Recession fears can by itself be a self-fulfilling prophecy


 

AS talk of a recession picks up, a veteran fund manager, Ang Kok Heng of Phillip Capital Management Sdn Bhd, correctly points out that the Malaysian stock market has been in “recession” in five of the six years since 2014.

Hence, he does not envisage how it can get worse for the Malaysian stock market if the global economy does go into a recession next year. Fears of a global recession have picked up pace based on the behaviour of the US yield curve.

The yield curve, which charts the spreads of US debt papers of various tenures, has inverted several times in the past few weeks. Most people would not understand what an inverted yield curve means.

Simply put, it means long-dated debt papers of 10 years giving lower returns compared to shorter-term debt papers such as two-year US Treasuries. It causes what is called an inverted yield curve.

It goes against the normal behaviour of US Treasury yields because long-term debt papers should give a higher return than short-term papers.

The consequence of an inverted yield curve is that it will lead to banks reducing their lending activities because their margins are narrow. Eventually, it results in companies reducing their activities and the country going into a slowdown or recession.

An inverted yield curve has been the precursor to all past recessions (see diagram).

However, there are some who are disputing the fears of an impending global recession based on the behaviour of the bond yield curve. Their reason is that the bond yields are not behaving as what they should due to the governments all around the world printing money to keep interest rates artificially low since 2009.

Interest rates have become so low to the extent that European banks are offering no returns on deposits. This means depositors do not get any money for keeping their money in the banks. Borrowers instead get discounts on their installments.

It’s happening in Europe because government bond yields there have turned negative.

For instance, the yield on 10-year Switzerland bonds is negative 0.74%, while German bonds of a similar tenure yield negative 0.52%. From France to Denmark, government debt papers have negative yields.

Only some countries such as Portugal and Spain still have positive yields on their debt papers.

Analysts believe that this has resulted in investors resorting to buying US debt papers that still offer positive yields. Hence, the price of bonds across all tenures in the US has gone up, causing their yields to come down.

The search for yields has also resulted in the narrowing of the difference between what the two-year and 10-year debt papers offer. And there have been several occasions in the last one month when the yield on the 10-year paper was lower than the two-year debt papers.

Apart from the behaviour of the yield curve, the other indicator that is seen as a precursor to a recession is the declining manufacturing sector all around the world caused by the trade war between the US and China. The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), which is a leading indicator to assess the state of the economy, has been declining for all major economies.

For Malaysia, the PMI has been less than the 50-point benchmark for almost a year now. The same trend is seen in China, while the indicator has started to decline in the US in the last few months, which some see as a result of the trade war.

The trade war has caused supply disruptions, impacting the manufacturing sector.

However, there are other indicators that do not indicate a recession is imminent.

Banks are fairly well-capitalised and have pulled the brakes on lending. We do not hear of banks being impacted by major corporate defaults except for some financial institutions in China. Malaysian banks, for instance, have weathered the storm quite well so far, thanks to Bank Negara keeping a tight rein on their lending activities.

There has not been any run-up in asset prices. Property prices in countries such as Malaysia have remained subdued since 2015 after Bank Negara pulled the brakes on lending. Since 2014, Bursa Malaysia has closed lower every year, except for 2017.

The only exception of rising asset prices is Wall Street that has soared to record highs. Stock prices are hitting all-time highs due to improved earnings growth.

Technology companies such as Apple and Amazon are US$1 trillion companies. The other technology companies such as Facebook and Alphabet are enjoying growing valuations because of earnings growth.

No other stock exchange in the world has such a large concentration of technology companies than the exchanges on Wall Street. All technology companies, even from China, want to list on Wall Street.

Even Alibaba is listed on the New York Stock Exchange and not in Hong Kong.

It has been 11 years since the last recession, but the world’s central banks have resumed their printing of cheap money to keep interest rates low. The European Central Bank has resumed quantitative easing, while the US Federal Reserve is reducing interest rates. In essence, central banks are taking these measures to prevent a slowing economy going into recession.

In the meantime, it has caused fear among people and companies. Companies are holding back on spending, and in fact, cutting down on their debt.

A clear indicator is in the US where companies raised the most amount of corporate debt. Apple and Disney raised US$7bil worth of debt papers to reduce their borrowings.

In Malaysia, corporations have been deleveraging for the past few years in anticipation of a slowdown. Companies are not expanding, as indicated by the declining private-sector gross capital formation.

It is only reasonable for companies and people to save for the upcoming rainy days. Even governments are cautious in spending. For instance, in the upcoming Budget 2020, many are expecting the government to start spending. But there is also a view that the government will adopt a cautious stance as it continues to strengthen its balance sheet and reduce debts.

If nobody spends for fear of a recession, it would be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Most people are expecting a recession, meaning negative growth. Fear of a recession has translated into a slowdown that the world and Malaysia are experiencing. If this fear continues to perpetuate, a recession would be a self-fulling prophecy.

It is good to be fearful, but being too fearful and conservative will also result in lost opportunity.

As Ang of Phillip Capital puts it, in times when fears of a recession seap in, cash must be held to seize opportunities. Holding cash as an investment is not a wise option.

By M. SHANMUGAM , The views expressed here are solely that of the writer. Source link

 

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Peter Navarro, a hawk that ‘lacks intellect and common sense’ is Trump’s trade adviser or political agitator?


A profile photo of Peter Navarro Photo: IC

○ Navarro used the idea of the seven sins to criticize China, which showed his narrow and distorted mind

○ Navarro has been called the US President Donald Trump’s “spirit animal” as Donald Trump Jr. called him “a fierce warrior” for his father’s America First trade agenda

○ Politicians like Navarro have ruined the efforts made in the China-US trade talks and US society will pay for this, analysts said

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Sunday said that China must end the “seven deadly sins,” a remark that was criticized by Chinese experts as “absurd and full of hostility” and that Navarro’s dominance of economic issues in the White House is a source of sadness in current China-US trade ties.

Navarro, 69, is a White House trade adviser and ardent supporter of the trade war. Several days earlier, Trump escalated his tariff war with China and Navarro was the only person at the announcement who supported it.

Navarro used the Christian concept of the seven deadly sins to criticize China, which showed his narrow and distorted mind. His willful moves to stir up hatred between countries are the real sin, analysts said.

He has written three books discrediting China and produced documentaries portraying Beijing as a threat. He ingratiates himself with those in the White House in order to get promoted. He has a “big mouth” and was told to shut up after saying the Canadian Prime Minister deserves “a special place in hell.” He has written a number of books, but has always been an unrecognized “non-mainstream economist.”

Navarro’s distinguishing feature among White House staff and senior officials is likely not that he is more of a “hawk” than others, but that he lacks intellect and common sense. He is highly compatible with his leader in his use of irrational methods, a Chinese scholar told the Global Times.

A US cargo ship (back) is seen at the Yangshan Deep-Water Port, an automated cargo wharf, in Shanghai on April 9, 2018. Photo: VCG

Out of favor

“Imagine the United States simultaneously engaged in trade wars with China, India, Pakistan, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Ukraine, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Chile, Brazil and Turkey,” said a report by the Axios news website in August 2018.

Axios has obtained a copy of a draft executive order Navarro put together in the fall of 2017 that would have imposed tariffs on every product imported from every country doing significant business with North Korea, according to Axios.

“Its death is thanks to — well, just about everyone. Officials at Commerce, State, Treasury, and the Office of the United States Trade Representative all considered the proposal totally unworkable,” Axios reported.

As long as he’s in the administration, there will be a persistent, noisy, enthusiastic voice for these kinds of tariffs, according to Axios.

In fact, Navarro was out of favor in the White House when he proposed the tariffs. The American website Vox Media recalled that in the fall of 2017, John Kelly, then White House chief of staff, began controlling advisers’ access to Trump by having Gary Cohen, director of the White House national economic council, restrain Navarro.

What did Navarro do? In order to get more direct contact with Trump, he often lurked in the West Wing of the White House at night and on weekends.

Navarro was named director of the newly established White House national trade council after President Trump’s election in 2016, and he remained director after it was transformed into the White House office of trade and manufacturing policy in April 2017. However, Navarro’s first year in the White House was difficult because Trump’s economic team was run by “globalists.”

An American with ties to Trump’s business team told the Global Times that Navarro did not have his own team in the first few months in the White House and had to attend meetings alone. Not only was he excluded from many high-level strategy meetings, he was also required to copy all work emails to Cohen.

However, two personnel changes in early 2018 gave Navarro an opportunity. In February, Rob Porter, a top political aide and White House staff secretary who was a key supporter of free trade, resigned over domestic violence allegations. In March 2018, Cohen resigned after Trump insisted on tariffs on steel and aluminum products.

Navarro was eager for the vacant position and went all out for it in private, but publicly pulled his punches and said he wasn’t competing for it, Politico reported.

Navarro eventually failed, but rose in stature. According to one American trade expert, Trump wanted protectionism, but almost everyone in the room disagreed.

Lü Xiang, an American issues expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, told the Global Times that Navarro’s role in the process of economic policymaking in White House was elevated after Cohen’s resignation. It is said that his annual salary was raised from second class to first class from March 2018, lower only than that of the President and vice president, which shows the appreciation with which he has been received.

In May 2018, the China-US high-level trade consultation was held in Washington.

A reporter at Bloomberg said the White House had not scheduled Navarro for the talks because of his inappropriate and unprofessional behavior. But Navarro criticized Steven Mnuchin, secretary of the US Treasury, in the media for giving too much ground in the talks. A few days later, Trump repudiated the negotiations and imposed taxes on $50 billion worth of Chinese products.

Given Navarro’s influence, Time magazine published an article in August 2018 saying that he does not have as much power as Mnuchin or the same responsibilities as trade representative Robert Lighthizer, but that his role should not be underestimated. If Stephen Miller, a controversial White House senior adviser, is the infamous player behind immigration, Navarro is the core leader of a series of much-criticized economic policies.

Unpopular loser

In published photos, Navarro looks somber, with a high forehead and gray hair.

He has a lot more to show for himself, with his Harvard degree, his doctorate and so on, but it is his paranoia that is his most memorable feature. In fact, Navarro originally wanted to be a politician, not an adviser, but he had a problem: people don’t like him.

Navarro was originally registered as a Republican, but ran unsuccessfully for office four times as a Democrat in the 1990s. He was once close to Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.

When he ran for congress in 1996, then-president Bill Clinton opposed him. His defeat was devastating: his wife divorced him and he fell deeply into debt.

Until 2008, he was a supporter of Democratic politicians, especially Hillary Clinton. But in the election of 2016, Navarro became an adviser to Trump. Trump is said to have suffered without the help of economists, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner asked Navarro to join after searching Navarro’s book on Amazon.

Born into a working-class family, Navarro grew up with his mother and was a hard-working graduate of two prestigious universities, Tufts and Harvard. However, his experience can be described as changeable and ill-fated.

Lü argues that his life experience has led to Navarro’s perennial unhappiness, and that he will spare no effort to translate his absurd claims into concrete policies once he is promoted by a leader who approves of him.

Although he is valued by his leader, Navarro was not liked by his colleagues. According to some American media, Navarro has a tough personality, and can be unaccommodating and unpopular. Navarro is as rude as ever when Trump cannot hear, scolding and belittling those who disagree with him.

‘Spirit animal’

Navarro was called “President Trump’s spirit animal” by Axios news website, as many scholars and experts in economy poured scorn upon his ideas on trade.

“Peter is a fierce warrior for my father’s America First trade agenda, and while it may upset some members of the failed bipartisan establishment of the Washington Swamp, he understands that we can’t allow China to continue taking advantage of American workers and hollowing out our industrial base,” Donald Trump Jr. said in a statement to The Washington Post. “His only agenda is my father’s agenda and the White House is lucky to have him.”

Some media pointed out that Navarro is the president’s intimate friend only when they talk about tariffs.

Experts said that Navarro was away from the spotlight for a while but then came back with a madder attitude.

Navarro appeared on Fox news on June 13, criticizing China in many fields, including intellectual protection and currency.

Many of Navarro’s propositions on trade and economy are condemned as unreasonable. Many mainstream economists think he has created a new school of economics dubbed the “stupid school.” His theories usually go against the principles of economics and he has made basic mistakes. In his articles, he has confused tariffs with added-value tax, Lü said.

“While purportedly an economist by training, Navarro’s economics is misguided, inaccurate and politicized,” Stephen Roach, a faculty member at Yale University, and former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asia, wrote in an editorial for the Global Times in July 2018.

It is normal that China and the US have differences, as they have their own interests. Instead of offering constructive advice to deal with these differences, Navarro has acted more like a political agitator. China and the US have gone through 12 rounds of trade talks and are trying to find ways to reach a consensus. The actions of some politicians, including Navarro, remind us that certain politicians’ tricks have ruined the good momentum of the trade talks again and again, Chinese experts noted that the US society will eventually pay for these politicians’ wrong deeds.

By Liang Yan, Qing Mu and Fan Lingzhi, Wang Huicong contributed to the reporting Source link 

Headless Hawk

Peter Navarro Photo: IC

Peter Navarro: trade adviser or political agitator?

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Sunday accused China of committing the “seven deadly sins.” He said China must “stop stealing our intellectual property, stop forcing technology transfers, stop hacking our computers, stop dumping into our markets and putting our companies out of business, stop state-owned enterprises from heavy subsidies, stop the fentanyl, stop the currency manipulation” before the trade war comes to an end.

The “seven deadly sins” refer to the seven original vices in Catholic teachings. Such a metaphor reflects Navarro’s narrow-mindedness and psychological distortion. He wantonly hyped hatred between major powers, which is a real sin.

Navarro’s seven accusations against China are all clichés. The accusations are long-term China-US disputes and different definitions of the disputes. But of all remarks made by US officials on such differences, Navarro’s summary was the most vicious. It was not only ridiculous, but also full of hostility. His words have exposed the fact that his virtues can’t compare with his position. It is the woe of China-US economic and trade relations that such a person is hijacking the White House’s economic discourse power.

US media reported that Navarro is a key figure who has helped bring about the US decision to impose additional tariffs on Chinese products. He is a major spoiler contributing to the US breach of promises.

China has led its 1.4 billion people to prosperity and development. The country has not been involved in any war in more than 10 years, and has played a positive role in the UN’s climate action. As a trading power, China has made every deal with the US by mutual consent.

It is normal for China and the US to have different standpoints toward their disputes. Trade is mutually beneficial and China cannot force the US to have hundreds of billions of trade with it. This is common sense. By no means can Chinese people understand why the US could define China-US trade disputes in so many weird ways. The US side stubbornly insists on its values about interests, which are not suitable in current globalized world.

The two countries can improve trade balance by adjusting many practices. The Chinese side is willing to take into consideration some of the US’ concerns.

But wielding a tariff stick is unacceptable to China. Navarro said China-US trade won’t end unless China satisfies all the conditions. He speaks as if it’s only China’s one-side wish to end the trade war. Isn’t it boring to still threaten China so shallowly after one and a half years of trade war?

The fact is if the US side has no sincerity to reach a fair deal, China is prepared to fight the trade war to the end. China is being forced to do so, but it can do it well under pressure until the other side is discouraged.

It seems Navarro didn’t offer the president a technical solution to solving China-US differences. He behaves more like a political agitator. The two sides have gone through 12 rounds of trade talks through which negotiating teams work hard to find common ground.

But Navarro reminds us that some people’s political calculations keep impacting on the US negotiating position. American society will eventually pay for these people’s politics.

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Facebook delves into Cryptocurrency, the Libra coin plan


Cryptocurrency and Facebook logo are seen together in this photo. Photo: IC

Experts raise concerns over privacy and regulation

Facebook unveiled plans Tuesday for a new global cryptocurrency called Libra, pledging to deliver stable virtual money that lives on smartphones and could bring over a billion “unbanked” people into the financial system.

The Libra coin plan, backed by financial and nonprofit partners, represents an ambitious new initiative for the world’s biggest social network with the potential to bring crypto-money out of the shadows and into the mainstream.

Facebook and some two dozen partners released a prototype of Libra as an open source code for developers interested in weaving it into apps, services or businesses ahead of a rollout as global digital money next year.

The nonprofit Libra Association based in Geneva will oversee the blockchain-based coin, maintaining a real-world asset reserve to keep its value stable.

The Libra Association’s Dante Disparte said it could offer online commerce and financial services at minimal cost to more than a billion “unbanked” people – adults without bank accounts or those who use services outside the banking system such as payday loans to make ends meet.

“We believe if you give people access to money and opportunity at the lowest cost, the way the internet itself did in the past with information, you can create a lot more stability than we have had up until now,” Disparte, head of policy and communications, told AFP.

Facebook will be just one voice among many in the association, but is separately building a digital wallet called Calibra.

“We view this as a complement to Facebook’s mission to connect people wherever they are; that includes allowing them to exchange value,” Calibra vice president of operations Tomer Barel told AFP.

“Many people who use Facebook are in countries where there are barriers to banking or credit.”

But the move raised questions about how such a new money would be regulated, with one lawmaker calling for a pause on Libra.

“Given the company’s troubled past, I am requesting that Facebook agree to a moratorium on any movement forward on developing a cryptocurrency until Congress and regulators have the opportunity to examine these issues,” said Maxine Waters, chair of the financial services committee in the US House of Representatives.

Meanwhile French Finance Minister Bruno le Maire said such digital money could never replace sovereign currencies.

“The aspect of sovereignty must stay in the hands of states and not private companies which respond to private interests,” Le Maire told Europe 1 radio.

Bank of England Governor Mark Carney said Facebook’s new currency would have to withstand scrutiny of its operational resilience and not allow itself to be used for money laundering or terror financing.

ING economists Teunis Brosens and Carlo Cocuzzo said in a research note it was not clear what Libra was or how it might be overseen while US Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat and banking committee member, voiced concerns over Facebook’s checkered record on protecting users’ privacy.

Backed by real cash

Libra Association debuted with 28 members including Mastercard, Visa, Stripe, Kiva, PayPal, Lyft, Uber and Women’s World Banking.

Calibra is being built into Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp with a goal of letting users send Libra as easily as they might fire off a text message.

Libra learned from the many other cryptocurrencies that have preceded it such as bitcoin and is designed to avoid the roller-coaster valuations that have attracted speculation and caused ruin.

Real-world currency will go into a reserve backing the digital money, the value of which will mirror stable currencies such as the US dollar and the euro, according to its creators.

“It is backed by a reserve of assets that ensures utility and low volatility,” Barel said.

The Libra Association will be the only entity able to “mint or burn” the digital currency, maintaining supply in tune with demand and assets in reserve, according to Barel.

“It is not about trusting Facebook, it is effectively trust in the association’s founding organizations that this is independent and democratic,” Disparte said.

New directions

The launch comes with Facebook seeking to move past a series of lapses on privacy and data protection that have tarnished its image and sparked scrutiny from regulators around the world.

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has promised a new direction for Facebook built around smaller groups, private messaging and payments.

The new Calibra digital wallet promises eventually to give Facebook opportunities to build financial services into its offerings, offer to expand its own commerce and let more small businesses buy ads on the social network.

“We certainly see long-term value for Facebook,” Barel said.

Facebook said it would not make any money through Libra or Calibra, but rather was seeking to “drive adoption and scale” before exploring ways to monetize the new system.

Financial information at Calibra will be kept strictly separate from social data on Facebook and won’t be used to target ads, Calibra vice president of product Kevin Weil told AFP.

Libra will be a regulated currency, subject to local laws in markets regarding fraud, guarding against money laundering and more, Weil said.

‘Watershed’ moment?

According to Facebook and its partners, local currencies and Libra may be swapped at currency exchange houses or other businesses.

And the ubiquity of smartphones means digital wallets for Libra could make banking and credit card services and e-commerce available in places where they don’t now exist.

Analyst and cryptocurrency investor Lou Kerner said Facebook’s move has the potential to open the door for cryptocurrency to a wider public.

“What Facebook is really good at, is making things really simple to use,” Kerner told AFP.

“And that’s what is super exciting for the crypto industry, is somebody comes along who understands user experience and has billions of users that they can roll this out to.”

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Blockchain Festival & Conference Week, Kuala Lumpur 26~27 Sept 2018


BLOCFEST www.blocfest.asia

SOUTHEAST ASIA’S INTERNATIONAL BLOCKCHAIN EVENT

Blockchain and beyond

Brothers Hway (left) and Tze-Co say networking will be a big part of the Blocfest conference. — ART CHEN/The Star

Educate yourself on blockchain technology which is transforming businesses around the globe.

What began as an experiment in buying Bitcoin for a holiday led two brothers to explore blockchain technology and eventually organise a blockchain conference – Blocfest 2018 – which will feature more than 30 ­international speakers.

Gwei Tze-Co, 49, started investing in Bitcoin four years ago, ahead of a trip to Brazil to attend the 2014 World Cup.

“I was planning to go to Argentina after the World Cup and read that the currency situation was so bad there that you could use Bitcoin instead. I bought some but didn’t end up using it,” he says.

But that initial investment got him hooked on blockchain and cryptocurrency, especially Ethereum.

Meanwhile, Gwei Hway, 43, who is a ­programmer and has worked in tech firms for the last 20 years, was drawn to ­blockchain and cryptocurrency because of his brother’s fascination for them.

Tze-Co says in Malaysia blockchain is still an emerging technology though a few good projects by local founders have been launched.

“However, lots of people just use blockchain and cryptocurrency for hype. To put it bluntly, there’s a lot of scams and many Malaysians are falling for them,” he says.

He says that a conference with legitimate speakers sharing their experience could go a long way in educating people on how blockchain can make a difference in their businesses.

He adds that once a person better understands blockchain technology and especially how it’s used in business, it will be easier for him or her to identify the fake ones.

This is one of the reasons the brothers are organising Blocfest through their company, Blockchain Asia Sdn Bhd, which is scheduled to take place at the Shangri-La Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, on Sept 26 and 27.

The two-day conference will focus on the potential of blockchain technology in South-East Asia and feature speakers from various ­backgrounds, including ­blockchain entrepreneurs, developers, global investors, academics and ­enthusiasts.

Discussions at the conference will be divided into three streams – Regulatory, Academic and Enterprise.

Regulatory will help you understand the current regulatory landscape and what’s in store in the future for blockchain; Academy will tackle academic concepts and their impact on blockchain; and Enterprise will highlight technological aspects of blockchain and potential use-case scenarios.

Hway expects half the attendees to come from enterprises which aren’t too familiar with blockchain technology but are exploring how it could be relevant to them, while the remaining will be investors, academics and experts in the field.

“Networking is definitely a big part of the conference, and as many solution providers will be present in the exhibition halls, we expect a lot of companies to ink deals or find partnerships,” he says.

Joining the conversation will be ­regulators from countries that have begun to explore the issue, including Taiwanese Member of Parliament Jason Hsu, better known as the Crypto Congressman due to his staunch ­support for the technology, and a ­representative from the Philippines’ Cagayan Economic Zone Authority which spearheads the country’s financial ­technology efforts.

Tze-Co says there have been talks to get Malaysian regulators to ­participate and share their thoughts on the laws required to facilitate blockchain in Malaysia but the discussion is ongoing.

Other key speakers that will be at Blocfest are cryptofinance ­platform Fusion’s founder Dejun Qian, blockchain veteran and ProximaX Ltd founder Lon Wong, anti-counterfeit system Wabi’s CEO Alexander Busarov, and dating marketplace Viola.AI’s CEO Violet Lim.

In addition to Blocfest, ­attendees can also take part in several other events during the KL Blockchain Week, which will be held between Sept 24 and 27, including a ­hackathon.

Those interested in attending Blocfest can get 40% off VIP ­tickets priced at US$450 (RM1,860) or normal ­tickets priced at US$375 (RM1,550) by keying in the promo code BLOC40D ­during checkout but this offer is only ­available for a limited time. Visit www.blocfest.asia for more ­information.

Credit:Qishin Tariq The Star online

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Malaysia to end cronyism?


https://youtu.be/vmqElJnDURI

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5717349859001

KUALA LUMPUR: The Government has vowed to end “crony capitalists” whose wealth came at the cost of ordinary Malaysians, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister said lessons had been learnt from past mistakes in planning Malaysia’s economic transformation, after confronting many “legacy issues” along the way.

“Some of the country’s development under a former leader came with an unnecessary price tag, in the form of a class of crony capitalists,” he said in his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 yesterday.

Citing public transport as an example, Najib said massive overhauls had to be done to rectify the issue.

“For decades, public transport was neglected. It was incoherent, with different owners, different systems and certainly no integration

“One man’s obsession with the idea of a national car – which is now being turned around under international joint ownership – led to Malaysia lacking an efficient public transport system.

“This was a serious obstacle to achieve high-income status and for Kuala Lumpur to be a world-class capital,” he said.

Although no name was mentioned throughout his speech, it was an apparent dig at former premier Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Najib also said that during this time, the Government had signed independent power producer concessions that were lopsided.

“Consumers had to pay far more for energy than they should have, even for energy they were not using.

“This was a real burden to the people, so we renegotiated these concessions – and determined that in the future, we would not allow private companies to earn excessively at the expense of ordinary Malaysians,” he said.

Najib also pointed out that the ringgit had been pegged against the US dollar for “far too long”.

“Investors and global markets lost confidence in us, and it took a long time to win that back. That was a very heavy cost to the country,” he said, stressing that the Government would never repeat that measure.

He also spoke on the challenges at state-owned institutions, such as 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), which were amplified and used as a tool to suggest that Malaysia’s economy was collapsing.

“I’m not going to brush over this issue. There were indeed failings at the company, there were lapses of governance. There was a valid cause for concern.

“This is why I ordered one of the most comprehensive and detailed investigations in Malaysia’s corporate history, one that involved multiple lawful authorities, including a bipartisan parliamentary body.

“Their findings were taken on board and the company’s board was dissolved, its management team changed and its operations reviewed,” he said.

On another note, Najib rubbished claims that Malaysia was welcoming foreign direct investments (FDIs) by selling out the nation’s sovereignty.

“My Government will never sacrifice an inch of our sovereignty,” he said, adding that while RM63bil in FDI stock came from China and Hong Kong, there was more from Japan at RM70bil.

“You don’t hear anyone warning that we are selling our country to the Japanese.

“Of course not. They are most welcome here. So are investors from Africa, the Americas, China, the European Union, India, Saudi Arabia and around the world,” he said.

Malaysia continues to improve in three key areas

Moving forward: Najib attending the Invest Malaysia 2018 launch together with (from left) Bursa Malaysia Bhd CEO Datuk Seri Tajuddin Atan, Treasury secretary-general Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan Serigar Abdullah, Chief Secretary Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa, Finance Minister II Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani, Bursa Malaysia chairman Tan Sri Amirsham Abdul Aziz and Malayan Banking Bhd chairman Datuk Mohaiyani Shamsudin in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia will continue to develop three key areas – transparency, accountability and efficiency – to attract more investments, said Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak.

The Prime Minister observed that the country’s excellent economic and financial fundamentals had greatly benefitted local and foreign investors, providing them with stability, strength and certainty.

“We will continue to make our country even more business- and market-friendly, which means we are always working to improve transparency, accountability and efficiency.

“The Securities Commission, Bursa Malaysia, Bank Negara Malaysia and the Finance Ministry have continuously introduced and supported measures to increase the dynamism of our capital market.

“Towards this objective, I can assure you that we can expect further measures in the near future,” he said in his keynote address at Invest Malaysia 2018 here yesterday.

The two-day annual event is jointly organised by Bursa Malaysia Bhd and Maybank. A total of 61 local companies, with a combined market capitalisation of RM767.6bil were featured in the event.

The Prime Minister also cited figures that justified the confidence in Malaysia shown by investors and global institutions.

“Our total trade grew strongly by 20.8% between January and November last year, while in November alone, gross exports reached double-digit growth of 14.4%, with the highest receipts ever recorded, at RM83.5bil.

“Last year, foreign net fund inflow recorded a positive RM10.8bil, the highest since 2012, while corporate bond and new sukuk issuance reached RM111.2bil for 11 months of the year, close to 30% higher than the whole of 2016,” he said.

Najib also observed that Malaysia has enjoyed years of strong growth, with figures that most developed economies “could only dream of”, even during times of economic uncertainty.

“In fact, last year Malaysia exceeded all expectations, with the World Bank having to revise its estimate for our growth upwards not once, not twice, but three times – to 5.8%,” he said.

Najib added the World Economic Global Competitiveness index for 2017 and 2018 rate Malaysia very highly out of 137 countries.

The country is ranked third for Strength of Investor Protection, fifth for Pay and Productivity, fifth for the low Burden of Government Regulation and 14th for the Quality of Education System.

“The International Monetary Fund has also praised our sound macroeconomic policy responses in the face of significant headwinds and risks.

“The World Bank also recently confirmed that it believes Malaysia is on track, and that we are expected to achieve high-income status in the next few years,” he said.

Source: The Staronline

 

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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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Money game scourge


Easier option: Poor experience with regulated investment product providers may be the reason for investors to go for ‘alternative’

Poor wealth management experiences fuel money games

OVER the past 2 months, it was virtually impossible to pick up any newspaper and not read reports about the money game phenomenon that has taken the media by storm.

It is as if the Pandora’s Box had been suddenly flung open by the exposé of JJPTR, leading to other similar schemes coming to light.

The victim profile ranges from white-collared professionals and savvy businessmen to senior citizens and housewives. It would appear as if just about anyone from different walks of life could be susceptible to these money schemes.

It is easy for observers and bystanders to pin the blame on the investors for getting themselves in a sticky situation. After all, if we apply the caveat emptor (buyer beware) principle to other types of goods and services, the investors should have clearly known the risks of subscribing to these money games and therefore should have been aware of the possibility of losing their investments.

So, what caused groups of people to lose their common sense when it comes to money games?

Scams come in many shapes, sizes and forms but look closely and you will see that they all have many things in common in terms of the modus operandi and the people they seem to attract. From JJPTR and MBI International right at our doorstep to China’s Nanning investment scheme and the most notorious Ponzi scheme of all times – the Madoff scandal, all these scams preyed on innate human weaknesses and appealed to investors’ desire to grow their wealth.

Many would be quick to label these investors as greedy or gullible, but I beg to differ. I see nothing wrong with wanting to achieve financial freedom and get higher investment returns. The people who invested and lost in these scams are not multi-millionaires with ample financial resources. They are average Malaysians who have worked hard and saved their money for a rainy day, only to see their nest egg disappear into thin air. What drove them to place the precious results of their blood, sweat and tears into unregulated investment schemes?

I am convinced that the reason stems from the investors’ poor experience with regulated investment product providers.

The so-called ‘push’ factor

There is a mismatch of what consumers need and what financial institutions are trying to sell. Consumers want guidance on how to use regulated investments as a means to grow their wealth with high certainty and achieve financial freedom.

The general public sees banks as an easy, accessible channel to obtain advice on personal finance and investment matters via wealth management services. There is no issue with legitimacy as the array of financial products and services available through banks are duly approved by the regulatory authorities.

The problem arises when investors are not getting what they need, which is advisory support, from their current wealth management providers. More often than not, investors feel overwhelmed by the choices available in the market. Worse still, investors do not know what action to take when their investments lose money. It is not uncommon to find that the wealth management providers are very attentive and proactive in recommending options; but once the sales is concluded, the investor is basically left to his or her own devices.

As a result of the lack of hand-holding or after-sales service, some investors may find that rather than growing money, they end up losing 20%-30% of their capital. The sheer irony of it is that because of the experience of losing money, they now perceive regulated investments as highly volatile and uncertain, and ultimately lose faith. I have personally encountered clients who harbour such misgivings about unit trusts, that they would bluntly tell me right from the initial meeting, not to propose such options to them.

I realised then the extent to which poor experiences with wealth management providers can lead to misplaced biases against certain investment vehicles even though investors could benefit from the right ones. When disillusioned investors turn their heads elsewhere, this is when they discover “alternative” investment options. And many end up falling for money games because they are sold on the idea of fixed return investments perceived to be low risk, coupled with the promise of better returns.

In this instance, the “push” factor, i.e. the unmet financial needs of consumers, which contributed to investors subscribing to shady schemes, has equal bearing to the “pull” factor (attraction) of these money scams.

“I am like any other man. All I do is supply a demand.” – Al Capone, American mobster

As with most goods and services that are detrimental to our well-being (e.g. junk food, cigarettes, gambling, etc), it is consumers’ demand for them that drives their industry and makes them thrive. Without customers, these shady businesses would naturally die off.

The ability of the money games to proliferate boils down to the “smart” business acumen of the operators to “fill the gap” so to speak. By offering an alternative investment scheme at a time when the market is slow and when many investors are experiencing losses, these money games are seen as a sudden golden ticket towards becoming rich. However, as we have seen, the golden ticket eventually loses its shine and the investors are left holding nothing but a worthless scrap of paper.

Therefore, there would be fewer victims of money games if the wealth management industry as a whole were to step up and reinvent themselves into a genuine one-stop financial centre to help their clients address all financial and investment issues at various points of their lives.

When the grass on one side is always greener, the rest will not matter

In order to ensure that they are seen by clients as the “go-to” person for all financial and investment related concerns, wealth management providers will need to exceed expectations and to a certain degree, over-deliver on their current role.

Wealth managers could assist clients to evaluate various investment proposals to determine its suitability and guide clients to use regulated investment vehicles to invest in various asset classes such as equities, bonds, REITs and foreign investments to grow their money effectively. They could also play the role of a financial bodyguard to help investors fend off scams and illegitimate investments.

In an ideal world, wealth managers will set aside sufficient time and effort to understand the client’s financial position in a holistic manner. They will prepare a tailored and dynamic plan with milestones and checkpoints to help monitor and review progress.

To my peers in the wealth management industry, I would say, cut the lip service and let’s get serious about managing and growing wealth for our clients.

When more and more investors realise that they are able to count on their wealth management providers for all the required support they need to achieve their financial end game, then money games will no longer have room to take root.

Money & You Yap Ming Hui

Yap Ming Hui (ymh@whitman.com.my) is a bestselling author, TV personality, columnist, coach and host of Yap’s Money Live Show online. He feels that the financial world is getting too complicated for everyone, and initiated a weekly online show to address the issues.For more information, please visit his website at www.whitman.com.my
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