1997 Asian financial crisis
The crisis started in Thailand (well known in Thailand as the Tom Yum Goong crisis; Thai: วิกฤตต้มยำกุ้ง) with the financial collapse of the Thai baht after the Thai government was forced to float the baht due to lack of foreign currency to support its fixed exchange rate, cutting its peg to the U.S. dollar, after exhaustive efforts to support it in the face of a severe financial over-extension that was in part real estate driven. At the time, Thailand had acquired a burden of foreign debt that made the country effectively bankrupt even before the collapse of its currency. As the crisis spread, most of Southeast Asia and Japan saw slumping currencies, devalued stock markets and other asset prices, and a precipitous rise in private debt.
Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand were the countries most affected by the crisis. Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and the Philippines were also hurt by the slump. Brunei, China, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam were less affected, although all suffered from a loss of demand and confidence throughout the region.
Foreign debt-to-GDP ratios rose from 100% to 167% in the four large Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) economies in 1993–96, then shot up beyond 180% during the worst of the crisis. In South Korea, the ratios rose from 13 to 21% and then as high as 40%, while the other northern newly industrialized countries fared much better. Only in Thailand and South Korea did debt service-to-exports ratios rise.
Although most of the governments of Asia had seemingly sound fiscal policies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stepped in to initiate a $40 billion program to stabilize the currencies of South Korea, Thailand, and Indonesia, economies particularly hard hit by the crisis. The efforts to stem a global economic crisis did little to stabilize the domestic situation in Indonesia, however. After 30 years in power, President Suharto was forced to step down on 21 May 1998 in the wake of widespread rioting that followed sharp price increases caused by a drastic devaluation of the rupiah. The effects of the crisis lingered through 1998. In 1998 the Philippines growth dropped to virtually zero. Only Singapore and Taiwan proved relatively insulated from the shock, but both suffered serious hits in passing, the former more so due to its size and geographical location between Malaysia and Indonesia. By 1999, however, analysts saw signs that the economies of Asia were beginning to recover. After the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, economies in the region are working toward financial stability on financial supervision.
Until 1999, Asia attracted almost half of the total capital inflow into developing countries. The economies of Southeast Asia in particular maintained high interest rates attractive to foreign investors looking for a high rate of return. As a result, the region's economies received a large inflow of money and experienced a dramatic run-up in asset prices. At the same time, the regional economies of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, and South Korea experienced high growth rates, 8–12% GDP, in the late 1980s and early 1993. This achievement was widely acclaimed by financial institutions including IMF and World Bank, and was known as part of the "Asian economic miracle".
- 1 Credit bubbles and fixed currency exchange rates
- 2 Panic amongst lenders and withdrawal of credit
- 3 IMF role
- 4 Thailand
- 5 Indonesia
- 6 South Korea
- 7 Philippines
- 8 Hong Kong
- 9 Malaysia
- 10 Singapore
- 11 China
- 12 United States and Japan
- 13 Consequences
- 14 See also
- 15 References
- 16 External links
Credit bubbles and fixed currency exchange rates
The causes of the debacle are many and disputed. Thailand's economy developed into an economic bubble fueled by hot money. More and more was required as the size of the bubble grew. The same type of situation happened in Malaysia, and Indonesia, which had the added complication of what was called "crony capitalism". The short-term capital flow was expensive and often highly conditioned for quick profit. Development money went in a largely uncontrolled manner to certain people only, not particularly the best suited or most efficient, but those closest to the centers of power.
At the time of the mid-1990s, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea had large private current account deficits and the maintenance of fixed exchange rates encouraged external borrowing and led to excessive exposure to foreign exchange risk in both the financial and corporate sectors.
In the mid-1990s, a series of external shocks began to change the economic environment – the devaluation of the Chinese renminbi, and the Japanese yen due to the Plaza Accord of 1985, raising of U.S. interest rates which led to a strong U.S. dollar, the sharp decline in semiconductor prices; adversely affected their growth. As the U.S. economy recovered from a recession in the early 1990s, the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank under Alan Greenspan began to raise U.S. interest rates to head off inflation.
This made the United States a more attractive investment destination relative to Southeast Asia, which had been attracting hot money flows through high short-term interest rates, and raised the value of the U.S. dollar. For the Southeast Asian nations which had currencies pegged to the U.S. dollar, the higher U.S. dollar caused their own exports to become more expensive and less competitive in the global markets. At the same time, Southeast Asia's export growth slowed dramatically in the spring of 1996, deteriorating their current account position.
Some economists have advanced the growing exports of China as a contributing factor to ASEAN nations' export growth slowdown, though these economists maintain the main cause of the crises was excessive real estate speculation. China had begun to compete effectively with other Asian exporters particularly in the 1990s after the implementation of a number of export-oriented reforms. Other economists dispute China's impact, noting that both ASEAN and China experienced simultaneous rapid export growth in the early 1990s.
Many economists believe that the Asian crisis was created not by market psychology or technology, but by policies that distorted incentives within the lender–borrower relationship. The resulting large quantities of credit that became available generated a highly leveraged economic climate, and pushed up asset prices to an unsustainable level. These asset prices eventually began to collapse, causing individuals and companies to default on debt obligations.
Panic amongst lenders and withdrawal of credit
The resulting panic among lenders led to a large withdrawal of credit from the crisis countries, causing a credit crunch and further bankruptcies. In addition, as foreign investors attempted to withdraw their money, the exchange market was flooded with the currencies of the crisis countries, putting depreciative pressure on their exchange rates. To prevent currency values collapsing, these countries' governments raised domestic interest rates to exceedingly high levels (to help diminish flight of capital by making lending more attractive to investors) and to intervene in the exchange market, buying up any excess domestic currency at the fixed exchange rate with foreign reserves. Neither of these policy responses could be sustained for long.
Very high interest rates, which can be extremely damaging to an economy that is healthy, wreaked further havoc on economies in an already fragile state, while the central banks were hemorrhaging foreign reserves, of which they had finite amounts. When it became clear that the tide of capital fleeing these countries was not to be stopped, the authorities ceased defending their fixed exchange rates and allowed their currencies to float. The resulting depreciated value of those currencies meant that foreign currency-denominated liabilities grew substantially in domestic currency terms, causing more bankruptcies and further deepening the crisis.
Other economists, including Joseph Stiglitz and Jeffrey Sachs, have downplayed the role of the real economy in the crisis compared to the financial markets. The rapidity with which the crisis happened has prompted Sachs and others to compare it to a classic bank run prompted by a sudden risk shock. Sachs pointed to strict monetary and contractory fiscal policies implemented by the governments on the advice of the IMF in the wake of the crisis, while Frederic Mishkin points to the role of asymmetric information in the financial markets that led to a "herd mentality" among investors that magnified a small risk in the real economy. The crisis has thus attracted interest from behavioral economists interested in market psychology.
Another possible cause of the sudden risk shock may also be attributable to the handover of Hong Kong sovereignty on 1 July 1997. During the 1990s, hot money flew into the Southeast Asia region through financial hubs, especially Hong Kong. The investors were often ignorant of the actual fundamentals or risk profiles of the respective economies, and once the crisis gripped the region, coupled with the political uncertainty regarding the future of Hong Kong as an Asian financial centre led some investors to withdraw from Asia altogether. This shrink in investments only worsened the financial conditions in Asia (subsequently leading to the depreciation of the Thai baht on 2 July 1997).
Several case studies on the topic – Application of network analysis of a financial system; explains the interconnectivity of financial markets, and the significance of the robustness of hubs or the main nodes. Any negative externalities in the hubs creates a ripple effect through the financial system and the economy (and, the connected economies) as a whole.
The foreign ministers of the 10 ASEAN countries believed that the well co-ordinated manipulation of their currencies was a deliberate attempt to destabilize the ASEAN economies. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad accused George Soros of ruining Malaysia's economy with "massive currency speculation". Soros claims to have been a buyer of the ringgit during its fall, having sold it short in 1997.
At the 30th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting held in Subang Jaya, Malaysia, the foreign ministers issued a joint declaration on 25 July 1997 expressing serious concern and called for further intensification of ASEAN's cooperation to safeguard and promote ASEAN's interest in this regard. Coincidentally, on that same day, the central bankers of most of the affected countries were at the EMEAP (Executive Meeting of East Asia Pacific) meeting in Shanghai, and they failed to make the "New Arrangement to Borrow" operational. A year earlier, the finance ministers of these same countries had attended the 3rd APEC finance ministers meeting in Kyoto, Japan, on 17 March 1996, and according to that joint declaration, they had been unable to double the amounts available under the "General Agreement to Borrow" and the "Emergency Finance Mechanism".
As such, the crisis could be seen as the failure to adequately build capacity in time to prevent currency manipulation. This hypothesis enjoyed little support among economists, however, who argue that no single investor could have had enough impact on the market to successfully manipulate the currencies' values. In addition, the level of organization necessary to coordinate a massive exodus of investors from Southeast Asian currencies in order to manipulate their values rendered this possibility remote.
Such was the scope and the severity of the collapses involved that outside intervention, considered by many as a new kind of colonialism, became urgently needed. Since the countries melting down were among not only the richest in their region, but in the world, and since hundreds of billions of dollars were at stake, any response to the crisis was likely to be cooperative and international, in this case through the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The IMF created a series of bailouts ("rescue packages") for the most-affected economies to enable affected nations to avoid default, tying the packages to currency, banking and financial system reforms.
The IMF's support was conditional on a series of economic reforms, the "structural adjustment package" (SAP). The SAPs called on crisis-struck nations to reduce government spending and deficits, allow insolvent banks and financial institutions to fail, and aggressively raise interest rates. The reasoning was that these steps would restore confidence in the nations' fiscal solvency, penalize insolvent companies, and protect currency values. Above all, it was stipulated that IMF-funded capital had to be administered rationally in the future, with no favored parties receiving funds by preference. In at least one of the affected countries the restrictions on foreign ownership were greatly reduced.
There were to be adequate government controls set up to supervise all financial activities, ones that were to be independent, in theory, of private interest. Insolvent institutions had to be closed, and insolvency itself had to be clearly defined. In addition, financial systems were to become "transparent", that is, provide the kind of reliable financial information used in the West to make sound financial decisions.
As countries fell into crisis, many local businesses and governments that had taken out loans in US dollars, which suddenly became much more expensive relative to the local currency which formed their earned income, found themselves unable to pay their creditors. The dynamics of the situation were similar to that of the Latin American debt crisis. The effects of the SAPs were mixed and their impact controversial. Critics, however, noted the contractionary nature of these policies, arguing that in a recession, the traditional Keynesian response was to increase government spending, prop up major companies, and lower interest rates.
The reasoning was that by stimulating the economy and staving off recession, governments could restore confidence while preventing economic loss. They pointed out that the U.S. government had pursued expansionary policies, such as lowering interest rates, increasing government spending, and cutting taxes, when the United States itself entered a recession in 2001, and arguably the same in the fiscal and monetary policies during the 2008–2009 Global Financial Crisis.
Many commentators in retrospect criticized the IMF for encouraging the developing economies of Asia down the path of "fast-track capitalism", meaning liberalization of the financial sector (elimination of restrictions on capital flows), maintenance of high domestic interest rates to attract portfolio investment and bank capital, and pegging of the national currency to the dollar to reassure foreign investors against currency risk.
IMF and high interest rates
The conventional high-interest-rate economic wisdom is normally employed by monetary authorities to attain the chain objectives of tightened money supply, discouraged currency speculation, stabilized exchange rate, curbed currency depreciation, and ultimately contained inflation.
In the Asian meltdown, highest IMF officials rationalized their prescribed high interest rates as follows:
From then IMF First Deputy managing director, Stanley Fischer (Stanley Fischer, "The IMF and the Asian Crisis," Forum Funds Lecture at UCLA, Los Angeles on 20 March 1998):
- ”When their governments "approached the IMF, the reserves of Thailand and South Korea were perilously low, and the Indonesian Rupiah was excessively depreciated. Thus, the first order of business was... to restore confidence in the currency. To achieve this, countries have to make it more attractive to hold domestic currency, which in turn, requires increasing interest rates temporarily, even if higher interest costs complicate the situation of weak banks and corporations...
- "Why not operate with lower interest rates and a greater devaluation? This is a relevant tradeoff, but there can be no question that the degree of devaluation in the Asian countries is excessive, both from the viewpoint of the individual countries, and from the viewpoint of the international system. Looking first to the individual country, companies with substantial foreign currency debts, as so many companies in these countries have, stood to suffer far more from… currency (depreciation) than from a temporary rise in domestic interest rates…. Thus, on macroeconomics… monetary policy has to be kept tight to restore confidence in the currency...."
- "To reverse (currency depreciation), countries have to make it more attractive to hold domestic currency, and that means temporarily raising interest rates, even if this (hurts) weak banks and corporations."
From 1985 to 1996, Thailand's economy grew at an average of over 9% per year, the highest economic growth rate of any country at the time. Inflation was kept reasonably low within a range of 3.4–5.7%. The baht was pegged at 25 to the U.S. dollar.
On 14 May and 15 May 1997, the Thai baht was hit by massive speculative attacks. On 30 June 1997, Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh said that he would not devalue the baht. This was the spark that ignited the Asian financial crisis as the Thai government failed to defend the baht, which was pegged to the basket of currencies in which the U.S. dollar was the main component, against international speculators.
Thailand's booming economy came to a halt amid massive layoffs in finance, real estate, and construction that resulted in huge numbers of workers returning to their villages in the countryside and 600,000 foreign workers being sent back to their home countries. The baht devalued swiftly and lost more than half of its value. The baht reached its lowest point of 56 units to the U.S. dollar in January 1998. The Thai stock market dropped 75%. Finance One, the largest Thai finance company until then, collapsed.
Without foreign reserves to support the U.S.-Baht currency peg, the Thai government was eventually forced to float the Baht, on 2 July 1997, allowing the value of the Baht to be set by the currency market. On 11 August 1997, the IMF unveiled a rescue package for Thailand with more than $17 billion, subject to conditions such as passing laws relating to bankruptcy (reorganizing and restructuring) procedures and establishing strong regulation frameworks for banks and other financial institutions. The IMF approved on 20 August 1997, another bailout package of $2.9 billion.
By 2001, Thailand's economy had recovered. The increasing tax revenues allowed the country to balance its budget and repay its debts to the IMF in 2003, four years ahead of schedule. The Thai baht continued to appreciate to 29 Baht to the U.S. dollar in October 2010.
In June 1997, Indonesia seemed far from crisis. Unlike Thailand, Indonesia had low inflation, a trade surplus of more than $900 million, huge foreign exchange reserves of more than $20 billion, and a good banking sector. But a large number of Indonesian corporations had been borrowing in U.S. dollars. During the preceding years, as the rupiah had strengthened respective to the dollar, this practice had worked well for these corporations; their effective levels of debt and financing costs had decreased as the local currency's value rose.
In July 1997, when Thailand floated the baht, Indonesia's monetary authorities widened the rupiah currency trading band from 8% to 12%. The rupiah suddenly came under severe attack in August. On 14 August 1997, the managed floating exchange regime was replaced by a free-floating exchange rate arrangement. The rupiah dropped further. The IMF came forward with a rescue package of $23 billion, but the rupiah was sinking further amid fears over corporate debts, massive selling of rupiah, and strong demand for dollars. The rupiah and the Jakarta Stock Exchange touched a historic low in September. Moody's eventually downgraded Indonesia's long-term debt to "junk bond".
Although the rupiah crisis began in July and August 1997, it intensified in November when the effects of that summer devaluation showed up on corporate balance sheets. Companies that had borrowed in dollars had to face the higher costs imposed upon them by the rupiah's decline, and many reacted by buying dollars through selling rupiah, undermining the value of the latter further. In February 1998, President Suharto sacked Bank Indonesia Governor J. Soedradjad Djiwandono, but this proved insufficient. Suharto resigned under public pressure in May 1998 and Vice President B. J. Habibie was elevated in his place. Before the crisis, the exchange rate between the rupiah and the dollar was roughly 2,600 rupiah to 1 U.S. dollar.
The rate plunged to over 11,000 rupiah to 1 U.S. dollar on 9 January 1998, with spot rates over 14,000 during 23–26 January and trading again over 14,000 for about six weeks during June–July 1998. On 31 December 1998, the rate was almost exactly 8,000 to 1 U.S. dollar. Indonesia lost 13.5% of its GDP that year.
The crisis also brought independence to East Timor.
The banking sector was burdened with non-performing loans as its large corporations were funding aggressive expansions. During that time, there was a haste to build great conglomerates to compete on the world stage. Many businesses ultimately failed to ensure returns and profitability. The chaebol, South Korean conglomerates, simply absorbed more and more capital investment. Eventually, excess debt led to major failures and takeovers.
For example, in July 1997, South Korea's third-largest car maker, Kia Motors, asked for emergency loans. In the wake of the Asian market downturn, Moody's lowered the credit rating of South Korea from A1 to A3, on 28 November 1997, and downgraded again to B2 on 11 December. That contributed to a further decline in South Korean shares since stock markets were already bearish in November. The Seoul stock exchange fell by 4% on 7 November 1997. On 8 November, it plunged by 7%, its biggest one-day drop to that date. And on 24 November, stocks fell a further 7.2% on fears that the IMF would demand tough reforms. In 1998, Hyundai Motors took over Kia Motors. Samsung Motors' $5 billion venture was dissolved due to the crisis, and eventually Daewoo Motors was sold to the American company General Motors (GM).
The South Korean won, meanwhile, weakened to more than 1,700 per U.S. dollar from around 800. Despite an initial sharp economic slowdown and numerous corporate bankruptcies, South Korea has managed to triple its per capita GDP in dollar terms since 1997. Indeed, it resumed its role as the world's fastest-growing economy—since 1960, per capita GDP has grown from $80 in nominal terms to more than $21,000 as of 2007[update]. However, like the chaebol, South Korea's government did not escape unscathed. Its national debt-to-GDP ratio more than doubled (approximately 13% to 30%) as a result of the crisis.
In South Korea, the crisis is also commonly referred to as IMF.
The Philippine central bank raised interest rates by 1.75 percentage points in May 1997 and again by 2 points on 19 June. Thailand triggered the crisis on 2 July and on 3 July, the Philippine Central Bank intervened to defend the peso, raising the overnight rate from 15% to 32% at the onset of the Asian crisis in mid-July 1997. The peso dropped from 26 pesos per dollar at the start of the crisis to 46.50 pesos in early 1998 to 53 pesos as in July 2001.
The Philippine GDP contracted by 0.6% during the worst part of the crisis, but grew by 3% by 2001, despite scandals of the administration of Joseph Estrada in 2001, most notably the "jueteng" scandal, causing the PSE Composite Index, the main index of the Philippine Stock Exchange, to fall to 1,000 points from a high of 3,000 points in 1997. The peso's value declined to around 55.75 pesos to the U.S. dollar. Later that year, Estrada was on the verge of impeachment but his allies in the senate voted against continuing the proceedings.
This led to popular protests culminating in the "EDSA II Revolution", which effected his resignation and elevated Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the presidency. Arroyo lessened the crisis in the country. The Philippine peso rose to about 50 pesos by the year's end and traded at around 41 pesos to a dollar in late 2007. The stock market also reached an all-time high in 2007 and the economy was growing by more than 7 percent, its highest in nearly two decades.
In October 1997, the Hong Kong dollar, which had been pegged at 7.8 to the U.S. dollar since 1983, came under speculative pressure because Hong Kong's inflation rate had been significantly higher than the United States' for years. Monetary authorities spent more than $1 billion to defend the local currency. Since Hong Kong had more than $80 billion in foreign reserves, which is equivalent to 700% of its M1 money supply and 45% of its M3 money supply, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (effectively the city's central bank) managed to maintain the peg.
Stock markets became more and more volatile; between 20 and 23 October the Hang Seng Index dropped 23%. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority then promised to protect the currency. On 15 August 1998, it raised overnight interest rates from 8% to 23%, and at one point to '280%'.The HKMA had recognized that speculators were taking advantage of the city's unique currency-board system, in which overnight rates automatically increase in proportion to large net sales of the local currency. The rate hike, however, increased downward pressure on the stock market, allowing speculators to profit by short selling shares. The HKMA started buying component shares of the Hang Seng Index in mid-August.
The HKMA and Donald Tsang, then the Financial Secretary, declared war on speculators. The Government ended up buying approximately HK$120 billion (US$15 billion) worth of shares in various companies, and became the largest shareholder of some of those companies (e.g., the government owned 10% of HSBC) at the end of August, when hostilities ended with the closing of the August Hang Seng Index futures contract. In 1999, the Government started selling those shares by launching the Tracker Fund of Hong Kong, making a profit of about HK$30 billion (US$4 billion).
In July 1997, within days of the Thai baht devaluation, the Malaysian ringgit was heavily traded by speculators. The overnight rate jumped from under 8% to over 40%. This led to rating downgrades and a general sell off on the stock and currency markets. By end of 1997, ratings had fallen many notches from investment grade to junk, the KLSE had lost more than 50% from above 1,200 to under 600, and the ringgit had lost 50% of its value, falling from above 2.50 to under 4.57 on (23 January 1998) to the dollar. The then prime minister, Mahathir Mohammad imposed strict capital controls and introduced a 3.80 peg against the U.S. dollar.
Malaysian moves involved fixing the local currency to the U.S. dollar, stopping the overseas trade in ringgit currency and other ringgit assets therefore making offshore use of the ringgit invalid, restricting the amount of currency and investments that residents can take abroad, and imposed for foreign portfolio funds, a minimum one-year "stay period" which since has been converted to an exit tax. The decision to make ringgit held abroad invalid has also dried up sources of ringgit held abroad that speculators borrow from to manipulate the ringgit, for example by "selling short". Those who did, had to repurchase the limited ringgit at higher prices, making it unattractive to them. In addition, it also fully suspended the trading of CLOB (Central Limit Order Book) counters, indefinitely freezing approximately $4.47 billion worth of shares and affecting 172,000 investors, most of them Singaporeans, which became a political issue between the two countries.
In 1998, the output of the real economy declined plunging the country into its first recession for many years. The construction sector contracted 23.5%, manufacturing shrunk 9% and the agriculture sector 5.9%. Overall, the country's gross domestic product plunged 6.2% in 1998. During that year, the ringgit plunged below 4.7 and the KLSE fell below 270 points. In September that year, various defensive measures were announced to overcome the crisis.
The principal measure taken were to move the ringgit from a free float to a fixed exchange rate regime. Bank Negara fixed the ringgit at 3.8 to the dollar. Capital controls were imposed while aid offered from the IMF was refused. Various task force agencies were formed. The Corporate Debt Restructuring Committee dealt with corporate loans. Danaharta discounted and bought bad loans from banks to facilitate orderly asset realization. Danamodal recapitalized banks.
Growth then settled at a slower but more sustainable pace. The massive current account deficit became a fairly substantial surplus. Banks were better capitalized and NPLs were realised in an orderly way. Small banks were bought out by strong ones. A large number of PLCs were unable to regulate their financial affairs and were delisted. Compared to the 1997 current account, by 2005, Malaysia was estimated to have a $14.06 billion surplus. Asset values however, have not returned to their pre-crisis highs. Foreign investor confidence was still low, partially due to the lack of transparency shown in how the CLOB counters had been dealt with.
In 2005 the last of the crisis measures were removed as taken off the fixed exchange system. But unlike the pre-crisis days, it did not appear to be a free float, but a managed float, like the Singapore dollar.
As the financial crisis spread the economy of Singapore dipped into a short recession. The short duration and milder effect on its economy was credited to the active management by the government. For example, the Monetary Authority of Singapore allowed for a gradual 20% depreciation of the Singapore dollar to cushion and guide the economy to a soft landing. The timing of government programs such as the Interim Upgrading Program and other construction related projects were brought forward.
Instead of allowing the labor markets to work, the National Wage Council pre-emptively agreed to Central Provident Fund cuts to lower labor costs, with limited impact on disposable income and local demand. Unlike in Hong Kong, no attempt was made to directly intervene in the capital markets and the Straits Times Index was allowed to drop 60%. In less than a year, the Singaporean economy fully recovered and continued on its growth trajectory.
The crisis has also brought the pilot of SilkAir Flight 185, Tsu Way Ming, to commit an in-flight murder suicide after he lost so much money in the stock market.
The Chinese currency, the renminbi (RMB), had been pegged to the U.S. dollar at a ratio of 8.3 RMB to the dollar, in 1994. Having largely kept itself above the fray throughout 1997–1998 there was heavy speculation in the Western press that China would soon be forced to devalue its currency to protect the competitiveness of its exports vis-a-vis those of the ASEAN nations, whose exports became cheaper relative to China's. However, the RMB's non-convertibility protected its value from currency speculators, and the decision was made to maintain the peg of the currency, thereby improving the country's standing within Asia. The currency peg was partly scrapped in July 2005 rising 2.3% against the dollar, reflecting pressure from the United States.
Unlike investments of many of the Southeast Asian nations, almost all of China's foreign investment took the form of factories on the ground rather than securities, which insulated the country from rapid capital flight. While China was unaffected by the crisis compared to Southeast Asia and South Korea, GDP growth slowed sharply in 1998 and 1999, calling attention to structural problems within its economy. In particular, the Asian financial crisis convinced the Chinese government of the need to resolve the issues of its enormous financial weaknesses, such as having too many non-performing loans within its banking system, and relying heavily on trade with the United States.
United States and Japan
The "Asian flu" had also put pressure on the United States and Japan. Their markets did not collapse, but they were severely hit. On 27 October 1997, the Dow Jones industrial plunged 554 points or 7.2%, amid ongoing worries about the Asian economies. The New York Stock Exchange briefly suspended trading. The crisis led to a drop in consumer and spending confidence (see 27 October 1997 mini-crash). Indirect effects included the dot-com bubble, and years later the housing bubble and the subprime mortgage crisis.
Japan was affected because its economy is prominent in the region. Asian countries usually run a trade deficit with Japan because the latter's economy was more than twice the size of the rest of Asia together; about 40% of Japan's exports go to Asia. The Japanese yen fell to 147 as mass selling began, but Japan was the world's largest holder of currency reserves at the time, so it was easily defended, and quickly bounced back. The real GDP growth rate slowed dramatically in 1997, from 5% to 1.6%, and even sank into recession in 1998 due to intense competition from cheapened rivals. The Asian financial crisis also led to more bankruptcies in Japan. In addition, with South Korea's devalued currency, and China's steady gains, many companies complained outright that they could not compete.
Another longer-term result was the changing relationship between the United States and Japan, with the United States no longer openly supporting the highly artificial trade environment and exchange rates that governed economic relations between the two countries for almost five decades after World War II.
The crisis had significant macroeconomic-level effects, including sharp reductions in values of currencies, stock markets, and other asset prices of several Asian countries. The nominal U.S. dollar GDP of ASEAN fell by $9.2 billion in 1997 and $218.2 billion (31.7%) in 1998. In South Korea, the $170.9 billion fall in 1998 was equal to 33.1% of the 1997 GDP. Many businesses collapsed, and as a consequence, millions of people fell below the poverty line in 1997–1998. Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand were the countries most affected by the crisis.
The above tabulation shows that despite the prompt raising of interest rates to 32% in the Philippines upon the onset of crisis in mid-July 1997, and to 65% in Indonesia upon the intensification of crisis in 1998, their local currencies depreciated just the same and did not perform better than those of South Korea, Thailand, and Malaysia, which countries had their high interest rates set at generally lower than 20% during the Asian crisis. This created grave doubts on the credibility of IMF and the validity of its high-interest-rate prescription to economic crisis.
The economic crisis also led to a political upheaval, most notably culminating in the resignations of President Suharto in Indonesia and Prime Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh in Thailand. There was a general rise in anti-Western sentiment, with George Soros and the IMF in particular singled out as targets of criticisms. Heavy U.S. investment in Thailand ended, replaced by mostly European investment, though Japanese investment was sustained. Islamic and other separatist movements intensified in Southeast Asia as central authorities weakened.
New regulations weakened the influence of the bamboo network, a network of overseas Chinese family-owned businesses that dominate the private sector of Southeast Asia. After the crisis, business relationships were more frequently based on contracts, rather than the trust and family ties of the traditional bamboo network.
More long-term consequences included reversal of the relative gains made in the boom years just preceding the crisis. Nominal U.S. dollar GDP per capital fell 42.3% in Indonesia in 1997, 21.2% in Thailand, 19% in Malaysia, 18.5% in South Korea and 12.5% in the Philippines. The CIA World Factbook reported that the per capita income (measured by purchasing power parity) in Thailand declined from $8,800 to $8,300 between 1997 and 2005; in Indonesia it increased from $2,628 to $3,185; in Malaysia it declined from $11,100 to $10,400. Over the same period, world per capita income rose from $6,500 to $9,300. Indeed, the CIA's analysis asserted that the economy of Indonesia was still smaller in 2005 than it had been in 1997, suggesting an impact on that country similar to that of the Great Depression. Within East Asia, the bulk of investment and a significant amount of economic weight shifted from Japan and ASEAN to China and India.
The crisis has been intensively analyzed by economists for its breadth, speed, and dynamism; it affected dozens of countries, had a direct impact on the livelihood of millions, happened within the course of a mere few months, and at each stage of the crisis leading economists, in particular the international institutions, seemed a step behind. Perhaps more interesting to economists was the speed with which it ended, leaving most of the developed economies unharmed. These curiosities have prompted an explosion of literature about financial economics and a litany of explanations why the crisis occurred. A number of critiques have been leveled against the conduct of the IMF in the crisis, including one by former World Bank economist Joseph Stiglitz. Politically there were some benefits. In several countries, particularly South Korea and Indonesia, there was renewed push for improved corporate governance. Rampaging inflation weakened the authority of the Suharto regime and led to its toppling in 1998, as well as accelerating East Timor's independence.
After the Asian crisis, international investors were reluctant to lend to developing countries, leading to economic slowdowns in developing countries in many parts of the world. The powerful negative shock also sharply reduced the price of oil, which reached a low of about $11 per barrel towards the end of 1998, causing a financial pinch in OPEC nations and other oil exporters. In response to a severe fall in oil prices, the supermajors that emerged in the late-1990s, undertook some major mergers and acquisitions between 1998 and 2002 – often in an effort to improve economies of scale, hedge against oil price volatility, and reduce large cash reserves through reinvestment.
The reduction in oil revenue also contributed to the 1998 Russian financial crisis, which in turn caused Long-Term Capital Management in the United States to collapse after losing $4.6 billion in 4 months. A wider collapse in the financial markets was avoided when Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York organized a $3.625 billion bailout. Major emerging economies Brazil and Argentina also fell into crisis in the late 1990s (see Argentine debt crisis).
The crisis in general was part of a global backlash against the Washington Consensus and institutions such as the IMF and World Bank, which simultaneously became unpopular in developed countries following the rise of the anti-globalization movement in 1999. Four major rounds of world trade talks since the crisis, in Seattle, Doha, Cancún, and Hong Kong, have failed to produce a significant agreement as developing countries have become more assertive, and nations are increasingly turning toward regional or bilateral free trade agreements (FTAs) as an alternative to global institutions.
Many nations learned from this, and quickly built up foreign exchange reserves as a hedge against attacks, including Japan, China, South Korea. Pan Asian currency swaps were introduced in the event of another crisis. However, interestingly enough, such nations as Brazil, Russia, and India as well as most of East Asia began copying the Japanese model of weakening their currencies, restructuring their economies so as to create a current account surplus to build large foreign currency reserves. This has led to an ever-increasing funding for U.S. treasury bonds, allowing or aiding housing (in 2001–2005) and stock asset bubbles (in 1996–2000) to develop in the United States.
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- Is Thailand on the road to recovery, article by Australian photo-journalist John Le Fevre that looks at the effects of the Asian Economic Crisis on Thailand's construction industry
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- The Crash (transcript only), from the PBS series Frontline
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|Library resources about
1997 Asian financial crisis
- Impact on Indonesia from the Dean Peter Krogh Foreign Affairs Digital Archives
- Congressional Research Service report for US Congress
- Asia's Financial Sector: 12 Things to Know Asian Development Bank