Pesek on Asia: Trapped by U.S. Treasuries
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
America's bankers drop default warning
Funny how China and Japan pundits view the nations' $2.4 trillion of dollar holdings as a strength. It's really a weakness as Congress flirts with a potentially-devastating default. China and Japan are trapped, unable to dump large blocks of Treasuries for fear of triggering turmoil that boomerangs back on their export-dependent economies. So when America's main bankers tell Washington to tread carefully with their money, as are Chinese Deputy Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao and Japanese Finance Minister Taro Aso, it's from a position of weakness. China and Japan would be wise to find more productive investments in the long run. In the short run, they're stuck with America's Tea Party and its irresponsible default threats.
So APEC officials, what was Bali all about?
It's hard to get excited about Asian trade summits. They're big on spin and pageantry, small on results. Officials jet in from far-flung places with huge entourages for a couple of days. As motorcades zoom around, they take in as much local color as one possibly can at 40 miles an hour. They shake hands, smile for the cameras, wear brightly colored shirts and, sometimes, even find time to discuss the odd economic issue. Aside from airlines, hotels and entertainment spots, few benefit from these costly confabs. This week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation event in Bali was no exception. Before planning the next giant Asia summit, this question should asked: Conference call, anyone?
Abenomics spooks world's biggest pension fund
Japan wants inflation. While most countries consider rising prices a curse, Tokyo figures they would be nice after 15 years of negligible growth and falling consumer prices. The trouble is, what if Japan gets what it wants? Any surge in bond yields could slam the economy. It's a paradox that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Abenomics revival program have yet to address. Yet Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund, the world’s largest manager of retirement savings, is filling the void and warning it's not ready for the 2 percent inflation rate Abe desires. Neither, for that matter, are many of Japan's 126 million people.
Light at end of tunnel for India?
First, the rupee showed signs of stabilizing. Now, stocks are heading higher. What's behind this sudden burst of optimism toward India? Raghuram Rajan. Just over a month into his stint as Reserve Bank of India governor, the respected University of Chicago economist is calming nerves in markets enough to consider relaxing liquidity curbs for the financial system. At least that's what investors hope. India's troubles are far from over. Its current-account deficit and political paralysis are clear and present economic dangers. But recent stock gains suggest some of the gloom surrounding India is lifting.
Australia gets shout out from IMF
As the world braces for Federal Reserve tapering, the International Monetary Fund is singling out Australia, Canada and South Korea as countries best placed to weather any global market volatility. Australia is the developed nation that best avoided the global fallout from Wall Street's 2008 crash and it remains as safe a haven as the world knows today. Unless, of course, China hits a wall. Resource-rich Australia is arguably the biggest leveraged bet on China's rapid growth. For now, though, markets Down Under may be the place to be as the Fed withdraws stimulus.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)