Moody's sees robust growth for Malaysia but leverage a concern

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is maintaining its economic growth outlook for Malaysia at 5.3% for 2018 and at 5% for 2019.

KUALA LUMPUR:  Moody's Investors Service sees robust growth for the Malaysian economy in 2018, averaging growth of 5.2%, but it is concerned about the debt level and how the government can further reduce the fiscal deficit.

The rating agency said on Tuesday Malaysia's (A3 stable) credit profile is supported by its large and diversified economy, ample natural resources and robust medium-term growth prospects. 

“However, Malaysia's elevated system-wide leverage — including in the household sector — poses credit challenges,” it said.

Moody's said it expected the robust growth in 2017 would likely continue into 2018 and over the medium term, supporting the sovereign's credit profile. 

It said growth would be underpinned by a pipeline of large infrastructure projects that will stimulate public and private investment.

“Although the trend of fiscal deficit reduction has been maintained, the implementation of further fiscal consolidation remains a major credit challenge. 

“That said, a favourable debt structure and large domestic savings help to mitigate risks arising from a high government debt burden,” it said.

Moody's also noted that despite current account surpluses, Malaysia continues to be exposed to potential volatility in capital inflows, in part due to an active foreign investor presence. Foreign reserve adequacy remains low when compared with A-rated peers.

The  conclusions were contained in its just-released credit analysis on Malaysia, which examines the sovereign in four categories: economic strength, which is assessed as "very high (-)"; institutional strength "high (+)"; fiscal strength "moderate (+)"; and susceptibility to event risk "moderate (-)".

The report constitutes an annual update to investors and is not a rating action.

Moody's report says that upward pressure on the sovereign's rating could arise from:

(1) a material convergence in government debt levels with similarly rated peers, accompanied by improvements in debt affordability and continued fiscal deficit reduction; and

(2) a reduction in external vulnerability risks, such as through a containment of the rise in short-term external debt liabilities, or through effective use of macroprudential tools to limit volatility in capital flows durably.

Downward rating pressure could come from: 

(1) a significant worsening in Malaysia's debt dynamics, possibly arising from a renewed fall in commodity prices or the crystallisation of contingent liabilities;

(2) a deterioration in the balance of payments position or material capital flight, which puts further pressure on reserves; and 

(3) a long-lasting negative shock to the economy, possibly amplified by high household debt levels.

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