Rising pressure on debt with recession risks

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PETALING JAYA: While the government’s current debt level is manageable, there is rising pressure for the debt load to surge in the wake of the looming recessionary risks in the United States and developed economies.

Exacerbated by the stronger global inflation, economists concurred that embarking on the right strategies are necessary to keep the debt level at bay in the medium to long term.

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The government has started the ball rolling by announcing the austerity drive, but more is needed, they said, noting that rising debt levels would impact the fiscal space and lead to higher debt service charges.

The federal government’s debt as at the end of June 2022 stands at RM1.045 trillion, or 63.8% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

AmBank Group chief economist Anthony Dass told StarBiz that while the government’s debt had fallen slightly to 63% of GDP in the first quarter (1Q22), from 63.4% in 4Q21, there is still pressure for the overall debt load to rise this year. This could happen if the fiscal deficit widens above 6%, he said.

The government is targeting the fiscal deficit to be in the range of 6% of GDP for the year, an improvement from 6.4% in 2021.

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Dass, who is also a member of the Economic Action Council Secretariat, said: “Even if Malaysia’s government debt burden rises, it is unlikely to exceed its debt-to-GDP ceiling of 65% in 2022. The debt burden threshold is benchmarked at a debt-to-GDP ratio of 70% and gross financing needs-to-GDP of 15%,” he noted.

AmBank Group chief economist Anthony Dass

Increasing debt level would lead to higher debt service charges, he said, noting that this would have a knock-on impact to retain the government’s capacity to allocate for other expenditures.

“What is crucial now is for the government to reaffirm its commitment to a concrete medium-term fiscal consolidation plan to bring its budget deficit down to pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels.

“There is a need to re-emphasise on the commitment to fiscal consolidation in the medium term as outlined in the 12th Malaysia Plan with a deficit target of 3.5% to GDP by 2025.

“The continuous provision of fiscal support in the medium term is projected to lead to a more gradual pace of fiscal consolidation, resulting in a more moderate decline in the debt-to-GDP ratio.

“However, the planned fiscal reforms, anchored by the introduction of the Fiscal Responsibility Act, adoption of Medium-Term Revenue Strategy and expenditure reviews, will accelerate the resumption of fiscal consolidation post-crisis,” Dass said.

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