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Saturday, 10 July 2010

Ringgit, government bond yields up on rates hike

KUALA LUMPUR: The hike in interest rates, which the market now expects to be the last for the year, drove the ringgit up and saw a rise in yields of short-term government bonds.

The ringgit appreciated against the dollar yesterday following the 25-basis-point rise in Bank Negara’s overnight policy rate (OPR) to 2.75%, with traders now expecting the local currency to continue to strengthen in the short term.

CIMB Investment Bank regional rates and foreign exchange strategist Suresh Kumar Ramanathan said the ringgit, which rose to 3.19 against the dollar yesterday, was pointing towards further strengthening.

He said the hike in interest rates made the ringgit an interesting carry-trade proposition for traders.
“Interest rates are pretty high to attract more capital flows into the market,’’ he said.

The monetary policy statement on Thursday was dissected by the market and the general consensus is that Bank Negara would most likely stand still now after raising domestic interest rates by 75 basis points this year.

Analysts said the previous statement, which alluded to further normalisation of interest rates, was omitted this time around.

They said this was replaced by a fresh stance whereby the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) now considered the new level of the OPR to be appropriate and consistent with the current assessment of growth and inflation prospects.

“Taken together, these signals suggest that rate hikes are unlikely to come through in the future,’’ said Barclays Capital in a note yesterday.

“It appears that Bank Negara has created enough monetary policy buffer to respond to any downside risks.”
While the MPC’s assessment is for the global recovery to continue, it noted that there was increased risk that the global growth momentum could moderate.

But it pointed out that for the domestic economy, recent trends in key economic indicators such as industrial production, financing activity, labour market and external trade showed that economic activity had remained robust in the second quarter.

“While external developments may result in some moderation in the pace of growth, the domestic economy is expected to remain strong with continued improvement in private consumption and investment, and augmented by public investment spending,’’ MPC said.

Barclays Capital said the statement noted that recent economic indicators and trends would remain strong despite the recent gains in the ringgit. “This suggests that they are comfortable with the recent normalisation in the currency and would not stand in the way of further appreciation, provided this is fundamentally dictated,’’ it said.

RAM Holdings Bhd chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng believes the strong domestic economic indicators might have pipped Bank Negara’s decision to let interest rates go up for the third time.

The market was divided over the prospects for such a hike, given the economic situation globally.

“The central bank is confident that domestic growth momentum can be sustained despite the slowdown in the second half-year in the European Union economies,” Yeah said.

Although the current level was still below the historical average, Yeah called it the “new normal” considering the benign inflationary concerns and the weak economic condition globally.

He felt that the hike was important to nip asset price inflation, especially in the property sector which was driven by super-low interest rates, before it got out of hand.

“The double-digit increase in some property segments is of some concern,’’ he said.

While households have seen a debt build-up in recent years to levels considered high for Malaysia, Yeah said the current level of interest rates was seen as a balance between what households could shoulder and what the business sector found it could live with.

“It’s a fine line. We believe this level will stay for the rest of the year,” he said.

Should interest rates plateau at this level, Maybank Investment Bank head of debt capital markets Michael Oh-Lau said the rally in the bond market, which had seen yields dropping as a result of foreign buying of Malaysian Government Securities, should continue.

The impact on the bond market is expected to be positive but Oh-Lau said one risk that could emerge from interest rates remaining stagnant was a rotation of money out of the Malaysian capital markets to other countries that had not raised their rates. “There might be some risk of the exit of foreign investors if this is the last hike,’’ he said.

With interest rates now projected to remain firm for the rest of the year, analysts said all eyes would now be on the yuan and its movement against major currencies.

“The ringgit is seen as a close proxy to the yuan and further strengthening of the ringgit will come from the pace of strengthening of the yuan,” said Yeah. “This will fit in nicely for Malaysia getting a slower pace of strengthening.’’


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