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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Recalling Bank Negara’s massive forex losses in 1990s


The government is moving ahead to investigate whether there were any wrongdoings in the massive foreign exchange losses suffered by Bank Negara some 25 years ago. Many people today may not have a good recollection of what happened, while many others probably had no knowledge of it until it became news again recently as the sitting government took aim at this nasty episode under Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s rule.

I was a reporter with Reuters then and had covered the losses that surfaced when the central bank released its annual reports for 1992 and 1993 in March 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I recall that those losses first puzzled me and others because bank officials did not come forward to talk about them at the press conference nor was the information contained in the press release. They were, however, disclosed in the last few pages of the 1992 report on the bank’s financial statement, which normally do not attract attention, as reporters would focus on the earlier parts that touched on the performance of the economy and banking sector.

But that year, we took a cursory look at those back pages and spotted something odd. Bank Negara’s financial statement showed its Other Reserves had plunged from RM10.1 billion in 1991 to RM743 million in 1992, or a loss of RM9.3 billion. There was also a Contingent Liability of RM2.7 billion.

When we asked about this, I recall that both then Bank Negara governor, the late Tan Sri Jaafar Hussein, and his deputy, Tan Sri Dr Lin See Yan, said it was nothing serious, as they were mere paper losses that could be recovered later. We were not convinced, but we were unable to challenge them, as we did not under stand the manner in which Bank Negara presented its accounts.

The next day, however, the market was abuzz with talk that the bank had lost billions in foreign exchange transactions and I remember writing stories on this for the next week or so. But nothing more came of it, although opposition MPs led by Lim Kit Siang continued to press the Ministry of Finance and Bank Negara for answers.

The matter really blew up a year later when Bank Negara tabled its 1993 report and disclosed another forex loss of RM5.7 billion. Here is what Jaafar said:

“In the Bank’s 1993 accounts, a net deficiency in foreign exchange transactions of RM5.7 billion is reported, an amount which will be written off against the Bank’s future profits. This loss reflected errors in judgment involving commitments made with the best intentions to protect the national interest prior to the publication of the Bank’s 1992 accounts towards the end of March 1993. As these forward transactions were unwound, losses unfolded in the course of 1993. In this regard, global developments over the past year had not been easy for the Bank; indeed, they made it increasingly difficult for the Bank to unwind these positions without some losses. For the most part, time was not on the Bank’s side. Nevertheless, this exercise is now complete — there is at this time no more contingent liabi lity on the Bank’s forward foreign exchange transactions on this account. An unfortunate chapter in the Bank’s history is now closed.”

Jaafar took responsibility for what happened and resigned, as did the bank official directly responsible for its foreign exchange operations, Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

How did Bank Negara lose the billions?

Jaafar said the losses were owing to commitments made to protect the nation’s interests. He was referring to the bank’s operations in the global forex market to manage the country’s foreign reserves and, obviously, something went wrong in a big way.

Forex traders and journalists who covered financial markets in the late 1980s knew that Bank Negara had a reputation for taking aggressive positions to influence the value of the ringgit against the major currencies. When the bank is not happy with the direction of the ringgit, up or down, it makes its intentions known by either selling or buying ringgit.

One question I had always asked forex dealers when writing market reports for Reuters was, “Is Negara in the market today?”

Bank Negara has always maintained that its market operations were to prevent volatility and undue speculation. Its critics, on the other hand, said it also did so for profits, which it enjoyed for years.


What went wrong in 1992?

That was the year George Soros and other hedge funds bet heavily against the British pound on the basis that it was overvalued. The Bank of England (BOE) fought back by buying billions of sterling while Soros and gang shorted the battered currency.

As it did not want to deplete too much of its reserves to defend the fixed rate of the pound within the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, BOE capitulated by withdrawing from the ERM on Sept 16, 1992, since called Black Wednesday.

It was widely believed then that Bank Negara had bet on the wrong side of the fight between BOE and the hedge funds. It never thought that central banks could lose against specu lators, but BOE lost and Soros was said to have pocketed at least US$1 billion.

Bank Negara has never confirmed nor denied that this was indeed what happened but the evidence, although circumstantial, points to this as the reason for the loss of RM9.3 billion in its 1992 accounts and the subse quent loss of another RM5.7 billion in 1993, bringing its total loss to RM15 billion.

Was the loss more than RM15~30 bil?

Former Bank Negara assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid was reported as saying recently that the losses were actually US$10 billion. That would work out to RM25 billion at the then exchange rate of RM2.50 to a dollar. Murad also alleged that there were no proper investigations into the matter.

Following his allegations, the Cabinet has now set up a task force led by former chief secretary to the government, Tan Sri Sidek Hassan, to investigate whether there were wrongdoings that caused the losses, whether there was a cover-up on the size of the losses, and whether Parliament was misled.

So, who should the task force call up as part of its probe? I am guessing the following:

  1. Tun Mahathir, who was the prime minister then;
  2. Tun Daim Zainuddin, who was the minister of finance from 1984 to 1991 when Bank Negara was active in the forex market;
  3. Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, who was the minister of finance when the losses surfaced in 1992 and 1993;
  4. Dr Lin, who was deputy governor of the central bank then;
  5. Tan Sri Ahmad Don, who succeeded Jaafar as governor;
  6. Murad, who made the allegations; and
  7. Nor Mohamed, who was head of forex operations.


Who is Nor Mohamed?

Nor Mohamed is the man who lost billions for Bank Negara and resigned along with Jaafar in 1993. He then kept a low profile with short spells at RHB Research Institute and Mun Loong Bhd.

In an ironic twist, the man who lost billions for the country was later credited with helping save the ringgit from currency speculators in 1998.

Frustrated by the year-long failure of governments and central banks to fight off speculators, who had devalued Asian currencies (the ringgit plunged to as low as 4.80 to the dollar), Tun Mahathir turned to Nor Mohamed for help. The doctor did not understand how the currency market worked and Nor Mohamed took him through it in great detail. The two men then confidentially devised the plan that shocked the world — the imposition of controls on Sept 1, 1998.

Widely criticised at the time (Ahmad Don and his deputy Datuk Fong Weng Phak resigned in protest), some now say the move helped bring an end to the crisis, as speculators feared other affected countries would do the same.

Nor Mohamed’s star shone again and he later became Minister of Finance 2 under Tun Mahathir and Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. He is now deputy chairman of Khazanah Nasional.

But now, a ghost from his past has been dug up as fodder for the political contest between Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and his biggest nemesis, Tun Mahathir. The objective is obvious. Tun Mahathir has attacked Najib incessantly over 1Malaysia Development Bhd. The current administration is fighting back by saying billions were also lost under Tun Mahathir’s watch. Tun Mahathir says there is a 1MDB cover-up and his foes are accusing him of doing the same.


Will the task force unearth anything that is not already known?

The task force needs three months to complete its work, so we will just have to wait for the full picture before we can come to any conclusion that can bring closure to something that happened 25 years ago.

Perhaps, one day, we will be lucky enough to also have the full picture of the affairs of 1MDB. Current Minister of Finance 2 Datuk Seri Johari Abdul Ghani did say this month that no action had been taken against anyone in Malaysia over 1MDB because we have only “half the story” so far.

In that case, should we not have a task force on 1MDB as well so Malaysians can have the full picture?

By: Ho Kay Tat

Ho Kay Tat is publisher and group CEO of The Edge Media Group

This article appears in Issue 772 (March 27) of The Edge Singapore which is on sale now.

RCI can shed more light on forex losses

 Figures could be even greater than what had been disclosed, says STF chairman

KUALA LUMPUR: A Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) can reveal more details on the foreign exchange (forex) losses suffered by Bank Negara (BNM) in the 1980s and 1990s, said Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan.

The chairman of the Special Task Force (STF) to probe the forex losses said the figure was greater than what was disclosed.

However, the STF was unable to scrutinise further due to the limitations that it had, he said in an interview on Friday.

“As a task force, we have limitations. We were established on an administrative basis and not under any legislation.

“As such, the STF had no power to coerce anyone to come forward for any discussion or to give any information,” he said, adding that it only had access to documents that were available to the public, such as BNM’s annual reports and consultations between the central bank and the International Monetary Fund.

“We also cannot compel anyone to come forward. Even if you ask them to come and they don’t want to come, there is no issue about it.

“And even if they came and we questioned them, and they refused to answer, we cannot do anything about it.

“And it was not under oath. Even if they answered, we don’t know if that was the truth.

“So, that is why the RCI is better, although it is safe to say that the STF has reason to believe that the actual loss is different and much more than the figures given earlier,” said Sidek, a former Chief Secretary to the Government.

He added that the RCI could have access to documents relating to the forex losses, for instance from the Finance Ministry or BNM.

On Jan 26, former BNM assistant governor Datuk Abdul Murad Khalid revealed that the central bank suffered US$10bil (RM42.9bil) in forex losses in the early 1990s, much higher than the figure of RM9bil disclosed by BNM.

Subsequently, a seven-member STF headed by Sidek was formed in February.

Sidek, who is Petronas chairman, said the STF focused on the three points in the terms of reference, one of which was conducting preliminary investigations into losses by BNM related to its speculative fo­­reign currency transactions.

It also investigated whether there was any action to cover up the losses and whether the Cabinet and Parliament were misled and it had to submit to the Government recom­mendations for further action, including the establishment of an RCI.

On June 21, the STF submitted its findings, concluding that it found that a prima facie case to merit in-depth investigations by establishing an RCI.

Explaining the process of the investigation, Sidek said 12 people, including former BNM governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz, were interviewed by the STF, and all coopera­ted well.

Among the others who were summoned by the STF were PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, and former Finance Minister II and BNM assistant governor at the time Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

Asked on the need to investigate something that happened about two decades ago, Sidek said though it took place a long time ago, it had been revealed that the losses were huge.

“I feel that the people need an explanation on the matter, and the Government had decided to conduct an investigation.

“Therefore, an RCI is the only way for a complete understanding. If this is not done now, the matter will prolong.

“Five or 10 years from now it will crop up again.

“With a full investigation through an RCI, there could be closure to this,” Sidek said. — Bernama

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What concerns Malaysians most ?


Supermarket shopping food

THE biggest concern among Malaysians, as we head towards the general election, is the cost of living. It’s as simple as that.

There have been plenty of political and religious side shows, but for many Malaysians, regardless of race, settling the many bills each month is what worries them the most.

Although Malaysia remains one of the cheapest countries to live in, its citizens have been spoilt for too long.

We are so used to having so many food items subsidised, including sugar, at one time, to the point that some of us have had difficulties adjusting ourselves.

Our neighbours still come to Malaysia to buy petrol, because ours is still cheaper than theirs.

But, as in any elections, politicians will always promise the heavens to get our votes. One of the promises, we have already heard, is the abolishment of the Goods and Services Tax.

No doubt that doing away with GST would appeal to voters, but seriously, even the opposition politicians calling for this are aware that it is a counter-productive move.

In the words of Tan Sri Mohd Sheriff Mohd Kassim, a highly-respected retired government servant, “it is too much of a fairy tale.”

The danger, of course, is that populist electoral pledges are always appealing, even if they are not rational.

Malaysia cannot depend on just about two million tax payers to foot the bill in a country of over 30 million people. It is unfair and unsustainable.

Taxing consumption gives more stability to revenue because income tax is regarded as highly volatile, as it depends very much on the ups and downs of businesses, according to Mohd Sheriff. When the market is soft, revenue collection always sees a dip.

For the government, which has already been criticised for having such a huge civil service, without GST, it could even mean its workers may not get paid when there is a downturn in the economy.

In the case of Malaysia, we have lost a substantial amount of revenue following the drop in oil price.

So, when politicians make promises, claiming plugging leakages is sufficient to end GST, it is really far-fetched and irresponsible.

The Malaysian tax system needs to continue to be more consumption-oriented to make it recession-proof, and, more importantly, the tax net just has to be widened. The bottom line is that, it is grossly unfair for two million people to shoulder the burden.

The government has done the right thing by widening the tax base and narrowing the fiscal deficit. The move to implement GST, introduced in 2014, has been proven right.

GST is needed to provide a strong substitute as a tax consumption capable of off-setting revenue loss from personal and corporate tax.

Beginning next month, India will join nearly 160 countries, including Malaysia, in introducing GST. Like Malaysia, when GST was first introduced, plenty of loud grumblings and doubts have rolled out.

Unlike Malaysia’s flat 6% across the board, India is introducing a more complicated four-tier GST tax structure of 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%, with lower rates for essential items and highest for luxury and demerits goods that would also attract additional cess.

In Singapore, GST was introduced on April 1, 1994, at 3%. The rate was increased to 4% in 2003, then 5% in 2004. It was raised to 7% on July 1, 2007.

Some politicians came under fire recently for purportedly calling for the abolishment of GST, however, some others clarified that they had merely called for a reduction in the tax’s percentage.

Another top opposition politician has come out as the strongest opponent of GST, reportedly saying the claim that Malaysia needs GST is false.

Some other politicians have described GST as regressive, but have not come out with clear ideas on how it should be tackled.

Nonetheless, the ruling party should not make light of these electoral promises.

For many in the urban middle class, they feel the squeeze the most.

They have struggled against the rising cost of living, paying house and car loans, and earning deep levels of debt, as one report aptly put.

The middle class, consisting of over 40% of Malaysians, is also in the income tax bracket, it must be noted.

Last year, an economist was quoted saying that 2016 was a year of a shrinking urban middle class and a happy upper class.

Shankar Chelliah, an associate professor at Universiti Sains Malaysia, said that the Malaysian middle class shrank in metropolitan centres across the country, and that most of its members would end the year almost 40% poorer than they were in 2015.

He said this would be due to the withdrawal of cooking oil and sugar subsidies, depreciation of the ringgit, decrease in foreign inflows and increase in outflows, among other factors.

For many in this middle class range who do not qualify for BR1M handouts, the government clearly has to come up with a range of programmes which can relieve them of these burdens.

It isn’t race or religious issues that will appeal to voters – they want to know how they can lead better lives, and if the opposition thinks contentious issues will translate into votes, they will be in for a surprise.

It is true that the heartland will continue to deliver the crucial votes, and the ruling party will benefit from this, but Malaysia has also become more urban and more connected.

At the end of the day, it is the bread and butter issues that matter most. Let’s hear some solid ideas and programmes which will reduce the burden of Malaysians.

By Wong Chun Wai On the beat, The Star

Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 27 years in various capacities and roles. He is now the group’s managing director/chief executive officer and formerly the group chief editor.

On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.

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One Belt One Road paving the way to success


In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed building the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road, which became known as the Belt and Road Initiative.

Countries along the Belt and Road have their own resource advantages, and their economies are mutually complementary. This means there is a great potential and space for cooperation.

Connecting facilities is a priority in implementing the initiative. On the basis of respecting each other’s sovereignty and security concerns, countries along the Belt and Road are improving the connectivity of their infrastructure construction plans and technical standard systems, jointly pushing forward the construction of international passageways, and forming an infrastructure network connecting all sub-regions in Asia, and between Asia, Europe and Africa.

At the same time, China and countries along the way are making efforts to promote green and low-carbon infrastructure construction and operation management, taking into full account the impact of climate change on any construction.

With regard to transport infrastructure construction, they are focusing on key passageways, junctions and projects, and giving priority to linking up unconnected road sections, removing transport bottlenecks, advancing road safety facilities and traffic management facilities and equipment, and improving road network connectivity.

Countries along the Belt and Road are building a unified coordination mechanism for whole-course transportation, increasing connectivity in customs clearance, reloading and multimodal transport, and gradually formulating compatible and standard transport rules, in order to facilitate international transport.

China suggests pushing forward port infrastructure construction, building smooth land-water transportation channels, and advancing port cooperation, increasing sea routes and the number of voyages, and enhancing information technology cooperation in maritime logistics. We should expand and build platforms and mechanisms for comprehensive civil aviation cooperation, and quicken our pace in improving aviation infrastructure.

In this episode, we will see how Belt and Road helps close the distance between people around the world.

The Belt and Road:

http://watchthis.chinadaily.com.cn/video/column/belt-and-road/

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Bitcoin, digital currencies rally, caution prevails; virtual currency in property


Bitcoins As Digital Currency's Rally Crushed Every Other Currency in 2016
A collection of bitcoin tokens. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Digital currencies rally, but caution prevails

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework.

THIS week, the rally in crypto currencies is at its all-time high.

Bitcoin, the pioneer in digital currency, surged to over US$1,700 per coin in
anticipation of a reversal in United States financial regulators’ ruling to allow for an exchange-traded fund for Bitcoin and other factors.

Bitcoin was trading at US$935 on March 24. It rose 82%, pushing its market capitalisation to over US$28bil.

Ether, another such currency, surged from US$8 on Jan 1 to US$90 this week, gaining 1,125% in five months.

The market capitalisation of the 700-over currencies is over US$50bil. The promoters believe it is the currency of the future, hence the rise, but the naysayers believe it is entering a speculative bubble.

But there are some who are ditching gold to mine Bitcoins.

It is a fact that crypto currencies are gaining traction from their inception in 2009. Now, at least 150 organisations including Apple, Walmart, Sears, eBay, Overstock.com,  Microsoft, Steam, Expedia and even Subway accept them in exchange for goods.

So, what is Bitcoin then?

It is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically, not blocked by any nation or government, not printed like dollars and ringgit but produced by people. Crypto currencies are digital currencies that use encryption to secure transactions and control how new coins are made.

You and I can get Bitcoins by “mining” computers that validate blocks of transactions using software to solve mathematical puzzles every 10 minutes. If you solve it first, you are rewarded with new Bitcoins.

Bitcoin is the mother of all crypto currencies – also known as virtual currencies, digital currencies and private currencies.

Other than Bitcoin and Ether, there is also Dogecoin, Augur, Chinacoin, Litecon, Dash, Waves and Zcash. There are over 40 exchanges globally to trade in Bitcoins.

All this came about because of fintech, the financial services technology that is  disrupting the financial services sector with faster, cheaper and so-called “reliable”
transactions for money transfers, bank exchange rates and other money-related transactions. The average clearance is a 12-hour period, which apparently the banks cannot match.

In Brazil, people use Zcash to pay for their taxes, electricity bills and purchases.

This week, Australia said there would be no double taxation for crypto currencies and to treat it just like other currencies from July 1, paving the way for greater usage.

Many are betting on crypto currencies because of the lure that they are the currency of the future. Would you?

Since 2009, there have been gainers and losers, so you decide.

All these digital currencies came about because of the Internet and data.  The value of data and digital services is becoming more apparent, and in the digital era, data is the new currency.

Amid all this is blockchain, which is simply a digital ledger that keeps track of Bitcoin transactions and transfers it globally. It boasts of instantaneous transactions, transparent and cheaper than the traditional ways. This is why banks are hurriedly getting their acts together in the area of fintech so as to not miss the boat.

There is a growing number of mergers and acquisitions and crowdfunding for blockchains. Last month, music-podcast-video streaming service Spotify  bought over blockchain technology company Mediachain Labs to help reward  online content owners with royalty payments.

Other telcos and IT firms are getting into blockchain because they don’t want to miss out on anything. Other payment companies are getting into the act too. There is just too much interest in this new wave of doing things.

The journey of crypto currencies, however, is not without hurdles, and there are plenty out there that cannot be ignored. Even blockchain’s growth cannot be ignored, especially since it is being positioned by those championing it as the de facto technology of the future.

But will it really be all that or will it just add another layer to the overall cost?

All these transfers do not need regulation as yet, something that central bankers don’t like. In fact, Bank Negara is already in the thick of things where fintech is concerned.

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best
strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework, as there is also the other side of Bitcoin – fake websites, fake online gaming sites, trading, etc.

I bet you would know of someone who has lost money mining Bitcoin or Ether. You honestly wouldn’t want to be put in a spot like those caught up in the recent forex scam and the earlier gold scam.

It would be good too to bear in mind that the sweet spot of crypto currencies has been linked to terrorism financing, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud.

Trust and transparency have been the bedrock of financial institutions all these years. Ensure your bedrock is solid, but at the same time, remember what the former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke had said in a letter to US senators about virtual currencies, that they “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system”.

Do you think blockchain will bring trust and transparency to the world of crypto currency? Share your thoughts with me at bksidhu@thestar

Source: The Star by b.k. sidhu

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Property in a digital era

WITH digital technology all the rage and taking the world by storm, we look at how science and automation has managed to change and revolutionise the way we do things, in this section, property.

While the internet has changed the way we receive information and connect with others and the smart phone transformed the whole concept of a phone, we now look at the evolution of finance and how purchasing items, including a house, is going through reform with the introduction of bitcoin.

Introducing bitcoin

When people hear terms like “bitcoin” and “blockchain”, many are vague while some may not even be familiar with these words. But for the technology industry adept, bitcoin and blockchain is common as these new-age technology concepts and modus operandi have been around, perhaps less widely known in Southeast Asia as it is in the West and China.

For the uninformed and in the dark, bitcoin is a technology that has established a new electronic payment method using “digitised money” made with digital cryptography, otherwise known as cryptocurrency.

This system of payment is carried out when a user uses “bitcoin currency” (or cryptocurrency) to pay for goods by transferring the currency to another user (seller) within the bitcoin community.

Each transaction is recorded in a public data ledger known as “blockchain” and it is here where all the transactions that have taken place within the bitcoin community are stored.

The amazing thing about this system is that anyone in the bitcoin community is able to validate transactions that take place without the need of an intermediary.

Sound too good to be true and a little risky? Well, the reason there is no intermediate party necessary is due to the network bitcoin technology is regulated on.


Modus operandi and more

The bitcoin network is founded on a “peer-to-peer network system (P2P network)” which is explained as “a network of computers/ mobile configured to allow certain files and folders to be shared with everyone or with selected users”.

As a result, the “participants” are in control of their transactions, making everyone equal within the bitcoin community, which is also transparent.

It is said that bitcoin technology was first created in 2008 by a person or a group of persons under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” in a research paper. The research stated that there was need for a new electronic payment method, one using digitised money. The analysis also included the future of bitcoin, its benefits, capabilities and potential.

The system was implemented on Jan 3, 2009. And after just a few years, bitcoin grew to become a whopping US$12 billion (RM52.7 billion) globalised economy.

Bitcoin attributes

While not much has been said about bitcoin in this part of the region, the system has been around, slowly developing and growing. Like many things that are cloudy and not often talked about, people are weary hence, there will be sceptics who dissuade others about the system they themselves are unclear about.

With that, theSun’s Brian Chung shares what he learnt of this new method of transaction and currency when he attended a talk by renowned entrepreneur, author and expert on bitcoin Andreas M. Antonopoulos.

Below, Antonopolous shares important information on bitcoin.

1) Bitcoin is an open system of payment: It is a system that anyone can access, participate and innovate, and does not require permission. Bitcoin allows anyone to join in and use the system, validate the transaction and create different kinds of cryptocurrency.

2) Bitcoin is borderless: Like the internet, bitcoin is not restricted to a country’s rules and regulations as it has its own protocol with no distinction across countries.

3) Bitcoin is neutral: Bitcoin does not take the identity of the participant into any consideration. It only validates the transaction that takes place between participants. This attribute also allows participants to remain anonymous.

4) Bitcoin is censorship resistant: Every transaction in the bitcoin network cannot be frozen, censored or canceled. Like the internet, the bitcoin system is a global digital economy with one currency.

5) Bitcoin is a decentralised system: The bitcoin network has no central institution or centre point of control. This trait ensures that there is no one major target for hackers to concentrate their attacks on. Instead, hackers have to create attacks on every single participant’s software with different forms of virus and codes to hack into one computer.

6) Bitcoin is scarce and limited: Bitcoin is a system of value like gold but in digital form. This makes it a system that is not based on credit and debit. It also makes bitcoin a singular global currency with no exchange rate between countries.

7) Every bitcoin transaction is permanent and immutable: The transaction of everyone in the community is verified by everyone in the system. Once it is verified, the transaction will be permanently recorded in the blockchain.

8) Bitcoin is a constantly innovative technology: The open source nature of the bitcoin technology allows other people to further improve on it. There are many other cryptocurrencies based on the bitcoin technology. Moreover, the bitcoin technology is dependent on the internet, which makes improvement and innovation necessary.

Bitcoin transactions can be done via smart phones and computers by downloading the application and software. Users do not need to register themselves to be part of the bitcoin network as all “participants” are referred to by codes and “signature of one’s device”.

However, iPhone users need to remember their iTunes password to download the application. In addition, the device that one has downloaded the bitcoin software on must remain connected to the internet in order for one to use the bitcoin method of payment.

Follow our column next week on the application of bitcoin in property.

[Note: All charts courtesy of Bitcoin Malaysia.]

 

The application of bitcoin in property

 

WHILE last week, we introduced the term bitcoin to those oblivious of this new age cryptocurrency and system of payment, this week, we share bitcoin whiz Andreas M. Antonopoulus’ insights on how this technology is applied in property. Here is what he had to say:

Permanent records

“One very common application is the registration of assets or ownership of tangible and
non-tangible things like the registration of title over land and the ownership of assets
like homes.

When you record something on blockchain, it cannot be modified … it is immutable. Once recorded on the blockchain, the system of trust prevents anyone from reversing or overwriting it. That makes a record on blockchain permanent, an immutable record which is really important in real estate transaction as it allows one to pass the title of a piece of land from person to person independently with no one being able to falsify the record or steal land through paper,” Antonopoulos said.

Moreover, he mentioned that this technology can benefit the industry tremendously as it is able to resolve a huge problem in real estate and property transactions – the falsification of strata titles and property documents.

His view is further enhanced with the emergence of another bitcoin-based system, ethereum. Like bitcoin, ethereum has its own cryptocurrency known as ether. However, ethereum adopts a different technology that is based on the blockchain public ledger system known as Smart Contract.

According to Antonopoulos, a smart contract is an electronic contract with all the contractual obligations of the buyer and seller. The contract is written and coded into an application, which will ensure both parties fulfill their obligations.

Like blockchain technology that is built on trust and verification, these contracts are encoded in a public ledger in the ethereum community. If anyone tries to forge the contract, the ledger will reject it. As such, this smart contract cannot be rewritten and altered as it is a permanent and immutable contract.


Direct transactions

Besides the use of a contract, the technology will make transactions direct, fast and secure.

Antonopoulos also shared about the removal of third parties and its altered role. He said, “Another example relevant to real estate application is the function of escrow. In order to do make transactions for real estate today, people have to use a third party agent, an escrow agent. This escrow agent charges a significant amount of money in most countries. During the process, that agent holds custody of the entire fund, which is dangerous. This means that the escrow agent has to be carefully vetted and have foresight.

Bitcoin can replace all of this by using multi-signature, which allows the seller and buyer to transact escrow programmatically, with the third party acting as mediator only in the case of a dispute.

Buyer and seller will be able to execute a transaction on their own without the need of an escrow agent and without any of the parties having custody of the entire fund. Through bitcoin, you do not need to spend that additional one percent of the sale of the house – the escrow agent is no longer necessary.

It can also change the speed of escrow by doing it in hours instead of a month and changes the security because no one of the three parties can run away with the money. It is faster, cheaper and secure. It can be done in other industries related to real estates like purchasing assets, corporation, mergers and acquisitions.

International property purchase

With the use of decentralised digital currency, one can assume that purchasing items and properties is a little easier, and it is.

The chance of purchasing international property is further reinforced by the fact that bitcoin is not controlled by anyone, not even political and banking institutions. This attribute of bitcoin makes it easier for people buying property from another country. Although each country has its regulations, the use of bitcoin to purchase property abroad saves time and money as one does not need to change currency.

The Australia Real Estate website has stated that there are properties in the United States and Latin America being sold using bitcoin. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article in 2014 regarding a Lake Tahoe property, which was sold for US$1 million in bitcoin.

Follow our column next week for more interesting information on bitcoin, its challenges and how stable a cryptocurrency it is.

By rian Chung

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Angry & frustrated investors lodged report, tell off staffs trying to buy time!


Angry investors who lodged a police report at the Pekan Kinrara station. Waiting for answers:

His first investment scheme failed with losses estimated at between RM400mil and RM1.7bil but JJPTR founder Johnson Lee has brazenly come up with a new one offering even higher returns of 35% a month and with a car, motorcycles and smartphones thrown in as lucky draw prizes. Many of his investors still have faith in him but those in another scheme, Change Your Life, are in a quandary. They now have to choose between getting lower returns or changing to ‘life points’ – and waiting.

Show me the money: Investors making enquiries at Icon City in Bukit Tengah, Bukit Mertajam. The money scam issue has got many who have parted with their savings feeling anxious

 

JJPTR offers ‘better’ plan

//players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5418686139001

http://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2017/05/03/jjptr-offers-better-plan-founder-promises-higher-returns-but-stays-mum-on-refunds/

After the spectacular collapse of his previous financial scheme, purportedly because of a hacked account, controversial scheme operator Johnson Lee has rolled out a new plan, claiming to offer even better returns.

While JJPTR’s earlier scheme – which ended with RM500mil missing from the company’s account – offered returns of 20% a month, this new one offers 35%.

On top of that, it offers special lucky draws with a new car, motorcycles and smartphones as prizes.

What the company did not say in the shining glossary of the new plan is how Lee plans to address the US$400mil (RM1.73bil) losses he claims the company has incurred.

The new scheme also does not explain how he plans to repay those who lost their money to the earlier scheme.

The one-and-a-half minute video Lee uploaded shows that the new plan is based on a “split mechanism” and has three rounds.

The initial investment in US dollars is “split” or doubled in each round. Half of it is re-invested in the scheme and rolls over to the next round.

Each round lasts 10 days and investors are allowed to convert their earnings back to ringgit after three rounds.

Anyone who invests US$1,000 (RM4,331) is expected to receive US$450 (RM1,949) in each round, making it a return of US$1,350 (RM5,847) by the end of round three.

Under the proposed new scheme, investors will also be rewarded with JJ Points, which can be used in exchange for goods via its shopping platform JJ Mart.

The new scheme was announced by the 28-year-old Lee last Tuesday after news broke that his company had gone bust.

The company did not say when the new plan would start.

Attempts to contact Lee were futile and the number listed on the JJPTR Facebook page is already out of service.

A visit to the company’s offices in Penang showed that investors were no longer lining up for answers.

Instead, the staff, who preferred not to be photographed, were seen sitting at empty counters.

Penang-based JJPTR, or Jie Jiu Pu Tong Ren in Mandarin (salvation for the common people), came under the spotlight when investors complained that they did not get their scheduled payment last month.

JJPTR, JJ Poor to Rich and JJ Global Network are among the entities listed as unauthorised companies under Bank Negara Malaysia’s Financial Consumer Alert.

Records from the Companies Commission of Malaysia showed that JJ Global Network was a “RM2 company” owned by Lee and his former girlfriend Tan Kai Lee, 24. Each hold a single share.

Lee’s father Thean Chye, 58, and Tan are also directors of another company called JJ Global Network Holdings Bhd.

Thean Chye, who was an assistant professor at Southern University College in Johor, resigned on Wednesday after the JJPTR losses came to light.

Source: The Star/ANN

Investor tells off staff after failing to get refund 

 

Business as usual: Employees explaining the refund process and new scheme to investors at the JJPTR main office in Perak Road, Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: An investor, frustrated over not getting a promised refund on his stake, told off several female employees at the main JJPTR office in Perak Road.

The man, in his 40s, was heard having an exchange of words with the staff after being told that it may take “a few more days” before he could get his money.

He told them Johnson Lee, the founder of JJPTR, had said that the money was refunded to JJ2 scheme investors some days ago.

“But until today, I haven’t got my money back.

“I just want to know if the refund has been made or are you in the midst of processing the refund?

“If he has not started the refund, just be honest with the investors.”

He insisted on getting a firm date on when he would get back his money but the employees replied that they would need at least five working days.

He then demanded their names but they refused him.

“You don’t even dare give me your names. If I want to lodge a report, I won’t be able to provide the police with details.

“And don’t tell me you need days for a bank transfer. It only takes hours,” he said.

As he left the office, several journalists approached him for comment but were turned down.

“I don’t want to talk to reporters. You are all just causing trouble for us. I can get things done on my own,” he said.

JJPTR, or Jie Jiu Pu Tong Ren (“salvation for the common people” in Mandarin), is a Penang-based company that came under the spotlight when its investors complained that they did not get their scheduled profits last month.

According to online and media reports, the investors stand to lose RM500mil. They reportedly number in the tens of thousands, comprising Malaysians and foreigners from Canada, the United States and China.

Lee, who has blamed the loss on hackers, put the figure at US$400mil (RM1.75bil) in a widely-circulated video clip.

JJPTR, JJ Poor to Rich and JJ Global Network are listed as unauthorised companies by Bank Negara Malay­sia.

Source: The Star/ANN

JJPTR just trying to buy time, says ‘scam buster’ 

 

“Scam buster” Afyan Mat Rawi has ridiculed JJPTR’s new plan, calling it “unsustainable” and nothing but a forex scheme to placate angry investors.

Once a victim of an investment scam himself, the 37-year-old financial adviser said investors should stay away from the scheme, which he described as “illogical”.

“The investors are angry right now, and JJPTR is trying to pacify them by introducing this new plan.

“A 35% return at the end of the three rounds (one month) is illogical. Where would the company find all the money to reinvest?

“The new plan is just a way for them to buy time,” Afyan said.

He said any investment scheme promising returns of more than 15% in a year will ultimately collapse.

“No legitimate scheme will guarantee an annual return of more than 15%. Any scheme claiming to do otherwise has to be a scam.

“Like most other pyramid schemes, the (JJPTR) forex scheme will collapse when there is no entry of new investors.”

Afyan said that despite getting flak from investors after allegedly losing RM500mil due to its accounts being hacked, it was still “possible” for JJPTR to entice old and new investors to subscribe to the new plan, which promises higher returns and special lucky draws.

“Some investors may leave, because they no longer see hope but those in the “top tier” will continue finding new victims as they’ve already invested so much.

“Unfortunately, there will still be people who believe in them,” he related.

Commenting on a video of founder Johnson Lee announcing the new plan via JJPTR Malaysia’s Facebook page, Afyan said the laws in Malaysia were not harsh enough to serve as deterrent for so-called “scammers”.

He claimed that the only person to have been severely punished for operating an illegal investment scheme was Pak Man Telo, or Othman Hamzah, who was jailed and banished to Terengganu from Perak in the early 1990s.

Othman reportedly enticed 50,000 people to invest in his getrich-quick scheme, commonly known as the Pak Man Telo scheme, and managed to rake in RM90mil before being arrested, tried and sent to prison for two years. He died in Terengganu a few years later.

Ever since then, Afyan claimed, convicted scammers have been getting away easy.

“At most, scammers will be arrested and remanded. But you don’t hear about them serving time in prison. They’ve already made millions, billions, in profits.

“A penalty of a few thousand ringgit is nothing to them,” he said.

Afyan, who lost RM300 to a getrich-quick scheme while he was a university student in 2003, worked in Islamic insurance and financial planning after graduating.

He created a Facebook page in 2008 to share information on questionable investment opportunities, earning him the nickname “scam buster”.

He claims to have uncovered about 50 dubious companies so far.

Source: The Star/ANN

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Rich Gen-Y kids making their own success


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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