Malaysian shops, here we come
The long queue at a money changer at People's Park Complex.
Singaporeans cash in on weaker ringgit.
Koh Hui Theng and Ng Huiwen
Mon, Jul 16, 2012
The New Paper
The great Singapore rush is on - across the Causeway, that is.
Financial officer Noorliza Samsudin, 42, is among those making the trek up north this weekend.
She has several things on her to-do list: eating, grocery shopping and maybe, watching a movie.
While the Tampines resident can do the same activities in her own neighbourhood, she prefers to make the hour-long drive to Johor Baru (JB) instead.
The incentive? A strong Singapore dollar. It strengthened to RM2.51 this week - the highest level since the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Economists believe that the exchange rate will continue to rise due to Singapore's triple-A credit rating.
At press time, the Sing dollar was trading upwards from RM2.50.
The strong showing has led to a case of ringgit "no enough" at home.
When The New Paper visited four money changers at People's Park Complex in Chinatown on Friday, three had run out of ringgit.
There were long queues of up to 30 people at the one which still had stock.
The favourable exchange rate means bargain- hunters get more bang for their buck.
For instance, exchanging $1,000 would yield about RM100 more compared to previously, when the rate was about S$1 to RM2.40.
Madam Noorliza said: "We usually change about $100 and use credit cards to make up for the shortfall. Since the rate is good, we'll change more, like $500, and keep (the unspent portion)."
The mother of two also intends to visit a moneychanger in JB to get cash.
"My husband went to a money changer in Simei on Thursday but he ran out of ringgit. So we'll have to go to JB to get it," she said.
Even those not making a beeline to Malaysia this weekend are stocking up on ringgit.
IT consultant David Quay, 49, was part of the 30-strong lunchtime crowd queuing outside a Chinatown moneychanger yesterday.
There to change $1,000, Mr Quay said: "The current rates are among the best I've seen. It's always good to keep some ringgit as reserve."
He and his family visit Malaysia once every quarter and he changes $500 to $1,000 before each trip. "I'll change more when the rate goes up further, hopefully to 2.6," he said with a laugh.
Some retailers in Johor are expecting more business from Singaporeans, thanks to the stronger dollar.
Mr Mohd Halis Jalalludin, 21, supervisor at the Tesco Bukit Indah store, said shoppers from Singapore tend to flock to the outlet on weekends. The store is a 20-minute drive from the Second Link.
He said: "There's been about 10 per cent more Singaporeans shopping here recently compared to last time. They say the grocery items here are very cheap because of the (favourable) exchange rate". Cheap groceries
Singaporean shoppers tend to spend more than RM300 per trip, picking up rice, oil andother daily necessities, he said.
In the past fortnight, a few have racked up over RM1,000 on their grocery tabs, he said.
"Now that the Sing dollar is hitting almost 2.5, I guess more Singaporeans will come here for their shopping."
But a cashier at Makmur Semua Money Changer in Sutera Mall in JB said her boss has no plans to stock up on ringgit.
The woman, who wanted to be known only as Miss Cheng, said: "Our exchange rate is 2.48 now, not as high as Singapore's 2.51... Singaporeans still (prefer to) change in Singapore because the rate is better."
She is expecting it to be business as usual this weekend, with about 20 Singaporean customers.
But tour companies are expecting the favourable rate to translate into more Malaysia- bound business.
The falling ringgit, Chan Brothers spokesman Jane Chang said, is partly why the company has "seen 70 per cent growth in demand for travel to Malaysia" last quarter, compared to thesameperiod last year.
The Sing dollar has been strengthening since May 2010 when the ringgit was trading at about 2.23 to the dollar.
Travel agency Nam Ho's spokesman said: "Currently there are about 50 passengers heading over to Malaysia this weekend, which is a slight percentage increase (compared to the last weekend)."
Added Mr Tan Boon Huat, general manager of Grassland Express and Tours: "We're expecting our business to increase because of the strong Sing dollar."
While demand for this weekend is normal, he expects it to rise in the weeks and months ahead. Planning for M'sia trips
He said: "Right now, most Singaporeans upon seeing the rate, will start to plan for trips to Malaysia. So demand will start to rise because going to Malaysia will be very affordable now.
"We've not made any special arrangements just yet, but we'll definitely add additional trips to Malaysia if the demand reaches its peak."
The strong dollar will also help with inflation, with Singapore importing most of its produce, financial reports suggested.
Almost all the fresh chickens sold here are from Malaysia, which also accounts for close to half of the vegetables here.
Will the strong dollar lead to Singaporeans snapping up real estate across the Causeway too?
Not quite, said property consulting firm SLP International's executive director, Mr Nicholas Mak: "When it comes to buying (big-ticket items like) property, the exchange rate is one of the many factors that people take into consideration.
"But it's unlikely that the current strong Sing dollar will be the sole reason for a higher number of Singaporeans buying Malaysian property."