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Silver lining in weak currency
Publication Date : 10-02-2014
Weaker currencies are a boon for Malaysia and Indonesia, helping to tip the balance of trade back in their favour, as exporters benefit from rising demand for goods and commodities from advanced economies, coupled with steady growth in China.
The favourable trade surplus, economists said, would ease the pressure on these emerging countries’ deteriorating external accounts, which is a major sore point for foreign investors.
They added that rising exports would provide the much-needed tailwind for Asian economies to sustain growth even as domestic demand moderated.
Malaysia on Friday reported a 2.4% growth in exports in 2013, backed by a 14.4% jump in December that exceeded the market’s expectation by a wide margin.
“We still maintain our long-term view of impending growth momentum in the coming quarters,” Alliance Research economists Manokaran Mottain and Khairul Anwar Md Nor said in a report.
They predicted exports in 2014 to grow at a faster pace of 5%, backed by steady but improving export demand from advanced economies.
While imports grew at a faster pace than exports in 2013, Malaysia continued to enjoy a strong trade surplus.
The favourable trade surplus combined with an anticipated smaller services deficit and transfer outflows would translate into a larger current account surplus of RM16.7bil or 6.6% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the last quarter of 2013.
“The cumulative current account surplus is estimated to reach RM37.8bil or 3.9% of GDP in 2013, helping to assuage fears of a current account deficit,’’ CIMB Research economist Lee Heng Guie said.
This, he said, was positive for the ringgit and the capital market.
The ringgit, along with other emerging Asian currencies, have been under pressure since June last year after the US Federal Reserve began talking and later started to reduce its quantitative easing (QE).
The US Fed first pared its monthly bond purchases programme from the original US$85 billion a month to $75 billion in January. This was cut further by $10 billion starting from February.
“Capital outflows from emerging markets are likely to continue in the months ahead as the Federal Reserve winds down its QE3 programme,” said Macquarie Bank Ltd’s Singapore-based head of strategy for fixed income and currencies Nizam Idris.
Fears about the US Fed tapering down the supply of cheap money to the market first surfaced in May last year and it triggered a huge sell-off on emerging market assets.
Countries such as Indonesia and India had seen their currencies depreciate the most in 2013, Both economies had wide current account deficits.
Last year, the Indian rupee plummeted the most in two decades, while rupiah depreciated by about 20% against the US dollar over the past 12 months.
Not helping emerging market currencies is the recovery in advanced economies, such as a rebound in economic growth in the US which rose by 3.2% in the fourth quarter of last year.
But if economic recovery in the US and eurozone were to stay on course, so would demand for cheaper emerging market exports. This, in turn, would help shrink the huge current account deficits that had hobbled countries such as Indonesia, India and Turkey.
For many emerging economies, 2014 had gotten off to a grim start.
Concern over the Chinese economy’s marked slowdown and the Argentine peso’s steep slide in January has brought upon renewed pressure on the currency market.
But the current market volatility does not portend weaker growth.
CIMB Research in Indonesia observed that the strains in the financial markets did not translate into a significant slowdown in the economy as the country’s real GDP growth accelerated to 5.7% in the last quarter of 2013.
Its exports surged in December, while imports slowed on the weaker rupiah. This helped to widen its trade surplus to $1.52 billion, the largest since November 2011.
The favourable trade numbers narrowed its current account deficit of $4.06 billion.
CIMB Research expects growth in Indonesia “to trough” in the first half of 2014 as the lagged effect of the rupiah depreciation and Bank Indonesia’s aggressive policy-tightening cycle in June-November 2013 works through the economy.
“Pre-election bounce in consumption should offset the weakness, allowing Indonesia to post 5.6% GDP growth in 2014,’’ it said.
Malaysia, too, is on track for sustained growth. CIMB Research projected GDP growth in the third quarter would probably expand by 5.3%, taking the full year growth rate to 4.7% for 2013.