1997-07-02 to 1999-01-01
Southeast AsiaThe Asian financial crisis was a period of financial crisis that gripped much of East Asia and Southeast Asia beginning in July 1997 and raised fears of a worldwide economic meltdown due to financial contagion.
The banking sector was burdened with non-performing loans as its large corporations were funding aggressive expansions. During that time, there was a haste to build great conglomerates to compete on the world stage. Many businesses ultimately failed to ensure returns and profitability. The chaebol, South Korean conglomerates, simply absorbed more and more capital investment. Eventually, excess debt led to major failures and takeovers. The Hanbo scandal of early 1997 exposed South Koreas economic weaknesses and corruption problems to the international financial community.
Having largely kept itself above the fray throughout 1997–1998, there was heavy speculation in the Western press that China would soon be forced to devalue its currency to protect the competitiveness of its exports vis-a-vis those of the ASEAN nations, whose exports became cheaper relative to China's.
In June 1997, Indonesia seemed far from crisis. Unlike Thailand, Indonesia had low inflation, a trade surplus of more than $900 million, huge foreign exchange reserves of more than $20 billion, and a good banking sector. But a large number of Indonesian corporations had been borrowing in U.S. dollars. During the preceding years, as the rupiah had strengthened respective to the dollar, this practice had worked well for these corporations; their effective levels of debt and financing costs had decreased as the local currency's value rose.
Thailand lacked the foreign reserves to support the USD–Baht currency peg, and the Thai government was eventually forced to float the Baht, on 2 July 1997, allowing the value of the Baht to be set by the currency market. This caused a chain reaction of events, eventually culminating into a region-wide crisis.
The HKMA and Donald Tsang, then the Financial Secretary, declared war on speculators. The Government ended up buying approximately HK$120 billion (US$15 billion) worth of shares in various companies, and became the largest shareholder of some of those companies (e.g., the government owned 10% of HSBC) at the end of August, when hostilities ended with the closing of the August Hang Seng Index futures contract.
On 11 August 1997, the IMF unveiled a rescue package for Thailand with more than $17 billion, subject to conditions such as passing laws relating to bankruptcy (reorganizing and restructuring) procedures and establishing strong regulation frameworks for banks and other financial institutions.
On 14 August 1997, the managed floating exchange regime was replaced by a free-floating exchange rate arrangement. The rupiah dropped further. The IMF came forward with a rescue package of $23 billion, but the rupiah was sinking further amid fears over corporate debts, massive selling of rupiah, and strong demand for dollars.
In October 1997, the Hong Kong dollar, which had been pegged at 7.8 to the U.S. dollar since 1983, came under speculative pressure because Hong Kong's inflation rate had been significantly higher than the United States' for years.
In 1998, the output of the real economy declined plunging the country into its first recession for many years. The construction sector contracted 23.5%, manufacturing shrunk 9% and the agriculture sector 5.9%. Overall, the country's gross domestic product plunged 6.2% in 1998.
Unlike investments of many of the Southeast Asian nations, almost all of China's foreign investment took the form of factories on the ground rather than securities, which insulated the country from rapid capital flight. While China was unaffected by the crisis compared to Southeast Asia and South Korea, GDP growth slowed sharply in 1998 and 1999, calling attention to structural problems within its economy.
The baht devalued swiftly and lost more than half of its value. The baht reached its lowest point of 56 units to the U.S. dollar in January 1998. The Thai stock market dropped 75%. Finance One, the largest Thai finance company until then, collapsed.
In February 1998, President Suharto sacked Bank Indonesia Governor J. Soedradjad Djiwandono, but this proved insufficient. Amidst widespread rioting in May 1998, Suharto resigned under public pressure and Vice President B. J. Habibie replaced him.
The Philippine GDP contracted by 0.6% during the worst part of the crisis, but grew by 3% by 2001, despite scandals of the administration of Joseph Estrada in 2001, most notably the "jueteng" scandal, causing the PSE Composite Index, the main index of the Philippine Stock Exchange, to fall to 1,000 points from a high of 3,448 points in 1997.