ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
Malaysian GDP up 5.6 per cent in Q1
MALAYSIA’S economy posted 5.6 per cent growth in the first quarter, beating forecasts and just a tad slower than the previous quarter, as it showed resilience in the face of weak global prices for energy and commodity exports.
After releasing the data, Bank Negara Malaysia’s Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz said the Southeast Asian economy was diversified enough to weather the fall in prices for natural gas and oil - Malaysia is the world’s second largest gas exporter and is still, if only just, a net exporter of crude.
“We remain resilient,” Zeti said. “We will be affected by price movements of energy and fuel prices, but it’s not going to devastate our economy.”
Exports were subdued at the start of the year, but a surge in March, led by electronics, raised expectations that Malaysia’s growth story remained intact, despite political ructions over the US$11 billion debt at 1MDB, a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Prime Minister Najib Razak.
Wellian Wiranto, economist at OCBC in Singapore, took comfort in the first quarter growth that surpassed a Reuters poll forecast for 5.5 per cent.
“It’s a number that will make Malaysia watchers sleep better at night,” Wiranto said.
Growth might have been slower but for a surge in industrial activity and robust private consumption in March prior to the implementation of a new six per cent goods and services tax (GST).
While expecting the tax to crimp consumer spending going forward, Zeti was confident that the damage would be limited.
“Domestic demand remains the key anchor to growth,” she said. “Private consumption will moderate as households adjust to the GST, but consumption is expected to be supported by the rise in income and employment.”
Najib may try to soften the GST blow by announcing steps to raise living standards.
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