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Indonesia’s consumer and natural resources boom falters

Last updated: August 2, 2013 12:53 pm

Indonesia’s consumer and natural resources boom falters

By Ben Bland in Jakarta

Mitra Adiperkasa, the retail group that operates Burger King, Zara and a host of other international food and fashion brands in Indonesia, has ridden the wave of middle-class consumption that transformed Southeast Asia’s biggest economy into one of the world’s hottest emerging markets. But the group is scaling back its expansion plans and capital expenditure next year, for the first time since 2009, as Indonesian companies contend with problems including rising inflation and slowing Chinese growth. “The main challenge for us is rising costs,” says Fetty Kwartati, head of investor relations at Mitra Adiperkasa, with salary and rental expenses increasing more quickly than sales. The company plans to open 60,000-70,000 square metres of new space next year, down from 90,000 square metres this year.Rising consumer spending has been one of the two pillars of Indonesia’s exuberant growth in recent years, alongside burgeoning natural resource exports.

But the latter has been badly affected by the slowdown in China, a major buyer of Indonesia’s coal, palm oil and rubber. There are signs that the impact of this slump is damaging broader confidence in the economy and restricting growth in domestic consumption, which accounts for more than 60 per cent of gross domestic product.

Indonesia’s annual GDP growth fell to 5.8 per cent in the second quarter, according to government data released on Friday, the slowest pace for nearly three years.

Agus Martowardojo, governor of the central bank, told reporters that the government needed to “promote exports to new markets . . . as growth slows in China and India”.

 

Like other major natural resources exporters that have profited from China’s historic double-digit growth rates, such as Australia and Brazil, Indonesia is being forced to adapt to a new era, in which Beijing is targeting more sustainable GDP growth of 7-8 per cent. The IMF has estimated that each one percentage point fall in Chinese GDP growth could cut as much as 0.5 percentage points from the Indonesian figure.

“Many people thought that commodity prices had only fallen temporarily but it now looks like lower prices are here to stay,” says Chairul Tanjung, a banking, media and retail tycoon who is also chairman of the Indonesian president’s economic advisory committee. “That will be tough for many of our biggest companies, which are reliant on selling coal, palm oil and other commodities.”

Coal miners, mining services companies and palm oil farmers are already suffering, as are other industries such as motorbike retailers in resource-dependent parts of Indonesia like Sumatra and Kalimantan.

“The slowdown in China has hit coal producers, especially the small and medium-sized companies, as they don’t have long-term contracts,” says Tutuk Cahyono, the head of the Indonesian central bank’s office in Balikpapan, the capital of the once-booming Kalimantan coal industry.

In Balikpapan, annual loan growth for the mining sector has collapsed from 130 per cent in the second quarter of 2011 to just 10 per cent in the same period of this year. Around Indonesia, sales of the Komatsu diggers used in the mining and plantation industries were down 42 per cent in the first half of 2013 compared to a year earlier, according to local distributor United Tractors.

Meanwhile, companies’ international financing costs are rising as markets anticipate a tightening of US monetary policy, while import costs have been pushed up by the rupiah’s depreciation of nearly 9 per cent against the dollar over the past year.

Some business leaders also fear growing political interference in the economy ahead of the presidential election next year, which will see the first transition of power for a decade.

Benedict Bingham, senior representative for the International Monetary Fund in Jakarta, says that GDP growth is likely to come in at less than 6 per cent this year, for the first time since the global financial crisis hit Indonesia in 2009.

Slowing growth is putting the government under pressure to revive economic reforms that have been neglected amid a raft of protectionist policies introduced ahead of next year’s elections.

“The longer-run impact will depend on how smoothly the transition to lower commodity prices and tighter funding conditions is managed, and also, perhaps more importantly, on whether this shift in the external environment is taken as an opportunity to push forward with longstanding reforms to improve Indonesia’s competitiveness,” says Mr Bingham.

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Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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