Tuesday, September 28

‘Malaysia’s inclusion in US watchlist likely a ploy’

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A customer is seen exchanging currencies at a currency exchange centre. Malaysia’s inclusion in the US Treasury’s monitoring list of potential currency manipulators is likely a ploy by Washington to gain exchange rate competitiveness to boost its exports, say experts. — Bernama photo

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s inclusion in the US Treasury’s monitoring list of potential currency manipulators is likely a ploy by Washington to gain exchange rate competitiveness to boost its exports, say experts.

However, it is not expected to have a significant impact due to the country’s good trade policy, reputation for economic and exchange rate flexibility, as well as huge external balance, said Phillip Capital Management, Asia-Pacific, senior vice president (Investment) Datuk Dr Nazri Khan Adam Khan.

Malaysia’s export advantage is not based on floating rate but product competitiveness, he said.

“Given that, I don’t think this will affect our economic standing because I think this is temporary and at the end of the day, our economic fundamentals and our real competitive edge has nothing to do with the exchange rate,” he told Bernama when asked on the matter.

Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) had also said that the country’s economy was unaffected by it.

“They are using this list probably to boost American export and to curve the export from emerging countries,” Nazri Khan said.

Malaysia is among nine countries in the list, alongside China, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Japan, South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam. The inclusion comes with no immediate penalty.

The number of countries on the US watch list expanded after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin lowered the threshold for qualification. Countries with a current account surplus equivalent to two per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) are now eligible for the list, down from three per cent previously.

Other thresholds include persistent intervention in markets for a nation´s currency and a trade surplus with the US of at least US$20 billion (RM4.18 per dollar). Countries that meet two of the three criteria are placed on the watch list.

Malaysia met two of the three criteria amid a significant bilateral trade surplus with the US of US$27 billion and material current account surplus of 2.1 per cent of GDP.

In the report, the US Treasury said that Malaysia’s central bank has over the last few years intervened in both directions in foreign exchange markets. It estimates that in 2018, BNM sold about US$11 billion in foreign exchange, which is equivalent to 3.1 per cent of GDP to resist ringgit depreciation.

However, it also welcomes Malaysia’s external rebalancing in recent years.

“The authorities should pursue appropriate policies to support a continuation of this trend, including by encouraging high-quality and transparent investment and ensuring sufficient social spending, which can help minimise precautionary saving,” it said.

This external rebalancing was facilitated by higher levels of both consumption and investment, following years of elevated national savings. In 2008, gross national saving was 38 per cent of GDP; by 2018, it had fallen to 26 per cent of GDP.

“This indicates that the consumption and investment have been very active and the US Treasury Department appears to be advising that the Malaysian government should continue its policies to encourage more high-quality and transparent investment, as well as ensuring sufficient social spending,” Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid said.

Besides the possibility of expanding the social spending, he said the government was also expected to continuously execute infrastructure projects that would result in minimal surplus current account balance.

“In that sense, we should not be too alarmed whether it would result in massive capital outflows. In fact, it really goes to show that the Malaysian ringgit is undervalued, and therefore, it should appreciate over time.”

He said Malaysia’s current account surplus balance had also narrowed substantially to 2.1 per cent of GDP last year from 17.2 per cent of GDP in 2008, showing that the rebalancing had been significant.

“Perhaps, the ringgit should appreciate given that the average ringgit per US dollar since the country removed the currency peg in July 2005 stood at 3.5657,” he added. — Bernama