Indonesia resurgence gathers pace as global investors pile in

SINGAPORE • The return of yield-hungry investors is signalling the worst may be over for Indonesia.

Global funds are piling back into Asia’s bellwether for emerging markets, buying US$795 million (RM3.25 billion) of debt so far this year and sending yields down about 90 basis points from their October peak as the US Federal Reserve looks to take a more cautious approach to policy tightening. That’s spelling relief for the rupiah and Bank Indonesia (BI), which spent most of 2018 seeking to stem an exodus of foreign capital amid a rout in developing-nation assets.

After plunging almost 9% over the first nine months of last year, the currency roared back in the fourth quarter as Indonesia raised interest rates to 6%, intervened in the foreign-exchange and bond markets, and curbed imports to help rein in the trade gap. The rebound has shown no signs of fading in 2019. The rupiah is already up 2.4% — tops in the region — and central bankers have signalled a willingness to let the currency strengthen further, according to PT Bahana Sekuritas.

“At the moment, BI appears more inclined to push for rupiah appreciation to lure foreign inflows, rather than to keep the rupiah undervalued to curb imports and boost exports,” Satria Sambijantoro, an economist at the Jakarta-based broker, wrote in a Jan 9 note to clients. “The one-way strengthening of the rupiah should make Indonesian assets very appealing among foreign investors.”

Even if BI leaves its benchmark rate unchanged at its Jan 17 policy meeting, money managers are once again being drawn to what remain some of the highest yields in Asia. With 10-year securities paying about 7.98% and inflation hovering just above 3%, the country offers an enticing real rate, particularly amid a reassessment of developed-market tightening.

Not only has BI signalled continued support for the rupiah, but it’s also trying to tackle the currency’s Achilles heel — the nation’s deteriorating current-account deficit.

At its last meeting on Dec 20, the central bank highlighted that “the policy rate is still consistent with efforts to reduce the current-account deficit to a safe level and maintain the attractiveness of domestic financial assets”.

These factors have helped buoy the currency. Dollar-rupiah breached its 200-day moving average on Jan 4 before bouncing off support around 14,000 per dollar last week. Still, the pair appears to be headed lower near-term given momentum indicators — such as slow stochastics and moving-average convergence-divergence — remain in bearish territory.

If BI continues to focus on currency stability at its upcoming meeting, a test of support at the June 6 low of 13,837 per dollar looks to be on the horizon. — Bloomberg