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MAS loss of S$7.4 billion not related to investment performance: Lawrence Wong

On the left is Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and on the right is the MAS logo. (PHOTO: Getty)
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong addresses MAS' S$7.4 billion loss. (PHOTO: Getty)

SINGAPORE – The loss Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) S$7.4 billion loss in the last financial year (FY) was because of a currency translation effect, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said on Monday (1 August).

In his reply to questions in Parliament, Wong, who is also Deputy Prime Minister and Deputy Chairman of MAS, said in his latter capacity, "The net loss of $7.4 billion reflected a currency translation effect, in other words the effect of translating the foreign currency value of the Official Foreign Reserves (OFR) into Singapore Dollars.

"The negative currency translation effect is not relevant to MAS' investment performance, which is measured in foreign currencies. It also has no bearing on the international purchasing power of the OFR, or on MAS' conduct of monetary policy."

He explained that in fact, "for FY2021/2022, MAS made investment gains of $4 billion on the OFR".

"These investment gains were, however, outweighed by the negative currency translation effects of S$8.7 billion arising from a stronger Singapore Dollar. As MAS tightened monetary policy in October 2021 and January 2022, the Singapore Dollar had strengthened against several of the foreign currencies in which the OFR are held. This meant a currency translation loss when the OFR were reported in Singapore Dollar."

Any implications?

Wong added that the negative currency translation effect has no implication for the international purchasing power of the OFR. "In fact, given the purpose of the OFR in safeguarding the international purchasing power of the Singapore Dollar, it is the foreign currency value rather than the Singapore Dollar value of the OFR that matters," he said.

Additionally, MAS' net loss in Singapore Dollar terms also has no implications for its conduct of monetary policy, Wong said. "The aim of MAS' monetary policy is to secure low and stable inflation as the basis for sustained growth over the medium term. MAS conducts an exchange rate-centred monetary policy, managing the Singapore Dollar against a basket of currencies of Singapore’s major trading partners," Wong explained. "When inflationary pressures build up, as they have over the past year, MAS allows the trade-weighted exchange rate to appreciate faster. Negative currency translation effects do not have any bearing on MAS’ ability to manage the exchange rate; rather they are a consequence of MAS' conduct of exchange rate policy."

MAS and the government

Wong also addressed MAS' net loss in his capacity as Minister for Finance.

"At the outset, let me clarify that MAS' overarching mandate is to ensure macro-economic stability. The Government does not expect MAS to deviate from this mandate in order to maximise its contributions to the Government," he stated.

MAS contributes to the government's budget in two ways, Wong said.

Firstly, under the Net Investment Returns (NIR) framework, the government can spend up to 50 per cent of the expected long-term real return on the net assets invested by MAS, GIC, and Temasek. The NIR is based on the long-term expected returns of the three investment entities, and hence is not affected by their short-term performance.

"As such, MAS' reported net loss in the last FY has no impact on the NIR that is available to the government," Wong said.

MAS also makes contributions to the government via corporate income tax. This is based on 17 per cent of the net profit for the year after offsetting cumulative losses from previous financial years.

In the case of MAS, Wong said, "the government recognises that its contributions will vary considerably from year to year due to the combined effect of currency translation and investment returns on MAS' balance sheet".

"This is why, since FY2019, the Government has smoothened the revenue volatility by requiring the annual contributions made by MAS to be paid in equal proportions over a period of three years. This means that even though MAS recorded a net loss for FY2021/22, the Government will receive S$1.1 billion from MAS, based on the contributions accrued for the previous two financial years, when MAS recorded net profits," he added. "The smoothening formula has helped to mitigate the impact of MAS' net loss on the Government’s budget."

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