On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Silver lining on ringgit speculation

He was told he had to pay RM2.60  for a US dollar and RM1.78 for a Singapore dollar. If he were to buy a lot  of greenbacks, it could come up to a  big sum.

That's the immediate impact of a  weaker ringgit against the US dollar.  It also means that Teh, who is going  overseas, will have to pay more for his  shopping.

Teh, a stock market punter, has also  felt another pinch  the prices of  shares have plunged.

The high interest rates to prop up  the currency is no good for the stock  market, he was told by his remisier.

For the average Malaysian, that is  the immediate impact of the attacks  against the Malaysian ringgit, which  has been headline news over the last  two weeks.

Finger-pointing, with names openly  mentioned, has been made against US based fund managers dabbling in foreign exchange as central banks struggle to defend flagging currencies.

The worst hit has been the Thai baht  and the Phillipine peso. Indonesia's  rupiah has also been hit by regional  spillover sentiment.

Unlike in Thailand, the impact of  the ringgit speculation is still negligible on Malaysian consumers unless  the lower ringgit persists for a longer  period.

Should that happen, according to  economists, it would cost importers  more to bring in their goods and the  cost will be passed on to consumers.

In Thailand, motorists found they  had to pay more for their petrol as  foreign oil companies such as Caltex,  Shell and Esso raised their retail  prices. In the Philippines, consumers  had to pay more for wheat.

Angry with rumours that its economy could collapse, Thai police raided  the offices of two large foreign brokerage firms in Bangkok last week,  saying they wanted to investigate  whether these firms were responsible  for talks that five banks would be shut  down.

In Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian  ringgit dropped to a 33-month low at  RM2.57 against the US dollar earlier  last Tuesday, before recovering to  RM2.55. On Friday morning, it opened  at RM2.58.

But, as in everything, there's a silver lining. A lower ringgit will make  our local goods more competitive. It  will also make Malaysia a more attractive place to visit.

Moreover, the ringgit is still one of  the most stable currencies around.

On Friday, the Asian Wall Street  Journal quoted economists as saying  that the ringgit was not overvalued  and was not expected to weaken significantly from current levels.

These speculators, who are said to  make billions from such attacks, cannot be trading on the dollar-ringgit indefinitely.

There will come a time when they  will move on and start selling.

For the average Ahmad, Ah Beng  and Arumugam, they do not understand why TV and newspaper reports  about the ringgit speculations use so  much of economic jargon.

It does not help when ministers,  bankers and the media fail to explain,  in simple terms, how such speculations affect their daily lives.

For Teh, his family members have  advised him to postpone his trips.  They told him to check how many US  dollars he has left in his bank safe deposit box.

His daughter, who is no economics  expert but who understands the basics of making money, told him: “Sell  your leftover US dollars from your  last trip … make some money-lah.''