International investors can nonetheless bet against the currency offshore, settling the bets in dollars rather than ringgit. These “non-deliverable forward” contracts (NDFs) allow foreign investors, who own over a third of Malaysia’s government bonds, to hedge their exposure to the currency. But the NDF market can also be turned to speculative ends. And this speculation, Mr Muhammad believes, is contaminating the onshore markets as well.
If the offshore side-bets all point in one, bearish, direction, the onshore markets tend to follow their lead. And foreign banks that take the other, bullish, side of these offshore trades might try to hedge by selling ringgit in the onshore market. A 2013 study of nine NDF markets by the Bank for International Settlements found that the offshore and onshore markets both influenced each other, except in Malaysia, where onshore followed off.
Malaysia’s central bank has instructed onshore institutions not to take part in the NDF market or help others to do so. Foreign banks with operations in Malaysia seem to be deferring to the central bank’s wishes, notes Stephen Innes of Oanda, a foreign-exchange broker, to preserve their good name in Malaysia. “They are not aggressively selling the ringgit right now.”
But one reason the offshore market is so spiky is because trading is thin. That illiquidity may worsen if banks retreat. And if foreign investors cannot easily hedge their exposure to the ringgit, they will be less willing to buy ringgit assets. That might leave Malaysia with a weaker currency over the long term even if it is more stable from day to day. “No one from the banks is willing to discuss the ramifications,” Mr Innes says. “I find that quite unique.” Others may find it worrying. Silencing the markets is not the same as calming them.
This article is for general information purposes only. It is not investment advice or a solution to buy or sell securities. Opinions are the authors; not necessarily that of OANDA Corporation or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries, officers or directors. Leveraged trading is high risk and not suitable for all. You could lose all of your deposited funds.