Good time to invest in property now


Better upside: (from left) Knight Frank Sdn Bhd international project marketing (residential) senior manager Dominic Heaton-Watson, Knight Frank Asia-Pacific research head Nicholas Holt, Sarkunan and capital markets executive director James Buckley at the event

KUALA LUMPUR: The slowdown in the local property market has bottomed out, with prices seen picking up later this year, according to property consultancy firm Knight Frank Sdn Bhd.

“We predict a stable rate in 2017 and we will possibly see better upside towards the end of the year or early next year,” Knight Frank managing director Sarkunan Subramaniam said.

“The market has had a few years of contraction and we feel that this year, what will clear up one of the major concerns of most investors is the political uncertainty,” he said at the launch of Knight Frank’s 2017 Wealth Report here yesterday.

According to the report, “political uncertainty” was among the top concerns of its respondents in Asia at 25%.

“We’re going to have elections possibly this year. Once they have cleared, there will be positive movement in the market and that’s why I feel now is a good time to buy property in Malaysia.

“Once the elections are out, the economy will generally start picking up and sentiments will improve. Capital will also start coming in,” he said.

According to the wealth report, potential fall in asset values was the highest concern among its Asian respondents at 30%, followed by rising taxes and tighter controls on capital movement at 28% and 27% respectively.

Going forward, Sarkunan said affordable homes would primarily drive the local property market.

“Affordable homes will still be a driver to an extent, but medium-to-high end properties will also pick up again. Also, when the mass rapid transit (MRT) lines come into the city, it will drive the commercial market there as well.

“We’ve had a lot of decentralisation push over the last 10 years and the MRT will bring office workers to the city.”

Sarkunan pointed out that locations with light rail transit (LRT) and MRT lines, such as Damansara Heights, have bucked the trend in terms of condominium values.

“Prices have actually increased compared with some of the other areas in Malaysia. Transport hubs or transport-orientated developments, such as Kota Damansara, have also seen improvements in prices.”

The Knight Frank 2017 Wealth Report tracks the value of luxury homes in 100 key locations worldwide, including 19 destinations from Asia Pacific.

According to the report, values rose globally by 1.4% on average last year, compared with 1.8% in 2015. Asia was the second best performing world region last year, with prices rising 5.1%.

Australasia was the strongest performing world region with prices rising 11.4% year-on-year.

Source: BY EUGENE MAHALINGAM The Star/ANN

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What Trump means for Asian investors?


In the lead-up to January 20 when Donald Trump becomes US president, Asians are guessing about the outlook for their savings.

Trump is particularly difficult to read because he made so many wild statements on the campaign trail. Everyone accepts that campaigning politicians promise heaven and deliver mostly hell, but when they win elections, most become much more sober. So far, it looks like Trump’s policy will follow his campaign threats.

The Trump presidency will be bi-polar – either highly successful if he reboots American dynamism, or one that may bankrupt the country trying, including getting involved in another war.

His rise to power has been accompanied by wild swings in investor mood as markets yo-yo from hesitation to rally, with the Dow currently peaking.

So far, Trump family members appear to have more clout than was the case with any previous , with perhaps the exception of President Bill Clinton.

Disappointingly, the favourite to be Trump’s treasury secretary is ex-Goldman Sachs banker Steven Mnuchin, which means Wall Street would have another insider running the status quo. It remains to be seen whether he can simultaneously deliver the promised spending on infrastructure, tax cuts for the rich and containment of effects of a stronger dollar.

All signs are that the dollar will strengthen, bringing echoes of the famous phrase, “my dollar, your problem”. In its latest health check on the US economy, the International Monetary Fund reported in June that “the current level of the US dollar is assessed to be overvalued by 10-20 per cent and the current account deficit is around 1.5-2 per cent larger than the level implied by medium term fundamentals and desirable policies”. The IMF thinks that the risk of the dollar surging in value is high, and estimates a 10 per cent appreciation would reduce American GDP by 0.5 per cent in the first year and 0.5-0.8 per cent in the second year.

Trump is likely to be highly expansionary in his first year because the Republicans, having control of the Congress, Senate and the White House, must revive growth and jobs to ensure voters give them a second term. Note carefully that Trump’s election promises of stopping immigration, scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, imposing sanctions on China and cancelling the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are all inflationary in nature.

This is why if the Fed does not raise interest rates in December this year, it may be under pressure next year not to take any action to slow a Trump economic recovery. The Fed’s independence will be called into question, since Trump’s expansionary policy will put pressure on his budget deficit and national debt, already running at 3 per cent and 76 per cent of GDP respectively. A 1-per-cent increase in nominal interest rates would add roughly 0.7 per cent to the fiscal deficit, making it unsustainable in the long run.

Those who think that recovery in US growth would be good for trade are likely to be disappointed. So far, the recovery (which is stronger than in either Europe or Japan) has led to little increase in imports, due to three effects – lower oil prices, the increase in domestic shale oil production and more onshoring of manufacturing. The US current account deficit may worsen somewhat to around 4 per cent of GDP, but this will not improve unless sanctions are imposed on both China and Mexico, which would in turn hurt global trade.

Why is a strong dollar risky for the global economy?

The answer is that the global growth model would be too dependent on the US, while the other economies are still struggling. Europe used to be broadly balanced in terms of current account, but has moved to become a major surplus zone of around 3.4 per cent of GDP. Germany alone is running a current account surplus of 8.6 per cent of GDP in 2016, benefiting hugely from the weak euro.

Japan has moved back again to a current surplus of 3.7 per cent of GDP, but the yen remains weak at current levels of 107 to the dollar. I interpret the Bank of Japan’s QQE (qualitative and quantitative easing) as both a financial stability tool and also one aimed at ensuring that the capital outflows by Japanese funds would outweigh the inflows from foreigners punting on a yen appreciation.

The Bank of Japan’s unlimited buying of Japanese government bonds at fixed rates would put a cap on losses for pension and insurance funds holding long-term bonds if the yield curve were to steepen (bond prices fall when interest rates rise). Japanese pension and insurance funds have been large investors in US Treasuries and securities for the higher yield and possible currency appreciation.

In short, the capital outflow from Japan to the dollar is helpful to US-Japan relations. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to call on Trump and likely dangled a carrot: Tokyo will fund Trump’s expansionary policies so long as Japan is allowed to re-arm.

From 2007 to 2015, US securities held by foreigners increased by $7.3 trillion to $17.1 trillion, bringing its gross amount to 94 per cent of GDP, official figures show. Japan already holds just under $2 trillion of US securities and, as a surplus saver, has lots of room to buy more.

The bottom line for Asia? Don’t expect great trade recovery from any US expansion. On the other hand, Asian investors will continue to buy US dollars on the prospects of higher interest rates and better recovery. This puts pressure on Asian exchange rates.

Of course, it’s possible that US fund managers will start investing back in Asia, but with trade sanctions and frosty relations between US-China in the short-term, US investors will stay home. If interest rates do go up in Asia in response to Fed rate increases, don’t expect the bond markets to improve. The equity outlook would depend on individual country responses to these global uncertainty threats.

In short, expect more Trump tantrums in financial markets.

Think Asian By Andrew Sheng, a former central banker, writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

 

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Bank Rakyat Chairman, Abdul Aziz nabbed over embezzlement probe


Video: //players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5103483590001

http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2016/08/30/macc-picks-up-bank-chief-abdul-aziz-questioned-over-rm15mil-case-after-md-held/

MACC picks up bank chief 

PETALING JAYA: Bank Rakyat chairman Jen (ret) Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Haji Zainal has been detained for questioning over a RM15mil case, the second top level person from the bank to be hauled up by the MACC.

The bank’s managing director, Datuk Mustafha Abd Razak, was detained on Thursday and has since been remanded.

MACC investigation director Datuk Azam Baki confirmed that the commission had moved in yesterday.

“I confirm the arrest. It is to facilitate the ongoing investigation,” he said, declining to elaborate further.

A source told The Star that the chairman was detained at his office in Jalan Rakyat at about 1.15pm yesterday.

“Nearly RM1mil of the suspect’s cash in his bank account has been frozen pending the probe. We went to his office to detain him,” he said.

Jen (ret) Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Haji Zainal

The source added that the MACC did not rule out the possibility of freezing other assets belonging to the 65-year-old if the funds were found to be connected to any shady dealings.

“The commission will submit a request tomorrow morning (today) to remand the suspect,” the source said, adding that the graftbusters were aiming to obtain a lengthy remand.

The source said the duo were the only individuals from the bank who were being questioned by MACC over the case.

The chairman and the 48-year-old managing director were detained over a multi-million-ringgit book publishing contract and a project to upgrade the bank system.

The Star reported yesterday that a second banker was being sought by the MACC over the publishing contract and the upgrading project.

It is believed the RM15mil was given to a publishing company to come up with a coffee-table book about a prominent political figure. The deal was for the publisher to print about 20,000 copies but the number printed is said to have been much lower.

A source said that several bank accounts, totalling about RM10mil, have been frozen by the MACC in connection with the case.

Top executives: Mustafha (left) and Abdul Aziz.
Top executives: Mustafha (left) and Abdul Aziz. Datuk Mustafha Abd Razak

Another source told The Star that the MACC suspected several people of collaborating in the project.

“The MACC also wants the mastermind behind this,” the source said.

The MACC has been on crackdown against graft in high places in recent days.

On Aug 15, three government officers – one with the title “Datuk” and another “Datuk Seri” – were arrested by the MACC for graft, misuse of power and money laundering.

All three men, who were employed at a government department, a local authority and a government-linked company, were detained in Kuala Lumpur, Malacca and Kelantan respectively.

All accounts belonging to them – with deposits totalling more than RM13mil – were frozen.

It is not known if the cases are related.

By Nadirah H. Rodzi The Star

Bank Rakyat chairman remanded over RM15mil graft case to be held for seven days

 

 

PUTRAJAYA: Bank Rakyat chairman Jen (ret) Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Haji Zainal has been remanded for seven days to help in the investigation into an alleged corruption case involving RM15mil.

Magistrate Nik Isfahanie Tasnim Wan Ab Rahman granted the request by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) for the remand to run until Sept 5.

The 65-year-old is one of three people from the financial institution to be questioned over a multimillion-ringgit book publishing contract and a project to upgrade the bank’s system.

Nearly RM1mil of Abdul Aziz’s cash in his bank account has been frozen pending the probe.

It is learnt that two others from a publishing company have also been further remanded until Friday.

However, the bank’s managing director Datuk Mustafha Abd Razak and a former procurement officer, and another two owners of the publishing company have been released by MACC as investigations against them have been completed.

In the case, RM15mil was believed to have been awarded to the publishing company to come up with a coffee-table book about a prominent political figure.

The deal was for the publisher to print about 20,000 copies but the number produced was said to have been much lower.

In another case involving the alleged abuse of power over a multi­million-ringgit oil pipeline project, six people – five contractors and an officer from an oil-and-gas company – have had their remand extended until Friday.

Two others – a contractor and another officer from the same oil-and-gas company – were released.

Magistrate Nik Isfahanie also allowed for a 27-year-old man, who is the son of a contractor implicated in the case, to be remanded for five days until Saturday.

He was detained at the MACC headquarters when he showed up to give a statement at 5pm yesterday.

MACC has frozen 17 bank accounts, with deposits totalling RM5.5mil, in connection with the case.

It also seized a double-storey house, some jewellery, several luxury cars including four Rolls-Royce, a Ferrari, a Toyota, a Mercedes and a Volkswagen, as well as two motor­cycles.

The managing director of the oil-and-gas company is alleged to have taken a bribe from a sub-contractor for appointing him and approving a falsified invoice for the RM76mil project.

By  Martin Carvalho, Hemananthani Sivanandam, Royce Tan, Joash Ee De Silva The Star/Asia News Network

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China cracks down on P2P lending to curb illegal activities


biznews005 CHINA’S P2P INDUSTRY OPERATION

BEIJING: China’s banking regulator issued tough new rules on Wednesday to tighten regulation of the country’s $60 billion peer-to-peer lending sector, which has been dogged by scandals and fraud.

The measures mark the latest attempt by China to reduce risks to the world’s second-largest economy by cleaning up the its rapidly growing but loosely regulated online financial sector.

Peer-to-peer lending (P2P) platforms will not be able to take deposits, nor provide any forms of guarantee for lenders, according to a joint document issued by the China Banking Regulatory Commission (CBRC), Ministry of Public Security, Cyberspace Administration of China, and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

The regulator said some P2P firms were running Ponzi schemes and raising funds illegally, and said it would bar firms from 13 “forbidden” activities.

Under the new rules, P2P firms would not be permitted to sell wealth management products which are popular with many Chinese investors, nor issue asset-backed securities, and must use third party banks as custodians of investor funds, the regulator said.

It added that P2P firms cannot guarantee investment returns nor investment principal, and they would be subjected to higher disclosure requirements.

The regulations follow the April passage of a plan by the State Council, or cabinet, to clean up the non-bank financial sector after rare demonstrations by angry investors stoked fears of social unrest.

The banking regulator is responsible for tightening regulations over P2P, online trust businesses and online consumer finance firms

China’s online P2P lending platforms, which match small business and individual borrowers with retail investors with spare funds, has seen rapid growth in the past two years largely due to the lack of regulatory oversight.

The industry raised more than 400 billion yuan ($60 billion)by November last year, CBRC data showed.

But among the more than 3,600 P2P platforms, more than 1,000 were problematic, the CBRC had said.

The rise of P2P lending was originally seen by the government as a type of financial innovation that could make funds accessible to credit-hungry consumers and small businesses, which continue to struggle to get loans from traditional financial institutions.

Beijing’s hands-off approach to promote the rapid development of the sector, however, led to a large number of high-profile P2P failures, scandals and frauds.

The consequences have devastated many retail investors, who dumped their life-savings into P2P platforms in hopes of receiving double-digit returns, threatening China’s social and financial stability.

Ezubao, once China’s biggest P2P lending platform, turned out to be a Ponzi scheme that solicited 50 billion yuan ($7.5 billion) in less than two years from more than 900,000 retail investors through savvy marketing.

Investor funds were squandered by Ezubao executives on lavish lifestyles. Retail investors are still unable to get back their hard-earned money, and many have blamed Beijing for its lack of regulation and scrutiny. – Reuters

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Money lost under the shadow banking: loan sharks Ah Long


 

IN my previous article, I shared the impact of high credit card interest rate that many have overlooked and hence, overspent. Interestingly, there are loans outside the confines of financial institutions that affect the mass. These loans are largely unregulated and therefore, more painful in terms of financial burden and emotional stress when the loan and interest cannot be repaid on time.

Every now and then, I will receive text messages from unknown contacts offering loans at “attractive” rates. A check with my close associates indicates that I am not alone in receiving such messages. These messages and those stickers offering loans on the streets share the same traits, i.e. easy loan with no pre-qualification required. Example – “Borrow RM1,000, and return RM200 monthly for six months”.

At first glance, it seems like the interest rate for the loan is 20%. However, as the repayment period is only six months, it is actually 40% per annum! This rate is 11 times higher compared with the average fixed deposit rate of 3.5% per annum in the market.

These loans are offered mostly by unlicensed moneylenders, otherwise commonly known as “loan sharks”. According to a news article published in The Star recently, the interest they charged are mostly counted based on monthly or even daily rest basis.

It is learnt from the article that people usually borrow between RM1,000 and RM10,000 at an interest rate of 0.5% to 1% per day. This works up to about 15% to 30% monthly. When the loan is defaulted, another 5% is added as a late repayment penalty.

It therefore becomes evident that the borrowers of such loans face immense problem repaying their loans. They will generally end up borrowing from other moneylender to cover their existing loan which will lead them to more debts. Imagine the emotional stress from harassment when they are unable to serve the interest.

Sadly, this loan with its easy application process and low requirement attracts people who are financially desperate, regardless of professional or income group.

Bank Negara has announced that Malaysia’s household debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio has increased from 86.8% to 89.1% as of 2015. We have one of the highest household debts in the region without including the unregulated loans from these “moneylenders”. I wonder how this “shadow banking” or “off balance sheet transaction” impact our people and economy.

To protect the rakyat, the government should look at strengthening the enforcement of eliminating illegal money lending.

As the saying goes “where there is demand, there is supply”. Hence the key is to first understand why people resort to borrowing from these “moneylenders”. It is important to strengthen financial education and awareness of public through various channels.

People, especially children, should be taught to borrow for the right things from young, and understand the difference between good debt and bad debt. More importantly, people should learn to ask themselves if there is a real need to borrow. Borrowing money to buy assets that depreciate over a short period of time, such as cars and luxury items is deemed as “bad debt”. This is in stark contrast to “good debt”, such as buying a home or asset that has the possibility of appreciating in the long term, and at the same time, paying a much lower interest rate compared with bad debts.

For people with a genuine need for financing, there are many other options such as borrowing from the banks and legal money lenders, or even to the explore “fintech”, a financial technology which offers more efficient and cheaper financial services through the use of technology. Again, it is important to ensure these channels are legal and well regulated.

Borrowing from unregulated moneylenders is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire. It is important to have wise financial planning in the first place and always seek advice before doing anything financially. One may get advice from government agencies, such as Agensi Kaunseling dan Pengurusan Kredit, when faced with financial challenges.


By Datuk Alan Tong, who has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the World President of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.

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Debt problems remain in oil & gas industry, cast a large shadow on its Malaysian peers, Alam Maritim


Some oil companies that piled on too much debt won’t make it in today’s world of $40-$50 oil.

THE near-demise of Singapore-listed oilfield services company Swiber Holdings Ltd has cast a large shadow on its Malaysian peers who are facing similar mounting debts, a lack of new tenders and a depleting cash pile.

With oil prices still in a bear market for the second year running, smaller offshore services firms may continue to underperform as high debt obligations will continue to eat up existing cash reserves, say analysts.

Swiber had initially filed for liquidation on July 29 but had subsequently sought judicial management in an attempt to restructure the company’s existing businesses. The firm, which has 51 vessels in its fleet, has a prominent presence in Southeast Asian waters in a variety of jobs.

The effects of the two-year slump in oil prices were clearly seen in Swiber. Its capitalisation had fallen by 90% from its 2013 peak prior to the stock’s suspension last week.

Over the same period, its cash pile has been depleted by a series of debt repayments, which is a recurring theme for companies in the industry that tend to be highly leveraged.

The company’s predicament has put the spotlight on its Malaysian peers. Alam Maritim Resources Bhd, which has two joint ventures with Swiber, will now have to proceed without its partner.

As the joint ventures are vital cash generators for Alam, it is unlikely that the firm will dissolve them following Swiber’s exit. But it is now faced with the choice of buying out Swiber’s stake or finding a new partner, said Maybank IB Research in a note.

“The two JVs, which comprise a pipelay barge and a ship operator, are doing fine. The ventures could generate a combined net profit of RM8-RM10mil, of which Alam’s share is RM4-5mil,” said the research house, which nonetheless remained bearish on Alam with a ‘sell’ call and a target price of just 11 sen.

At the moment, the need to preserve cash flow continuity is of utmost importance in order to service existing debts. According to AllianceDBS Research, domestic contract flow in the oil and gas industry hit its lowest point in nearly four years during the second half of this year (2Q16).

“With utilisation rates at and charter rates at multi-year lows, there are few immediate bullish catalysts in the industry at present. To give just one example, talks of the possible mergers or consolidation in the oil and gas industry have largely fizzled out as there is no extra cash to be spent.” explains one oil and gas sector analyst.

To illustrate the debt load situation, a check on Bloomberg data reveals at least seven companies listed on Bursa Malaysia whose net debts currently exceed their entire market capitalisations.

The companies include SapuraKencana Petroleum Bhd (SapKen), Bumi Armada Bhd, Wah Seong Corp Bhd, and Icon Offshore Bhd, among others.

Meanwhile, at least twelve oil and gas companies have net debt-to-earnings ratios of at least three times, which far exceeds the benchmark FBM KLCI’s ratio of 1.17 times currently.

This financial metric is typically used to measure a company’s ability to service existing debts relative to its earnings performance.

UMW Oil and Gas Corp and Barakah Offshore Petroleum Bhd are among the highest with ratios of 13.71 times and 12.52 times respectively, according to Bloomberg data.

While large cap companies such as SapKen has successfully refinanced a large part of their debt load, the oil and gas industry as a whole remains highly leveraged even now.

Some 20% of Bursa Malaysia listed corporates showed below average debt coverage levels while another 8% were aggressively leveraged, said RAM Ratings in a commentary on Aug 2.

Oil and gas companies are among those with weaker credit indicators and will be most vulnerable to economic stress, it added.

The current abundance of crude oil supply and inventory means that the occasional rallies in the market were short-lived this year.

After hitting a year-to-date high of US$52 per barrel in early June, Brent crude prices have declined by 15% in a month to US$44 on Aug 4.

Supply from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) also rose to a record high of 33.41 million barrels per Aday (bps) in July, which could further dampen any upside potential in the commodity’s price, Reuters reported. – by Afiq Isa The Star/Asian News Network

Alam Maritim on Swiber impact

 

Azmi says contribution from JV with company not substantial

PETALING JAYA: Alam Maritim Resources Bhd will not feel the heat from financial troubles of its partner, the Singapore-listed Swiber Holdings Ltd.

In fact, Alam Maritim is considering taking over the stake of the troubled-oil and gas (O&G) firm in a project that the companies are working on.

“There is only one project directly contracted with Swiber which is almost fully-completed namely engineering, procurement, construction, installation, commissioning of SK316 development job worth US$76mil,” Alam Maritim group managing director and group chief executive officer Datuk Azmi Ahmad told StarBiz.

The SK316 project is the development of a huge gas field located offshore Sarawak.

The other option for Alam Maritim is to find a new partner to take over Swiber’s role.

He said Alam Maritim had two JV companies with Swiber,

The first is Alam Swiber Offshore (M) Sdn Bhd which is equally owned by Alam Maritim (M) Sdn Bhd and Swiber Offshore Construction.

The second is Alam Swiber DLB 1 (L) Inc, which is 51% owned by Alam Maritim (L) Inc and 49% by Swiber Engineering Ltd.

“The impact is minimal to us as the contribution from the Alam-Swiber JV is not substantial to the Alam Maritim group,” he said.

Swiber, the Singapore-based oilfield services firm was reported to be in talks with its creditors for a possible debt restructuring exercise.

The stock had slumped by nearly 90% since mid-2014, taking its market value to just S$50mil, while the company had flagged delays in orders, raising concerns and sparking demands for cash.

From just 10 vessels in 2006 when it was listed, Swiber had expanded to own and operate a fleet of 51 vessels with more than 2,700 employees across South-East Asia and other countries, according to its website.

Its shares surged after listing, pushing its valuation to S$1.5bil in late-2007, but the stock fell sharply in recent years.

Smaller firm Technics Oil & Gas Ltd was placed under judicial management this month, and analysts said other firms could face difficulties.

Energy and offshore marine companies in Singapore have bonds totalling nearly S$1.2bil due to mature over the next year-and-a-half, with S$615mil due over the next five months, according to IFR, a Thomson Reuters publication.

Alam Maritim, too is facing a challenging period.

On the O&G support services industry, Azmi said the impact of Brexit on the fragile global economy might slow down the recovery of the crude oil prices affecting overall demand and pushing out the rebalancing of the oil market.

“During this challenging period, we are aggressively and continuously embarking on various cost and asset optimisation initiatives to weather the storm,” he said.

Azmi added that Alam Maritim’s vessel utilisation rate was 56%.

“As at June, our order book stood at RM470mil, tender book at RM2.6bil,” he said.

Alam Maritim fell into the red with a net loss of RM19.2mil in the first quarter ended March 31 compared with a net profit of RM8.6mil a year ago.

Its revenue for the quarter shrank to RM48.6mil from RM73.7mil in the corresponding quarter last year.

According to Maybank Kim Eng, the low oil price has resulted in a swift response to cost reduction or renegotiating of contracts, cash conservation due to delayed projects and debts refinancing as well as strategic collaboration exercises.

“It also opened a window of opportunities to exploring mergers and acquisition options.

“About 69 North American exploration and production companies were declared bankrupt between January 2015 and April this year. “Uncertainties and differences in valuation expectations between buyers and sellers are the greatest hurdles. There is currently a buyer-seller mismatch in terms of expectations,” said Maybank Kim Eng in a June report on the sector.

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Slippery Oil prices plunging create bad-loan pain for S’pore banks, Swiber to restructure


DBS, OCBC and UOB exposed to downturn in energy sector

The plunge in oil prices is catching up with Singapore’s three largest banks.

Last week, Swiber Holdings Ltd., a small Singapore company that provides construction services for international oil and gas projects, filed a petition to liquidate its operations, after facing payment demands from creditors at a time when its business was under pressure. DBS Group Holdings Ltd., one of Swiber’s largest lenders, said it only expects to recover about half of the S$700 million ($522 million) it loaned to the firm and its units. Swiber subsequently said it’s dropping the liquidation in favor of a restructure plan.

DBS and Singapore’s two other large banks, Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. and United Overseas Bank Ltd., are exposed to the downturn in the energy sector as a result of their lending to local companies which provide construction, shipping and maintenance services to the oil and gas industry. Many of those companies are suffering as the plunge in crude prices since 2014 curtailed exploration and other activity by oil and gas producers.

The financial health of the energy-services companies is the “key concern” for UOB over the next one or two years, Chief Executive Officer Wee Ee Cheong said at a media briefing Thursday on the bank’s second-quarter results. The bank’s exposure to Swiber is “manageable,” Wee said, though he noted that the wider difficulties in the oil and gas services industry were a factor behind the 17 percent climb in UOB’s nonperforming assets for the second quarter.

Debt Restructuring

Swiber said it will drop its liquidation application in a statement on Friday. Instead, the company plans to operate under a judicial management, which would allow it to continue operating under court supervision while it attempts to turn its business around. Some of its lenders had sought judicial management to recover more of their loans, according to people familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private.

“I presume it helps them buy time but it’s uncertain how viable these oil-services companies are if oil prices remain low for an extended period of time,” said Alan Richardson, a Hong Kong-based fund manager at Samsung Asset Management, which owns DBS shares. “The indirect victims of these bankruptcies are the banks who are lending money to them.”

Shares of DBS were little changed at S$15.40 as of 11:02 a.m. local time on Monday, paring this year’s loss to 7.7 percent. OCBC gained 0.8 percent and UOB rose 0.6 percent.

Oil has slipped about 19 percent from its recent peak in early June, ending a recovery that saw prices almost double from a 12-year low in February. Prices are falling again as U.S. producers increased drilling amid a glut of crude and fuel supplies that are at the highest seasonal level in at least two decades.

Moody’s Downgrade

The recent recovery in oil prices from their lows has provided only modest relief, OCBC Chief Executive Officer Samuel Tsien indicated Thursday in a media briefing on the bank’s second-quarter results, which included a 61 percent jump in nonperforming assets.

“We cannot say it’s going to be the bottom yet. We may have two more quarters to go,” Tsien said in response to a question on the rise in delinquent energy sector loans.

Oil and gas-related loans made up 5.3 percent of gross lending by Singapore banks as of December, a higher proportion than at banks in Korea, Thailand and the European Union, according to Moody’s Investors Service. The deteriorating quality of the Singapore banks’ loans to energy firms, as well as weaker regional economies, prompted Moody’s to downgrade its outlook for the three largest lenders on June 30.

UOB and OCBC’s exposures to offshore marine services companies amounted to 13 percent to 18 percent of their common equity Tier 1 capital and loan-loss reserves at the end of June, Moody’s said in a statement Monday.

DBS is due to report its second-quarter results on Aug. 8.

In a sign of how fast the bad-loan problems are worsening, OCBC said new nonperforming assets jumped 91 percent to S$924 million in the second quarter, mainly because of companies linked to the oil and gas support services sector. Newly soured assets at UOB more than doubled to S$802 million, from S$372 million a year ago.

“New nonperforming-loan generation was the highest seen in this NPL cycle so far,” Aakash Rawat, a bank analyst at UBS Group AG in Singapore, said in a report last week. “While this was cushioned somewhat by recoveries and upgrades this quarter, it is debatable whether this will continue to be the case in future.”

The SGX Oil & Gas Index, which tracks 25 locally listed firms, fell to a record low last week after news of Swiber’s problems surfaced on Thursday. Among the biggest decliners on the index was Ezra Holdings Ltd., which provides engineering and construction services to the offshore oil and gas sector. Ezra shares plunged 17 percent last week.

Another indicator of the woes among Singapore oil and gas service firms comes from the bond markets. A total of 10 Singapore-listed firms in the sector, including Swiber, have asked bondholders to loosen their covenants so far this year, versus eight in all of 2015, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That includes efforts to extend the maturity of debt and loosen covenants requiring companies to maintain certain leverage levels.

Oil-related firms have S$1.4 billion of Singapore-dollar securities maturing through 2018, with S$325 million due by the end of this year, according to Bloomberg-compiled data on July 18.

Among the three large Singapore banks, only DBS has disclosed its exposure to Swiber. OCBC isn’t listed among the oil and gas services firm’s main bankers in its 2015 annual report. UOB’s Wee didn’t quantify the bank’s lending to Swiber at the Thursday media briefing. – Bloomberg

Swiber Holdings to restructure its business

 

Big exposure: People queue up to withdraw money from DBS automated teller machines at a mall in Singapore. DBS Group Holdings Ltd, South-East Asia’s biggest lender, said it has about S700mil (US523mil) in total exposure to Swiber. – Reuters

SINGAPORE: Swiber Holdings Ltd, the Singapore-based offshore oil and gas services group, said it was dropping liquidation plans and intends to restructure its business following talks with the company’s major financial creditor.

Swiber plans to operate under so-called judicial management, according to a statement to the Singapore exchange last Friday. The arrangement would allow the company to continue operating under court supervision while attempting to turn around the business.

Some of its lenders had sought judicial management to recover more of their loans, according to people familiar with the talks who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private.

Swiber filed a petition last Wednesday to wind up and liquidate itself after facing US$25.9mil of demands from creditors.

The company had US$1.43bil in liabilities and US$1.99bil in assets at the end of March, according to its financial statements.

News of Swiber’s liquidation plans dragged down the SGX Oil & Gas Index to a new low. Local companies that rely on contracts within the offshore oil and gas market are reeling from a collapse in oil prices.

Last year, a measure of the country’s bad-loan ratio reached the highest level since 2009, according to the Monetary Authority of Singapore.

The Singapore bourse said last Thursday it will be undertaking a “thorough investigation” into developments at Swiber after the company made key disclosures only after queries from the regulator.

Swiber on July 11 said it failed to get a US$200mil equity injection from AMTC Ltd, which had agreed to subscribe to preference shares.

DBS Group Holdings Ltd, South-East Asia’s biggest lender, said last Thursday it has about S$700mil (US$523mil) in total exposure to Swiber. The bank said it expects to recover half of that amount.

Swiber in June redeemed S$130mil of 5.125% notes and in July redeemed S$75mil of 7% securities.

It has four more Singapore dollar bonds worth a total of S$460mil outstanding, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. – Bloomberg

Slippery slope for oil

 

Prices unlikely to go up too high for the rest of the year

PETALING JAYA: The continued oil supply glut in the market could mean a sustained low oil price environment, especially in the short to medium term.

The oil supply glut does not seem to be abating, with oil majors preferring to pump and store oil at the moment instead of cutting production.

According to unconfirmed reports, India is mulling over the idea of setting up a strategic petroleum reserve to store oil, similar to the ones that have been established in the United States and China.

As it is now, the ample amount of oil that has been extracted from underground is making its way to even more storage above ground. For instance, very large crude carriers (VLCCs) are increasingly being used for the storage of excess oil, with the tankers lying idle offshore in places such as the coasts of the United Kingdom.

According to the Financial Times, the supertankers have become the temporary centre to store excess oil and the ships are found off the coast of Scotland, where sea conditions are rough.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) in its latest Oil Market Report said that non-Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) production remains on course to fall by 0.9 million barrels per day (mmbd) this year, before staging a modest recovery in 2017.

However, the IEA said production from Opec countries has seen steady growth in recent years, with notable increases contributed by Iraq in 2015 and Iran in 2016.

“Our chart shows that, in fact, the oil output from the region rose to a record high in June, with production above 31 mmbd for the third month running. As such, the Middle East market share of global oil supplies rose to 35%, the highest since the late 1970s,” the IEA said in its report.

According to analysts, these concerns may return to haunt oil prices and US$40 could be the new normal for the time being.

Oil prices have staged a strong recovery since their January 2016 lows, gaining some 56% to their seven-month high of US$52.31 last month. The commodity, however, has since lost almost half of its gains.

It had gained on expectations by oil companies and Opec producers that the worst was over after hitting its January 2016 lows. However, Bloomberg reported that oil declined again in its biggest monthly drop in a year, as US producers increased drilling for a fifth week.

The increase in drilling by US producers came amid a glut of crude and fuel supplies that are at the highest seasonal level in at least two decades.

Oil prices have lost some 20% from their June 2016 seven-month highs and were last traded at US$41.63 per barrel.

Analysts said that oil could keep trending lower in the immediate term and that if it breaks the US$40 level, could challenge the next key psychological price mark of US$35.

Interpacific Research’s head of research Pong Teng Siew told StarBiz that he was “quite sure” that oil would be lower as short bets have piled up due to fundamentals.

“Many traders have reversed their long positions and have taken up shorts instead which will drive the oil market lower. My thinking is that the oil market today has got a tendency of being lower than what anyone expects, especially if momentum carries it through,” Pong said.

“I think it will drop below US$40 per barrel, and there is a likelihood that it will keep surprising people at this point in time. It also does not seem that the worst is truly over, and my worry is that the number of US rigs, especially in shale oil, appear to be on the upswing and there is no telling how much more is to come,” he added.

Pong noted that the demand side has picked up since January 2016, but that the take-up pace has been slower than before with the growth in supply.

“Demand was (then) tethered to China’s oil purchases for its strategic petroleum reserves, but that is now at full (capacity) and has seen demand tapering off, resulting in lower oil prices,” he said.

The IEA said that while market balance was seen in mid-summer 2016, the existence of very high oil stocks is a threat to the recent stability of oil prices, noting that in the first quarter of this year, refinery runs growth was 60% higher than refined product demand growth.

“Despite the regular upward revisions to demand that we have seen in recent reports, there are signs that momentum is easing, and although stocks are close to topping out, they are at such elevated levels, especially for products for which demand growth is slackening, that they remain a major dampener on oil prices,” the IEA said.

Social Economic Research Centre’s executive director and independent economist Lee Heng Guie said that fundamentals today may cause oil prices to continue to remain weak.

Lee said at this point in time, there may be a slight challenge when the next budget is tabled or planned, but that there is comfort that the oil revenue to the Government’s coffers is now at a low level of about 19%.

“The goods and services tax (GST) will make up for the shortfall, but this also depends largely on the health of the local consumer. If household spending remains cautious, then there will be an impact to the GST collections,” he added. – By
daniel Khoo The Star/Asian News Network

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