China says it won't devalue yuan to spur economy BEIJING, Jan 11 (Reuters) - China's economic growth is expected to slow to about eight percent in 1998, but Beijing will not devalue its yuan currency to spur the economy, the Business Weekly said on Sunday. `It will not be difficult for China to achieve growth of around eight percent under current conditions,'' the newspaper quoted Qui Xiaohua, chief economist for the State Statistical Bureau, as saying. That forecast is well below the 8.8 percent growth estimate for 1997, which in turn was a marked slowdown from the 9.5 percent notched up in the first half of the year and the 9.7 percent the year before. China would not try to boost growth by stimulating exports through a devaluation of the yuan, Qiu said. Analysts say the recent sharp devaluations of several Southeast Asian currencies could bite into China's exports by making products from those countries cheaper than Chinese products. There has been speculation that Beijing could engineer a yuan devaluation to keep its export sector competitive. Exports account for a big chunk of China's economic growth. `We do not need to do that,'' Qiu said. His words appeared to be bolstered by figures released last week that show China recorded a trade surplus of more than $40 billion last year, with exports growing by 20 percent. `A high growth rate is no longer the prime target for China. It has been replaced by improvements in industrial structure,'' Qiu said. Last September, the Communist Party endorsed a sweeping reform plan aimed at dismantling large chunks of the wheezing state sector that is one of the main drags on the economy. The reforms called for more share issues, mergers and bankruptcies. The state sector had boosted profits by a year-on-year 18 percent to 34.2 billion yuan ($4.1 billion) in the first 11 months of 1997, the newspaper quoted bureau spokesman Ye Zhen as saying. Loss-making state enterprises were 70.5 billion yuan in the red while successful firms recorded 105 billion yuan in profits in the period, Ye said. He did not give comparative figures. ($1=8.3 yuan) [INLINE] [INLINE] Return to top[ISMAP]-This image allows you to access site resources )1997 - 1998 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material. Analysts: Asia woes to take toll on India shares BOMBAY, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Indian stocks will be hit this week as foreign funds, unsettled by the Asian financial crisis, and local players take profit, brokers and analysts said on Sunday. `The crises in Asian markets are forcing some foreign funds to book profits here, as seen on Thursday and Friday. A near absence of that had lent support to the market earlier,'' said Jaspreet Ahuja, head of sales, at Caspian Broking India. Bombay shares tumbled last week with the benchmark 30-share Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) index losing over five percent, or 189.65 points, to end Friday at 3,530.20. The fall came after the index had surged over seven percent in four consecutive weeks on the back of huge positions built up by local speculators in anticipation of yearly foreign fund allocations. `There will also be some fall-out from unwinding of long positions (by local players),'' Ahuja said. He said foreign funds were wary of further exposure in India because of the financial turmoil in some Asian countries compounded by local mid-term polls, no signs of an economic revival and an edgy rupee. India's markets regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, said on Friday net investments by foreign institutional investors (FIIs) dropped by $155.4 million during December -- the second straight month of net outflows as foreign investors pulled out of the troubled region. It said portfolio investments by FIIs fell by $4.7 million during January 1-8. Some said the market's recent rise was not warranted and there was only one way for the market to go from here -- down. `A correction was expected. There was no reason for the market to rise as it did in the face of local political uncertainty. I see the market falling further to a level of 3,400 before some support arrives,'' said Purvesh Shah, chief dealer at local brokerage Nucleus Securities. India goes to the polls in February and March after the minority coalition government of Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral fell in November after the Congress Party withdrew its key support. Brokers also said market sentiment would be dampened by Thursday's warnings by Moody's Investors Service that ratings of India's sovereign debt and the country's corporates would be reviewed for possible downgrades. `There is no positive trigger in India while there are negative triggers all around India,'' Ahuja said. Rakesh Jhunjhunwala, a BSE broker, said there would be no recovery until after the elections, depending on the outcome. `We should not set a bottom (for the market), but only a top,'' he said. Slide in Hong Kong stocks likely to continue HONG KONG, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Heavy selling left Hong Kong stocks at their lowest levels in more than 2-1/2 years last week and the slide looks set to continue as the market digests a surprisingly sharp rise in prime rates announced on Friday. The Hang Seng Index plunged 1,785.93 points, or 16.72 percent, last week to close at 8,894.64 on Friday, its lowest close since May 10, 1995. Hong Kong stocks in London continued the slide on Friday after local banks were forced by plunging Asian currencies to lift prime rates by 75 basis points to 10.25 percent, higher than the 50 basis points the market expected in the market. And Bank of East Asia Ltd chairman David Li said Hong Kong interest rates were expected to rise at least half a percentage point in the next three to four months. `The (prime rate) rise will, of course, hit bank lending,'' Li was quoted by the Sunday Morning Post as saying. The Hang Seng London Reference Index plummeted 513.82 points, or 5.78 percent, to close at 8,380.82 on Friday. `Hong Kong and China have been up until the beginning of the New Year relatively insulated from this but now they are taking quite severe punishment and can probably go lower from here,'' said Credit Lyonnais Securities Asia Ltd chairman Gary Coull. `The Hong Kong stock market is influenced by property and property prices are going down, so that weighs on the market. There is a weight overhanging Hong Kong which is only going to be lifted when there is some normality in interest rates.'' Hong Kong home prices have tumbled some 20 percent from their 1997 peaks and are set to continue falling, casting a pall over the government's first land auction of 1998 due on Tuesday. Brokers said the property-heavy Hang Seng Index may test 8,000 points. ``You really cannot predict right now at which level the Hang Seng Index will find support,'' said Henry Lui, research analyst at Mansion House Research. The plight of Peregrine Investments Holdings Ltd, a victim of turmoil rocking Asian currencies and stocks, has sent shivers through the brokerage community. Peregrine, one of the largest independent investment banks in Asia, said on Friday it was considering alternatives after Zurich Centre Investments Ltd pulled out of a deal to invest US$200 million into the company. Hong Kong's securities watchdog put restrictions on certain members of the Peregrine group and the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong has suspended Peregrine Brokerage Ltd's membership. Analysts said while Asian markets remain volatile, Hong Kong is unlikely to achieve a sustainable rebound. `It is very hard to gauge what the next regional factor will be. It is just one domino after another,'' said Geoff Galbraith, vice president institutional sales at DBS Securities. China-related stocks are also expected to remain sickly. The H-share index of China-incorporated companies has collapsed to a series of record lows and dropped 189.05 points, or 26.3 percent, last week to close at 531.02 points on Friday. The Hang Seng China-Affiliated Corporations Index tumbled 510.62 points, or 29.2 percent, last week to end at 1,235.22. China-based Huaneng Power International Inc is due to launch an offering of 250 million H-shares this week. Half of the new issue is due to be placed with strategic investors, leaving 40 percent for overseas institutional investors and the remainder for an initial public offering (IPO) in Hong Kong. The small size of the retail portion should ensure a reasonable take-up, analysts said. However, the response to two other IPOs, due to make their trading debuts this week, was poor. Q-Tech Holdings Ltd posted a subscription level of only 0.42 times for its IPO and Peaktop International Holdings Ltd had a subscription level of 0.70 times. Q-Tech offered 67 million new shares at HK$0.80 per share and is due to make its trading debut on Monday and Peaktop offered 62 million new shares at HK$1.00 each and is set to begin trading on Thursday. Kim Eng Holdings (Hong Kong) Ltd, which offered 18 million shares at HK$8.00 a share in an IPO, is due to debut on Friday. Asian currency crisis may stoke political change SINGAPORE, Jan 11 (Reuters) - The financial maelstrom ravaging Southeast Asia may eventually jeopardise the political stability of some countries in the region, with Indonesia most at risk, analysts said at the weekend. ``There is a lot of political dissatisfaction there. That may escalate,'' Carolina Hernandez, president of the Institute for Strategic and Development Studies in Manila, told Reuters. ``There may be a backlash with religious and racial overtones,'' she said, referring to simmering resentment among Indonesians against the ethnic Chinese who dominate the economy. Chaiwat Khamchoo, chairman of the International Relations Department at Chululangkorn University in Bangkok, said the crisis may spark political instability in Indonesia. ``Indonesia is problematic,'' Chaiwat said, adding that the problem stemmed mainly from the ``one-man leadership'' of President Suharto, who has led the country of 200 million people for 30 years. The rupiah plunged past 10,000 to the U.S. dollar last week in a sell-off sparked by fears Jakarta did not have the political will to implement tough austerity measures, which were the conditions of a US$40 billion rescue deal put together by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The currency crisis erupted in July 1997 when Thailand was forced to float the baht. The contagion has spread like a deadly virus in Southeast Asia and has even struck down South Korea, once the world's 11th largest economy. The Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Ltd (PERC) said in a report the financial crisis in Indonesia had prompted some analysts to express fears of negative gross domestic product (GDP) growth this year. ``As a result, inflation and interest rates will remain high and social pressures are bound to increase as unemployment rises,'' it said. Hernandez said what was scary in Indonesia was that ``dissent there is suppressed. That may explode.'' The problem of riots against ethnic Chinese ``may accompany (an) economic downturn,'' PERC said. ``A major question now is will the bad economics beget still more bad politics or will the pressures result in positive political reforms?'' Morton Abramowitz, a senior fellow at the Council of Foreign Relations, wrote recently in the Washington Post that regional leaders ``will face difficulties maintaining political support.'' ``However great their contribution to their countries' prosperity, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad and Indonesian President Suharto are increasingly seen as the problem and not the solution,'' he said. The situation in other Southeast Asian countries may be more manageable, though no less problematic. Chaiwat said the crisis in Thailand should not lead to the re-emergence of army rule in the country, which has been ruled by a string of generals who came to power on the back of more than 30 coups. ``I don't think people will support a military solution. That can largely be ruled out,'' he said. He said people were more willing to allow the government of Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai a chance to get the country back on track, but ``I'm not sure how long people will have patience.'' In Malaysia, PERC said ethnic tensions may rise between the majority Malays and Chinese and Indian minorities ``as a result of competition for scarce resources.'' Washington is deeply concerned over the financial turmoil in Southeast and Northeast Asia, which has raised questions about security and stability in the region. President Bill Clinton called Suharto and Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong late on Thursday to discuss the economic situation. And U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen on Sunday begins a 12-day Asia visit in Malaysia. The tour was planned six months ago, but it has taken on growing importance due to the market and currency turmoil. Cohen will hold security talks with government leaders in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, China, Japan and South Korea. ``Clearly, it (the economic crisis) is part of the general context of the visit,'' Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon told reporters. ``But the message is that the United States has a strong interest in the security of Asia.'' Japan's prime minister faces key test in parliament TOKYO, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on Monday heads into a raucous session of parliament that will debate his plans to revive the nation's economy. But with opposition parties in disarray, commentators forecast a clear field for Hashimoto to pass a fiscal agenda that is regarded as crucial for Japan's financial recovery. Analysts say Hashimoto, who on Sunday started his third year in power, has been helped by troubles in the opposition, including the recent self-implosion of its biggest party Shinshinto (New Frontier Party), led by long-time Hashimoto rival Ichiro Ozawa. ``This Diet (parliament) session is going to feature a lot of screaming and yelling by the opposition, especially about Hashimoto's handling of the economy, but he will get his budget and supplementary budget through before the fiscal year ends (at the end of March),'' said political analyst Ryuichiro Hosokawa. Hashimoto's fiscal 1998 budget includes one-time income tax cuts worth two trillion yen ($15.1 billion). Critics have said the tax cuts are too little, too late to boost Japan's economy, hit hard by a nosedive in domestic demand after a two percent rise in the consumption tax last year. A newly-formed opposition alliance which includes former Prime Ministers Tsutomu Hata and Morihiro Hosokawa wants even more, demanding a permanent three trillion yen in income tax cuts and another three trillion yen in corporate tax breaks. Authoritative sources said Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka was expected to say in his opening speech to the parliament on Monday that Japan's economy is stalled. They said he is likely to stress that Japan's economic recovery is important for stabilising Asian economies and for continued global economic growth. The minister will tell the parliament Japan will introduce a system to use 30 trillion yen worth of public funds and a fund to help boost banks' capital, in order to stabilise Japan's financial system and protect deposits. Tetsufumi Yamakawa, chief economist at Goldman Sachs in Tokyo, said Hashimoto might be forced to beef up his fiscal measures in the course of the parliamentary session. He forecast Japan's unemployment rate would rise to post-World War Two highs during the session, a shock likely to prompt the government to come up with more money. ``If we see more signs of weakness in the economy, there is a higher chance of additional government measures,'' Yamakawa said. However while Hashimoto may bow to some opposition demands to show he is a leader willing to compromise, the basic thrust of his fiscal agenda is unlikely to change. ``The opposition will make certain demands, but the only question is whether or to what degree Hashimoto will accommodate them,'' Hosokawa said. The session comes at a critical juncture for Japan, which faces slumping economic growth, a precarious financial system and a currency hovering at five-year lows against the dollar. Under such dire circumstances, Hashimoto would have been expected to face a shaky political future. John Neuffer, senior research fellow at Mitsui Research Institute, said passing the budget would position Hashimoto's ruling Liberal Democratic Party to do well in its next election test, an Upper House poll in July. ``If they manage to muddle along they'll do okay in the election because the opposition is such a wreck,'' Neuffer said. In December, just as Hashimoto's popularity hit a record low amid a rapidly declining economy, Ozawa disbanded his own party. The breakup, triggered by policy differences, set off a flurry of opposition realignments whose net result was to leave it in greater disarray and less of a threat to Hashimoto. The LDP has 256 seats in the decisive 500-seat lower house while under the new alignments the biggest opposition alliance has about 100 legislators, the largest of which is Naoto Kan's Democratic Party which holds 69 seats. Before its breakup Shinshinto boasted 126 seats. U.S. team heads for Asia to take stock of economies LONDON, Jan 10 (Reuters) - A team of U.S. officials headed by Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers headed for Asia on Saturday to carry out a consultation mission on the region's troubled tiger economies. The whirlwind tour will start in Singapore and include visits to Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia to assess the region's deepening economic turmoil, the U.S. Treasury Department said on Friday. A U.S. embassy official in Singapore told Reuters that Summers would arrive there on Sunday evening and leave for Indonesia on Monday afternoon. Summers will call on Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong early on Monday, a Singapore government statement said. President Bill Clinton spoke late on Thursday to Goh and Indonesia's President Suharto to discuss the regional economic situation. Summers' trip will ``take stock of the economic situation, hear the authorities' current plans and express (President Clinton's) commitment to effective stabilisation efforts,'' the U.S. Treasury Department said. The delegation includes representatives from the State Department and the National Security Council. Plans for the hastily-assembled trip, announced on Thursday night by the White House, still were tentative and other countries may be added, the Treasury said on Friday. There was speculation that Summers might also visit Japan and China. U.S. officials have indicated Summers will press Asian leaders, notably in Indonesia, to follow austerity measures proposed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as conditions for billions of dollars promised in aid. Indonesia moved into the forefront as a cause for concern after announcing a budget that analysts said appeared to ignore the remedies that the IMF had proposed to deal with its huge levels of debt. Indonesia's currency plummeted in value, financial markets dropped sharply and neighbouring Asian countries' markets also suffered from the spreading worry. On Friday, White House economic adviser Janet Yellen said the vigorous U.S. economy would weather the Asian turmoil, likely with the loss of only one-half percentage point to one percentage point of growth in 1998. But Clinton administration concern over Asian instability clearly was mounting, leading to the decision to send the delegation led by Summers for a firsthand look. Economist Sachs slams IMF for Asia crisis MADRAS, India, Jan 10 (Reuters) - Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachs on Saturday blamed the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for aggravating Asia's financial crisis, but said regional economies should recover before long. Sachs, director of the Harvard Institute of International Development, told an international business conference in the southern Indian city that the crisis in East Asian economies had resulted from a ``panic withdrawal'' of funds from their markets. ``My sense is that the IMF added to the panic,'' he said, adding that the fund had erred by using the same rescue techniques employed in the past instead of specific remedies tailored to the differing needs of Asian economies. ``The IMF took its normal remedy off the shelf and started to apply it,'' he said. He criticised the Fund's demand for bank closures in Indonesia, Thailand and South Korea as part of its recent bail-out packages. The move sent wrong signals to the market, Sachs said. Asia's fast-growing ``tiger'' economies retreated last year after a sudden withdrawal of investment funds linked to high short-term debt burdens. ``It is a short-term crisis which if properly managed can lead to quick recovery,'' Sachs said. He said the East Asian countries had open economies, government surpluses, high savings rates and low inflation but international investors suddenly chose to focus on short-term debt as the key issue. Private foreign investors had followed their peers in jumping off the Asian markets without fundamental justification, he said. ``It was an unjustified race for the exit.'' But recent initiatives by South Korean banks to roll over their credit and efforts to recapitalise banks are expected to help East Asian economies tide over the crisis, Sachs said. ``I believe that we need one major development to happen. That is for the IMF to rethink its basic approach to the crisis,'' Sachs said. ``When that happens I am confident there is a turnaround beginning.'' ``We are beginning to see the glimmer of a more sensible approach to the crisis,'' he said. ``I see a reasonable chance in the next two weeks as the crisis is assessed.'' Indonesia opposition chief calls on president to resign New York Times News Service BANGKOK, Thailand -- Indonesia's leading opposition figure, Megawati Sukarnoputri, called on President Suharto Saturday to step down when his term ends in March and told a chanting crowd she was ready to succeed him. Her declaration came during a period of growing public demands for an end to Suharto's 32-year rule as the country's economy swirls in crisis. A crash in the currency Thursday touched off a wave of panic buying that continued Saturday. ``I hereby take this opportunity to declare my determination to become the leader of our nation and people -- if this is indeed the will and consensus of the people,'' she told about 500 supporters in the garden of her suburban Jakarta home. They raised their fists and shouted, ``Long live Mega!'' But the possibilities for Ms. Megawati to assume power are limited, and her speech Saturday seemed to involve protest as much as politics. In March, Suharto is expected to be reappointed by a largely handpicked assembly. Over the last two years, Ms. Megawati -- the daughter of Indonesia's founding father, Sukarno -- has become the symbol of dissatisfaction with Suharto and the focus of the nation's suppressed grievances. But this was the first time she put herself forward as a candidate to succeed him in a country where open challenges to Suharto are not tolerated. Suppression of her growing popularity 18 months ago led to the worst rioting in Jakarta, the capital, in decades. Her rally was held as Indonesian officials sought to calm fears of food shortages that have been spurred by the worst economic crisis since Suharto took office in 1965. After three decades of almost-uninterrupted growth in the world's fourth-largest nation in population, economists predict a recession this year, along with widespread bankruptcies, huge unemployment and a likelihood of social unrest. ``We have more than enough rice,'' declared a headline in the daily Jakarta Post, as people continued for the third day to clear shelves of foodstuffs, fearing shortages, price rises and possible rationing. ``We are asking people to remain calm,'' the newspaper quoted the production and distribution minister, Hartarto, as saying. Many Indonesians use only one name. ``The government is working hard to take care of the needs of the people for basic consumer goods across the country.'' Indonesia's economic slump, which began last fall, caused a panic last week when the currency tumbled after the announcement of an annual budget that was seen as failing to address the country's urgent needs. This raised fears that in response to government inaction, the International Monetary Fund might withdraw a $40 billion rescue package it organized last October. Many Indonesians took hope on Friday from the news that President Clinton had spoken by telephone with Suharto and was sending a delegation to Jakarta led by Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers. The two top officials of the IMF were also on their way to Indonesia, joining the attempt to shore up confidence and halt the country's downward spiral. The current crisis comes before a session in March of a People's Consultative Assembly that is expected to name Suharto to a seventh five-year term -- although he has not yet formally declared his intention to stay on. Ms. Megawati is not legally the leader of a political party and is therefore not eligible to be chosen by this assembly, and it was not clear how she could succeed Suharto. Nor was it clear how seriously she intended to push forward with her declaration of readiness to lead the nation. If Suharto were to step aside, his successor is more likely to come from within his government's power structure, including the politically influential military. Suharto took power from Ms. Megawati's father in 1965 after what the government described as an aborted Communist coup. As many as 500,000 people died in widespread massacres of leftists and minorities. Since then, Suharto has pulled his country of 200 million people up from poverty to increasing prosperity, but he has severely limited civil and political rights and has choked off potential opposition. In early 1996, when Ms. Megawati began to play a more prominent role as the leader of one of the two legal quasi-opposition parties, the government backed a rival faction of the party and engineered her removal. Rioting that followed in July took at least five lives. Ms. Megawati's public presence has been muted since then, but the political landscape has suddenly changed, and she appeared to be moving to reassert herself Saturday. ``I call on all people to demand that Suharto is not renominated for a seventh term of office,'' she said. ``We must orchestrate a peaceful succession of national leadership so our nation can be saved from this crisis of confidence.'' )1997 - 1998 Mercury Center. The information you receive online from Mercury Center is protected by the copyright laws of the United States. The copyright laws prohibit any copying, redistributing, retransmitting, or repurposing of any copyright-protected material.
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