Ringgit drops to weakest level since 1998 Asian Financial Crisis

Ringgit drops to weakest level since 1998 Asian Financial Crisis
PHOTO: Reuters

The Malaysian ringgit has fallen to its lowest since the 1998 Asian Financial Crisis, as dollar bullishness and domestic economic weaknesses weigh on the beleaguered currency.

On Monday in Asia, the dollar traded at 4.4770 ringgit, up from its previous close of 4.4755 amid outflows as a broad bullish trend extends in the greenback, according to Reuters data.

As at 11am, the Malaysian currency was trading at 3.0991 per Singapore dollar, after earlier falling to 3.1060, The Straits Times reported.

The ringgit has had a torrid time since Donald Trump's win in the US presidential election on Nov. 8, joining other emerging market assets that have tumbled in the wake of Trump's win, as the dollar surged and US Treasury yields jumped.

The dollar's strength has impacted emerging-market companies' ability to service dollar-denominated debt and spurred outflows from the segment on the prospect of higher, less-risky returns on Treasurys.

Read also: Najib might go if Malaysia's ringgit falls further: Academic

Chang Wei Liang, FX strategist at Mizuho Bank said last week's interest rate hike by the US Federal Reserve contributed to further weakness. The Fed, which raised interest rates last week, has penciled in three rate increases in 2017.

Malaysia's central bank, Bank Negara Malaysia, has also been moving to clamp down on non-deliverable forward trades to curb speculative activity on the offshore market, causing some concerns in the currency trade and prompting outflows.

Still, with the extended slump in oil prices and the country's current account surplus at a 13-year-low, the ringgit's weakness is "not out of whack with the fundamentals in place," he noted.

The ringgit was unlikely to fall dramatically lower, he added, as recent announcements by OPEC and major non-OPEC oil producing countries will give some support to oil prices.

Mizuho is forecasting dollar/ringgit at 4.30-4.7 in the first quarter of 2017.

Read also: Malaysia's economy more stable than Singapore's, says ruling BN party

Additionally, markets have been pricing in Trump's aggressive rhetoric on curtailing global trade with the US, which would disproportionately hurt trade-dependent emerging economies.

Even before Trump's upset win, the ringgit was under pressure from weak oil prices and a political scandal in the country over Malaysia's deeply indebted sovereign fund.

Investigations and court cases were continuing globally into allegations that billions of dollars were looted from Malaysian state development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB). The long-running scandal has included allegations that diverted funds flowed to Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak's personal bank account and to his stepson, Riza Aziz, whose company, Red Granite Pictures, produced the film "The Wolf of Wall Street."

Najib, Riza and Red Granite Pictures have all denied wrongdoing.

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CNBC's Leslie Shaffer contributed to this article

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