Friday, December 25, 2015

Comparing Indonesia's situation to Mexico's 1994 'Tequila Crisis'

Right now the uncertainty caused by the US Federal Reserve's rate hike has already passed, but Indonesia still has to be careful about the next step of the US central bank. Back in 1994 when the Fed increased its rates twice in just two months, Mexico, which was running a high trade deficit and issuing numerous global bonds, was affected.

Mexico faced default; the peso's value slumped, with a total devaluation of 35 percent by the end of 1994. There was capital flight of US$4.5 billion just two days after the devaluation and around $45 billion in mutual funds was liquidated. In 1995 and 1996 the inflation rate reached 35.1 and 34.3 percent, respectively. Previously, in 1994, it had been 7 percent. The crisis also spread to Argentina and Brazil in an effect called the Tequila Crisis.

Currently, Indonesia has similar indications to the Mexico of 1994. First is the current account deficit. 2014 was the third year in a row that Indonesia ran a current account deficit; the last surplus was in 2011. According to the latest data, by the third quarter of 2015 Indonesia still had a $4 million deficit, or 1.86 percent of GDP. In fact, Indonesia is the only one of the ASEAN “big five” (Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia) running a current account deficit. Mexico, prior to the crisis, also ran a current account deficit, at the threatening level of 4.8 percent.

Second is the global bonds position. Indonesia has been issuing many bonds, causing the debt service coverage ratio (DSCR – the percent of debt compared with the export of goods) in 2014 to reach 23 percent, the highest among ASEAN countries; indeed, no other ASEAN countries have a DSCR of more than 8 percent. Mexico was at 37.6 percent prior to the crisis in 1993.Indonesia is also under pressure from its failure to attain its tax income target; tax income this year is expected to be only around 80 to 85 percent of the target. The budget deficit will possibly reach 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by the end of the year, up from the safety level of 2.5 percent, meaning the government may be forced to issue further bonds. The tax income target for 2016, an increase of 15 percent from this year’s target, meanwhile threatens Indonesia with the possibility of a higher deficit next year. Mexico's problem of issuing too many global bonds was actually a dilemma because its did not want to increase interest rates despite the Fed's rate increase.

Banco de Mexico regulated the exchange rate (at the time it was pegged against the US dollar) by using global bond instruments and the bank issued dollar-nominated bonds to buy pesos to maintain the value of the peso against the dollar.

Investors saw the peso as overvalued and enacted capital flight.

Will Indonesia be like Mexico?

Some economists say that currently, Indonesia is still safe. Regarding the current account deficit, David Sumual, chief economist at Bank Central Asia (BCA), explained that the deficit could be offset by a foreign investment inflow."The construction of infrastructure helps to attract investors, but we need to carefully prioritize the infrastructure. As long as we build what investors need, such as electricity, ports, road access and logistics, we are safe, but since the infrastructure is financed by debt, if we get it wrong, in three to four years we will be trapped in debt insolvency," he told on Tuesday.

David said that currently Indonesia's currency position was good because it has already depreciated, unlike in 2009 to 2014 when the rupiah overly appreciated. The weakness of the rupiah should be used as a chance, he added, to encourage local industries and decrease imports. Prior to the crisis, the strong Mexican peso caused the demand for imports to increase, resulting in a trade deficit.

Regarding global bonds, Raden Pardede from Creco Consulting said that the DSCR was high, but the important thing was for Indonesia to maintain the trust of foreign investors.According to Raden, the banking system is strong. The capital adequacy ratio (CAR) is more than 20 percent and even higher among state-owned banks, at 29 percent."But we need to be more disciplined in the fiscal sector. The tax target in 2016 must be revised and the administration must be repaired or else we’ll be trapped in a budget deficit again and need to issue more bonds," he said.

Jahanzeb Naseer, head of Indonesian research at Credit Suisse, said he appreciated the government's actions. Rather than playing on monetary aspects, the government is issuing economic packages that stimulate the economy from the consumer's side."The stimulus is creating more purchasing power and in the end will increase consumption. The government is also carrying out structural reform such as cutting red tape and inconsistent regulations and setting more predictable formulae for minimum wages. Anton Hermansyah

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