Singdollar stretches further in Malaysia, Australia

SINGAPORE - The Malaysian ringgit has strengthened slightly since hitting a 15-year low against the Singapore dollar on Aug 9, but analysts expect it to remain weak for the rest of the year.

ADS Securities chief market strategist Max Knudsen cites several factors, including dwindling exports, a shrinking current account balance and an outflow of foreign investments from Malaysia's stock and bond markets.

Meanwhile, growing exports and lower inflation in Singapore will lend support to the Singdollar. It bought RM2.5806 last Friday, a slight weakening from RM2.5857 on Aug 9.

"With the exception of any surprise on quantitative easing from the US Federal Reserve, support for the ringgit could come from a boost to exports from the currencies weakness," said Mr Knudsen.

For shoppers heading across the Causeway, the ringgit's weakness means savings.

A fortnight ago, a Sunday Times check showed that a loaf of Gardenia white bread cost RM2.40 in Johor Baru. At around RM2.50 to one Singdollar, that would work out to around 96 Singapore cents. With the weaker ringgit, the cost is now about 93 cents. A box of Lipton teabags going for RM6.50 is now even lower at S$2.52.

The savings on each item may be only a few cents but that could add up for a trolley full of groceries.

With the anticipated tapering of the Fed's bond-buying programme, or quantitative easing, some dealers reckon that global investors are beginning to pull money out of emerging markets such as Malaysia.

Even more developed markets like Australia have not been spared: the Australian dollar hit a three- year low against the US dollar last week. In fact, the Australian dollar is the biggest loser among major currencies this year, sliding 9.8 per cent against a basket of nine peers including the euro, yen and pound, according to Bloomberg Correlation Weighted Indexes.

It has also been retreating steadily against the Singdollar over the past four months. While A$1 would have cost about S$1.30 in April, it is now just S$1.166.

This will come as a relief to Singaporeans paying for university fees and rent in Australia, which only earlier this year was found to be a more expensive education destination than the US or Britain.

Official estimates show the annual tuition fee for a degree Down Under can range from A$14,000 to A$35,000. In April, that meant annual fees of up to S$45,500; today, the figure is S$40,810.

Analysts say this trend will likely continue as the Australian government would like to boost exports with the weaker dollar.

The Reserve Bank of Australia itself is "pretty keen for the currency to go lower", Mr Mansoor Mohiuddin, head of currency strategy at UBS, told Bloomberg last week.

"The data suggest a lower currency is needed to restore growth in Australia's economy."

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