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November 16, 2008

Malaysia faces no recession, currency to rise – central bank

Malaysia's economy is not expected to fall into recession and its currency could gradually firm over the medium term, the central bank chief was quoted on Saturday as saying.

Economic growth next year would hit the 3.5 percent official target, with policies in place to contain the fallout from the global slowdown, Bank Negara Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz was quoted as saying by The Star newspaper.

"We are not in a recession and we don't expect to be in one," Zeti said. "In our case, we took action very early so there is the potential for containing the severity of the crisis."

She said the central bank was ready to adjust monetary policy to support growth.

"We have said that we would take swift action to support the economy," Zeti said when asked where interest rates were headed. "If it is necessary, certainly we have the flexibility to do so.

The fast-growing Southeast Asian economy has been bolstered by rocketing crude oil and palm oil prices in recent years but some analysts say a sharp slowdown is round the bend due the economy's heavy reliance on trade.

Malaysian bank RHB has forecast domestic economic growth at just 1.5 percent in 2009.

Malaysia's official interest rate has been at 3.50 percent for more than two years putting it among Asia's lowest and Zeti reiterated an earlier assessment that inflation had peaked and said it would ease to below 3 percent in the second half of 2009.

She also repeated a pledge to ensure an orderly foreign exchange market.

"In the near term, we are going to see volatility but the medium term underlying trend should be a gradual appreciation," she said, referring to the ringgit currency's movements.

"What is key to us is that the market remains orderly. The central bank will be there to ensure orderly conditions."

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