Malaysia's touted FDI from China may not deliver as expected

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Malaysia may have touted its successes in securing foreign direct investments (FDI) from China but a research firm says that China may not have the level of impact Putrajaya hopes for.

CNBC, quoting Citi Research economist Kit Wei Zheng, said while Malaysia's port and railway projects may see some RM400 billion in investments from China, the impact of Malaysia's gross domestic product (GDP) may be overstated.

"Overall, FDI from China may understate the extent of Chinese involvement in the Malaysian economy, but overstate the impact on GDP growth or Malaysian ringgit demand," Kit was quoted as saying.

He questioned the viability of the expensive projects Malaysia was embarking on with China's support.

One example given was the expansion of Malaysia's ports, despite overcapacity, which Kit said indicated that China's interest has more to do with geopolitical interest than profit.

In the case of ports along the West Coast of the Malaysian peninsula, it would allow China to secure easy access to the Straits of Malacca.

Kit said questions about the commercial viability of the projects and their funding could have "significant implications" on Malaysia's growth and the strength of the ringgit.

On top of this, there are also concerns about Malaysia's debt.

He said the funding of these projects, through loans from Chinese state-owned banks, could increase Malaysia's liabilities.

Furthermore, the construction awards going to Chinese firms are considered "service imports", which could subtract from headline GDP growth and ringgit demand, he added.

Citi Research noted that Malaysia's fiscal deficit grew to RM30.5 billion in the first five months of 2017, from RM26 billion in the same period last year.

It added that any delay in the next general election may also slow down the Putrajaya's efforts to rein in spending on pre-election project offerings.

Citi Research expects the general election to take place between August and September this year, but noted that with the "rising risks of a delay, (the election could be) closer to the mid-2018 deadline".

It said this would imply "a significantly slower pace of fiscal consolidation", though consolidating oil prices may help with revenue declines.

It expects Malaysia's economy to grow by 5.2 percent in 2017.

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