Thursday, October 18, 2018

Investors brace for Malaysia tax on capital gains, consumers


17 October, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR — Malaysia is keeping investors guessing as to what new taxes will be unveiled in next year’s budget. For now, the market is bracing for the worst: capital gains and consumption taxes.

Levies on returns from capital investments may worsen stock declines. The benchmark equity index hasn’t recovered from last week’s steepest plunge in four months, after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced the tax plans.

A consumption levy may further constrain economic growth that had eased to the slowest pace in more than a year.

“Taxes will definitely be introduced especially on the rich and on consumption,” Mr Geoffrey Ng, a director of Fortress Capital Asset Management said by phone.

Capital gains tax is “definitely a widespread worry among investors,” as most markets in South-east Asia do not have such taxes, he said.

Investors haven’t fully priced in any form of taxes so volatility could increase in the market, Mr Ng said. Clarity may only come on Nov 2, when Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng is set to reveal his plan to shore up state revenue in the 2019 budget speech.

The South-east Asian nation is seeking new sources of income as it grapples with filling in the gap left by the replacement of a sweeping consumer tax with a more targeted levy.

The government is also saddled with debt and liabilities exceeding 1 trillion ringgit (S$337 billion), worsened by state guarantees on notes issued by troubled fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Slowing economic growth is limiting the country’s options. The central bank lowered its forecast this year to about 5 per cent, from 5.9 per cent in 2017, after expansion slowed to 4.5 per cent in the second quarter, which missed all economist estimates.

The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI Index rose 0.2 per cent on Wednesday (Oct 17), the smallest gain in South-east Asia, compared to 0.8 per cent rise in MSCI Asia Pacific Index. The gauge is down 3.1 per cent for the year amid US$2.4 billion (S$3.30 billion) in foreign outflows.

Thorough feasibility studies on a capital gains tax is necessary given the “massive impact” it may have on financial markets, Ms Cynthia Lum, a Kuala Lumpur-based fund manager at BNP Paribas Asset Management, said by email. “With increased government’s focus on digitisation, it will not be surprising to see new taxes introduced in the digital and e-commerce sectors,” she said.

Investors, who are also expecting levies on inheritance, may have some time to decide on what to do with their assets. The government may only introduce taxes on capital gains and bequests over the next few years if they’re found to be feasible, local newspaper The Star reported, citing unnamed sources.

A levy on capital gains “might make Malaysia less attractive and investors would then look for similar opportunities in other markets,” Mr Danny Wong, chief executive officer at Areca Capital, said by phone from Kuala Lumpur.


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