Archive for category Finance

As Zeti Term Ends, Malaysia Poised to Name Central Bank Governor Shamim Adam

by Shamim Adam & Y-Sing Liau
April 25, 2016

Malaysia’s central bank Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz has one week to go in the job and investors still don’t know who will replace her.

Zeti is credited by investors with strengthening the credibility and independence of Bank Negara Malaysia in the 16 years she’s been at the helm and the longer Prime Minister Najib Razak drags his feet on announcing a successor, the more market analysts are worrying. It’s something the economy can ill afford with sentiment already under pressure as Najib faces his biggest political crisis since coming to power seven years ago.

“Trepidation is particularly pronounced” given the uncertainty over Zeti’s successor, said Jack Chambers, an economist at Moody’s Analytics Australia Pty Ltd. While the ringgit has gained about 10 percent this year after a 19 percent slump in 2015, a measure of its implied volatility is the highest in Asia. Read the rest of this entry »

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Don’t Kill The Goose That Lays Our Golden Egg

Koon Yew Yin
20th April 2016

Recently there was a news report that the serious shortage of labour has caused 14 furniture manufacturers in Johor to close shop. According to Malaysian Furniture Council president Chua Chun Chai, the furniture industry in the peninsula is facing a shortfall of some 35,000 workers. This situation has caused 300 furniture makers and workers in Bakri, Muar to demonstrate and putting up banners proclaiming “No foreign workers = end of the industry”.

According to Mr. Chua, the foreign worker recruitment freeze had dealt a heavy blow to the foreign labour-intensive industry. The hardest-hit states are Johor, Selangor and Penang which together produce 95% of the total furniture the country exports, he said, adding that the biggest markets for Malaysian furniture are the US, Japan, China, Australia, the UK, India and United Arab Emirates.

“Last year, Malaysia’s furniture export hit RM9 billion, which was 14.1% more than the 2014 figure. “If not for the freeze on recruitment of foreign workers, we were looking at breaching the RM10 billion mark this year. But with a shortage of labour we are facing, the export is expected to shrink greatly. “As such, the council is appealing to both the prime minister and deputy prime minister to look into our predicament seriously,” he said.

Actually, the problem of shortage of foreign workers as a result of the recent freeze is not confined to the furniture industry alone. Practically every sector of the country’s economy is dependent on foreign labour. Read the rest of this entry »

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Do Malaysians Want To See Proton Go Bankrupt?

Koon Yew Yin
18th April 2016

I am not surprised to see The Edge front page article ”SAVING PROTON” on 18th April 2016. Dr Mahathir, the founder of Proton was interviewed last week by The Edge. You can read the whole interview on page 65.

Among several other questions, Dr Mahathir was asked “Do you think the Rm 1.5 billion soft loan can turn Proton around? “

Answer quote “Well, under the present condition, yes, but we would have been able to turn around earlier. Proton car sales today have plummeted unusually because normally, we sell about 4,000 cars a week. It came down to 2,000 cars a week, which we can still survive on. We don’t understand why. This month, it came down to 200 cars a week. We don’t understand why”.

I am sure all Malaysians can understand why if you read on. Read the rest of this entry »

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IMF report on Malaysia, politically correct but revealing

– Ramon Navaratnam
The Malaysian Insider
9 February 2016

The preliminary International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff report on the Malaysian economy was published by the press on February 5.

The report followed intense IMF annual consultations held between January 11 and 22 in Kuala Lumpur and Kuching. Pity Sabah was left out.

The IMF report was too politically correct but nevertheless revealing.

IMF mission chairman Dr Alex Mourmouras in his press release subtly suggested that the Malaysian economy faced multiple shocks including “political developments and capital outflows”.

Both these factors reveal that in addition to external problems, there are also serious internal issues within our power to control and overcome.

But how much have we done to overcome these critical domestic issues? Read the rest of this entry »

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Why Malaysia’s 1MDB scandal is denting growth

Leslie Shaffer
29th January 2016

Thought the long-running political scandal over Malaysia’s deeply indebted sovereign fund was over?

It isn’t and the festering scandal is likely to weigh on the economy and may eventually spur a ratings downgrade, Oxford Economics says.

That’s bad news for Malaysia, which is already suffering from a slide in the price of commodities, an important chunk of the economy and a key source of revenue for the government. The currency has tumbled and the government’s debt levels have climbed, fueling investor concerns.

“Just as it appeared that the long-running scandal over state investment company 1MDB had been satisfactorily resolved, the issue has reignited with an appeal against the ruling exonerating the prime minister,” Christine Shields, lead economist at Oxford Economics, said in a note Friday. “The issue is a real worry as it is eroding confidence and contributing to risk aversion about the country.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Moody’s Cuts Malaysia Credit-Rating Outlook on Weaker Finances

by Shamim Adam
January 11, 2016

Moody’s Investors Service lowered its credit-rating outlook for Malaysia, citing an external environment that has crimped government revenue despite Prime Minister Najib Razak’s efforts to improve the country’s finances.

The ratings company cut the outlook on the A3 sovereign rating to stable from positive, it said on Monday in a statement. The move brings its outlook into line with that of Standard & Poor’s and Fitch Ratings, with all three companies ranking Malaysia at their fourth-lowest investment grades.

Since Moody’s assigned a positive outlook in November 2013 the government has sought to improve its finances, rationalizing fuel subsidies and putting in place a goods and services tax, the ratings company said. But the impact on the government’s balance sheet has been limited and will remain so, in part due to changes in the external environment, it said.

“Those environmental changes have also undermined Malaysia’s external position, with large capital outflows, a falling current account surplus, sharp exchange rate depreciation and falling reserves,” Moody’s said.

The ringgit, which was already weaker prior to the Moody’s announcement amid general risk aversion related to China, was 0.6 percent lower at 4.4120 a dollar as of 2:05 p.m. in Kuala Lumpur. The yield on the 10-year government bond was up three basis points to 4.25 percent. Read the rest of this entry »

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Retail sector hit as Malaysians cut spending to cope with rising prices

by Ida Lim
The Malay Mail Online
December 14, 2015

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 14 — Retail outlets here are reporting a drop in business as Malaysians cut spending to cope with the rising cost of living.

For many of those who spoke to Malay Mail Online about their lifestyle changes, cutting out unnecessary purchases and making prudent spending choices are the order of the day.

Fadzilla Hernani, 29, a post-graduate student whose monthly household spending has gone up by around 20 per cent after the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), said she has switched to hypermarkets’ house brands to get non-food items of equal quality at a cheaper price.

“Milk has no price controls, I choose the cheapest (baby) milk powder. Last time, I chose Anmum, but now it has increased by RM5, RM6, one week one box is RM60, but because it is expensive, I am forced to find a cheaper brand… Dutch Lady at RM25, the quality is slightly lower,” said Fadzilla, who has a three-year-old toddler.

Every sen saved counts for Fadzilla who now buys paper of slightly lower quality at 70gsm just to save RM1 and purchases pens in bulk without caring for the brand. Read the rest of this entry »

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China’s generous 1MDB bid seen reaping it big returns

Praveen Menon & Anshuman Daga
3 Dec 2015

A generous winning bid from a state-owned Chinese firm for a scandal-ridden Malaysian fund’s power assets will help Beijing find favour as it seeks more deals in the country and to extend its influence in South-East Asia, financial and diplomatic sources say.

China’s South-East Asia push is widely seen as having come at a perfect time for embattled Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, who chairs the advisory board of state fund 1MDB and has been grappling with international probes and public outrage over allegations of graft at the fund.

The US$2.3 billion offer from China General Nuclear Corp, a surprise winner in the bidding, and its assumption of US$1.8 billion in 1MDB debt will result in Chinese firms having pole positions as key rail, port and road projects come up for grabs, sources said. Read the rest of this entry »

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Why Malaysia may have hit bottom

Leslie Shaffer
4th November 2015

Malaysia’s hard-hit stock market is getting a less-than-ringing endorsement with one of the world’s leading lenders telling investors that things aren’t likely to get any worse.

“There have been numerous globally attention-grabbing headlines on Malaysia this year, which we believe have increased political uncertainty and risk in investing in Malaysia,” analysts at Deutsche Bank said in a note Monday.

“However, going forward, we do not expect this to increase.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Malaysia’s 1MDB Scandal: Political Intrigue, Billions Missing and International Scrutiny

Wall Street Journal
Oct. 23, 2015

Investment fund is under investigation in five countries

HONG KONG — A scandal involving a government investment fund in Malaysia is drawing world-wide attention and has led to calls at home for the ouster of the country’s prime minister. It is also affecting U.S. diplomacy in a strategically important part of Asia. The fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB, is under investigation in five countries.

It is a story of political intrigue, backroom politics and billions of dollars in missing money. At the center of it all is Prime Minister Najib Razak, who founded 1MDB. A Malaysian government probe found that nearly $700 million moved through banks, agencies and companies linked to 1MDB before being deposited into Mr. Najib’s alleged private bank accounts ahead of a close election. The source of the money is unclear, though in August, Malaysia’s anticorruption body said the funds were a donation from the Middle East. The donor wasn’t specified.

Here’s a primer on Malaysia, 1MDB and the scandal that has drawn the interest of investigators from around the world. Read the rest of this entry »

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Malaysia’s Najib caught between politics and the economy

Hafiz Noor Shams
Financial Times
20th Oct 2015

Scandal-stricken premier faces tough choices between pleasing voters and keeping fiscal balance

Najib Razak, Malaysia’s beleaguered prime minister and finance minister, is being pulled in opposite directions by conflicting imperatives.

One is political. Voters, dismayed by a slowing economy and allegations of personal corruption and other irregularities at state fund 1MDB — vigorously denied by Mr Najib and the fund — are piling on the pressure for an increase in public spending.

The economic imperative, however, demands spending cuts, as depressed energy prices and slowing growth threaten to reverse the benefits of fiscal reforms enacted over the past several years. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Case of Brazil Blight? Scandal-Hit Malaysia Risks Lost Decade

Shamim Adam
October 16, 2015

Meet Malaysia, the new Brazil.

Nearly felled by the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s, the Southeast Asian nation recovered to become a global commodities juggernaut, known for its stable government and investor-friendly policies. Now, with its premier enveloped by a multi million dollar funding scandal, Malaysia risks being infected with the kind of economic malaise that has struck its emerging market counterpart in South America.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, 62, has denied any wrongdoing. But as investigations continue and opponents like previous premier Mahathir Mohamad call for his resignation, the danger is the leadership stays in fire-fighting mode. The economy is already hit by a slowdown in prices for oil and natural gas, and Najib is expected to make bigger handouts to the poor in the budget on Oct. 23. Could Malaysia slide into a “lost decade”?

“Malaysia risks not just being left behind, but falling off the radar all together, especially with foreign investors,” said Jim Walker, managing director at Hong Kong-based Asianomics Ltd. and former chief economist at CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets. “People are definitely shying away from Malaysia,” he said, and the politics of Malaysia is “by far the biggest threat”. Read the rest of this entry »

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BNP Paribas Holds Nerve in Shorting Malaysia as Ringgit Surges

Lilian Karunungan
October 16, 2015

A rebound in Malaysia’s ringgit will prove short-lived as the factors that made it Asia’s worst performer this year show few signs of going away, according to an investment arm of France’s largest bank.

“We’re in a situation where nothing’s changed, so therefore the only conclusion we have is that Malaysia remains a market to be short,” said Mark Capstick, a London-based fund manager at BNP Paribas Investment Partners, which oversees 532 billion euros ($605 billion). “We’re short right across the board,” he said, adding that assets being bet against include the ringgit as well as the nation’s local-currency and global bonds.

While the ringgit has appreciated more than 6 percent in October to rank among the top five in emerging markets, it’s been dogged by a persistent drop in oil prices, slowing Chinese growth and a probe of fund transfers into Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bank accounts. Malaysia’s currency is rebounding from a 17-year low reached in September as the receding prospect of a U.S. interest-rate increase in 2015 revives demand for higher-yielding assets worldwide.

Like BNP Paribas, Pacific Investment Management Co. is also sticking to its guns and maintaining bets that the ringgit’s slide will resume. Pimco, which oversees $1.52 trillion, reported Oct. 1 it had short positions on emerging-market currencies including the ringgit, Thai baht and South Korea’s won. Read the rest of this entry »

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Zeti should be brutally honest on what ails Malaysia, says global financial mag

The Malaysian Insider
9 October 2015

Bank Negara Malaysia governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz should be brutally honest about the issues plaguing the country, said Euromoney in its October edition, as the ringgit continues its freefall and the economy begins to stutter.

The business and finance magazine said all this while, Zeti had been using words like “domestic factors” to describe the problems besetting the country, instead of saying that the predicament lies with debt-laden state owned firm 1Malaysia Development Fund (1MDB) and the RM2.6 billion donation in Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s personal accounts.

“Zeti has demonstrated through 15 matchless years of service that she is not one to pull her punches under political pressure.

“Now is not the time for her to start doing so. It would effectively mean that the BNM she tirelessly champions has not advanced at all.

“Zeti could go harder on what really ails the country. As Malaysia’s most trusted public official, she possesses something that the political class are in dire supply of – respect and moral authority,” the magazine said. Read the rest of this entry »

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Malaysia’s woes illustrate emerging market malaise

by Gillian Terzis
Australian Business Review
5 OCT, 2015

Markets around the world have endured a wild ride in recent times, as global events conspire to spook investors into rash decision-making. Nowhere is this phenomenon more pronounced than in emerging economies.

Take, for instance, Malaysia’s economic struggles. The Malaysian ringgit has been one of the poorest performing currencies in the world, shedding 26 per cent against the US dollar this year and plumbing to a 17-year low of 3.9 ringgit against the greenback. An analyst note from Merrill Lynch illustrates that in some respects, Malaysia appears in weaker shape than it was in 1997 at the time of the Asian financial crisis. For instance, household debt as a share of GDP is now at 86 per cent, compared with 46 per cent in 1997; public debt as a percentage of GDP has climbed from 31 per cent in 1997 to 54 per cent today.

The steep correction in commodity markets hasn’t helped the country either. The commodities upon which Malaysia is heavily reliant (palm oil, petroleum, and rubber) have endured precipitous declines, with little reprieve in sight. The probable downward trajectory of crude oil prices in the short to medium term is certain to inflict even more pressure on the beleaguered currency.

Moreover, the rhetoric and actions undertaken by Malaysia’s federal government are likely to disabuse one of any optimism, no matter how cautious, for the country’s economic outlook. It has been alleged by the Wall Street Journal that RM2.6 billion ($840 million) had been transferred into the personal accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak from companies connected to 1Malaysia Development Berhad, a heavily indebted state-owned strategic development company. Razak has since shut down an investigation into his administration’s alleged graft and mismanagement of state funds.

Unsurprisingly, these revelations have weighed on investor sentiment, with foreign investors withdrawing some RM11.7bn out of equities markets to date. The country’s bond markets are also a source of vulnerability, with big moves recorded in the lead up to the maturation of RM8.2bn of government debt on October 15. (Commentators have expressed concerns about the country’s rapidly waning currency reserves.) Read the rest of this entry »

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Ringgit Retreats as Malaysian Budget Woes Add to China Concern

by Y-Sing Liau
October 2, 2015

The ringgit fell and stocks retreated as concern Malaysia may miss its target of balancing the budget by 2020 hurt a currency already reeling from a worsening slowdown in China and allegations of corruption against Prime Minister Najib Razak.

The fiscal shortfall may be “in the region” of 1 percent of gross domestic product at the end of the decade, compared with a current deficit of 3.2 percent, the New Straits Times reported Thursday, citing comments by Najib to fund managers and investors in New York. Malaysia derives 22 percent of government revenue from oil-related sources and its finances have been sapped by a 49 percent drop in Brent crude over the past 12 months.

The ringgit fell as much as 1.2 percent before closing 0.3 percent down at 4.4152 a dollar in Kuala Lumpur, according to prices from local banks compiled by Bloomberg. It’s dropped 21 percent so far in 2015, trailing only the Brazilian real, Turkish lira and Colombian peso among 24 emerging markets tracked by Bloomberg amid a deepening slowdown in China and the prospect of higher U.S. interest rates. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ringgit rout fails to revive Malaysia exports

Steve Johnson
Financial Times
1st October 2015

Amid vigorous debate as to whether slumping currencies still have the ability to stimulate significant emerging market export growth, the recent example of Malaysia is fascinating.

During the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, the collapse of the ringgit led to a sharp and almost instantaneous rise in exports.

Export growth accelerated from zero in mid-1997 to more than 40 per cent by early 1998, according to analysis by Hak Bin Chua, Asean economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

As a result, Malaysia’s current account balance swung from a deficit of 12.4 per cent of gross domestic product in the second quarter of 1997 to a surplus of 18.7 per cent of GDP by the end of 1998.

“The J-curve effect, the temporary worsening [of the trade balance] following the depreciation, was short or even negligible in 1997,” says Mr Chua.

Since September 2014 the ringgit has plunged once again, tumbling to its lowest level against the dollar since the 1997 episode.

Yet, as Mr Chua observes, “the depreciation has not strengthened exports or improved the trade balance at all. There is no ‘J’ so far, only a flat ‘U’.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Congratulations in order for Malaysia moving up two spots in global competitiveness ranking but commiserations also for “perfect storm” of crisis of confidence with no light at end of tunnel

Congratulations are in order for Malaysia moving up two spots in terms of global competitiveness, ranking 18th from last year’s 20th position in the Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016 released by World Economic Forum (WEF).

Malaysia is now ranked ahead of Belgium (ranked No. 19 ) and Luxembourg (No. 20). Malaysia was ranked No. 20 last year with a score of 5.16, behind Belgium (ranked No. l8 with score of 5.18) and Luxembourg (ranked No. 19 with score of 5.17).

There is a confusion however as according to the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016, although Malaysia is placed No. 18, it shares the same score of 5.2 with Belgium and Luxembourg both of whom also scored 5.2.

Be that as it may, congratulations should not be begrudged Malaysia’s ranking, although commiserations are also in order for Malaysia’s “perfect storm” of a crisis of confidence in the government with no light at the end of the tunnel. Read the rest of this entry »

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Will the next two months be as disastrous for Malaysia as the past two month?

Will the next two months be as disastrous for Malaysia as the past two months?

Before the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak launched an offensive against his enemies inside and outside of UMNO two months ago, Malaysians were already quite punch-drunk with a myriad of scandals of high-level political corruption which included the two mega-scandals of 1MDB and the RM2.6 billion “donation” in Najib’s personal banking accounts, the blocking of the whistleblower website Sarawak Report, a notice to Interpol for the arrest of editor of Sarawak Report, Claire Rewcastle Brown, the three-month suspension of the Edge publications, and a slew of police actions under Section 124 of Penal Code against purported international plotters to “topple” Najib as Prime Minister.

On 28th July, Najib launched a multi-pronged offensives which included:

• abrupt sacking of his Deputy Prime Minister, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin and Minister for Regional Development, Datuk Seri Shafie Apdal for continuing to raise questions about the 1MDB scandal which Muhyiddin in his last speech as DPM to the Cheras UMNO Division said had ballooned from a RM42 billion to “over RM50 billion” scandal;

• the sacking of Attorney-General Tan Sri Gani Patail, with a charge sheet appearing subsequently giving support to the speculation that Gani was preparing to prosecute Najib for corruption over the 1MDB scandal when his action was pre-empted by Najib’s summary dismissal in the nick-of-time; and

• sabotage of Parliamentary Public Accounts Committee (PAC) investigations into the 1MDB scandal by the elevation of the Chairman and three committee members as Minister and deputy ministers, causing PAC investigations into 1MDB scandal to grind to a halt for more than three months until the four vacancies are filled in the October meeting of Parliament.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Does Malaysia’s ringgit face 1997 all over again?

Leslie Shaffer
Sept. 25, 2015

The sell-off in the Malaysian ringgit, already among the world’s worst performing currencies, may run further amid a toxic mix of shaky economic fundamentals and the spreading of what is being called the country’s worst-ever political crisis.

The ringgit has fallen around 40 percent over the past year, with the U.S. dollar fetching around 4.34 ringgit on Thursday. That’s the Malaysian currency’s weakest against the greenback since late 1997, when the dollar at one point fetched as much as 4.88 ringgit.

“There remains significant downside risk even after the sharp ringgit correction,” Hak Bin Chua, an analyst at Merrill Lynch in Singapore, said in a note Wednesday, noting that he sees little comfort from claims Malaysia is much stronger than in 1997, when it took a wallop from the Asian Financial Crisis (AFC). Read the rest of this entry »

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