[OPE] The Asian Crisis of 1997-1998: Deregulation

From: glevy@pratt.edu
Date: Fri Mar 14 2008 - 09:46:26 EDT

publish.nyc.indymedia.org | The Asian Crisis of 1997-1998: Deregulation

The Asian Crisis of 1997-1998: Deregulation 

Deregulated finance markets are eveything but efficient. 

Michael R. Kratke 

Enormous capital streamed in short-term
monetary investments that could dissolve at any time, not in lasting
direct investments. Higher stock prices and home prices fueled the credit


Looking back in anger at inflated stock market and real estate

By Michael R, Kratke 

[This article
published in: Freitag 07, 2/15/2008 is translated from the German on the
World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2008/07/08070401.php. Michael R.
Kratke is a professor of economics at the University of Amsterdam.] 

The current financial crisis has its predecessors
‚€“ the malaise of the European monetary system of
1992-1993, the Mexican shock of 1995-1996 and the crash two years ago in
Southeast Asia‚€™s tiger states, a financial- and
monetary crisis with global repercussions. Whoever analyzes causes and
consequences discovers parallels to the restless finance markets these

Unlike Japan's economic tuberculosis, countries like
Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore experienced an unparalleled
boom in the middle of the 1990s. The credit volume of these
‚€œtiger states‚€Ě grew eight to ten percent
faster than their gross domestic product (GDP). An expanding portion of
these credits flowed into the purchase of stocks and real estate. Foreign
capital was enticed with all means ‚€“ excessive
interests and excessive exchange rates. 

Enormous capital
streamed in short-term monetary investments that could dissolve at any
time, not in lasting direct investments. Higher stock prices and home
prices fueled the credit boom. The banks of Southeast Asian countries
became massively indebted through dollar- and yen-loans with short running
times and ‚€“ believing the stock- and real estate boom
would continue ‚€“ financed long-term credits in the
local currencies. By the middle of 1997, almost $390 billion flowed mostly
from Japanese and European banks to Southeast Asia. Private German banks
and regional German banks led the way. 

The longer the boom
lasted, the more unstable the countries became. At the end, the central
banks of Asian countries had only trifling foreign currency reserves, much
too little to repay the foreign credits in case of a fall. This was an
ideal field for currency speculators who ‚€“ unlike the
central banks of the tiger states ‚€“ did not trust the
coupling of Southeast Asian currencies to the dollar. 

came to Thailand in March 1997. The first signs of over-production in
Southeast Asian export industries (computers and computer chips) could not
be ignored any longer and export revenues fell. In this situation,
international speculators launched their attack. On July 2, 1997 the Thai
baht was officially uncoupled from the dollar ‚€“ a
climax of a series of vain attempts of the Bangkok government to defend
its currency against speculative attacks. 

Within the shortest
time, the Thai currency plunged around 20 percent triggering a panic
capital flight. Masses of short-term credits were withdrawn by foreign
banks. Over $100 billion was withdrawn in less than six months. At the
same time, the foreign debts of domestic businesses and banks soared
through the devaluation of the baht. They could not pay their liabilities
in foreign currencies and declared bankruptcy in droves. When the Thai
central bank tried to avert its collapse through supportive credits, it
was too late. The central bank had to appeal to the IMF for help. 

In August 1997, the virus spread from Thailand to Malaysia,
Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines. In the five most intensely
affected countries, stock market shares fell over 60 percent (!) within a
few days. 
>From 1997 to 1998, $600 billion in stock capital and joint
stock was destroyed. Even Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong that had not
suffered speculative attacks up to then fell in this whirlpool. That the
price collapse in Asia led to a short-term worldwide economic slump could
hardly be surprising. But while the stock trade quickly recovered in
Europe and North America, Asia remained permanently stricken. For South
Korea and the other tiger states, a serious recession could not be averted
any more after the speculative bubble burst and caused firm bankruptcies
and mass unemployment. The crash dispossessed millions of people in the
grieved countries who had joined in with their modest resources and now
lost everything. 

Three states ‚€“ Thailand,
South Korea and Indonesia ‚€“ received the
lion‚€™s share of financial aid raised by the
International Monetary Fund in alliance with other financial backers
‚€“ under strict conditions. The IMF prescribed higher
interests, higher taxes, massive cuts in public spending and further
currency devaluations. Under the existing conditions, these prescriptions
could only be counter-productive. Without this drastic cure, many banks
and businesses in Southeast Asian countries would have survived the

Millions lost their jobs and the population became
impoverished, particularly the middle class. Up to today the memory
persists of the women from good society who sold their jewelry, clothing
and gloves to assure the survival of their families. Despite serious
crises, Malaysia maintained itself relatively well since it refused the
aid of the IMF. Altogether the gross domestic product shriveled 13.7
percent in 1998, 8 percent in Thailand and 5.5 percent in South Korea.
Southeast Asia massively lost foreign investments that flowed to China and

Even today the tiger states have not completely
recovered from the shock of the Asian crisis. The rise of China and India
was considerably accelerated. Japan‚€™s position was
permanently shaken. The boom of ‚€œemerging
markets‚€Ě was over. European and American investors threw
themselves on the next bonanza. In 1998-1999, Internet-technology stocks
went into their overheated phase that ended a little later with the
bursting of the speculative bubble of the New Economy. 

there parallels to the current situation? At that time over-valued real
estate played a main role. Banks gave credits worldwide without really
worrying about their quality. At that time hedge-funds and credit
derivatives were not very important. Since the Asian crisis, we know that
deregulated finance markets are everything but
‚€œefficient.‚€Ě On the contrary, the radical
dismantling of all capital transaction controls zealously pursued by the
governments of threshold countries makes them more vulnerable than ever to
short-term capital movements driven by speculative desires. Since then, we
know the risks of pure export-oriented development strategies undergirded
with foreign credits. 

Since 1997-1998, it is clear the
conventional monetary perspective embodied by the IMF harms more than
benefits. For OECD countries, the International Monetary Fund is
secondary. Asian and Latin American countries ‚€“
devastated by conditions of the IMF ‚€“ have made
themselves independent of the IMF. In 1998, thanks to a massive upgrading
of their currency reserves, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan were able to
defend their exchange rates. Ten years later, China after profiting as an
export-nation and capital importer has the greatest currency reserves in
the world and suffers with the weakening dollar. Asian threshold countries
seek to divest or uncouple from the US currency. This is a consequence of
the shock of 1997-1998. 

In today‚€™s crisis,
no one thinks of calling to the IMF or World Bank as rescuers in all
distress because both are occupied with themselves and their own financial
misery. This is a late consequence of the Asian crisis and of the lessons
drawn by the afflicted states. 


Wall Street in the Maelstrom 
October 28, 1997 ‚€“ Exchange rates collapse on the
Asian stock exchanges. In the suction of the crash, Wall Street lost 13
percent. The German stock index (DAX) recorded a minus eight percent on
this day. 

Bankruptcies in Russia 
August 21, 1998
‚€“ Several banks in Russia are insolvent. The DAX falls
5.4 percent within 24 hours. 

Terror and Panic 
11/12, 2001 ‚€“ After the attacks in New York and
Washington, panic spreads on the world financial markets. Wall Street
completely stopped. The DAX lost 8.5 percent. Exchange rates collapsed
more than eleven percent worldwide. 

Military Response 
September 14/15, 2001 ‚€“ The exchange rates were
adversely affected when the US announced it would give a military response
to September 11. The DAX lost another six percent. 

Stock-destroying Iraq War 
March 24/25, 2003 ‚€“
The US invasion of Iraq grievously affected the finance markets. Panic
selling of stocks occurred. The DAX fell 6.1 percent. 

January 21, 2008 ‚€“ The crisis on the US
mortgage market that erupted in July 2007 has finally infected the world
finance market. Ignited by an approaching US recession, the stock
exchanges collapse worldwide, the DAX around 7.2 percent. 


Related article: 
Thom Hartmann‚€™s
review of Ha-Joon Chang‚€™s ‚€œBad
Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade‚€Ě: 

By Michael R. Kratke mbatko@lycos.com
http://www.mbtranslations.com http://www.buzzflash.com 

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