V Experience with the Use of Capital Controls to Limit Short-Term Capital Inflows
- Akira Ariyoshi, Andrei Kirilenko, Inci Ötker, Bernard Laurens, Jorge Canales Kriljenko, and Karl Habermeier
- Published Date:
- May 2000
The macroeconomic situation in Brazil at the beginning of the 1990s was characterized by persistent inflation. Attempts to contain it, involving combinations of price and wage controls, efforts to tighten monetary policy, tax increases, freezes of bank deposits, and sequestering of financial assets, were generally unsuccessful. Inflationary expectations fueled by persistent government financing needs gave rise to a large interest rate differential, which, in turn, led to accelerating capital inflows in the context of a tightly managed exchange rate regime. These inflows were further facilitated by regulatory changes implemented in 1987–92, which amounted to a further liberalization of capital inflows (in particular, by giving foreign investors an exemption from domestic income tax on capital gains).
Starting in mid-1993, the authorities began to introduce numerous control measures to reduce short-term capital inflows, with an emphasis on fixed income securities. The controls were intended to maintain a suitable interest rate differential, while minimizing currency appreciation pressures and sterilization costs. As the Central Bank of Brazil noted in its 1994 Annual Report,
The impossibility of a more drastic reduction of the rate differential between domestic and foreign assets, which would naturally discourage the inflow of foreign financial savings, resulted in measures that would make it possible to attenuate the monetary impact of the foreign sector, without interrupting the process of integration with international financial markets.
Interest rates had to be kept at high levels to control aggregate demand in view of the lack of further fiscal adjustment. In addition to limiting the volume of inflows aimed at restricting arbitraging on short-term interest rates, the measures also aimed at changing the composition of the inflows away from fixed income toward stocks and fixed investments, and toward longer-term inflows.
The controls took the form of a number of direct and price-based measures and were continuously revised and augmented as market participants found ways to circumvent the regulations through financial engineering. (See Garcia and Valpassos, 1998.). Initially, the authorities increased the minimum average amortization term for loans from 30 to 36 months and the time for reimbursement for income tax on remittances abroad from 60 to 96 months. They changed the banking regulations to reduce dollar-denominated liabilities and increase dollar-denominated assets. They prohibited funds obtained through permitted investment channels to be invested in fixed-yield bonds. When the market began to use debentures to invest in fixed income assets, the authorities prohibited inflows into debentures. A channel for fixed income investments, the Fixed Income Yield Funds (FIYF), was created, subject to an “entrance tax” on the initial exchange rate transaction (extended subsequently to financial loans). As the market adopted derivative strategies to invest into fixed income assets, investments through FIYF were banned shortly thereafter. When market participants used various derivative products to provide fixed yields, the authorities subsequently prohibited a broader range of fixed income-like securities, including investment strategies involving derivatives that lead to predetermined returns (e.g., a box).19 As government securities, purchased under the permitted investment channels, were also used to obtain fixed yields, the authorities subsequently restricted these investments and extended the entrance levy to all portfolio investments in January 1994.
More restrictions on foreign capital inflows were put into place in conjunction with the Real Plan of July 1994, which was conceived as an attempt to rein in inflation by influencing inflationary expectations. These and subsequent control measures aimed at improving the quality of the capital flows to Brazil by attempting to change their composition from short-term to long-term inflows, by either restricting or banning investments in certain assets, increasing the entrance tax on certain types of portfolio inflows, or using other measures to increase the maturity of permissible investments in Brazil. Restrictions were imposed on the size and maturity of export credit, which was seen as a channel to circumvent restrictions on capital inflows. Capital outflows were also further liberalized.
Following a temporary relaxation of controls on capital inflows after the Mexican crisis of early 1995, the authorities again raised the tax rates on certain inflows, extended the coverage of inflow controls, and adopted differentiated tax rates inversely related to the maturity of loans to affect the level, as well as the maturity composition, of the inflows that had returned to Brazil by the summer of 1995. Most remaining channels for short-term inflows into fixed income investments and fixed income-linked strategies, as well as foreign investors’ access to derivative markets in Brazil, were forbidden outright; and minimum maturities were again raised. Additional measures were introduced in early 1996 to prohibit investments that replicated fixed-income results; to lengthen the minimum maturities for all currency loans to three years; and to impose an entrance tax on investments in privatization funds. Following a drop in the interest rate differential during 1996, the entrance tax was reduced in April 1997 and some minimum maturities were again shortened.
It seems that neither the controls on inflows nor the liberalization of capital outflows achieved their goals of reducing the volume of net inflows, as massive capital flows continued to pour into the Brazilian economy during the period.20 Given the existence of well-developed financial markets, including an active currency futures market as well as other over-the-counter derivatives markets, measures intended to change the maturity and composition of flows were repeatedly circumvented through financial engineering, giving rise to a growing need for further restrictions.21 Massive sterilization of a large accumulation of reserves also led to significant fiscal costs as inflows continued and the nominal exchange rate had to be repeatedly adjusted; about one-fourth of the massive negative fiscal shift that occurred in 1995 (the operational fiscal balance moved from a surplus of 1.3 percent of GDP in 1994 to a deficit of 5 percent of GDP in 1995) was accounted for by higher net interest rate payments that were incurred in connection with the sterilization operations (Garcia and Valpassos, 1998.). The real exchange rate appreciated significantly, with a corresponding deterioration in the current account balance (from close to balance in 1993–94 to a deficit of 2.6 percent of GDP in 1995 and 3 percent of GDP in 1996). However, the ratio of foreign direct investment to GDP has increased.
The main lesson from the Brazilian experience seems to be that the effectiveness of capital controls might be limited in an environment where the sophistication of the financial markets reduces the cost of circumvention relative to the incentives for circumvention. In the long run, repeated attempts by the authorities to restrict capital inflows were unsuccessful, since capital continued to find ways to enter the economy, particularly in view of the persistent incentives provided by interest rate differentials that remained high in the absence of fiscal adjustment.
In response to the financial crisis of the early 1980s, the Chilean authorities embarked on a comprehensive program of structural and macroeconomic reforms, aimed at reducing inflation; bringing the fiscal accounts into balance; and containing the current account deficit through an export-oriented strategy.22 Monetary policy was geared to limiting inflationary pressures, with the real interest rate as the operating target; exchange rate policy aimed at maintaining competitiveness, with a path for the real exchange rate serving as an indicative target.
The external sector strengthened during 1984–88, with the current account deficit cut from 11 percent of GDP in 1984 to 1 percent at the end of 1988, and the economy grew at an average rate of 5.7 percent during the five-year period. In response to the overheating of the economy in 1989, in part due to a relaxation of the fiscal stance in 1988, monetary policy was tightened, which, combined with a fall in world interest rates, an improvement in market sentiment toward Chile, and a generalized increase in the willingness to lend to emerging markets, resulted in a surge in private capital inflows beginning in 1989. This gave rise to a classical monetary policy dilemma, with a smaller number of independent instruments than policy goals. The conflict resulted from assigning monetary policy a domestic inflation target while assigning exchange rate policy an external current account target. When capital flows are largely deregulated, monetary and exchange rate policy cannot, of course, be set independently.
The initial policy response was sterilized foreign exchange intervention and a tightening of fiscal policy. While sterilization of most of the intervention helped prevent a monetary expansion, this policy imposed sizeable costs on the central bank, reflecting the differential between the interest cost of sterilization and the return on foreign assets (roughly 1 percent of GDP annually during the 1990s). In June 1991, the authorities introduced selective controls on capital inflows in the form of a 20 percent URR on foreign borrowing; a minimum stay requirement for direct and portfolio investments from abroad; some regulatory requirements for domestic corporations borrowing abroad; and extensive reporting requirements on banks for capital transactions. Supporting policies included a liberalization of capital outflows starting in the early 1990s, a further widening of the exchange rate band, and the continuation of a strong fiscal policy.
The URR was expected to discourage short-term inflows without affecting long-term foreign investments and to increase the autonomy of monetary policy in order to minimize the effect on the exchange rate of a tight monetary stance. The accumulation of short-term debt, as well as an excessive appreciation of the currency, would, in the authorities’ view, render the economy vulnerable to shifts in market sentiment. Additionally, the URR would discourage excessive capital inflows and reduce the risks faced by institutions intermediating these flows. The authorities have also stressed the particular circumstances of small and open emerging countries, including Chile, which could not address policy dilemma they were facing with traditional policies. From this perspective, capital controls are a second-best policy response to a market failure.
The URR, an indirect or market-based capital control, was designed to indirectly tax short-term capital inflows (a form of a Tobin tax). Initially, the URR covered foreign loans (except for trade credit), but over time its coverage was extended to nondebt flows that had become a channel for short-term portfolio inflows (i.e., foreign currency deposits in commercial banks, secondary depository receipts, and foreign direct investments of a potentially speculative nature). The rate of the URR was raised from 20 percent to 30 percent, until a decline in capital inflows, reflecting contagion from the Asian crisis, motivated a reduction of the rate. In September 1998, the URR was suspended by reducing its rate to zero percent.
When the URR was introduced, Chile had made great strides toward enhancing the prudential framework for the financial system and strengthening macroeconomic policies, in particular fiscal policy, with fiscal balance shifting from a deficit to a surplus. These policies were continued and further reinforced during the 1990s. The URR was also supported by a restrictive regulatory framework for international transactions, while the concomitant gradual liberalization of capital outflows was expected to relieve the pressure on net capital inflows. It is not clear, however, whether the latter was indeed helpful. Concerning external policies, the authorities followed a flexible exchange rate policy, which allowed for an orderly real appreciation of the currency and a gradual widening of the crawling exchange rate band. In the meantime, monetary policy continued to be restrictive.
The strengthening of the prudential framework for the financial sector was a critical component of the program of economic reforms. Over the years, Chile has developed a prudential framework for the financial sector that establishes high disclosure standards; stringent rules for loan classification and provisioning; strict limits on connected lending and on banks’ exposure to foreign exchange risks; and clear procedures for the correction of liquidity or solvency problems. The sound position of the banking system is reflected in the low level of nonperforming loans (1.68 percent of total loans as of March 31, 1999); a comfortable level of provisions for bad loans (provisions are 127 percent of nonperforming loans); compliance of all banks with the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) capital adequacy ratio; and an average capital adequacy ratio for all banks of 11.5 percent.
No firm conclusions have yet been reached on the effectiveness of the Chilean controls, and particularly the URR, in achieving their intended objectives. The many quantitative studies that have attempted to assess the effectiveness of Chile’s capital controls empirically have also failed to provide firm conclusions, owing partly to data deficiencies and methodological difficulties. A number of quantitative studies found some evidence that the URR had enhanced the autonomy of monetary policy by helping to maintain a wedge between domestic and external monetary conditions (the differential of real interest rates over international rates rose from 3.1 percent in 1985–91 to 5.2 percent in 1992–97), although one recent work suggests that the URR had only a small and temporary effect on interest rate behavior. Furthermore, although the broad policy mix was not much changed since the late 1980s despite episodes of sustained capital inflows, it has been argued that other factors may have been at play in maintaining the interest rate gap. In particular, continued sterilization operations may have affected short-term interest rates (Nadal-De Simone and Sorsa, 1999). The available data, as well as the quantitative studies, provide no discernible evidence that the URR had an effect on the exchange rate path or on total capital inflows.23 The effect of the URR on total inflows has been found to be mostly “on impact”—that is, when it was introduced—and the magnitude of the effect has been either small or short-lived. There is also some evidence that the URR has altered the composition of capital inflows. Official data indicate that the share of short-term inflows in total inflows declined significantly over the relevant period,24 although quantitative studies are not unanimous on the effect that URR had in this development. Large discrepancies between official statistics on short-term debt and data collected by other sources (BIS/World Bank) also need to be reconciled, as the latter suggest that the ratio of short– term debt to total debt in Chile rose sharply in the 1990s after the imposition of the URR (Nadal-De Simone and Sorsa, 1999).
The earlier studies on the effectiveness of Chilean controls argue that several factors may have played a role in limiting the effectiveness of the URR. These include the partial coverage of short-term flows, in particular the exemption of trade credits; the dynamic response of optimizing agents in the context of a sophisticated financial system; and difficulties of enforcement. The Chilean authorities have also acknowledged that
… since the URR was not universally applied to all foreign capital inflows, the regulations tended to lose their effectiveness over time, as ways of circumventing them were developed channeling the inflows through exempted windows. To partly compensate this trend, the regulations were amended, and some of the identified gaps were closed and the coverage increased, others could not be fixed because of legal limitations or the strong action of the lobbies. The revisions proved to be insufficient to effectively close the loopholes, and the effectiveness deteriorated over time. (Le Fort, 1999, p. 4).
In assessing the experience of Chile, it is important to keep in mind that the use of capital controls in Chile has been part of a broad program of economic reforms involving a coherent set of macroeconomic and structural policies implemented throughout the 1990s. A striking feature of the path followed by Chile is an early recognition of the significance of financial reforms—with a view to establishing a sound prudential framework and a strong credit culture—for the success of a program of economic reforms. The skillful coordination of structural and macroeconomic policies allowed Chile to achieve the policy objectives that had been set forth in the mid-1980s, including a gradual and steady lowering of inflation from more than 25 percent to about 4 percent a year; high output with GDP growth of more than 7 percent a year; and a much improved current account position with a deficit on average slightly above 3 percent of GDP (although deficits were higher in the period 1996–98). The immediate cost was a fairly restrictive and complex framework for international transactions, which required a strong enforcement capacity at the central bank. Whether or not the URR delayed progress in resolving the monetary policy dilemma faced by Chile is an important question that no study has attempted to analyze.
Beginning in the early 1990s, Colombia experienced a surge in private capital inflows, including debt– creating flows and foreign direct investment.25 These inflows increased from 0.2 percent of GDP in 1990 to more than 7 percent of GDP in 1997, and averaged nearly 4 percent of GDP a year.26 The increase in inflows followed the implementation of a comprehensive program of structural reforms, which included a wide-ranging liberalization of the exchange and trade system; the dismantling of interest rate controls; financial sector reform that allowed full foreign ownership of banks and strengthened bank supervision and regulation; a new financing strategy, with an emphasis on domestic financing for the public sector and foreign direct investment for the private sector; a tightening of credit conditions; and a reduction in the rate of crawl of the currency aimed at lowering inflation. While the inflows played an important role in financing the widening current account deficit, they also exerted upward pressure on the exchange rate and raised concerns about the loss of competitiveness. The authorities took a number of measures to limit the destabilizing effects of the capital inflows.
Initial policy responses included intervention with partial sterilization through aggressive open market operations in the form of sales of central bank securities. However, large-scale sterilization substantially weakened the position of the central bank, and prompted the adoption of alternative measures.27 In addition, sterilized intervention through aggressive open market operations to mop up excess liquidity increased interest rates, which in turn attracted additional capital inflows. An expansionary fiscal policy put additional pressure on monetary policy, which was attempting to keep interest rates low. At the end of 1991 the peso was devalued, restrictions on capital outflows were eased further, and import liberalization accelerated.
In response to the sustained pressures, the authorities adopted a new strategy aimed at discouraging capital inflows, and especially short-term inflows. First, they established, in July 1992, a 10 percent withholding tax on transfers and nonfinancial private services, aimed at reducing the use of certain current account transactions for speculative purposes.28 As large-scale capital inflows continued through 1993, capital controls in the form of a URR on external borrowing were introduced in September 1993. Shortly after, in early 1994, a crawling band regime was introduced (formalizing the de facto arrangement that had been maintained since late 1991), with the width of the band set at ±7 percent and the rate of crawl (the slope) of the band based on expected inflation differentials with trading partners.
The URR is based on certificates issued by the central bank, initially denominated in foreign exchange and redeemable in domestic currency after a holding period of 18 months. In an effort to target short-term inflows, the URR was limited to loans with maturities up to 18 months. The URR was subsequently modified several times to better target short-term inflows (with higher rates applied to shorter maturities); the implied tax was adjusted to reflect changes in external and domestic conditions (including changes in the URR rate, in the maturity of foreign borrowing subject to it, and in the term of the deposits). Certain trade credits were made subject to the URR. Following the Asian crisis, the URR was substantially reduced to contain downward real exchange rate pressures.
Despite the imposition of the deposit requirement, private capital inflows remained strong, increasing from 5 percent of GDP in 1993 to 8.4 percent of GDP in 1996. Debt-creating flows remained strong but broadly stable at 3.2 percent of GDP on average during the period 1993–96, compared with 1 percent of GDP in 1992. However, the maturity structure of the private external debt stock changed: the share of medium- and long-term debt rose to 70 percent of the total external debt stock in 1996, from 40 percent in 1993.
A number of quantitative studies examined the effectiveness of the URR in Colombia. Cárdenas and Barrera (1996) and Ocampo Gaviria and Mora (1999) arrived at conflicting conclusions about the effect of the URR on total inflows. However, they found that the URR played an important role in lengthening the maturity of Colombia’s debt. At the same time, the URR may have contributed to a shift away from debt-creating inflows and toward other sources of financing that were exempt from the controls, such as foreign direct investment. Caution is also warranted in assessing the effectiveness of the URR in lengthening the maturity structure, as the imposition of the URR coincided with the introduction of the exchange rate band, which may have contributed to reducing the short-term flows. No study has attempted to assess the effect of the URR on the volatility of capital flows.
From 1990 to 1993, the Malaysian economy recorded unprecedented levels of capital account surpluses, led by both long-term and short-term capital inflows.29 Private net inflows of long-term capital rose from 5.7 percent of GDP in 1990 to 8.2 percent in 1993, while net short-term inflows increased from 1.2 percent of GDP to 8.9 percent during the same period. Strong underlying economic fundamentals contributed to long-term inflows, while short-term inflows (mainly in the form of external borrowing by commercial banks and increased placements of ringgit deposits by bank and nonbank foreign customers with Malaysian banks) were boosted by relatively high interest rate differentials in favor of Malaysia and market expectations of ringgit appreciation in the context of a stable ringgit policy.
In managing these heavy capital inflows, the authorities were faced with a trade-off between the need to keep interest rates high to contain inflation on the one hand, and the need to discourage short-term inflows on the other hand. Such inflows were viewed as highly reversible and speculative in nature. In particular, inflows related to purchases of debt securities and increases in external liabilities of commercial banks were more problematic, to the extent that interest rate differentials remained high. Apart from the macroeconomic risks of overheating associated with the rapid expansion of bank reserves, large capital inflows also entailed certain financial sector risks, including a deterioration in asset quality.
Against this background, priority was given to dealing with the destabilizing inflows and restoring stability in the financial markets with a combination of monetary and exchange control measures. In view of the authorities’ concern about the potential adverse impact on trade and investment of a sharp appreciation of the ringgit, the initial policy response was to sterilize the inflows as opposed to allowing for greater flexibility in the exchange rate. The sterilization, however, turned out to be costly, given the shortage of government paper and thus the need to issue Bank Negara Malaysia bills to conduct open market operations, as well as ineffective, as sterilization operations kept interest rates high and thus continued to attract capital inflows.30 The authorities resorted to additional direct monetary instruments, including successive increases in the statutory reserve requirements as strong capital inflows persisted. Fiscal policy remained tight.
Given the persistence of inflows and concerns about a loss of control over monetary aggregates and inflation, and instability in the financial markets, the authorities introduced a number of direct and regulatory capital control measures in early 1994. The measures were specifically designed to limit short-term capital inflows in the form of bank foreign borrowing and ringgit deposits by bank or nonbank foreign customers: (1) residents were prohibited from selling Malaysian money market securities with less than one year maturity to nonresidents; (2) commercial banks were prohibited from engaging in non-trade–related bid-side swaps or forward transactions with nonresidents;31 (3) asymmetric open position limits, that is, ceilings on banks’ net liability positions excluding trade-related and foreign direct investment flows, were imposed, aimed at curtailing bank foreign borrowing to engage in portfolio or nontrade transactions; and (4) commercial banks were required to place with the central bank the ringgit funds of foreign banking institutions maintained in non-interest-bearing accounts—these funds were subsequently included in the eligible liabilities base of commercial banks.32 These measures were supplemented with some easing of interest rate policy and curtailing of sterilization operations, as well as with some prudential regulations to address the liquidity situation—including a redefinition of banks’ eligible liability base to also include all inflows of funds from abroad (thereby making such inflows subject to reserve and liquid asset requirements).
While the effect on economic variables was not inconsistent with the objectives, the immediate market reaction to the 1994 measures was negative, resulting in a depreciation of the ringgit and a correction in the stock market. However, the controls were intended to be temporary. The authorities recognized that if the controls remained in place for too long, market distortions could emerge. Hence, by the end of 1994, most of the controls were lifted, and the authorities considered that they had achieved their objectives of containing the short-term inflows and the monetary expansion and restoring stability in the foreign exchange market. The prudential measures remained in place. Broad monetary aggregates decelerated markedly in 1994, the capital account surplus declined sharply—reflecting a marked reversal in short-term inflows in the second half of 1994 (particularly in new external liabilities of the banking system)—and long-term investment flows were comparatively unaffected. The controls were thus apparently effective in reducing the volume, as well as changing the composition of, the capital inflows. However, the narrowing interest rate differentials and the curtailment of sterilization operations may also have contributed to the slowdown in short-term inflows.33
Malaysia’s experience illustrates the increased complexity of monetary management in integrated financial markets. The main lessons suggested by Malaysia’s experience with the use of inflow controls are (1) the importance of following a consistent monetary and exchange rate policy mix in such an environment to avoid excessive and destabilizing capital inflows; and (2) the potential effectiveness of controls on inflows when the controls are accompanied by steps to strengthen prudential regulations and an appropriate monetary policy (in this case, allowing interest rate differentials to narrow or vanish and curtailing sterilization operations, which, together with the controls, served to address the initial monetary policy dilemma that was facing the authorities).
Reflecting in part a pickup in global economic activity, the Thai economy started showing signs of overheating in mid-1993, despite the authorities’ tight financial policies. Demand pressures were manifested in higher inflation and some widening of the current account deficit, prompting the authorities to tighten monetary and fiscal policies. The combination of a pegged exchange rate since 1984 and highly liberalized capital inflows,34 along with large interest rate differentials, created strong incentives for interest rate arbitrage and contributed to episodes of high and volatile net capital inflows. The inflows were predominantly short-term (about 60 percent of the total in 1993), mainly in the form of short-term borrowing by banks (as the main channels for intermediating financial resources in the absence of a developed private bond market), and especially through the Bangkok International Banking Facilities (BIBF).35 The latter was opened in 1993; relaxed regulations and various tax incentives encouraged residents to borrow through it. The remainder of the short– term inflows consisted of nonresident baht accounts held largely by foreign financial institutions, and short-term debt securities issued mainly by finance companies.
The growing size and volatility of these inflows, particularly in early 1995, not only threatened the inflation outlook, but also complicated the implementation of monetary policy in an environment with a fixed exchange rate and a paucity of indirect monetary policy instruments. Fiscal policy was relatively tight and the exchange rate peg was maintained on the grounds that it had fostered credibility and stability. The authorities also refrained from a more aggressive liberalization of capital outflows.
Given the limited policy options, the authorities attempted to cope with capital inflows through a combination of monetary, prudential, and market-based capital control measures. To slow credit growth and reduce the inflationary impact of the inflows, they raised the policy rate in March 1995; extended the coverage of the credit plan to include larger finance companies and the BIBF banks; reduced loan-deposit ratios in cases where the ratio was above average; and stepped up sterilization operations. Some measures more directly targeting capital flows were introduced in August 1995. These consisted of (1) asymmetric open position limits for short and long positions (with smaller limits on short foreign currency positions in an attempt to discourage foreign borrowing abroad); (2) a reporting requirement for banks on risk control measures in foreign exchange and derivatives trading; and (3) a 7 percent reserve requirement (held at the central bank) on nonresident baht accounts with less than one-year maturity and on finance companies’ short-term foreign borrowing.36 Additional constraints were imposed on banks’ nonpriority lending in foreign exchange on concerns about the sectoral credit allocation, as well as a rise in banks’ foreign currency exposure. The authorities also resorted to moral suasion by seeking cooperation from commercial banks and licensed the BIBF to lengthen the maturity of their borrowings, especially through the BIBF.
These measures seemed to contribute to a slowdown in economic activity initially and in bank foreign borrowing. However, inflows picked up again toward the end of the year, in part reflecting a decline in U.S. interest rates. Net total capital inflows rose strongly, with the capital account surplus rising from 8.5 percent of GDP in 1994 to 13.1 percent of GDP in 1995, owing to an increase in both short-term and longer-term inflows. Private longer-term capital flows almost doubled in 1995 (to $8.1 billion, from $4.6 billion in 1994), mainly on account of portfolio investment. Short-term capital inflows rose strongly toward the end of 1995 (amounting to $12.7 billion in 1995, up from $7.4 billion in 1994), reflecting inflows through rapid growth of nonbank borrowing, as well as through growing arbitrage activity by foreign banks in the forward market with the currency basket having become increasingly transparent to traders.37
The persistent growth in net total and short-term capital inflows in 1995 prompted the authorities to introduce a second round of measures in April-June 1996, consisting of a number of reserve requirements (held at the central bank). The authorities feared that a more flexible exchange rate policy would lead to an exchange rate appreciation, a deterioration in the current account, and a weakening of the banking system, which had large unhedged foreign exchange exposures. The 7 percent reserve requirement was extended to nonresident baht borrowing with a maturity of less than one year and to new short-term offshore borrowing of maturities of less than one year by commercial and BIBF banks. As a prudential measure, the minimum capital adequacy requirement for commercial banks was also raised. Total net inflows subsequently fell, with medium-and long-term inflows continuing to rise and short-term inflows (particularly banks’ foreign borrowing) falling sharply.
Overall, the regulatory controls imposed on capital inflows in 1995–96 seem to have (1) reduced net capital inflows into Thailand; (2) reduced the share of short-term net inflows from 62 percent of total capital inflows in 1995 to 32 percent in 1996; (3) lengthened the maturity of BIBF loans (the share of long-term loans rose from 14 percent in 1995 to 34.3 percent in 1996); (4) reduced the share of short-term debt in total debt (from about 50 percent to 43 percent), and (5) marginally reduced the growth of nonresident baht accounts. It is difficult, however, to isolate the impact of the controls from those of the deterioration in investor confidence and other external factors. Moreover, the true maturity of capital inflows is often only weakly related to their maturity as measured in balance of payments statistics.
Whatever impact these controls may have had on the volume or maturity composition of capital inflows, Thailand subsequently experienced a sharp reversal of capital flows and an economic downturn. The controls also failed to discourage banks from channeling inflows to unproductive sectors with no foreign exchange earning potential. (See Wibul-swasdi, 1998). Despite tighter net open position limits and constraints on banks’ foreign exchange loans to nonpriority sectors in 1995–96, only about half of banks’ foreign currency loans were granted to foreign exchange generating sectors.38 As was observed in a number of other countries in the region, prudential regulations seem to have been violated in the absence of adequate enforcement and disclosure.
Thailand’s experience with large-scale capital inflows may offer a number of useful points. First, financial sector reform lagged behind capital account liberalization. Second, liberalization of short-term flows, combined with high domestic interest rates and an implicit exchange rate guarantee, led to a substantial and unsustainable buildup of short-term liabilities by banks and nonbanks. Third, the capital controls were not an effective substitute for more fundamental policies. Fourth, reliance on capital controls may have delayed a much needed move toward greater exchange rate flexibility and the adoption of adequate indirect instruments of monetary policy.