US Federal Reserve rate rise, Malaysia and regional equity markets in the red


 

Fed’s big balance-sheet unwind could be coming to an early end

NEW YORK: The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet may not have that much further to shrink.

An unexpected rise in overnight interest rates is pulling forward a key debate among US central bankers over how much liquidity they should keep in the financial system. The outcome will determine the ultimate size of the balance sheet, which they are slowly winding down, with key implications for US monetary policy.

One consequence was visible on Wednesday. The Fed raised the target range for its benchmark rate by a quarter point to 1.75% to 2%, but only increased the rate it pays banks on cash held with it overnight to 1.95%. The step was designed to keep the federal funds rate from rising above the target range. Previously, the Fed set the rate of interest on reserves at the top of the target range.

Shrinking the balance sheet effectively constitutes a form of policy tightening by putting upward pressure on long-term borrowing costs, just as expanding it via bond purchases during the financial crisis made financial conditions easier. Since beginning the shrinking process in October, the Fed has trimmed its bond portfolio by around US$150bil to US$4.3 trillion, while remaining vague on how small it could become.

This reticence is partly because the Fed doesn’t know how much cash banks will want to hold at the central bank, which they need to do in order to satisfy post-crisis regulatory requirements.

Officials have said that, as they drain cash from the system by shrinking the balance sheet, a rise in the federal funds rate within their target range would be an important sign that liquidity is becoming scarce.

Now that the benchmark rate is rising, there is some skepticism. The increase appears to be mainly driven by another factor: the US Treasury ramped up issuance of short-term US government bills, which drove up yields on those and other competing assets, including in the overnight market.

“We are looking carefully at that, and the truth is, we don’t know with any precision,” Fed chairman Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the increase. “Really, no one does. You can’t run experiments with one effect and not the other.”

“We’re just going to have to be watching and learning. And, frankly, we don’t have to know today,” he added.

But many also see increasingly scarce cash balances as at least a partial explanation for the upward drift of the funds rate, and as a result, several analysts are pulling forward their estimates of when the balance sheet shrinkage will end.

Mark Cabana, a Bank of America rates strategist, said in a report published June 5 that Fed officials may stop draining liquidity from the system in late 2019 or early 2020, leaving US$1 trillion of cash on bank balance sheets. That compares with an average of around US$2.1 trillion held in reserves at the Fed so far this year.

Cabana, who from 2007 to 2015 worked in the New York Fed’s markets group responsible for managing the balance sheet, even sees a risk that the unwind ends this year.

One reason why people may have underestimated bank demand for cash to meet the new rules is that Fed supervisors have been quietly telling banks they need more of it, according to William Nelson, chief economist at The Clearing House Association, a banking industry group.

The requirement, known as the Liquidity Coverage Ratio, says banks must hold a certain percentage of their assets either in the form of cash deposited at the Fed or in US Treasury securities, to ensure they have enough liquidity to deal with deposit outflows.

The Fed flooded the banking system with reserves as a byproduct of its crisis-era bond-buying programs, known as quantitative easing, to stimulate the economy. The money it paid investors to buy their bonds was deposited in banks, which the banks in turn hold as cash in reserve accounts at the Fed.

In theory, the unwind of the bond portfolio, which involves the reverse swap of assets between the Fed and investors, shouldn’t affect the total amount of Treasuries and reserves available to meet the requirement. The Fed destroys reserves by unwinding the portfolio, but releases an equivalent amount of Treasuries to the market in the process.

But if Fed supervisors are telling banks to prioritise reserves, that logic no longer applies. Nelson asked Randal Quarles, the Fed’s vice-chairman for supervision, if this was the Fed’s new policy. Quarles, who was taking part in a May 4 conference at Stanford University, said he knew that message had been communicated and is “being rethought”.

If Fed officials do opt for a bigger balance sheet and decide to continue telling banks to prioritise cash over Treasuries, it may mean lower long-term interest rates, according to Seth Carpenter, the New York-based chief US economist at UBS Securities.

“If reserves are scarce right now, and if the Fed does stop unwinding its balance sheet, the market is going to react to that, a lot,” said Carpenter, a former Fed economist. “Everyone anticipates a certain amount of extra Treasury supply coming to the market, and this would tell people, ‘Nope, it’s going to be less than you thought’.” — Bloomberg

Malaysia and regional equity markets in the red

 

In Malaysia, the selling streak has been ongoing for almost a month. As of June 8, the year to date outflow
stands at RM3.02bil, which is still one of the lowest among its Asean peers. The FBM KLCI was down 1.79 points yesterday to 1,761.

PETALING JAYA: It was a sea of red for equity markets across the region after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter percentage point to a range of 1.75% to 2% on Wednesday, and funds continued to move their money back to the US. This is the second time the Fed has raised interest rates this year.

In general, markets weren’t down by much, probably because the rate hike had mostly been anticipated. Furthermore for Asia, the withdrawal of funds has been taking place over the last 11 weeks, hence, the pace of selling was slowing.

The Nikkei 225 was down 0.99% to 22,738, the Hang Seng Index was down 0.93% to 30,440, the Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.08% to 3,047.34 while the Singapore Straits Times Index was down 1.05% to 3,356.73.

In Malaysia, the selling streak has been ongoing for almost a month. As of June 8, the year to date outflow stands at RM3.02bil, which is still one of the lowest among its Asean peers. The FBM KLCI was down 1.79 points yesterday to 1,761.

Meanwhile, the Fed is nine months into its plan to shrink its balance sheet which consists some US$4.5 trillion of bonds. The Fed has begun unwinding its balance sheet slowly by selling off US$10bil in assets a month. Eventually, it plans to increase sales to US$50bil per month.

With the economy of the United States showing it was strong enough to grow with higher borrowing costs, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday and signalled that two additional increases would be made this year.

Fed chairman Jerome H. Powell in a news conference on Wednesday said the economy had strengthened significantly since the 2008 financial crisis and was approaching a “normal” level that could allow the Fed to soon step back and play less of a hands-on role in encouraging economic activity.

Rate hikes basically mean higher borrowing costs for cars, home mortgages and credit cards over the years to come.

Wednesday’s rate increase was the second this year and the seventh since the end of the Great Recession and brings the Fed’s benchmark rate to a range of 1.75% to 2%. The last time the rate reached 2% was in late 2008, when the economy was contracting.

“With a slightly more aggressive plan to tighten monetary policy this year than had previously been projected by the Fed, it will narrow our closely watched gap between the yield rates of two-year and 10-year Treasury notes, which has recently been one of a strong predictor of recessions,” said Anthony Dass, chief economist in AmBank.

Dass expects the policy rate to normalise at 2.75% to 3%.

“Thus, we should potentially see the yield curve invert in the first half of 2019,” he said.

So what does higher interest rates mean for emerging markets?

It means a flight of capital back to the US, and many Asian countries will be forced to increase interest rates to defend their respective currencies.

Certainly, capital has been exiting emerging market economies. Data from the Institute of International Finance for May showed that emerging markets experienced a combined US$12.3bil of outflows from bonds and stocks last month.

With that sort of global capital outflow, countries such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Turkey, have hiked their domestic rates recently.

Data from Lipper, a unit of Thomson Reuters, shows that for the week ending June 6, US-based money market funds saw inflows of nearly US$34.9bil.

It makes sense for investors to be drawn to the US, where the economy is increasingly solid, coupled with higher yields and lower perceived risks.

Hong Kong for example is fighting an intense battle to fend off currency traders. Since April, Hong Kong has spent at least US$9bil defending its peg to the US dollar. Judging by the fact that two more rate hikes are on the way this year, more ammunition is going to be needed.

Hong Kong has the world’s largest per capita foreign exchange reserves – US$434bil more in firepower.

By right, the Hong Kong dollar should be surging. Nonetheless, the currency is sliding because of a massive “carry trade.”

Investors are borrowing cheaply in Hong Kong to buy higher-yielding assets in the US, where 10-year Treasury yields are near 3%.

From a contrarian’s perspective, global funds are now massively under-weighted Asia.

With Asian markets currently trading at 12.3 times forward price earnings ratio, this is a reasonable valuation at this matured stage of the market.

By Tee Lin Say StarBiz

Related:

 

PBOC Seen Mirroring Fed With Hike While Keeping Other Taps Open  Bloomberg

  

Foreign investors more willing to hold yuan assets: FX regulator

Reuters ·

 

 Faster Indian Inflation Puts Analysts on Watch for Rate Hike – Bloomberg

Abenomics’ impact fading at sensitive moment for Japanese economy –
Business News

 

Bank Negara governor a short but memorable stint – Business News | The Star Online

Malaysia should first check yen loan terms, advises economist – The Star

 

 

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From Industrial 4.0 to Finance 4.0


 

MOST people are somewhat aware about the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The first industrial revolution occurred with the rise of steam power and manufacturing using iron and steel. The second revolution started with the assembly line which allowed specialisation of skills, represented by the Ford motor assembly line at the turn of the 20th century.

The third industrial revolution came with Japanese quality controls and use of telecommunication technology.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or first called by the Europeans Industry 4.0, is all about the use of artificial intelligence, robotics, genomics and process, creative design and high speed computing capability to revolutionise production, distribution and consumption. Finance is a derivative of the real economy – its purpose is to serve real production. Early finance was all about the finance of trade and governments to engage in war.
It is no coincidence that the first central banks (Sweden and England) were established in the 17th century at the start of the First Industrial Revolution. Industrialisation became much more sophisticated as Finance 2.0 brought the rise of credit and equity markets in the 18th and 19th centuries. Industrialisation and colonisation came about at the same time as the globalisation of banks, stocks and bond markets.

Again, with the invention of first the fax machine, then Internet that speeded up information storage and transmission in the 1980s, finance and industry took a quantum leap into the age of information technology. Finance 3.0 was the age of financial derivatives, in which very complex (and highly leveraged) derivatives became so opaque that investors and regulators realised they became what Warren Buffett called “weapons of mass destruction”. Finance 3.0 stalled in 2007 with the Global Financial Crisis and was only propped up with massive central bank intervention in terms of unconventional monetary policy with historically unprecedented interest rates.

We are now on the verge of Finance 4.0 and it may be useful to explore what it really means.

The common definition of Industry 4.0 is the rise of the Internet of Things, in which cloud computing, artificial intelligence and global connectivity means that cyber-physical systems can interact with each other to produce, distribute and trade across the world in a massively distributed system of production.

But what does Finance 4.0 really mean?

What truly differentiates Finance 4.0 from the earlier version is the arrival of Blockchain or distributed ledger technology. The best way to think about the difference is the architecture of the two different systems.

Finance 3.0 and earlier versions were all about a top-down or hierarchical ledger system, like a pyramid, in which trade and settlements between two parties are settled across a higher ledger.

A simple example is payment from Joe in bank A to Jim in bank B is finally settled across the books of the central bank in local currency. But in international trade and payments, the final settlements (at least more than 60%) are settled in US dollar finally across the ledgers of the Federal Reserve bank system.

Finance 3.0 was not perfect and those who wanted to avoid regulation, taxation or any official oversight basically moved trading and transactions off-balance sheet and also off-shore. This was the “shadow banking” system that financial regulators and central banks conveniently blamed on their failure to see or stop the last global financial crisis.

Although technically the shadow banking system is the non-bank financial system, which would include bond, stock and commodity markets, the bulk of illegal, illicit transactions traditionally was done in cash.

Welcome to the technical innovation called cyber-currencies, which was made possible for peer-to-peer (P2P) transactions across a distributed ledger system (commonly known as blockchain). In architectural terms, this is a bottom-up system which technically can avoid any official oversight. Indeed, cyber-currencies or tokens were invented precisely because the users do not trust the official system.

As the populist philosopher Stephen Bannon said, “central banks are in the business of debasing the currency”. Hence, those who want to avoid the debasement of their savings prefer to deal with either cash or cyber-tokens like bitcoin (pic).

What is happening in the rapidly evolving Finance 4.0 is that as the world moves from a unipolar order to a multi-polar world in which other reserve currencies also contend for trade and store of value, the top-down architecture is fusing (or merging) with a bottom-up architecture in which trade, transactions and stores of value are shifting towards the P2P shadow system.

Why this is taking place is not hard to understand. Post-global financial crisis, the amount of financial regulations have tripled in terms of number of rules and complexity on what the official sector can regulate, which is mostly the banking system. It is therefore not surprising that all the innovation, talent and money are moving to outside the banking system into the asset management industry, which is much more lightly regulated.

No talented banker, however dedicated to the values of banking probity, can resist the temptations of working in asset management, away from the heavily regulated environment where he or she is 24×7 under regulatory internal and external oversight.

Another reason why the cyber-P2P business is flourishing is because the official sector is worried that further regulation would hinder innovation. But those who want to increase the complexity of regulation must remember that for every 50 foot wall, someone will invent a 51 foot ladder.

So competition in the 21st century has already moved from the physical and financial space into cyber-space.

If there is one thing I learnt as a former regulator, it is that if the banks are behind the curve in terms of technology, the regulators are even further behind, since they learn mostly from those whom they regulate. But if financial regulators deal with financial innovation through “regulatory sandboxes” where they allow their regulated banks to experiment in sandboxes, they are treating their regulated institutions as kids in an adult game of ruthless technology.

Time for the official sector to make their stand clear or else Finance 4.0 promises to be very different from the orderly world that they are used to imaging. Nothing says this clearer than a recent survey by the Chartered Financial Analyst Institute, which showed that 54% of institutional investors surveyed and 38% of retail believe that a financial crisis in the next one-three years is likely or very likely.

You have been warned.

– Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

Related

 

With blockchain’s rise, regulators must keep up with Industry 4.0 or lose
control

 

With blockchain’s rise, financial regulation must keep up with Industry …

How Industry 4.0 will change accounting – Journal of Accountancy

Finance 4.0: Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution | Oracle ERP …

Five ways Industry 4.0 financing unlocks productivity bonus – YouTube

 

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What is Blockchain Technology, its uses and applications?

 

BLOCKCHAIN beyond Bitcoin

On Mcoin, Bitcoin and points of investment

New Year 2018 high for Malaysia


FBM KLCI moves higher past 1,800 mark while ringgit breaches RM4 level

In a synchronised fashion, the ringgit, stock market and exports are all glowing for Malaysia. Add this to the rising price of crude oil, economists are expecting the good start to the year to continue leading up to GE14. Experts foresee these translating to lower import costs and more affordable overseas education.

 

Busa and ringgit on a high

PETALING JAYA: In a rare occurrence, the local capital markets got off to a roaring start in the first week of the new year.

US$ vs ringgit at 3.9965 

Sentiments on the stock market picked up as it sailed through the 1,800 mark, the ringgit breached the RM4 level against the US dollar and the latest trade numbers released showed that exports have hit record levels.

FBM KLCI up 14.52pts to 1,817.97

The FBM KLCI, a key benchmark for the local stock market, closed at 1,817.97, up 14.52 points yesterday – the highest since April 2015. Analysts and fund managers expect the upward momentum to continue, leading to the 14th General Election (GE14).

“The local stock market is set to continue its upward momentum, with investors in optimistic mood, lingering upon expectations of the GE14,” an analyst said.

The Malaysian stock market is now playing catch-up with key regional markets in other countries that have been moving up.

For instance, in the United States, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at fresh record highs above 25,000. Trading volume on Bursa has risen sharply to a high of nearly six billion shares valued at RM3.94bil. This is the highest since 2014.

“The increasing volume is an indicator of more investors joining the fray,” said the analyst.

The ringgit also perked up against the US dollar and strengthened to 3.9945 yesterday, the strongest level since August 2016.

Crude oil prices continue to climb with the Brent Crude rising above US$67 per barrel. Apart from a brief spike in May 2015, this is the highest price levels it has reached since December 2014, when the oil price started its slide down.

Exports in November rise to RM83.50bil

Exports hit record high of RM83.5bil in November – Business News …

Adding to the optimism, the country’s latest trade data for November showed that exports exceeded expectations and rose to a monthly high of RM83.5bil. This is an increase of 14.4% from last year.

The head of UOB Kay Hian Malaysia Research, Vincent Khoo, expects global and local conditions to be favourable for the local stock market as sentiment builds up for the GE14.

“Malaysia has been a laggard and now it is reversing its underperformance. Liquidity is strong locally and internationally as there is more foreign funds participation.

“Economic numbers are strong and export momentum continues to be solid,” Khoo said.

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie said there were continued optimism and positive sentiments on the global economy and markets.

He said the tax reforms in the US would beef up corporate earnings while central banks around the world were raising rates.

The impending GE14, he added, spurred investors’ interest in the stock market and the recovery in oil prices continued to lift the demand for ringgit.

He said the ringgit had a good rally since the last Bank Negara meeting and the upcoming meeting on Jan 29 might see the central bank review its overnight policy rates (OPR) upwards.

The OPR now is 3.25% and many are expecting it to increase, a move that would spur banks to raise their interest rates.

Additionally, Lee said trade data was better than expected and as long as the macro numbers and earnings deliver, it would lift sentiments on market.

Nonetheless, he said investors might be a bit cautious when the dissolution of Parliament was announced.

Meanwhile, Oanda head of trading Asia-Pacific Stephen Innes said Bursa Malaysia was playing catchup as the ringgit remained undervalued in a lot of fund managers’ portfolio.

“But I think the current run will take us to 3.90 (against the US dollar) but at this stage, I think the market is starting to factor in the Bank Negara rate hike in January.

“So we may see a slower appreciation of the ringgit and we should expect profit taking ahead of the rate decision (by BNM) later in the month,” he added.

On the external front, Inness said the global equity market rally was benefiting from higher commodity prices in general and specifically oil prices.

“The recent supply disruptions are having a much more significant impact on prices given Opec’s (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) recent production cut and the market is certainly much tighter than it has been in the past.

“Rising oil prices bode well for the FBM KLCI given that oil and gas constituents play a big role in the KLCI make-up. However, I don’t think this is strictly an isolated oil play but it is also rallying on the global growth narrative which is supporting export-oriented firms,” Innes said.

By leong hung yee The Staronline

Bursa and ringgit on a high

 

FBM KLCI moves higher past 1,800 mark while ringgit breaches RM4 level

PETALING JAYA: In a rare occurrence, the local capital markets got off to a roaring start in the first week of the new year.

Sentiments on the stock market picked up as it sailed through the 1,800 mark, the ringgit breached the RM4 level against the US dollar and the latest trade numbers released showed that exports have hit record levels.

The FBM KLCI, a key benchmark for the local stock market, closed at 1,817.97, up 14.52 points yesterday – the highest since April 2015. Analysts and fund managers expect the upward momentum to continue, leading to the 14th General Election (GE14).

“The local stock market is set to continue its upward momentum, with investors in optimistic mood, lingering upon expectations of the GE14,” an analyst said.

The Malaysian stock market is now playing catch-up with key regional markets in other countries that have been moving up.

For instance, in the United States, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at fresh record highs above 25,000. Trading volume on Bursa has risen sharply to a high of nearly six billion shares valued at RM3.94bil. This is the highest since 2014.

“The increasing volume is an indicator of more investors joining the fray,” said the analyst.

The ringgit also perked up against the US dollar and strengthened to 3.9945 yesterday, the strongest level since August 2016.

Crude oil prices continue to climb with the Brent Crude rising above US$67 per barrel. Apart from a brief spike in May 2015, this is the highest price levels it has reached since December 2014, when the oil price started its slide down.

Adding to the optimism, the country’s latest trade data for November showed that exports exceeded expectations and rose to a monthly high of RM83.5bil. This is an increase of 14.4% from last year.

The head of UOB Kay Hian Malaysia Research, Vincent Khoo, expects global and local conditions to be favourable for the local stock market as sentiment builds up for the GE14.

“Malaysia has been a laggard and now it is reversing its underperformance. Liquidity is strong locally and internationally as there is more foreign funds participation.

“Economic numbers are strong and export momentum continues to be solid,” Khoo said.

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie said there were continued optimism and positive sentiments on the global economy and markets.

He said the tax reforms in the US would beef up corporate earnings while central banks around the world were raising rates.

The impending GE14, he added, spurred investors’ interest in the stock market and the recovery in oil prices continued to lift the demand for ringgit.

He said the ringgit had a good rally since the last Bank Negara meeting and the upcoming meeting on Jan 29 might see the central bank review its overnight policy rates (OPR) upwards.

The OPR now is 3.25% and many are expecting it to increase, a move that would spur banks to raise their interest rates.

Additionally, Lee said trade data was better than expected and as long as the macro numbers and earnings deliver, it would lift sentiments on market.

Nonetheless, he said investors might be a bit cautious when the dissolution of Parliament was announced.

Meanwhile, Oanda head of trading Asia-Pacific Stephen Innes said Bursa Malaysia was playing catchup as the ringgit remained undervalued in a lot of fund managers’ portfolio.

“But I think the current run will take us to 3.90 (against the US dollar) but at this stage, I think the market is starting to factor in the Bank Negara rate hike in January.

“So we may see a slower appreciation of the ringgit and we should expect profit taking ahead of the rate decision (by BNM) later in the month,” he added.

On the external front, Inness said the global equity market rally was benefiting from higher commodity prices in general and specifically oil prices.

“The recent supply disruptions are having a much more significant impact on prices given Opec’s (Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) recent production cut and the market is certainly much tighter than it has been in the past.

“Rising oil prices bode well for the FBM KLCI given that oil and gas constituents play a big role in the KLCI make-up. However, I don’t think this is strictly an isolated oil play but it is also rallying on the global growth narrative which is supporting export-oriented firms,” Innes said.

Experts see good tidings in firmer currency

Back in favour:People queuing to change the ringgit for US Dollar at a money exchange outlet in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur.

PETALING JAYA: Lower import costs and more affordable overseas education are among the benefits brought about by a firmer ringgit and bullish stockmarket.

National Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (NCCIM) president Tan Sri Ter Leong Yap said the rise in the ringgit is a sign of growing confidence in the nation’s economy.

“These are good signs which have set a feel-good mood for the market. What is most important is for the ringgit to remain stable as business needs this rather than having to hedge on the foreign exchange,” he said.

However, a stronger ringgit could act as a “double-edged sword”, Ter added, as exports would now cost higher.

“Exporters may not make the windfall profit as before but they had adjusted to this,” said Ter, who is also Associated Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM) president.

Malaysia Retail Chain Association (MRCA) president Datuk Garry Chua said a stronger ringgit bodes well for retailers that rely heavily on imports.

“In the end, the shoppers will benefit as cost of products would be lower due to the exchange rate,” he said.

Chua said the positive stock run was also good news for retailers and consumers.

“People tend to spend more due to easy earnings from the market and this is good for business,” he said.

Malaysia Associated Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MAICCI) president Tan Sri Kenneth Eswaran said the positive developments showed that the nation’s economic transformation is on the right track.

“The ringgit breaking the RM4 barrier and the stock market climb are signs showing the Government’s economic transformation plans are bearing fruit. Traders and consumers will now enjoy lower import costs,” he said.

Taylor’s University deputy vice chancellor Prof Dr Pradeep Nair said the ringgit’s rally is expected to continue and strengthen below the RM4 region.

“For the education sector, this will be beneficial for parents who wish to send their children abroad to do part or whole of their studies to countries like the US, UK and Australia, should the trend continue,” he said.

He said a firmer ringgit would not have a major impact on incoming foreign students.

“We are still relatively cheaper than other countries that use English as the medium of teaching and we will remain one of the preferred destinations for foreign students looking for affordable, quality education,” he said.

Sunway Education Group senior executive director Dr Elizabeth Lee said some parents would be more willing to send their children abroad for further studies.

“I sense that enthusiasm in parents who enrolled their children with us. They are more confident of supporting their higher education throughout,” she said.

By martin carvalho The Staronline

Ringgit boost for investors, importers 

Companies which lost out during a low ringgit recouping fast

Ringgit on uptrend: People queuing up to change money at a money changer. The ringgit has broken past the crucial 4.00 level.

THE New Year is in, tides are changing and the ringgit is recovering from the past two year’s extreme blues.

The long-awaited reprieve has finally come for certain consumer companies that import intermediary goods for their production cycle.

Foreigners who have taken advantage by accumulating and buying into the equity and/or bond market when the ringgit was at a weaker level last year, would be firmly in the money now.

Analysts see the local currency as now being on a cruise control climb mode moving to new highs in the past week and possibly in the near future.

They note that the foreign buyers would see two-way gains and would be able to realise their gains if they choose to.

“If they liquidate and take the money out they will realise the gains and benefit. Last year the ringgit strengthened by almost 10.4%. Ringgit already broke the crucial 4.00 level, assuming that they make money from the market and take it out, they will also pay less to convert to US dollar,” Socio Economic Research Centre’s executive director Lee Heng Guie tells StarBiz Week.

The ringgit had seen a gain of 0.64% after we entered the New Year, adding to its gains that was achieved in the past two months of 5.63%.<

Currency strategists agree that the next crucial psychological mark would be the 3.80 level that is the infamous currency peg level some years after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

The recovering oil prices with the lifting of equity markets due to strong global sentiment aided gains in the ringgit, Lee says.

The FBM KLCI saw a strong upward move as investors celebrated Christmas and ushered in the New Year thereafter.

The benchmark index had gained some 4.6% since Dec 19 to yesterday’s close at 1,817.97.

Meanwhile, the other companies that will stand to gain are consumer-driven companies especially those that have imported intermediary goods to manufacture or complete end products.

Lee says the strengthening ringgit, if it is sustained, would eventually help to boost the consumer sentiment index (CSI).

In the latest reported third quarter of 2017, the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (Mier) said the CSI continued to remain weak with the index having retreated further to 77.1.

“Anxieties over higher prices grow and (there are) burly spending plans amid waning incomes and jobs,” the Mier said at the release of third quarter CSI figures then.

Any CSI level below the 100 indicates weakness on the consumer front.

Lee says he is hopeful the stronger ringgit would help eventually translate to additional cost savings to the consumer in the form of lower prices.

Meanwhile, MIDF Research’s consumer stocks analyst Nabil Fithri says not all consumer companies would automatically gain from the strengthening ringgit.

He notes that the gainers among the consumer companies would mainly be those which derive their sales from the local market and have imported intermediary goods in the supply chain.

“On average, the companies that import their raw materials lock in the prices through forward contracts for the upcoming six months. So, if there are any gains to their profit margins, it would be seen in the second half of the year,” he says.

Among the companies that stand to gain from this trend are the major consumer food companies such as Fraser & Neave Holdings Bhd (F&N), Nestle (M) Bhd and Dutch Lady Milk Industries Bhd.

Strong gains: The Dutch Lady Milk Industries
factory in Petaling Jaya. The company’s stocks had been making strong
gains since last year.
Better profit: Nestle Malaysia is one of the companies gaining from a strong ringgit.

All three stocks have been making strong gains in their share prices last year despite their high base.

Observers note that a common theme today that belies these stocks are that they derive their sales from the local market, with minimal or zero exports. Hence they will benefit from strong gains should the local currency appreciate further.

“Their raw materials that form a big part of their production are ingredients such as milk, coffee and sugar which are not readily available locally. They need to be imported and these are denominated in US dollar,” an analyst with a local research outfit says.

Two of those stocks that were mentioned above topped the gainers list on Friday: Nestle rising by RM1.20 to a new historical high of RM103.80 and F&N hitting an alltime high of RM27.82.

Investors may also want to train their sights on the smaller-capitalised consumer stocks some of which had been at a disadvantage earlier due to the weakened ringgit.

The stocks in this space include Apollo Food Holdings Bhd, Hup Seng Industries and Berjaya Food Bhd.

Apollo Food, the maker of packaged confectionery products see a big part of their sales being derived locally and their food is usually stocked in the school canteens.

The stock is trading at a current price to earnings ratio (PER) of 23.6 times and forward financial year 2018 ending April 30 (FY18) PER of 18.96 times.

The company’s second quarter profit had dropped by 11.1% to RM3.82mil primarily due to the lower ringgit then compared to the same quarter a year ago.

When the ringgit was trading above the 4.00 level then, the company had said in its prospectus that its operating environment was more challenging due to the increase in costs of raw materials.

Meanwhile, Berjaya Food Bhd could see further gains ahead as the ringgit continues its ascent.

The company owns half of the popular Starbucks franchise in Malaysia beside owning the worldwide Kenny Rogers Roasters franchise after acquiring KRR International Corp of the US in April 2008.

AmInvestment Bank Research said last month that it believed the worst is over for Berjaya Food with KRR’s robust same store sales growth following the disposal of KRR Indonesia.

The research house had highlighted that Berjaya Food would benefit from a stronger ringgit.

AmInvestment Research maintained its buy recommendation on Berjaya Food with fair value of RM1.91 per share.

“Valuations are pegged to a PER of 25 times FY19 forward, reflecting a 20% premium to its historical valuations. We think that it is justified as Berjaya Food has significantly enhanced earnings visibility following the disposal of KRR Indonesia, attractive growth off a low base and a stellar Starbucks brand,” it says.

By daniel khoo TheStaronline

Malaysia must retool education, skills to adapt to knowledge economy


KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia needs to reinvent its education system to adapt to the knowledge economy, which has led to a sharp reduction in unskilled jobs and spike in demand for data analysts.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of Asia Global Institute, University of Hong Kong, said Malaysia needs to retool its education and skills, and experiment across the spectrum, in positioning itself in the new economy.

“Formal education is outdated because of the speed of new knowledge. Companies do not spend on ‘on the job’ training, because of cost cuts and staff turnover,” he said during his presentation at the NCCIM Economic Forum 2017 yesterday.

Between 2007 and 2015, the loss of unskilled jobs was 55% relative to other jobs while demand for data analysts over the last five years has increased 372%.

In the global supply chain, old economy companies are quickly losing their edge as digitisation moves faster than physical goods while unskilled jobs will be quickly replaced by robotics due to the fast adoption of artificial intelligence (AI).

“Moving up the global value chain is about moving up knowledge intensity. If you don’t get smarter you won’t get the business.

“We are already plugged into the global value chain. We are very successful in that area but we cannot stay where we are. Remaining still is no longer an option. We need to move from tasks to value added growth to high value added production. In order to do that, we need to learn to learn.”

Sheng said the Malaysian economy is doing well but faces many challenges, including subdued energy prices, growing trade protectionism, geopolitical tensions and is still very reliant on foreign labour.

“Are we ready for the new economy? The way trade is growing is phenomenal but the new economy’s challenges are great and very complicated politically because technology is great for us as it gives us whatever we want but at the cost of our jobs,” he said.

When education fails to keep pace with technology, the result is inequality, populism and major political upheaval.

“What the new economy tells us is that robotics or AI (artificial intelligence) calls for Education 4.0, which means that we have to learn for life,” he said.

Sheng noted that Malaysia has successfully moved quietly into education services, medical tourism, higher quality foods, all through upgrading skills, branding and marketing.

“But formal education has become bureaucratised, whereas we are not spending enough on upgrading our labour force, prefering to hire imported labour,” he said.

Although Malaysia cannot compete in terms of scale and speed, especially against giants such as China, it can compete in terms of scope with strength in diversity, soft skills and adaptability.

“We are winners … but have we got the mindset?” Sheng questioned.

He said Malaysia must upgrade its physical technology through research and development, harness its unique social technology and digitise its business model in order to create wealth.

While the government can help, he added, true success comes from community self-help irrespective of race or creed, and retired baby boomers who have wealth of experience must mentor the youth to start thinking about the new economy.

Eva Yeong, sunbiz@thesundaily.com
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 Andrew Sheng – Institute for New Economic Thinking

Andrew Sheng
is a distinguished fellow at Fung Global Institute, chief adviser …
member of Khazanah Nasional Berhad, the sovereign wealth fund of Malaysia.

MALAYSIA should leverage on social technology, which is its true strength, … Tan Sri Andrew Sheng, who is a distinguished fellow at Asia Global Institute, … the new economy as it involves lifelong learning to adapt, innovate and create. … To enhance the skills of the civil service, he pointed out Singapore’s …

Andrew Sheng – Project Syndicate

Andrew Sheng, Distinguished Fellow of the Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong and a member of the UNEP Advisory Council on Sustainable …

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The Asian financial crisis – 20 years later




East Asian Economies Remain Diverse

 

It is useful to reflect on whether lessons have been learnt and if the countries are vulnerable to new crises.

IT’S been 20 years since the Asian financial crisis struck in July 1997. Since then, there has been an even bigger global financial crisis, starting in 2008. Will there be another crisis?

The Asian crisis began when speculators brought down the Thai baht. Within months, the currencies of Indonesia, South Korea and Malaysia were also affected. The East Asian Miracle turned into an Asian Financial Nightmare.

Despite the affected countries receiving only praise before the crisis, weaknesses had built up, including current account deficits, low foreign reserves and high external debt.

In particular, the countries had recently liberalised their financial system in line with international advice. This enabled local private companies to freely borrow from abroad, mainly in US dollars. Companies and banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand had in each country rapidly accumulated over a hundred billion dollars of external loans. This was the Achilles heel that led their countries to crisis.

These weaknesses made the countries ripe for speculators to bet against their currencies. When the governments used up their reserves in a vain attempt to stem the currency fall, three of the countries ran out of foreign exchange.

They went to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for bailout loans that carried draconian conditions that worsened their economic situation.

Malaysia was fortunate. It did not seek IMF loans. The foreign reserves had become dangerously low but were just about adequate. If the ringgit had fallen a bit further, the danger line would have been breached.

After a year of self-imposed austerity measures, Malaysia dramatically switched course and introduced a set of unorthodox policies.

These included pegging the ringgit to the dollar, selective capital controls to prevent short-term funds from exiting, lowering interest rates, increasing government spending and rescuing failing companies and banks.

This was the opposite of orthodoxy and the IMF policies. The global establishment predicted the sure collapse of the Malaysian economy.

But surprisingly, the economy recovered even faster and with fewer losses than the other countries. Today, the Malaysian measures are often cited as a successful anti-crisis strategy.

The IMF itself has changed a little. It now includes some capital controls as part of legitimate policy measures.

The Asian countries, vowing never to go to the IMF again, built up strong current account surpluses and foreign reserves to protect against bad years and keep off speculators. The economies recovered, but never back to the spectacular 7% to 10% pre-crisis growth rates.

Then in 2008, the global financial crisis erupted with the United States as its epicentre. The tip of the iceberg was the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the massive loans given out to non-credit-worthy house-buyers.

The underlying cause was the deregulation of US finance and the freedom with which financial institutions could devise all kinds of manipulative schemes and “financial products” to draw in unsuspecting customers. They made billions of dollars but the house of cards came tumbling down.

To fight the crisis, the US, under President Barack Obama, embarked first on expanding government spending and then on financial policies of near-zero interest rates and “quantitative easing”, with the Federal Reserve pumping trillions of dollars into the US banks.

It was hoped the cheap credit would get consumers and businesses to spend and lift the economy. But instead, a significant portion of the trillions went via investors into speculative activities, including abroad to emerging economies.

Europe, on the verge of recession, followed the US with near zero interest rates and large quantitative easing, with limited results.

The US-Europe financial crisis affected Asian countries in a limited way through declines in export growth and commodity prices. The large foreign reserves built up after the Asian crisis, plus the current account surplus situation, acted as buffers against external debt problems and kept speculators at bay.

Just as important, hundreds of billions of funds from the US and Europe poured into Asia yearly in search of higher yields. These massive capital inflows helped to boost Asian countries’ growth, but could cause their own problems.

First, they led to asset bubbles or rapid price increases of houses and the stock markets, and the bubbles may burst when they are over-ripe.

Second, many of the portfolio investors are short-term funds looking for quick profit, and they can be expected to leave when conditions change.

Third, the countries receiving capital inflows become vulnerable to financial volatility and economic instability.

If and when investors pull some or a lot of their money out, there may be price declines, inadequate replenishment of bonds, and a fall in the levels of currency and foreign reserves.

A few countries may face a new financial crisis.

A new vulnerability in many emerging economies is the rapid build-up of external debt in the form of bonds denominated in the local currency.

The Asian crisis two decades ago taught that over-borrowing in foreign currency can create difficulties in debt repayment should the local currency level fall.

To avoid this, many countries sold bonds denominated in the local currency to foreign investors.

However, if the bonds held by foreigners are large in value, the country will still be vulnerable to the effects of a withdrawal.

As an example, almost half of Malaysian government securities, denominated in ringgit, are held by foreigners.

Though the country does not face the risk of having to pay more in ringgit if there is a fall in the local currency, it may have other difficulties if foreigners withdraw their bonds.

What is the state of the world economy, what are the chances of a new financial crisis, and how would the Asian countries like Malaysia fare?

These are big and relevant questions to ponder 20 years after the start of the Asian crisis and nine years after the global crisis.

But we will have to consider them in another article.

By Martin Khor Global Trend

Martin Khor (director@southcentre.org) is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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SINGAPORE: One of Rachel Lau’s strongest childhood memories is the smell of newspaper. Her father, driving her to school each day in Kuala Lumpur, would make his sleepy daughter open the paper, go through stock quotes and do mental math.

“He would be, like, How did KLK do today? OK, if it’s up four sen and I’ve got 89,000 shares, how much did I make?” Lau recalled. The daily ritual continued through her teenage years. Her father Lau Boon Ann built his fortune in real estate and by investing in companies like Top Glove Corp Bhd, which became the world’s biggest rubber-glove maker.

Some days, he would stand in front of an empty lot with his young daughter and challenge her to imagine a building there rather than watching the chickens running around.

Lau, now 31, is one of the three millennial co-founders of RHL Ventures, along with Raja Hamzah Abidin, 29, son of prominent Malaysian politician and businessman Datuk Seri Utama Raja Nong Chik Raja Zainal Abidin and Lionel Leong, also 29, the son of property tycoon Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum.

They set up RHL using the wealth of their families with a plan to attract outside capital and build the firm into South-East Asia’s leading independent investment group.

“We look at South-East Asia and there is no brand that stands out – there is no KKR, there is no Fidelity,” Lau said. “Eventually we want to be a fund house with multiple products. Venture capital is going to be our first step.”

RHL has backed two startups since its debut last year. One is Singapore-based Perx, which has morphed from a retail rewards app to provide corporate clients with data and analysis on consumer behaviour. Lau is a member of Perx’s board, whose chairman is Facebook Inc co-founder Eduardo Saverin.

In January, the firm invested an undisclosed amount in Sidestep, a Los Angeles-based startup that’s also backed by pop-music artists Beyonce and Adele. Sidestep is an app that allows fans to buy concert memorabilia online and either have it shipped to their home or collect it at the show without having to wait in line.

“RHL guys are really smart investors who are taking their family offices to a new play,” said Trevor Thomas who co-founded Cross Culture Ventures – a backer of Sidestep, together with former Lady Gaga manager Troy Carter. “What attracted the founders of Sidestep to RHL was their deep network in South-East Asia.”

A lot of startup founders in the United States want to access the Asian market, said Thomas, but they often overlook the huge South-East Asian markets and only focus on China. “Rachel and the team did a great job of explaining the value of that vision and providing really great access to early-stage US companies,” he said.

In South-East Asia, RHL has positioned itself between early-stage venture capitalists and large institutional investors such as Temasek Holdings Pte. Hamzah said they want to fill a gap in the region for the subsequent rounds of funding – series B, C and D. “We want to play in that space because you get to cherry pick,” he said.

RHL’s strategy is to take a chunk of equity and a board seat in a startup that has earned its stripes operationally for at least a year, and see the company through to an initial public offering.

Summer camp

RHL’s partners represent a new generation of wealthy Asians who are breaking away from the traditional family business to make their own mark. They include billionaire palm-oil tycoon Kuok Khoon Hong’s son Kuok Meng Ru, whose BandLab Technologies is building a music business.

RHL’s story begins in 2003 at a summer camp in Melbourne. During a month of activities such as horse riding and playing the stock market, Lau struck up a friendship with Hamzah, unaware that their parents knew each other well.

Their paths crossed again in London, Sydney, New York and Hong Kong as they went to college and forged careers in finance – Lau at NN Investment Partners and Heitman Investment Management, where she currently helps manage a US$4bil equity fund; and Hamzah at Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Guoco Management Co. Together with their mutual childhood friend Leong, the trio would joke about all returning to Malaysia one day to start a business together.

That day came in 2015 when Hamzah called up Lau in Hong Kong and said: “Yo! I’ve moved back. When are you coming back? You haven’t lied to me for 15 years, have you?”

They decided their common trait was investing.

Hamzah shares Lau’s passion for spotting mispriced assets by analysing valuations. Lau says she trawls through 100-page prospectuses for fun and values strong free cash flow – the cash a company generates from its operations after capital expenditures. Leong helped structure debt products at Hong Leong Investment Bank before joining his family’s real-estate business to learn about allocating capital to strategic projects.

In February 2016, they started RHL Ventures – an acronym for Rachel, Hamzah, Lionel – with their own money. When their families found out about the plan, they were eager to jump in, said Lau. Now they aim to raise US$100mil more from outside investors.

The partners have roped in their family and hedge-fund experts as advisers. “We recognise that we are young and still learning,” Lau said. “There is no point pretending otherwise.”

Leong’s father runs Mah Sing Group, Malaysia’s largest non-government-linked property developer. Hamzah’s father, chairman of mechanical and electrical business Rasma Corp, is a former Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing Minister. Top Glove chairman Tan Sri Lim Wee Chai is also an adviser, in place of Lau’s father, who died in 2008.

The other two advisers are Marlon Sanchez, Deutsche Bank’s head of global prime finance distribution in Asia-Pacific, and Francesco Barrai, senior vice-president at DE Shaw, a hedge fund with more than US$40bil in investment capital.

RHL added a fourth partner last month, John Ng Pangilinan, a grandson of billionaire property tycoon Ng Teng Fong, who built Far East Organisation Pte and Sino Group.

Ng, 37, has founded some 10 ventures, including Makan Bus, a service that allows tourists to explore off-the-beaten-track eateries in Singapore.

As well as their family fortunes, the four partners bring experience of upbringings in dynasties that valued hard work, tradition and dedication.

Ng recalls his grandfather, Singapore’s richest man when he died in 2010, would always visit a property he was interested in buying with his wife.

After driving around the area, they would sit on a bench and observe it from a distance. Then they would return to the same spot after dark.

“He said to us, ‘What you see during the day can look very different at night,’” Ng said.

Hamzah, whose great-grandfather Mustapha Albakri was the first chairman of Malaysia’s Election Commission, remembers his father’s lessons in frugality – one time in London he refused to buy a £2 (US$2.50) umbrella when it started raining as they had plenty of umbrellas at home.

Leong, scion of Mah Sing Group, grew up listening to tales of how his family business overcame tough times by consolidating and reinventing itself from its roots as a plastic trader. “It made me realise that we have to be focused,” he said.

“So with every deal we do, we have to put in that same energy and tenacity.”

Lau was a competitive gymnast as a child but quit the sport when she failed to win gold at a championship event.

“It’s one thing I regret. In hindsight, I don’t think I should have given up,” said Lau. “The ultimate champion is the person who doesn’t give up.”

One old habit however remains. When Lau picks up a newspaper, she goes straight to the business section. “It’s still the only thing I read,” she said. – Bloomberg/The Star by Yoolim Yee

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TPPA in danger of collapse after its biggest critic wins US presidency


KUALA LUMPUR: The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) faces its biggest challenge with the election of its major critic Donald Trump as US president. The agreement will collapse without the participation of United States, said its prime mover in Malaysia, Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.

The International Trade and In­­dus­try Minister explained that for TPPA to be ratified, it needs at least six countries, accounting for 85% of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 signatories.

“Without the United States, there will be no TPPA,” he said when met in Parliament yesterday.

He added that failure to carry out TPPA may affect the Malaysian economy.

“We went into TPPA for the overall interest of Malaysia. To be a part of this process, to do more trading, as we believe that this will help trade and investment for Malaysia.

“Among the reasons why we joined was to get access to Mexico and Canada, countries that we haven’t gotten access to,” he said.

He, however, was quick to add that it was too soon to make an analysis on the matter.

Trump’s shock victory stunned capital markets around the world with investors seeking safe haven assets such as gold to brace the period of uncertainties.

In an immediate after-effect Asian stock markets fell, with Bursa Malaysia performing relatively better than most other markets, shedding less than 1%.

The US dollar index, which measures the strength of the currency against a basket of currencies, spiked to more than 1,207, largely due to the weakening of emerging market currencies and strengthening of safe-haven currencies such as the Yen and Swiss francs.

The ringgit fell to RM4.224 against the greenback, a nine-month low since Feb 25. Gold spot prices went up by almost 5% to US$1,337 (RM5,645) as investors sought shelter in safe haven assets in the period of uncertainty.

Ministers and chief negotiators of TTPA countries are expected to meet in Peru soon to take stock on the fate of the agreement.

International Trade and Industry secretary-general Datuk J. Jayasiri, who was Malaysia’s chief TPPA negotiator, said there was no indication so far that Washington under President Barack Obama would not table the Bill in the US Congress for ratification.

“All indications from US Trade Representative Michael Froman is that they are working hard to table it. The US has its own domestic process and for Malaysia we will continue the process of amending our laws,” he said.

Peru will host the annual Asia Pacific Economic Cooperaton (Apec) summit on Nov 19 to be attended by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Obama is also expected to attend.

American Malaysia Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) executive director Siobhan Das said US business investments would continue to find a home in Malaysia.

“Amcham supports all efforts that enable free and fair trade between all parties, and looks forward to working with the new administration to grow US business interests in Malaysia,” said Das.

Malaysian Association for Ame­ri­can Studies (MAAS) President Prof Dr K.S. Nathan believed that Trump would try to fine tune but would not scrap the agreement.

“They may renegotiate some aspects of it but I don’t see Trump pulling back on the TPPA or even the North American Free Trade Agreement”.

The US Embassy’s charge d’affaires Edgard Kagan explained it was still possible that TPPA would be approved by US lawmakers.

“There are different views on trade in the US. President Obama is committed to the TPPA and we will just have to see what happens,” he said.

In theory, the TPPA could still be ratified by Congress during its “lame duck” session.

This is the session which takes places after the US presidential election but before the inauguration on Jan 20 next year.

BY Razak ahmad, Neville spykerman, Mergawati zulfakar, Loshana k shagar, Hemananthani sivanandam, Rahimy rahim, Martin carvalho, andd. Kanyakumari The Star/ANN

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