2013-04-15

My layman's perspective on Malaysian debt

In the run up to the election, people these days keep posting articles about the Malaysian government's borrowings from the EPF, the state pension fund. Some say, the EPF is the largest buyer of Malaysian government debt. Ponzi, ponzi, ponzi?

I've posted a similar comment before on a similar post:

1) There's nothing wrong with the EPF (read: a state pension fund) buying any government debt (read: giving loans to any government with interest), so long as the risk profile of the governments who are taking the loans is evaluated (by the EPF), and each specific investment (by the EPF) is hedged against other investments with different risk profiles, in order to diversify systematic risks. [THE THEORY]

2) Whether the EPF is properly diversifying its risks is an open question, which the article alludes to, but does not directly address. It shouldn't be too hard to figure that out if you really wanted to know, however. Just spend a few weeks talking to the right people and/or digging around the paper trails. [HOMEWORK REQUIRED]

All that being said...

3) The bigger concern for me is that the government of Malaysia is taking too many loans, and using that money to implement socialist/loose monetary policies like BR1M. What this is doing is selling the future cashflow of the government, (not the Government), in order to buy present-day cashflow.

3a) Betting your future earnings on current expenditure is generally never a great idea. This is what the BR1M achieves for the country as a whole (unless you're willing to assume that the majority of BR1M funds ended back in investment, rather than in consumption). This is a bad policy at best, and at worst it is the Government robbing the government, in an attempt to preserve the Government's control over the government.

3b) Realpolitik/cynicism/sports commentary: this is appreciable as a poison-pill strategy by the current Government, because what happens IF the Opposition wins, is that the future government run by the current Opposition bears a huge burden of debt which it has to bring back under control through stricter policies (something similar happened to the Obama administration in its first term).

4) In the worst case scenario I can think off on my current coffee break... 2) above is a real problem, and 3a) above is also a real problem. It's basically running the risk of the government's running out of cash to pay debts in the future. If this happens and (a) you print more money, then you devalue the MYR, and we're all in soup, so go buy some bitcoins, USD, or something right now, or (b) the government goes bankrupt the way of Greece, Cyprus, etc, and required foreign bailouts... oh yes, you still get (a), just with more headline news.

All THAT being said... it still just sounds like business as usual in good'ol m'larky Malaysia... :)


This sort of discussion is really cute, particularly when it lands next to articles on universities spending money to build giant logos out of doughnuts... granted, that may not be a public university.

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