1997 Asian Crisis Redux - Thailand Is Imploding

"There's no near-term resolution in sight," warns TCW Group's David Loevinger, as "Thailand has entered an extended period of political instability." This uncertainty has led to foreigners abandoning the nation's stock market in record  size - and collapsing the Thai Baht at the same time. Why should US investors be worried? Thailand was the catalyst that started the 1997 Asian crisis, broke LTCM, and instigated the most epic experiments in central bank liquidity provision on record. With the Fed Tapering, both Indonesia and Thailand (and Turkey) are already seeing major currency collapses but of course, as long as US equities rise, no one cares (which is exactly what they said last time)...

 

Bloomberg's Chart of the Day shows that the baht has plunged 5.1 percent since the end of October to a three-year low as international investors pulled a net $2.75 billion out of equities, the worst outflow in at least 14 years.

Investors are dumping Thai assets as two-month-old protests against Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra intensify, threatening to deepen a slowdown in the second-largest southeast Asian economy. Opposition parties are trying to topple Yingluck after she pushed for a bill that would provide amnesty for her brother, Thaksin, who was ousted as premier in a 2006 coup and has lived in self-imposed exile overseas.



Yingluck dissolved parliament on Dec. 9, a move that triggered new elections set for February, in a bid to ease tensions. The country’s election commission warned yesterday that the vote could wind up stoking more violence after protesters tried to storm a Bangkok arena where candidates were registering.


And as a reminder... what happened in the 1997 crisis...

The Asian financial crisis was a period of financial crisis that gripped much of Asia beginning in July 1997, and raised fears of a worldwide economic meltdown due to financial contagion.

 

The crisis started in Thailand with the financial collapse of the Thai baht after the Thai government was forced to float the baht due to lack of foreign currency to support its fixed exchange rate, cutting its peg to the US$, after exhaustive efforts to support it in the face of a severe financial overextension that was in part real estate driven. At the time, Thailand had acquired a burden of foreign debt that made the country effectively bankrupt even before the collapse of its currency. As the crisis spread, most of Southeast Asia and Japan saw slumping currencies, devalued stock markets and other asset prices, and a precipitous rise in private debt.

 

Indonesia, South Korea and Thailand were the countries most affected by the crisis.

 

...

 

The causes of the debacle are many and disputed. Thailand's economy developed into an economic bubble fueled by hot money. More and more was required as the size of the bubble grew. The same type of situation happened in Malaysia, and Indonesia, which had the added complication of what was called "crony capitalism". The short-term capital flow was expensive and often highly conditioned for quick profit. Development money went in a largely uncontrolled manner to certain people only, not particularly the best suited or most efficient, but those closest to the centers of power.

 

At the time of the mid-1990s, Thailand, Indonesia and South Korea had large private current account deficits and the maintenance of fixed exchange rates encouraged external borrowing and led to excessive exposure to foreign exchange risk in both the financial and corporate sectors.

 

In the mid-1990s, a series of external shocks began to change the economic environment – the devaluation of the Chinese renminbi and the Japanese yen, raising of US interest rates which led to a strong U.S. dollar, the sharp decline in semiconductor prices; adversely affected their growth.

 

...

 

Many economists believe that the Asian crisis was created not by market psychology or technology, but by policies that distorted incentives within the lender–borrower relationship. The resulting large quantities of credit that became available generated a highly leveraged economic climate, and pushed up asset prices to an unsustainable level

Sound familiar?