Lending Rate Normalisation Premature, Not Helping Businesses, Only Banks Gaining, Says Guan Eng

For illustration purpose. A street in one of Kuala Lumpur’s business centres.

KUALA LUMPUR, May 24 – Bank Negara Malaysia’s normalisation of policy rate is premature and has not helped to stem the depreciation of the ringgit but may harm borrowing costs, hinder business expansion and hamper sustainable economic growth, says DAP National Chairman and Member of Parliament for Bagan, Lim Guan Eng.

In a statement issued here today, Guan Eng said while strengthening the value of the ringgit was amongst the reasons cited for the 25 basis points hike in the Overnight Policy Rate(OPR) early this month by Bank Negara Malaysia, the value of the ringgit has dropped from RM4.45 since then to RM4.58 as of May 24.

“Bank Negara’s main argument for the OPR hike is the need to rein in core inflation and implement policy rate normalisation following full economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. There is genuine concern whether the latest OPR hike will affect sustainable economic growth, making it difficult for Malaysia to repeat the encouraging 5.6 percent first quarter GDP growth in the second quarter of 2023.”

Citing S&P Global Market Intelligence, Guan Eng said the seasonally adjusted Malaysia Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) remained below the 50-point mark separating monthly expansion and contraction, with the index unchanged at 48.8 in April 2023.

“This warning signal of a subdued Malaysian manufacturing sector at the start of the second quarter of this year is borne out by the April 2023 trade growth falling by 14.5 % year-on-year (y-o-y) to RM198 billion amidst global economic uncertainties.”

Guan Eng said the OPR hikes have only improved the profits for banks.

“There is also some confusion about hiking up OPR now to check core inflation, when core inflation had in fact moderated without any hike in OPR, to 3.9% in the first quarter of 2023 as compared to the final quarter in 2022 of 4.2%. Further, there were two interest rate pauses of no hikes in OPR by BNM in January and March 2023, even though core inflation was higher at 4.2% during the final quarter of 2022 as compared to 3.9% in the first quarter of 2023.

“There is no reason for BNM to increase the OPR now when the core inflation has been slowly reined in, but instead paused OPR hikes in January and March when the inflation rate was higher. Despite BNM not hiking up the OPR in January and March this year, both headline inflation and core inflation dropped to a 34-month low of 3.4% and 3.8% respectively in March 2023.”

Guan Eng also quoted analysts at Hong Leong Investment Bank Bhd (HLIB) estimating that over a one-year forward earnings, a 0.25% rate hike would nudge up the banks’ net profit by 3.7 % or slightly more than RM1 billion to RM30.07 billion from RM28.99 billion forecasted earlier.

“Have banks not earned enough?”

— WE