Philippines Joins Korea in Weighing Steps to Curb Inflows

Philippine central bank Governor Amando Tetangco said he’s studying more measures to counter excessive capital inflows lured by growth, joining South Korea and Singapore in warning that policy makers need to consider more steps to reduce the impact of such funds.

“Capital flows and the impact of these on the local economy and local financial markets” would be among the biggest challenges this year, Tetangco said in an interview in his office yesterday. “We continue to study what other measures can be implemented just in case there’s a need to adopt more measures in the future.”

Monetary easing in developed nations from Japan to the U.S. and Europe has spurred flows to faster growing emerging markets as investors seek higher returns, boosting Asian stocks to the highest in 17 months this week. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas can’t rule out further reductions on the rate it pays on funds placed in its special deposit accounts after a cut last week, Tetangco said.

“It’s becoming challenging to manage inflows with so much of it coming in and increasing liquidity in the system,” said Santitarn Sathirathai, a Singapore-based economist at Credit Suisse Group AG. “What the central bank doesn’t want is for these funds to go into speculative activities, like to the property sector.”

The Philippine economy grew 6.8 percent last quarter from a year earlier, the government said today, beating the median estimate of 6.3 percent in a Bloomberg News survey. Gross domestic product increased 6.6 percent in 2012, it said.

Gradual Appreciation

Singapore central bank Managing Director Ravi Menon said yesterday Asian policy makers should allow a gradual appreciation of their currencies along with other measures to keep inflationary pressures contained as the region faces a “wall of money.” South Korea should consider taxes on currency trading and bonds to help limit “speculative” inflows of capital, Deputy Finance Minister Choi Jong Ku said yesterday.

Thailand will set up a team of economists, including central bank Governor Prasarn Trairatvorakul, to study how to respond to short-term capital inflows, Finance Minister Kittiratt Na-Ranong said yesterday. The country won’t impose capital controls or tax measures to curb fund flows, he said.

Interest rates will remain low this year even as growth will probably meet the government’s 6 percent-to-7 percent target, Tetangco said.

“From our point of view, we do not see signs of overheating in the Philippine economy,” the governor said.

New Limits

Bangko Sentral in 2012 announced limits on banks’ currency forward positions and banned overseas funds from special deposit accounts. Last week it cut the rate it pays on 1.72 trillion pesos ($42 billion) in its so-called SDAs to 3 percent from more than 3.5 percent. It kept the benchmark overnight borrowing rate unchanged at a record-low 3.5 percent.

“By introducing more macro-prudential measures, they’re able to target specific concerns unlike using the main interest rate, which is a blunt tool,” Santitarn said.

Philippine outsourcing companies have called on policy makers to curb the peso’s gains to sustain competitiveness. Inflows must be managed as currency gains may hurt exporters and low rates may spur asset bubbles, New York University Professor Nouriel Roubini said in a speech in Manila yesterday.

“We don’t see evidence of stretched market conditions at this point in time but we continue to monitor,” Tetangco said. “We don’t target a particular exchange rate. Our policy is the same; we won’t go against the fundamental trend but reserve the right to step in the market to smoothen excessive volatilities as may be necessary.”

Top Performer

Capital inflows have boosted Philippine stocks and helped make the peso Asia’s best-performing currency in the past 12 months.

The peso climbed to 40.55 per dollar on Jan. 14, the strongest level since March 2008. It was little changed at 40.66 as of 10:15 a.m. in Manila, according to Tullett Prebon Plc. The yield on the three-year peso bonds fell to 3.29 percent this week, the lowest since September 2011. The main stock index climbed 0.6 percent today, extending a record high.

The $225 billion economy is on the cusp of an investment-grade rating, President Benigno Aquino said this month. That would attract inflows, Tetangco said yesterday.

The Philippines has the highest junk rating at Moody’s Investors Service, Fitch Ratings and Standard & Poor’s. S&P raised the outlook to positive last month and said an upgrade is possible in 2013 on improved governance and public finances.

Encourage Outflows

The Philippines may consider further loosening foreign-exchange rules to encourage outflows, Felipe Medalla, a member of the central bank’s Monetary Board, told reporters yesterday.

“We’re not thinking of imposing holding period for investments in stocks,” Medalla said. “If at all, maybe on fixed income, because people who go to fixed income do carry trade. We’re studying everything.”

South Korea’s finance official Choi said yesterday his government may further tighten restrictions on banks’ currency forward positions. South Korea on Nov. 27 capped currency forward positions at 150 percent of equity for branches of foreign banks. The limit is 30 percent of equity for domestic banks.

Tools other than interest rates have to be used as emerging-market economies such as the Philippines try to curb volatility, sustain growth and keep prices stable, Tetangco said.

“The policy rate remains the main instrument of monetary policy,” he said. “Over the long run, we may develop an interest-rate corridor. What we did last week was an intermediate step towards that. It’s a medium-term objective.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.