strength.
Regardless, Taiwan ranks high on the world stage in terms of foreign exchange reserves and should use this advantage to boost its ties with the Fed and other major central banks, Liang said.
“The central bank could improve its English Web site as its first step to help the world better learn about its operations and policy directions,” Liang said.
Yang could also adopt a more liberal approach to virtual currencies as well as other financial technology products and services, which are rapidly gaining prevalence in the world economy, whether the central bank likes it or not, Sun said.
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