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Cablegate: Taipei Economic Brief for January 2008

VZCZCXRO9372
RR RUEHGH
DE RUEHIN #0176/01 0360324
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 050324Z FEB 08
FM AIT TAIPEI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8078
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
INFO RUCPDOC/USDOC WASHDC
RUEHBK/AMEMBASSY BANGKOK 4059
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 7811
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 9314
RUEHGP/AMEMBASSY SINGAPORE 7222
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 9566
RUEHML/AMEMBASSY MANILA 0351
RUEHJA/AMEMBASSY JAKARTA 4257
RUEHKL/AMEMBASSY KUALA LUMPUR 3935
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI 3514
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 4794
RUEHWL/AMEMBASSY WELLINGTON 2060
RUEHHK/AMCONSUL HONG KONG 9074
RUEHGH/AMCONSUL SHANGHAI 1737
RUEHGZ/AMCONSUL GUANGZHOU 0921

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 TAIPEI 000176

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STATE PLEASE PASS USTR
STATE FOR EAP/RSP/TC, EAP/EP
USTR FOR KATZ AND STRATFORD
USDOC FOR 3132/USFCS/OIO/EAP
TREASURY FOR OASIA/TTYANG AND HAARSAGER
TREASURY ALSO PASS TO FEDERAL RESERVE/BOARD OF
GOVERNORS, SAN FRANCISCO FRB/TERESA CURRAN, AND NEW YORK FRB MARI
BOLIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: EINV EFIN ECON SENV TW
SUBJECT: Taipei Economic Brief for January 2008

1. (U) Summary. Here are the highlights of January 2008 economic
events in Taiwan. Taiwan's economy outperformed expectations in
2007, with capital outflow partly offsetting inflationary
pressure.... Taiwan's 2008 economic outlook less optimistic....
Initial public offerings in 2007 set a three-year high.... Four
state-owned banks morph into Taiwan's largest financial holding
firm.... Mini-links Ferry boat passengers posted double-digit
growth.... Tax incentives adopted for foreign expats....
High-speed rail hurts airlines, busses and slow trains.... Taiwan
goes green with new Greenhouse Emission Management Office subsidies
for cleaner cars.... Asahi Glass to build polysilicon plant for
solar power industry.... Think Yachts - Think Taiwan... No, Taiwan
has no plans for a sovereign wealth fund. END SUMMARY.

Taiwan's 2007 Economic Performance - Underestimated?
--------------------------------------------- -------
2. Taiwan's economy outperformed expectations in the second half of
2007, and final figures for Taiwan's 2007 real GDP growth are likely
to exceed the current official preliminary figure of 5.46%. In
2007, export growth accelerated throughout the year, reaching 15% in
the fourth quarter, well ahead of earlier forecasts. Manufacturing
growth also accelerated from 1% in Q1 to 14% in Q4. Electronic and
electrical parts/components which account for 40% of merchandise
exports posted 21% growth in 2007, with the Q4 y-o-y growth
exceeding 30%. Chemicals also reported a sharp increase in
production growth from 3% in Q1 to 18.5% in Q4. Accelerated growth
in wholesale/retail sales as well as imports of consumer goods fed
the expansion of private consumption. Private investment also
gained momentum as imports of capital goods grew 3% in 2007, after
virtually no growth in 2006. Taiwan's Unemployment in 2007 leveled
off at just under 4%.

Capital Outflow Partly Offsets Inflationary Pressure
--------------------------------------------- -------
3. Typhoons and higher import costs for energy and commodities
pushed Taiwan's year-on-year inflation rate to a 13-year high of
5.3% in October. The inflation rate subsequently declined to 3.3%
in December after the typhoon season passed. The import-driven
inflationary pressure has been partly offset by net capital outflows
which reduced M1B money supply growth in December 2007 to 1.07%, a
seven year low. The M2 money supply growth at 1.36% was the lowest
since 1982. (Note: M1B refers to money circulating in the economy
plus checking account deposits, and M2 refers to M1B plus savings
deposits. End Note.)

2008 Outlook Less Rosy
----------------------
4. In 2008, exports are likely to expand in Q1 by double-digit
rates as export orders which grew by 18% y-o-y in Q4 of 2007 are
likely to be produced and delivered in Q1 of 2008. Later in the
year, however, an anticipated economic slowdown in the U.S. and
other developed economies will likely translate into a slowdown in
Taiwan's export expansion and its economic growth. Official
forecasts call for 2008 real GDP growth of 4.5%. This is in the
range of most private forecasts which fall between 4.0-4.5%.
Deutsche Bank and Standard Chartered Bank are more pessimistic,
forecasting only 3.6% and 2.8%, respectively.

Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) Set 3-year High
--------------------------------------------- --
5. In 2007 there were 70 IPOs in Taiwan, a three-year high. The
IPOs include 30 on the Taiwan Stock Exchange (TSE) and 40 on the
Over-the-counter market (OTC). The Financial Supervisory Commission
set targets of 85 IPO's in 2008 and 95 in 2009. To achieve the
goals, in January 2008, the FSC relaxed requirements for firms to
list on the island's stock markets. Minimum capital and market
value requirements were eliminated for OTC listings. For the TSE,

TAIPEI 00000176 002 OF 004


the minimum capital requirement was lowered from NT$600 million to
NT$300 million (US$9.2 million).

Four State Banks Merge
----------------------
6. Four state-owned banks - Bank of Taiwan, Land Bank of Taiwan,
Central Trust of China, and Export-Import Bank - were merged into
Taiwan Financial Holdings, a new 100% government-owned financial
holding company on January 1. With assets totaling NT$5.12 trillion
(US$157.5 billion), it is the largest financial institution in
Taiwan and the 89th largest in the world. Its assets account for
18% of the banking sector's total assets. The merger has reduced
the number of state-controlled banks to seven, although these firms
still dominate the banking sector with a market share of 51% in
terms of assets and 56% in terms of loans.

Mini Three Links
----------------
7. The number of ferry boat passengers between Taiwan's
Kinmen/Matsu and the PRC's Xiamen, Chuanzhou and Fuzhou grew 16% to
a new high of 391,930 in 2007. This equals ten percent of total
passengers between Taiwan and Hong Kong/Macao. The number of Taiwan
passengers posted a growth of 15% to 338,618 which accounted for 86%
of total cross-Strait passengers by ferry boat. The number of
Chinese passengers surged 27% to 53,322. The number of port calls
by ferry boats in 2007 increased 21% to 5,391 of which 40% was made
by PRC-based ferry boats.

Tax Incentives for Employment of Foreign Experts
--------------------------------------------- ---
8. Effective January 2008, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) adopted
new tax incentives for certain foreign expatriates in Taiwan.
Travel expenses for expatriates and their families, home leave,
moving costs, utility bills, house rental and repair, and education
for children will be excluded from income. For employers, the
expenditures can be treated as operating expenses and deducted from
the taxable income.

High-speed Rail Cheers; Bus, Train, Plane Tears
--------------------------------------------- --
9. Taiwan's high-speed railway (HSR), which began commercial
operation in January 2007, has caused a drastic drop in air
passengers. Revenue from domestic flights along Taiwan's populated
west coast plunged 60% in 2007. Unable to compete with HSR,
domestic airlines, have already suspended flights from Taipei to
Taichung, Chiayi and Pingtung. Far East Transport (or FAT) plans to
suspend Taipei - Tainan flights in March. Adding insult to injury,
the Taiwan post office has started using HSR to transport express
mail. Busses and "normal" trains are also feeling the competitive
pressure. The number of long-distance non-high-speed railway
passengers declined 30%, and the number of long-distance bus
passengers dropped 20%. The Taiwan Railway Administration will
reduce non-high speed rail tickets to attract passengers. Expect
more pressure in 2008 as the number of high-speed rail passengers is
expected to double.

Exposure to Sub-prime Mortgage Products
---------------------------------------
10. Banks and other financial service firms continue to report
exposure to collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and structured
investment vehicles (SIVs) which may be linked to the U.S. sub-prime
mortgage crisis. According to the Financial Supervisory Commission
(FSC) as of December 2007 exposure to CDOs increased from NT$75
billion (US$2.3 billion) in August to NT$81.94 billion (US$2.5
billion). The updated exposure included NT$58.59 billon (US$1.8
billion) for 21 Taiwan banks and NT$39.5 billion (US$1.2 billion)
for 12 insurance companies, and NT$4.6 billion (US$141 million) for

TAIPEI 00000176 003 OF 004


holders of five mutual funds. In addition, exposure to structured
investment vehicles (SIVs) totaled NT$21.38 billion (US$658
million), including NT$20.52 billion (US$631 million) for banks and
NT$1.23 billion (US$38 million) for insurance firms. These numbers
do not represent losses, but overall holdings of CDOs and SIVs.
Separately, as of December 2007, estimated losses in the CDO and SIV
asset categories were NT$23.7 billion (US$729 million), including
NT$22 billion (US$677 million) for banks and NT$6.87 billion (US$211
million) for insurance companies. This has eroded 10% of Taiwan
financial institutions' profits in 2007 which remained about NT$150
billion (US$4.6 billion).

Greenhouse Gas Reduction Management Office
------------------------------------------
11. On January 10, Taiwan's Environmental Protection Administration
(EPA) inaugurated the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Management Office.
Fifty-four manufacturing firms in the electricity, iron & steel, and
petrochemical industries have voluntarily reported their GHG
emissions. The EPA expected the number of reporting firms will
reach 100 within one year and 300 over the next three years.

EPA Subsidizes Cleaner Cars
---------------------------
12. Taiwan's EPA adopted a subsidy program to promote cleaner cars.
EPA will reduce the commodity tax by NT$25,000 (US$769) for the
purchase of a hybrid car or a car fueled by liquid petroleum gas
(LPG). In addition, the EPA will provide buyers a separate subsidy
of NT$25,000 (US$769). The EPA will also subsidize the cost of LPG
fuel by NT$2 (about 6 US cents) per liter.

Asahi Glass to Build Solar-grade Polysilicon Plant
--------------------------------------------- -----
13. Asahi Glass, whose major shareholder is California-based
Silicon Research Inc (SRI), will build a solar-grade polysilicon
plant in central Taiwan. Polysilicon is a key material for
photovoltaics. The plant is expected to begin commercial operation
late this year. In the next three-to-five years, the new plant's
annual production will increase to 10,000 tons of solar-grade
polysilicon which will be sufficient to meet demand by a growing
number of solar photovoltaic (PV) manufactures in Taiwan. According
to the Industrial Development Bureau, 24 new companies entered
Taiwan's solar PV industry in 2007.

Taiwan 5th in Yacht Building
----------------------------
14. The US yachting magazine "ShowBoats International" ranked
Taiwan the fifth largest in yacht builder in the world. In 2007
Taiwan builders received orders for 71 super yachts, those at least
80 feet long. The total number of feet on order with Taiwanese
builders in 2007 was 6,867 feet, a 60% increase over 2006.
According to Taiwan's Industrial Development Bureau, Taiwan yacht
builders hold 6% of the global market, behind Italy's 43.6%, the
United States' 11.7%, the Netherlands' 9.2%, and Germany's 8%.
According to Showboats' latest rankings, three Taiwan companies were
ranked among global top twenty: Horizon (12th), OceanAlexander
(16th), and KhaShing (17th).

Not a Sovereign Wealth Fund
---------------------------
15. Local media recently reported that Taiwan intended to set up a
sovereign wealth fund. The fund in question, named Taiwan
International Development Corporation (TIDC), will have NT$2 billion
(US$61.5 million) in capital, with Taiwan authorities contributing
40% and the remaining 60% from the private sector. The Ministry of
Economic Affairs clarified that TIDC is not a sovereign wealth fund,
and that the government's contribution to TIDC does not come from
Taiwan's foreign exchange (FX) reserves. Private shareholders

TAIPEI 00000176 004 OF 004


dominate TDIC, which is designed to seek construction opportunities
in the Persian Gulf Region (a market which is expected to reach
US$6.6 trillion). The Central Bank has repeatedly stated that it
may not use Taiwan's FX reserves to serve any official investment
purpose. The Central Bank said capital funds brought into Taiwan by
foreign portfolio investors constitute about half of Taiwan's FX
reserves, and that the bank has to maintain sufficient liquidity to
meet any sudden demand for capital by these foreign portfolio
investors.

YOUNG

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