Malaysia ringgit hits 4-month high as new consumption tax welcomed

Malaysian ringgit bank notes of different denominations are seen in this picture illustration taken in Kuala Lumpur, Aug 20, 2013. The Malaysian ringgit hit its strongest level in more than four months on Monday as investors hailed government plans,
Malaysian ringgit bank notes of different denominations are seen in this picture illustration taken in Kuala Lumpur, Aug 20, 2013. The Malaysian ringgit hit its strongest level in more than four months on Monday as investors hailed government plans, including a new consumption tax, to reduce the fiscal deficit. -- FILE PHOTO: REUTERS

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The Malaysian ringgit hit its strongest level in more than four months on Monday as investors hailed government plans, including a new consumption tax, to reduce the fiscal deficit.

On Friday, the country moved to alleviate concerns over its fast-rising debt, announcing a goods and services tax (GST) in 2015 at a higher-than-expected 6 per cent, abolishing subsidies on sugar and hiking property taxes to dent a surge in home prices.

The ringgit rose as much as 1.1 per cent to 3.1220 per US dollar, its strongest since June 17, as traders said the announcement prompted some capital inflows. The Malaysian currency later gave up some of the gains and was quoted at 3.1330.

Three-year government bond yields fell to 3.093 per cent, the lowest since June 7, while Kuala Lumpur stocks edged lower.

"In our view, these budget measures will enhance the investment appeal of Malaysia," Barclays said in a client note.

"Given the rating agencies' focus on Malaysia's fiscal policy, we think these steps towards fiscal consolidation, despite a challenging global backdrop, should reduce the likelihood of rating action and the associated credit risk priced in."

In July, ratings agency Fitch lowered its outlook on Malaysia's sovereign debt to negative, citing darker prospects for reforms after the ruling coalition's weak election result in May that appeared to hurt Prime Minister Najib Razak's standing.

Domestic markets suffered a bout of turmoil over the summer as the country's shrinking current account surplus left the country vulnerable to fund outflows due to expectations that the US Federal Reserve may scale back its monetary stimulus.

As Najib's fiscal plans eased such worries, the ringgit strengthened past chart resistance at 3.1415, the 200-day moving average.

"Our budget was well received by the market, which thinks it will be enough to help Malaysia avert a ratings downgrade," said a senior Malaysian bank trader in Kuala Lumpur.

The trader said the ringgit is seen heading to 3.1000-3.1100. Still, some local investors took profits as the ringgit is approaching a technically overbought area.