Malaysia - Still Waters Run Deep

As Q2 2019 is underway, global financial markets have experienced a melt-up in assets prices, with some markets up over 20 percent year-to-date. However, despite the run in global asset prices, there is one country that has missed out on the rally, and that is Malaysia.

Malaysian equities ( EWM ) (INDEX:KLSE) have declined -3.77% in 2019, taking the mantle as the worst performing equity market this year so far. To further complicate matters, the yield on the Malaysian 10-year government bond has risen to 3.932% as of this post, up from 3.81% in March. Lastly, the Malaysian Ringgit (USDMYR) has weakened by 1.92% percent in April 2019, loosing 0.08% against the US Dollar for the year, and forecast to fall further.

Under-performance in Malaysian assets in recent trading sessions can be attributed to the fact that global investors are worried that Malaysian bonds may be removed from the FTSE Russel, a key global bond index for international investors. If this were to occur, Malaysian credit markets would see billions of dollars in outflows, in conjunction with a spike in yields, as investors flee the market en masse.

However, the under-performance of Malaysian assets in 2019 can be attributed to recent downgrades in Malaysian gross domestic product (“GDP”) by the International Monetary Fund (“IMF”). The IMF downgraded the country’s GDP to 4.5% for 2019, down from 4.7% as stated in their prior forecasts. Growth is expected to slow this year as uncertainty stemming from the US-China trade war is expected to put further pressure on Malaysian exports. Furthermore, on a micro level, the threat of elevated household debt among Malaysian households is also lurking in the background. With household debt-to-GDP levels hovering around 83% in 2018, some of the highest in South East Asia, there is worry that leveraged households who have taken large sums of debt for real estate investment and consumption may have difficulty servicing their existing debt. This is especially worrisome in the midst of a slowing economy. Thus, there is risk that elevated household debt could add further pressure to future economic growth, and threaten economic stability within the Malaysia, if it continues on its current trajectory.

As a result, due to these ongoing internal macroeconomic and financial headwinds, we are bearish on Malaysian assets and caution investors to tread lightly within this space.