By ALIFAH ZAINUDDIN
Malaysia is expected to record a strong six-month performance as the ringgit rebounded against the US dollar, exports increased and the economy grew more than expected at 5.6% for the first three months of the year.
After what was a woeful performance for much of 2016, the local unit is now the best performing currency against the greenback, rising about 4.3% against the US currency.
The turnaround in exports right at the end of last year trickled into 2017. Many believed Malaysia would continue to grow albeit moderately.
Early indicators seem to echo the forecast. The Nikkei Malaysia Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index for the first three months of the current fiscal period showed signs of improvement, rising from 47.1 points in December 2016 to 49.5 in March 2017 — the highest in two years. Although the growth was well received, the reading fared below the headway 50-point level.
The ringgit too gained momentum after breaching the 4.50 mark against the US dollar in January. Market frustrations over US policies and improved foreign inflows into the country had allowed the local unit to gain some ground against the greenback in the subsequent months.
Bank Negara Malaysia released the country’s first-quarter (1Q) gross domestic product figure that surpassed all expectations.
Malaysia’s economy grew at a faster than anticipated rate of 5.6% in the 1Q, exceeding a Reuters poll forecast of 4.8% and the 4.5% recorded in the previous quarter.
The central bank attributed the strong performance to a rise in private consumption, investments and exports.
Corporate earnings also fared better. The majority of the 1,000 odd Malaysian companies posted a decent first- half of 2017 (1H17) performance with listed firms on the local bourse reporting improved profits and earnings year-on-year for the first three months of 2017, while companies which had wallowed in losses had significantly reduced their deficits.
Analysts commented the strong numbers would provide confidence in the quarters ahead, and various quarters took notice.
The storm is finally over. Last month, the World Bank declared that “the worst of the global economic slowdown is behind us” and upgraded the country’s growth projection for the year to 4.9% — higher than the government’s 4.3% to 4.8% estimate — driven by strong private consumption and improving labour conditions.
On-the-ground retailers are also upbeat in their festive outlook as Hari Raya sales are expected to do better this year as wages grew and unemployment eased.
The “feel good” factor seems to be kicking in. Many political observers are of the opinion the next general elections (GE14) would be called before the end of the year as sentiments appear favourable.
But questions over the upcoming GE14 continue to linger and investors are looking for signs before going on long for their investment.
The ringgit seems to have shrugged off any fallout related to 1Malaysia Development Bhd. Investors, however, are keen to see a resolution to the boardroom tussle at Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd.
The equity market is also expecting to see the listing of Sime Darby Bhd’s property and plantation businesses before year-end and help drive interest in the equity market.
Malaysia has delivered a decent performance in 1H17, offering glimpses of dexterity on a few occasions.
Questions remain over unemployment rates, inflation, rebound in the property sector and return of spending confidence among consumers.
The answers to these questions would eventually conclude the overall performance of 2017.