Malaysia´S September 1998 Controls: Background, Context, Impacts, Comparisons, Implications, Lessons
Unlike the other East Asian economies which sought IMF emergency credit facilities after borrowing heavily from abroad, the Malaysian authorities simply never had to go to the Fund as prudential regulations introduced earlier had limited foreign borrowings, especially short-term credit. Instead, its crisis was due to massive portfolio investment inflows into the stock market. With the crisis, currency depreciation and stock market declines formed a vicious cycle, exacerbated by contagion and policy responses as well as official rhetoric undermining market confidence, especially in the latter half of 1997. From December 1997, the adoption of more orthodox pro-cyclical policies made the downturn worse. Before mid-1998, new fiscal measures were adopted to reflate the economy, later augmented by the currency and capital control measures from September. Looking at the crisis in August 1998, when the United States still showed little inclination to do anything to improve the situation, the Malaysian measures made good sense. The September 1998 Malaysian controls were undoubtedly well designed and effective in closing down the offshore ringgit market without discouraging greenfield foreign direct investment. The Malaysian experience shows that imposing emergency capital controls on outflows did not have the disastrous effects its opponents claim it would. But, coming 14 months after the crisis began, they were too late to stem capital flight, which had already taken place, resulting in the 80 per cent collapse of the stock market index. The capital controls were amended in February 1999 and ended in September 1999. They prevented more capital from leaving owing to the uncertainty induced by the economic and political developments of early September 1998. All the crisis economies turned around from late 1998, while Malaysia took longer, recovering from the second quarter of 1999. The recovery was stronger than in Thailand and in Indonesia in 1999 and 2000, although it lagged behind that in the Republic of Korea. The Governments of the Republic of Korea and Malaysia were bolder in their fiscal reflationary efforts, and also worked faster at bank re-capitalization and corporate restructuring. The pre-Y2K demand for electronics helped Malaysia and the Republic of Korea more than the others. Malaysia also benefited from higher petroleum and palm oil prices, while the depth of the 1998 recession in Southeast Asia was partly due to El Nino weather effects on agricultural output, and not just the currency and financial crises.
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