The strong performance of Malaysia’s economy

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The strong performance of Malaysia’s economy in recent years has been attributed to several factors, including improvement in its labour market, sufficient spending on infrastructure, a pro-cyclical budget, and growing global demand for oil and gas, and electronics.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic, coupled with declining government expenditure and lower public and private investments, halted its growth trend in 2020 and even caused the economy to contract. However, a strong economic recovery is expected in 2021 and stabilisation by 2022.

Malaysia Economy Overview

Malaysia has the sixth–largest economy in Southeast Asia and the 39th largest in the world as of 2020. It is a newly industrialised market economy that is relatively open despite being state-oriented.

The Malaysian economy has been steadily growing over the past years, by 4.3% in 2019 and 4.8% in 2018. However, the impact of the pandemic pushed the economy into negative territory, recording -6% growth in 2020.

Despite this, the IMF forecasts a strong bounce–back for Malaysia this year and expects a 6.5% growth for the year. It also projects growth to stabilise at 6% in 2022. The Malaysian government is taking several measures to support its economy, including rationalisation of subsidies, a fiscal reform program, and additional funds for affordable housing projects.

Malaysia’s population of over 32 million is significantly lower than its neighbouring ASEAN countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Thailand. However, the country’s labour productivity is higher than these nations due to knowledge-based industries and its digital economy and the use of cutting-edge technology for manufacturing.

Malaysian people enjoy an affluent lifestyle only rivalled by Singapore and Brunei. The government is aiming to raise income per capita to achieve a high–income country status.

The uptick in the unemployment rate is expected from 3.3% in 2018 and 2019 to 4.5% in 2020, due to restrictions associated with the pandemic. Still, the IMF forecasts a decline to 3.8% in 2021 and 3.6% by 2022.

Currency and Central Bank

Malaysia’s official currency is the Malaysian ringgit or RM, which is divided into 100 sen. Prior to August 1975, it was called the Malaysian dollar and cents in English, until the official names were adopted.

The Central Bank of Malaysia or Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) in Malay serves as the country’s central bank. It was founded on January 26, 1959 as Central Bank of Malaya or Bank Negara Tanah Melayu.

The government’s banker is tasked with issuing currency, formulating monetary policy, regulating Malaysia’s financial institutions and credit system. BNM is currently keeping the key interest rate at a record low of 1.75%.

Inflation entered negative territory at -1.1% in 2020 after recording 1.0% and 0.7% in 2018 and 2019. This was led by weakening of the ringgit, fall of oil prices, and decline in commodity export prices. The IMF expects an increase in the inflation rate in the next two years to 2.4% and 1.9%, respectively.

Industry and Trade

Malaysia’s economy has long transitioned from an agricultural-centric phase in the 1960s into an industrial and services-driven one.

Healthcare services, transport, distributive trade, and tourism are the main drivers of its service sector. It accounts for 54.2% of the country’s GDP in 2020 and employed 63.1% of its labour force.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s industrial sector makes up 37.4% of the GDP and provides 26.8% of the workforce. The country is considered one of the largest global exporter of semiconductor devices, electrical goods, and appliances.

Agriculture employs 10.1% of Malaysia’s labour force. The country is still one of the top producers of palm oil, tropical wood, and rubber. However, its agricultural sector only contributes 7.3% of the GDP.

Strength in International Trade

Malaysia’s economy relies significantly on foreign trade, representing 123.1% of the country’s GDP in 2019.

Its major export products are electronic integrated circuits, micro assemblies, crude oil and petroleum products, semiconductors, and palm oil. China, Singapore, the US, Hong Kong, and Japan are among its major trading partners.

On the other hand, Malaysia‘s main imports are electronic equipment, micro assemblies and electrical equipment for telephony, petroleum products and crude oil, and semiconductors. Its leading suppliers are China, Singapore, the US, and Japan.

Survey and Rankings

Malaysia improved its ranking in the World Bank’s 2020 Ease of Doing Business 2020, rising from the 15th spot to 12th. It increased its overall score from 81.3 to 81.5 and is now 3rd among countries in the East Asia and Pacific region.

In the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Malaysia’s economy went up by two places from 24th freest in 2020 to 22nd in 2021, but its overall declined by 0.3 points from 74.7 to 74.4. The country remained in the “Mostly Free” category.

Stock Exchanges and Capital Markets

Previously known as the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange, Bursa Malaysia is the sole stock exchange of Malaysia. It offers a wide range of products, including equities, derivatives, and exchange–traded funds (ETFs).

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