Inflation - The Real Picture

Posted by M ws On Thursday, July 14, 2011 6 comments
In an interview with journalists in London on Wednesday, Najib said that the central bank would monitor the situation “very very closely”. Some investors were surprised that Bank Negara did not raise rates at a policy meeting last week and surmise that such moves may cause Malaysia to slip in the battle against inflation.

Speaking to the reporters, Najib said, "We believe [the official interest rate] is at the right level. It’s a balance between strong growth and at the same time keeping inflation in check and making sure we don’t get an asset bubble economy in Malaysia.

He said, " Malaysia had been “quite successful” in keeping inflation at an annual rate of 2-2.5 per cent until recently. Even though it is creeping up to about 3 per cent but I think in terms of the global scale it’s still constrained to be one of the lowest inflation rates in the world."

How can our country be experiencing such LOW RATES of inflation, especially since we have been witnessing an unprecedented increase in petrol prices and electricity tariffs?

Housing prices are not factored in the basket of goods and we all know how these have escalated in the last few years. (Only rental is included in CPI and the rates do not increase that often.) When the price of houses jump, it creates assets inflation which is not measured by the CPI (Consumer Price Index) and existing inflation rates do not give us a true picture of the situation in the country.

This can give us a wrong idea how the economy is going and is also what killed the US economy leading to the devaluation of its dollar. Similarly, Japan was affected during the 1980's. The use of CPI as measure of inflation is fine provided the houses and assets prices remain stable.

Housing prices and that of other assets such as cars are shooting the roof which reduce our spending power and reduces the value of our money. So mere statistics do not give a true picture of inflation in our country! What more inaccurate figures! So a figure of 3% inflation rate means nothing to the city dweller who spends more than 1/3 of his income on housing! READ MORE HERE.

While Najib waxed lyrical about the government's direct interventions to keep food prices under control, including subsidies amounting to M$20bn this year, price controls, and a new chain of 1Malaysia stores selling non-branded food products at a discount – 40 per cent for blackberry juice, the fact remains that liberal economists don't fancy the idea of subsidies.

Despite whatever reassurances about subsidies, ministers are attempting to reduce the fiscal deficit from last year’s 5.6 per cent of GDP to a planned 5.4 per cent. However, the 10 per cent of spending that goes on subsidies actually diverts money from elsewhere and this includes investment. What will happen then?

Judging by the negative public response to the withdrawal of subsidies, it is likely that subsidies will remain for them to fulfill political pledges and to put them in good stead for the next GE.

Last week,  Bank Negara surprisingly maintained the rates at 3 per cent thereby putting the emphasis on bank reserve ratios, raising them by 100 basis points to 4 per cent. Its effectiveness depends largely on the type of inflation that exists - i.e. cost push or demand pull inflation. Besides, inflation is not always caused by too much money in the system. It MAY be caused by increasing costs example the electricity tariffs - which has nothing to do with increase in money supply. Read more here.

Consider this Bank Negara report:

Headline inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), increased to 3.3% on an annual basis. The main contributors to inflation during the month were the food and non-alcoholic beverages and transport categories. Higher food prices were mainly due to the increase in meat prices. Inflation in the transport category increased during the month reflecting the effect from the upward adjustment in the price of RON97 from RM2.70/litre to RM2.90/litre due to the rise in the price of WTI crude oil in April.

Bank Negara also said:

In the domestic economy, the latest indicators point to a moderation in growth in the second quarter, due primarily to slower external demand, greater than expected disruptions in the global manufacturing supply chain and lower than projected public sector investment. Private consumption and investment have, however, continued to be important drivers of growth. Going forward, growth is expected to improve, underpinned by continued strength in private consumption and private investment. This growth prospect however, could be affected by the heightened external risks.
According to Financial Time's Lex Wednesday column entitled “Malaysia: stuck in a rut”, the long term challenge is for Malaysia to escape from the middle income trap.

Last year, Najib launched an Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) - a series of investment projects to lift gross national income per head capita from its current middle-income rut – about M$22,000 ($7,252) – to the World Bank-approved high-income threshold of $15,000, by 2020.

He said in London: “We need a game-changer and our game-changer is the ETP.” What if the rakyat end up as the losers in this game?

The Financial Times voiced doubt on Najib’s targets, saying that while such goals were positive for the long term, past government-led schemes “have floundered for the lack of them”.

“It is even better to hand over responsibility for implementation to a third-party body, as Mr Najib has done... but has he selected the right metric?,” it said.

“Unlike the GDP (gross domestic product), the GNI captures income received from Malaysian-owned foreign output, while excluding profits from foreign-owned domestic output.

“Shifting savings to domestic private investment can therefore lift the measure relatively easily, assuming population growth stays moderate,” the daily added.

Financial Times rightly pointed out that the ETP’s estimated investment target, two-thirds of which is to be derived from private investment sources, requires a 70 per cent increase in the country’s total annual investment average since 2005.

The Malaysian Insider said that the government’s Performance Management and Delivery Unit (Pemandu) has projected that a total investment of US$444 billion or RM1.4 trillion will be needed for 131 “transformative” projects to make the country a high-income nation by 2020 under the ETP. About 92 per cent of total investment is to be led by the private sector.

The Financial Times said such targets are possible only with sufficient aid from foreign sources and the slew of government mega infrastructure projects such as the multibillion ringgit Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) rail system planned for 2016.

UP41 rightly pointed out to me that the government's target is 6% real growth which means we need about 9% growth this year but with an inflation rate of 3%, how will they meet the KPI? CLICK here for more data.

At the end of the day, the government should tell us how the benefits of a shrinking capital account will trickle through to the rakyat, especially the unskilled workforce.

And they should five us the REAL PICTURE of inflation.

It is a question of dollars and sense for the nation, not just political reform but either way, the government does not seem to care.

Further reading:

Malaysian Ringgit Rises as Moody’s Warning on U.S. Hits Dollar

*Thanks to UP41 who gave me some guidance with regards to economic aspects of this topic. I am no expert but a concerned Malaysian writing from my heart.

6 comments to Inflation - The Real Picture

  1. says:

    UP41 some reading assets price inflation prices inflation.

    Should the gov publish Town/City CPI instead a very general CPI ?

    An average CPI which include rural area prices increase of Pahang ,Sabah, Sarawk ... has no meaning whatsoever to folks staying in the towns. CPI in KL or KK MAY exceed double digit. All we could do now is guessing .

  1. says:

    walla Let's see if this makes sense.

    If GNI captures income from assets overseas, that income must belong to local companies which have invested abroad.

    If that income is large which means the investment is profitable, why should they bring it back to boost the GNI?

    And again, if they bring it back, why and how should they share it with the three-quarters of the workforce who are unskilled and facing not only inflation but also a new regime of reduced subsidies while mired in static wage levels which are pegged to their productivity levels which have already reached limits for want of more skills or technologies or enterprise growth, a situation which would also make domestic investments using overseas-earned income unattractive?

    The very fact that people had put their money overseas in the first place seems to say there aren't that many more profitable ventures locally. Just count how few xport-oriented factories and other profit centres have come up in recent years against the rigmarole of retail outlets which basically are left-hand to right-hand merchants from a national viewpoint.

    The whole show thus seems to be one of trying to pull the curtains to cover capital flight by using its output overseas to window-dress the national balance sheet locally.

    There seems to be another blind-spot. In coming up with that figure of 6% per annum of real and consecutive growth for the coming years in order to reach 2020 targets, one wonders if they had incorporated the desubsidization effect.

    In the earlier years, the growth rates were bolstered by subsidies. In forthcoming years, the growth rates will be with reducing or negligible subsidies.

    This means in future years, all engines of enterprise must run at even higher inflation-adjusted productivity because things will be costing more with negative multiplier effects by the amount of subsidies removed.

    For argument's sake, take: and candidly assay whether from 2011 to 2020, we can grow without fail by 6% one year to the next in order to create a desubsidized trillion ringgit economy with USD444 Billion in productive investments as opposed to bricks and infrastructure investments.

    There are other challenges. Although we have a young cohort, they are earning meagre. At the same time a large segment of the population is also aging. We may add to that the civil service wage and the household health bills which are increasing rapidly, as well as the need to enlarge the social welfare net to depressurize income disparities.

    It follows government expenditure and thus national debts and future sovereign financing charges will increase dramatically while tax revenues cannot increase in proportion because forty percent of government revenues that had come from oil and gas will be reduced by rapidly depleting hydrocarbon deposits.

    The present situation is only ameliorated temporarily by the rise in oil prices. This however is only a transient reprieve because without more oil finds of significant commercial sizes, price rise is irrelevant for income but extremely relevant for expenditure when we become a full oil importer.

  1. says:

    walla 2/2

    While the speed at which the present government had grand-scaped the ETP's shows that they are not unaware of these challenges, one however wonders if they realize a dangerous lacuna has built up in the roll-out of the entire process.

    And that is this: they seem to be talking only to themselves on micromanaging economic numbers aggregated to macroeconomic dimensions.

    The historico-human dimension is missing.

    At the human dimension, we have seen too many real-life tote-ups by the family-man (and wife) on how a month's salary can disappear in no time. There are things beyond basic food and infant formula. Like insurance payments, education fees, mobile and petrol bills, and vehicle maintenance. Even eating out at simple stalls may loom as a luxury.

    But it is the historical dimension where a big chunk has not been accounted. Many of the present generations when younger were given a financial filip from their elders. Perhaps a few acres of rubber trees or a shoplot or a workshop or even a space in the wet market. These elders have moved on. Those assets are being used up, in many cases sold to pay for an overseas education, losing the certainty of a physical asset for the uncertainty of a commoditized skill asset in this turbulent global job market.

    The historical dimension is that many of the next generations will not be having on a per capita basis that level of legacy contribution to their start-up in life. And this has not been accounted for in the whole equation of how this nation can make progress to a higher income economy. Which explains why one-third of a month's wages can be sunk just to discharge monthly mortgage payments over an entire working lifetime in a dicey job market.

    The economy is trapped in some middle-income void where we can neither upscale with more value-adds because of lack of real skills as well as saddled with infertile ecosystem, nor downscale with more mass-volume production because our small domestic market cannot groom new start-ups and our production lines cannot beat other economies on cost and price.

    The plan focuses on services but a really great services sector in a globalized world must enshrine excellence which is born from meritocracy and diversity, neither explicated to reality by the present regime. And one would consider tourism to be just a bonus industry that is tapped because we are hospitable folks, not because it is our lifeline.

    There are many other issues which confront each and all of us today. These are just some. Hopefully there will be enough like-minded people who will put minds and hearts together to finesse a new pathway.

    Because the one being laid is like being laid.(cough)

  1. says:

    TO In UK the Bank Of England has kept the bank base rate at an all-time low of just 0.5% for a long long time... since March 2009. Really bad for savers inc. poor pensioners!
    Btw as they say, there are "Lies, damned lies, and statistics"!!!

  1. says:

    joshua wong Hi MWS,

    i think most people would agree that real inflation could not be 3%.
    malaysia GDP for 2010 is around RM765 billion. A debt of 407b represents 53% of its GDP. its 2011Q1 debt sits at RM430b. that's a large amt of debt owing by the govt. Economic and Financial Data for Malaysia
    Is this a healthy outlook for us?
    A good analysis of EPF's a/c, especially one of its assets under the heading 'Loans, Advances and Financing' :

  1. says:

    dannydyoh Malaysia economy very good wan. vote for BN
    Malaysia is very safe country in the world, better than Singapore, France or Britain. Very safe so vote for BN.
    Malaysian police vely poffessional wan, vote la BN.
    Malaysia PM vely hansome wan, vote for BN
    Malaysian judges vely fair wan. vote for BN
    MCA, MIC and others are very obedient wan (should join the Obedient Wife Club) to their master so vote la BN.
    The rakyat will always suffer wan but as long as the country is rich, that will be good enough.

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