Financing required as Asia remains with looming infrastructure needs

THE launch of the US$50bil Asian Infrastructure Bank (AIIB) is a positive step for the development of Asia where large areas remain with looming infrastructure needs.

There has been good work done by other international bodies, but due to the vast financing needs of the region, there is always place for another major bank to put in the good work.

The AIIB was launched in Beijing last Friday at a ceremony attended by Chinese finance minister Lou Jiwei and delegates from 21 countries including India, Thailand and Malaysia, said Reuters.

It aims to give project loans to developing nations with China set to be its largest shareholder with a stake of up to 50%.

In a speech to delegates after the inauguration, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the new bank would use the best practices of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, said Reuters.

The authorised capital of the bank would be US$100bil; the AIIB would be formally established by the end of 2015 with its headquarters in Beijing.

There was a huge demand for infrastructure investment in Asia; the Asian Development Bank (AIIB) put that at around US$8 trillion of investment during the current decade, said the Singapore Business Times (SBT) in a report earlier.

A principal motive in proposing the AIIB was to invest part of China’s US$4 trillion foreign reserves in higher-yielding assets than US Treasury bills, said SBT, also quoting diplomatic sources.

In addressing the potential rivalry between the AIIB and other international aid bodies, one has to look at the big picture in what will benefit Asia in the long run.

If carried out successfully, infrastructure development across Asia will help narrow the gap between the more and less developed areas.

China is already in partnership with India to develop infrastructure and industrial parks in India.

Spreading its infrastructure investments over the rest of Asia would be a natural step towards that development.

After warning on excessive speculation in currency and debt markets, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) is looking at the low hedging levels by companies and the currency risks they face.

If indirect pressure on companies via their bankers failed, the RBI may consider forcing companies to submit detailed financial information through their lenders, said Reuters, quoting bankers who met with RBI officials earlier this month.

The RBI’s warnings signalled its concern that unhedged firms could be a vulnerable link should global markets buckle, said Reuters.

The central bank had worked hard to build up its defences after India last year weathered its worst rupee crisis in two decades, said Reuters.

Hedging, meanwhile, is expensive because India’s elevated interest rates mean forward premiums are high, said Reuters.

The RBI is keeping tabs on every aspect of companies’ exposure to currency risks.

After working hard to build up its defences on the rupee, the RBI would not want some other segment of the capital market to fail to keep pace.

The bosses at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which is still under government ownership, were dealt an embarassing blow when their proposal to pay high bonuses was shot down.

The Treasury stopped RBS from paying some staff bonuses worth twice their salaries, said Reuters, quoting James Leigh-Pemberton, chairman of UK Financial Investments (UKFI) which controls the taxpayer-owned 79% of RBS.

UKFI had recommended that RBS be allowed to pay that level of bonus to retain staff and attract talent, said Reuters.

Retention of staff is a dicey issue when it involves banks that are still in the throes of reform.

It is a Catch 22 situation where these banks are still experiencing falling revenues and low share prices.

The situation will probably improve when these banks can reap the fruits of their revamp and get off the hook with government owning the stake.

Columnist Yap Leng Kuen looks forward to a more balanced infrastructure development in Asia.

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