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Foreigners who loved Malaysia stocks are now an outflow risk


FOREIGNERS who helped Malaysia become one of Asia's most popular stock markets may start pulling their money out now that Mahathir Mohamad is officially the nation's Prime Minister.

Rising oil prices and earnings estimates have added to the allure of the nation's equities this year. Foreign funds have bought a net US$635 million of Malaysian stocks in 2018, with China and India the only other Asian emerging markets to see inflows. Uncertainty around the new government means that money could flow out as quickly as it flowed in, analysts said.

Foreigners are now "a potential source of downside risk for Malaysia," Credit Suisse Group AG strategists Sakthi Siva and Kin Nang Chik wrote in a note on Friday.

The country's stocks are "expensive" after receiving the most inflows in 2018 as a percentage of market capitalisation in the Asia-Pacific, they wrote.

Tushar Mohata, an analyst at Nomura Malaysia Sdn, forecasts that volatility will increase amid heightened political risk and the possibility that foreign inflows will reverse. He made his model portfolio more defensive and put his target of 1,920 for the KLCI Index under review after Dr Mahathir's historic election win.

Overseas investors had already started pulling money from Malaysian stocks in the runup to the election, selling a net US$303 million of the equities this month through May 8. That followed inflows of US$387 million in April.

The popularity of Malaysia's ringgit sovereign bonds with foreigners may also exacerbate declines when the country's onshore markets reopen on Monday.

Overseas investors owned around 29 per cent of the notes at the end of 2017, second only to Indonesia among six markets surveyed by the Asian Development Bank.

Increased fiscal risks and "high foreign positioning" are likely to weigh on Malaysian debt, said Vivek Rajpal, a rates strategist at Nomura Holdings Inc in Singapore. BLOOMBERG

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