Ringgit stays near 17-year low as Malaysia's forex reserves fall below US$100b

This photo illustration shows Malaysian ringgit banknotes in Kuala Lumpur on June 29, 2015.
This photo illustration shows Malaysian ringgit banknotes in Kuala Lumpur on June 29, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - The ringgit stayed near a pre-peg 17-year low on Monday after news Malaysia' foreign exchange reserves fell below US$100 billion (S$138.38 billion) threshold, raising doubts over the currency's ability to withstand further political fallout and low commodity prices.

The ringgit stood at 3.9245 per US dollar as of 0109 GMT, compared to the previous close of 3.9220.

The currency on Friday hit 3.9280, its weakest since Sept. 2 1998, the day before the government pegged it at 3.8000 per dollar to put a floor under the currency during the Asian financial crisis. Malaysia lifted the peg in 2005.

Malaysia's international reserves fell to US$96.7 billion as of July 31 from US$100.5 billion on July 15, the central bank data showed on Friday.

"It now becomes a question of when does the bleeding stop?" asked Stephen Innes, senior trader for FX broker Oanda in Singapore. "No doubt BNM (Bank Negara Malaysia) will continue to sell USD to temper the move higher but at what cost can they to do so as further drops in reserves will likely accelerate the move higher."

The central bank has been selling US dollars and buying ringgit since June in an attempt to stem the ringgit's slide, traders said, but the ringgit has still been Asia's worst-performing currency this year, losing some 11 per cent of its value against the US dollar.

The ringgit has been under pressure from sliding commodity prices, and its declines accelerated after a graft scandal linked to Prime Minister Najib Razak and the indebted 1MDB state fund.

The ringgit's weakness has hit foreigners' appetite for local bonds, with five-year government bond yields rising to 3.856 per cent, the highest level since Jan. 16.