Topic: ETFs

Malaysian stocks primed for future growth

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Malaysia has an steady track record of economic growth and ranks as one of the most competitive nations among the emerging markets. Its stock market performance remains weak. However, greater political certainty following the the country’s 2018 election should help drive stock market growth. The ongoing reform of state-owned companies and large infrastructure projects will also help fuel gains.

Here is an ETF that provides exposure to the top Malaysian publicly traded companies.

ISHARES MSCI MALAYSIA ETF $29.99 (New York symbol EWM; TSI Network ETF Rating: Aggressive; Market cap: $454.4 million) invests in publicly listed Malaysian companies. Financial companies account for 35.8% of its assets, while Consumer Non-Cyclicals (13.6%), Utilities (11.1%), Industrials (9.8%), Telecommunication Services (9.4%), Health care (5.7%) and Basic Materials (5.4%) are other key segments.

The ETF holds a portfolio of 44 stocks; the top 10 make up 54.3% of its assets. Those top holdings include Public Bank Bhd. (financial services; 14.7%), Tenaga Nasional (utilities, 8.9%), Malayan Banking Berhad (financial services, 7.1%), CIMB Group Holdings (financial services, 5.2%), Petronas Chemicals Group (energy, 4.2%), (telecommunications; 3.2%), Genting Bhd (consumer cyclical, 3.0%) and Axiata Group (communication, 2.8%).

The top five holdings include three banks with a combined weight of 27%. This adds risk, particularly if that segment of financial services suffers a fallout similar to what happened in 1997-98 and 2008-09. However, financial stocks are generally less volatile than other sectors.

The ETF started up in March 1996 and charges an MER of 0.47%. It offers steady liquidity with an average of $25.5 million in units trading daily.

The fund has a p/e of 17.1 based on the forward earnings of the stocks it holds. It pays a dividend twice a year, which for the past 12 months resulted in a $1.03 payment and a yield of 3.4%.

The ETF lost 2.7% over the past year compared with a 0.8% gain for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. Over the past 5 years, it lost 22.3% compared to a gain of 9.3%.

Starting in the late 18th century, Great Britain established colonies and protectorates in the area of present-day Malaysia. In 1948 and with the exception of Singapore, British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula formed the Federation of Malaya. It became independent in 1957, although the first several years of the country’s independence were marred by a communist insurgency as well as border confrontations with Indonesia and the Philippines.

Since then, and for over 60 years, the United Malays National Organisation ruled uninterrupted until its 2018 election defeat. Former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and a newly formed coalition of opposition parties defeated prime minister Mohamed Najib.

Malaysia covers a land area roughly the size of Germany. The country consists of Peninsular Malaysia, which is part of mainland Southeast Asia, plus the states of Sabah and Sarawak (East Malaysia) on the northern edges of the island of Borneo. Natural resources include tin, petroleum, timber, copper, iron ore and natural gas.

The population is roughly 31.8 million, with a workforce of 15 million and a low unemployment rate of 3.4%. The official language is Bahasa Malay, while English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and several Indian languages are widely spoken.

Since independence, the country has successfully diversified its economy from largely agricultural and commodity-based to one that includes manufacturing and services. Malaysia is now a leading exporter of electrical appliances, electronic parts, and components.

The country is considered an upper middle-income country; it is also attempting to achieve high-income status by 2020 and to increase its value-added production by attracting investments in high-level technology, knowledge-based industries and services.

The country has a gross domestic product (GDP) of $312 billion. That places it on par with countries such as Chile, Denmark, Ireland, Philippines and Israel. GDP growth has averaged 5.1% per year since the 2008 financial crisis. The country’s economy is forecast to grow around 4.6% for the next few years as slower export growth offsets higher domestic demand. As a major export nation, a key risk is weakness in the economies of the country’s main trading partners such as the U.K. and Europe. Trading policy uncertainty—as highlighted by the U.S.-China trade dispute—could further hurt confidence in the region’s economies.

Domestic demand accounts for 53% of Malaysia’s GDP. Nevertheless, exports—particularly of electronics, oil and gas, and palm oil— remain a significant driver of growth. In 2017, exports of goods and services were equivalent to 71% of GDP.

Malaysia has embarked on a fiscal reform program aimed at achieving a balanced budget by 2020. This will include the reduction of public subsidies and the 2015 introduction of a 6% value-added tax. However, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has shown signs of moving away from his earlier budget-cutting stance to revive large state projects and seek foreign investments. For example, Malaysia recently announced a new deal with China to resume the East Coast Rail Link at a lower cost and revive the $34 billion property and transport hub of Bandar Malaysia.

The Malaysian ringgit is a free-floating currency, but has experienced episodes of severe volatility in the past. During the Asian financial crisis in 1997-1998, the currency declined by more than 50% against the U.S. dollar in less than 12 months. This resulted in strict capital controls being introduced by the government and the pegging of the currency to the U.S. dollar. This lasted until 2005.

Government debt is somewhat high at 51.2% of GDP, but the primary global credit agencies rate the country’s debt as investment grade. The inflation rate is low and stable, and measured just 2.0% in 2018. That helps support the country’s low interest rates. The central bank policy rate is currently just 3.0% while 10-year government bonds have a yield of 3.8%.

For aggressive investors who want exposure to Malaysian companies, the iShares MSCI Malaysia ETF is a buy.


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