Global markets are a buzz with fear being mooted about a “contagion” and China debt trap sweeping across Asian markets, the currencies have become a quick focus by analysist and it seems to be the go to button to push towards weakening of the currencies and dampening import demand, more so, Chinese import demand. This could be a strategic call given the rebalancing needed from a geopolitical point of view. The China and USA tussle for market share is at the forefront of this new “contagion” mantra.
The US has in fact declared war on trade and have undermined the WTO framework in the process as it does not suit their re-balancing agenda. Asian stocks have slipped to a 14-month low as at 12th Sep (Wednesday) with investor confidence chilled by the latest round of verbal threats in an intensifying U.S.-China trade conflict
China too is seeking WTO sanctions. China stocks fell on Wednesday morning, dragging the Shanghai Composite and the blue-chip CSI300 indexes down to new multi-year lows, as worries over escalation in the U.S.-China trade war hit investor sentiment.
Despite the rhetoric global trade volumes remain healthy (as indicated by the Baltic Dry Freight Index) and commodities seem to be rallying on the back of the trade wars, this price movement is fundamentally seen as markets discounting long term geo political risk to the Global economy, as both USA and China both still show signs of strong balance sheets and improving corporate profitability. Thus, the two largest consumer markets don’t seem to be dented as yet as the play for Asian market share continues, the winner of this bout would depreciate their currency to sustain the shift in market dominance and profits.
BiZnomics Research Team, being a body of professional Economic and business researches, felt it opportune to discuss national economic conditions including the country’s total debt stock (domestic and foreign borrowings), and the revenue-generating solutions including Hambantota port as an asset in stimulating economic growth takes the opportunity to speak to Dr. Kenneth De Zilwa, a business Cycle Analyst who has over 17 years of experience at all functional levels in senior management positions at banking and a senior consultant at the China Harbor Engineering as the subjects are very current and relevant to the ongoing discussions on the objective making the general public aware.
What is Sri Lanka’s economic condition?
To answer this we need to understand the models of development used by the two governments. Sri Lanka has witnessed two economic models in the past 10 years, namely, investment driven, local supply based and local enterprise driven economic model of 2010-2014 and a more liberal, external supply based consumption model ushered during 2015 to 2019. The resultant outcomes of these two are now in the public domain and could be compared and contrasted. In the 2010-2014 period the average GDP growth rate, which is the approximation used to indicate overall expansion of the country’s production, was at 6.78pct. The average growth rate in 2015-2019 was 3.70pct; indicating a 45pct decline from the earlier period. This implied a significant slowdown of real economic activity in the country. To put this in context we have to understand that the 2010-2014 growth was achieved despite the many global shocks, namely, we witnessed the food crisis, the second great depression of 2008 (second since the Grest Depression of the 1930s) which saw the global financial system collapse and the global oil crisis. In contrast, in the past 5 years we had not witnessed any external shocks, apart from the depreciation of the Turkish Lira and its aberrations on global markets.
Similarly, we find price volatility in interest rates and exchange rates. The commodity volatility had been passed on to the real economy, making input cost of production and consumables more expensive despite the dramatic fall in global crude oil prices. In fact it was observed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka that the rupee depreciation by 18pct in 2018 viz a viz the US Dollar brought about a LKR 1,000 billion loss to the economy during 2014 to 2019 i.e. while during the last 5 year period, the total depreciation cost to the country was LKR 1,780.0 billion incremental debt servicing cost to the country. The erratic behavior of markets can thus be costly for the development agenda. Therefore we can argue that the free markets based model adopted in 2015-2019 was
not conducive for the real sector development and economic growth. Going forward we envisage that a new business model will be introduced for Sri Lanka to kick start the economy with an emphasis on properly aligned macroeconomic policies which will stimulate local Agro-Industrialization and unleash the entrepreneurial activity across multiple sectors. This will lift the GDP growth rate to well above its historic average of 4.75pct.
How much is Sri Lanka in debt and what is the solution for this?
Sri Lanka debt has been a talking point since 2014 and the reason for that was the rapid development that was undertaken during the 4-year period after the war. This clearly brought about an increase in the national debt stock. The country’s total debt stock (domestic and foreign borrowings) increased from LKR 4,590 million to LKR 7,390 million with significant amounts of funds utilized in the creation of balance revenue asset and capacity building, for the country needed to be integrated and the journey towards industrialization undertaken . Many of such capital intensive projects have a long term payback period and the cash flow from such projects was gradually building up, with less stress on the fiscal front of government business. In 2015 however, the new government moved away from adding capital assets to the country’s economy and was focused on shifting economic policy towards less state led investment capital. They therefore, commenced disposing of already created assets via long term lease agreements to various foreign countries. Hambantota port is a classic example where the port’s revenue-generating business venture was leased back to the construction company at the cost of construction and not based on the discounted future cash flow method. The argument was that asset disposing was necessary given the country’s debt burden.
Similarly, we find price volatility in interest rates and exchange rates. The commodity volatility had been passed on to the real economy, making input cost of production and consumables more expensive despite the dramatic fall in global crude oil prices. In fact it was observed by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka that the rupee depreciation by 18pct in 2018 viz a viz the US Dollar brought about a LKR 1,000 billion loss to the economy. In fact during 2010-14 i.e.last 5 year period, the total depreciation cost to the country was LKR 1,780.0 billion adding to the incremental debt servicing cost and debt stock of the country.
After months of trade war, the US and China agreed to a 90-day truce to work out their differences. It was scheduled to end on Friday, but President Trump lifted the ultimatum to increase tariffs after he was satisfied by progress made in several rounds of talks in Beijing and Washington.
A White House economic official, Larry Kudlow, said on Thursday the two countries were on the brink of a ‘historic’ trade agreement. A meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, was also expected soon. After the latest round of talks in February, US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tweeted that China had committed to buying ‘an additional’ 10m tonnes of soybeans as a ‘show of good faith’. US farmers rely greatly on such trade with China: in 2017 around a third of US soybean production – worth $14bn -– was exported there, where it is used for animal feed. Chinese tariffs had already hit America’s farming regions hard. Exports plummeted last summer when China imposed tariffs on US soybeans and other agricultural products.
Donald Trump has requested China to abolish tariffs on US farm produce arguing that it is very important for US farmers.
In the meantime, South China Morning Post on 19th April reported that China regrets WTO ruling that China’s Tariff Freight Quota System for rice, wheat and corn violates international trade rules. The verdict was given in a case filed by the administration of former President Barak Obama in December 2016.
The US government is also seeking a total reforms of the WTO including re-visiting China’s role in the international trading system as the US believes China should no longer designated as a developing country, enjoying favourable trade treatment as China has emerged the world’s second largest economy.
Brexit Deadlock Continues
The British Prime Minister said she would step down if and when her Brexit deal was delivered. There was a desire for ‘a new approach, and new leadership’, she told a meeting of Conservative lawmakers. However, members of the House of Commons voted on a range of measures designed to break the impasse over Brexit — but failed to agree on any of them.
The European Union has requested the UK to accept a six months delay with an option to leave earlier if the UK Parliament can agree to a deal, The European Union leaders agreed to another delay to the UK schedule withdrawal from the EU until October 31. In the meantime, the European parliament election is due in late May and if the UK does not take part in the election process it would be required of the UK to leave on June 01st without a deal as some observed. The Prime Minister of UK has suggested that she could still manage to get her withdrawal agreement passed through parliament, in time to avoid UK taking part in the European elections.
New Head at World Bank
Following President Trump’s announcement that Mr. Malpass would be the US candidate for election as the next President of the World Bank, Mr. Malpass won unanimous approval from the executive board of the bank, which has 25 members. The US holds a 16% share of board voting power and has traditionally chosen the World Bank’s leader. Traditionally, the US picks the World Bank President, Europeans choose the IMF Managing Director, and the Japanese do the same for the Asian Development Bank. David Malpass has been selected as President of the World Bank Group for a five-year term from April 9, 2019. Mr. Malpass previously served as Under Secretary of the Treasury for International Affairs for the United States. As Under Secretary, Mr. Malpass represented the United States in international settings, including the G-7 and G-20 Deputy Finance Ministerial, World Bank-IMF Spring and Annual Meetings, and meetings of the Financial Stability Board, the Organization for EconomicCooperation and Development, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
In 2018, Mr. Malpass advocated for a capital increase for the IBRD and IFC as part of a larger reform agenda featuring sustainable lending practices, more efficient use of capital, and a focus on improving living standards in poor countries. He was also instrumental in advancing the Debt Transparency Initiative, adopted by the World Bank and IMF, to increase public disclosure of debt and thereby reduce frequency and severity of debt crises.
Prior to becoming Under Secretary, Mr. Malpass was an international economist and founder of a macro-economic research firm based in New York City. Mr. Malpass served as chief economist of Bear Stearns and conducted financial analyses of countries around the world.
Earlier in his career, Mr. Malpass served as the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Developing Nations and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Latin American Economic Affairs. In these roles, he focused on an array of foreign policy and development issues, including the United States’ involvement in multilateral institutions; the World Bank’s 1988 capital increase, which supported the creation of the Bank’s environment division; the Enterprise for America’s Initiative; and Brady bonds to address the Latin American debt crisis. He also served as Senior Analyst for Taxes and Trade at the U.S. Senate Budget Committee, and as Staff Director of the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress.
Mr. Malpass has served on the boards of the Council of the Americas, Economic Club of New York, and the National Committee on US–China Relations. Mr. Malpass earned his bachelor’s degree from Colorado College and his MBA from the University of Denver. He undertook advanced graduate work in international economics at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.
The World Bank President is Chair of the Boards of Directors of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA). The President is also ex officio Chair of the Boards of Directors of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), and the Administrative Council of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID).
Some worry that Mr. Malpass, a critic of the bank, will seek to reduce its role. In the past, he has described the World Bank as too big. He has said he would like to lend less to middle income countries like China, which he argues are financially strong enough.
Speaking at an event at the Council on Foreign Relations back in 2017 he said: “Multilateralism has gone substantially too far – to the point where it is hurting US and global growth”. However, when his predecessor Jim Kim asked shareholders for more money, it was David Malpass who – in exchange for reforms at the bank – helped make it happen. Last year, he was part of negotiations over a package of World Bank lending reforms. The US agreed to back a plan for shareholders to inject $13bn (£10bn) into the World Bank and its private lending arm, with conditions that aimed to limit the bank’s lending, and focus resources more on poorer countries. The reforms are aimed at pushing more middle-income countries towards private sector lending, and limiting World Bank staff salary growth.
White House Senior Adviser Ivanka Trump speaking during an interview with Associated Press, Wednesday April 17, 2019 in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, where Trump is promoting a White House global economic program for women said her father asked her if she was interested in the job of World Bank Chief but she was happy with her current role in the administration.
President Trump recently told The Atlantic: “I even thought of Ivanka for the World Bank. She would’ve been great at that because she’s very good with numbers.”
Ivanka Trump worked on the selection process for the new head of the 189-nation World Bank, David Malpass. She said he’ll do an ‘incredible job.’
US Monetary Policy Normalization
President Trump called on Federal Reserve to lower interest rates and wants return of quantitative easing arguing that the Central Bank’s policies have held back the US economy and there is no inflation.The Federal Reserve, which has increased interest rates numerous times in the last few years, recently signalled that it does not plan to increase interest rates any more for the remainder of this year. Beyond simply cutting interest rates, President Trump also wants the Fed to bring back its policy of quantitative easing, to increase liquidity in the market and keep interest rates low. In the wake of the financial crisis in 2007/2008, the Fed enacted QE, but that program ended in late 2017. According to Trump, if the Fed were to undertake those policies, the economy would improve dramatically, despite the fact that in Trump’s eyes, things are already going well.
Global Growth Outlook ‘Precarious’
International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde in a preview of the April 12-14 IMF and World Bank Spring Meetings, said that global growth has lost momentum amid rising trade tensions and tighter financial conditions. The IMF Chief explained that the global economy is “unsettled” after two years of steady growth, with the outlook “precarious” and vulnerable to trade, Brexit and financial market shocks. However, she said that the IMF does not anticipate a recession in the near term, and the Federal Reserve’s “more patient pace of monetary policy normalisation” will provide some thrust to growth in the second half of 2019 and into 2020.
Lagarde cautioned, however, that years of high public debt and low interest rates since the financial crisis a decade ago have left limited room in many countries to act when the next downturn arrives, so countries need to make smarter use of fiscal policy. This means striking a better balance between growth, debt sustainability and social objectives and acting to address growing inequality by building stronger social safety nets.
Lagarde also said that the IMF has revised its analysis of the US-China trade war’s effects, showing that if all trade between the world’s two largest economies were subjected to a 25 percent tariff, US gross domestic product (GDP) would fall by up to 0.6 percent while China’s would fall by up to 1.5 percent.
“Nobody wins a trade war,” Lagarde added. “That is why we need to work together to reduce trade barriers and modernise the global trade system.”