Tuesday 25, September 2018 by Bloomberg

Indonesia ramping up efforts to shield rupiah from global rout

 

Almost daily, policy makers are discussing what additional steps they can take to help curb the currency’s decline.

Some of the stronger measures taken so far include four interest rate hikes since May—and possibly another one on Thursday—and import curbs.

Yet, those have done little to reverse foreign outflows as investors continue to dump emerging market assets on the back of rising US interest rates and a stronger dollar. The rupiah is down more than eight per cent against the dollar this year to reach the lowest level since the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Here’s a look at the steps Indonesian authorities have taken so far, and what other options are still available in their toolbox:

Bank Indonesia has raised interest rates by 1.25 percentage points since May, making it the most aggressive of Asia’s central banks this year, and more policy tightening may be in store this week.

Enrico Tanuwidjaja, an economist at United Overseas Bank Ltd. in Jakarta, is forecasting a 50 basis-point hike on 27 September to “instil more credibility and make sure that we are front-loaded and ahead of the curve.”

After reaching a record high in January, the central bank has already drained reserves by more than 10 per cent to about $118 billion and has vowed to continue market intervention. Even so, the buffers remain adequate, covering 6.8 months of import requirements, well above the international norm of three months.

“Bank Indonesia has plenty of ammunition left in its war chest to support the currency, if needed,” said Raphael Mok, senior analyst at Fitch Solutions. “This method will only help to smooth downside volatility rather than reverse the underlying trend of the rupiah.”

A current account deficit of three per cent of gross domestic product, which makes Indonesia reliant on foreign inflows, is one of the reasons why the currency has been targeted in the global sell-off. To help curb imports and narrow the deficit, the government has taken the following measures:

Taxes on imports, from luxury goods like cars to consumer products, were raised to as high as 10 per cent Import-heavy infrastructure projects were delayed Increased use of biofuels to cut fuel purchases from abroad

Juniman, an economist at PT Maybank Indonesia, who goes by one name, said authorities could also raise fuel prices to reduce imports and reschedule the completion targets for ongoing infrastructure projects, which would ease import demand.

Indonesia tightened foreign-exchange rules in 2015 by making it compulsory for all transactions to be conducted in rupiah.

But no one is talking yet about full-blown capital controls, like the kind Malaysia imposed during the Asian financial crisis two decades ago to prevent investors from taking their money out of the country.

Capital controls would likely be “last-resort measures” used only if macroeconomic stability is compromised by an economic slowdown, significantly higher inflation, domestic liquidity disruption or sharply higher non-performing loans, the Bank of America analysts said. “The probability of such an outcome is highly unlikely given much better fundamentals of growth around five per cent and inflation well-maintained within the target band,” they said.

The government and central bank have also been quick to downplay such moves.

“There is no plan to change that at this time,” said Suahasil Nazara, head of fiscal policy office at the Finance Ministry. “We are looking at the situation and the government is always trying to be responsive to the situation although what’s in our mind is not only the short-term response.”

Indonesia and other countries in the region could consider a collective, coordinated policy response to the slump by using available currency swap lines to boost their foreign reserves, said Nomura Holdings Inc. economist Euben Paracuelles.

“If the swap lines are jointly tapped from a position of strength and communicated well, it could help boost market confidence for countries with good fundamentals, but that have been disproportionately affected by shocks that are not of their own making,” he said.

Aside from bilateral swap facilities, Indonesia also has access to a potential currency pool of $240 billion that was set up by Asian governments in the aftermath of the financial crisis two decades ago as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund.

 

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