Malaysia holds interest rate at record low

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 20 (Reuters) - Malaysia's central bank kept its benchmark interest rate (MYINTR=ECI) unchanged at a record low on Thursday, as expected, to support the recovering economy.

All 23 economists surveyed in a Reuters poll had expected Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) to hold its overnight policy rate steady at a record low of 1.75%. read more

The latest indicators show that economic activity rebounded in the fourth quarter for Malaysia, in line with the relaxation of COVID-19 containment measures, the central bank said in a statement.

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The most recent data showed that Malaysia's economy shrank 4.5% in the third quarter after a rebound in the second quarter, but the central bank expected a quick recovery as coronavirus restrictions are eased and economic activities resume. read more

Since 2020, the government has rolled out 530 billion ringgit ($126.61 billion) in stimulus packages, while BNM has slashed its policy rate by 125 basis points to cushion the economic fallout of the pandemic.

Growth is expected to gain momentum this year, driven by stronger global demand and higher private sector expenditure amid improvements in the labour market and continued policy support, the bank said.

The central bank has forecast the economy will grow by between 5.5% and 6.5% this year, compared with an estimated 3-4% in 2021. Risks to that outlook remained, however.

"Such risks may arise from a weaker-than-expected global growth, a worsening in supply chain disruptions, and the emergence of severe and vaccine-resistant COVID-19 variants of concern," it said.

Malaysia's central bank will wait until at least July before raising interest rates, the Reuters poll found.

($1 = 4.1860 ringgit)

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Reporting by A. Ananthalakshmi and Liz Lee; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Kim Coghill

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