Malaysia central bank sees robust growth in 2014; on guard for inflation

Malaysia central bank sees robust growth in 2014; on guard for inflation
The Malaysian flag is displayed on the facade of Bank Negara Malaysia for the upcoming national day, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2009.

KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia's economy is likely to expand 4.5-5.5 per cent this year as exports improve and domestic demand remains resilient, although risks of instability in global financial markets and inflation linger, the central bank said on Wednesday.

Bank Negara, in its annual outlook, said growth will be driven from an increase in commodity exports and an $444 billion (S$171 billion) Economic Transformation Programme to boost public and private investment.

That comes when domestic demand is expected to moderate as the government cuts subsidies for essential items ranging from petrol and power to sugar, in a bid to lower the fiscal deficit. Still, rising wages and low unemployment will support consumption.

Inflation will pick up, although pressures could be absorbed from an expanding Malaysian economy. There is a risk that inflation could go much higher on rising commodity prices, excessive wage hikes and strong domestic demand - a scenario that the central bank says won't happen for now. "Despite moderation in domestic demand, it will continue to be the main anchor of growth, led by the private sector amid public sector consolidation," central bank Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz told a media conference.

Bank Negara, like many of its Asian peers, based its somewhat rosier outlook on expectations for improving exports this year, but it warned of downside risks to the global economy such as still-high US unemployment, weaker government spending in the euro zone and concerns about China's economy.

EXPORT, DOMESTIC DEMAND DRIVEN

Malaysia's exports are expected to more than double to 5.8 per cent from 2.4 per cent in 2013, with growth driven by shipments of higher-priced palm oil that will offset lower valued oil and gas exports.

Exports in January jumped a stronger-than-expected 12.2 per cent from a year earlier, due to a strong rise in shipments of electrical and electronic products as well as an increase in refined petroleum products.

Imports will accelerate to 8.9 per cent in 2014 against 7 per cent last year, as manufacturers buy more parts and materials to meet higher electrical and electronics orders. Resilient domestic demand and investments also will underpin growth in capital and consumption imports.

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