September was not a pretty month for Malaysian exports.

Exports for the month fell 6.8% from a year ago. When seasonally-adjusted, it still dropped 3.6% month-on-month. The decline was definitely caused by lower export volume, which points towards weaker global demand. But we know this already: trade war is bad for Malaysia. Once it gets bad enough, no trade diversion will be good enough to fight off reduction in global trade volume.

But what is more interesting to me is the import data and by proxy, domestic demand. September imports rose 2.4% year-on-year. Seasonally-adjusted imports were also marginally up. Imports are a proxy of domestic demand and import growth suggests a growing domestic demand. This is a good news.

There had been concerns over the health of domestic demand recently. Why? Because imports had been falling badly starting from June until August, while seasonally-adjusted figures had been giving mixed signals. From here alone, it was difficult to decide whether the June-August import decline was due to weakened domestic demand or just due to high base effect created by tax-free period. As a backgrounder, the GST was zerorized beginning June 1 and was finally replaced by the SST on September 1.

The September 2019 numbers have now given us the answer: it was largely due to the tax-free period and the high base effect it created.

If the June-August import decline was truly largely about weakened domestic demand, that decline would have persisted into September. But it did not. In fact, there was a significant break: capital, intermediate and consumption imports all had big jumps in September. This is typical of base effect that riddles year-on-year calculation every time there are big changes.

Imports are not the only proxy to domestic demand of course. Inflation is doing just fine.

2 Responses to “[2896] September import figures settled some questions about the health of domestic demand”

  1. on 05 Nov 2019 at 13:44 Richard Teo

    Are you sure it is October and not September

  2. on 05 Nov 2019 at 14:30 Hafiz Noor Shams

    Ya. I’ve corrected it

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