Malaysian Ringgit Slumps Why Bank Negara Not Intervene?
The Malaysian ringgit has slumped to a three-year low. It was last trading at around 3.2332 against the U.S. dollar.
The ringgit has dropped 8.8% against the U.S. dollar since May 9, making it one of Asia's worst-performing currencies, as global investors withdrew fled emerging markets.
Malaysia economy grew at its slowest pace in three years during the first quarter, while falling exports have worsened its trade balance and foreigners own a high level of government debt.
Fitch Ratings lowered the country's credit-rating outlook to negative from stable, citing its public finances as a "key rating weakness."
The country is at risk of recording its first current-account deficit since 1997. Forecast for Malaysia's economy this year, predicting growth of 5.1%, down from 5.6% last year.
Malaysia is most vulnerable to outflows it saw the heaviest inflows as a percentage of gross domestic product.
The high level of foreign ownership of government debt—49.5% at the end of May—is now a "point of vulnerability.
The worry is that the country's worsening economic fundamentals, as well as a stronger U.S. dollar and higher U.S. Treasury yields, will prompt foreign investors to dump Malaysian government bonds.
Malaysia Ringgit slumps why Bank Negara not intervene?
In the current environment, fundamentals are becoming increasingly important for long-term investors and although there is a concern over Malaysia's narrowing trade balance and current-account surplus, this as temporary as the weakening ringgit will boost exports and in turn rebalance the currency.
Bank Negara has refrained recently from intervening to strengthen the ringgit. Part of the reason for recent ringgit weakness may be the Bank Negara conspicuous absence from the spot currency market, the government might be allowing the currency to weaken to boost exports and improve the trade balance.
Malaysia’s ringgit selloff appears exaggerated?
Malaysia's normally tranquil currency and bond markets have been whipsawed by an exodus of foreign capital as investors reassess emerging markets most at risk from a withdrawal of US easy money policy, heightening the possibility of a vicious sell-off that could hurt the economy.
The ringgit currency is at three-year lows against the dollar and month-long selling has pushed 10-year Malaysian government bond yields to their highest in 2-1/2 years.
Economic growth is slowing, the country's typically large trade surplus has nearly disappeared and the government has been dragging its feet on much-needed reforms to fix a large fiscal deficit - all giving foreign investors reason to re-evaluate their exposure to the Southeast Asian country.
But a bigger worry for them has been talk that regular bulk domestic buyers of Malaysian bonds, the state pension fund and banks included, are purchasing less. That has led to heavier selling than analysts think is justified by the economic risks.
As of May, foreigners held nearly 50 per cent of outstanding government bonds, the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) a little more than 30 per cent and the rest by local banks and insurers.
The latest central bank data shows foreign holdings slipped to RM137.88 billion in June from RM144.5 billion in May.
Falling bond yields and the pressure to improve returns have compelled banks to divert investments into corporate bonds and longer-term Islamic finance products.
The EPF hasn't explicitly said it will slow its bond purchases. But 55 per cent of its investments are in bonds and it has said it wants to expand its foreign portfolio in search of higher yields. The EPF is investing in German and French properties.
It is little surprise then that a redemption of RM9.2 billion of local government bonds this week unnerved foreigners, exaggerating fears about the economy even though it far more resilient to capital flows than peers such as Indonesia, India, Thailand or South Korea.
Fitch Ratings added to those worries on Tuesday, placing Malaysia's A minus rating on negative outlook, citing weak prospects for reforms to fix public finances.
So far, the selloff in Malaysia stops short of being termed turmoil. The ringgit has fallen 6.6 per cent since May 22, when the Fed first raised the spectre of early stimulus withdrawal, less than the Indian rupee's 8.5 per cent drop.
The stock market is down 2 per cent in the past week, only a fraction of the 33 per cent gains in two years.
The risk is that the falling currency and the spotlight on the shrinking current account surplus will push Malaysia into a vicious feedback loop of capital outflows and plunging markets.
But the issue of whether Malaysia becomes an India or Indonesia is when the outflows jeopardise the fundamental picture and the fundamental picture jeopardises the flows picture. Then it becomes more serious.
For emerging market investors positioning for tighter Federal Reserve policy, the possibility that the current account surplus will vanish this year puts Malaysia in the same basket as India, Indonesia and Thailand - economies that are highly vulnerable to sudden shifts in foreign capital.
That was a point Fitch made, although the delay in measures to fix government debt that is close to hitting a constitutional ceiling of 55 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) was the primary reason for the negative outlook on ratings.
A failure to contain spending will render it impossible for the government to bring its budget deficit down to a targeted 3 per cent of GDP by 2015, from 4.5 per cent in 2012.
The primary means for doing that would be through a general sales tax and a reduction of heavy subsidies on fuel.
But Prime Minister Najib Razak must safely negotiate internal party elections on October 5 to solidify his position before he can attempt to take any such unpopular measures. His position is weak after his Barisan Nasional coalition scraped through with a depleted majority in the general election in May.
Markets appear sceptical about prospects for reform. The ringgit firmed only briefly before retreating on Thursday after Najib said his government was committed to improving the fiscal position and would announce steps to do so in October.
Meanwhile, plunging prices of Malaysia' palm oil exports and rising copper imports have hurt the trade balance, although analysts expect the current account will still show a marginal surplus in 2013.
Foreigners pumped US$9.3 billion (RM27.9 billion) into Malaysian bonds in 2012, and US$5 billion until May this year.
There is so much pretty mobile money that has poured in and can pour out. By that token, the exodus of all this money can be a problem. It can be self-fulfilling