Tough Times ahead, says CIMB Group Chairman, Nazir Razak


August 20, 2015

COMMENT: We can agree with Dato’ Nazir Razak, Malaysia will faceDin and Kawan tough times ahead. The ordinary man in street does not need high-flown economics to know this because he is living it everyday. Malaysians are now frustrated with the Prime Minister’s management of our economy and have no confidence in his political leadership.

Markets are saying the same thing. This lack of confidence and trust is having its effects on the Ringgit. Most Malaysians feel that our Prime Minister must leave office. We need a new leader and  capable Cabinet ministers who are  serious about good governance and can manage an imminent economic crisis; so no amount of assurances from the incumbent can help.

bersih-4.0

We have reached a tipping point with Bersih 4.0. And how the Najib administration handles this potentially massive protest on August 29 — 30 will be decisive. The world is watching and since Malaysia is not an island onto itself, it will be foolhardy for our  leaders to take international opinion and capital and financial markets for granted.

Let us face it– a man who creates the economic mess cannot be expected to clean it.  In fact, when our Prime Minister talks, the Ringgit takes a beating. It is time for him to look at himself in the mirror and acknowledge that he has done a miserable job as Finance Minister and Prime Minister. The message is clear. It is time for him to go. It is better to resign of his own volition than be forced to leave in humiliation. –Din Merican

Malaysia: Tough Times ahead, says CIMB Group Chairman, Nazir Razak

http://www.malaysiakini.com

Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak held a meeting with several economists from local and foreign financial institutions while his brother Nazir, who helms CIMB, predicted tough times ahead for the banking and financial markets over the next one to two years

“I appreciate their candid views on various aspects of our capital and people economies.These opinions are useful for the government to proactively manage our economy going forward,” the Prime Minister posted on Facebook.

Najib, who is also Finance Minister, said he is looking forward to meet more subject matter specialists and corporate leaders representing the broad range of Malaysian economy in the coming weeks.

The meeting comes amid economic warnings and a weakening Ringgit. Bloomberg reported that Malaysia is paying the price for weak foreign currency holdings and messy politics as the cost to protect its debt soars to near a four-year high.

It said UBS Group AG predicted even more pain ahead.On Monday, the Prime Minister’s Office said Najib would engage corporate leaders and seek their views on current economic developments.

It said their feedback would help the government undertake measures to set Malaysia on the right trajectory to become a developed, harmonious and prosperous nation, according to Bernama.

Meanwhile, Nazir (photo), speaking at the “Bumiputera of Tomorrow” programme today, said on its part, the CIMB Banking Group is bracing itself for the economic and political turbulence ahead.

“You can have plans for one to five years, but you must always be sensitive to the environment. The fact is that for the banking and financial markets, in the next one to two years – these are going to be difficult times.

“So we have chosen to reduce our cost structures very early on. (In terms of) manpower, we have let go about 4,000 people in Malaysia and Indonesia.

“We will make sure that we weather the current financial storm that is going on not just for Malaysia but in the region,” he was quoted as saying by The Edge Markets.

According to Nazir, Malaysia also needs to recalibrate as the country is sailing through difficult waters in terms of politics and economy.He said the time has come to review and reset the way the country is going forward

“How business is conducted going forward, how the government implements its policies, how the government is too involved in businesses.

“I have asked the government that we should set up a National Consultative Council 2, in the same way we did back in 1969 and 1970,” he added.

Europe should restructure Greece Debt


August 19, 2015

Europe should restructure Greece Debt: Debt Relief?

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/18/opinion/europe-listen-to-the-imf-and-restructure-the-greek-debt.html?ref=opinion&_r=0

by NY Times Editorial Board

The International Monetary Fund is doing the right thing by not participating in a deeply flawed loan agreement that European leaders have negotiated with Greece.

Greece Debt BurdenThe Issue: Should Germany and others in EU bear cost of Debt Relief

Years of misguided economic policies sought by Germany and other creditors have helped to push Greece into a depression, left more than a quarter of its workers unemployed and saddled it with a debt it cannot repay. The latest European attempt to bail out Greece will make the situation even worse by requiring the country’s government to cut spending and raise taxes while increasing the country’s debt to 200 percent of its gross domestic product, from about 170 percent now.

The I.M.F., which joined European countries in their first two loan programs for Greece, says it cannot lend more money because Greece’s debt has become unsustainable. In a statement on Friday, the fund’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, said Greece’s creditors had to provide “significant debt relief” to the country. Last month, the fund said creditors needed to either reduce the amount of money Greece owes or extend the maturity of that debt by up to 30 years.

This is a much tougher position than the I.M.F. has taken before. In 2010, it did not insist that Greek debt be restructured. That was a big mistake because it left Greece with more debt than it had before the crisis and reduced the government’s ability to stimulate the economy. What Ms. Lagarde, a former French finance minister, says matters because European leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany want the fund to be a part of the loan program since it has extensive expertise in dealing with financial crises.

European officials have said only vaguely that they might be willing to consider debt relief. Many lawmakers and voters in other European nations oppose providing more help because they think the Greek government has failed to carry out the economic and fiscal reforms that would make the country more productive.

There is no question that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras of Greece needs to do more to raise economic growth. But even if he does everything European leaders are asking him to do — a list that includes cutting pensions, simplifying regulations, privatizing state-owned businesses — the country will still not be able to pay back the 300 billion euros it owes. Rather than go through a messy default in a few years, it is in Europe’s interest to heed the I.M.F.’s advice and restructure Greece’s debt now.

 

Paul Krugman on Thomas Piketty’s Capital


August 7, 2015

BOOK REVIEW

Paul Krugman on Thomas Piketty’s Capital

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/03/books/review-the-economics-of-inequality-by-thomas-piketty.html?ref=books&_r=0

Back in 2001 two French economists, Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, circulated a seminal research paper (formally published two years later) titled “Income inequality in the United States, 1913-1998.” They used data from income tax receipts to do two things that you can’t do with standard data on the distribution of income, which come from household surveys. First, they gave us a portrait of the economic stratosphere — the incomes of the now-famous 1 percent. Second, they gave us historical depth, reaching all the way back to the late Gilded Age.

T Piketty2

Keynes was half right about the facts


August 6, 2015

Economics: Keynes was half right about the facts

by John Kay

http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/96a620a8-3a8d-11e5-bbd1-b37bc06f590c.html#axzz3i1pT53Ul

The capacity to act while recognising the limits of one’s knowledge is an essential, but rare, characteristic of the effective political or business leader…To admit doubt, to recognise that one may sometimes be wrong, is a mark not of stupidity but of intelligence. –John Kay

When I was much younger and editing an economics journal, I published an article by a distinguished professor — more distinguished, perhaps, for his policy pronouncements than his scholarship. At a late stage, I grew suspicious of some of the numbers in one of his tables and, on making my own calculations, found they were wrong. I rang him.

Without apology, he suggested I insert the correct data. Did he, I tentatively enquired, wish to review the text and its conclusions in light of these corrections, or at least to see the amended table? No, he responded briskly.

The incident shocked me then: but I am wiser now. I have read some of the literature on confirmation bias: the tendency we all have to interpret evidence, whatever its nature, as demonstrating the validity of the views we already hold. And I have learnt that such bias is almost as common in academia as among the viewers of Fox News: the work of John Ioannidis has shown how few scientific studies can be replicated successfully. In my inexperience, I had foolishly attempted such replication before the article was published.

It is generally possible to predict what people will think about abortion from what they think about climate change, and vice versa; and those who are concerned about wealth inequality tend to favour gun control, while those who are not, do not. Why, since these seem wholly unrelated issues, should this be so? Opinions seem to be based more and more on what team you belong to and less and less on your assessment of facts.

Lord Keynes

Lord Keynes…When Facts change…

But there are still some who valiantly struggle to form their own opinions on the basis of evidence. John Maynard Keynes is often quoted as saying: “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” This seems a rather minimal standard of intellectual honesty, even if one no longer widely aspired to. As with many remarks attributed to the British economist, however, it does not appear to be what he actually said: the original source is Paul Samuelson (an American Nobel laureate, who cannot himself have heard it) and the reported remark is: “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions.”

There is a subtle, but important, difference between “the facts” and “my information”. The former refers to some objective change that is, or should be, apparent to all: the latter to the speaker’s knowledge of relevant facts. It requires greater intellectual magnanimity to acknowledge that additional information might imply a different conclusion to the same problem, than it does to acknowledge that different problems have different solutions.

But Keynes might have done better to say: “Even when the facts don’t change, I (sometimes) change my mind.” The history of his evolving thought reveals that, with the self-confidence appropriate to his polymathic intellect, he evidently felt no shame in doing so. As he really did say (in his obituary of another great economist, Alfred Marshall, whom he suggests was reluctant to acknowledge error): “There is no harm in being sometimes wrong — especially if one is promptly found out.”

To admit doubt, to recognise that one may sometimes be wrong, is a mark not of stupidity but of intelligence. A higher form of intellectual achievement still is that described by F Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence,” he wrote, “is the ability to hold two op­posed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”

The capacity to act while recognising the limits of one’s knowledge is an essential, but rare, characteristic of the effective political or business leader. “Some people are more certain of everything than I am of anything,” wrote former US Treasury secretary (and Goldman Sachs and Citigroup executive) Robert Rubin. We can imagine which politicians he meant.

johnkay@johnkay.com

ASEAN and the Lessons of Greece


July 25, 2015

ASEAN and the Lessons of Greece

by Dr. Munir Majid

http://www.thestar.com.my

“Thank God we don’t have a Common Currency and never should have.”

There are therefore nascent possibilities and challenges which should concentrate ASEAN minds as they consider the Greek drama in the EU’s eurozone beyond “Thank God, we do not have a single currency, and never should have.” We cannot be immunised from the unintended and unanticipated consequences of community-building. We have to have the institutions and imagination to manage them.–Dr. Munir Majid

Dr Munir MajidEUROPE has been glued to the Grexit television screen for the longest time. Going on and on for at least five years, each episode of whether Greece will remain in the eurozone or not has run longer than the longest Tamil movie of yore (although we have our own MIC version, with 1MDB trying to play catch-up).

What are the lessons for ASEAN of the EU’s Greek tragedy? No doubt the first thing that will trip out is: Thank God we do not have a common currency. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface there are deep issues involved, so many currents, cross-currents and counter-currents in the management of regional integration.

I will highlight three of the more profound: fiscal discipline; national sovereignty; and community negotiation process.

Fiscal Discipline

Fiscal discipline is actually easy to define, but so difficult to uphold when the freewheeling genie has been out of the bottle for so long with no inclination of coming back in. Under the EU’s Stability Growth Pact government deficit has to be not more than 3% of GDP and debt 60%, something characterised more in the violation than the adherence. Nothing has been done about this for years.

In the case of Greece over the last five years they were supposed to be brought down, but the numbers for the fiscal deficit went up again and the country is up to its ears in debt, coming to 200% of GDP after averaging an already unsustainable 177%.

The other side of the austerity equation is unemployment which has hit 25.6%. (Unemployment in Indonesia as a result of the 1997-98 Asian Financial Crisis was 30%; lowest European unemployment is in Germany at 4.7%).

Youth unemployment in Greece stands at 60%. The Greek economy has shrunk by 25% since the first IMF aid package in 2010. The government and people are saying they cannot take any more, but the creditors – on whom the Greeks are dependent for more bailout and interest servicing packages like an opiate – are saying not enough has been done in a sustained fashion to bring debt and the deficit down.

The Greeks have been used to many things which the creditors now insist on taking away from them. You cannot live beyond your means forever. The chicken is coming home to roost.

From the seven main points of the agreement reached on the night of July 13 for a new bailout package of 86 billion euros, it is clear Greece is now being pushed right against the wall – including what many in the country declare to be violation of its sovereignty.

Cutting pensions

While certain requirements such as cutting pension spending and increasing revenue, through seamless imposition of the top VAT rate of 23% for instance, might be considered par for the course in these bailout situations, the insistence on the transfer of up to 50 billion euros of “valuable Greek assets” to a new independently managed fund, as a form of collateral, was felt by Greeks to be rubbing their noses in the dirt.

National Sovereignty

Alexis and Angela

Sovereignty, what sovereignty? If Greece wants to remain in the euro and needs all the bailout money, including money to service existing bailout funds, has the country got any alternative?

The Greek Prime Minister may quote Paul Krugman on the pain and damage all the austerity requirements are causing the economy, or even appeal to a European sense of history by comparing them to the punitive terms of the Peace of Versailles in 1919 (which historians assert were the root cause of the Second World War as Germany struck back to wipe off the shame), but has he got any other option?

If you need the money, what can you do? South-East Asians may remember that picture in 1998 of the then IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus standing over the cowed former Indonesian President Suharto, as he signed away Indonesian macroeconomic sovereignty. From profligacy, it might be said, to loss of an important part of national sovereignty.

In the negotiation of the new Greek bailout deal this month – which still may undergo many twists and turns – a feature has been the predominance of Germany in the EU and in the eurozone (comprising 19 of the 28 members of the EU). It is after all the largest creditor nation and economy. If pretence was set aside, it is also the most powerful country in Europe (which arrangements at the end of the Second World War were intended to avoid – but that is a different story).

Every member country has a veto of course, but in negotiating the outline and details of the rescue package for Greece, Germany has led the way all this while and its commitment is indispensable, however much the French try to give the impression of having an eminent role as well.

ASEAN EconC

So, how do we look at it all from an ASEAN perspective? The first instinct – thank God we do not have a single currency – is of course to be expected. But the thinking on what has been happening in Europe and on how relevant it is to AASEAN should not end there.

We do have big states and small states. We may say our negotiating and decision-making processes are different – and national sovereignty is untouchable. But this is too pat and shallow. The process of community-building is moving ahead. The voice of bigger countries does carry greater weight. However if it is in the service of what is good for the larger whole, there is not much to be afraid of.

The changeable predispositions of member states, however, have to be managed. Indeed, what a significant member state DOES NOT DO also affects ASEAN – as is the case now with the growing uncomfortable feeling that Indonesia under President Jokowi is not so enamoured of the regional grouping.

Indonesia therefore is critical to ASEAN. What and how it thinks, what happens in that country, have Asean impact. Thus engagement, with Indonesia particularly but also among all member countries, is most important. ASEAN needs, at this stage of its development, to have a Minister for ASEAN Affairs in each member country. The prospects and challenges need to be a focus in every national administration.

Economic management

With respect to economic management, while there is no single currency, there are threats to ALL ASEAN economies of mismanagement in ONE, especially a significant economy. Contagion is always a risk. With increased intra-regional trade (although now only a quarter of the total trade), there will be knock-on effects across the region.

Importantly – let us not forget – we are talking of ASEAN as a region, one single economy, with the prospect of the most promising growth in consumer demand and economic size (coming up to 4th in the world by 2050). ASEAN is an asset class. With the herd instincts of markets, reverse flows caused by fear of contagion can quickly develop into a regional crisis.

While global arrangements such as with the IMF remain, let us also not forget we have an untested multilateral currency swap system that includes three East Asian partner countries to address potential and actual balance of payments and short-term liquidity difficulties – the Chiang Mai Initiative Multilateralisation (CMIM). The US$240bil fund is 20% Asean and 80% China, Japan and South Korea. The commitments from each country are really promissory notes, and a country in difficulty can draw up to 2.5 times its committed amount.

Will the support always be forthcoming? Will political differences not get in the way? Not to mention an assessment of whether the country facing difficulty has exercised fiscal discipline in the management of its economy. The CMIM has an institution, AMRO (ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office), to monitor and analyse regional economies in support of its decision-making process.

The central bank governors deciding on requests for support will also rely on AMRO reports and input, and there could be conditions attached to such support, whether the 6-month Breaking Line or the One-year Stability Facility. There could be expectation, frustration, anger and discord.

There are therefore nascent possibilities and challenges which should concentrate ASEAN minds as they consider the Greek drama in the EU’s eurozone beyond “Thank God, we do not have a single currency, and never should have.” We cannot be immunised from the unintended and unanticipated consequences of community-building. We have to have the institutions and imagination to manage them.

Tan Sri Dr. Munir Majid, Chairman of Bank Muamalat and Visiting Senior Fellow at LSE Ideas (Centre for International Affairs, Diplomacy and Strategy), is also chairman of CIMB ASEAN Research Institute.

More on Greece’s Financial Debacle


July 21, 2015

Why Greece should QUIT the Eurozone

Shrey’s Finance Blog

A 15 year old’s thoughts about finance, economics and growing up as a trader!

http://shreysfinanceblog.com/

Goldman's current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein.Taking Advantage of Greece

The debate over Greece leaving the Eurozone has been raging for a matter of years now. Some believe that Greece staying in the Eurozone is axiomatic, in that a Greek exit from the Euro would ravage the economy, perhaps causing hyperinflation. Others argue to look at the other side of the coin, and propagate the idea that a Greece exit would attenuate the suffering of the Greek people, as they might only have to suffer for the next 10 years, rather than the next 50. Personally, it is my firm belief; my avowal, if you will, that Greece should leave the eurozone, and start a new era, having ended the old era of economic pain.

Almost at the very command of Angela Merkel, the Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was forced to impose harsher austerity members than the previous weekend’s “No” vote had suggested. This paves the way for increased value added tax, increased privatisation of organisations previously owned by the state, and an increase in the retirement age, making the years that people have to work longer. The harsh austerity measures outlined in the plan forced on Tsipras make the deterioration of the economy an inevitability, which forces the Greeks to sell public assets. We can all agree on the fact that this is a malfeasance in itself, and that the Greek people should not be subjected to having the public assets sold in the interests of paying down Greece’s loans.

It can be clearly seen that Greece is in the midst of an economic depression. The latest measures imposed on Greece by Merkel will only make this worse, with the economy getting worse by the day. If Greece, however, exits the Euro and returns to the Drachma, they will have a substantially weaker currency on their hands, which will be a massive influence in helping Greece get themselves out of their deflation and debt. If Greece does get out of this negative spiral of deflation, they will be alleviated from the economic stagnation and high unemployment that currently pervades the country. This can only be a good thing, as more people can sustain a living due to an increase in jobs.

Moreover, it is arguable that the Greek economy will find it very hard to recover within the Eurozone. Greece needs a complete devaluation of its currency through a flexible exchange rate in order to make economic growth a likely scenario again. It is clear as a bell that the short term consequences would be quite damning for the Greek people, however this is a far better alternative than the other scenario, in which the people are suffering from hardship and poverty for the next half a century, potentially. This whole saga with Greece has affected other economies as well, which has led to fears of an Italian, or even a Spanish exit. If one of these two countries exits the eurozone, the ramifications of this would be irreversible for the euro and it would likely never bounce back.

Finally, it is a definite fact that this whole drama has caused deep political instability and rifts within the Eurozone, which means that the tension between the people in the Eurozone has never been higher. It was revealed earlier that a majority of German citizens want Greece to exit the Eurozone, and if this is the case, then there will be gargantuan pressure on Angela Merkel to force this to happen (some would argue that she is already exhibiting this). In order to put this tension within the Eurozone to rest, Greece needs to exit so we can have some semblance of peace in the Eurozone. All these factors combined show that it is in the best interests of all the countries involved that Greece does exit the Eurozone, and although this may have significant short-term impacts, it is definitely the best thing to do to secure long term economic prosperity for all involved.

_____________________

Is Greece insolvent, and what would that mean for the euro?

http://www.biznews.com/global-investing/2015/02/03/greece-insolvent-mean-euro

Greece financial crisisAs the new Greek government tries to fumble its way through the business of running a struggling country, more and more questions are being asked about the future of Greece and of the Eurozone. As this column asks, we need to know if Greece is, actually insolvent, and if so, how that can be reconciled with its position within the Eurozone. – FD

By James Saft

Feb 3 (Reuters) – Much hangs on the interpretation of a word, and in the case of Greece and the euro zone that word is: insolvent.

New Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis has been unusually frank, likening his country’s case to that of a jobless person being advised to take out advances on her credit card to pay the mortgage.

“Would you advise them that they should continue to take these tranches of loans from the credit card in order to deal with what is essentially an insolvency problem?” Varoufakis said days after taking office under the new Syriza-party-led coalition.

“This is the trouble over the last five years with Greece. Our European partners and the previous Greek government have been extending and pretending.”

Keeping up the pretense that one can honor one’s debts if only given room to maneuver and time is an old if not glorious tradition among the deeply indebted. Coming straight out and coping to insolvency, on the other hand, is not.

That’s because certain things tend to follow from an admission of insolvency. Creditors decline new advances, existing loans, where possible, are called and the debts of the insolvent, Greece, are no longer acceptable as collateral.

Guntram Wolff, Director of the Bruegel think tank, argues that Varoufakis has set a rapid clock ticking, making its debts theoretically beyond the pale for the European Central Bank and creating a pressing need for a new deal.

“When a Finance Minister declares the insolvency of his country, then the quality of all the debt he has issued should fall below the relevant thresholds for Emergency Liquidity Assistance as well as standard monetary policy operations. While I do not believe the ECB will be so consequential as to do this immediately, I also cannot believe that it will just continue lending for a long time,” Wolff wrote in a Bruegel piece.

“By talking about insolvency, he has raised the funding needs for Greece’s banking system and made government fund-raising on capital markets impossible,” Wolff said.

Insolvency is a state,  Default is an event

Important to remember that extend and pretend as a strategy, while obviously unfair to many participants, can sometimes work as a means of keeping an entity ticking over. Many leading U.S. banks were very likely insolvent during the crisis.

Like all relationships, good and bad, extend and pretend requires the participation of two partners, the creditor and debtor. All true, but these things are never simple, and far less when, as in Greece, the insolvency includes a euro member state.

While Greece’s liabilities may shortly exceed its ability to repay, its creditors and partners maintain that with current low interest rates and a very long repayment schedule its ongoing debt maintenance burden is not out of line with that of France, for example.

Varoufakis sees the situation as a debt deflation spiral, in which the conditions imposed on Greece stifle demand, pushing prices and output lower and making the debt ultimately impossible to repay without ruin. There is some justice in this position.

Varoufakis’ slapping down of the insolvency card is best seen as a gambit to bring the other side more rapidly to the table and to extract better concessions.

As for the ECB, it seems to be standing on ceremony, maintaining its hands will be tied as for extending Greek banks more credit when the Greek program extension expires at the end of February.

“We (ECB) have our own legislation and we will act according to that,” ECB council member Erkki Liikanen said.

That angle, that the ECB will have to follow its rules and that Greek debt and its banks will be high and dry, is heavily overplayed, argues Karl Whelan, an economics professor at University College Dublin.

Whelan believes that even in March Greek access to ECB enabled credit will be based on discretionary decisions rather than mechanical outcomes. Greece and its negotiating partners can conceivably limp along together because both the ‘rules’ and the meaning of insolvency are such woolly concepts, offering insulation if not clarity.

Thus we have two sides, both seeking to pressure the other by creating what could be a false urgency to negotiate, and both hoping the other crumples and gives way. Meanwhile, capital, sensibly, flees Greece and the chance rises that an overplayed hand by either side leads to a bank run.