As least one major U.S. bank says mounting economic problems in a few Southeast Asia countries probably won't spread beyond the region.
According a Chase Manhattan Corp. report, the problems affecting countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia will not affect other emerging markets in which U.S. banks have been rapidly expanding.
"Notably, emerging markets outside of Asia have so far weathered the crisis with few ill effects," the report stated. "Nor have concerns about contagion curtailed access to international capital markets for most emerging market borrowers."
John Lipsky, chief economist at Chase Manhattan and author of the report, attributed the absence of a broader crisis in emerging markets to the regionalization of worldwide economies. Hence, Mr. Lipsky concluded, a crisis in Southeast Asia does not automatically create similar crises in other regions.
"It has been less clearly recognized that globalization during the past decade in fact has intensified regional economic links more than it has strengthened extraregional economic relations," Mr. Lipsky noted in the report.
The crisis in Southeast Asia has become one of growing concern for bank analysts in the United States. In a recent report, Raphael Soifer of Brown Brothers Harriman noted that U.S. banks' exposure to emerging marekts climbed 26% last year and much of it is not being reported to shareholders.
"I don't think a year ago could find too many people highlighting risk in Asia," remarked David Berry, a banking analyst with Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc. "Even countries which had organized affairs more prudently got sucked in."
Fast economic growth fueled by borrowing from abroad has pushed many companies in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and South Korea into default on their borrowings from banks. That hs triggered a large drop in those countries' currencies and a correspondingly heavy fall in their stock markets. As the currencies dropped, borrowers have experienced increasing difficulty paying back hard-currency loans.
U.S. banks' exposure to the region has increased in recent years, though it constitutes only a small percentage of their assets. Although banks are not required to break out their loans to specific countries, since they are below 1% of total, data from federal regulatory agencies show that most of the exposure to Southeast Asia and other emerging markets and is concentrated among half a dozen of the biggest U.S. banks.
According to Brown Brothers Harriman, U.S. banks had $23 billion of loans and other assets in emerging market countries in Southeast Asia at yearend 1996. That included $3.25 billion in China, $2.5 billion in India, a combined $7.4 billion in Malaysia and Thailand, and $3.8 billion to the Philippines.
June 30 data from the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council, which tracks U.S. banks' foreign lending, show a decline in lending to those countries, to around $16.5 billion from $18.4 billion at yearend.
But most of the decline, Brown Brothers Harriman observed, reflects reporting changes that let banks exclude loans made outside the United States by foreign branches and subsidiaries. Including such loans would probably show an overall increase, Brown Brothers Harriman said in a recent report.