Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fed’s QE tapering unlikely to hit Asia, says PM Lee

By Wong Wei Han -
18 hours 27 min ago

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is confident that Asian economies will not face a financial crisis similar to the one that hit the region in the late ’90s, even though concerns over the tapering of quantitative easing (QE) in the United States caused jitters in markets of emerging economies and led to fears that a capital outflow may occur.

Speaking at a dialogue during the 30th anniversary dinner of International Enterprise (IE) Singapore last night, Mr Lee felt that Asian economies are in a stronger position than they were in 1997. “We have more safeguards instituted now since then to deal with the likely consequences of big capital flows,” he said. “For example, we have currency swap arrangements like the Chiang Mai Initiative, where countries can support each other when there’s a destabilising flow of capital.”

Mr Lee made these comments when responding to a question by Mr Robin Hu, the dialogue’s moderator and Chief Executive of the South China Morning Post Group, who asked how regional economies are going to react to the QE tapering. He noted the US Federal Reserve’s initial hint of QE tapering in June led to a capital flight from Asia, one which resembled the late ’90s financial crisis.

Mr Lee’s comments came after Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said last week that members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) can weather large amounts of capital outflow as growth in the region is supported by solid fundamentals.

The confidence is reinforced by strong economic data from China, where factory output last month hit a 17-month high, while Japan’s economy grew a stronger-than-expected 3.8 per cent on-year in the second quarter.

Against this backdrop, capital volatilities due to the QE tapering are manageable, Mr Lee said last night. “And also the Americans will be mindful as they don’t want the tapering to destabilise their economy. So we’re in a safe position … I don’t see this as a new global or regional crisis,” he added.

During the wide-ranging dialogue, which touched on topics such as the economic reform in China and economic integration in ASEAN, Mr Lee felt that Singapore companies looking to succeed in the future will have to move out of their comfort zone. “We should look beyond the more familiar region into new areas … emerging markets in Asia, Latin America and some parts of Africa,” he said. “There will be risks, but that’s where the returns are, so you have to know what risks to take.”

The Government is supporting these companies overseas via IE Singapore, which continues to set up new offices in new markets, including recent ones in Myanmar, Ghana, Turkey and South Africa, noted Mr Lee. But wherever they are, local companies must be able to compete globally, if they are to grow beyond the small market in Singapore.

“Whether you’re overseas or in Singapore, you have to be globally competitive. Because there’s no way we can build a wall around Singapore … Your markets are out there, and if you’re not equal to the companies in China, India or Vietnam, then you’re not going anywhere — and Singapore is not big enough for you to operate. That is the reality,” said Mr Lee.

The Prime Minister also hopes to see more Singaporeans venturing overseas. “In terms of getting people to go where the business is … Singaporeans don’t always go as readily as the employers like them to. It is a limitation for us and will constrain our potential in the world. You want people who are prepared to go out and take adventure, to dive in and be deployed to difficult places as you make your way in the world,” he said.

“We should have that spark to go wherever the opportunities are.”

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