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Economists Say Asian Currency Gains Not Likely to Hurt Exports

Several Asian currencies have gained against the U.S. dollar in recent months, and that could hurt the region's main source of economic growth: exports. But as VOA's Heda Bayron reports from Hong Kong, some economists and government officials downplay the impact of stronger currencies.

The Philippine peso has reached a seven-year high against the U.S. dollar. The Malaysian ringgit has risen nearly four percent this year and the Indian rupee gained some 10 percent.

Economists such as Song Sen Wun at CIMB-GK Goh Securities in Singapore say the gains reflect Asia's robust economies.

"The gains reflect the economic fundamentals in that they are starting to see greater inflows … into the equity market, to the real economy," Song said.

So much foreign money is coming in to the region's stock markets that indexes have been hitting new highs. When foreigners invest in Asia, they buy the local currencies, which pushes up their value.

But there could be a downside to this: a stronger currency makes Asian exports more expensive in the United States. A drop in export sales would hurt the region's export-driven economies.

That is why South Korea's central bank is closely watching the movements of the won and has warned it would act if the exchange rates reach a level that harms exports.

But some economists and government officials are not concerned.

Philippine President Gloria Arroyo welcomed the peso appreciation, calling it a sign of strong foreign investor confidence in the country. She argues a rising peso will help stop price inflation, because imports such as oil will be cheaper.

Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi also says the ringgit's appreciation is good for the economy as long as trading is not volatile.

Adrian Mowat, chief Asian and emerging markets strategist at the investment bank JP Morgan, downplays the impact of rising currencies. He says Asian exports now have a bigger, more diverse market, as demand in rapidly growing countries such as Brazil, Russia, India, China - referred to as BRIC - expands.

"The bigger picture is that emerging economies are growing strongly," Mowat said. "The fact that exports are made marginally less affordable for the U.S. consumer, I think it's a bit of sideshow now. We have to look at what is really driving the global economy today and if you look at statistics more than two and a half times the contribution to the global growth would come from BRICS as opposed to the U.S. in 2007."

Moreover, some currencies like the Japanese yen, South Korean won and the Singapore dollar have slightly depreciated against the euro. That may compensate for their more expensive exports to the United States, by making exports to Europe cheaper.