Top Forecasters See Ringgit Slide Slowing in 2016 as Oil Bottoms

  • Two-year reign as Asia's worst performer due to end: Macquarie
  • Sentiment improves as 1MDB readies more assets for sale

The top forecasters for Malaysia’s ringgit see declines slowing for Asia’s worst-performing currency next year as commodities stabilize.

Macquarie Bank Ltd., which turned negative in 2013 and topped Bloomberg rankings for the four quarters ended Sept. 30, is less bearish given the currency’s 17 percent drop this year better reflects slumping oil and slowing Chinese growth. The Sydney-based lender predicts a 4 percent decrease by March 31 based on Thursday’s closing prices, while Commerzbank AG, the second-best forecaster, sees a 2.8 percent depreciation by the end of 2016.

The ringgit has strengthened 6.2 percent since reaching a 17-year low in September as Brent crude steadied, allaying concern that revenue will deteriorate for Asia’s only major net oil exporter. Debt-ridden state investment company 1Malaysia Development Bhd. is winding down operations, bolstering confidence in the nation’s finances, while investigations are still ongoing into political donations taken by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

“While Macquarie maintains a modestly negative view on commodities into 2016, we think most of the big moves from the commodity angle are behind us and that takes one major monkey off the ringgit’s back,” said Nizam Idris, head of foreign-exchange and fixed-income strategy at the bank in Singapore. “We no longer pick the ringgit as the main underperformer” in emerging Asia and it will move more in line with the region, he said.

Strategists lowered their ringgit forecasts in the past six months as Brent’s plunge puts strains on the budget in Malaysia, which derives 22 percent of state revenue from energy-related sources. The Southeast Asian nation is also the world’s second-biggest producer of palm oil. The Bloomberg Commodity Index has dropped 22 percent this year, while Brent is down 23 percent.

The rout in resources may cause the government to miss its target of balancing the budget by 2020, according to an Oct. 1 article in the New Straits Times newspaper citing Prime Minister Najib. The deficit will narrow to 3.1 percent of gross domestic product in 2016 from 3.2 percent this year, the finance ministry predicted in October.

While Macquarie’s Nizam sees the ringgit’s two-year reign as emerging Asia’s worst performer coming to an end, he still sees it weakening to 4.40 a dollar by the end of the first quarter and 4.45 by June 30. That’s more bearish than the 4.37 and 4.36 median forecasts in a Bloomberg survey.

Macquarie and Commerzbank both predict a stronger U.S. currency next year, supported by the Federal Reserve’s interest-rate increases, which will put pressure on Asian exchange rates. The German bank forecasts the ringgit will climb to 4.10 by year-end, before weakening to 4.25 by June 30 and 4.35 by Dec. 31. It was at 4.2280 at the close in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday and rose 0.4 percent to 4.2122 as of 11:17 a.m. on Friday.

Commerzbank strategist Charlie Lay said the outlook hinges on the fact commodity prices don’t collapse another 50 percent in the coming year or so. Brent has dropped about 60 percent from its 2014 peak to around $43 a barrel.

1MDB Sale

The ringgit “won’t be a relative outperformer like the Philippine peso or India’s rupee but may not be the worst for the second year running,” said Lay in Singapore. “However, it is contingent once again on stable politics and commodities.”

Macquarie’s Nizam said he holds a more positive view for the ringgit over the next six months than the peso and Thai baht, despite predicting losses for all of them.

Sentiment improved for Malaysia’s currency last month after China General Nuclear Power Corp. agreed to buy 1MDB’s power assets for 9.83 billion ringgit ($2.3 billion), which will help reduce the 42 billion ringgit of debt accumulated by the company in the five years since its formation. Its finances are also set to improve as it finalizes the sale of a property project in Kuala Lumpur known as Bandar Malaysia.

Improve Sentiment

Najib, who chairs 1MDB’s advisory board, has drawn public criticism over the political donation he received from the Middle East that’s led to tensions within his ruling United Malays National Organisation and spurred anti-government street protests.

The worst is probably over for the ringgit, with markets pricing in a lot of the bad news, according to Australia & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd., the top forecaster of emerging Asian currencies in the third quarter. However, oil prices may remain subdued, which will weigh on Malaysia’s current-account balance and growth, said the bank’s senior foreign-exchange strategist Khoon Goh.

“How oil prices fare will remain a key risk factor for the ringgit next year, alongside the risk of a slowdown in domestic demand,” said Goh. “With 1MDB expected to resolve its debt woes now that it has sold its power assets, with a sale of their land holdings not far off, this should help improve sentiment.” 

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