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TJ KB BWeek: Mahathir Terjerut Oleh Kawalan Matawangnya
By Michael Shari
22/4/2001 12:16 am Sun
MAHATHIR TERJERUT SENDIRI OLEH KAWALAN MATAWANG
Rencana ini amat baik sekali. Ringgit tertekan dan bermasalah bukan
kerana Soros tetapi kerana Mahathir sendiri. Para pengekspot dan peniaga
tempatan sengaja menyimpan wang di luar 'SECARA HARAM' kerana faedah lebih
tinggi serta ringgit tidak sepadan. Bukan itu sahaja - mereka mahu menekan
kerajaan Mahathir supaya menilai semula matawang kerana ekspot telah
berkurang kerana ringgit tidak kompetetif. Inilah punca rezab antarabangsa
semakin berkurang pada kadar yang tinggi (9% susut dalam 3 bulan pertama
tahun ini sahaja). Demikianlah pendapat Dr KS Jomo.
PENGEKSPOT SEMAKIN PUTUS ASA
Pengekspot melambak hasil di negara luar seperti Singapura kerana tinggi kadar
faedahnya. Kerajaan ingin menjemput wang itu kembali dengan pelepasan cukai
tetapi tidak berjaya. Rezab yang semakin berkurang itu menyebabkan kerajaan
begitu tertekan tetapi ia masih mahu mengekalkan kawalan matawang walaupun
sudah dipujuk oleh FMM dan kesatuan peniaga pengekpot kaum Cina. Para
pengekspot mahu ringgit dinilai semula kerana ekspot sudah berkurang kerana
ringgit tidak kompetetif dan permintaan global susut. Jika tidak mereka
akan menekan (menggugut) kerajaan dengan menyimpan semua hasil di luar negara.
Inilah punca haru-biru semua. Pengeskpot kini pandai memprotes Mahathir.
Kini kerajaan cuba meneroka pasaran baru di India dan memperhebatkan
industri pelancungan tetapi itu tidak akan mampu mengelakkan rezab dari
terus berkurang mahupun bertahan. Lihat sahaja litar Sepang dan KLIA yang
lengang - kerana disitu terserlah semua jawapan.
Dulu Mahathir bolehlah ketawa dengan kawalan matawang kerana angin sedang
bertiup ke arahnya. Sekarang angin itu sudah menukar arah dan dia akan parah.
Menurut pakar ekonomi, ringgit mungkin akan dinilai semula pada pertengahan
tahun. Kita ramalkan ia selepas perhimpunan agung Umno. Tetapi rezab negara
cuma bertahan 4 1/2 bulan sahaja dan 3 bulan adalah paras yang kritikal.
Apa yang menakutkan ialah $1.5 bilion meruap pada suku pertama tahun 2001
sahaja. Ini bermakna tekanan kepada matawang sudah pun bermula.
Kawalan matawang mungkin telah menyelamatkan sedikit penghijrahan modal pada
krisis 1998. Kini Malaysia amat memerlukan modal untuk kembali pulih.
Ringit yang tinggi akan menyukarkan pemulihan itu kerana pasaran dunia
kini sedang merudum. Persoalannya - apakah Mahathir akan terus berdegil atau
mendengar rintihan para peniaga di negara sendiri untuk mebaiki keadaan.
Penilaian semula ringgit akan menjejaskan imej politik Mahathir sebab itulah
beliau begitu berdegil untuk mempertahankannya sehingga mencederakan pengeskpot
dan peniaga. Sekarang dia di'serang' oleh mereka dengan menyimpan semua hasil
diluar negara sehingga menjunam rezab negara dan tertekan ringgit dibuatnya.
Ini memalukan Mahathir - malah makin malu lagi kerana Daim sudahpun tiada
dan dia keseorangan terpaksa menghadapi aibnya.
Hmmmm...Siapakah akan menang akhirnya?
APRIL 20, 2001
Mahathir Is Cornered by His Currency Peg
Malaysia's ringgit appears overvalued, and the country's reserves
are dwindling. Will the Prime Minister cave in and devalue?
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has rarely been at a
loss for words about any perceived threat to his country's currency.
In fact, he's infamous for his outrageous canards on the subject. In
April, 1998, for example, in a BusinessWeek interview, he blamed a
"Jewish conspiracy" for supposedly undermining the ringgit. But
when Malaysia's central bank announced on Apr. 16 that foreign
reserves had fallen 9%, or $2.7 billion, during the first three months
of 2001, Mahathir was conspicuously discreet.
The fall in reserves is an ominous sign because the currency, which
Mahathir ordered pegged at 3.8 to the dollar in November, 1998, as
part of a series of capital controls, is widely considered to be
overvalued. Yet the closest thing to fire and brimstone he could
muster was a bland remark to the local press the next day: "The
ringgit is not overvalued at all. We are still able to compete." That's
because this time the enemy is within.
THUMBING THEIR NOSES.
Bank Negara Malaysia's reserves are evaporating because the
country's own manufacturers -- many of them in the electronics
sector -- are illegally holding billions of dollars in export revenues
offshore. They're thumbing their noses at a hard-to-enforce rule that
requires them to repatriate their revenues from exports within six
months and to convert that money into ringgit.
The reason? A growing expectation that Bank Negara won't be able
to sustain the peg much longer. "There has been ongoing
speculation in recent weeks of an imminent devaluation or a
repegging of the ringgit, and this has encouraged people to convert
to other currencies," concludes Jomo Sundaram, professor of
economics at the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. "We're not
just talking about foreigners. We're talking about exporters not
bringing their money back."
In the aftermath of the 1998 emerging-markets crisis, Mahathir's
capital controls -- including the peg -- won grudging praise
because they buffered Malaysia's economy against the capital flight
and currency collapses that flattened other Asian economies.
Indeed, until a few months ago, investors and importers considered
the ringgit to be about 20% undervalued.
But economic conditions have changed. "The pendulum is swinging
in the other direction," says Mohamed Ariff, executive director of the
Malaysian Institute of Economic Research. Malaysian manufacturers
now see the peg as a liability. Earlier this year, the Federation of
Malaysian Manufacturers issued a public statement urging a ringgit
devaluation in light of the weakening of other currencies across the
region as Asia's lifeblood -- exports to the U.S. -- dries up.
"Exporters are getting desperate," says a foreign investment adviser
in Kuala Lumpur.
Bankers in Singapore say Malaysian companies are parking their
funds in banks on the island and in other countries where they do
business -- anywhere but at home. As a result, the pressure is
mounting on the government. On Apr. 5, Standard & Poor's
downgraded its Malaysian currency rating from "positive" to
"stable," signaling concern that "increasing political and economic
stress...could erode the government's financial position." On Apr. 17,
the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research, an independent think
tank, citing the lag effect of government stimulus efforts, lowered its
forecast for growth of gross domestic product this year to 4%, from
The manufacturers have interests on both sides of the fence -- but
they're rooting for a devaluation, by all accounts. It would hurt their
ringgit holdings, but would be a big boon for their exports. In any
case, by holding their revenues offshore in dollars, they're making a
devaluation more likely. "Unless stopped, the declining trend in
[foreign exchange] reserves will undermine the central bank's ability
to sustain the ringgit peg," warns an economist in Singapore who
asked not to be named.
The government has been scrambling to reassure manufacturers and
investors alike that all is under control. In an interview on Malaysia's
TV3 television network on Apr. 14, Bank Negara Governor Zeti
Akhtar Aziz denied that a devaluation was in the cards. "If you look
at the context of the current environment, it would certainly not be to
our benefit to depreciate the currency," she said. An Apr. 14
statement by the National Economic Action Council, a government
agency that reports to Finance Minister Daim Zainuddin, said S&P's
decision to downgrade Malaysia's currency rating was "not
substantiated by economic data."
But the government's reassurances do not appear to have
convinced business. Malaysian investors, who account for most of
the trading on the local stock market, are already pricing such
expectations -- and then some -- into the Kuala Lumpur Composite
Index, which has plunged 23% since Feb. 1, notes Chew Ping, an
analyst at S&P in Singapore.
Devaluation would be a severe loss of political face for Mahathir,
who swore to keep the peg until global restrictions on currency
trading were imposed. "He painted himself into bit of a corner," says
Bruce Gale, an independent political analyst in Singapore. "I think
he'll hold the peg as long as he can."
Economists say the government will try to delay devaluing at least
until midyear. Bank Negara's $27.2 billion in reserves cover four
months of imports. What's alarming is the trend, though. More than
half the plunge in Bank Negara's foreign reserves in the first quarter
of 2001 occurred in the second half of March, when $1.5 billion
evaporated. This sugggests that the real pressure on the currency is
only starting to mount.
The currency controls may have helped stem capital flight in 1998.
But now Malaysia's problem is that it needs to lure capital back.
Keeping an overvalued currency in the face of a global slowdown is
hardly a solution. Clearly, no foreign demons are at work here. The
question is whether the notoriously stubborn Mahathir will listen to
his own country's businesspeople and adapt to changing