Where GIC and Temasek gets their $

In Economy, GIC, Temasek on 26/12/2009 at 1:08 pm

“If Singaporeans are not “hard-driving and hard-striving”, where did GIC and Temasek get so much money to lose?”: a posting on a Temasek Review article.

Not quite correct because the money that GIC and Temasek invest comes from government surpluses. As about 43% of Singaporeans don’t pay income tax, this means that the surpluses are generated by being thrifty (government’s view) or mean (view of many netizens).

Economists in the private sector, and the Reform Party (the sec-gen was once an economist and he has a first-class degree from Cambridge) have argued that rather than accumulate large surpluses that are then invested abroad, the government should spend more building up Singapore’s human capital. By spending more on things like education, healthcare and consumer protection, the returns generated will be better than the returns on overseas investments.

This is an argument that has excellent academic credentials. China is often asked by eminent economists ,”Why do you export so much when you, in return, use the surplus lend to the Americans so that they can buy more from you?” The economists advise that China should invest more locally.

Now MM Lee’s view is that Singapore needs the reserves should anything go badly wrong. He could have quoted the example of Kuwait, which surprising he has not. When Kuwait was invaded by Iraq, the reserves were used to help pay for the war. And afterwards for the reconstruction of the country. He could have cited Iceland and Dubai (which again he hasn’t) as countries that got into trouble because they ran out of $.

BTW, one noted local economist has said that the government is effectively pocketing the difference between the returns it gets from investing abroad and the returns it pays on our CPF accounts: a carry trade arbitrage. Borrow low and invest for higher returns.

For the technically minded, our CPF monies are invested in special government bonds. The $ from the bonds flow into the government’s Consolidated Fund together with revenues from taxes etc. All government expenses are paid out from this fund. If there is a surplus (as there usually is)  part of that can go to GIC and Temasek. The government argues that because all the monies in the fund  is fungible (cannot be separated), one is wrong to argue that CPF monies are invested abroad.

Technically the government is correct, but so what is the retort? The financial effect is the same as if our CPF monies are invested abroad.

Finally, Singapore is unique among the countries with the largest sovereign wealth funds. The other SWFs are effectively funded from oil revenues. In the case of Singapore, it could be reasonably argued, by government critics, that the funding results from the “hard-driving and hard-striving” Singaporeans who are forced to save, and from less than optimal government spending.

So the quote at the beginning of this piece has elements of the truth.

  1. […] SWFs: S’pore v Korea In GIC, Temasek on 05/06/2010 at 5:16 am Much more than Korea certainly.  The minister of finance said that the success of S’pore is due to S’poreans’ efforts.  More to the point the $ in our reserves are due to the recycled savings of Singaporeans […]

  2. […] Meanwhile past and present generations are burdened by having to put up with less than optimal govmin spending because of the need to have budget surpluses to build up the reserves. […]

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