Malaysia renews battle against speculators

The South-east Asian financial crisis intensified yesterday as the Malaysian government renewed its attack on currency and stock market speculators amid fears that the International Monetary Fund might withdraw support for the embattled Thai economy, writes Tom Stevenson, Financial Editor.
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The Malaysian government yesterday stepped up its attack on the powerful hedge funds it believes have deliberately weakened its currency and stock markets. Anwar Ibrahim, the country's Minister of Finance, called for international rules to be drafted to "punish unscrupulous speculators".

Speaking at a meeting of finance ministers in Mauritius, Mr Anwar said efforts should be made to police the activities of hedge funds and other investment firms to prevent them destabilising national and international financial markets.

"He said: "What is absent in the present international financial system is a mechanism to protect those who become victims of irresponsible bucaneering speculators."

Malaysia's currency, the ringgit, and its stockmarket have been badly hit by the currency crisis which spread through several south east Asian countries after the rapid depreciation of the Thai baht in July.

Mr Anwar said the IMF and the World Bank should address how to "deliver a major and substantive formula to protect emerging economies". He stressed Malaysia had a budget surplus and had already announced measures to increase this by making across the board cuts in expenditure and by deferring "mega- projects" such as new towns and dams.

His comments came only days before a meeting of European and Asian finance ministers in Bangkok and a high-profile IMF/World Bank meeting in Hong Kong, which begins in earnest at the weekend with a Group of Seven (G7) meeting.

The South East Asian crisis deepened yesterday after an article in Hong Kong's South China Morning Post warned that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was considering withdrawing its support for a bailout package for Thailand. That country's central bank governor had previously warned it may fail to match reform targets next year.

Chaiyawat Wibulswasdi said Thailand was still committed to honouring its obligations under the international bailout programme but he admitted that meeting a fiscal surplus target set by the IMF for next year would be difficult.

Negotiating its worst financial crisis for 30 years, Thailand received the first $1.6bn of a $3.9bn standby credit from the IMF late last month.

The payment was part of a $17bn package supported by Asian countries led by Japan.

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