Monday, February 22, 2016

Mexican Two Step

Last week, Banco de Mexico and the Mexican government delivered a double whammy to the financial markets (excerpt):

Mexico Battles Emerging-Market Bears With Surprise Peso Defense

The Mexican government’s unprecedented steps to protect the peso are off to a good start.
The currency posted its biggest rally in five years Wednesday after officials said they will increase the benchmark interest rate, reconfigure an intervention program to contain volatility and reduce government spending. It advanced another 0.5 percent on Thursday. The new measures came after the peso plunged 8.9 percent to start the year, the worst performance among major currencies, and was down 31 percent over the past 18 months as investors sold off emerging-market assets.

Monday, February 15, 2016

MYR Nominal and Real Effective Exchange Rate Indexes

I’ve been reworking my MYR exchange rate indexes, with the idea that I might put them out as a public service. There’s no official effective exchange rate indexes for the Ringgit, though there are many unofficial ones, on top of the indexes published by the IMF and the BIS. I’ve never been happy with any of them, mainly due to either a lack of documentation or the somewhat biased construction some of them have.

So here’s my version, based largely on international best practice (where I diverge is in using quarterly weights, instead of annual weights). There're six indexes altogether, comprising a broad 16 currency index, a more narrow 5 currency index of Malaysia's top trading partners, and an ASEAN index, with nominal and real versions for each.

I’m hoping to have these updated by the 7th of each month, though I can’t promise to meet that service level standard regularly. I’m hoping to follow this up with a technical document describing the construction of the indexes and data sources, as well as a running change log. The indexes aren’t perfect by any means, but the best I can come up with.

To access the data, click the permanent link on the top right of this blog post (“MYR Nominal and Real Effective Exchange Rates”), or click here.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Managing Risk: TPPA Edition

The treaty document has been out for a couple of months now, and the treaty itself was signed last week. But there's still plenty of opposition to the pact, as we will have another couple of years two go under the ratification process - yup, it still isn't a treaty we have to abide by yet.

In any case, some of that opposition is getting a bit shrill, repeating nostrums that don't really apply any more. Part of the problem is the sheer length of the treaty document; another is the legalese language used.

Take ISDS for example. There seems to be this notion that ISDS would override the ability of governments to regulate, including matters of national interest such as labour laws, health and the environment. That's not true.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Selling Low and Buying High

From the Malaysian Insider (excerpt):

Scandals, weak ringgit spurring Malaysians abroad to cash out EPF funds
Some Malaysians are making the drastic choice of renouncing their citizenship to withdraw their EPF savings before the age of 55. – The Malaysian Insider file pic, February 11, 2016.
When Joanne Koo first emigrated to Australia with her young family six years ago, she never planned on renouncing her citizenship as she was eager to hold on to her Malaysian ties, savings and investments.
However, earlier this month, Koo and her husband made a trip to Kuala Lumpur to surrender their Malaysian passports for the sole purpose of making a full withdrawal of their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings. (Savers are allowed full withdrawal at age 55.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Raising The Foreign Worker Levy

The measure is on hold at the moment, but I want to put forward my thought process on the subject.

The main debating points are obvious - Malaysia relies too much on foreign workers, and they are generally paid wages below that of locals. The levies on foreign workers goes some way towards redressing that imbalance. On the other hand, raising the levy raises business costs and could force some industries to retrench without necessarily increasing demand for local labour, not to mention the impact on consumer inflation.

What most commentators might have missed is the existing discrepancy between employing a foreign worker relative to a Malaysian one, which boils down to one thing - EPF contributions.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Thoughts On Budget Recalibration

Assume you have 20 marbles. I take 4 and borrow 1 from you, for a total of 5. I then give back 5 to you. How many marbles do you have?

Start with the same 20 marbles. I take 3 and borrow 1, then give back only 4. How many marbles do you have now?

If the first scenario was the original government budget for 2016, last week's budget "recalibration" is the second. In aggregate terms, the revised budget is fairly neutral. With no change to the deficit, either in absolute or relative terms, the impact on the economy should be muted.

That's the theory anyway.