Pesek's View From Asia
Good morning, everyone. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Malaysia's credit outlook was cut to negative from stable as prospects dwindle for budgetary and fiscal reform.
The dark side of Prime Minister Najib Razak's much-ballyhooed election victory in May is becoming painfully apparent. Najib kept his Barisan Nasional coalition in power with a giant spending spree that included smartphone rebates for youths, household electricity subsidies and higher wages for civil servants. Now comes the bill. “Malaysia’s public finances are its key rating weakness,” Fitch said, affirming the long-term foreign currency-denominated rating at A-. It will be difficult to achieve the 3 percent deficit target in 2015 without bold actions, including cutting subsidies. Najib's victory is going to be a lot more expensive than he'd anticipated.
Worries about the plunging rupee sent Indian stocks down for a sixth day, putting them on track for the longest losing streak since March.
As India's government opens up to longer-term investors, it's finding short-term ones to be a big problem, too. Speculators are now testing the central bank's resolve to prevent the rupee from reaching a new record low. Global funds have pulled $1.05 billion from local shares this month -- extending June’s $1.8 billion sell-off -- and $2 billion from bonds. The only way to stop the bleeding is to regain the trust of investors. That means bold steps to increase economic growth, narrow a record current-account deficit and improve India's investment environment. Only then will sell orders stop flooding Mumbai.
Seventeen of China's 30 provinces and provincial-level cities reported first-half growth below annual targets.
Sure, those GDP numbers were still sky-high compared to the rest of the world (and higher than the national average, which only goes to show how wobbly data in China is). But grim predictions that Chinese GDP growth will dip below 5 percent are no longer looking so crazy. Just ask investors: Since its high in 2009, the Shanghai Composite Index has been the world's worst performer, erasing $748 billion in market value. No doubt many of those optimistic punters are wishing they'd bet against Beijing earlier.
Shinzo Abe's plan to revive Japan's deflation-plagued economy got two votes of confidence from key foreign investors.
The first came from Jana Partners, which took a stake in Japan Airlines. While the $6 billion activist hedge fund run by Barry Rosenstein didn't disclose the size of its share, the fact Jana touted the position in a letter to investors suggests it's significant. The second came from Aflac, the largest seller of supplemental health insurance, which is betting on Japanese government debt in contrast to a plan last year to put less money into yen-denominated assets. (The company owned $35.5 billion of Japanese debt as of June 30 already.) Taken together, the moves reflect optimism that Prime Minister Abe's reforms can boost domestic demand without a devastating surge in bond yields. While skepticism still prevails in many quarters, some key investors are clearly giving Abe the benefit of the doubt.
New Zealand's business sentiment rose to the highest level since April 1999 amid solid growth and a favorable profit outlook.
"NZ On Fire!" That's how Stephen Toplis, head of research at Bank of New Zealand in Wellington, titled his daily research note and it's hard to disagree. Kiwi optimism offers quite a respite from the economic doom and gloom investors find almost everywhere else. Business confidence is improving, with 52.8 percent of companies in July expecting the economy will improve over the next 12 months compared with 50.1 percent in June. Growth may soon push past 4 percent, while employment and profit expectations remain buoyant. All this despite a currency many believe to be overvalued and a Chinese slowdown. On fire, indeed.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)