I recently wrote about how Indonesia’s economy has devolved into a classic credit and asset bubble-driven growth story, and its neighbor Malaysia is on the same path along with most other Southeast Asian economies, which are part of the overall emerging markets bubble that I have been warning about in the last couple of years.
The emerging markets bubble began in 2009 after China pursued an aggressive credit-driven infrastructure-based growth strategy to bolster their economy during the global financial crisis. China’s economy quickly rebounded as construction activity flourished, which drove a global raw materials boom that greatly benefited commodities exporting countries such as Australia and emerging markets. Emerging markets’ improving fortunes began to attract the attention of global investors who were seeking to diversify away from Western nations that were at the epicenter of the financial crisis.
Rock-bottom interest rates in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, combined with the Federal Reserve’s multi-trillion dollar quantitative easing programs encouraged a $4 trillion torrent of speculative “hot money” to flow into emerging market investments over the past four years. A global carry trade arose in which investors borrowed at low interest rates from the U.S. and Japan, invested the funds in high-yielding emerging market assets, and pocketed the interest rate differential or “spread.” Soaring demand for EM assets led to a bond bubble and ultra-low borrowing costs, which resulted in government-driven infrastructure booms, alarmingly fast credit growth, and property bubbles in numerous developing nations.
Surging capital inflows into Malaysia after the Crash of 2008 caused the ringgit currency to rise 25 percent against the U.S. dollar in just two years:
Foreign holdings of ringgit-denominated bonds hit an all time high:
Foreign direct investment (net inflows, current dollars) immediately recovered from its crisis-induced plunge to dramatically surge to new highs:
The Kuala Lumpur Composite stock index rose 120 percent, aided by growing interest from foreign investors:
Malaysia Is A Classic Credit Bubble Story
Malaysia’s $303 billion economy has been growing at an average 6 percent rate in recent years due in large part to a growing government and household credit bubble.
Since 2010, Malaysia’s public debt-to-GDP ratio has been hovering at all time highs of over 50 percent thanks to large fiscal deficits that were incurred when an aggressive stimulus package was launched to bolster the country’s economy during the Global Financial Crisis. After Sri Lanka, Malaysia now has the second highest public debt-to-GDP ratio among 13 emerging Asian countries according to a Bloomberg study. Malaysia’s high public debt burden led to a sovereign credit rating outlook downgrade by Fitch in July.
Malaysia’s government has been running a budget deficit since 1999:
Like their government, Malaysian households are also binging on debt, which has caused the county’s ratio of household debt to GDP to hit a record 83 percent – Southeast Asia’s highest household debt load – which is up from 70 percent in 2009, and up greatly from the 39 percent ratio at the start of the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. Malaysian household debt has grown at around 12 percent annually each year since 2008.