Mainland jitters hit region's currencies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 August, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 August, 1998, 12:00am

Currencies and stock markets are continuing to tumble in the region despite further weekend assurances from President Jiang Zemin that Beijing is not going to devalue the yuan.

Widespread disappointment over new Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi's inaugural policy address last Friday sent the yen tumbling to 146.75 to the US dollar at one stage in Tokyo trade yesterday, perilously close to an eight-year low.

Analysts say every day the yen weakens the pressures on Beijing to devalue grows ever greater.

This in turn is sending shockwaves of fear across the region, given that any cut in the yuan could easily spark a new wave of competitive regional devaluations.

Independent Economic Analysis currency analyst Simon Flint said: 'The consensus is we're now going to see 150 yen to the US dollar sooner rather than later.

'People are very worried about the yuan.' The Hang Seng Index's slight technical rebound was one of the few exceptions on an otherwise depressing day yesterday.

Shanghai and Shenzhen B shares both fell more than 3 per cent yesterday to record lows.

Kuala Lumpur's stocks also fell 2.95 per cent, hitting a nine-year low, as the ringgit slid despite a second interest-rate cut in seven days.

Manila stocks hit a 5.5-year low, as Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul and Jakarta exchanges also finished lower.

Daiwa Securities regional strategist Peter Perkins is predicting continuing downside for just about every stock market in the region, particularly those in Northeast Asia.

'Fundamentally the pressures are greater in Northeast Asia,' Mr Perkins said.

'Southeast Asia went down first and they are further along the path to having a positive inflection point, though I wouldn't like to guess when that would be.' While Mr Obuchi's proposed economic and financial reforms for Japan are generally seen as comprehensive and bold, Friday's speech contained no great surprises.

'He didn't pull anything out of his hat,' Standard & Poor's MMS International treasury economist David Cohen said. 'There is continuing anguish about the economic outlook around the region and doubts whether the Japanese will provide a much-needed boost for its neighbours over the medium-term.' As well as the Tokyo factor, Malaysian market sentiment was dragged down yesterday by rumours of a weekend riot in Kuala Lumpur and a political rift between Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, both of which have been denied.

The Singapore dollar also slid, though the island republic's stocks were not traded yesterday due to a public holiday.

Comments in Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's national day speech yesterday over Singapore's waning regional competitiveness were read by some market players as a hint his monetary authority may tolerate some further Singapore dollar weakening.