The Central Bank and the FSC Bicker: Does the Executive Yuan have Adult Supervision?
China Times News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
May 12, 2010
Recently two cabinet heads with solid reputations repeatedly exchanged long distance fire. First Financial Supervisory Commission Chairman Sean Chen responded to questions from legislators, saying that the Central Bank had kept interest rates too low. As a result, the interest rate spreads were also low. This hindered the bank insurance industry. Low borrowing costs also contributed to mortgage expansion, and indirectly to rising prices. In response, Central Bank President Peng Huai-nan expressed concern. He stressed the importance of Central Bank control over hot money policy. He did not think their policies were wrong. This is how two independent entities within the Executive Yuan, the Central Bank and the Financial Supervisory Commission, became embroiled in a long distance shouting match in the private rather than public sector.
The Central Bank and the Financial Supervisory Commission each have their own position. Neither is necessarily right. The conflict between Sean Chen and Peng Huai-nan is merely a reflection of the well known "impossible triangle" in international finance. The so-called impossible triangle refers to impossibility of reconciling rapidly changing exchange rates, interest rates, and foreign exchange rates.
Consider the current situation on Taiwan. Currently we have a surplus of hot money, an increase in the money supply, and too low interest rates. These are all facts. If the Central Bank attempts to reduce the pressure from hot money, and raises interest rates, it must stop hot money inflows. The most direct approach to stopping hot money, is to allow the NT Dollar to appreciate, making the NT Dollar expensive. This in turn reduces pressure on the foreign exchange market to sell foreign currency in order to buy NT Dollars. But if the Central Bank does not want to the NT Dollar to appreciate, but instead pegs the exchange rate, It will be forced to adopt a contrarian strategy. It will be compelled to endlessly buy foreign currency and sell NT Dollars on the foreign exchange market. This will eventually increase the currency supply in the domestic market. The only way the Central Bank can reconcile exchange rates with interest rates, is to prevent the foreign exchange market from operating freely, blocking the entry of foreign currency. Exchange rates, interest rates, and foreign exchange rates cannot be reconciled simultaneously. Hence the term, "impossible triangle."
Sean Chen is justifiably worried about potential harm from too low interest rates. Interest rates have fallen to the 1% level. The financial industry is a pool of stagnant water. Businesses that depend upon interest rate spreads cannot survive. Financial managers of course have their own worries. Peng Huai-nan insists on pegging the NT Dollar to the US Dollar. As a result, the NT Dollar is undervalued relative to other world currencies. This is not necessarily wrong. Stable exchange rates have a huge impact on imports and exports. For Peng to maintain his currency exchange rate policy for the sake of trade stability is not unjustified.
The world of finance has its "impossible triangle." That those concerned about interest rates will clash with those concerned about exchange rates is inevitable. The global financial environment remains unstable in the wake of last year's financial tsunami. Iceland and Greece are gravely ill. The Wall Street stock market crash has also raised concerns. Hot money is rapidly moving around the world. Foreign exchange moves freely in and out of Taiwan. Taiwan is merely one of many relay points for global hot money transfers. Under such volatile circumstances, Executive Yuan cabinet members cannot hammer out a clear and absolute exchange rate and interest rate policy. They can only reach a mutually acceptable compromise. Understanding the necessity of such compromise, we cannot help but be critical of the Executive Yuan.
The FSC and the Central Bank are independent entities. Exchange rate and Interest rate policy is highly specialized. But both entities are under the aegis of the Executive Yuan. Both entities are answerable to the premier and the vice premier. To sit idly by as two cabinet members exchange fire in public, instead of communicating inside the Executive Yuan, makes no sense whatsoever. Wu Den-yih himself does not have a financial background. But don't we have a vice premier who is a so-called financial expert? The vice premier is about to run for Xinbei City Mayor. He may have his mind on other things than internecine warfare within the Executive Yuan. But aren't there any economics and finance officials who can coordinate? Even assuming the government is busy dealing with ECFA and public opinion to respond to such trivia, doesn't the premier have a trusted secretary general under his command who can mediate such disputes? The Central Bank and the Financial Supervisory Commission have been exchanging fire for some time now. Why has the Executive Yuan sat by and said nothing?
Premier Wu Den-yih has stressed his "Meat and Potatoes Economics." But he has sat idly by as the Central Bank and the Financial Supervisory Commission exchange fire. Perhaps Wu believes exchange rates and interest rates have a limited impact on the general public, and any bickering is unlikely to result in public discontent. We disagree. The premier and vice premier are general officers. They must not be constrained by military specialists. They may not rationalize their shallow understanding of certain fields, citing "specialization." A good general must be informed about all sorts of military specialties. He must at least have a rudimentary understanding of each specialty. A lack of specialized knowledge must be an incentive to study harder, not an excuse for inattention.
The premier has allowed his subordinates to attack each other in public. This has undermined the authority of his cabinet. It is not conducive to an eventual consensus on other fiscal policies. It undermines public trust in the cabinet. In any event, when the adults are away the children will play, quarreling and bickering. The premier sits high on his perch. Meanwhile below, we hear only an endless cacophony. The public cannot helping wondering, does the Executive Yuan have adult supervision?