Surprise in Malaysia’s Budget: Revenue Growth Beats Spending

There are several reasons Malaysia’s ringgit was the worst performing currency in Asia last quarter — plunging oil prices that hurt the budget, loan repayment delays at state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd. Here’s one measure that shows it may not be all that bad.


A Bloomberg Intelligence analysis of Asian fiscal data shows that Malaysia’s government revenue growth, while hurt by lower crude prices, is still outpacing the increase in state spending after adjusting for inflation.


“It looks like they tightened spending in anticipation of the hit to revenues from the oil and gas sector — perhaps even by a tad more than they needed to,” said Tamara Henderson, an economist with Bloomberg Intelligence who analyzes the data in the Asia Fiscal Monitor.


Malaysian central bank Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz said last week the fiscal position is improving and the ringgit is undervalued even as growth prospects weaken, in a rebuttal to Fitch Ratings and investors who have soured on the country. The ringgit climbed 1.2 percent in Kuala Lumpur Friday, the biggest gainer among 11 Asian currencies tracked by Bloomberg.


Annualized government revenue growth after adjustment for inflation in the 12 months to February exceeds expenditure expansion by almost 4 percentage points in Malaysia, the Bloomberg calculations show. That’s a smaller margin than Hong Kong’s about 12 points, yet better than South Korea’s shortfall of 2.7 points.


Whether that’s good enough for investors remains to be seen. As the U.S. prepares to raise interest rates, HSBC Holdings Plc economist Frederic Neumann says Malaysia stands out as a market that looks more vulnerable, with the country’s local financial risks and short-term external debt as a share of reserves climbing since 2013. –

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