Investors show trust in Malaysia

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ECONOMIC REALITY: Their sentiment is not marred by the negative image painted by the opposition

WHEN it comes to choosing where to invest our money in, trust and confidence are but two of the primary considerations.

So, when fund managers managing RM13 trillion worth of assets came for the annual Invest Malaysia gathering two weeks ago, it says a lot about Malaysia's continued presence on both home and foreign investors' radars. Participants at the forum said it was easily the largest ever gathering of fund and asset managers at the annual event.

On any other day, the number of attendees would not be as surprising. Malaysia has always been at the top of the list of regional destinations favoured by investors. The nation has enjoyed stability, has a progressive legislation in as far as investment is concerned and has remained largely predictable and consistent in regulatory frameworks it has designed for the investment market. But the annual event two weeks ago wasn't just any other day.

Malaysia had just undergone what many described as one of the most bruising general elections in its history. The ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, headed by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, was attacked viciously on all fronts in the months leading to the polling day.

His political opponents stopped at nothing to discredit everything his government had done for Malaysia. And, this time, and especially with the advent of the Internet, the political smearing of Malaysia took on an even wider spectrum, in that the perception battle was not fought entirely in Malaysia.

Najib's political opponents travelled the world to paint an ugly picture of his administration. If one were to go by what the opposition bandied across the globe in the months leading to the election, one would think that Malaysia under Najib's administration was a nation of thieves, murderers, cheats and corrupts. In short, a generally lawless place quite like the old American west, where the strong prevails at the expense of the weak. Even the law enforcers, it seems, should not be trusted in Malaysia, going by the tone of the opposition's political campaign. But, that's politics, almost always a battlefield of perception more than anything else.

For the fund managers who were in the city two weeks ago, however, perception was the last thing on their minds. They came because they wanted to see with their own eyes and listen with their own ears whether Malaysia, despite all the political mud-slinging, still has its shine as a place where they can put their money in.

One noticeable difference this time around was that almost all the fund management outfits were represented by their topmost senior officials.

Word has it that they had a closed-door session with Najib, where he assured them that his administration would continue to fine-tune Malaysia's economy to preserve its viability, both as a portfolio and (foreign) direct investment destination.

A fund manager said he was not disappointed, adding that the strength of the Malaysian economy was real and that investor sentiment was least affected by the heated political campaign.

On May 6, the first trading day after the 13th General Election, total trade on Bursa Malaysia was about RM5 billion, the highest in more than a decade.

The benchmark FTSE Bursa Malaysia index jumped 29 times since last year and on a net basis, interest from foreign portfolio investors played a major role in the stock market's spike in buying activities.

Some would say, however, that investor sentiment on stocks alone is no indicator of the strength of the economy. That's besides the point.

The fact that they are willing to come and listen to Malaysia's story is testimony of their trust in the country's strength. They wouldn't have come otherwise.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak speaking at Invest Malaysia 2013. The forum is easily the largest-ever gathering of fund and asset managers.


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