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TS KB CNN: Malaysia's troubled fixed currency
By Alex Frew McMillan

30/3/2001 6:35 pm Fri


Rencana ini amat baik untuk memahami krisis dan kesan kawalan matawang terhadap ekonomi. Malaysia begitu berbeda dengan negara Cina kerana di sana permintaan domestik amat tinggi sehingga ia tidak terjejas oleh ekspot. Sebaliknya Malaysia terlalu bergantung kepada ekspot dan nilai ringgit menyebabkan ia kurang berdaya saing.

Lebih $10 bilion telah meninggalkan Malaysia kerana wang lebih selamat diluar dan lebih berbunga. Dijangka $5 bilion akan keluar tahun ini. Malah banyak pemimpin Umno sendiri menyimpan di luar sana. Md Taib sahaja sudah berkilo-kilo dengan wang TUNAI SAHAJA di dalam begnya.

Pakej rangsangan tidak akan mampu berbuat kejutan apa-apa. Ia umpama melompat dengan kaki yang terikat. Ekspot negara semakin merudum kerana permintaan dua kunci pasaran negara - Jepun dan A.S. - sedang menurun. Negara kurang kompetetif kerana barangan negara lain lebih murah. Menurut analis, ringgit akan tertekan sehingga ia mula meretak.

Sila maklum Cina telah mengumumkan akan menukar polisi matawangnya menjelang penyertaannya di dalam WTO.

-Kapal Berita-

Malaysia's troubled fixed currency

By Alex Frew McMillan
CNN senior writer

HONG KONG, China -- Despite Tuesday's $789 million stimulus package, experts say Malaysia's currency is artificially high.

That hampers efforts at turning the country's economy around. Many experts think a ringgit devaluation is necessary. The Malaysian currency is now fixed at 3.8 to the U.S. dollar.

But Malaysia watchers don't hold out hope devaluation will come anytime soon. They say currency is too hot a political issue.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad reiterated his support for the peg when he unveiled the stimulus package. He said the fixed currency lent stability to the country.

Mahathir's administration imposed tight restrictions on its currency in September 1998, at the height of the Asian crisis. The government blamed speculators such as George Soros for many of the country's economic problems.

The administration sought to keep them at bay by pegging the ringgit at 3.8 to the U.S. dollar. It also made it difficult to move money in and out of the country.

Experts say that, while Mahathir keeps power, devaluation won't happen.

"Realistically, you need a political change for that to happen," said Daniel Lian, Southeast Asian economist for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

Export pressure

That doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. Malaysia has survived with a protected currency for more than two years. But the Asian Development Bank reported March 19 that a hefty export drop-off could force that to change.

"The problem with the peg has begun to emerge," said Craig Chan, currency strategist with ING Barings in Hong Kong. "Pressure will continue to build until things start to crack."

Exports are dropping off. Demand is already slack in Malaysia's key markets, the United States and Japan.

Malaysia is an extremely export-driven country, so that spells a serious problem for the economy.

A 10 percent drop in Malaysia's most-important shipment, electronics, late last year put a 2 percent chill on the whole country's economy, according to ING Barings.

The fixed ringgit isn't helping. The Japanese yen has been weakening against the dollar. That has brought other currencies such as the Korean won and the Taiwan and Singapore dollars lower.

Exports from those countries get more attractive as their currencies get cheaper. With a fixed exchange rate, analysts say Malaysian companies struggle against their regional competitors.

"It definitely makes it more difficult for Malaysian exports to compete," Lian said. He believes the ringgit may be overvalued by about 5 percent.

Money flooding overseas

There are other problems. The currency peg keeps prices artificially low in Malaysia. That can cause deflation, at a time when the government is trying to buck up sluggish domestic demand.

The ringgit is also under pressure because of a flood of capital heading overseas. More than $10 billion left Malaysia last year.

Investors have moved money out of Malaysia's slumping market. The Kuala Lumpur Composite index has lost 34.8 percent since early last year. It closed at 660.82 on Wednesday, down from 1,013.27 in February 2000.

More than $10 billon has left Malaysia since last year Exporters have also not returned, or "repatriated," money they made abroad to Malaysia. That suggests they may be worried about prospects there.

Interest rates have also been lower in Malaysia than the United States. So Malaysians found it better to keep deposits abroad, if possible.

Whatever the motivation, the flow of money out of Malaysia puts pressure on its reserves. That removes the support from the currency.

At the moment, the situation hasn't reached boiling point. But Chan said Malaysia might see another $5 billion move overseas in the next 6 months.

"There would have to be an adjustment of the exchange rate," if that happens, Chan said. "An adjustment of the exchange rate would probably need to happen, sometime in the next year."

Investors would worry about the currency losses knocking out any stock gains they see. "Everybody would be wanting to get out then," Chan said.

For now, the exchange peg has had some positive effects. Analysts say the "hot," speculative money has left Malaysia.

Whatever outside investment remains is there for the long haul.

It may also not be practical to let the ringgit trade freely. Exporters get used to invoicing using fixed rates. Importers get used to paying that way. Bank-deposit holders count on the stability a fixed rate offers.

"Once you put on a fixed-reserve regimen, you don't just take it away," Lian said. "It's very naive for researches to say they should just abandon the peg."

But the stimulus package did not to do enough to attract investors back, economists say. A fixed currency ties the government's hands on other ways to jump-start Malaysia.

China also has tight currency controls. But state media reported Wednesday that central bank governor Dai Xianglong believes its currency will trade more freely soon.

The move is necessary given China's entry to the World Trade Organization, expected later this year. Ironically, experts say, China has a large enough domestic economy where it can weather a fixed currency.

Malaysia - reliant on exports and outside capital - does not. But most observers believe Malaysia will keep its peg, even if the numbers doesn't bear the policy out.

"It's not just economics that drives currency. It's politics as well," Chan said.