Exports, tourism dip despite fall

Travellers at KLIA International Airport in Malaysia.
Travellers at KLIA International Airport in Malaysia. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Both the ringgit and rupiah have come under pressure in currency markets, continuing to fall to record lows. Our correspondents in Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta take stock of the impact of the currencies' slide.

Some retailers in Johor are ringing up more sales but Malaysians studying overseas say they have had to tighten their belts, both the result of the embattled ringgit.

However, exports and tourism - two sectors that usually benefit from a cheaper domestic currency - have dipped in a worrying sign.

With the ringgit falling below the psychological level of three to the Singapore dollar, Johor's state government expects an extra RM50 billion (S$16.6 billion) to flow into its economy from Singaporean tourists and Malaysians working in Singapore.

Johor Premium Outlets has seen more Singaporean shoppers, according to its chief operating officer Jean Marie Harry.

 

"The reasons are obvious. It's about the strength of their dollar," he was quoted as saying by the Malay Mail.

The ringgit has traded around 4.2 to the US dollar in the past week and is Asia's worst-performing currency in the past year - a situation attributed to worsening global demand for Malaysia's exports, China's yuan devaluation, plunging commodity prices and questions surrounding Prime Minister Najib Razak's continued leadership.

Despite the fall, which has surpassed most forecasts for this year, Malaysians have largely been shielded from imported inflation as most trade partner currencies have also weakened against the dollar and transportation costs have eased due to lower fuel prices. The June producer price index saw imported inputs up just 0.6 per cent from a year ago.

"For most businesses in Malaysia, their fuel costs are higher than currency costs," MIDF Amanah Investment Bank's head of research Zulkifli Hamzah told the Bernama news agency.

Datuk Seri Najib said yesterday that the impact from the current economic troubles was cushioned by "unpopular and painful" reforms implemented by his administration, adding that the situation "would be worse" if the reforms had started only now.

A Bloomberg poll of analysts showed the ringgit averaging 4.27 next year.

For some sectors, the ringgit's fall has not been good news.

A cheaper currency usually attracts more tourists, but tourist arrivals were down 8.6 per cent in the first quarter year-on-year, with those from China falling a whopping 27 per cent.

Meanwhile, exports have not benefited from lower commodity prices. While the fall has helped to keep inflation low, it has hammered Malaysian businesses that produce palm oil and petroleum products or work downstream in these major sectors.

Government-linked Felda Global Ventures, the world's largest crude palm oil producer, recorded just RM92.69 million in profit from its palm oil business in the first half of this year, less than a third of the figure in the same period last year.

State petroleum company Petronas, Malaysia's only Fortune 500 company, saw its second-quarter earnings dip by 47 per cent to RM14.6 billion, with oil prices now nearly 60 per cent lower than a year ago.

Both Felda and Petronas, which accounts for nearly a third of government revenue, said they expect more difficulties to come.

Malaysian exports fell 2.2 per cent in the first half of the year, shrinking the trade surplus.

The weak ringgit means Malaysians studying overseas have had to rethink their budgets.

Even those on scholarships say they have to economise.

"I still have to tighten my belt," said Mr Eekmal Ahmad, 35, adding, "my savings... seem so small now that I may have to punch more holes in my belt".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 26, 2015, with the headline 'Exports, tourism dip despite fall'. Print Edition | Subscribe