Malaysia to hold rates as policy makers look to steady fragile ringgit

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KUALA LUMPUR (Jan 17): Malaysia's central bank is expected to keep its benchmark rate steady at 3.00% on Thursday, a Reuters poll showed, as policy makers grapple with the beleaguered ringgit currency, after it dived to near two decade lows at the start of the year.

All 11 economists in the poll forecast no change to Bank Negara Malaysia's (BNM) key rate, saying the fragile currency makes it difficult for the central bank to follow up on its last cut in July 2016 to spur growth.

Economists were also split on whether BNM will keep its overnight policy rate steady throughout 2017, with some predicting a cut later in the year.

The ringgit has steadied slightly and was last fetching 4.465 in mid-morning trade on Tuesday, a week after it hit a near 19-year low of 4.4980 on Jan 4.

The currency has been hit by capital outflows from emerging markets, as investors expect U.S. interest rates to rise faster under incoming U.S. President Donald Trump on bets of an expansionary fiscal strategy.

In November, the central bank stepped in to discourage ringgit trade in the non-deliverable forwards (NDF) market, and later introduced measures to boost onshore ringgit trade.

In the third quarter, Malaysia reversed a trend of slowing economic growth, reporting better-than-expected annual growth of 4.3%.