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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Monday, August 20, 2007
Business

Asia's economy robust despite plunging shares

Ten years ago the crumpling of Asia's paper tiger economies sent shockwaves across the globe, but this time the region is being pummeled by a crisis that is "Made in the United States".

Plunging Asian share prices have again raised the spectre of a financial crisis, but analysts say the region's economies are healthy and can weather the current crisis triggered by woes in the US mortgage market.

The stock market falls included Tokyo's biggest slide in seven years on Friday, some 5.5 percent, while over last week as a whole Hong Kong fell nearly 6.5 percent, Thailand around 6.0 percent and Indonesia 13.5 percent.

"The Asian market fell because of somewhere other than Asia," said Dong Tao, the chief economist at Credit Suisse. "This is a US problem and Asian fundamentals remain strong."

He was referring to parts of the giant US mortgage market, where defaulting borrowers and falling house prices have caused concern on Wall Street about a possible seizure of the financial system.

The uncertainty rippled through the world's stock markets, including in Asia, but a move by the US central bank on Friday to ease one of its interest rates assuaged some of the concerns in the US and Europe.

That could help sentiment in Asia too, where the recent sell-off has put investors in mind of the 1997 financial crisis.

Asia's position is in fact much more robust than in 1997, said Tai Hui, an economist at Standard Chartered bank.

"The turmoil we have seen has had very little impact on Asian financial stability in the 'real' economy," he said. "I am very sure we are not talking about a financial crisis on the 1997 scale."

The 1997 crisis involved sharp falls in Asian currencies, stock markets and other asset prices, which disrupted and retarded the region's economies.

But today many Asian countries have stockpiled foreign exchange reserves to defend their currencies. The region's economies and firms have also been doing well.

Instead, analysts said the recent jitters reflected globalisation, where the repackaged debt of struggling borrowers in the US is spread across the globe through institutional investors and hedge funds.

The fear for Asian stocks is that foreign investment funds will have to keep offloading shares to cover losses in the so-called subprime US mortgage market, and in the securities -- credit derivatives -- that are built on the back of it.

Until the extent of that exposure is firmly established, credit could dry up and Asian markets suffer as a result, Tai said.

"The lack of understanding, lack of information about where people are exposed means that there is no real risk profile," he said.

"We have had these credit derivatives packaged in such a complicated way, that you now have markets trying to assess the real risks."

Asian economies also depend on exports to the United States, the world's biggest economy. Any hint of a US consumer slowdown could hit Asia.

"The entire world is too exposed to the US, less on the financial side, more on the export side," Dong said.

The latest selling also highlights another major difference with 1997 -- the newfound strength of China.

Li Kui Wai, a specialist in Asian markets at Hong Kong's City University, believes that China's current economic strength will provide a healthy counterbalance to US weaknesses.

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