Asian countries cut rates amid global economic woe
  • | AFP | November 10, 2011 05:00 AM

Asian central banks have started slashing interest rates as the region\'s export-driven economies shudder at the prospect of a eurozone on the brink of catastrophe and a floundering US recovery.

Asian central banks have started slashing interest rates as the region\'s export-driven economies shudder at the prospect of a eurozone on the brink of catastrophe and a floundering US recovery

Booming Asia has for years propped up the global economy as it stumbled through bouts of debt crisis, and keeping growth rates bubbling even as western export markets shrink will be crucial.

Central banks that at the start of the year were tightening the monetary screws, to combat the threat of inflation and potentially destabilising food price increases, are now abruptly changing course.

"The central banks of Australia, Singapore, Indonesia and Pakistan have all loosened monetary policy in recent weeks, amid rising fears over the outlook for the global economy and falling inflationary pressures," Capital Economics said in a report this week.

"We forecast that other central banks in the region will soon follow suit, with many likely to start cutting interest rates by early next year. We believe that Malaysia will cut rates as early as this Friday."

In China, which on Wednesday reported October inflation sharply slower at 5.5 percent, the "coming few weeks are likely to mark a turning point in Chinese policy", said Capital Economics.

"Global demand is poor and the turmoil in the eurozone only darkens the outlook," it said. China\'s exports to the European Union, a fifth of its total, dropped 7.5 percent month-on-month in September, according to official data.

China\'s inflation rate has slowed for three straight months after peaking at 6.5 percent in July -- the highest level in more than three years -- as policymakers continue to clamp down on bank lending and property purchases.

Premier Wen Jiabao reiterated last month that controlling prices was a key task but that the government could fine-tune economic policy when the time was right.

Australia\'s central bank cut official interest rates for the first time in more than two years this month to 4.50 percent and slashed its growth forecast, warning that Europe\'s turmoil could drag its resource-led economy lower.

Though low by global standards (5.2 percent) unemployment has risen in recent months and inflation is moderating as cautious consumers hit pause on spending, and demand is easing for its commodities, especially iron ore.

Flood-hit Thailand is also seen as ripe for a rate cut and Indonesia\'s central bank has indicated it will likely cut its benchmark rate again Thursday after Southeast Asia\'s biggest economy made a similar cut in October.

Analysts said Europe\'s shrinking appetite for Asia\'s exports will, on the bright side, take pressure off commodity prices and inflation -- until recently seen as the main risk to growth in the booming region.

Barclay\'s Capital has predicted Chinese gross domestic product growth would fall below 8.5 percent in the fourth quarter of 2011, from 9.7 percent at the start of the year, but that this was not cause for alarm.

"We maintain our base case soft landing view, with growth slowing to 8.4 percent in 2012 from 9.1 percent in 2011," it said in a report last month.

"There appears to be a growing view in Beijing that the government should tolerate a bit slower economic growth in exchange for quality and sustainability, given the legacies from the 09-10 credit boom."

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) said in September however that developing Asian countries were still on course to reach 7.5 annual growth, down from its original projection of 7.8 percent.

It pointed to increase sophistication and diversification of growth drivers in the rapidly developing region, where many countries are establishing a cashed-up middle class keen on consumption.

"Despite sluggish recovery in the major industrial economies, the region can continue to grow at that rate through 2012 on the back of its buoyant domestic demand and intraregional trade," the ADB said.

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