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MEO 2Q 2009

Executive Summary

The road to global recovery appears to be sluggish and uneven, facing many daunting challenges along the way. Both the World Bank and the IMF are projecting the world economy to slide into a deeper recession in 2009. In Jul'09, the IMF revised its global economic forecast to -1.4 per cent in 2009 ('08: 3.1%), while the global contraction in 2009 is estimated at -2.9 per cent by the World Bank. According to the latest IMF revision, the US ('09: -2.6%) will experience a less severe recession in 2009 compared to Europe which may face a deeper one ('09: -4.8%). The IMF projects the world economy to recover to around 2.5 per cent growth in 2010, with the US recording a meagre 0.8 per cent growth in 2010, slightly higher than the previous zero per cent growth forecast..

As the external sector tumbles, Malaysia's GDP contracted by a steep -6.2 per cent in 1Q09, following a stagnant 0.1 per cent growth in 4Q08. As external demand nose dived, Malaysia's exports dipped sharply in 1Q09, while investment was severely affected as well. Given the deteriorating global economic prospects, a second stimulus package amounting to RM60 billion (about 9% of GDP) was unveiled in Mar'09. Although the second package appears larger, the actual direct spending is only RM15 billion (or 25% of total) to be spent over a two-year period. The recurring concerns have been the speed and efficiency of implementation and the potential leakages. A notable point is the greater attention given to retrenched workers and unemployed graduates. With the second stimulus package, the fiscal deficit is estimated to rise to 7.6 per cent of GDP in 2009, up markedly from 4.8 per cent in 2008.

In a move to make Malaysia more attractive to investors, liberalisation measures have been announced. Starting 22 Apr'09, 27 services sub-sectors were fully liberalised to foreign investors, on the premise that Malaysia lacks expertise and local investments in many of these sub-sectors. Among the sectors opened up are computer and related services, health and social services, tourism services, transport, recreational, business services and shipping. On 30 Jun'09, the long standing 30 per cent bumiputra equity requirement for newly listed companies was removed, making investment conditions less restrictive. This will bring Malaysia's equity market closer to regional benchmarks, but the impact remains to be seen since there are many factors influencing investment decisions

Monthly indicators up to May'09 are still losing momentum markedly, but the rate of decline has eased slightly in some sectors. Industrial output registered a sharp contraction in May'09 (-11.1% year-on-year), but subsiding from a steeper fall (-17.9% ) in Jan'09. Exports have yet to show any stabilising signs, nose diving by -29.7 per cent in May'09, while imports dipped -27.8 per cent. Thanks to reduction in local oil prices and slower rise in food prices, inflation has eased to 2.4 per cent in May'09, down from 3.9 per cent in Jan'09. Inflation will likely subside further in tandem with the softening economy. .

In the wake of the deteriorating global economy and its adverse effects on domestic conditions, Bank Negara reduced the Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) by 50 basis points to 2.00 per cent on 24 Feb'09, the third time in five months. Bank Negara has slashed 1.50 percentage points from 3.50 per cent since Nov'08 and cut the statutory reserve requirement (SRR) to 1.0 per cent, effective Mar'09. Bank Negara has noted that lower rates could hurt savers and those who rely on incomes from deposits. The latest policy meeting on 26 May'09 has decided to leave the policy rate unchanged in view of the persistent effects of the crisis amid early signs of stabilisation in some indicators.

Consumer and business confidence has improved in 2Q09, possibly influenced by the measures taken to support the economy. These include the fiscal stimulus packages, the historically low interest rates, and the recent liberalisation measures. Both the Business Conditions Index (BCI) and the Consumer Sentiments Index (CSI) have passed the 100-points threshold that separates expansion and contraction. The BCI, which is based largely on firm-level information, has gained 44.1 points to stand at 105.2 points in 2Q09, up from 61.1 in 1Q09, indicating that business confidence has regained some strength. Likewise, the CSI has notched up 26.9 points to 105.8 points in 2Q09, up from 78.9 points in 1Q09. Despite the still sharp declines in monthly indicators, the rise in sentiments could have been propped up by the perception that recent measures would stabilise the economy.

TThere are glimmer signs that the global downturn has stabilised somewhat, but the recovery is expected to be sluggish and uneven. The healing from the current crisis will be difficult compared to previous ones because of the synchronised nature of the downturn. It will take time and huge resources to revive the deeply entangled US financial sector while policy options are running out. The weak external sector will impede a faster recovery, and the lower commodity prices are not helping either. Banks are becoming more cautious as bad loans could rise soon, limiting the flow of funds to firms. The services sector will be the pillar of strength amidst a glum manufacturing sector. It is certain that Malaysia's growth will slide into a technical recession in the first half of '09, as it takes the hit from the knock-on effects of a flagging global economy. Malaysia may not regain more strength until the global economy is back on track, which is going to be at a disappointingly slow pace.

In view of the deep declines in macro indicators, the fragile business and consumer confidence, and the still dismal sectoral indices, we have revised Malaysia's growth forecast for 2009 downwards to -4.2 per cent, from -2.2 per cent earlier. If exports and FDI shrink severely, the downturn could be more damaging. We have also downgraded the 2010 growth forecast to 2.8 per cent, from 3.3 per cent previously, in anticipation of a gradual or a ''u-shaped'' global recovery.

Posted by suzy at 03:41 PM