Source: Forbes – Malaise Is Ahead For Malaysia’s Bubble Economy
I recently wrote about how Indonesia’s economy has devolved into a classic credit and asset bubble-driven growth story, and its neighbor Malaysia is on the same path along with most other Southeast Asian economies, which are part of the overall emerging markets bubble that I have been warning about in the last couple of years.
The emerging markets bubble began in 2009 after China pursued an aggressive credit-driven infrastructure-based growth strategy to bolster their economy during the global financial crisis. China’s economy quickly rebounded as construction activity flourished, which drove a global raw materials boom that greatly benefited commodities exporting countries such as Australia and emerging markets. Emerging markets’ improving fortunes began to attract the attention of global investors who were seeking to diversify away from Western nations that were at the epicenter of the financial crisis.
Rock-bottom interest rates in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, combined with the Federal Reserve’s multi-trillion dollar quantitative easing programs encouraged a $4 trillion torrent of speculative “hot money” to flow into emerging market investments over the past four years. A global carry trade arose in which investors borrowed at low interest rates from the U.S. and Japan, invested the funds in high-yielding emerging market assets, and pocketed the interest rate differential or “spread.” Soaring demand for EM assets led to a bond bubble and ultra-low borrowing costs, which resulted in government-driven infrastructure booms, alarmingly fast credit growth, and property bubbles in numerous developing nations.
Surging capital inflows into Malaysia after the Crash of 2008 caused the ringgit currency to rise 25 percent against the U.S. dollar in just two years:
Foreign holdings of ringgit-denominated bonds hit an all time high:
Foreign direct investment (net inflows, current dollars) immediately recovered from its crisis-induced plunge to dramatically surge to new highs:
The Kuala Lumpur Composite stock index rose 120 percent, aided by growing interest from foreign investors:
Malaysia’s $303 billion economy has been growing at an average 6 percent rate in recent years due in large part to a growing government and household credit bubble.
Since 2010, Malaysia’s public debt-to-GDP ratio has been hovering at all time highs of over 50 percent thanks to large fiscal deficits that were incurred when an aggressive stimulus package was launched to bolster the country’s economy during the Global Financial Crisis. After Sri Lanka, Malaysia now has the second highest public debt-to-GDP ratio among 13 emerging Asian countries according to a Bloomberg study. Malaysia’s high public debt burden led to a sovereign credit rating outlook downgrade by Fitch in July.
Like their government, Malaysian households are also binging on debt, which has caused the county’s ratio of household debt to GDP to hit a record 83 percent – Southeast Asia’s highest household debt load – which is up from 70 percent in 2009, and up greatly from the 39 percent ratio at the start of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. Malaysian household debt has grown at around 12 percent annually each year since 2008.
It’s no surprise to see an inflating household debt bubble when Malaysia’s bank lending rate is at record lows:
Ultra-low interest rates have caused Malaysia’s private sector loans to increase by over 80 percent since 2008:
Malaysia’s high level of household debt led the country’s central bank, Bank Negara, to recently impose lending rules that cap maximum terms of personal loans to 10 years and mortgages to 35 years – a decrease from the common 45 year mortgages.
Datuk Paul Selva Raj, CEO of the Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (FOMCA), said 47 percent of young Malaysians are currently in “serious debt” (debt payments amount to 30 percent or more of their gross income), something that could catch up with them very quickly.
“Car purchases and credit card debts are among the main reasons for bankruptcy in Malaysia,” said Paul. “It’s the culture we live in. There’s a lot of emphasis on status and being ‘cool’ – but being cool costs money.”
Malaysia’s household credit bubble is helping to fuel a consumer spending boom:
Malaysian corporate leverage, which includes corporate bonds and bank loans, is also rising at an alarming rate, reaching 95.8 percent of GDP in 2013 from 79.9 percent in 2007.
Malaysia Also Has A Property Bubble
Like most other countries that are part of the emerging markets bubble, Malaysia has a property bubble in addition to its credit bubble.
The charts below show the parabolic rise of overall Malaysian property prices:
Accounting for nearly half of all household debt, soaring mortgage loan growth is a primary reason why Malaysia’s household debt is increasing at such a rapid rate.
Plans to build the tallest building in Southeast Asia, the 118-story Warisan Merdeka Tower, are a major Skyscraper Index red flag.
How Malaysia’s Bubble Economy Will Pop
While Malaysia has fared better than Indonesia, India and Brazil during this summer’s emerging markets rout, the country still has an extremely dangerous economic bubble that will pop when the overall emerging markets bubble pops in earnest. Malaysia’s bubble will most likely pop when China’s economic bubble pops and/or as global and local interest rates continue to rise, which are what caused the country’s credit and asset bubble in the first place. The resumption of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s QE taper plans may put pressure on Malaysia’s financial markets in the near future. Malaysia’s rapidly deteriorating current account surplus due to weaker exports is another worrisome development.
As I’ve been saying even before this summer’s EM panic, I expect the ultimate popping of the emerging markets bubble to cause another crisis that is similar to the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, and there is a strong chance that it will be even worse this time due to the fact that more countries are involved (Latin America, China, and Africa), and because the global economy is in a far weaker state now than it was during the heady days of the late-1990s.