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Asian Markets Await US Inflation Data Amid China Economic Concerns

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Asian Markets Await US Inflation Data Amid China Economic Concerns

Asian markets faced challenges on Tuesday (12 September) in their attempt to follow the positive trends in Wall Street and Europe. Investors are anxiously awaiting the release of US inflation data, while lingering concerns about China’s economy continue to weigh on sentiment.

The upcoming consumer price index (CPI) report holds significant importance as it influences the Federal Reserve’s policy decisions. The next Fed meeting is expected to result in interest rates being maintained, but market participants will closely analyze the accompanying statement for insights into the central bank’s future plans.

Equities have encountered difficulties this month due to fears that strong economic indicators and a robust job market may prompt the Fed to implement further tightening measures this year to combat inflation. The situation is further complicated by mixed signals from Fed officials, with some advocating for rate hikes and others favoring a wait-and-see approach to gauge the impact of over a year of rate adjustments.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has emphasized that decisions will be data-driven, causing investors to interpret weak economic data as positive news for the future interest rate outlook.

Chris Larkin, Managing Director of Trading and Investing at E*Trade from Morgan Stanley, noted, “This week is more likely to be a ‘good news is good, bad news is bad’ story. The market’s ability to rebound in the near term could hinge on this week’s inflation numbers, especially Wednesday’s CPI.”

Leading economists from major global banks have expressed the view that the Fed is unlikely to implement further rate hikes and may begin reducing borrowing costs in the new year. They also predicted that the United States will avoid a recession. Simona Mocuta, Chair of the 14-member American Bankers Association’s Economic Advisory Committee, stated, “Given both demonstrated and anticipated progress on inflation, the majority of the committee members believe the Fed’s tightening cycle has run its course.”

Meanwhile, tech firms led a surge in all three major indexes on Wall Street, while Asian markets displayed mixed performance. Tokyo, Taipei, and Manila saw slight gains, but Hong Kong, Shanghai, Seoul, Sydney, Singapore, Wellington, and Jakarta all experienced declines.

Concerns about China’s economy continue to dampen investor sentiment, despite some signs of improvement such as a return to inflation and a smaller-than-expected decline in exports and imports. There are calls for the Chinese government to unveil a substantial stimulus package akin to the one implemented during the 2008 global financial crisis to boost growth and support the property sector.

In the currency markets, the Japanese yen slightly weakened against the US dollar after receiving a boost from comments by the Bank of Japan’s head, hinting at a potential shift away from the current ultra-loose monetary policy.

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Modi Likely to Visit Bangladesh in First Bilateral Trip Post-Re-Election

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit Bangladesh later this month, marking his first bilateral trip following his re-election.

Initially, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was slated to visit India at the end of June or early July. However, following her attendance at Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi over the weekend, plans have shifted. According to the Economic Times, Modi is now preparing for a visit to Dhaka in response to an invitation extended by Hasina.

This prospective visit aligns with India’s ‘Neighbourhood First’ policy, aimed at reinforcing its leadership role in South Asia.

During their meeting in New Delhi on June 9, Hasina formally invited Modi to visit Bangladesh. Although exact dates for the visit are yet to be finalized, the agenda will likely focus on enhancing cross-border connectivity, energy cooperation, and business ties between the two nations.

Sources indicate that India is keen on strengthening its security and defense partnership with Bangladesh, reflecting the strategic importance of this bilateral relationship.

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Moody’s Predicts Further Decline for Bangladesh’s Taka Amid Currency Policy Shift

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Bangladesh’s taka is expected to plunge further into record-low territory as the central bank loosens its control over the currency, according to Moody’s Ratings.

Young Kim, an analyst at the rating firm in Singapore, projects that the taka will likely weaken by another 2% to around 120 per dollar by the year’s end. This forecast comes as the currency has been hitting a series of record lows in recent days.

The central bank’s recent introduction of a crawling peg system is anticipated to align the taka’s value more closely with its rate in the unofficial market, Kim explained. This adjustment is part of a broader package of policies recommended by the International Monetary Fund, which provided Bangladesh with a $4.7 billion bailout program last year. This policy shift aims to help the nation prevent further depletion of its foreign exchange reserves—a factor Fitch Ratings cited when it downgraded Bangladesh’s credit score further into junk status in May.

“Most of the pressure for Bangladesh is external, centered around the fixed-exchange rate that caused a distortion between the market and the official rate,” Kim noted. “This significant devaluation of the taka helps reduce some of these imbalances by narrowing that gap.”

In May, the central bank implemented the crawling peg exchange rate system and set the mid-rate at 117 taka per dollar. This move prompted an almost 8% decline in the currency this quarter. On Tuesday, the taka weakened further by 0.3%, reaching 117.7 against the dollar and closing at a new low.

Amidst the currency devaluation, Bangladesh is also cutting spending and raising taxes to narrow the budget deficit and boost revenues, as the country faces a steady erosion of foreign reserves. To curb inflationary pressure, the central bank has transitioned to market-based interest rates, responding to the fastest pace of price increases seen in seven months in May.

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Bangladesh, ADB Ink $250M Loan Deal for Social Resilience Program

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the government of Bangladesh have signed a $250 million loan agreement to bolster Bangladesh’s social protection system.

Md. Shahriar Kader Siddiky, Secretary of the Economic Relations Division (ERD), and Edimon Ginting, ADB’s Country Director, signed the agreement today at a ceremony held at the ERD in the capital.

“The Second Strengthening Social Resilience Program aims to accelerate reforms by increasing the coverage and efficiency of protection, improving financial inclusion for disadvantaged people, and strengthening the response to diversified protection needs,” stated Country Director Edimon Ginting.

Building on the first Strengthening Social Resilience Program completed in June 2022, this second initiative seeks to improve the policy, regulatory, and institutional framework for social protection in Bangladesh. This program aligns with the government’s Action Plan Phase II of the National Social Security Strategy (2021-2026), aiming to enhance the social protection system’s protective and preventive capabilities.

According to a press release, the program will improve efficiency in social protection program management, increase protection for the most vulnerable populations, and expand the scope of social protection by introducing contributory schemes. These measures aim to reduce vulnerability, social exclusion, and the risk of further poverty.

The program will introduce a beneficiary verification scheme for cash-based social protection programs to minimize leakages. It will also merge two cash-based protection programs for people with disabilities to improve efficiency and effectiveness.

To address climate vulnerability, the program will integrate climate adaptive measures into social protection, including identifying individuals most at risk from climate change-induced disasters to ensure appropriate assistance.

ADB’s support will enhance protection for vulnerable women and transgender people by increasing the number of beneficiaries under the widow allowance program and extending the livelihood support program for transgender individuals.

Additionally, Bangladesh Bank will double its funding for the Small Enterprise Refinancing Scheme for Women Entrepreneurs to improve access to financial services for women small business operators.

Another key objective of the program is to strengthen the governance mechanism of the employment injury scheme pilot, particularly in the ready-made garments sector. It also supports establishing a tripartite committee comprising workers’ associations, employers’ associations, and the government to advance social protection for workers under the Ministry of Labour and Employment, a crucial step in developing the country’s social insurance schemes.

To support the implementation, technical and policy analyses, and capacity building of relevant government agencies, ADB will provide a $1 million grant from its Technical Assistance Special Fund (TASF 7) and another $1 million grant from the ADB-administered Community Resilience Partnership Program Trust Fund under the Community Resilience Financing Partnership Facility.

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