The risk management of Asian opportunities: Heng Swee Keat

Singapore’s deputy prime minister believes that economic fundamentals in Asia makes for a great opportunity when balanced with prudent risk management.

  • The uncertain global economic outlook has surfaced three medium-term challenges for policymakers, fund managers, and companies to take into account.
  • Abenomics’s three arrows: monetary, fiscal and structural policies could be applied to harness Asia’s opportunities.
  • Tapping into Asia’s opportunities could ultimately uplift the economy and livelihoods.

Asia’s sound economic fundamentals provides a great opportunity for the region, although the current uncertain situation will require very careful navigation across the short- and medium-term for policymakers, fund managers, and companies, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat said at a lunch keynote during the 2023 Nomura Investor Forum Asia.

There are three challenges that need to be taken into account in the medium term: the disrupted and possibly bifurcated supply chain, a US-China trade war that has morphed into a tech war, and the fragmentation of globalization. All three challenges point to the importance of developing resilience, a rethinking of supply chain and production strategies, and the importance of regional integration.

Abenomics’s three arrows

To take stock on what policies could be applied to Asia, Heng referenced Abenomics, which were the economic policies implemented by the Japanese government in 2012. Abenomics, introduced by then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is based on three arrows: monetary policy, fiscal policy, and structural policy.

Monetary policy is exerted by central banks to control money supply and subsequently a nation’s currency. Recent interest rate hikes have successfully curtailed inflation. Beyond monetary stability, financial stability also matters to prevent systematically important banks from failing. Both monetary and financial stability are important as the foundation of the global economy.

The second arrow is fiscal policy, which is the use of government expenditure and taxation to influence a country’s economy.

“My own view is that taxation has its limits because people and businesses are a lot more mobile today,” Heng said.

Responsible fiscal policy is critical for a country’s wellbeing and for economic stability, Heng said. Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, Heng, who was the finance minister at the time, had to dip into S$40 billion of Singapore’s reserves to save businesses and jobs. Those schemes enabled the island nation to make a speedy recovery.

“Fiscal policy as a stabilizer, and monetary policy to avoid sharp cycles, are important aspects of our policy tool kit,” Heng said.

Confronting structural forces

Structural policy, Heng said, is the hardest arrow of Abenomics. There are four structural forces that Asia will need to confront:

  1. Globalization. Globalization has enabled countries and trading partners to move up the value chain, which means that competitiveness can be gained and lost as the global economy continues to develop. It is crucial to identify which areas Singapore should move into when there is an advantage.
  2. Science, technology, and innovation. Every sector of today’s economy is touched by digitalization. The Monetary Authority of Singapore is promoting financial technology, or fintech, to ensure that the financial services industry will embrace this digitalization wave to improve efficiency and manage risk.
  3. Climate change and the green transition. Climate change will affect the entire world, but the effects will be more pronounced in island states within Southeast Asia. Rising sea levels will alter coastlines, change the entire biosphere, and create knock-on effects on food security.
  4. Demographic changes. Developed economies such as Europe, Japan, Singapore, and Korea are already seeing rapidly aging populations, in contrast to India, Indonesia, and many parts of Africa. Countries with youthful populations will need to contend with the skills that young people may need for their future jobs, while those with aging populations need to consider how to keep their people healthier and productive for longer.

The Asian opportunity

Many economists predict that Asia, and within it ASEAN, will remain very vibrant. The region, which has developed exponentially compared to just a decade ago, is filled to the brim with opportunities that can ultimately uplift the economy and livelihoods.

During the industrialization decades, Japan was leading the flock, allowing smaller economies to ride on more easily, similar to flying geese.

“I envisage a new formation to take place if ASEAN, India and the rest come together with other major economies like Japan, China, US or Europe,” Heng said. “Each will contribute and build on certain strengths that they already have, and collectively we will travel further.”

Though opportunities are prominent, risk and returns are two sides of the same coin and need to be managed together, Heng said.

“If we take risk management seriously while adopting a forward-looking view of preparing for the future, this might allow us to see a little better and play an important role in the capital allocation process,” Heng said.


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