Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Collapse of the Indonesian Economy (1997)

In Indonesia, statistics published by the central bank (Bank Indonesia) showed clearly in 1997 that the banking system had an over-hanging dollar debt that would balloon out of control and throw the country into insolvency if the Rupiah were to decline sharply against the dollar. A pattern of using short-term dollar loans for long-term capital needs had been apparent for a decade as foreign banks aggressively sought to improve current earnings by putting loans to Indonesian businesses on their books. In many cases, borrowers had no connection with the export market nor any means of earning dollars to repay dollar debt. Many Indonesian businesses had come to depend upon renewal of dollar loans to stay in business. This dollar liability was largely unhedged. Bad advice from the World Bank and IMF contributed to the Asian crisis.Top officials should have understood the absolute need to defend the Rupiah against devaluation at all costs because devaluation of the Rupiah would automatically increase the debt of Indonesian companies, making hundreds of large Indonesia companies and banks insolvent. Unfortunately, neither the Minister of Finance, the governor of Bank Indonesia, the officials at the International Monetary Fund, or the World Bank, or the U.S. Treasury, or most international private bankers, seemed to be aware of this easily understood but extremely perilous situation. On August 14, 1997, Sudradjad Djiwandono, the governor of Bank Indonesia, announced to a conference of almost one thousand bankers and businessmen in Jakarta that the government would allow the Rupiah to float against the dollar. This policy was supported by the IMF and was seen as a way to avoid squandering currency reserves in a futile attempt to tie the Rupiah to the dollar. The Indonesian crisis could have been avoided in economists had understood the fatal weaknesses in the system. Some in the audience understood what this really meant, but most did not. The Rupiah continued to weaken, but only slowly at first, for relatively few grasped the seriousness of the situation. By the time the dollar-debt problem was generally known, it was too late — the Rupiah had fallen precipitously and the economy had spun out of control. Events had been triggered that were to lead to the fall of the thirty-year Soeharto government; riots, rape, mayhem, and death; unemployment, increased poverty, and interruption of the education of children; multi-billion dollar losses, and one of the worst depressions of the 20th century. The debt crisis of 1997 brought hard times to millions of Indonesians.All of this could have been avoided if economists and central bankers had understood the simple but fatal weaknesses in the system and had had the commonsense and gumption to take rapid, drastic measures in time to save Indonesian banks and industry. An excellent account of the Asian financial crisis is in Paul Blustein's 'The Chastening'. Further backgound on Indonesia can be found in Theodore Friend's 'Indonesian Destinies' and M.C. Ricklef's, 'A History of Modern Indonesia.' source:

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