KUALA LUMPUR: The potential downgrade of Malaysia's credit rating has not affected the confidence of American investors in Malaysia and any possibility of foreign investment outflow arising from it is seen as a short-term impact.
American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) president Ramzy Toubassy said many of its member companies had invested substantially in Malaysia, and they were looking at the infrastructure, opportunities and facilities provided compared to that of other Southeast Asian countries.
“We will not leave just because someone has dropped or downgraded Malaysia.
"Downgrading and upgrading is short term. As long as the relationship with the Malaysian government continues and we have transparency, stability and where we are going forward, there is no reason for us to leave the country," he told Bernama in an interview recently.
Toubassy, who is also AmMetLife Insurance Bhd chief executive officer, said MetLife has invested nearly US$1 billion in Malaysia, of which about US$500 million is in government bonds and government-related entities.
The American insurance company set up AmMetLife through a strategic partnership with AmBank Group in 2014.
Citing a few American companies in Malaysia that are broadening their operations, Toubassy said ON Semiconductor has finalised plans for a RM1 billion expansion in Negeri Sembilan that is set to create 2,400 jobs.
JPMorgan Chase Malaysia will also increase its paid-up share capital by RM620 million in 2019 via an injection of new equity by its parent, JPMorgan Chase N. A., demonstrating its strong confidence in Malaysia.
Toubassy said for investors, what is more important is whether the right ingredient is being put in place, and corruption is being dealt with.
Investors, particularly American investors, are convinced that transparency and investor-friendly measures were reflected in the actions taken by the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government after winning the 14th general election as the right ingredient in attracting more investments into the country.
The level of coordination between corporations and the government is also at its best level, with corporations being notified of any business-related decisions.
The government is also constantly discussing with the private sector before making any decisions.
However, Toubassy said more needs to be done to retain the confidence of investors.
"We learn how to work together, (where the government) will take advice from different corporations, so they learn the advantages and disadvantages of certain decisions, and they know what corporations want.
“We also know that the government wants to know how we (foreign companies) can increase high-skilled jobs for Malaysians,” he said.
Toubassy said this kind of coordination with the government never happened before and investors were only informed of the policies after they were promulgated.
“I believe it doesn't help the country that way because sometimes, there will be issues that they never thought of before," he said.
Meanwhile, AmCham executive director Siobhan M Das said that transparency has been one of the challenges faced by American companies in the past.
Following greater transparency provided by the current government, she said this will enable investors to get a clearer picture of the Malaysian market, as well as the policies in the pipeline.
The PH government recognises the role of greater transparency as a factor in attracting investments, hence, openness and collaboration enhance Malaysia's profile in the investment arena, as well as to American companies, Das said.
"(American companies) gained more confidence as they know the pathway of Malaysia, where the country is going to be, therefore, when they decide to invest in Malaysia, their investment is secured over the long period, for instance up to 40 years,” she said.
To a question how investor confidence can be retained, Das said having on-going transparency, collaborative administration and promoting engagements bring benefits to both investors and the government.
Both sides could learn about current business models of corporations, their point of view and more importantly, regulatory point of view, hence, Malaysia's competitiveness can be maintained.
"We have witnessed this and be part of that process, which I think it is a really good indication," she said, adding that Malaysia has to continue to inculcate investor confidence.
"We are looking at 20 years not two years, as a chamber (of commerce) representing corporations, we don't focus on investment in the bond market, and we are talking about actual investment.
“If a company comes here (to set up a business) they are projecting where they are going to be in for 20 years," she said.
On depreciation of the ringgit against the US dollar, Toubassy opined that it is neither the main factor attracting American businesses to Malaysia nor Malaysia should rely on the devaluation as a selling point.
"Companies have their own strategies, (the lower ringgit) may be advantageous for US companies, but remember, companies don't look short term. They will not say let's invest in Malaysia because the ringgit is cheaper, they are looking at certainty and a stable place.
“Everyone knows what China, Japan, Korea can offer. Now it is the time for Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Malaysia to become the hub-to-go because Malaysia has the right talent pool that the other countries are still lacking,” he said.
He said Malaysia's wide English-speaking demography, its infrastructure, business-friendly environment and consistent gross domestic product growth are the factors that these companies are looking at.
“Focus at improving transparency and investors will come to the country," he said. - Bernama