Ringgit declines for ninth week as oil slump pushes bonds lower

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KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 12): Malaysia’s ringgit extended losses to a ninth week and bonds fell on concern a slump in oil prices will hurt government efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit.

The currency has declined 6.8 percent since Oct. 10, the worst-performance in Asia, as the drop in crude threatens to crimp revenue in the petroleum-exporting nation. The price of the commodity fell below $60 a barrel for the first time since 2009, helping to push the ringgit to a five-year low of 3.5073 per dollar this week.

“With crude oil below $60, the ringgit is facing additional pressure,” said Nizam Idris, Singapore-based head of foreign exchange and fixed-income strategy at Macquarie Group Ltd. “The psychological level for the Malaysian unit is 3.50.”

The ringgit depreciated 0.7 percent from Dec. 5 to 3.4955 per dollar in Kuala Lumpur, the longest run of weekly losses this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In the bond market, the yield on the 10-year sovereign notes rose 26 basis points, or 0.26 percentage point, to 4.23 percent. That’s the biggest increase for a benchmark note of that maturity since May last year.

The drop in oil may also pull down the current-account surplus, which was at 7.6 billion ringgit ($2.2 billion) last quarter, the least since June 2013. The government is aiming to cut the fiscal deficit to 3 percent of gross domestic product next year from 3.5 percent, having run a shortfall since 1998.

A weaker exchange rate will also push up import prices just as Malaysia prepares to introduce a 6 percent goods and services tax in April. Consumer-price increases will average 4 percent in 2015, the highest in seven years, according to a Bloomberg survey of 21 economists. Inflation averaged 3.2 percent in the first 10 months of this year.

“Government bonds are under selling pressure because of the low oil price and lower current-account surplus,” said Fakrizzaki Ghazali, Kuala Lumpur-based credit strategist at RHB Research Institute, a unit of RHB Capital Bhd. “Based on our discussions with traders, the selling appears to be from foreign investors who are concerned about the impact of low oil prices on the government’s revenue.”