Emergency Declaration to Drag on Malaysia’s Economic Rebound

Thestate of emergency declared this week allows Malaysia’s government to enact immediate laws to support the virus-battered economy, but could dent consumer confidence and scare off investors.

Greater powers under Tuesday’s decree could help the government implement concrete solutions to the country’s health crisis and economic downturn, according to analysts at CGS-CIMB. Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said it would allow for ordinances to fight “economic sabotage, monopoly, and excessive price hikes.”

The emergency, which could last until Aug. 1, coincides with atwo-week lockdown that led analysts to shave as much as 1.5 percentage points off their forecasts for annual economic growth. Regions placed under stay-at-home orders contribute more than two-thirds of the country’s gross domestic product.

The measures come as record numbers of Covid infections stretch Malaysia’s health system to thebreaking point. While less severe than the two-month lockdown enacted last March, the restrictions will mean a loss of about 3 billion ringgit ($742 million) per week in private consumption, according to anRHB Bank estimate.

“With its recovery momentum stymied, it will be even harder now for the economy to reach the 6.5-7.5% GDPgrowth target that the government has in mind,” Wellian Wiranto, an economist atOversea-Chinese Banking Corp., wrote in a research note.

The emergency decree does bring ameasure of political stability to Malaysia for the first time since infighting early last year toppled the coalition and lifted Muhyiddin to power. With parliament potentially suspended until August, the prime minister doesn’t have to worry about fresh elections anytime soon.

“The government may have a ‘no-holds-barred’” approach to the pandemic now, analysts atRHB Bank said. “This may include further support from the fiscal and monetary side, as well as a more unconventional approach including a return of loan moratoriums and tax breaks on big-ticket items.”


Malaysia’s economy took the brunt of the Covid blow in the second quarter of 2020, and began bouncing back in the latter half of the year. The government expected the economy to contract 4.5% for the full year.

Now, its ability to galvanize activity is constrained by limited fiscal space and a relatively high debt load, according to OCBC’s Wiranto. “The government may remain reluctant to undertake a ‘bazooka’-type fiscal largesse, given the external constraints imposed by the market,” he said.

Moreover, government intervention unchecked by parliament could jeopardize market stability, analysts at BIMB Securities Research wrote. The move could send negative signals to investors, leading to the outflow or diversion of foreign investment from the country, they said.

That means monetary policy may have to do more of the heavy lifting. OCBC sees a “heightened chance” thatBank Negara Malaysia will cut its overnight policy rate by 25 basis points to a record-low 1.5% at its Jan. 20 meeting.

Analysts atHong Leong Investment Bank andCitibank were more conservative. While both believe the odds have risen for a rate cut this year, they don’t expect one next week.

The overnight rate “is likely to stay pat until the extent and impact of renewed lockdown is known with greater clarity,” Hong Leong analysts wrote in a research note.

— With assistance by Michelle Jamrisko

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