Economists have given mixed views on Fitch Ratings’ latest revision of Malaysia’s sovereign rating, with some saying it is on expected lines while others expressing their disappointment.
As the global economy and markets enter a vortex of weak data, poor earnings and rising bankruptcies, the assessment puts further stress on an economy that is already strained due to the pandemic.
Juwai IQI chief economist Shan Saeed lambasted the rating agency for its assessment of Malaysia’s sovereign rating, saying that markets have lost confidence in rating agencies since 2010. “Their reports and outlooks are behind the curve. They come up with banal analyses which are not germane to the market,” he told Bernama.
He said markets are looking for macroeconomic stability, policy levers such as fiscal and monetary to manoeuvre and to spur growth and, above all, aggregate demand which drives the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) calculus for all economies. Fitch announced last Friday its downgrade of Malaysia’s sovereign rating from ‘A-’ to ‘BBB+’, with an improved outlook from negative to stable.
The downgrade means that it will become more costly for Malaysia to borrow, which in turn has a fiscal impact. On the agency’s concern regarding the domestic political situation, Shan said the Malaysian ringgit has appreciated 8.55 per cent since March 23, 2020, price inflation is under 1.5 per cent, and the budget deficit is still under the threshold in single digit amid the current landscape despite the change in government.
Furthermore, the debt-to-GDP ratio is around 60 per cent and aggregate demand is picking up in a very structured manner. He said the real estate market is still witnessing good momentum and sales of luxury cars are up between three and five per cent on quarter-to-quarter basis, while demand for energy especially liquefied natural gas (LNG) is coming from Asia.
Malaysia is the world’s third-largest LNG exporter. “Malaysian government is trying her best to focus on people-centric policies and growth-driven economic strategy,” he said. Meanwhile, Bank Islam Malaysia Bhd chief economist Dr Mohd Afzanizam Abdul Rashid said the announcement was not entirely surprising given the sheer size of the stimulus package.
Rating agencies are in the business of giving credit opinions, which tend to change when there is new information and development, he said, adding that focus should now be on ensuring the economic recovery process continues. “If we do it right, the sovereign rating could be upgraded at some point in the future,” he said. He said the ringgit and Malaysia Government Securities yields will probably react tomorrow following the revision.
However, Malaysia has large domestic institutional funds like the Employees Provident Fund and Retirement Fund Incorporated, banking institutions, insurance companies, Bank Negara Malaysia and asset managers which can act as shock absorbers to the possible selloff, he said.
On the timing of the Fitch’s revision, Afzanizam said it’s totally up to its discretion because Fitch has signalled it way back in April when it revised the rating outlook from ‘stable’ to ‘negative.’