Ringgit falls amid speculation over weak yuan with new index

A customer counts her ringgit notes outside a money changer in Singapore in this Aug 25, 2015, file photo.
A customer counts her ringgit notes outside a money changer in Singapore in this Aug 25, 2015, file photo. PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR (BLOOMBERG) - Malaysia's ringgit fell to a three-week low on Monday (Dec 14) as a new China index tracking the yuan against a basket of currencies spurred speculation the exchange rate will weaken as it shifts away from linking it to the US dollar.

The move may put pressure on Asian currencies to depreciate as policymakers bid to keep exports competitive with the world's second-biggest economy by allowing their exchange rates to fall, and as the greenback strengthens amid a looming increase in US borrowing costs. The China Foreign Exchange Trade System, run by the central bank, published the index on Friday that includes the yuan and 13 other currencies. The US dollar has a 26.4 per cent weighting.

"The market took the announcement as the People's Bank of China allowing for more weakness in the renminbi," said Mr Andy Ji, a Singapore-based strategist at Commonwealth Bank of Australia. "That affected some of the regional currencies."

The ringgit dropped 0.7 per cent to 4.3230 per US dollar as of 10.21am in Kuala Lumpur, taking its loss this month to 1.4 per cent, according to prices from local banks compiled by Bloomberg. It earlier reached 4.3325, the lowest since Nov 20. The currency also declined as a protracted slump in Brent crude cuts government revenue for the region's only major net oil exporter.

The ringgit also weakened against the Singapore currency, with one Singdollar fetching 3.0570 ringgit as at 10.45am on Monday from its close on Friday of 3.0452.

The yuan index will "help bring about a shift in how the public and the market observe RMB exchange-rate movements", according to an announcement on CFETS website. The euro will have a 21.4 per cent weighting and the yen 14.7 per cent. China's currency dropped 0.2 per cent in offshore trading in Hong Kong.

Brent crude slumped 4.5 per cent on Friday to US$37.93 (S$53.50) a barrel, the lowest level since 2008 and below Malaysia's 2016 budget assumption of US$48. Malaysia derives about 22 per cent of government revenue from oil-related sources and a report in the New Straits Times last week cited Prime Minister Najib Razak as reiterating the nation will face a RM30 billion (S$9.81 billion) shortfall next year due to the drop in energy prices.

The decline in oil "will see further reductions in Malaysia's liquefied natural gas exports whose prices lag oil by around four months", said Mr Khoon Goh, a senior foreign-exchange strategist at Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd. in Singapore, the most accurate forecaster of emerging Asian currencies in the four quarters ended Sept 30. "In addition, lower oil prices will make it harder for the government to achieve the 2016 deficit target of 3.1 per cent of gross domestic product."

Sovereign bonds retreated, with the yield on the 2020 notes rising two basis points to 3.84 per cent, according to prices from Bursa Malaysia. The cost to insure the nation's debt from default for five years climbed 33 basis points last week to 209, the biggest increase since late September and the highest in seven weeks, CMA prices show.