KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 8 — It is important to keep the interest rate as low as possible to lessen the debt burden of businesses and households, as well as to stimulate investment and consumption in the country, said Bursa Malaysia Bhd chairman Tan Sri Abdul Wahid Omar.

Although the move would have negative impact on banks’ net interest margin, the former Maybank president and chief executive officer (May 2008-2013) believes it is a small price to pay for banks to ensure their credit quality remained good during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“At the end of the day, when the interest rates are elevated, it will be impossible for households and businesses to carry the burden,” he said.

Citing an example of the low interest rate’s impact on a household with RM500,000 housing loan, Abdul Wahid said one per cent of interest rate reduction would lessen RM5,000 worth of interest rate per year, or RM400 per month for that particular household.

“That is how it makes the difference to each household,” he said at the PowerTalk Webinar themed “Moving Forward: Banking and Capital Market Trends” organised by the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) and Securities Industry Development Corporation (SIDC) here, today.

Abdul Wahid, who has experienced a wide range of business activities, organisations and challenges over 33 years, reiterated that the banking system and capital markets play a critical role at providing reliefs to existing borrowers and mobilise funds to finance the real economy.

“To me, low interest rate environment is good, and it is a necessity as we move forward until everything (economic) is recovered,” said the former group chairman of Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), one of the largest fund management companies in Malaysia.

Bank Negara Malaysia has made a cumulative 125 basis-point cut in the Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) thus far this year, bringing the interest rate to a record low of 1.75 per cent.

To keep businesses afloat and people employed during the pandemic, Abdul Wahid said it was crucial to keep factories open and manufacturing capacity available in order to be able to meet demand when economies reopen.

In retrospect, he said, during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, one of the biggest part of the strategy used back then was to keep manufacturing capacity available to ensure factories remained open.

“So when demand return, everything is in place and we shall see the rebound seen in 2009 and 2010 (when the economy rebounded to 7.4 in 2010 from -1.5 in 2009),” he said.

According to him, Bursa Malaysia projected Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) to contract by five per cent in 2020, and rebound above five per cent in 2021 with the reopening of economy and availability of Covid-19 vaccine next year.

“Our forecast for 2021 might not as bullish as some other forecast, nevertheless, it is a decent rebound for 2021,” he said. — Bernama