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Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Ringgit Malaysia slides to lowest vs USD: fears of low oil prices, rate hike, rethink study options

PETALING JAYA: The ringgit has fallen to its lowest against the US dollar since August 2009 amid concerns over the impact of low oil prices on Malaysia’s economy and the timing of US interest rate hike.

At 5pm yesterday, the ringgit was quoted at 3.5425 against the US dollar, which has been gaining strength against all major currencies in the world. That represented a weakening of 10.81% for the ringgit against the US dollar in the last six months.

According to independent economist Lee Heng Guie, the ringgit would likely remain under downward pressure as investors were concerned about the impact of falling crude oil prices on Malaysia’s economy.

Malaysia, which is a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum, is seen as the biggest loser in Asean of lower oil prices.

“Being a net oil and gas exporter, it will cause a sharp slowdown in oil and gas investments and affect the Government’s ability to spend as it struggles to manage its fiscal deficit on account of falling oil revenue,” RHB Research Institute said in a recent report.

Low oil prices would result in some loss of income for Malaysia through lower dividends from state oil producer Petroliam Nasional Bhd and lower tax and excise duties. Petroleum-related revenues account for around 30%-40% of total government revenue each year.

Savings from recent subsidy reforms might not be sufficient to offset the loss in income for the Government that was looking to cut its fiscal deficit to 3% of gross domestic income (GDP) in 2015 from 3.5% of GDP this year, economists said.

There were divided views as to whether Malaysia would momentarily slip into twin deficits, a situation where an economy is running both fiscal and current deficits, in the coming months.

Brent crude oil, an international benchmark, fell to a fresh five-year low at 5pm yesterday when it was quoted at US$54.23 (RM192.11) per barrel. That represented a decline of more than half from the peak of around US$115 (RM406.80) per barrel in mid-June.

Investors are expecting the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates in the coming months, following the end of its third round of quantitative easing (QE3) programme last October.

QE3, which was launched in September 2012, involved the buying of long-term US Treasury bonds to push long-term interest rates low to support the country’s economic recovery.

In the last six months, the ringgit had also weakened against other regional currencies, including the Singapore dollar, against which it fell 3.63% to 2.6493. The ringgit fell 0.91% against the South Korean won to 0.3184; and 2.9% against the Indonesian rupiah to 0.02801.

Nevertheless, the ringgit had appreciated against the British pound, euro, Australian dollar and Japanese yen over the last six months.

Yesterday, the ringgit was quoted at 5.4080 against the pound, 4.2249 against the euro, 2.8541 against the Australian dollar and 2.9397 against 100 yen.

By Celilia Kok The Star/Asia News Network

Weakening ringgit forces parents to rethink study options

PETALING JAYA: Parents planning to send their children to study overseas, particularly the United States, are beginning to feel the pinch with the ringgit continuing its slide against the greenback.

Many are reconsidering their options by looking at other destinations for their children’s higher studies.

Some are also planning to shorten the study period of their children to cope with the extra costs incurred, while there are those who are thinking of asking their children to take up part time jobs to help finance their education.

The ringgit has slipped to its lowest since August 2009 at 3.5280 to the US dollar.

A media practitioner said he enrolled his daughter for an American degree programme with a local college two years ago.

“She’s doing a twinning course with two of the four years to be spent in the US. At that time, the ringgit was holding up fairly well against the US dollar.

“With the ringgit’s slide now, I’ll have to cough up much more to finance my daughter’s studies in the US,” he said.

Retired pilot Wong Yoon Fatt, a father of two, said he planned to send his 18-year-old daughter overseas as he had saved up funds for his children’s education.

“However, if the ringgit continues to weaken, I may shorten the duration of their studies abroad. From three years, I may consider cutting it to just a year or two abroad,” he said, adding that he would encourage his children to take up part-time jobs during their vacation.

Housewife Noorhaidah Mohd Ibrahim, 61, said if the economic situation worsened, she was prepared to send her 21-year-old daughter Tasneem to study at a local university.

“If we can get the same quality of education here, then why not?” she said, adding that she was planning to send Tasneem to pursue higher education in Britain.

Mass communication student S. Samhitha, 21, said she had a choice of continuing her final-year overseas but opted to stay back because of increasing costs to study abroad. “I can still get the same degree here. However, the thing I will miss is the exposure of studying in a different country,” she said.

Law student Janani Silvanathan, who is in Britain, said she would feel the pinch of the weakening ringgit in her next term when she would have to travel back and forth from Bristol to London weekly.

“Transportation will be more expensive. A train ticket from Bristol to London costs RM180 each now,” the 24-year-old lamented. A 20-year-old film making student who identified herself as Stephanie said she was planning to study in Canada but would have take up a part-time job.

“The depreciating ringgit will not severely affect me but my parents will definitely incur higher costs,” she said.

Law student Lisa J. Ariffin, 25, who is studying in Cardiff, Wales, said she was more careful in spending money, even on food.

“I can’t eat out as often and will always look out for good bargains or offers,” she said.

By Yuen Meikeng The Star/Asia News Network

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