International financial centres – are the vaccine against recession | FinReview
15 September 2020

International financial centres – are the vaccine against recession

The coronavirus outbreak changed the world. If countries initially thought about how to prevent the spread of the virus, now they face an equally significant task-to save their economies from the threat of a recession. However, they cannot cope with the consequences of the pandemic alone, so international financial centres are joining forces to mitigate the current crisis and prepare for a rapid economic recovery.

Since 2019, the situation in the global economy has significantly worsened. Global trade declined by more than 2% and global production by more than 0.5%. Industrial production in the world’s largest economy, the United States, began to fall in September and continued to decline for seven consecutive months due to the coronavirus outbreak. What’s worse, from February to April 2020, leading indicators for the first time in a long time began to indicate a reduction in the service sector. The latest employment report showed an improvement in the labor market, but the statistics remain the worst since 2012.

Countries now face a key challenge to save their economies from the threat of a recession. Everyone is inclined to believe that they cannot cope with the consequences of the pandemic alone. Therefore, international financial centres are joining forces to mitigate the current crisis and prepare for a rapid economic recovery. How this recovery works was analyzed by analysts

Learning from the 2008-2009 crisis

Twelve years ago, at the height of the global economic crisis, the investment and credit sector in the Asian region suffered significantly. During the worst of the crisis, foreign capital inflows in the region’s ten major countries fell to 1.7% of gross domestic product, compared with 8.4% in the previous three years. Faced with a severe lack of liquidity, due to large sales of regional stocks and bonds by foreign investors, Asian countries sharply reduced the attraction of government and corporate loans, including funds allocated to foreign exchange reserves.

This state of financial markets led to an increase in portfolio investment outflows, a weakening of the positions of a number of regional currencies, a reduction in foreign trade financing, accelerated inflation, and an increase in external debt. Therefore, in order to stabilize the regional economy, countries first needed to revive the financial market and accelerate its integration into the global financial system. That is, to get access to a global source of capital.

However, there is a close relationship between financial and economic development, so first countries started to achieve macroeconomic stabilization. Actively using financial and monetary policies, Asian States have adopted financial stimulus packages for economies of more than 8% of GDP and lowered base rates to below 5%. This helped to contain inflationary risks and increase consumer demand.
Further, to ensure the stability of the financial market itself and increase investor confidence, Deposit guarantees were extended, measures were taken to provide financial support to systemically important banks, the monetary framework for liquidity was expanded, and interventions were introduced in the foreign exchange market.

It was during this period that the Asian region began to actively develop the international competitiveness of financial centres. The previously accepted functions of the centres and their preferences have largely been preserved, but, of course, they have been adjusted to take into account the severity of the financial and economic crisis. In particular, additional tax and visa preferences were established, digital currencies were created, the use of financial technologies was expanded, new types of insurance services were developed, control over external capital inflows was simplified, and requirements for potential investors were reduced.

As a result, emerging financial networks in Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai transformed into leading global centres over the next ten years. For example, Hong Kong now ranks 4th in the world in foreign exchange transactions, 6th in foreign banking assets, is one of the four largest gold markets and is the fourth largest stock market in Asia by capitalization.

The coronacrisis brought down not only financial markets, but also the oil market

Against the background of the slow recovery of the world economy and the decline in demand for oil, the market has formed an oversupply of black gold. According to preliminary data, the overstocking of the market is about 14.7 million barrels per day, while demand has decreased by 8-10 million barrels per day. For example, in China — the world’s largest importer of this product — according to Goldman Sachs, demand decreased by 3 million barrels per day.

Thus, in 2020, the oil market is characterized by an excess of supply over demand. It is already clear that these surpluses will not be covered even by the agreements reached within OPEC+ to reduce production by 9.7 million barrels per day. However, the implementation of this agreement remains in fact the key regulator of oil pricing.

Now the price of oil is around 40 US dollars per barrel, while in previous months its price has repeatedly broken through a critical bottom, falling below 20 US dollars per barrel. By the end of the year, its average price is likely to be about 42.75 US dollars.

However, these prices bear serious losses for oil producers — OPEC+ countries they are already losing about 400 million US dollars per day. Therefore, they need new impulses to restore oil losses. It is international financial centres that can save commodity economies

As international financial integration strengthens the economy’s immunity to external crises

The main trend in recent decades has been the globalization of the economy, when the borders between the markets of developed countries are blurred, and goods and capital move freely. The impetus for globalization is financial integration, which leads to other sectors of the economy, increasing the movement of capital at times in comparison with commodity flows.

In this chain, international financial centres act as a key transmission link for financial integration. Each financial centre performs several interrelated functions at once. First, it contributes to the overall financial development of the country. Second, it ensures the integration of the national financial market into the global financial system. Third, it contributes to the overall integration of the country’s economy into the world.

In other words, financial centres, creating a favorable environment for investors, and thereby attracting foreign investment, play an important role in the development of the country’s economy and the region. They are also working to develop the securities and financial services market to become a competitive private sector. For example, after the 2008 crisis, the growth of cross-border investment in relation to GDP stopped, accumulated investment in relation to GDP slowed down, and only foreign direct investment maintained its positive dynamics. It was the international financial centres that contributed to their increase. Therefore, in 2018, the Astana International Financial centre was opened in Kazakhstan.

It is important to note that Kazakhstan has undoubted advantages in integrating the country into global investment and financial markets — its positioning as a leading country in Central Asia, close cooperation with both Russia and China, proximity to the new silk Road projects, the country’s traditional ties with the Islamic world, and stable relations with the United States and the European Union.

Already, AIFC participants have made investments in Kazakhstan projects in the amount of 444 million US dollars

For a person who is far from the financial industry, it is difficult to understand why Kazakhstan needs its own international financial centre. However, it is this centre that, by creating a favorable environment for investors, attracts foreign capital to the real sectors of the economy, thereby developing the private sector, revitalizing the national economy and accelerating the process of its diversification.

Now the financial centre has created all the basic conditions for managing assets and private wealth — the entire regulatory framework has been prepared and the necessary tools for management have been developed. Foreign companies are already actively cooperating with the AIFC — according to the latest data, 545 companies from 42 countries are registered as participants of the centre. These include such major financial players as the development Bank of China, the Construction Bank of China, the largest brokers-CITIC (China), Wood Co. (Czechia).

The favorable conditions provided by the AIFC platform, including on the issues of structuring transactions and using the financial platform, have already allowed the participants of the financial centre to invest 444 million US dollars in Kazakhstan. Funds were allocated to such sectors as financial technology development, construction, agriculture and manufacturing. At the same time, investors intend to continue investing in the economy of Kazakhstan, and the volume of investment revenues in the near future may grow to 3.5 billion US dollars.

Also, from the first days of activity in the financial centre, they were engaged in the development of the securities market. The volume of capital raised on the Astana International Exchange (AIX) has already reached about 4.6 billion US dollars. At the same time, public bonds worth 2.7 billion US dollars were listed.

It is important to note that these results were achieved by the financial centre only in two years of official operation, which is undoubtedly a significant indicator of the centre for the financial market of Kazakhstan and the entire Central Asian region.