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Foreign funds net sellers for third week

PETALING JAYA: International funds continued to sell Malaysian equities for the third week running albeit at a slower pace, disposing of RM128.7 million net of local equities last week.

“This was one eighth smaller than the amount withdrawn in the preceding week,” MIDF Research said in its weekly fund flow report today.

It said international investors were net sellers on four days. Offshore funds first sold RM77.9 million net on Monday, pulling the local bourse 0.12% lower to end at 1,729 points.

Risk-off tone was sparked by intensified US-Saudi tensions over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist.

Foreign net selling then shrank to just RM17.3 million on Tuesday before spiking up to RM31.8 million on Wednesday while the FBM KLCI advanced 0.22% to 1,740 points, the highest closing during the week. Nonetheless, Bursa’s nine-day foreign selling streak came to an end on Thursday as offshore funds acquired RM33.3 million net.

“Amongst the four Asean markets we track, Malaysia was the only country experiencing inflows that day as sentiment was hampered by the Fed’s hawkish stance highlighted in its latest minutes of meeting. However, foreign investors were back in selling mode on Friday, withdrawing RM35 million net after technology stocks slumped gain on Thursday in addition to several industrial companies reporting weak quarterly earnings.”

So far, MIDF said Bursa has seen a net outflow of RM1.2 billion for the month of October, bringing the year-to-date outflow to RM9.8 billion.

“Nevertheless, Malaysia still remains as the country with the second lowest outflow amongst the four Asean markets we monitor,” it said.

Participation amongst foreign investors, local institutional funds and investors in the retail market took a slight breather last week as their weekly average daily traded value went lower by more than 10% compared to the preceding week.

Nonetheless, participation of each respective investor group remained at its healthy level.

Govt urged to focus on reducing operating expenses

PETALING JAYA: Local economists, analysts and a think tank have urged Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's administration to focus on reducing the government's operating expenditure, which has been persistently high over the years.

The view comes after Mahathir's presentation on the 11th Malaysia Plan's mid-term review in Parliament last week, which saw the government cutting back its development budget by RM40 billion for the 2018 to 2020 period.

The government, which affirmed that the operational budget will not take a hit, lowered its real gross domestic product (GDP) growth target to 4.5-5.5% annually from 5-6% previously.

Inter-Pacific Securities Sdn Bhd head of research Pong Teng Siew, when contacted, told SunBiz that the operating expenditure related to emoluments, pension payments and gratuities rose more than 9% a year in the past 10 years, while nominal gross domestic product rose just more than 4% over the same period.

He noted that the cut in development expenditure is possibly due to the administration's short-term inability to reduce its operating expenditure without public sector layoffs.

CGS-CIMB Research said it believes the government has room to make fiscal adjustments through determined spending cuts without hurting the country's growth prospects unduly if wastages and leakages are curbed.

It opined that operating and development expenditure can be trimmed by RM7 billion in Budget 2019 due to tighter procurement procedures, zero-based budgeting, reviews or deferment of infrastructure projects, more targeted subsidies and cash transfers, and revisions in supply and services contracts, which could limit the need for aggressive revenue-raising measures and steeper cuts to productive areas of spending.

On GDP growth, CGS-CIMB said despite the target being lowered to 4.5-5.5% in the mid-term review, prospects remain supportive of economic activity and labour market conditions.

Disappointed by the government's preoccupation with tax and increasing costs for business, Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs director of research and development Laurence Todd said “there are indications that the government is moving in potentially the wrong direction”.

“Further reforms to strengthen the oversight and performance of GLCs are of course welcome, but it is disappointing that the government does not seem to be proposing more radical reforms, including significantly reducing its holding of assets and equities, which could raise revenue and stimulate private sector growth.

“At the same time, the government is proposing to reduce development expenditure – we would recommend that the government focus on improving its balance sheet in a way that raises revenue and maintains the overall level of public investment,” Todd added.

On the flip side, Sunway University Business School Professor of Economics Prof Dr Yeah Kim Leng said the mid-term review, with a strong focus on improving governance, institutional reforms and strengthening the government delivery system, should enable the government to reap some “democracy dividends” on increased investor confidence and sustained private investment activities.

He said the review has lent greater clarity on the policy direction of the new government over the next two years as it has established the priorities, policy thrusts, strategies and targets on what the administration intends to do to address the critical challenges facing the country.

“Understandably, the 'how' part needs fleshing out but it suffices that the focus should be on implementation capacity and capabilities, and, importantly, a consultative approach with all stakeholders especially the private sector, industry groups and NGOs.”

However, he pointed out that income gaps, disparities and inequalities across regions, industries and community groups are structural problems, which will require carefully thought-out intervention programmes.

“These are perhaps too 'micro' to be contained in the broad five-year plan and better fleshed out by the implementing agencies that have been streamlined,” Yeah said.

China regulators deliver rare joint pep talk for worried markets

SHANGHAI: Three of China’s top financial officials launched a coordinated attempt to shore up confidence in the country’s stock markets and economic prospects on Friday in an unusual expression of top-level concern over what one of them called ‘abnormal’ share price falls. The timing of the rare intervention by the heads of the central bank, […]

China launches full-throated bid to ease fears as markets fall

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Global stocks tumble on souring sentiment, oil falls

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Wall St drops after weak industrial earnings, hawkish Fed

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China stocks suffer sharp sell-off on multiple investor worries

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