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PETALING JAYA: While the government’s debt level is expected to surge in the near term, it will not warrant a downgrade of the country by global rating agencies, according to economists.
Sunway University economics professor Yeah Kim Leng told StarBiz the government’s debts are currently rated one level above the BBB investment grade rating but at A-, it is one notch away from falling into the BBB category.
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Of concern is that countries with similar sovereign ratings of A- have lower debt levels, he said.
Thus far, Yeah said Malaysia has been able to avoid a downgrade by two of the three global credit rating agencies due to its better gross domestic product (GDP) growth performance and low foreign currency exposure.
“It will also have to demonstrate its commitment to fiscal consolidation and tax reforms to improve its fiscal metrics to avoid any potential downgrade that will raise borrowing costs and render the government debt less appealing to investors,” he said.
Back in December 2020, Fitch Ratings had downgraded Malaysia from A- to BBB+.
One of the reasons for the downgrade was its increased fiscal burden, which was high relative to its peers going into the health crisis.,
Yeah said the government’s total debt and liabilities which include guarantees, 1MDB and other financing commitments are estimated at 88.1% of GDP as at end-2021.
The direct government debt at below 65% of GDP and the total liabilities amounting to 88.1% of GDP are generally considered to be high for emerging economies, he said.
For the second quarter of this year (2Q22), the federal government’s total debt stood at close to RM1.05 trillion compared with RM1.01 trillion in 1Q22. In 4Q21, the debt level was at about RM980bil. (See chart)
Juwai IQI global chief economist Shan Saeed does not foresee any debt overhang or distress debt pressure on the domestic economy. He attributed this to strong GDP, robust consumption, investment inflows and rising trade numbers.
“We at Juwai IQI closely monitor the situation in many countries. Global investors are looking for stability and prudence in running the economy with a strategic approach.
“Rating agencies are becoming irrelevant as more and more countries and investors are focused on macroeconomic stability of the country, not on the A, B or C ratings status tag.
“Post Covid-19, markets are not obsessed with short-term analysis but rather on long-term impactful variables like infrastructure, domestic consumption and above all, trade and commerce numbers.”
Stable governments attract domestic and international investments in the economy, Shan added.