May 13, 2018 / 11:33 AM / in a year

Mahathir girds for volatile start to Malaysian market trading

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia’s new government is girding for a volatile start to trading on Monday when local currency, debt and equity markets open for the first time since the stunning election defeat of the coalition that had ruled the country for six decades.

Malaysia's newly elected Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad attends a news conference in Menara Yayasan Selangor, Pataling Jaya, Malaysia May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

“We will watch the market and take necessary action whichever way the market goes,” Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Saturday, after offshore investors expressed concern that his populist promises could undermine economic prospects.

Mahathir’s alliance had pledged during the campaign to remove a goods and services tax, scrap toll fees, reinstate fuel subsidies and review Chinese investment deals.

The ringgit lost four percent in offshore trading, while an overseas Malaysian equity fund showed a 6 percent drop in share values after the results were announced early on Thursday.

The currency “may need to play catch up” on Monday, and fall in line with a four percent drop in three month non-deliverable forwards, while government bonds are likely to be under selling pressure, Frances Cheung Head of Macro Strategy, Asia at Westpac bank said by e-mail.

Mahathir named Lim Guan Eng, a relative unknown, as finance minister over the weekend, but also appointed billionaire tycoon Robert Kuok and highly-regarded former central bank governor Zeti Akhthar Aziz as advisers on financial matters to allay investor worries.

Local economic analysts said Lim had built a good reputation as chief minister of Penang state and would be welcomed by Malaysian investors.

But tensions within the ruling alliance over cabinet picks that emerged at the weekend would weigh on sentiment, analysts said. Mahathir and his jailed ally, Anwar Ibrahim, both stepped in to ease the tensions on Sunday.

“This is a coalition of four different parties with different agendas. The easy part was being in opposition - now they have to form government, and that’s creating uncertainty,” Trinh Nguyen, senior economist at Natixis, told Reuters by phone from Hong Kong.

“This will have an impact on prices and they will have to correct to reflect this higher level of uncertainty...I think the markets have been wrong-footed,” she said, though adding, that the economy, especially with oil prices rising, was well placed to absorb the shock.

Analysts also pointed to the possibility of reshuffles at the top of government-linked corporations and, if sentiment sours at the bourse, ratings agency Moody’s sees the banking sector hardest hit.

“We will see increasing risks of capital outflows and a further weakening of the ringgit. That could in turn dampen private sector consumption and operating conditions for banks in Malaysia,” said Moody’s senior banks analyst Simon Chen.

The local share market is Asia’s top performer so far this year after Vietnam, with more than 7 percent gains in dollar terms. Its open at 9 a.m. local time (0100 GMT) on Monday, provides some time for investors to absorb the surprise election results, analysts said.

“There will be some uncertainty in the near term but at least higher oil prices will provide additional revenue for the new administration,” Khoon Goh, Head of Asia Research at ANZ Bank in Singapore told Reuters by e-mail.

Reporting by Liz Lee and Tom Westbrook

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