Taiwan’s New Status as Safe Haven

Early Covid-19 action, export orders, sound government pay off

Taiwan’s New Status as Safe Haven

Taiwan may be a pariah state to the World Health Organization and its highly politicized bosses, but to anyone else, it should seem about the safest haven on earth, at least compared with other high-income, industrialized nations.

The despised non-nation exhibits two remarkable characteristics. These are particularly noteworthy given its very high dependence on foreign trade at a time of sharp decline in world trade, and its fraught relationship with an increasingly aggressive, nationalistic China.

Two bits of data tell one aspect of the story. The Taiwan stock exchange is the only one in Asia to be higher than a year ago – by 3.3 percent as measured by the FTSE 50 index. That is in local currency terms. Meanwhile, the NT dollar is almost the only currency in the world to have appreciated against the US dollar – by about 3.5 percent over a year ago.

Nor is this the result of speculative surge driven, as on Wall Street, by a central bank desperate to rescue the over-leveraged companies which a decade of cheap money has fostered. In contrast, the Central Bank of the Republic of China (Taiwan) has remained a model of conservatism.

Behind Taiwan’s outperformance lie several factors:

The early action to contain Covid-19, as Asia Sentinel reported on March 22, which has kept infections so far to just 426 with only seven deaths. Credit for this goes in the first place to the very close eye which it keeps on what is actually happening on the mainland – as opposed to what Beijing is prepared to announce. Memories of SARS in 2003 also played a part in staying alert as did high levels of trust that prevail which enabled concerted action.

In turn, the resulting lack of need for severe lockdowns has enabled much of local business, retail restaurants, etc, to operate almost normally. Travel and tourism have naturally slumped but there has been no sudden slump in overall demand or steep rise in unemployment.

So far too, exports have held up fairly well, driven by demand for the high-end electronics in which it specializes. Orders have even increased. Meanwhile, a fall in import prices, notably oil, has boosted an already high trade surplus.

The export picture may prove short-lived as demand in China and in the west contracts as even for some IT products as investment collapses in the wake of profits collapses. But Taiwan’s export profile remains relatively robust and generally, very low levels of corporate debt enable companies to withstand sharp falls in profits.

The overall outcome in GDP terms is hard to gauge. Forecasts range from a 4 percent fall as suggested by the IMF to a gain of 1 percent with most estimated around -2 percent. The IMF forecast looks especially negative as it is similar to the Fund’s forecast for both Hong Kong and Singapore, both of which appear far more vulnerable from trade, tourism and corporate debt perspectives.

Taiwan may yet face new shocks, whether from a resurgence of the virus, the sudden end of the IT mini-boom, or a rise in unemployment as hard-hit sectors lay off workers. Another threat is more actions from Beijing to punish Taiwan for its successes and for its temerity to demand to be recognized as a legitimate state which sets a better example than most – not least the US – for sustaining liberal democracy, social cohesion and economic well-being.

Source : Asia Sentinel More   

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Restarting China’s economy?

Author: Yan Liang, Willamette University China’s economy is now gradually recovering from COVID-19 and is entering a reopening phase. But reopening the economy carries the risk of a second wave of outbreaks. While the reopening of China’s economy is positive news for the world economy, the global economic slowdown still poses a great challenge for […]

Restarting China’s economy?

Author: Yan Liang, Willamette University

China’s economy is now gradually recovering from COVID-19 and is entering a reopening phase. But reopening the economy carries the risk of a second wave of outbreaks. While the reopening of China’s economy is positive news for the world economy, the global economic slowdown still poses a great challenge for China’s return to normalcy.

There have been hopeful signs of economic recovery in China. From February to March 2020, China’s manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) jumped from 35.7 to 52.0 and the services PMI rose from 29.6 to 52.3 — beating market expectations. Daily coal consumption has now reached about 90 per cent of the level seen in the past three years. The traffic congestion index for 100 cities is now over 90 per cent of that during the same period in 2019.

With 50 million migrant workers still stuck in their homes and consumers still worried about the pandemic, both supply and demand will experience a slow recovery. Demand for China’s exports has also fallen as countries outside of China grapple to contain COVID-19. Half a million Chinese companies closed in the first quarter of 2020 while only 3 million companies were established — 29 per cent lower than the same time last year.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of job creation in China. Over 5 million workers lost their jobs and the urban unemployment rate rose to 6.2 per cent in February, the highest since 2002. Nearly 9 million students will also be graduating from universities and entering the job market. Employment is the top priority for the Chinese government and should be the focus of its policy response. To effectively reopen the economy and create jobs, four important steps must be taken.

First, it is crucial to avoid a resurgence of COVID-19. There are still sporadic cases emerging in China as well as cases brought by those returning to China from outside. Strict testing, tracking and quarantining measures are still of the utmost importance. Rigorous monitoring of returning migrant workers’ health and the enforcement of social distancing at workplaces are necessary measures to ensure the orderly resumption of production. From government mandates to community-based surveillance to individual discipline, every effort must be made to ensure the careful resumption of economic activities.

Second, China needs to institute more effective policies to stimulate the economy. Policy measures to combat the economic fallout have been modest so far. On the monetary front, the People’s Bank of China (PBoC) has reduced the seven-day repo rate by 20 basis points. The PBoC also cut reserve requirements for small- and medium-sized banks from 7 to 6 per cent. These measures helped provide ample liquidity to the economy. Chinese banks issued new loans totalling 5.8 trillion yuan (US$865 billion) in the first quarter of 2020, a 14 per cent increase from the same period in 2019.

On the fiscal front, the central government would increase the 2020 budget deficit-to-GDP ratio to as high as 3.5 per cent, up from 2.8 per cent last year — which is estimated to unleash 400 billion RMB (US$56.8 billion) to China’s economy. The central government also plans to issue two to four trillion RMB (US$282 billion to US$563 billion) in special treasury bonds to shore up the capital of state-backed funds and policy banks. As of 20 March 2020, China’s local government bond issuance reached 1.4 trillion RMB (US$200 billion), accounting for 76 per cent of the allocated quotas.

Given high private (non-financial) sector debt — which stood at 205 per cent of GDP at the end of 2019 — the PBoC has been prudent in cutting key interest rates, while adopting a more targeted approach to direct credit for SMEs. Fiscal spending would be much more effective and the central government has plenty of room to flex its fiscal muscles. But the central government in the first two months of 2020 only spent 427 billion RMB (US$61 billion), a meagre increase of 4.7 per cent from the same period in 2019. Local government spending in fact edged down by 3.9 per cent year-on-year to 2.8 trillion RMB (US$400 billion).

As a monetarily sovereign government, China has unlimited spending power and should immediately and significantly increase spending on social security, unemployment benefits, payroll subsidies and health care. The Chinese government should directly provide or subsidise payrolls and open public sector job opportunities to hire any workers who are willing to work but fail to find private jobs instead of relying on private companies to stabilise employment.

Government deficit and debt should not be a constraint on China’s efforts to stabilise employment and stimulate economic growth. China’s fiscal spending and public debt are relatively low compared to the United States — spending can expand considerably without worsening private or local government debt.

Third, the pandemic calls for global cooperation. While the G20 has largely failed to undertake concrete actions to fight the pandemic and protectionism, China should step up and play an instrumental role in confronting the global health and economic crises. As China resumes production, it could help restore global supply chains and boost global demand through imports. China should also consider debt forgiveness for some of the poorer and vulnerable African countries.

Fourth, restarting the economy must go hand in hand with boosting investment in technologies. It is clear from China’s experience that big data and advanced medical devices are key to containing pandemics. When it comes to more technologically sophisticated medical devices like ventilators, the top 10 producers are all US or European companies. China must expand its research and development to drive economic growth and help safeguard against the next crisis.

Yan Liang is Professor and Department Chair of the Department of Economics, Willamette University, Oregon.

This article is part of an on the novel coronavirus crisis and its impact.

Source : East Asia Forum More   

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