Making Investments in Malaysia and Its Growing Economy

Investments Can Range from Stocks to Real Estate

Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur
Photo: Fakrul Jamil Photography / Getty Images

"Saya suka berada di sini"—or "I like it here"—is a phrase that investors are using more often when referring to Malaysia. A robust economy, supportive government, educated workforce, and developed infrastructure have quietly transformed the Asia-Pacific country into an attractive investment destination for international investors around the world.

In this article, we'll take a look at the benefits and risks of investing in Malaysia, how to invest in the country's stock market, and take a brief look at its real estate industry as an alternative asset class that investors may want to consider to round out their portfolio.

Key Takeaways

  • Malaysia has a very robust economy and a pro-business government that has made it an increasingly attractive investment destination for international investors.
  • Malaysia's political struggles and deficits have made some international investors tread a bit more cautiously than before.
  • ETFs represent the easiest way to invest in Malaysia for most international investors, but investors can also look at the domestic stock exchange.
  • Malaysian real estate may also be an investment option to consider, but be wary of the drawbacks before committing any capital.

Benefits and Risks of Investing in Malaysia

Malaysia has an open state-centric and newly industrialized market economy. Between 1961 and 2000, the country reported gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7.0% on average, which has made it one of the best performing economies in the region. However, these growth rates slowed to just over 4.3% between 2001 and 2020 as the economy matured.

According to the IMD Competitiveness Index, in 2021, the Malaysian economy was the 32nd most competitive market in the world out of 63 countries and 15th in economic performance.The World Bank forecasted that Malaysia should have a GDP growth rate of 5.5% in 2022 and 4.5% in 2023.

As with most emerging market economies, there can be an element of geopolitical risk and monetary policy risk associated with investing in Malaysia. The country has had political tensions, instability, and budget deficits in the past that have drawn investor scrutiny.

Investing in Malaysia's Stock Market

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) represent the easiest way to invest in Malaysia. By holding a diverse basket of stocks, these securities offer instant diversification and are easily bought and sold on U.S. stock exchanges. The most popular ETF used to invest in Malaysia is the iShares MSCI Malaysia Index Fund (NYSE: EWM), which mimics the MSCI Malaysia Index.

American Depository Receipts (ADRs) represent another option for international investors looking to avoid foreign exchanges. These individual companies could be purchased as a small part of a larger portfolio. But investors should be aware that many of these ADRs are relatively illiquid and may be difficult to buy and sell at attractive prices.

Here are some of the most popular Malaysian ADRs:

  • Malayan Banking Berhad (MLYBY)
  • Genting Berhad (GEBHY)
  • Genting Malaysia Bhd (GMALY)
  • MBf Holdings Berhad (MBFBY)
  • Tenaga Nasion Berhad (TNABY)

Finally, international investors can invest in the country's stock exchange—the Bursa Malaysia, which is one of the largest exchanges in Asia and offers a wide variety of investment choices. The downside is that U.S. investors must open foreign brokerage accounts and may be subject to paying foreign capital gains taxes on any profits.

Malaysian Real Estate Investment

After refocusing its efforts many years ago, Malaysia has made tourism its third-largest revenue contributor. This has made real estate investment a very popular alternative form of investment for many international investors. According to the Global Property Guide, home prices posted an average annual price growth of 7.5% from 2010 to 2019, but was .3% from Q1 2020 to Q1 2021 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite these favorable outcomes, there are several risks that investors should carefully consider. Government attempts to make housing more affordable have led to an oversupply, which led to the introduction of property taxes and restrictions on foreign buying. 

The rental market is small and has experienced weak demand, leading to falling rental yields. As a result, there are not many publicly traded real estate trusts for investors, but property can be purchased directly or invested in through various property management firms.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. The World Bank. "GDP growth (annual %) - Malaysia."

  2. The IMD World Competitiveness Center, Switzerland. "Competitiveness Ranking, Malaysia."

  3. The World Bank. “Global Economic Prospects, June 2022,” Page 98.

  4. The Brookings Institution. “Democratization on Hold in Malaysia.”

  5. BlackRock Inc. "iShares MSCI Malaysia Index Fund (EWM)."

  6. Bursa Malaysia. "Bursa Malaysia."

  7. Global Property Guide. "Malaysia’s Housing Market Continues To Weaken, Amidst Oversupply."

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