Hong Kong: “America is doing exactly what Japan did last time”
Hong Kong’s leader Donald Tsang has come out with a scathing criticism of U.S. monetary policy, comparing it to Japan’s which he believes contributed to 1997’s Asian crisis. This is the most direct and strident criticism of the U.S. Federal reserve’s monetary policy from a major international politician yet.
The Federal Reserve’s policy of keeping interest rates near zero is fueling a wave of speculative capital that may cause the next global crisis, Hong Kong’s leader said.
“I’m scared and leaders should look out,” said Donald Tsang, chief executive of the city, said in Singapore today. “America is doing exactly what Japan did last time,” he said, adding that Japan’s zero interest rate policy contributed to the 1997 Asian financial crisis and U.S. mortgage meltdown…
“We have a U.S. dollar carry trade at the moment,” Tsang, 65, said in a speech where leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum are gathering for a weekend summit. The carry trade is where investors borrow cheaply in one currency and use the funds to invest in other currencies.
“Where is the money going — it’s where the problem’s going to be: Asia,” Tsang said. “You can see asset prices going up, not only in Korea, in Taiwan, in Singapore and in Hong Kong, going up to levels that are incompatible or inconsistent with the economic fundamentals.”
Tsang’s criticisms are sure to draw attention as it comes during the APEC summit in Singapore, which is a cross-Pacific economic and political group now being used to show Asian-U.S. cooperation and harmony. Tsang has an especially painful memory of the Asian Crisis as he was Hong Kong’s financial secretary at the time and was forced with the central bank to spend $15 billion to defend Hong Kong’s currency peg as speculative capital fled Asian markets en masse. Depression ensued across wide swathes of Asia, leaving a psychological scar that reverberates today.
As for the comparisons of America to Japan, I find them very well placed. Yesterday I posted an article in which Marshall Auerback and Fox’s Brian Sullivan discussed parallels between the two. Nouriel Roubini fears that a U.S. dollar carry trade is building which is being used to help inflate assets outside of the U.S. in a global financial bubble.
This is certainly what the Japanese had done in the 1990s. Last August, before the Lehman collapse and panic I wrote that Japan was an enabler of the tech bubble of the late nineties:
the Bank of Japan did not realize the limitations of monetary policy. It could provide easy money, but it could not control where that money ended up. So, ultimately it ended up in the carry trade and helped supply the fuel for the tech bubble.
Was the BOJ responsible for the Tech Bubble? That’s a question that cannot be answered. But, what is true is that the Japanese government and monetary authorities were very instrumental both in the late 1990s and earlier this decade in providing free money to global investors via the carry trade.
Tsang is saying that Japan’s easy money policy also infected Asian markets, helping to inflate an unsustainable bubble which led to collapse and depression. In a macabre repeat of economic history, he sees the same re-occurring now as the U.S. tries desperately to ward off deflation.