Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dato’ Seri Najib Razak is clutching at straws arguing that the ringgit has performed well this year when it has barely recovered a fraction of its losses since 2013

Dato’ Seri Najib Razak wants Malaysians to believe that “the ringgit had performed better than the currencies of many other large commodity exporter countries, and forecasters had predicted that it will regain its strength”.

Is the Prime Minister trying to convince us that the 5.9% appreciation of the ringgit from RM4.49 to the dollar on 1 January 2017 to RM4.24 today is an achievement worthy of a standing ovation from Malaysians?

Does he need reminding that when he became the Prime Minister on 9 April 2009, the exchange rate was RM3.58 to the dollar or 18% higher than what it is today?  As a matter of fact, since the 2013 general election, the ringgit has tanked significantly on an annual basis.

In 2014, the ringgit slumped 6.3% from 3.281 on 1 January to 3.502 a dollar on 31 December.

The Prime Minister had then told us in January 2015 that the Ringgit will bounce back from the then five-year low versus the US dollar as “Malaysia's financial market is sufficiently robust”.  Believe it or not, the Ringgit was then trading at 3.50 to the Dollar, which now seemed like a parallel universe away.

Instead, in 2015, the ringgit collapsed 18.5% to 4.303 a dollar on 31 December.

Even then, despite continued re-assurance from the Government and Bank Negara that our currency was undervalued and unjustifiably depreciated for those 2 years, the ringgit tanked a further 9.6% in 2016.

If we had all trusted Dato’ Seri Najib Razak and invested based on his financial advice, some of us would be bordering on suicidal tendencies today.

The thing is, if every other currency had declined at the same rate against the Dollar, it wouldn’t have felt so bad.  What is particularly galling is that the Ringgit performance is the worst among all the major regional currencies over the past few years.  We have weakened significantly against the Hong Kong and Singapore dollar, the Thai baht, the Indonesian rupiah, the Chinese yuan and many more.  Hence the Prime Minister’s call for a celebration for a marginal improvement in the exchange rates this year is a serious case of clutching at straws.

It appears that everyone knows the real cause of the ringgit’s terrible performance except our clueless or pretend-to-be-clueless Prime Minister and his merry men. The fundamental cause is because of the complete collapse in confidence in our currency and economy ever since we have been outed as a major global kleptocracy and the failure of the Malaysian authorities and Government to take any action against those responsible.

The direct consequence of a badly depreciated ringgit is not only significantly higher travel cost overseas, it is the much higher cost of imports which translates into the highest inflation rates Malaysia is facing since the last global financial subprime crisis.

We cannot let Najib’s focus on the Ringgit’s short-term improvements distract us from the bigger picture. In order for the Ringgit to recover to RM3 to the dollar, the only way will be to rid the country of a kleptocratic administration and implement clean, transparent and competitive economic policies to bring back the confidence of local and foreign investors in Malaysia.

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