Threats to Asean growth may come from within


Six of the biggest economies in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) are generally insulated against global risks but challenges arising from local politics and mounting household debt can pose the biggest threats to growth, global credit rating agency Moody’s Investors Service warned in a recent statement.

Moody’s was referring to Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand as the six biggest economies of Asean.

The rating agency expects no severe impact on the region from global risks such as a slowdown in capital inflows as investment funds find their way back to the United States where the Federal Reserve’s tapering move boosts the prospects of higher interest rates.

“While tighter global credit conditions will result in slower growth across the emerging economies, Asean economies generally should continue to perform well,” said Moody’s Investors Service’s chief credit officer for Asia Pacific, Michael Taylor.

Taylor said these Asean economies are “less susceptible than most emerging markets to a slowdown in capital inflows, as the US Fed tapering progresses, and their export-oriented focus should benefit from a recovery in the US economy.

However, the ratings agency observed that some domestic risk factors in Asean are increasing, particularly political risks in some countries and the rising level of household debt in several others.

Taylor recognized that rising household indebtedness could limit regional growth, particularly if the Asean economies weaken, and if unemployment in the region worsens, hurting consumer confidence and disposable incomes.

Political disturbances could undermine credit fundamentals or exacerbate external vulnerabilities, he said.

Meanwhile, Moody’s vice president and senior research analyst, Rahul Ghosh, says that while the overall outlook for Moody’s-rated Asean corporates and banks is stable, firms could be facing tighter credit conditions.

“Despite their enduring strengths, Asean corporates and banks face a more challenging operating environment in the coming quarters due to tighter credit conditions, a deceleration in the Chinese economy and the emergence of political risk,” Ghosh said.

Ghosh explained that exposure by the Asean countries to Chinese demand has increased significantly over recent years, a prolonged slowdown in China would have a significant impact on the region’s corporates and banks.

Risks for the Asean’s banking sector involve a higher debt-servicing burden for households and a correction in asset prices.

At the same time, Moody’s noted that the banking sector exhibits strong capital buffers and modest problem loans, factors which should provide sufficient support for their ratings.

Ghosh also said that while the rating trend for non-financial corporates is likely to be mildly negative in 2014 for Asia as a whole, the Asean looks better positioned than other sub-regions in Asia.

“Refinancing is generally manageable for Moody’s-rated Asean corporates, because their debt maturities are well staggered and relatively small when compared with the issuance of previous years,” Ghosh added.


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