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East Asian Economic Crisis and Lessons for Debt Management

Dr. Tarun Das*, Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance

1. Anatomy of the Crisis

The crisis unfolded against the backdrop of three decades of outstanding

economic performance in East Asia. These economies, particularly Indonesia,
Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea and Thailand recorded very high growth
rates during 1980s and early 1990s. However, most of the countries had
recently large current account deficit, financed by capital flows attracted by
the region’s economic boom, macro-economic stability, interest rate
differentials and stable exchange rate. East Asia became the darling of
international investors since the 1980s, and the advancement of computer
and information technology speeded up capital movements from one market
to another for higher returns. A part of the impetus for the increased capital
flows to the East and South East Asia also originated from the crisis of
commercial banking in major industrial countries to find alternative sources
of business and to enhance returns of capital (UNCTAD, 1998).

Private sector companies were the main borrowers abetted by a euphoric

environment created by liberalisation of financial markets without
strengthening the regulatory and supervisory systems. There was close links
between government, business and banks. Companies borrowed easily
foreign currency on short terms and lent too rapidly for use in unproductive
sectors. Lending was based not on feasibility of projects but on personal
relations or “crony capitalism”. The chaebols in Korea, the politically well
connected monopolies in Indonesia and the influential private corporations in
Malaysia are examples of such links (Kochhar et. Al. 1998).

Surge of foreign capital inflows led to an over-extension of lending, a

decline in the quality of assets and laxity in risk evaluation and portfolio
management by the financial sector. Capital inflows financed investment
booms in:

• protected or illiquid sectors having low return and long gestation period
(real estate and petrochemicals in Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia) causing
maturity mismatch between assets and liabilities of the financial
• Sectors with high or excess capacity having low or negative returns (steel,
ships, semiconductors, automobiles in Korea),
• Non-tradables (such as land, office blocks and condominiums in Thailand)
that generate return in domestic currency and did not generate foreign
• Directed lending by chaebols in Korea to maintain their market shares in
automobiles and electronics with inadequate attention to profitability, and
• Speculative and unproductive lending in share markets.

• The paper expresses personal views of the author and does not
necessarily reflect the views of the Ministry of Finance, Government of

The whole system set the stage for a classic boom-bust cycle in asset
markets. Stock and property prices soared initially then plunged leading to
the currency and financial crisis. These prices plunged even more after the
crisis, and led to deep and wide spread economic crisis and social chaos. The
financial intermediaries, both banks and non-bank, were the creators of this
asset cycle. Liabilities of these financial intermediaries were perceived as
having an implicit government guarantee, but they were essentially
unregulated. They borrowed large amounts of international capital, much of
which was on short-term maturity, denominated in US dollars and not hedged
against currency risks. They lent money to highly leveraged speculative
investors, mostly in real estate.

The excessive risky lending by these institutions created inflation of asset

prices. The overpricing of assets and over-investment were sustained by a
sort of circular process, in which proliferation of risky lending led to an
increase in prices of risky assets. There was a serious mismatch of assets/
liabilities of banks and their financial intermediaries. Their financial conditions
seemed sounder than the real balance sheet position. It led a fragile financial
system with illiquid and undercapitalised assets.

Finally, there was a burst of price-bubbles in the middle of 1997 leading

to a significant fall of asset prices in all the crisis economies. As the asset
prices fell further, it became increasingly doubtful whether governments
would really stand behind the deposits and loans that remained. Both the
depositors and lenders rushed to withdraw their money. Foreign investors
stampeded to recall their loans and investments, forcing currency
devaluation. It worsened the crisis even further as banks and companies
found them stuck with illiquid assets in devalued Baht or Rupiah, but with
liabilities in US dollars. Finally, the financial crisis was converted into wider
economic disruption and social chaos.

2. Origins of the Crisis

The difficulties that the East Asian countries face are not primarily the
result of macroeconomic imbalances. Rather, they stem from weaknesses in
financial systems and, to a lesser extent, governance. Although private sector
expenditure and financing decisions led to the crisis, it was exacerbated by
governance issues, notably government involvement in the private sector
and lack of transparency in corporate and fiscal accounting and the provision
of financial and economic data. Thus, the build-up to the difficulties in East
Asia, which eventually lead to the present economic and financial crisis in
these economies and elsewhere, can be traced in four major factors:

• These countries were, to some extent, victims of their own economic

success: High growth and commendable economic success resulted in
underestimation of risk combined with inadequate financial sector

• Various features of their external economic environment (such as
dependence on exports of automobiles and electronics), that at first were
favourable, turned sour in several respects in 1996 and 1997;

• Shortcomings and inconsistencies in domestic macroeconomic and

exchange rate policies; many countries in the region maintained a policy
of stable exchange rate for a long period despite deceleration of exports,
and pursued a policy of relatively high interest rates in order to maintain a
stable exchange rate;

• Various structural weaknesses, particularly in the financial sector, that

made these economies and especially their financial systems increasingly
fragile and vulnerable to adverse developments.

It may be observed from the Table-1 that there were serious macro-economic
imbalances on the eve of the crisis in all the crisis economies. They became
increasingly vulnerable in 1997 to external shocks for the following reasons:

• The current account deficit as a per centage of GDP ranged between 2 per
cent in Korea to 5.2 per cent in Philippines.

• External debt as a per centage of GDP ranged from 34 per cent in Korea to
76 per cent in Indonesia.

• Share of unconcessional debt to total debt ranged from 77 per cent in

Philippines to 94 per cent in Malaysia.

• Share of short-term debt in total debt ranged from 19 per cent in

Philippines to 62 per cent in Korea.

• Share of short-term debt in total foreign exchange reserves ranged from

47 per cent in Malaysia to 75 per cent in Korea.

• Although foreign exchange cover of imports ranged from 0.6 months in

Korea to 4.7 months in Indonesia, practically all foreign exchange reserves
were sold off in large forward contracts on the foreign exchange markets
particularly in Thailand (Karin Lissakers 1998).

Banking sector was subject to high risk and vulnerability to adverse shocks
for the following reasons:

• Ratio of domestic credit to GDP rose to 165 per cent in Korea, 160 per cent
in Malaysia and 157 per cent in Thailand.

• Interest expenses as a per centage of GDP ranged from 14 per cent in

Philippines to 25 per cent in Thailand.

• Debt to equity ratio reached nearly 400 per cent in Korea compared with
85 per cent in Taiwan, 144 per cent in Germany, 160 per cent in Malaysia,
154 per cent in Sweden, 200 per cent in Japan and 150 per cent in USA.

• On the eve of the crisis, short-term interest rates rose to more than 16 per
cent in Korea and 22 per cent in Thailand.

• In 1997, banks’ exposure to property sector was 34 per cent in Indonesia,

26 per cent in Malaysia and 13 per cent in Thailand.

• Non-performing loans of commercial banks reached 19 per cent of total

credits in Thailand, 16 per cent in Korea and Malaysia, and 17 per cent in
Indonesia compared with 1 per cent in the USA (IMF 1988).

The situation was exacerbated by the weakness in corporate and public

sector governance. Total (domestic and foreign) debt of private and private
sectors amounted to 190 per cent in Indonesia, and exceeded 225 per cent of
GDP in Korea, Malaysia and Thailand. In Korea and Thailand, incremental
capital output ratios (ICORs) doubled in 1990-1995. Debt to equity ratio
increased to nearly 400 per cent in Korea in 1997. In Korea, the net profits of
30 largest chaebols were close to zero, with six chaebols filing for bankruptcy
in early 1997.

3. Onset and Spread of the crisis

World was astonished with the speed and extent to which the crisis spread
from Thailand to other countries in the region. The financial and exchange
rate crisis, that began in Thailand in mid 1997, spread to many countries of
East Asia, Russia, parts of Latin America and also affected the economic
health of major industrial economies like Japan, North America and Europe.
Contagion or the Wake up call effect and slipover effects through
intraregional trade and investment linkages have been felt by many
emerging market countries in other region in the form of declining stock
prices and intense pressures on exchange rates, It has adversely affected
their economic growth prospects in 1998 and outlook for future.

The crisis has led to dramatic depreciation of the nominal exchange rates
(Table-1). The sharp movement of the exchange rate has greatly complicated
the macroeconomic policy choices by raising the cost of repaying foreign
debt, weakening the financial and corporate sectors. Remarkably, the CPI
inflation rate since June 1997 has been in the range of 5-12 per cent with the
exception of Indonesia, where the current inflation is running around 80 per
cent. Mexico, by way of comparison, experienced a 40 per cent surge in
inflation during first ten months of its crisis in 1995. Despite large increases
in nominal interest rates in some countries, only Korea and Thailand have
been able to maintain real interest rates as significantly higher levels than
those before the crisis.

For the crisis-hit East Asian economies real GDP growth rates in 1998 are
predicted to be negative, ranging from -5 per cent and -6 per cent in some

countries like Thailand to -10 per cent to –15 per cent for Indonesia. These
countries continue to incur massive social and economic costs in terms of
loss of output, acceleration of inflation, rising unemployment, and growing

Main causes of economic recession:

Four main factors as indicated below are responsible for the current

(a) Lack of external demand as a result of several factors such as:

• An effective collapse of the regional market as a result of decline of

imports by 4 to 13 per cent in volume. The crisis countries (and these
including Japan) accounted for 45 per cent (and 55 per cent) of the
exports to the region. This explains that the performance in volume
(between negative 0.6 per cent for Indonesia, 5 per cent Malaysia and 24
per cent for Korea) is much lower than the pre-crisis level.

• Prices of exports also declined significantly leading to very low

performance in value, given the decline in exchange rates. Export value
declined in Malaysia and Indonesia, and increased by only 1.4 per cent in
Thailand and by 5 per cent in Korea.

(b) Lack of internal demand as a result of several factors such as:

• Loss of wealth (market capitalisation down by 16 per cent in Indonesia, to

145 per cent in Malaysia);
• Capital flight equivalent to about 10 per cent of GDP;
• Increase in unemployment and number of people below the poverty line,
and loss of revenues by the working population.
• None of this has been compensated so far by sharp increases in public
demand, either in terms of investment or current expenditures on social

(c) Problems on the supply side: The corporate sector face considerable
difficulties in responding to demand, mainly due to collapse of financial sector.
There is also the problem of trade finance and internal credit crunch due to
various factors such as:

• Lack of competitiveness, and industrial restructuring taking time (Korea,

• Corporate distress due to sharp increase of foreign debt (Indonesia) or
high real interest rates (everywhere except in Indonesia);
• Decline in bank credits as banks reduce their exposure because of capital
adequacy requirements, and not enough capital to lend;
• No credit available for specific categories of enterprises such as SMEs
because banks supporting them collapsed. In general SMEs were hit more
than large exporting corporate houses.
• Each country was, in effect, exporting its recession to its neighbours and
there was no obvious engine of growth to pull the region from recession.

(d) Political and social factors: Political and social events also played a
significant part in the crisis. While political changes in Thailand and Korea
assisted in stabilising of the exchange rate, with the establishment of a clearly
understood and supported reform programme, political uncertainty in
Indonesia played an important role in the opposite direction. There were signs
of social unrest almost everywhere, although by different degrees.
Unemployment rates are now 3 per cent in Malaysia, 6 per cent in Korea and
15 per cent in Indonesia. Poverty is therefore increasing at an alarming rate.
Indonesia, which had an impressive record of poverty reduction, is expected to
experience a rise in the poverty ratio from 11 per cent to about 16 per cent
within a year (World Bank 1998). The poor are being severely hurt during the
crisis as demand for their labour falls, prices of essential commodities rise,
social services are cut, and crop failures occur due to weather shocks. Social
areas, including ensuring food and medicine supplies, keeping children in
school, and protecting women’s health are key targets for interventions by the
government and multilateral funding agencies.

4 Impact on Indian Economy

Indian economy remains relatively less affected by the recent economic
crisis in East Asia and elsewhere. After achieving an average growth rate of
about 7 per cent per annum during the Eighth Plan (1992-1997) and 7.7 per
cent per annum in 1994-1997, growth rate of real GDP declined sharply to 5
per cent in 1997-98. But, the deceleration of the overall growth rate in 1997-
98 was mainly attributed to domestic factors such as a decline in agricultural
value added by 1 per cent and sluggish growth in industrial value added at
5.9 per cent in 1997-98. External factors had only marginal impact on the
growth rate of India, as the dependence of GDP on external trade is very
limited. Overall growth rate of GDP is expected to improve to 5.8 per cent in
1998-99 supported by a growth rate of 4.7 per cent in industry, 5.3 per cent
in agriculture and 6.7 per cent in services.

Growth rate of exports in US dollar decelerated sharply from 20.3 per

cent in 1995-96 to 5.6 per cent in 1996-97 and further to 2.1 per cent in
1997-98. The current account deficit as per centage of GDP increased from
1.1 per cent in 1996-97 to 1.6 per cent in 1997-98. Despite pressure on
exchange rate and sluggish exports, balance of payments position has
remained comfortable during 1998-99. Foreign exchange reserves (including
gold and SDR) at the end of January 1999 stood at $30.4 billion, which
provides cover to about seven months of imports. The build up of foreign
exchange reserves during 1998-99 was mainly attributable to the successful
launching of the Resurgent India Bonds by the State Bank of India in August
1998 leading to an inflow of $4.2 billion worth of foreign currency assets.

Portfolio investment has continued to decline from $3.3 billion in 1996-97 to

$1.8 billion in 1997-98, to a net outflow of $0.8 billion in April-December
1998; but this decline has been offset by buoyant inflows of foreign direct
investment in 1997-98. Inflows of foreign direct investment increased by 19
per cent and reached $3.2 billion in 1997-98. However, in 1998-99 the inflows
of direct foreign investment amounted to only $1.6 billion in April-December
1998, indicating a decline by 38 per cent over the flow of FDI in the
corresponding period of the previous year.

Stock of external debt increased by $1 billion from $93.4 billion at end-March

1997 to $94.4 billion at end-March 1998. However, debt service ratio to total
current receipts declined from 21.2 per cent in 1996-97 to 19.5 per cent in
1997-98 and the debt to GDP ratio remained stable around 23.8 per cent in
1996-97 and 1997-98. The ratio of short-term debt to total debt declined from
7.2 per cent at end-March 1997 to 3.7 per cent at end-September 1998.

The Indian economy has demonstrably withstood the firestorm of capital

flight from emerging economies. This is attributable to a number of
favourable factors, such as:

• Sound macroeconomic management,

• Strict fiscal prudence and monetary discipline,
• Deregulation and delicensing in industry and trade to encourage private
• Liberal policy of foreign direct investment and portfolio investment,

• Limited convertibility of Indian Rupee on capital account,
• Firm control on short-term external borrowing and
• Lack of large exposure of Indian banks and financial institutions to
speculative and illiquid sectors such as real estate and share markets.

Considerable comfort to investors is provided by important indicators on

the external front such as the following, which are very favourable as
compared with those in the crisis economies (Table-1).

• Current level of foreign exchange reserves is equivalent to 7 months of

• Total foreign debt as a share of GDP has declined to 23.5 per cent.
• Concessional debt has a high proportion (41 per cent) of overall external
• The debt service ratio continues to decline, and is now 18.5 per cent.
• The share of short-term debt in total foreign debt is less than 4 per cent.
As per centage of foreign exchange reserves, short-term debt is about 12
per cent.
• Current account deficit at around 1.5 per cent of GDP is manageable.
• Internal debt of the Central Government as per centage of GDP has shown
a declining trend, and presently stands at 46 per cent of GDP.
• Average Non Performing assets of the Indian banks are 9 per cent.
• Average debt equity ratio of he Indian banks is only 100 per cent.
• Indian banks have low risk as domestic debt to GDP ratio is only 23 per
cent, and interest expenses constitute only 3 per cent of GDP.

5 Lessons from the Asian Crisis for Macro-economic management

Including management of external debt

In a comprehensive study of the East Asian crisis, Kochhar, Loungani and

Stone (1988) have grouped policy lessons into two categories: policy lessons
for crisis resolution and those for crisis prevention. The lessons for crisis
resolution include the importance of tight monetary policy early on for
exchange rate stabilisation, flexible fiscal policy, and comprehensive
structural reform. Crises are avoided by prudent macro-economic policies,
diligent bank supervision, transparent data dissemination, good corporate
governance, and forward-looking policy, even in good times. Broad policy
lessons for macro-economic management including management of external
debt, that emerge from this paper and other studies by the World Bank
(1998), IMF (1998a to 1998e) and UNCTAD (1998), are summarised below:

(a) General policies

• The Asian crisis has highlighted the importance of a sound

macroeconomic policy framework, and the dangers of unsustainable large
current account deficits.

• Basic lesson from the crisis is that the sooner the problems are identified,
recognised and properly treated, the better the chances for being
successful, and the smaller the economic and social costs involved. The
problems are always worse than expected. This seems to be true for both
monetary policy and financial and banking reforms.

• The odds for the occurrence of a financial crisis can be reduced by better
macroeconomic fundamentals, complemented by appropriate legal,
regulatory and institutional set-up for effective prudential regulation,
monitoring, surveillance and supervision of the financial system and
improved corporate governance. These entail structural reforms with an
unavoidably long-time scale.

• The main responsibility for taking appropriate measures to contain the

economic damage lies with the countries directly affected. Hesitation in
the implementation of required adjustments and reform measures could
only worsen the crisis; cause markets to overshoot even further and
exacerbate contagion effects.

• Goal should be to promote financial system based on stable economic

policies, sound financial system, open current accounts and transparent
behaviour by both the public and private sectors. The reforms should aim
at minimizing the risk of occurrence of a financial crisis and to ensure that
we do have adequately early warning and effective policy tools to deal
with the crisis.

(b) Financial sector reforms

• The linchpin of the crisis is the weak banking and financial system, which
has constrained the monetary authority in conducting monetary policy
and banking supervision as well as facilitating payments system.

• A few lessons for the financial sector reforms are now evident. First, worst
time to reform a financial system is in the middle of a crisis. Second, when
currency turmoil is associated with financial difficulties, raising interest
rates over an extended period may simply worsen the situation by
bringing about widespread corporate and bank insolvency. Third,
currencies should not be left to sink while funds are used to bail out the
international creditors.

• The Indonesian experience teaches that when public expectation is fragile,

the closure of insolvent banks, even though a must for creating a sound
banking system, could have an adverse result. A step, which was
originally intended to regain public confidence, resulted in a further loss of
confidence. It precipitated the translation of what was initially a liquidity
crisis into a solvency crisis, leaving behind a large stock of unpaid debt. It
may not be realistic, but the liquidation of weak banks should be done
when the economy is not fragile. And, in general, the sooner the better.

• Banking reforms need to be co-ordinated with monetary reforms. There

are interaction and feedback effects between bank soundness and
macroeconomic policy choices. Conflicts between the aims of price
stability and bank soundness entail an inter-temporal trade-off.

• Disclosure of key information on performance, credits, profitability etc. of

both financial and corporate entities is essential for creating investors’
confidence. Transparency provides markets with accurate information,
creates confidence and healthy competition among economic agents.

• We need to encourage good practices and to allow financial markets to

differentiate among bad, good and better borrowers and lenders. This
would help reduce the so-called “herding behaviour” that has been one of
the causes of increased contagion during the crisis.

(c) Monetary policies

• Monetary policy in general is a short run issue, even though it has long-
term implications. Banking restructuring is, however, a long-term problem.
It deals with problems of efficiency, management, supervision, regulation,
law enforcement, banking ethics, etc., which are microeconomic issues.
These have to be considered carefully in designing and implementing
banking reform together with monetary policy.

• Monetary policies need to be kept sufficiently firm to resist excessive

exchange rate depreciation through adequate increase in interest rates,

its inflationary consequences and downward pressures on partner
countries’ currencies. For economies with large amounts of short-term
external debt, it is particularly important that monetary conditions provide
adequate incentives for the private sector to roll over short-term foreign
loans in the face of the increase in risk premium.

• Monetary policies can be used for reducing inflows of short-term debt or

changing the composition of capital inflows in favour of long-term flows.
One such measure is to introduce or enhance non-remunerated reserve
requirement deposited with the central bank on liabilities in foreign
currency arising from borrowing by firms depending on the maturity of the
loan. There can be also an explicit tax on inflows of foreign capital,
irrespective of maturity and purpose. It is also possible to impose
quantitative controls on capital such as fixation of prudential limits on or
prohibitions of non-trade related swap activities, offshore borrowing,
ceilings on banks’ foreign currency liability or sale of short term money
market instruments to foreign residents (Islam 1998).

• Generally, a tight monetary policy is required to defend a currency, which

is under severe downward pressure. Higher interest rates not only raise
return on investment from assets denominated in foreign currency and
thus encourage inflows of foreign currency assets, but also reduce
speculative demand for foreign currency by making it more expensive.
Tight monetary policy also reduces domestic demand and expectations of
future inflation and helps to support the exchange rate.

• However, tight monetary policies increase the debt burden in domestic

currency and the fiscal deficit, which may put downward pressure on the
exchange rate when foreign lenders and investors perceive greater credit
risks. Therefore, a tight monetary policy may be avoided as far as possible
or may be used only temporarily in an economy with relatively large
domestic debt burden. Short periods of relatively high interest rates are,
however, may be needed to stabilise wide exchange rate fluctuations
when speculative demand is high and confidence is lacking.

(d) Fiscal policies

• Fiscal policies need to contribute to the mobilisation of domestic savings

and to encourage the flow of non-debt creating financial flows and
thereby reducing the country’s excessive reliance on foreign debt. To the
extent that fiscal benefits are provided to foreign investors or the fiscal
adjustment strengthens international confidence, it can also help reverse
capital outflows thus reducing the need for current account adjustment.

• Fiscal policy needs to strike a balance between different objectives such

as growth with stability, equity and economic justice. It need to protect
the interest of the vulnerable sections of the society, to expand the social
safety net, to accommodate costs of financial sector restructuring and to
relieve the burden of the current account adjustment on the private

• Fiscal deficits were allowed to increase considerably in all crisis countries,
alleviating the effects of the crisis on real activity. This fiscal expansion
reflects accommodation of the deterioration in fiscal positions resulting
from the recession and exchange rate depreciation.

• Objections that no fiscal tightening was needed because the crises were
made by the private sector and not the result of “government profligacy”
are valid: even if fiscal policy was not part of the initial problem, it was a
useful part of the solution.

(e) Sequencing capital account convertibility

• It is necessary to foster orderly and properly sequenced capital account

liberalisation (supported by a sound financial sector and appropriate
macroeconomic and exchange rate policies) in order to maximise the
benefits from and minimise the risks of free capital movements.

• The liberalisation of capital accounts should be done in an orderly and

sequenced manner in line with strengthening of domestic financial
systems through adequate prudential and supervisory regulations
(Goldsbrough 1998). The golden rule is to encourage initially non-debt
creating financial flows such as foreign direct investment and portfolio
equity investment followed by long term capital flows. Short term or
volatile capital flows may be liberalised only at the end of capital account

• Most of the affected countries imposed capital controls in response to the

financial market pressures. If retained beyond the short term, the costs of
unilateral controls are likely to outweigh the benefits and can impose
significant risks to other members of the international community. A
strategy of integration, rather than isolation, clearly offers more benefits
in the long run.

(f) International co-operation

• International economic and financial co-operation is essential to contain

the crisis. The major advanced economies should seek to maintain
supportive conditions in international financial markets. In particular, in
Europe and North America, there may be a need for timely monetary
easing to arrest an escalating downturn.

• Collaboration and consultation at the regional and bilateral level are also
capable of contributing to the prevention of financial crisis. Their potential
role is particularly important with respect to the prevention of currency
disorders and contagion effects.

• Changes are needed to the global economic and financial

architecture in view of the excessive volatility of short-term debt

flows, strong contagion effects of crisis, and increased moral hazard
in international financial markets.

(g) External Debt Management Strategy

• As mentioned earlier, in all the East Asian crisis economies, weaknesses in financial systems
as a result of weak regulation and supervision and a long tradition of a heavy government role
in credit allocation led to misallocation of credits and inflated asset prices. Another vital
weakness of all countries was associated with large unhedged private short-term foreign
currency debt in a setting where the private corporate sector was highly leveraged.

• Short-term foreign currency denominated debt created two kinds of vulnerabilities in these
economies. First, if some creditors pulled out their money, each individual creditor had an
incentive to join the queue. As a result, even a debtor that had been fully solvent before the
crisis could be plunged into insolvency. Second, such debts also created vulnerabilities
associated with the exchange rate depreciation. Exchange risk was either borne directly by
the financial institutions or passed on to the corporations as the funds was on lent (thereby
converting exchange risk into credit risk). These factors were further complicated by the
interaction of exchange rate and credit risks. Currency depreciation led to wide spread
insolvency and created additional counter-party risk, which in turn added momentum to the
exit of foreign capital.

• The management of debt crisis being faced by the East Asian countries is not without
precedence. Following the inception of the Latin American debt crisis in 1982, and on the
presumption that the debt problem was one of liquidity and not solvency, the initial debt
management strategy aimed at normalising the relationship between the debtors and creditors
through a combination of economic adjustment by debtor countries and negotiations on
financial relief. The financing modalities provided debtor countries with some financial relief
through interest rate spreads, reduced fees, extension of maturities and provision of some new
finances. The negotiations conducted on a case-by-case approach for debtor countries were
co-ordinated by the private bank steering committees in consultation with the IMF, World
Bank and governments of the creditor banks’ home countries (Islam 1998).

• In the context of the current Asian crisis, countries have been succeeded in striking a
reasonably comprehensive debt-rescheduling strategy with creditor banks. The
implementation of the deal is voluntary and all creditors have not joined the scheme. So long
as free movement of international capital is allowed, there is no guarantee that the debt crisis
will not recur in future. Whenever such a financial crisis occurs in future, it is necessary to
formulate an international debt management strategy on the basis of negotiations among
international private lenders, investors and borrowers for sharing the responsibility for debt
relief, for rescheduling or for delaying claims on repayment.

• More effective structures for orderly debt workouts, including better

bankruptcy laws at the national level and better ways at the international
level of associating private sector creditors and investors with official
efforts are needed to help resolve sovereign and private debt problems.

• In the case of the present East Asian crisis, considerable thought is being given to
mechanisms that involve private sector to forestall and resolve crisis in a more timely and

systematic way. A range of options are available in this respect, viz. (a) to contract credit and
swap facilities with groups of foreign banks, to be activised in the event of liquidity
pressures, such as those contracted by Argentina and Mexico; (b) embedding call options in
certain short-term credit instruments to provide for an automatic extension of maturities in
times of crises; (c) feasible modifications of terms of sovereign bond contracts to include
sharing clauses; and (d) a possible role for creditor councils for discussion between debtors
and creditors. However, these are complex issues and need to be designed carefully so that
there are no perverse incentives, which may encourage private creditors to bail themselves
out at the first sight of difficulty, rather than providing net new financing in the event of a

• Developing countries need to strengthen their debt management strategy by developing

comprehensive debt sustainability models, which will integrate external sector, particularly
the flows of external debt, with broad macro-economic variables and provide early warning
regarding any possible debt trap. In this respect, separate debt models may be developed with
respect to sovereign external debt and private debt.

• All countries need to monitor very carefully short-term debt, long-term debt by residual
maturity, all guarantees and all contractual contingent liabilities arising out of both debt and
non-debt creating financial flows.

• A more comprehensive approach is needed when trying to deal with excessive private
borrowing and risk taking in the presence of large capital inflows and weak financial
systems. This often means applying more flexible exchange rates, tighter fiscal policy and
improved financial system. Domestic financial sector liberalisation should also proceed
carefully and in step with tighter financial regulation and supervision, and internationally
recognised prudential norms for capital adequacy and provisioning for non-performing
assets by commercial banks and financial institutions.

• We can conclude with the following observations made by the World Bank in their Report on
Global Economic Prospects and the Developing Countries (1999):

“The most pressing issue is to develop better mechanisms to facilitate private-to-private debt
workouts, including standstills on external debt under some conditions, and to restore capital
flows and increased international liquidity to countries in crisis. Although there are some
compelling arguments for a lender of the last resort, difficult issues arise for appropriate burden
sharing, the rules for intervention, and the avoidance of moral hazard. Improved regulation by
creditor country authorities and better risk management of bank lending to emerging markets
should also help reduce probability of crisis. More timely and reliable information is desirable,
but complete transparency and better information alone will not prevent a crisis”.

“The main lessons of the crisis are that countries need to build and strengthen regulatory and
institutional capacities to ensure the safety and stability of financial systems, especially at the
interfaces with international financial markets; and that the international architecture to prevent
crises and deal with them needs to be strengthened more effectively”.

Table-1: Major macro-economic variables in India and East Asian countries in 1997
(In per centage, unless mentioned otherwise)

Items India Indo- Korea Malay- Phili- Thai-

nesia sia ppines land
1. GDP growth in 1997 5.0 4.6 5.5 7.8 5.1 - 0.4
2. GDP growth in 1998 5.8 -12.0 -5.0 -4.0 0.5 -6.5
3. GDI to GDP ratio 24.8 29.5 36.8 42.8 23.9 35.0
4. GDS to GDP ratio 23.1 27.1 34.8 38.0 18.7 32.9
5. Current a/c deficit to GDP 1.6 2.4 2.0 4.8 5.2 2.2
6. External debt to GDP ratio 24 76 34 44 57 59
7. Concessional debt as a ratio to 41 20 … 6 23 8
total external debt
8. Short-term debt as a ratio to 5 25 62 28 19 41
total external debt
9. Debt-service ratio 19 31 9 6.3 11 15
10. Short-term debt as a ratio to 17 103 751 47 134 112
foreign exchange reserves
11. Foreign currency assets 6.9 4.7 0.6 3.5 1.7 4
(months of imports)
12. Exports of goods & non-factor 16 30 37 94 40 48
services as a ratio to GDP
13.Banks exposure to real estate Negli- 34 16 26 27 13
14. NPAs of banks 9 17 16 16 13 19
15. Short term interest rates 9.5 48.9 7.7 6.6 13.4 7.5
As on 2nd December, 1998
16. Domestic credit to GDP ratio 21 63 165 160 90 157
17. Bank credit to public sector as 3 5 10 10 25 2
per cent to GDP
18. Debt/equity ratio 100 250 400 . . .
19. Interest expenses to GDP 3 19 21 15 14 25
20. Currency depreciation since 15.5 70 32 34 34 30
July 1997 until Nov.98
21. Fall in REER since June 1997 3 57 31 29 25 29
22. Fall of stock prices since July 34 58 48 62 38 37
23. CPI inflation rate as in 16.3 79.3 6.8 5.2 10.2 4.1
October 1998
24. Central government balance -5.5 0.8 0.0 2.6 -1.0 -1.0
25. Internal debt at the end 1997 49 46 … 32 85 19
as per centage of GDP

Table-2: Basic Indicators of the Indian Economy 1991-1998
(In per cent)
Variables 1990- 1991- 1992- 1993- 1994- 1995- 1996- 1997- 1998-
91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99*
GDP growth rate 5.4 0.8 5.3 6.2 7.8 7.6 7.8 5.0 5.8

Agricultural growth 3.7 -2.0 4.1 3.8 5.4 0.2 9.4 -1.0 5.3

Industrial growth 8.2 0.6 2.3 6.0 9.3 12.2 6.0 5.9 4.7
Infrastructure 4.8 6.1 2.5 5.0 9.1 7.9 2.6 4.8 2.5
growth rate
Savings/GDP ratio 22.3 21.0 20.3 21.8 24.2 24.1 24.1 23.1 23.5

Investment/GDP 25.5 21.5 22.1 22.4 25.4 25.8 25.7 24.8 25.0
Fiscal deficit/GDP 7.7 5.4 5.2 6.9 5.6 4.9 4.7 5.5 6.0
ratio (Central govt)
Internal debt/GDP 48.6 47.4 46.8 49.1 47.0 45.6 44.1 45.9 45.8
ratio (Central govt.)
CPI inflation rate 11.6 13.5 9.6 7.3 10.3 10.0 9.4 6.8 10.0

Capital issue ( 43 58 198 195 264 161 104 31.8 …

Market cap ( 1103 3541 1771 3983 4331 4710 4639 4910 5000

Exports growth rate 9.2 -1.1 3.3 20.2 18.4 20.3 5.6 2.1 0.5

Current A/C as % of -2.9 -0.3 -1.7 -0.4 -1.0 -1.6 -1.1 -1.6 -1.4
Forex currency 2.2 5.6 6.4 15.1 20.8 17.0 22.4 26.5 26.8
assets ($ bn)
FER cover (no. Of 2.5 5.3 4.9 8.6 8.4 6.0 6.5 6.9 7.0
External debt/GDP 27.3 37.7 36.6 33.1 30.0 26.3 23.8 23.8 23.5
Non-debt capital as 1.2 2.9 13.2 42.9 60.0 155.4 56.6 48.2 21
ratio total cap. flow
Debt-service ratio 35.2 30.2 27.5 25.6 26.2 24.3 21.2 19.5 18.5

Short-term debt as % 10.2 8.3 7.0 3.9 4.3 5.4 7.2 5.4 3.7
of total external debt
Short-term debt as % 147 77 65 19 17 23 25 17 12
of FE assets
Foreign invest ($ bn) 0.1 0.1 0.6 4.2 4.8 4.6 5.8 5.0 2.0
Foreign direct inv. 0.1 0.1 0.3 0.6 1.2 1.9 2.5 3.2 2.2
Portfolio investment 0 0 0.3 3.6 3.6 2.7 3.3 1.8 -0.2

* Projection by the author.

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