Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Thailand, emerging market shares rebound

Thailand's SET Index hasn't completely retraced its losses following yesterday's 15 percent plunge, but we did see something of a rebound in stock prices in Bangkok and emerging markets across the world.

As reports in, "Emerging-Market Stocks Gain; Thailand Rescinds Capital Control":

Emerging-market stocks rallied from the biggest drop in three months after Asian nations said they won't impose capital controls, less than 24 hours after Thailand's failed bid to limit foreign investment.

Thailand's SET Index jumped 11 percent in Bangkok after the government exempted equity from restrictions that had sent the benchmark on its biggest slide in 16 years yesterday, wiping out $23 billion in market value. Stocks in South Africa, South Korea, Malaysia and Russia rose, helping push the Morgan Stanley Capital International Emerging Markets Index, which tracks 25 markets, 1.3 percent higher.

Central banks in Malaysia, the Philippines and Indonesia responded to the rout in Thailand by saying they wouldn't use capital restrictions to control their currencies. That helped restore confidence after Thailand rescinded its rule.

``It's positive for emerging markets because it shows governments in this asset class are now quick to change unpopular decisions,'' said Matthias Siller, who helps oversee $6 billion in global emerging-market assets at Baring Investment Service in London. ``That wouldn't have been the case 10 years ago.''

So, some investors are heartened by the knowledge that other nations in the region and the emerging markets category might take this latest incident as a cautionary example. The message to policy makers: don't make hasty decisions that affect foreign investment and be quick to correct any such mistakes.

But for others, Thailand's sudden imposition of currency controls on foreign investors, and its subsequent action to reverse some of those measures, leaves a poor impression.

The policy reversal, a day after the new rules were announced, damages the credibility of Thailand's three-month-old government, led by former army chief Surayud Chulanont. International investors had increased stock purchases since a Sept. 19 coup ended seven months of political turmoil that disrupted government spending and dented consumer confidence.

``It makes investors doubt these people can manage the country,'' said Jorry Noeddekaer, who helps manage $1.4 billion of Asian stocks at New Star Asset Management Ltd. ``It would take a lot of good moves to rebuild credibility.''

Still, others are seeing the confusion as a good longer term buying opportunity in the months ahead. Some of the investors quoted in the Bloomberg articles above seem to think the rout could be forgotton in just that time frame.

Update: Investor Mark Mobius is largely unfazed by the recent turn of events in Thailand.

This will come as little surprise to those who recall his reaction to last September's coup; he was quoted then in a Bloomberg article saying such events were not unprecedented and that he would indeed be a buyer at depressed levels.

Here is Mobius in a recent interview appearance with Bloomberg TV, calling Thailand's share market "enticing". He also notes that while this latest situation has scared off many investors, it has not disuaded him from holding his investments.

Mark also echoes the view that this latest incident is something that could be forgotten in time, provided the same mistakes are not repeated by the government and central bank.