S'pore firms, residents take advantage of falling ringgit

Companies, property owners paying off assets faster with lower forex rate

Published on Feb 17, 2014

By Mok Fei Fei

Sípore shoppers, Malaysians working here find money goes further

SHOPPERS, property buyers and companies here with dealings over the Causeway are all counting the gains from the record lows plumbed by Malaysia's ringgit against the Singapore dollar.

For instance, property buyers are looking to pay down ringgit denominated loans faster to capitalise on the exchange rate.

And shoppers, already attracted by the bargains in Johor Baru, are finding their Singdollars going even further now.

The Malaysian currency fell to an all-time low of RM2.6287 against the Singdollar last Monday, following previous record nadirs earlier this month.

Last Friday, it was hovering around 2.6234.

The Singdollar, seen as a regional safe haven currency, has withstood the fallout better as capital flowed from emerging to developed markets, because of the nation's strong current account.

Westpac Banking currency strategist Jonathan Cavenagh said: "The current account surplus is trimming down in Malaysia, while Singapore's is fairly resilient, so it leaves the ringgit more vulnerable to the tapering theme."

Businesses and property owners are taking advantage of the cheaper ringgit to pay for their assets in Malaysia.

Logistics Holdings chief executive Phua Lam Soon, whose construction company is building a

$5 million pre-cast plant in Johor's Iskandar region, said: "Definitely, when we buy the machines and raw materials in Malaysia, it is less costly."

Sri Maju Tours and Travels manager Susan Ng said her company also finds it cheaper to pay its Malaysian bus drivers when its Singapore earnings are converted to ringgit.

Property agent Germaine Ng, 41, observes that many clients who bought real estate in Malaysia are making plans to pay off the mortgage and lower the loan quantum with the stronger Singdollar.

There is also more interest in the rental market in Iskandar, with a semi-detached unit going for an average monthly rental of RM5,000, or about $1,900 at current forex rates.

The same rental fee can get you a three-room Housing Board flat in estates like Bukit Panjang, Woodlands and Yishun, based on HDB's median subletting rents for the fourth quarter last year.

"We are linked by a little bridge, and the price difference is so big, plus with the favourable exchange rate, it is another push factor to entice Singaporeans to rent or buy in Iskandar," said Ms Ng.

But retiree Tan Kok Bin, 57, who bought a cluster home in Iskandar for $250,000 last year, said the foreign exchange rate is not a compelling reason for property investors in Malaysia.

"The main consideration is not the ringgit, which could fall further or go up.

"When people buy a property in Iskandar, it is more as an investment for the expected capital gains, not so much for the currency gains," Mr Tan said.

Singaporeans who regularly shop in Johor are taking advantage of the foreign exchange differential to top up their purchases.

Homemaker Rina Zaid, 67, drives up north to supermarkets and shopping centres like Sutera Mall once every two weeks.

She spends about RM250 per trip on groceries such as cooking oil, frozen food and other household items.

Instead of paying about $98 based on the exchange rate of about 2.55 at the end of last year, Madam Rina would now pay about $96 based on the rate of 2.61 offered over the counter at moneychangers.

"It is so much cheaper with the exchange rate. For $100, I can buy more and have a shopping cart full of things there. You wouldn't be able to do that here," she said.

Cheap clothing is a draw for housewife Salmah Kassim, 48, who saves about $2 to $3 per bill with the lower rate when she shops in Johor once a month, adding that food and petrol are especially cheap.

Teacher Shuhada Sufri, 46, finds the RM102 milk powder that she buys for her three-year-old daughter now costs about $39, about a dollar cheaper than at the previous exchange rate.

"It costs $70 to buy that same powder in Singapore. I live in Yishun, so it is not so far for me to drive to Johor," she said.

Malaysians working here have also found the weaker ringgit working in their favour.

Translator May Tay said the lower rate would make it less costly to buy a camera she has been eyeing for a while in Malaysia.

The 31-year-old also has to set aside fewer Singdollars from her pay for the RM2,000 quarterly insurance premium that she pays.

But technician Kyle Ang, 31, who lives in Johor Baru and rides a motorcycle to work in Singapore daily, said the cost of living has risen in Malaysia, counteracting the positive currency translation effect.

The exchange rate also means 28-year-old sales coordinator Jess Ng is able to remit more money to her parents in Malaysia, and she is planning to convert more Singdollars to ringgit.

She sets aside $1,500 for the remittance every few months, which could amount to around RM3,915 now - better than the RM3,600 garnered at an exchange rate of about 2.4 when she started working here in 2011.

But Ms Ng said: "I worry about the future of the Malaysian economy. It is not a good thing for the currency to keep dropping."

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