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Banking

Lifetime achievement award in Asia: Yam looks back

The head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, winner of Euromoney’s lifetime achievement award in Asia, talks to Lawrence White about his career and how regulators should respond to the crisis.

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FEW CENTRAL BANK governors can have had as challenging a couple of days as Joseph Yam of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority in July 1997: on the first of the month he oversaw the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule; the next day the devaluation of the Thai baht heralded the start of the Asian financial crisis. Yam had himself worked on the 1983 measure that pegged the Hong Kong dollar to its US counterpart. Fourteen years later, in a controversial move that established his international reputation, he sought to defend his currency by raising interest rates and buying billions of dollars-worth of Hong Kong stocks. Critics including US Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan called the move risky, but it worked and Hong Kong survived that crisis and indeed the next few that would come its way during Yam’s tenure.

In a 1998 feature on Asia’s top dealmakers, Euromoney asked Hong Kong’s brokers who was the most active fund manager in town, to which the resounding answer was "Joseph Yam". The comment, referring to the Hong Kong Monetary Authority’s accumulation of local stock during the 1997 crisis, appears to have been characterized by the mixture of admiration and somewhat jealous criticism that has been seen in much reaction to Yam over the years.

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