Highlights:

  1. Putrajaya plans to lower cost of living
  2. Malaysia posts biggest gain in Nielsen’s Consumer Confidence Survey
  3. Sabah & Labuan’s bank employees to get 10-12 per cent salary hikes
  4. Ikea to open first outlet in Penang next month
  5. China and US make ‘progress’ in Beijing, trade war talks to continue in Washington next week
  6. Singapore’s lowest GDP growth in 2 years comes with manufacturing warning

Putrajaya plans to lower cost of living
The Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry (KPDNHEP) is considering adding a few more crucial items to the list of controlled goods in order to lower the cost of living. Minister Datuk Seri Saifuddin Nasution Ismail did not reveal which items will eventually end up on the controlled list but said there are plans to increase the frequency of sales of consumer goods and fresh produce with discounted prices, and expand them nationwide. “There are several groups helping the ministry in identifying items that should be included in the controlled list as they are popular items, often used by the people,” said Datuk Seri Saifuddin.

Malaysia posts biggest gain in Nielsen’s Consumer Confidence Survey
Malaysia has posted the biggest year-on-year gain in Nielsen’s consumer confidence survey in 64 countries. The 24-point gain for an index score of 118 points in the fourth quarter of 2018 puts it seventh in the Conference Board Global Consumer Confidence Survey, highlighting Malaysians’ optimism on the country’s economic outlook. Nielsen said while there was a nine-point decrease from the previous quarter, the country has still posted the biggest year-on-year gain among the 64 countries measured in the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI). “This is the fourth consecutive quarter that Malaysia’s CCI score has been above the 100 mark, highlighting Malaysians’ optimism on the country’s economic outlook in 2018. “While we experienced an all-time high in confidence in the third quarter of the year, consumers are starting to have a more realistic view of the economy and state of their finances, particularly as the excitement following a historic election tapers off and life under the current government becomes the new normal,” Nielsen Malaysia consumer insights executive director Anil Antony said in a statement. The CCI is driven by three indicators, which are consumers’ perception on local job prospects, personal finances and intentions/readiness to spend. The survey measures perceptions of local job prospects, personal finances and immediate spending intentions among more than 32,000 respondents with Internet access in 64 countries. Consumer confidence levels above and below a baseline of 100 indicate degrees of optimism and pessimism. Meanwhile, the survey showed that the economy continues to rank as the top concern among Malaysians (37 per cent), followed by job security (19 per cent), debt (18 per cent) and work-life balance (18 per cent). Two in three consumers still believe that Malaysia is in a recession (69 per cent). Of this, only 44 per cent are optimistic that the economy will recover in the next 12 months.

Sabah & Labuan’s bank employees to get 10-12 per cent salary hikes
Close to 1,300 employees employed by 14 banks in Sabah and Labuan will benefit from the Sabah Commercial Bank’s Association (SCBA) and Sabah Banking Employees’ Union’s (SBEU) 15th Collective Agreement (CA) which was signed today. Human Resources Minister M Kula Segaran said under the CA, effective from 2018 to 2020, bank employees in the clerical and non-clerical categories, among others, would receive 10-12 per cent salary adjustments, as well as enhancement in current benefits and allowance besides a number of new benefits.

Ikea to open first outlet in northern Peninsula on March 14
Swedish furniture brand Ikea will open its first outlet in the northern region of Peninsular Malaysia in Batu Kawan, Penang, on March 14. Ikea Malaysia store manager Arumugam Pathmalingam said the new outlet, the brand’s fourth in the country, spans over about 43,600 square metres of retail space and feature over 8,000 products. “The store will also have 49 showrooms, market, restaurants and a bakery.

China and US make ‘progress’ in Beijing but trade war talks to continue in Washington next week
China and the United States have agreed to continue talks in Washington next week after two days of negotiations in Beijing produced “progress” but not enough to seal a deal to end the trade war. “Talks will continue next week among the same group of people, but at a different place,” a source, who declined to be identified, told the South China Morning Post. “The last two days in Beijing made progress but not enough to seal a final deal.” The source added that the Chinese delegation may leave Beijing on Tuesday. China’s Vice-Premier Liu He met US counterparts including Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in the Chinese capital on Thursday and Friday. Mnuchin tweeted that he and Lighthizer had held “productive meetings with China’s Vice-Premier Liu He” before meeting President Xi Jinping on Friday. After the meeting with Xi, a report on state broadcaster CCTV confirmed that officials would continue negotiations in Washington next week.

Singapore’s lowest GDP growth in 2 years comes with manufacturing warning
Singapore’s economy grew at its slowest pace in more than two years in the fourth quarter and the trade ministry warned that manufacturing is likely to face significant moderation this year. Weakening growth momentum for Singapore’s open economy – a high-tech manufacturing base and transportation hub – underscores the risks to Asia’s export economies from a slowdown in China and Beijing’s trade war with Washington. “Singapore’s growth pace is expected to slow in 2019 as manufacturing is likely to see a significant moderation,” trade ministry official Loh Khum Yean said, adding that the important electronics and semiconductor sector were particularly vulnerable. Loh said services – which account for roughly 70 percent of the economy – are also likely to ease. From a year earlier, gross domestic product grew 1.9 percent in the fourth quarter, less than the 2.2 percent advance estimate from the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) and the 2.1 rise seen in the Reuters poll. That was the slowest on-year pace since the third quarter of 2016, when it grew 1.2 percent. In October-December, the economy grew 1.4 percent from the previous three months on an annualised and seasonally adjusted basis, lower than the ministry’s initial estimate, made on Jan. 2, of 1.6 percent. The Reuters poll expected no revision of the initial quarterly number. The economy grew 3.2 percent for all of 2018, the ministry said, compared with its 3.3 percent advance estimate. It kept Singapore’s 2019 GDP growth forecast at between 1.5 and 3.5 percent, but added that growth would likely be slightly below the range’s mid-point.