Expert advice on investing


Property vs StockProperty Vs Shares : Discover your knock out investment strategy 

Author : Peter Koulizos and Zac Zacharia Genre : Business, Finance and Law Publisher : Wrightbooks >>

ABOUT three to four years ago, a friend in his 20s bought his first property. Prior to this, he was trading in stocks. His interest in the property sector came about when he saw the double-digit price increase during the run-up in the property sector in 2009/2010.

While his interest in shares continues, it was the property sector which became the main focus of his attention. His intention was to sell the serviced apartment once it was completed at a profit, a strategy taken by many during those heady days, and today. He has the same principle when it came to stocks. If he has read this book Property Vs Shares, he may have taken a different strategy for his investments.

This book serves as a guide for those who are interested in either or both forms of investments. While it was written with beginners in mind, it provides useful reference to readers on higher rungs of the investment ladder.

In Malaysia, the two most common investments are properties and stocks. While there are unit trusts, these are, at the end of the day, also linked to stocks. The last several years, a number of books on property investments have appeared on the shelves of our local book stores. Most, if not all of them, are focused on property investments alone and therein lies the difference.

Property Vs Shares compares one asset class against another. It has two authors. Peter Koulizos is the author of The Property Professor’s Top Australian Suburbs and lectures on the subject. Zac Zacharia lectures on share investment at TAFE SA and is a founder of a wealth management group.

Both of them provide some ground rules for investment decisions in today’s volatile economic climate. They look at how property and shares have performed historically and give pointers on research.

In today’s search for yield, all sorts of schemes have entered the market. They highlight some of these scams and schemes. In short, they look at investments much more broadly, and takes into cosideration the many who keep their money in time deposits.

Using the analogy of two boxers in a boxing ring, one representing real estate and the other shares, they begin with that all pertinent question Why Invest? and explains the importance of being a shrewd steward of one’s finances if one wants to retire early and richer.

They outline from the start that saving and investing are two different things. In order to invest, one must first of all, begin a journey in savings. But while saving, as in keeping money in a time deposit may be “safe” and “risk-free”, the returns are minimal. On this premise, the authors suggest other forms of investments which, if prudently selected and managed, and depending on when one enters and exits, may provide a better yield.

My 20-something friend could have just kept his money in a fixed deposit account but with the cost of living escalating, he figured he would be earning negative interest rates in no time. And therein lies the value in property and stock investments – they provide a regular income and have the potential for capital appreciation.

However, there are caveats to this and the authors explain the perils of both clearly and succintly, without diminishing the importance of diversification.

Although this book is based on the Australian property sector and the Australian stock market, it holds within its covers very insightful information and suggestions about property and stocks that are universal.

The last several years, there has been a great interest in property investments on a global scale with Malaysians buying real estate at home and abroad, and with it comes currency risks. The Malaysian stock market has generated both interest and returns for investors. What and where one buys, or feels most comfortable with, depends on many personal and individual factors as well as global and national events.

Investment markets are inter-related, like a big jigsaw puzzle. When property prices dip, the shares of property companies may dip. When interest rate goes up, there may be less application for housing mortgages, which in turn affects bank revenue and bank stocks.

The importance of having some knowledge of economic and investment cycles are clearly spelt out with graphs and tables. But these details are used sparringly.

As mentioned earlier, my 20-something friend may have taken a different route had he read this book because in the middle of this reference guide, the authors draw the distinction between trading, investing and speculating.

The main difference is the investment timeframe. Trading on the stock market can occur within seconds whereas speculating on property can occur within weeks or months. They suggest taking a longer time frame with both.

Only you can decide why you are in the game – is it for capital growth, or for income, or both? Do you want to fund a certain lifestyle, or are you hoping to retire richer and earlier? If you are able to answer the above, you will be guided as to what suits you best. This book will set you on the road to investing with some insightful information in hand.

There are many nuggets of gold to be found in this book. Whether your preference is for stocks, properties, or both, there is a place in your book shelf for this slim volume.

- Contributed by Thean Lee Cheng The Star/Asia News Network

Investing in 2014


The end of the year is the time to reflect on the past and the beginning of the year is time to reflect on the future. 

SO how did your portfolio do last year?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average for US stocks hit 16,576 with a 26% gain for the year, the best year since 1996. By comparison, the Hang Seng Index performed 3%; Tokyo Nikkei did best at 57% and Bursa Malaysia ended 10.5% higher, just a tad off its record high.

On the other hand, the fastest growing economy in the world had the worst stock performance – the Shanghai A share index closed the year at -8%. Gold prices fell 27% to US$1,196 per oz, while property prices seemed to have done well in the United States and China. Bond prices are now extremely shaky, with the JPM Global Aggregate Bond Index falling by 2% during the year.

What is going on?

The answer has to be quantitative easing (QE) by the advanced country central banks. The world is still flush with liquidity and since investors are unclear on what direction to invest in, they have reversed investments in commodities (such as gold), avoided bonds because of prospective rises in interest rates and essentially piled into stocks.

Individual investors like you and I tend to forget that the market is really driven today by large institutional investors, including fast traders with computer-driven algorithms that have better information than the retail investor and can trade in and out faster and cheaper. It is not surprising that retail investors who have traditionally driven Asian markets have been moving more to the sidelines.

Even institutional investors are not equal. Long-term fund managers like pension funds and insurance companies are, by and large, highly regulated, with restrictions on what they can or cannot buy. So it is not surprising that the biggest money managers are today even larger than banks. BlackRock, the largest independent fund manager alone looks after nearly US$4 trillion, larger than most banks in emerging markets.

There are, of course, two types of asset management – active (where the managers actively invest according to their judgement on your behalf) and passive, where they simply follow the market indices or buy exchange traded funds (ETFs) that track market indices. According to the Towers-Perrin study of top 500 global asset managers, during the last decade, passive managers did better than the group as a whole.

So should we trust the market experts? I have been reading for years Byron Wien’s annual Predictions for Ten Surprises for the Year. Byron used to be a top investment pundit for Morgan Stanley but he is now working for Blackstone. His prediction of surprises is defined as events where average investor would assign one-third change of happening, but which he believed would have a better than 50% change of happening. He got roughly seven out of ten wrong in 2013, the more relevant mis-calls being the price of gold, a possible drop in S&P 500, the price of oil and the A share index.

Bill Gross, one of the top bond fund managers, pointed out that retail investors tend to be conservative, focusing largely on safe portfolios, such as investment grade and high yield bonds and stocks. But institutional investors have gravitated instead into alternative assets, hedge funds and more unconventional assets. Unfortunately, all these assets are “based on artificially low interest rates”. So if low interest rate policies are reversed, investors have to be prepared.

He rightly pointed out that the advanced country central banks are “basically telling investors that they have no alternative than to invest in riskier assets or to lever high-quality assets.” But if they withdraw QE or “taper”, then higher interest rates will cause a reversal of investment prices and also cause de-leveraging.

In other words, in order to bail out the world and keep the advanced economies afloat, their central banks are asking global investors to bear quite a lot of the risks of the downside. The smart money might be able to get out fast enough, but most retail investors do not have the skills to time their investments right.

So what should the retail investor do?

Peter Churchouse, who writes one of the best reports in Asia called Asia Hard Assets Report, quoted his son’s advice as “Buy good companies with strong earnings, strong growth and rock solid management. The world will go on.”

Quite right.

But how do we know which companies have rock solid management? My answer is: watch not what the annual report say (by all means read them), but look at what the management does. I have always tended to shy away from companies with high-profile CEOs who tend to win “Manager of the Year” awards.

There is, of course, no substitute for solid own research and look for yourself how the company or the economy that it operates in is doing.

The consumer or tourist is still the best investor because seeing for yourself gives you a feel of what is quite right or wrong with the country and just visiting the retail outlet, getting a sense of the service quality and the employee attitude would give you first hand what is right or wrong with the company you are investing in.

My favourite economy in Asia right now has to be Indonesia. I spent nearly 10 days over Christmas going through the markets of the most densely populated cities in Java and my conclusion was that Indonesia is on the move – literally. The population is young, mobile and connected. Every other shop seems to be selling mobile phones, cars or motorbikes. The quality of the retail shops, design and service has been improving over the years. And despite the coming elections, there is hope for change.

My bet, therefore, for 2014 is that if we stick to the better-run companies in the stronger economies, we should be better prepared for any tapering of QE to come.

Contributed by Tan Sri Andrew Sheng

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng is president of the Fung Global Institute.

Investing in things that count


Investing_small-changesSometimes it is not what we want that bears the richest blessings, but where we are sent that makes the difference.

THERE must be moments in our life when we pass by, say, a high-end store, and wish that we could pick up the latest electronic gadget without even thinking about the price.

The young father who wants the best education for his son may be convinced that the correct route is through a private or international school, if only he has a million ringgit to spare.

Day by day, we may wish for a lot of things. But aren’t we thankful that we do not always get our prayers answered?

The August month on the calendar in my office has a poem supposedly written by an unknown Confederate soldier. Titled “Prayers and Answers”, it includes the following verses:

“I asked for strength, that I might achieve. I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
“I asked for riches, that I might be happy. I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

“I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men. I was given weakness that I might feel the need of God.”

A friend gave up a nice job in the city to “Teach for Malaysia” in a rural school. The stories she shares regularly on Facebook are truly touching.

The first time I met her was at Fraser’s Hill some years back, when I was one of the facilitators at a writers’ camp.

While the purpose was to teach them to write well, I also told them that I would not expect them to eventually become journalists.

What is more important, I said, is to have a passion for life and a desire to make a difference wherever one is placed.

This friend did go through a stint in journalism but I now see her blooming in her real calling, which is to teach – not to the children of the rich and famous at some private school – but children who still struggle with the basic necessities of life.

The skills she honed as a communicator have allowed her to be practical and creative in teaching these children even the simplest of words. Here is a recent example:

  •   She draws a picture of a globe.
  •   Students: World!
  •   Teacher: Very good! Another word that starts with “E”? We learned it recently.
  •   Student: Earth!
  •   Teacher: Ada nampak telinga dalam perkataan ini? (Do you see another word in ‘Earth’?)
  •   Student: EAR! Ear! Ear!
  •   Teacher: *smiling ear to ear* Thank you, Class!

I should add that this is a Form One class whose standard of English has recently been diagnosed at Level 1.
It is a long haul, certainly, but my friend perseveres.

Meanwhile, another friend is doing something similar among the refugee community somewhere in Chad. Back on home leave, she showed me a clip of the children learning the alphabet by writing on the sand of an outdoor classroom.

These two young women gave up the comfort of home to venture into places where there are no high-end stores and where richness is definitely not measured by material possessions.

In places like this, strength, power and riches do not matter. Faith, hope and love are what really count.

SUNDAY STARTERS BY SOO EWE JIN

> Soo Ewe Jin (ewejin@thestar.com.my), in this season of Merdeka, salutes the many people, unknown and unseen, making a differenc

Making monkeys out of markets


IT’S now official. Even monkeys can beat the stock market index. Cass Business School researchers in London simulated 10 million portfolios of US stocks selected at random. They found that a US$100 invested at the beginning of 1968 would have yielded US$5,000 by the end of 2011, but half the monkey (computer-simulated) portfolios managed US$8,700, one quarter made more than US$9,100 and 10% made more than US$9,500.

Monkeys

So, does the market beat all the professionals if monkeys beat the market?

There is a real lesson here for investors. I had a great debate with a good friend last month regarding the benefits of investing in a world where fast trading algorithms (using super fast computers to detect market opportunities to buy, sell or short stocks make it hard even for traditional asset managers to compete. So what chance is there for retail investors? My friend decided to get out of trading stocks.

Investing has been such complicated business because there are just too many variables to handle. Gone are the days when you think you can understand how markets perform. The rules of the game changed when policymakers began intervening through unconventional monetary policy and politics become part of the equation.

You would have thought logically that growth economies should produce growth stocks. The BRICS economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) met in Durban at the end of March. These five countries accounted for over half of total global growth since 2001, but their stock markets have not done that well. Since its peak in 2007, the BRICS index is down 37%.

Chinese retail investors have declined in number, based on the number of accounts closed. The A share index is down 31% since its peak in 2009, and the Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa stock market indices are all in negative territory since the beginning of this year. On the other hand, both the US and Japan are sluggish in growth and their stock markets performed 11.1% and 20% respectively since the beginning of this year.

Despite being overall in crisis and negative growth, even the European stock market performed in positive territory, mainly due to better performance in Germany and France. There are globally diversified companies in these economies that can outperform despite the slowdown in the European economy.

The real problem is that negative real interest rates around the world are truly destroying the ability of investors to judge what is the right asset to invest in. Markets are clearly bubbly when emerging market investors start investing in taxi licenses.

Accordingly to a Bloomberg report, Turkish taxi licenses today trade for US$580,000 each. My Hong Kong taxi driver was complaining to me that a Hong Kong taxi license was trading over HK$7mil (just under US$900,000) and yielding next to nothing.

It made no sense to him as a taxi driver himself to be an owner. This reminded me that in 1996, golf club membership was being touted as the best investment ever, with the 1997 Asian financial crisis wiping out all gains thereafter.

So what should an honest, no-inside information retail investor do? I guess the old-fashioned advice to invest in diversified and value stocks and maintaining ample liquidity is still sound. Global bonds have done well since the financial crisis due to the massive quantitative easing.

Even those who have speculated on Greek bonds when they were yielding more than 20% have done well. But it is difficult to argue that ten year US Treasuries and German Bunds at under 2% per annum represent no risk. Certainly, Japanese 10 year bonds at 0.55% per annum, when the official inflation target is 2% per annum, must carry considerable interest rate risks.

Over the long-term, there is no question that investing in one’s own home has been good investment. This is officially supported leveraged investment, since most mortgages still require not more than 30% down payment for the first home. The fact that there is a growing middle-class in most emerging Asia means that demand for housing is still on the increase, but given such low interest rates, it is hard to imagine how much further can house prices rise relative to the affordability index.

My own inclination is to go for high yield, solid growth companies that are globally diversified. You basically invested in the region that you are most familiar with, and in companies that demonstrate good governance and know what they are doing. The average price/earnings ratio of Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand markets are still below those of the US (17.7). China A share has a PE ratio of only 8.1 and a yield of 3.7%.

Of course, the art of investing depends completely on the investor’s risk appetite, age and liquidity requirements. If you are fully invested in illiquid assets or in illiquid markets, you cannot get out even though the returns look good. Property markets are notoriously easy to get into and difficult to cash out, especially in the smaller markets. Bond investments may look good on paper, but when you want to exit, the selling price may be lower than what you think you can get, especially for retail investors.

Knowing that even monkeys can beat the market gives one food for thought. You can do better, but you must invest the time and energy to think through what you are investing in, what risk you are taking and what you want to achieve. My friend in Australia had no formal training in investments, decided that she could outperform the market, relied on her instinct and own research into companies and is now doing pretty well on her own.

Even monkeys know how to survive, so don’t look down on monkeys.

THINK ASIAN By TAN SRI ANDREW SHENG

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng is president of the Fung Global Institute. He was recently named by Time magazine as one of 100 most influential people in the world.

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Financial crises a result of governance failures 
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The rotten heart of capitalism: interest rate-fixing 

Tips on courting investors


IN this penultimate column, I would like to explore the world of romance, courtship and partnership. Why some marriages are happy and long lasting and why some end in a messy divorce. I will also talk about quickie engagements, marriage of convenience and spouse for hire.

Courting-investorNo, I am not Aunty Thelma providing counsel on your turbulent personal life. Neither am I qualified to talk about politicians and rent seekers. This discussion is confined to entrepreneurs who need partners to help them kick start their business. Occasionally, desperately sourcing capital for survival and sometimes needing a healthy dose of cash injection to grow.

For new startups, courting the investors will be the most stressful stage. Before they part with their money, they will question the viability of your business, sustainability of your business model and most importantly, the potential to scale. You are advised to be well prepared with facts and figures supporting your proposal. If a knowledgeable investor tears up your assumptions and forecast, swallow your pride and rebuild your model if necessary. You will be better prepared to face the next potential investor.

Knowing the type of investors that you would like to “sleep with” will save you unnecessary stress and avoiding misaligned discussions. Short-term investors think very differently from long-term investors. Temporary relationships means moving in together and having fun without any responsibility. Breaking up is not hard to do.

Long-term relationships requires patience, understanding and tolerance between both parties. Like all marriages, there will be fights and misunderstandings but both sides will make up and continue for the sake of the children, albeit on an uneasy truce.

If you have a quick turnaround project with an early exit plan, then you will click immediately with short-term investors who will be willing to take on higher risks but expecting immediate returns on invested capital. Normally they do not mind having a smaller equity share as long as they see good upside but you will have to pay interest or dividends on their different class of preferred shares. It is best you find out more on terms like convertible cumulative preferred stocks and RCCPS (redeemable convertible cumulative preference shares) etc … If you want to be on the same page as these savvy investors.

If your project has a long gestation period, get a rich investor who looks for steady recurring income with an eye for capital asset growth. Be conservative with your forecast and highlight your cashflow management skills. Nothing pleases the long-term investor more than having a mature thinking partner who will conservatively build a meaningful asset business in a steady environment.

Once you have the investor interested, the real negotiation starts. Assuming all investors are fools, you will be able to load the investors with a high valuation, retain majority equity and management control and yet raise a lot of capital by giving little away. Alternatively, assuming you are the desperate fool, you would end up working for the new investors, saddled with a low valuation and stuck with minority equity stakes. Nobody likes playing the fool so either one of these relationships will definitely end up in divorce.

Basically, the whole negotiation rests on the basis of valuation. For a new startup with no prior track record, the valuation is based on forecast budgets normally over a five-year period. To investors, getting the forecast right determines the level of risks to be taken. But his guess is as good as your guess. Then you end up with two sides articulating their understanding on market trends, benchmarking best practices etc, just to justify their number guessing skills.

So the final numbers to be agreed upon will depend heavily on your negotiation skills or how much the Investors believe in you. If you are desperate, the Investor will see through that and you will not be negotiating from strength. A right minded investor would prefer to have a highly motivated entrepreneur at the controls of a start up so you will not be forcefully bullied. Just remember to tell him that you need to feel motivated when you wake up every morning and he will back off and see that you are fairly treated.

If the Investor pushes you into a corner, just walk away. You have not lost anything. That said, I assumed you have been realistic with your forecast numbers and have comfortably addressed the investors concerns. If not, do not be surprised if the investor walks away instead.

Understanding how investors think will help you prepare your proposal. Greedy investors look for maximum short-term returns and these are normally fund managers who wants to believe in well structured glossy presentations so that they can justify to their investors why they should invest their money into your project. It will be unfair for me to say that these professional fund managers are willing to invest in high risk projects since it is not their personal money but the pressure to perform forces them to take higher risks that carries higher returns.

Individual investors are way too careful and they prefer proposals with reduced risks and long-term asset building models. This has been my preferred business model as an entrepreneur then and even now as an investor. But the lure of fast short-term gains enjoyed by so many has whetted my appetite and I am now reconsidering my investment strategies. Greed is indeed sinful and irresistible.

Since I made a promise not to write about politicians and GLCs (government-linked corporations), I will not be elaborating on the topics of quickie engagements and marriage of convenience. I apologise if you have found this column dry and boring but I hope my advice on having safe sex in a monogamous marriage will help you live longer with a healthy bank balance by your side. Stay happy always.

ON YOUR OWN
By TAN THIAM HOCK

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More millionaires nowadays; secret to success and riches


PETALING JAYA: There may be more millionaires in Malaysia now than before but they may not necessarily be feeling rich.

Besides the rising number of successful business owners, many high-salaried people are already millionaires based on the value of their assets and properties.

RAM Holdings Bhd group chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng said the term could also apply to those in the middle-class who could have earned the amount but had spent it on necessities such as on costly children’s education and high property prices.

He said although a millionaire was measured by his or her disposable income, those who have made their million would not have the same purchasing power compared to a decade ago, citing inflation as the main reason.

Dr Yeah said many in business had made their millions as a result of savvy investments and the growth of the industries that they were involved in, adding that overall, the rising affluence was due to sustained economic growth.

“We have seen a strong growth in certain sectors, including plantation, oil and gas and property, which have elevated entrepreneurs into the millionaire class,” he said.

Billionaires, however, remain rare. Malaysia now has 30 billionaires, just three more from the 27 on the list last year.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported last year that Malaysia’s millionaires almost doubled over the previous 18 months.

Citing a report by international financial firm Credit Suisse Group, it said Malaysia added 19,000 new millionaires since early 2010, bringing the total to 39,000 as of October.

The WSJ report attributed the rise to the weakening US dollar and careful spending.

Dr Yeah said those who invested their money wisely had benefited the most.

“In a free market and capitalist economy like Malaysia, people who have capital can generate millions,” he said, noting that many in the upper-income bracket had accumulated wealth past the million-ringgit mark.

Personal financial consultant Carol Yip said the rising cost of living had lessened the feeling of being rich.

“Today, even a small apartment can cost half a million,” she said.

She said careful spending was not a factor for the increase in the numbers of millionaires.

“If we are spending less, we won’t be seeing so many luxury cars on the road,” she said.

She said the rise in millionaires was also due to property prices which have shot up exponentially, adding that the definition should not include the value of the house that one was living in.

“If you still have a million in hand after you convert the value of your other properties, investments and have paid of all your debts, then you are a millionaire,” she added.

Financial adviser Fred Wong said making a million was not a problem these days as long as people were willing to work hard but being self-employed and investing wisely was the better route to riches.

By ISABELLE LAI and P. ARUNA newsdesk@thestar.com.my

Millionaires’ secret to success

PETALING JAYA: Ganesh Kumar Bangah made his first million at the age of 23.

The secret, he said, was as simple as knowing what people needed and delivering it to them.

“I knew what I was good at, which was IT. I used that to come up with something of value to the world.

“I also worked hard and persevered until I reached the goals I had set for myself,” said Ganesh, now 33 and the CEO of MOL Global Bhd, a company worth over RM1bil.

<b>Young and rich:</b> Ganesh (left) and Yap made their first million at the age of 23 and 26 respectively. Young and rich: Ganesh (left) and Yap made their first million at the age of 23 and 26 respectively.

He said that even when he was only 15, he had been using his skills to make money, like repairing his teachers’ computers for a fee.

At the age of 20, he started his own company, which made him a millionaire in three years.

“Be focused and set new goals for yourself to keep climbing higher. Real wealth is the satisfaction you get when you overcome a new challenge that brings rewards. Financial wealth should just be a by-product.”

Feng shui master and multi-millionaire Joey Yap said learning to make good use of time was a key ingredient to achieving financial success.

“In business, time is money, so make sure you use your time to acquire things of good value. Find out what your strengths are, work on your weaknesses and hone your talents,” said Yap, 35, who made his first million at age 26 by selling his first feng shui home study course.

However, having RM1mil does not necessarily make people feel rich, especially for those raising children in the city.

Carol Leong, 57, a mother of three, said it costs more than the amount for an average family to live in the city and raise a child to adulthood.

“There are medical bills, tuition fees, various expenses and their education to pay for. For our family, it has definitely come up to more than RM1mil per child,” she said.

Leong, a lawyer, said she and her businessman husband had placed their money in various investments, which in the long run had helped pay for tertiary education overseas for their three children.

“I would advise young parents living in the city and who are just starting a family to invest to secure some income for the future,” she added.

By YVONNE LIM yvonnelim@thestar.com.my

Financial literacy vital when investing in funds


Maybank Tower in downtown Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

By LEONG HUNG YEE hungyee@thestar.com.my

 It pays to be updated on investment knowledge

LOOK before you leap. That’s the advice experts in the unit trust industry have given to investors, either old or new, when deciding to put their money into any fund.

Their reasoning behind it is that the products being offered to investors are no longer simple and basic. With the ever growing diversity and sophistication of unit trust products, consumers have to continuously enhance their knowledge and capabilities to maximise as well as protect their investments.

Fund managers say unit trust funds offer an option to retail investors especially those looking at the possibility of earning higher returns compared with conventional savings like fixed deposits.

However, a lot of investors do not really have a good understanding on what they are investing in and they think they can simply park the investment in some funds and let it grow.

Lim Hong Tat says it is a challenge for investors to stay informed on market movements in today’s environment.

“Over the long term, education on the basics of financial planning was important for the growth of the unit trust industry,” a fund manager says.

MAAKL Mutual Bhd CEO Wong Boon Choy opines that more can certainly be done in investor education. “I am sure the Federation of Investment Manager Malaysia would have probably started working with all relevant parties who are involved in promoting financial literacy.”

Malayan Banking Bhd (Maybank) deputy president and head of community financial services Lim Hong Tat points out that one of the issues it is facing is educating its customers on unit trust investment.

He says it is a challenge for investors to stay informed on market movements in today’s environment.

“Educating our customers on unit trust investment is one of the key areas the bank is embarking on. Unit trust investments are meant for a medium to long-term investment horizon, and generally provide better returns according to the risk that accompanies the investment,” Lim says.

The dollar cost averaging concept, he says, is another focus where the bank is highlighting to customers, such as to invest the same amount of money over a period of time, especially now when market volatility is high.

“By doing so, investors avoid entering the unit trust funds at the peak or bottom of the market cycle, and hence spread out the risk,” Lim says.

HwangDBS Investment Management Bhd (HwangDBS IM) chief product officer Steve Lim says that despite the growth of the unit trust industry over the past 10 years, there is still a need to increase investors awareness and understanding about unit trusts and its benefits.

Good returns

“Many of them expect good returns, for example double-digit returns, within a year, hence defeating the purpose of investing in such instruments for retirement and financial planning. Since they have a short-term investment outlook, they tend to time the market. Many of them have a herd mentality and will continue to sell and redeem when bad news flows in.

“Also, mis-selling and lack of product understanding have been the bugbear of our industry,” Lim says.

He adds that this had resulted in losses by many investors and a prevailing misconception that unit trust investing as a whole is a highly risky and complicated venture.

“Nevertheless, we believe that with the right financial education, we will be able to address the unit trust industry issues and misconceptions as well as contributing to the growing confidence and popularity of the industry segment.”

Steve says the level of personal financial literacy today is low and with growing consumerism as well as changing customer expectations, there is a need to reinforce greater financial literacy to help people better manage their personal finances. Proper consumer education is needed if new growth engines, such as private pensions, wealth management and asset management, with their more complex and sophisticated products, are to take off.

While industry players are advocating a greater need to increase investor education, some investors do not really have a basic grasp of what a unit trust is or even why they should invest in unit trust.

Lee Khee Chuan, a Securities Commission-licensed financial adviser representative, says unit trust as an investment vehicle has distinct advantages over other asset classes of investment.

He says, for example, unit trust has better liquidity compared with land banking products.

Wide selection

“It (unit trust) can start with a minimum capital of RM1,000 but it is impossible with property or blue chip shares. Unit trust also offers a wide selection ranging from bond funds to aggressive equity funds; furthermore it gives investors exposure to multi regions. It also allows investors to invest regularly using the dollar cost averaging method with a minimum capital as low as RM100 per month through bank account deductions,” Lee says.

Lee cautions that investing in unit trust does carry investment risk; the price of units may go down as well as up.

“It is still prudent to diversify among unit trust funds with differing fund objectives even though unit trust fund sales agents may tell you that unit trust is diversified among different stocks or stock markets.

“One can also check out value-added services provided by some licensed financial advisory companies in Malaysia which offer a model fund portfolio which is effectively diversified to clients because they have an in-house fund manager to construct and monitor the portfolio of unit trust funds,” he adds.

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Investing in Malaysian unit trust industry

Investing in Malaysian unit trust industry


High fees dampener for unit trust

By DALJIT DHESI daljit@thestar.com.my

Unit trusts are gaining popularity among investors as an important source of investment and retirement savings. But are investors getting a fair deal from the high charges being imposed by the industry and will lower charges really mean better returns for investors?

THERE is nothing that really fazes a seasoned investor. They are used to losing and making money on the stock market. They understand the game.

But if there’s one thing that irks veteran investor Jason Yap, who has been a unit trust investor for a decade, is that he already starts losing money before he has a chance to make a profit.

What irritates Yap, who is a retiree, is the high upfront fee he has to endure, and that has a profound impact on the return on his investment.

“The upfront fee of between 5% and 7% is rather high and should be lowered for us to enjoy better returns. The upfront charge one has to pay when buying into a fund will impact the returns received from the fund. It is pointless to invest in something that at the end of the day will bite into’ the returns or monies received from the particular investment.

“Many of us have taken out monies from our savings to invest in unit trusts. For unit trust to be effective in boosting retirement savings, the charges should be lowered or even abolished,” he adds.

That argument is as old as the industry itself. Since establishing its roots in 1959, the unit trust industry in Malaysia has grown steadily over the years and has really blossomed since the various periods of market turbulence, especially the Asian financial crisis in 1997/98.

Foo says a dichotomy exists in Malaysia where different rates are being charged to different entities.

One of the major qualms among investors for some time now is its high sales charges.

The main grouse has been the upfront charges, which is money people have to pay when they buy into a fund. Then there is the exit charges, which are money paid when they cash out of a fund, and the annual management fee, which is a charge imposed by the fund to manage people’s money.

The current upfront fee ranges from 5% to 6.5% on the invested amount, except for money from Employees Provident Fund (EPF) to invest in funds (under the EPF Members Investment Scheme) which is capped to 3% since Jan 1, 2008.

The exit fee may be 1% or higher but much depends on the structure of the fund. The annual management fee ranges from 1% to 1.5% and the trustee fees is from 0.5% to 1%.

A call to review sales charges

Is there a need for the industry to review its charges to make the unit trust industry more appealing to investors? Some industry observers think so.

Malaysian Financial Planners and Advisors Association (MFPAA) deputy president Robert Foo thinks front-end fees should be reduced or completely removed so that investors can enjoy higher returns.

The other purpose of such a radical but common practice in matured markets is that the whole industry can then move from a sales push culture to that of a professional advisory culture where investors can work with licensed and professional financial advisors if they so wish.

“It should be noted that in developed countries like Britain and Australia, there is a regulatory push for such financial products to be delivered on a fee for service basis rather than on a high push environment with upfront sales commissions. In Britain, the government has legislated that by Jan 1, 2013, all financial products are not allowed to have commissions attached.

“Agents or financial advisors are required to charge investors directly for services provided, therefore ensuring that their interest aligns with that of the investors,” he adds.

Foo, who is also the managing director of licensed financial planning company MyFP Services Sdn Bhd, says a dichotomy exists in Malaysia where different rates are being charged to different entities.

For money withdrawn from the EPF, people pay 3% to buy into a unit trust, but for walk-in customers, they are charged 6%.

“Does it mean that your EPF money is more valuable than your hard cash?” he asks.

“I think the upfront fee is too high and eats into the returns of investors. The average compounded rate of return of equity unit trusts in Malaysia over the last 10 years is only about 7.5% per annum, and losing 6% upfront is too high a cost for investors,” Foo says.

An industry observer says the Securities Commission should consider compelling unit trust companies to waive the upfront charges, similar to funds under Fidelity Investment, which is one of the largest mutual fund companies in the world with over US$1.46 trillion in assets under management.

Foo says it is cheaper to buy funds through the Internet, for example through http://www.fundsupermart.com.my or eunittrust.com.my, which imposes an upfront charge of 1% to 2%.

Much higher than regional peers

Licensed financial planner Jeremy Tan of Standard Financial Planner Sdn Bhd says the upfront fee is considered high compared with countries like Singapore and Hong Kong.

Tan says that depending on the sophistication of the product, the unfront fee in Singapore ranges from 3% to 5%, but adds that there is an alternative platform for investing in unit trusts, with upfront fees ranging from 0.75% to 2%, depending on the amount invested. In this latest alternative, there is a wrap fee of up to 1% per annum.

He says the alternative is also available in Malaysia, where the upfront fee is lower than what is currently charged by investing directly through the fund house.

He expects the industry to eventually lower the charges in line with other Asian countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong.

Foo says that due to the open nature of the Hong Kong and Singapore markets, where local funds have to compete with global fund houses at the retail and wholesale market sector, the fund companies can reduce the upfront charges to even zero. Also, there is no tied agency structure in these countries unlike Malaysia.

Lower charges, better returns?

Those arguing for lower charges will undoubtedly look at the average return of 7.5% per annum over the past decade by unit trust firms and say a lower fee will bump up returns.

Tan, however, believes lowering the sales charges will not necessary provide better returns to investor. It depends on the performance of the fund manager or the fund house in relation to the funds invested among others.

Pacific Mutual Fund Bhd executive director and CEO Gary Gan concurs. He says the performance of a fund and its relevance to investors is key rather than merely looking at charges.

At the end of the day, the basic rule of investing is making an informed decision. This means investors need to have sufficient information and knowledge of the product they are investing in, he notes.

MAAKL Mutual Bhd CEO Wong Boon Choy says any attempt to restructure the front-end and back-end charges will require very careful study and strong will on the part of the authorities to make tough changes to the rules and regulations on existing distribution channels which is dominated by a tied-agency system.

“Agent commissions have already been compressed when the EPF capped the maximum service charge to 3%. This translates to more than 50% reduction in the normal service charge. The front-end service charge is the primary means of compensating the agents for the service they provide to investors,” he explains.

Wong, who is also the president of the Financial Planning Association of Malaysia (FPAM), estimates the tied agency force to be over 60,000 at the end of last year.

Meanwhile, Areca Capital Sdn Bhd CEO Danny Wong feels the market should determine the fee structure as ultimately good performance and achievingthe investor’s objective are more important.

Tan says the upfront fees are considered high compared with Singapore and Hong Kong.

He says there are funds with upfront fees distributed by banks or unit trust companies as well as those with almost no front-end fees being solddirectly by niche fund managers or via online portals. He points out that there is no evidence of superiority of either practice as the choice of investment is left to the investors.

Lowering or abolishing sales charges, says Steve Lim, chief product officer of HwangDBS Investment Management Bhd, will provide investors a quicker path to garnering returns on their investment, but at the same time, might encourage many to make regular withdrawals.

From the perspective of unit trust management companies, the lowering of sales charge to 3% has helped change investors’ mindset and allowed them to realise that unit trust is a viable investment and pension planning instrument, Lim adds.

CIMB-Principal Asset Management Bhd CEO Campbell Tupling says the industry fee structure in Malaysia is primarily on the front-end as the back-end fees are not significant.

Alternatives

“Investors know what they are paying for. Fees are transparent and clearly stated. Investors are free to choose how they wish to be serviced. There are other means of investing at a lower cost, for example exchange traded funds (ETFs). However, investors have yet to embrace ETFs in a meaningful way,” he adds.

With high sales charges of unit trust funds, which generally are open ended funds, will it make more sense for investors to switch their investments into close-end funds or other instruments like ETFs?

iCapital.biz Bhd managing director Tan Teng Boo does not think so. Unless the fund manager has an excellent track record, he says it is hard to promote and list a close-end fund like icapital.biz Bhd on Bursa Malaysia.

Tan says any such fund has to go through an initial public offering process and is not so profitable for fund management companies to promote and list close-end funds as there are no entry fees or front-end loadings or commissions, he adds. At the same time, he says investors in Malaysia are not familiar with closed-end funds.

icapital.biz Bhd is the only listed closed-end fund in the country.

From the company’s records, icapital.biz Bhd’s cumulative returns for the five-year period (between Oct 19, 2005 and Dec 30, 2010) stood at 109%. (Note: the fund was not traded on Dec 31, 2010).

The top half of the Equity Malaysia Funds (equity unit trust funds) returns range from 84% to 196% during the five-year period (Dec 31, 2005 to Dec 31, 2010).

Wong says that in general, unit trust funds are more popular than closed-end funds. With the so-called guaranteed buy-back feature, investors can be assured that the unit trust management company will buy back their units in the event the investors need to make a redemption or liquidation.

“Unlike unit trust funds, the trading price of the closed-end fund is dictated by market force and investor sentiment. In the event the investors of the closed-end funds want to liquidate their holdings, they can only liquidate or sell through the brokers on the stock exchange where the units are subject to the market forces of supply and demand.

“Therefore, the prices can be volatile in the secondary market where investors may sell their units at a discount or premium. In this case, liquidity is one of the major concerns for investors of closed-end funds,” he says.

Foo feels investing in closed-end funds or open-end funds has its pros and cons, but much depends on the skill and capability of the investment manager to deliver the returns by taking advantage of the inherent features of the two structures.

Tan of Standard Financial Planner says more research and analysis on close-end funds is required before investing, compared with unit trust investment where the fund’s objectives of distribution policies, inherent risks, minimum investment period are clearly spelt out in its prospectus.

Every investor wants to preserve capital invested and a return corresponding with the risk taken, he explains.

Currently, there are over 580 unit trust funds in the market compared with only five listed ETFs on Bursa, namely CIMB FTSE Asean40, CIMB FTSE China 25, FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI ETF, MyETF Dow Jones Islamic Market Malaysia Titans 25 and ABF Malaysia Bond Index Fund.

For example, returns to date (Jan 1 to Oct 31) of FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI ETF stands at -0.16%. The FTSE Bursa Malaysia KLCI was down 2.71% during the same period.

Lim says ETFs can be a good choice for investors who have knowledge of the stock market and have the expertise to make investment decisions on their own. For the normal saver, however, unit trusts tend to be more appropriate as the investments are managed by professionals who have the skill sets to make complex investment decisions.

Gan, however, feels investors should consider other factors rather than solely relying on returns data. Factors like volatility of the instrument and fund size are equally important when investing in a particular fund.

Growth momentum and key challenges

With the current uncertainties in the global economy coupled by the eurozone debt crisis, is the unit trust industry able to ride out the global economic slowdown to continue its growth path?

Industry players generally think the industry will continue to grow albeit at a slower phase. CIMB-Principal’s Tupling projects a low single-digit growth for the rest of the year and anticipates the industry’s asset under management to grow about 5% to RM104bil this year.

In terms of net asset value (NAV), the investments in unit trust funds held by 14 million account holders stood at RM240bil last year compared with RM44bil in 2000, an increase of about 45% per annum.

Wong feels the market should determine the fee structure as good performance and achieving objectives are vital.

He says that new investment in equity funds has slowed but it is not a significant drop, adding that redemptions are also lower than expected.

The growing risk aversion, he says, will result in higher demand for more defensive and conservative asset classes like dividend-yielding equities and fixed income securities.

Lim of HwangDBS expects single-digit growth this year due to poor market sentiment and high risk aversion in view of the uncertainties in the global economy.

He says the main challenges faced by the industry is the need to address the question on how growth momentum can be maintained as well as to promote unit trust fund as a staple in building long-term wealth. He says there is also a need to change the short-term investor mindset.

Gan says while the current gloomy outlook may have impacted equity funds, not all can be lumped in the same boat. Funds like Islamic and money market are thriving and the factors that will ultimately attribute to industry growth is how well funds perform and deliver products that meet investor needs.

Areca Capital’s Wong expects the industry to continue growing at a double-digit rate. With investment markets getting more volatile, he says investors may find it harder to grow their investments resulting in migration of more funds into the fund management industry.

Competition from international players is the other main challenge for local players, he notes. To face the challenges, Wong adds innovativeness and excellent service standard is needed.

It is therefore important to allow different types of business models and strategies to combat that threat, especially when facing the establishedgiant international players, so that each player will continue its role and find its niche within the industry, he says.

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Investing during turbulent times


Coins and banknotes

Tips on how to invest during turbulent times

STOCK markets around the world lately gave investors that sinking feeling again, weighed down by deepening woes of Europe’s sovereign debts, an anemic US economy and new fears of a sharp economic slowdown in China.

Many investors sold shares to hold more cash, despite cash earning very little interest. In Singapore for example, six months USD fixed deposits of less than US$1mil earns zero interest in some banks.

In the United States, 10-year Treasury bonds are yielding 2.1% per annum; despite misery returns, many investors prefer the safety of US Treasuries during crisis times, while waiting for policymakers to act boldly and markets to stabilise.

At the same time, we see many economists and other pundits offer a whole host of predictions about today’s global financial predicaments. The many predictions range from the slightly hopeful to the pessimistic, right down to the disastrous and absurd.

Does it sound familiar? Did we not hear many such predictions during the 2008/2009 global financial crisis? Who should we listen to? What should one do?

No doubt in hindsight, a few forecasts will be correct; and as the dust settles, many extreme predictions will also likely be forgotten. Yet for investors today, separating much of the “noise” from facts is one of the more tricky parts of steering through these very challenging times.

Fundamentals and valuation takes a back seat during a crisis

Volatile stock markets today are driven by latest positive or negative news flow affecting sentiment. Uncertainties during a crisis causes investment risks to spike, stock investors tend to sell first and ask questions later; fundamentals and stock valuation typically takes a back seat in the short term.

No doubt many investors worry about negative impact to a company’s fundamentals in difficult times. For example, a manufacturing company’s stock with a present price earning (PE) multiple of six times can change drastically to 60 times PE if earnings were to collapse 90% because of a global financial crisis.

Similarly, a property company’s price to book value discount of 60% can easily drop to 30% if asset value is marked down by half in troubled times. Monitoring, reassessments and analysis of a company’s financial progress is obviously important during tumultuous times.

Share prices of companies (even those with good fundamentals) may continue to fall indiscriminately, due to many reasons such as panic selling, fund redemption and repatriation. Investors should tread cautiously, even if stock prices may appear to be at very attractive levels.

I relate a challenging experience from the last global stock market plunge. In 2008, I invested in the largest luxury watch distributor and retailer in China (at that time 210 stores and sales amounting to 5.5 billion yuan a year or about 30% market share).

This Hong Kong listed Chinese company sells luxury watches (such as Omega, Longines, Bvlgari) from global brand owners Swatch group of Switzerland and LVMH of France (both by the way are also 9.1% and 6.3% shareholders of this Chinese company respectively).

As the US sub-prime mortgage crisis deepens by end-July 2008, many stocks around the world plunged. This company’s shares similarly dropped from HK$2 to HK$1.50 in a matter of weeks.

We vigorously reassessed the company’s fundamentals, including visits to retail outlets in China and Hong Kong. The result was an affirmation of our conviction to invest in the company for the long-term, despite short-term price weakness.

By late September 2008, we decided to purchase more shares when valuation proved so attractive at HK$1.15 per share (at a PE multiple of eight times).

Unfortunately, as the global financial crisis worsened, the company’s shares continued to plunge and bottomed to a low of HK$0.51 by Nov 26, 2008.

This stock eventually recovered back to HK$2 per share (by June 1, 2009) and went on to exceed HK$5 per share by late 2010. The company’s share prices recovered partly because Asian equities rebounded quickly in 2009, but also reached new highs because the company’s fundamentals continue to improve with strong sales (+49%), profitability (+26%) and expansions (+140 stores to 350 stores) from 2008 to 2010.

A lesson if you will that during a crisis, one should be prepared for short-term (weeks and months) stock market volatility.

It is essential for bargain hunters to have long-term holding power, good understanding of company fundamentals and strong conviction on a company’s prospect. In the long-term, we know fundamentals and valuation does matter.

How does one invest during a time of crisis?

My approaches to investing in turbulent times are:

  • Search for and invest (when valuations are attractive) in well managed companies that will not only survive but emerge stronger from crisis times;
  • Be prepared to stomach stock market volatility in the months ahead;
  • Have a longer term investment horizon (perhaps two to three years); once this crisis dissipates, reap the rewards as stock markets recover.

In Asia, macroeconomic fundamentals likely will remain resilient as many Asian economies have strong foreign currency reserves, coupled with more fiscal and monetary policy options to support growth.

China is also likely to withstand any fallout from Europe better than most would think. China’s economy is still growing at a strong 9.1% gross domestic product growth for the third quarter of 2011; speculations about China’s economy crashing may be somewhat premature at this stage.

Similarly, I think many established Asian companies have sufficient resources be it cash, borrowing powers or human capital, to emerge out of these turbulent times faster and stronger than before.

I believe with increasingly attractive valuation, the investing risk-reward equation (potential downside risk versus long term return prospects) favors Asian equities in the long run. I have confidence investing in Asia’s fundamentals and Asian companies for many more years ahead.

Teoh Kok Lin is the founder and chief investment officer of Singular Asset Management Sdn Bhd

What’s PNB up to a takeover bid on Setia ? Leave it to the real businessmen!


A QUESTION OF BUSINESS By P. GUNASEGARAM  p.guna@thestar.com.my

Permodalan Nasional Bhd‘s surprise bid for SP Setia raises more questions than answers

IT must be great to have so much firepower at your fingertips. But it is also a huge responsibility. How do you get your target and keep it intact at the same time? It’s the old question of having your cake and eating it too.

That’s a dilemma that not just Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) but many government-linked companies (GLCs) face. They have the money to buy over property companies but if they don’t do it right, they stand the risk of losing the people behind these companies.

If the worst happens the staff leave, the company is unable to undertake its projects, quality of houses and other developments drop, launches get less imaginative, public perception deteriorates, and, ultimately, value gets destroyed.

By seeking to own the golden goose body and soul, it is sometimes killed. Occasionally, there is in the corporate world a very thin line between protecting and enhancing your investments and making a wrong move which may send their value plummeting down, if not immediately, in time.

The latest episode (see our cover story this issue) has raised eyebrows not least because of the manner in which PNB has made its bid for one of most respected and admired property companies in Malaysia, SP Setia.

PNB already has about a 33% stake in SP Setia but is seeking to raise this stake to over 50% by offering RM3.90 a share, about an 11% premium over the closing price before the announcement of its notice of takeover. It offered 91 sen per warrant, a premium of nearly 100%.

It has had its stake of just under 33%, the point at which a general takeover offer is triggered under the takeover code, since 2008 but pushed this to just over trigger point on Tuesday and announced its intention for a takeover the following morning.

The offer is conditional upon PNB getting control of SP Setia. PNB also announced its intention of keeping SP Setia listed by ensuring a shareholding spread even if it got more than 90% of the offer shares.

Initial calculations based on 75% control and acquisition of all warrants indicate that the takeover could cost PNB over RM3 billion, a lot of money for most private investors in Malaysia but a mere drop in the ocean for PNB which has over RM150 billion under management.

It’s the second largest fund manager in the country after EPF which is twice as big with over RM300 billion in funds. But PNB is probably the largest equity investor in the country because of a much higher proportion of funds invested in equity. There is hardly a major listed company in Malaysia in which PNB does not have a stake.

The big puzzle is why has PNB launched this takeover offer which could potentially affect adversely the value of its quarry? What was PNB fearing? Was it just a matter of increasing its stake in a depressed market which undervalued SP Setia’s assets or was there something else? And why did it not consult with senior management and shareholders even after its notice of takeover?

At this stage one can only conjecture on the answers and make educated guesses.

But first, what’s wrong if PNB took a majority stake? Previously SP Setia had PNB as a major but not a majority shareholder. PNB did not intervene in management and had two board representatives. If the SP Setia board put up a proposal for shareholder approval, PNB cannot by itself stop it if other shareholders supported it. They include the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) with 13.4%, SP Setia president and CEO Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin with 11.26% and Kumpulan Wang Amanah Persaraan or KWAP with five per cent.

One must still note that the government-linked funds or GLFs already control over 51% of SP Setia. But with PNB alone poised to take over a 50% stake, feathers are being ruffled and questions are being asked as to what that means.

What would have been the ideal situation for SP Setia? Four factors would have contributed. An independent management, a good board which represented all parties, strong minority shareholders, and a diversified institutional base so that no shareholder dominated. The first three are pretty much in place but the fourth was not achieved because PNB had since 2008 been holding a stake of just under 33% and with two other GLFs, the stake came to over 50%. But was there a way of dispersing shareholding?

One deal being negotiated, it was reported, was for Sime Daby, a PNB company, to take a 20% stake through the issue of new shares in exchange for land banks. If it had come through, it would have helped to dilute PNB’s shareholding. Still, Sime is related.

The underlying problem is this. GLFs and GLCs have lots of money and not many places to put them in. Good companies attract their attention but if they take control, and especially if they take management control as well, the move can destroy value.

Some of PNB’s property purchase and privatisation acts in the past have not been particularly successful, if at all. The major reason is key staff leave after GLCs take control. That’s a phenomenon that’s happened quite a few times.

So far, PNB’s stake in SP Setia had not been a problem. PNB had its two board representatives and it was quite satisfied with its stake. A balance seemed to have been reached with senior management, especially Liew who is also a major shareholder.

But that has been thrown askew with PNB’s latest move. Part of the solution will be to convince the market that there will not be management interference unless things go wrong. But the only assurance of that is if stakes are far below 50%, perhaps not more than 30%.

PNB is primarily a passive investor. Thus its motivation should not be to stop dilution of its shareholding or moves to widen shareholding among companies it owns. Control should not be its primary aim.

Instead, it must focus on getting best value for its current stake, which may well be achieved by continuing to be clearly a passive investor. That’s better than having a bigger stake in a less valuable company. Perhaps it could have put its RM3bil in other investments. But it looks like it’s a bit too late for that.

l Managing editor P Gunasegaram is plainly perplexed by PNB’s bid to take over SP Setia. Any explanations?

Leave it to the real businessmen !

ON THE BEAT WITH WONG CHUN WAI

Questions are being raised as to why Permodalan Nasional Bhd is making a takeover bid on SP Setia, a reputable housing developer.

IT may not have caught the attention of ordinary Malaysians but it is a big story that is now the hottest topic among the business community.

Housing developer SP Setia is a reputable name that many Malaysians are familiar with because of the quality homes it builds.

It has also ventured outside Malaysia and made its presence felt in Vietnam, Australia, Singapore and even Britain.

The man at the helm of SP Setia is 52-year-old Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin, a down-to-earth bank officer-turned-developer.

Some would even say SP Setia is Liew Kee Sin and Liew Kee Sin is SP Setia.

Fiercely proud of his humble beginnings in Johor – his father was a lorry driver – the Universiti Malaya graduate wanted to study law but was offered economics instead.

SP Setia started off as a construction company – a syarikat pembinaan as conveyed in its initials SP.

Liew turned it into a big-time property developer when he injected two projects – Pusat Bandar Puchong and Bukit Indah Ampang – into the company in 1996.

Liew has faced many challenges but he is now looking at the biggest fight of his career – one that is heavily staked against him.

Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB), the country’s largest asset manager and owner of 33% of SP Setia, is making a bid to take over the company.

On Friday, PNB bought an additional 23.5 million shares in the open market for RM3.868 a share, just 3.2 sen shy of its proposed takeover price of RM3.90.

PNB, with a RM150bil cash chest, is seeking to raise its stake to over 50% with its RM3.90 offer, which is about an 11% premium over the closing price before the announcement of its notice of takeover.

Such a takeover bid is not unusual in the corporate world, and more so when Liew only has an 11.3% stake in the company.

Other major shareholders of SP Setia include the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) with 13.4%, Kumpulan Wang Amanah Persaraan with 5% and over 40% are in the hands of minority shareholders.

But the manner in which it was done has led to much unhappiness.

Despite having two PNB directors on the board, there was no courtesy of a verbal notification prior to the takeover move.

The general offer notice only reached the company on Wednesday at 8.30am, just before the market opened.

Some may argue that the element of surprise was for strategic reasons but there was still no call even after news broke out of the takeover bid.

In a nutshell, relations have been strained.

PNB has issued a statement saying it wishes to maintain the management team, which is known to be fiercely loyal to Liew, but no one is sure how events will unfold in the coming days.

However, questions have been raised as to why PNB is wanting to take over a company that is being run competently instead of remaining as a passive investor that is satisfied with good investment returns.

If the Government is actively pushing for the private sector to be the engine of growth, we have the right to ask why the GLCs are competing with the private sector.

Widening its shareholding base is one thing but controlling private companies will lead to speculation over its agenda, cause unnecessary concerns as well as send the wrong signals.

The whole exercise will cost PNB RM3bil, which is chicken feed to them, but there are political and economic ramifications that the country’s leaders should take note of.

It may not be such a grand scheme in the end for PNB if Liew decides to leave SP Setia and set up his own venture, and gets his senior management team to join him.

PNB may then find itself in a spot even after gaining control of the company.

No one would believe that there would not be interference from PNB, so let’s not kid Malaysian investors.

Civil servants who manage public funds should leave the business of running businesses and making money to the real businessmen.

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