Strategies to Safeguard Your Wealth Amidst Ringgit Fluctuations

26 April 2024

Understanding currency trends is pivotal in managing and preserving wealth, particularly in the context of the Malaysian Ringgit's volatility. The fluctuating Ringgit directly impacts investment returns and purchasing power, making strategic diversification and other protective measures essential for mitigating these effects. This guide delves into the dynamics of global currency trends, historical insights, and proactive strategies to help investors safeguard their investments against currency risk.

The Global Currency Dynamics and the Ringgit

The Malaysian Ringgit's performance is tightly interwoven with global economic forces and domestic economic health. Changes in U.S. Federal Reserve policies, particularly with regard to interest rates, significantly affect the stability of emerging market currencies like the Ringgit. When the U.S. raises its interest rates, it can lead to capital outflows from emerging markets as investors seek higher returns in the U.S., thus increasing the value of the dollar and putting pressure on other currencies. Conversely, if U.S. rates are lower, emerging markets might experience capital inflows, which can strengthen their currencies.

Domestically, factors such as Malaysia’s GDP growth, export performance, and political stability are crucial. A robust GDP growth and strong export performance can bolster the Ringgit by improving the country's trade balance and increasing foreign currency inflows. However, political instability can have the opposite effect by undermining investor confidence and prompting capital flight, which weakens the currency.

Understanding these dynamics is key for investors looking to protect their investments from currency volatility. By keeping a close eye on these global and local indicators, investors can better anticipate potential market movements and position their portfolios to both minimize potential losses and seize emerging opportunities. This strategic positioning involves diversification across different asset classes and currencies, which can help manage the risks associated with the fluctuating Ringgit and capitalize on potential gains from other investments not directly tied to the local currency's performance.

Asian Financial Crisis and US Dollar Currency Peg (1997-2005)

Initially, the Ringgit was a free-floating currency, trading around 2.50 to the US dollar before the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997. However, the crisis led to significant capital flight, and by the end of 1997, the Ringgit had fallen to under 3.80 MYR/USD. In response to this volatility, the Central Bank of Malaysia pegged the Ringgit to the US dollar at 3.80 MYR/USD in September 1998, and imposed controls to make the Ringgit non-tradeable outside Malaysia. These measures included the demonetization of RM500 and RM1,000 notes to curb money laundering and capital flight.

Post-US Dollar Currency Peg Performance (2005-Present)

The peg was removed in July 2005, moving to a managed float system that allowed the Ringgit to gradually appreciate. Following the removal, the Ringgit strengthened to around 3.16 MYR/USD by April 2008. However, political uncertainties and external economic factors, such as falling crude oil prices and global economic downturns, led to fluctuating Ringgit values over subsequent years. Significant political and economic events, like the 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal and the 2016 US presidential elections, further influenced the Ringgit's depreciation. 

Most recently, on February 20, the Malaysian Ringgit fell to its lowest level since the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s albeit under very different circumstances. Since late 2021, the Ringgit has seen a significant drop of close to 14%, attributed in part to weak export performance and the pressure of rising US interest rates. This continual decline has raised serious concerns about Malaysia's economic stability and has had tangible effects on those living in the country. 

Proactive Measures for Shielding Your Investments

To safeguard wealth against the backdrop of Ringgit depreciation, investors are encouraged to adopt a blend of both traditional and modern strategies. These approaches enable individuals to navigate currency risks effectively, leveraging opportunities to enhance financial security and ensure sustainable growth in a volatile economic landscape. By diversifying investments and utilizing innovative financial instruments, investors can protect their assets from adverse currency movements and position their portfolios for long-term success.

1. Invest in US Treasury Bonds via StashAway’s USD Cash Yield Portfolio

For Malaysians looking for secure investment opportunities in foreign currencies, StashAway’s USD Cash Yield Portfolio provides a valuable alternative. This platform enables investment in short-term US Treasury bonds, which are known for their safety and liquidity, with a projected yield of 5.3% per annum

Malaysians can earn returns in US dollars, leveraging the stability of the world’s primary reserve currency and the backing of the US government. This investment option is particularly appealing due to its low risk and the predictable income stream it offers, making it a solid choice for preserving capital value in a volatile economic environment.

2. Diversify with Multi-Currency Accounts

In response to Ringgit fluctuations, diversifying your savings into stronger currencies can be an effective safeguard. Many Malaysian banks now offer multi-currency accounts that allow individuals to hold and manage multiple currencies. This capability not only provides a hedge against the depreciation of the Ringgit but also facilitates more straightforward international transactions for both investments and travel. For example, converting part of your savings into currencies like the US dollar or Euro can protect against local currency volatility and grant access to global financial markets. Let’s look at some of the multi-currency accounts in Malaysia:

InstitutionCurrencies OfferedAnnual FeesTransaction ChargesMinimum Deposit
Wise50+NoneCurrency conversion feeNo minimum deposit
RHBJPY, GBP, SGD, AUD, NZD, EUR, USD, CHF, HKD, CAD, SAR, ZAR, THBNone1%USD 200 or equivalent
Hong Leong BankUSD, CAD, AUD, GBP, CNH, EUR, HKD, JPY, NZD, SGDRM60RM10Currency equivalent of USD 1,000
Public Bank BerhadUSD, GBP, AUD, EUR, HKD, NZD, SGD, JPY, CNY, CHF, THB, CADRM30Currency equivalent of USD 1USD 1,000 or equivalent
MaybankAUD, JPY, GBP, USD, HKD, NZD, CAD, DKK, SEK, CHF, EUR, SGD, AED, QAR, THB, CNYNoneUSD 4USD 1,000 or equivalent
CIMBUSD, AUD, EUR, GBP, JPYRM12.50-.70%USD 1,000 or equivalent
HSBCUSD, GBP, AUD, SGD, EUR, YEN, BND, CAD, CHF, NZD, HKD and CNYFall below fee may apply if you hold a balance under RM20,000 Approx. USD 4 or currency equivalentUSD 1,000 or equivalent

3. Invest in Gold

Gold remains one of the most reliable safe-haven assets, historically preserving its value through various economic downturns. By allocating a portion of your portfolio to gold, you can protect your wealth from the weakening Ringgit. Gold acts as an effective hedge against both inflation and currency depreciation. Its intrinsic value and global acceptance make it a preferred choice for investors seeking stability in uncertain times. You can read up our comprehensive guide on how to invest in gold in Malaysia, or alternatively, here’s a quick overview:

Investment TypeDescriptionKey providers and Options
Gold Bars & CoinsIdeal for investors seeking tangible assets. Gold bars offer lower premiums while coins provide flexibility in liquidation.Public Gold, Maybank (Kijang Emas Gold Bullion Coins), Silverbullion, various jewelry stores
Gold-related CountersStocks in gold miners and jewelers, offering exposure to gold without physical handlingPoh Kong Holdings, Tomei Consolidated, Bahvest Resources
Gold ETFsETFs track the price of gold, suitable for investors seeking exposure to gold price movements without storing physical gold.TradePlus Shariah Gold Tracker, SPDR Gold MiniShares Trust, abrdn Standard Physical Gold Shares, VanEck Merk Gold Trust, Stashaway Flexible Portfolio
Gold Investment Accounts (GIA)Digital accounts for buying and managing gold investments online. Convenient for investors looking to trade gold frequently.Maybank Gold Investment Account, Public Bank Gold/eGold Investment Account, KFH Gold Account-i, CIMB e-Gold Investment Account, UOB Gold Account

4. Explore International Stocks

Expanding your investment portfolio to international markets exposes you to more robust economic environments and potentially stronger currencies. Investment platforms now make it easier for Malaysian investors to access foreign equity markets, such as the U.S., home to many of the world's largest and most innovative companies. This diversification offers growth opportunities that are less impacted by local economic and currency risks.

For those who find stock picking a hassle, focusing on the three main indices—the S&P 500, NASDAQ Composite, and Dow Jones Industrial Average—provides a simpler way to gain broad market exposure. These indices represent a wide range of sectors and are considered benchmarks for overall market performance in the U.S.:

  • S&P 500: Includes 500 of the largest U.S. companies and covers multiple sectors, reflecting the overall U.S. equity market.
  • NASDAQ Composite: Known for its large proportion of tech companies, this index offers exposure to the technology sector and broader market.
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average: Consists of thirty significant companies, representing blue-chip stocks with substantial market influence.

Investing in these indices can mitigate the complexities of individual stock selection, providing a diversified entry into the lucrative U.S. stock market. You can easily create portfolios for these main indices by leveraging Stashaway's Flexible Portfolio

5. Focus on Export-Driven Malaysian Stocks

For investors cautious about direct foreign investment, targeting Malaysian companies that benefit from a weaker Ringgit could be strategic. Export-driven companies, which earn revenue in foreign currencies like USD, often see their profitability increase when the Ringgit depreciates, as their overseas earnings translate into more local currency. Investing in these companies can provide a natural hedge against Ringgit fluctuations and support portfolio growth even during periods of local currency weakness. Here's a look at some sectors and companies that might benefit from a strong USD (please do your own due diligence before investing):

CompanySectorImpact from High US Dollar
Press Metal Aluminum Holdings BhdAluminum ManufacturingEarnings indexed to LME aluminum prices quoted in USD; exposed to foreign currency exchange risks.
Guan Chong BhdCocoa ManufacturingDeals primarily in USD and pound; significant impact on reporting profit from USD fluctuations.
Inari Amertron BhdSemiconductorSales and purchases mainly in USD; maintains US dollar accounts to hedge against FX fluctuations
Malaysian Pacific Industries BhdElectronicsTrades primarily in USD despite being more exposed to the Asia market.
Velesto Energy BhdOil & GasMajority of transactions in USD; natural hedge with USD-denominated revenue against USD-denominated liabilities.
MISC BhdShippingRevenue mostly in USD from global energy majors and national oil companies.
Dagang NeXchange BhdTechnology & Oil & GasSignificant USD revenue expected, particularly from Oil & Gas and semiconductor operations.
Ta Ann Holdings BhdForestryUses USD for international sales and purchases; benefits from USD appreciation.
Power Root BhdBeverageExports to various countries, dealing in USD; benefits from USD appreciation.
Jaya Tiasa Holdings BhdForestryRevenue from timber sales, which are export-oriented and priced in USD.

Crafting a Ringgit Resilience Strategy

Creating a resilience strategy to safeguard investments against currency fluctuations involves a comprehensive approach, considering both the potential risks and the strategic opportunities that may arise from future changes in currency values. Here’s how to develop such a strategy:

Incorporating USD Assets into Investment Portfolios

One effective strategy is to include assets denominated in U.S. dollars (USD) within your investment portfolio. The USD has historically maintained its strength and stability compared to other global currencies, making it a safe haven during times of economic uncertainty. By holding USD assets, investors can potentially shield their portfolios from significant losses that may result from currency devaluation in their home country. This might include USD-denominated bonds, stocks listed on U.S. exchanges, or USD money market funds.

Analyzing Investment Timelines and Risk Tolerance

It’s crucial to align your investment decisions with your timelines and risk tolerance. This alignment will dictate how you should structure your portfolio:

  • Short-term Investments: For investments with a shorter horizon, prioritizing liquidity and stability is key. This might mean holding a greater proportion of cash or cash equivalents, short-term bonds, or other less volatile assets. These investments are less likely to suffer large losses due to currency fluctuations, ensuring that funds are available when needed.
  • Long-term Investments: For longer-term goals, investors can afford to look at assets with potentially higher returns, such as real estate or equities. These investments may experience short-term volatility, including that caused by currency fluctuations, but they generally offer higher returns over the long run. Real estate, for instance, can benefit from currency depreciation if rental incomes or property values are pegged to a stronger currency. Similarly, equities in well-managed companies can grow significantly over time, potentially offsetting any negative impact from weaker home currency.

Considerations for Effective Strategy

When building a resilience strategy, consider these additional factors:

  • Diversification: Beyond just including USD assets, diversifying across various asset classes and geographies can help manage risk. This reduces the portfolio’s vulnerability to any single economic event or currency fluctuation.
  • Regular Reviews and Adjustments: The effectiveness of an investment strategy can change over time due to evolving market conditions and personal circumstances. Regularly reviewing and adjusting your portfolio in response to changes in the currency markets and your financial goals is crucial.

By thoughtfully incorporating these elements into your investment strategy, you can create a robust plan that not only withstands future currency fluctuations but also positions you for growth in a changing economic landscape.

Navigating the fluctuations of the Malaysian Ringgit requires a well-thought-out strategy that considers both global and domestic economic factors. The Ringgit's value is influenced by international monetary policies, particularly those of the U.S. Federal Reserve, as well as Malaysia's own economic health, including GDP growth, export performance, and political stability. By understanding these dynamics and incorporating lessons from historical currency trends, investors can better protect their assets. Strategic diversification, such as including USD assets or investing in export-driven Malaysian stocks, can help mitigate risks associated with the Ringgit's volatility and preserve the value of investments amidst changing economic conditions.

Share this

  • linkedin
  • facebook
  • twitter
  • email

Want more?

We thought you might.

Join the hundreds of thousands of people who are taking control of their personal finances and investments with tips and market insights delivered straight to their inboxes.