Vanishing Jobs Growth Spells Deep Trouble for South Korea


 

 
Not-so-nice figures: Moon has seen his popularity slide amid criticism that he’s hurting employment by
aggressively increasing the minimum wage. — AP

Unemployment and jobs growth in South Korea haven’t looked so bad since the wake of the global financial crisis, undermining President Moon Jae-in’s economic agenda.

Data released Wednesday show the unemployment rate jumping to 4.2 percent, the highest since early 2010, and much greater than any economists forecast. Jobs growth slumped to just 3,000 last month, also the worst figure in more than eight years.

Moon, who came into office pledging to create jobs and raise incomes for regular workers, has seen his popularity slide amid criticism that he’s hurting employment by aggressively increasing the minimum wage.

While pay hikes planned for this year and 2019 are here to stay, Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said the government would consider adjusting some policies.

He conceded that the jobs market wouldn’t improve much anytime soon.

Disappearing Jobs Growth

  • Number of jobs added: South Korea added just 3,000 jobs in August, the least since 2010

Source: Statistics Korea

Moon’s administration points to the fallout from corporate restructuring and the shrinking working-age population as the source of the problems in the labour market. Businesses counter that hiking the minimum wage 16% this year, with another bump of almost 11% to come next year, has made job layoffs inevitable.

Small business owners in particular, from convenience stores to fast-food franchises, have shed workers.

Adding to the economic unease in South Korea is the risk that US President Donald Trump may hit car exporters with auto tariffs, even after Seoul agreed to renegotiate its trade deal with the US.

Unemployment Spike

South Korea’s unemployment rate in August reached the highest since 2010
  • Seasonally adjusted unemployment rate
Source: Statistics Korea

South Korean bonds climbed and the won fell after jobs figures, which appeared to squash any near-term prospect of the central bank raising interest rates.

The finance minister said economic policies that are geared toward wage-based growth are moving in the “right direction”. Yet the government also acknowledged the need for more communication and market analysis in order to gain trust from companies and the people, he said.

The presidential office described the recent increase in unemployment as inevitable pain that accompanies a change in the structure of the economy, Yonhap News reported.

Like many other countries, South Korea is experiencing a widening gap between the rich and the poor. It’s confounding policy makers and exacerbating political divisions. — Bloomberg

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The Damocles index by Nomura warns of fiscal tension in Malaysia, score accross coountries, the hits and misses 1996~20118


PETALING JAYA: Allowing a larger fiscal deficit and running the risk of a sovereign credit rating downgrade in 2019 could cause balance of payments stress, given Malaysia’s high short-term external debts and low foreign exchange (forex) reserves, said Nomura.

Following the reversal of fiscal reforms like goods and services tax (GST) and the removal of fuel subsidies, the new government now faces the tough choice of either cutting spending at the cost of growth, or allowing a larger fiscal deficit and the risk of a sovereign credit rating downgrade in 2019.

According to a Nomura global research report, Malaysia’s Damocles score in July 2018 was 86.9, below the 100 threshold.

The Damocles index by Nomura summarises macroeconomic and financial variables into a single measure to assess an economy’s vulnerability to a currency crisis.

The oil price slump of 2014 to 2016 was a major shock for Malaysia, one of the few net-oil and gas exporters in Asia.

“While Bank Negara initially expanded forex reserves to defend the ringgit, it eventually allowed a sharp depreciation in 2015 which boosted export competitiveness.

“Malaysia has proved resilient and its current account remained in surplus, benefiting from a diversified economy and fiscal reforms,” said Nomura.

Three countries in the region, namely, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines, have a Damocles score of zero, while Vietnam has a moderate Damocles score of 35.

The Bank of Thailand is signalling policy normalisation to build policy space and reduce financial stability risks following a prolonged period of exceptionally low interest rates. This is as headline consumer price index (CPI) inflation returned to within the 1% to 4% inflation target and economy growing at potential.

Thailand’s current account surplus as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) has been sizeable since 2015, driven by weak domestic demand and, more recently, growing tourism revenues as well as an export recovery.

“Over this period, forex reserves rose sharply, and they are now at very favourable adequacy levels relative to both imports and short-term external debts.

“The fiscal deficit is expected to widen slightly in 2018, as the government increases spending to support populist policies targeting low-income earners, in the run-up to the election in early 2019,” said Nomura, adding that real interest rates are falling gradually and remain marginally positive, as inflationary pressures have been stubbornly weak.

Over in Indonesia, a negative terms-of-trade shock in 2014 raised the Damocles score in 2014 to 2016, but it has fallen back to zero due to Bank Indonesia’s build-up of forex reserve buffers and government reforms that improved foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows.

While depreciation pressures have risen again in 2018, BI has acted decisively with 125 basis points in policy rate hikes to date.

“We expect another 25 basis points, with the risk of more.

“Bank Indonesia maintains a flexible forex regime and a dual-intervention framework in forex and bond markets, as well as introduced macro-prudential measures, like requiring residents to hedge external exposure,” said Nomura.

The research house added that Bank Indonesia has also strengthened policy coordination with the Finance Ministry, which is implementing policies to reduce the current account deficit, while prioritising a credible 2019 budget despite upcoming presidential elections.

Sword of Damocles hangs over Sri Lanka

PETALING JAYA: Sri Lanka is at risk of an exchange rate crisis mainly due to its still-weak fiscal finances and a fragile external position.

Sri Lanka charted the highest Damocles score of 175, among 30 emerging market (EM) economies.

The Damocles index by Nomura summarises macroeconomic and financial variables into a single measure to assess an economy’s vulnerability to a currency crisis.

A score above 100 suggests a country is vulnerable to an exchange rate crisis in the next 12 months, while a reading above 150 signals that a crisis could erupt at any time.

Sri Lanka has large refinancing needs, with foreign exchange (forex) reserves of less than five months of import cover and high short-term external debt of US$ 7.5bil.

“Political stability also remains an issue, as recent resignations have weakened the government (its term ends mid-2020) and despite retaining a simple majority, complicates the task of continuing to implement International Monetary Fund (IMF)-induced reforms.

“However, without IMF support, the risk of a currency crisis would be higher,” said Nomura in its global research report.

Meanwhile, South Africa, Argentina, Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine are currently vulnerable to an exchange rate crisis, having Damocles scores of more than 100.

“Based on our definition, Argentina and Turkey are experiencing currency crises, while Argentina, Egypt, Sri Lanka and Ukraine have turned to the IMF for assistance, leaving Pakistan and South Africa as the standouts.

“As investors focus more on risk, it is important not to lump all EMs together as one homogeneous group; Damocles highlights a long list of countries with very low risk of currency crises,” said Nomura.

Eight countries, namely, Brazil, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Peru, Philippines, Russia and Thailand, have Damocles scores of zero.

It is notable that China’s Damocles index has maintained since dropping to 36.9 in late 2017 from 62.4 in October 2017.

The index far below the 100 threshold suggests that the risk of an exchange rate crisis in China is limited.

Nomura concurred that China’s balance of payment position remains healthy, given it has the world’s largest foreign exchange reserves at US$3.1 trillion, as of July 2018.

“However, we highlight that its pockets are not as deep as they once were, given that current account deficits at minus 0.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first half of 2018 may occur more frequently, net direct investment inflows may moderate further, and external debt has risen significantly.

“Moreover, we see domestic challenges from weakening aggregate demand and other fundamental problems, and external risks from the escalation in China-US trade tensions and trade protectionism,” said Nomura.

As for India, its Damocles score has fallen to 25 in the third quarter of 2018, from 56 during 2012 to 2013.

India’s most recent currency crisis occurred in 2013 and was due to weak domestic macro fundamentals and worsening external funding conditions. Since then, consumer price index (CPI) inflation has moderated to about 4.5% in 2018 from 9.7% in 2012, as has the current account deficit at an estimated -2.5% of GDP, compared to minus 5% in 2012. Furthermore, India’s central bank has a sufficient forex reserve buffer of 9.3 months of import cover versus 6.4 in 2012.

“However, given India runs a current account deficit, it remains vulnerable to bouts of global risk aversion. Higher oil prices and portfolio outflows are its key external vulnerabilities.

“Aside from these, the key risks stem from the government turning more populist ahead of the 2019 general elections (worsening domestic fundamentals) and a sharper-than-expected domestic growth slowdown (triggering equity outflows),” said Nomura.

The Damocles index comprises eight indicators that are found to be the best predictors of exchange rate crises in the 30-country sample, in which there have been 54 crises since 1996. It includes five single indicators which are import cover, short-term external debt or exports, forex reserves or short-term external debt, broad money or forex reserves and real short-term interest rate.

On the other hand, the three joint indicators are non-foreign direct investment (FDI) gross inflows of one-year and three-year, fiscal and current account, as well as current account and real effective exchange rate deviation. To date, Damocles has correctly signalled 67% of the past 54 crises in Nomura’s sample, including the Asian financial crisis (1997 to 1998), Russian financial crisis (1998) and the 2018 EM currency crises in Argentina and Turkey.

“The advantage of Damocles lies in its objective nature in letting the data speak, not clouded by conventional misperceptions or biases based on past experiences. While the results achieved are encouraging, but given the inherent limitations of any early warning system, it would be foolish to make any exaggerated claims.

“For instance, Brazil’s Damocles score of zero implies very low external vulnerability; yet the Brazilian real (BRL) has depreciated more than 10% in August alone due to an uncertain presidential election outlook,” said Nomura. – The Star

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Tariffs won’t make US firms produce in US


“It would not be profitable to build the Focus Active in the U.S. given an expected annual sales volume of fewer than 50,000 units,” automaker Ford Motor Company said in a statement on Sunday.

US President Donald Trump tweeted earlier on Sunday that “‘Ford has abruptly killed a plan to sell a Chinese-made small vehicle in the US because of the prospect of higher US Tariffs.’ CNBC. This is just the beginning. This car can now be built in the USA and Ford will pay no tariffs!” Ford quickly clarified the facts, evidently rebuffing Trump’s tweet.

Likewise, tech giant Apple Inc. wrote a letter to US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, saying that a proposed 25 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese imports would cover a “wide range of Apple products.”

In another tweet, Trump told Apple to make their products in the US instead of China. Apple hasn’t responded.

According to the US media, the price of iPhone may increase to $2,000 if the company does as told.

The multinational companies that produce automobile and mobile phones have different manufacturing and sales layouts. Car manufacturers tend to produce their products where they are sold, while mobile phone manufacturers optimize their production chain costs worldwide. That’s the natural law of economic globalization which can’t be easily changed by a country’s government.

The White House lacks understanding of the global production and value chains. “Make your products in the United States instead of China” seems naive. Instead of coercing companies to follow demands, imposing tariffs will only scare them off.

Simply making US companies produce in the US can’t deal with the complicated global industry today. We have also learnt from history that neither side will gain in a trade war.

China is the world’s largest automobile and mobile phone market. Setting tariff barriers between Beijing and Washington won’t make US companies give up on China for the sake of their own country. As long as China doesn’t make things hard for US companies, it’s unavoidable that they will place production operations in China. The Chinese market can help them make money, but the White House can’t.

Most American high-tech companies will face difficulties if they leave China. The larger the market is, the higher return the companies will get from their research and development. High-tech companies, if they can’t grow to be giant, don’t usually survive for long, and it would be fatal for many of them to lose the Chinese market.

There hasn’t been a previous US government that dares to instruct multinational companies in production layouts, and the current administration has overestimated its executive power. The global industrial chain today is formed by market rules established over decades and can’t be easily changed by one government.

It would be the White House’s dream to expect that the US is not only the world’s technology and financial center, but also the world’s factory that sells its products globally. If the US doesn’t want to wake up from this dream, then the outside world has to step in and rouse Washington.

Source:Global Times

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Be ready – financial crisis is near


Prepare Now for the Next Financial Crisis

THE financial crisis affecting developing countries arrived in full-scale fashion in our region last week when the Indonesian economy experienced shocks reminiscent of the Asian crisis 20 years ago.

With the crisis coming so close to home, it is time to contemplate what may unfold in the near future and list measures to respond to each scenario, so that we are not taken by surprise.

The agreement reached with Singa­pore to postpone construction of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high-speed rail (HSR) project until end-May 2020 (with Malaysia paying S$15mil [RM45.1mil] in cost) was an achievement. It allows us a gap of two years before having to meet the mega project’s large expenses.

The next couple of years will be crucial, as the country will be in the midst of managing the “perfect storm” of servicing the trillion-ringgit government debt and preventing the government deficit from ballooning, while facing the challenges of the emerging global financial crisis.

In this tight situation, every billion ringgit counts; indeed every single ringgit counts.

As more discoveries are made of missing money, whether due to the 1MDB scandal or unpaid tax refunds, there is increasing pressure to save money and cut costs to avoid wider deficits.

So the HSR’s two-year deferment helps a lot. It may be like kicking the can down the street, but hopefully, the situation will improve by the end of the two years to allow the can to be picked up, especially if during the period, ways are found to cut the overall cost of the project.

Other projects too have to be scrutinised. Besides the East Coast Rail Link and Trans Sabah gas pipeline projects, there are many other projects whose costs have to be examined, and whose implementation can be postponed or cancelled.

Besides the scourge of overpricing and kickbacks, there is the over-riding concern that a financial crisis has to be averted.

Indonesia’s Energy Minister last week announced that energy projects worth US$25bil (RM103.64bil) and representing half of President Joko Widodo’s grand electricity programme, would be postponed or restructured. This is to save US$8bil (RM33.1bil) to US$10bil (rm41.45bil) on imports for the projects.

Indonesia is also raising tariffs to 10% on over 1,000 goods in a move to reduce the import bill.

These are some measures the country is forced to take as its economy enters full crisis mode. It could even face a meltdown of the 1998-99 scale. The rupiah fell to almost 15,000 per US dollar, the lowest point since the 1998 crisis.

Indonesia is vulnerable to a financial crisis due to its dual deficits (in the current account and government budget), large external debt and high foreign ownership of equity and government bonds.

Indonesia is caught in a vicious cycle, which is typical when financially liberalised countries follow orthodox fire-fighting policies. When the markets perceive that the external reserves could be insufficient to pay for imports, service debts and absorb potential capital outflows, the currency depreciates.

The perception sparks a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fall in currency makes it more difficult for the government and companies to service foreign loans, and also prompts investors to pull out their money.

In such a situation, the government raises the interest rate to incentivise investors to retain their money in the country. Indonesian interest rates have risen by 1.25 percentage points since May.

However, the side effect is that homebuyers and companies find it more difficult to service their mortgage and business loans. Credit slows down, and so does the economy. This in turn causes the currency to drop further, prompting more rounds of interest rate increases, which lead to loan defaults and bankruptcies.

The economy goes into recession, leading to more capital outflows, including by local people. The currency drops again, recession deepens, and the cycle continues.

Indonesia is still at the start of this cycle. Hopefully it will find the policy tools, including unorthodox ones that work, to avoid a long stay in the spiral. But Indonesia is by no means alone. Argentina and Turkey are deep in their crises, and more and more countries are suffering the contagion effect, including South Africa, India, Iran and the Philippines.

Following the 2008-09 global financial crisis that especially hit the United States and Europe, many hundreds of billions of dollars rushed to emerging markets, including Malaysia, in search of higher yields. The liquidity was created by quantitative easing (government pumping money into the banking system) and low interest rates in the US and Europe.

Now the funds are leaving the emerging economies and returning to the US. This is due to the US policy reversing to quantitative tightening, the rise in its interest rates, and fears of an emerging market crisis and a worsening trade war.

Developing countries vulnerable to currency decline, a pull-out of funds and a crisis are those with significant current account deficits, government budget deficits and debts; low foreign reserves; large external debt; and high foreign ownership of local bonds and equities.

Malaysia is so far safe but it is wise not to be complacent. It is not easy to escape contagion once it spreads.

A few warning signs have appeared, such as a narrowing of the current account surplus and significant portfolio investment outflows (both in the second quarter), and a weakening of the ringgit, besides the larger than previously reported government debt and the need to prevent the budget deficit from increasing.

The old Scout motto, “Be Prepared”, comes in handy at times like this. It is good to prepare now for any eventuality, so as to avoid being caught by surprise.

Credit: Martin Khor Global Trends The Staronline

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Rocky times ahead for China FDI in Malaysia


Li: ‘Malaysia must remember that by targeting Chinese investors in an unreasonable way, this will scare away not only FDI from China, but also from other countries.’ – credit: Malaysia Today

Great wall of controversy: Dr Mahathir’s criticism of Alliance Steel’s barricade for its RM6bil integrated steel
complex has upset some Chinese investors.

A series of attacks on China-funded projects in Malaysia by the Prime Minister is causing anxiety not only to Chinese nationals but also locals.

INVESTMENTS and mega contracts linked to China will have to brace for rocky times ahead if Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad continues unchecked with his incessant tirade against Chinese endeavours in Malaysia.

The golden era for Chinese investments, which possibly peaked during the rule of former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, seems to have come to an unceremonious end.

The future of foreign direct investment (FDI) from China is now seen as unpredictable – at least for the next 3-5 years – under the new government of Dr Mahathir, according to Datuk Keith Li, president of China Entrepreneurs Association in Malaysia.

Li: ‘Malaysia must remember that by targeting Chinese investors in an unreasonable way, this will scare away not only FDI from China, but also from other countries.

“The series of comments made on Chinese investments by the PM have affected the confidence of Chinese investors. Those who originally wanted to come are adopting a wait-and-see attitude, while those already in are careful about their expansion plans,” says Li in an interview with Sunday Star.

The outspoken leader of Chinese firms notes that businessmen from the mainland are “worried”, although some comments of the Prime Minister were later “clarified” by other Cabinet Ministers or the PM’s Office.

“Malaysia must remember that by targeting Chinese investors in an unreasonable way, this will scare away not only FDI from China, but also from other countries as well,” adds Li.

Since his five-day official visit to China that ended on Aug 21, the 93-year-old Malaysian leader has caused anxiety to all by making shocking announcements.

While summing up his China trip on Aug 21, he declared he would cancel the RM55bil East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) and two gas pipelines being built by Chinese firms.

As the ECRL is of strategic importance to China’s Belt and Road Initiative – the policy which Dr Mahathir has repeatedly voiced his support for, Beijing would expect a renegotiation of the contract terms rather than an outright cancellation.

Dr Mahathir had reasoned that with national debt of over RM1 trillion, Malaysia could not afford these projects. In addition, these contracts are tainted with unfair terms and smacked of high corruption.
Although the Prime Minister said Chinese leaders understood Malaysia’s situation, reactions of Chinese nationals on social media were unforgiving with many suspecting Dr Mahathir “has other motives”.

Many see Dr Mahathir as attempting to raise Malaysia’s bargaining power in the negotiation for compensation for the cancelled projects. China, according to social media talk, is asking for RMB50bil as compensation.

On social media, there are also suggestions that Dr Mahathir is aiming at his predecessor as most China-linked projects were launched during the rule of Najib.

During the rule of Najib, Malaysia-China relations were intimate.

This has resulted in the influx of major construction and property companies from the mainland, followed by banks and industries.

But on May 9, Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition toppled the Barisan Nasional government of Najib after the most bitterly fought general election in local history.

The second-time premier has put the blame on Najib for the massive 1MDB financial scandal, which Najib has denied, and mismanagement of the country’s finance.

And while the Chinese nationals are all riled up by the cancellation of ECRL, Dr Mahathir came up with an ill-advised statement.

Last week he ordered a wall surrounding Alliance Steel, which is investing US$1.4bil (RM6bil) for a massive steel complex, to be demolished. This was seen as unreasonably targeting a genuine FDI.

Although the foreign ministry later clarified that the leader had mistaken the wall to be built around the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park (MCKIP), the anger of Chinese nationals lingers on.

The industrial park is a G-to-G project to jointly promote bilateral investments. There is an even bigger sister industrial park in China that houses many Malaysian firms. All these were built during Najib’s reign.

Dr Mahathir’s statement has also caught the attention of China’s Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China.

In an editorial on Aug 28, the news portal warned: “Many words of Kuala Lumpur can spread to China via the Internet, causing different reactions. How the Chinese public sees China-Malaysia cooperation is by no means inconsequential to Malaysia’s interests.”

It noted “while Dr Mahathir advocates pursuing a policy of expanding friendly cooperation with China … but when it comes to specific China-funded projects, his remarks gave rise to confusion. Like this time, it is startling to equate the controversy surrounding a factory wall with state sovereignty.”

Global Times added: “When such remarks are heard by Chinese people, the latter find it piercing. They will definitely make Chinese investors worry about Malaysian public opinion and whether such an atmosphere will affect investment in the country.”

In fact, it would be unwise for the government to disrupt MCKIP. Co-owned by Chinese, IJM Corporation and Pahang government, this industrial park has lured in Chinese FDI of over RM20bil.

It is an important economic driver in the East Coast and has aimed to create 19,000 jobs by 2020.

While the “wall” statement might be seen as a minor mistake, Dr Mahathir’s flawed announcement last Monday that foreigners would be barred from buying residential units in the US$100bil (RM410bil) Forest City stirred another uproar.

On Aug 27, Reuters quoted Dr Mahathir as saying: “That city that is going to be built cannot be sold to foreigners. Our objection is because it was built for foreigners, not built for Malaysians. Most Malaysians are unable to buy those flats.”

Currently being developed by Country Garden Holdings of China, this 20-year long project, built on reclaimed land in Johor Bahru, aims to house 700,000 people. As about 70% of the house buyers are Chinese, some locals fear this could turn into a China town.

Unlike Alliance Steel that has stayed silent, Country Garden fought back by seeking clarifications from the PM’s Office.

In a statement, the major Chinese developer said all its property transactions had complied with Malaysian laws.

Citing Section 433B of the National Land Code, it added a foreign citizen or a foreign company may acquire land in Malaysia subject to the prior approval of the State Authority.

In addition, it said Dr Mahathir’s comment did not correspond with the content of the meeting he had with Country Garden founder and chairman Yeung Kwok Keung on Aug 16.

During the meeting, Dr Mahathir said he welcomed foreign investments which could create job opportunities, promote technology transfer and innovations.

In fact, this forest city project – along with ECRL – were the main targets of attack by Dr Mahathir before the May 9 election.

Opposition to these projects had helped drive Dr Mahathir’s election campaign, during which he said was evidence of Najib selling Malaysia’s sovereignty to China.

These projects, together with major construction contracts won by Chinese and the inflow of industrial investments, place the total value of Chinese deals at more than RM600bil in Malaysia.

But few would expect Dr Mahathir to use his powerful position to resume his attacks on China-linked projects so soon after his so-called “fruitful visit” to Beijing.

During his official visit to Beijing, the Malaysian leader was accorded the highest honour by China, due mainly to respect for “China’s old friend” and strong Malaysia-China relations built since 1975.

Dr Mahathir was chauffeured in Hongqi L5 limousine, reserved for the most honourable leaders, and greeted in an official welcome ceremony by Premier Li Keqiang. He was also guest of honour at a banquet at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse hosted by President Xi Jinping.

But beneath these glamorous receptions, there were reservations exuded by the Chinese for this leader whose premiership is scheduled to end in two years.

There were no exciting business deals signed in Beijing. There was absence of high diplomatic rhetoric that “Malaysia-China ties have been elevated to another historic high”, oft-repeated during Najib’s past visits.

Many even notice that Premier Li and Dr Mahathir had a cool handshake after their short joint press conference in Beijing.

And although China promised to buy Malaysian palm oil, the statement was qualified with “price sensitivity”, which means it will not buy above market price.

In addition, there was no mention of “buying palm oil without upper limit”, which was promised to Najib last year.

If Dr Mahathir’s original intention was to target Forest City and its owners, his move has certainly backfired. The country will have to pay a price for his off-the-cuff statement.

The “new policy” will have serious ramifications as it would hit the value of the properties not only in Forest City but also in other China-linked and non-Chinese projects.

Country Garden’s Danga Bay project will also be hit. It now faces a more daunting task of selling the balance of about 2,000 units in Danga Bay, according to a Starbiz report.

Other Chinese developers like R&F Princess Cove and Greenland Group will be affected.

VPC Alliance Malaysia managing director James Wong told Starbiz there may be legal suits against the government.

“That may force Country Garden to scale down because it has invested a lot with its industrial building systems factory and an international school, among other investments. It will impact Country Garden and Malaysia’s property sector negatively,” Wong said.

“Foreign buyers and other foreign companies will shy away,” Wong added.

The change in government and the insensitive comments on China-funded projects have turned Malaysia into a high-risk investment destination for the Chinese, according to Li.

“We don’t know which China projects will be targeted next. Looking back, it’s a blessing in disguise that we were pushed out of the RM200bil Bandar Malaysia project. It is also lucky that Chinese money has not gone into the RM30bil Melaka Gateway project,” says Li, who owns a travel agency in Malaysia.

“In the immediate future, more tourists from China are likely to shy away from Malaysia.

“Malaysia may not hit the target of having three million visits from China this year,” Li adds.

Credit: Ho Wah Foon The Star

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SST – for better or worse ?


What is Sales & Service Tax (SST) in Malaysia? – SST Malaysia

Today, the Sales and Service Tax (SST) makes a comeback on our tax radar screen to replace the three years and two months old Goods and Services Tax (GST), which was implemented on April 1, 2015.

The abolition of the GST and replaced with SST is an election promise of the Pakatan Harapan manifesto.

It has been claimed that the GST is a regressive broad-based consumption tax that has burdened the low- and middle-income households amid the rising cost of living. The multi-stage tax levied on supply chains also caused cascading cost and price effects on goods and services. That said, the Finance Minister has acknowledged that the GST is an efficient and transparent tax.

Following the implementation of the SST, the Government will come to terms that the budget spending will have to be rationalised and realigned with the lower revenue collection from the SST to keep the lower budget deficit target on track.

The expected revenue collection from SST is RM21bil compared to an average of RM42.7bil per year in 2016-17 from GST.

During the period 2010-2014, the revenue collection from the SST, averaging RM14.8bil per year (the largest amount collected on record was RM17.2bil in 2014), of which 64% was contributed by the sales tax rate of 10% while the balance 36% from the service tax of 6%.

Faced with the revenue shortfall, the Government expects cost-savings, plugging of leakages, weeding out of corruption as well as the containment of the costs of projects would help to balance the financing gap between revenue and spending.

The sales tax rate (0%, 10% and 5% as well as a specific rate for petroleum) and service tax of 6% is imposed on consumers who use certain prescribed services. The taxable threshold for SST is set at annual revenue of RM500,000, the same threshold as GST, with the exception for eateries and restaurants at RM1.5mil.

As SST is levied only at a single stage of the supply chain, that is at the manufacturers or importers level and NOT at wholesalers, retailers and final consumers, it has cut off the number of registered tax persons and establishments from 476,023 companies under GST as of 15 July to an estimated 100,405 under SST.

The smaller number of registered establishments means no more compliance cost to about 85% of traders.

The distributive traders (wholesalers and retailers) will be hassle-free from cash flow problems, as they are no longer required to submit GST output tax while waiting to claim back the GST input tax. During GST, many traders imputed refunds into their pricing because of the delay in GST refunds. This was partly blamed for the cascading cost pass-through and price increases onto consumers.

For SST, 38% of the goods and services in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) basket are taxable compared to 60% under the GST.

It is estimated that up to RM70bil will be freed up to allow consumers to spend more.


Expanded scope

The proposed service tax regime has a narrower base (43.5% of services is taxable) compared to the GST (64.8% of services is taxable).

Medical insurance for individuals, service charges from hotel, clubs and restaurants as well as household’s electricity usage between 300kWh and 600kWh are not taxable. However, the scope of the new SST has been expanded compared to the previous SST. Among them are gaming, domestic flights (excluding rural air services), IT services, insurance and takaful for individuals, more telecommunication services and preparation of food and beverage services as well as electricity supply (household usage above 600kWh).

For hospitality services, the proposed service tax lowered the registration threshold of general restaurants (not attached with hotel) from an annual revenue of RM3mil under old service tax regime to RM1.5mil, resulting in expanded coverage of more restaurants.

Private hospital services will be excluded under the new SST regime.

How does SST affect consumers?

Technically speaking, the revenue shortfall of RM23bil between SST and GST is a form of “income transfer” from the Government to households and businesses. This is equivalent to tax cuts to support consumer spending.


Will it lead to higher consumer prices?

The contentious issue is will the SST burden households more than that of the GST? It must be noted that the cost of living not only encompasses prices paid for goods and services but also housing, transportation, medical and other living expenses.

The degree of sales tax impact would depend on the cost and margin (mark-up) of businesses along the supply chain before reaching end-consumers.

The coverage and scope of tax imposed also matter.

As the price paid by consumers is embedded in the selling price, this gives rise to psychology effect that sales tax is somewhat better off than GST.

The good news to consumers is that 38% of the goods and services in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) basket are taxable compared to the 60% under the GST.

Technically speaking, monthly headline inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, is likely to show a flat growth or even declines in the months ahead.

It must be noted that consumers should compare prices before GST versus the three-month tax holiday (June-August).

Generally, consumers perceived that prices should either come down or remained unchanged as the sales tax is levied on manufacturers.

On average, some items (electrical appliances and big ticket items such as cars) would be costlier when compared to GST and some may come down (new items exempted from SST).

Nevertheless, we caution that consumers may experience some price increases, as prices generally did not come as much following the removal of GST in June.

There are concerns that prices may still go up in September when the new SST kicks in as irresponsible traders may take advantage to increase prices further.

Household consumption, which got a big boost during the three-month tax holiday in June-August, could see some normalisation in spending.

The smooth implementation of the new SST, accompanied by strict enforcement of price checks and the curbing of profiteering, especially for essentials goods and services consumed by B40 income households, are crucial to keep the level of general prices stable.

Strong consumer activism with the support of The Federation of Malaysian Consumers Association and the Consumers Association Penang as well as the media must work together to help in price surveillance and protect consumers’ interest.

Credit to Lee Heng Guie – comment

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Foreigners Not Welcome as Malaysia Joins Property Clampdown


 

Malaysia Bans Foreigners From Project

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/2018-08-28/malaysia-bans-foreigners-from-project-video

 

 

 

 

  • Mahathir’s planned crackdown taps into nationalist rhetoric
  • Housing affordability has driven restrictions around the world

Hanging a ‘foreigners not welcome’ sign on a giant real estate development, Malaysia’s prime minister this week appeared to add to housing curbs around the world fueled by soaring home prices and populist politics.

Describing the Chinese-backed $100 billion Forest City as “built for foreigners” and beyond the reach of ordinary Malaysians, Mahathir Mohamad tapped into the nationalist rhetoric that helped secure him an election victory — and global angst over housing affordability. Around the world, post-financial crisis property booms driven by low interest rates have left locals struggling to buy homes.

“The tension around foreign investment is always going to be much more acute when affordability is getting worse,” said Brendan Coates, a researcher in Melbourne at the Grattan Institute think tank. When locals get “priced out of the market,” foreign buyers may be blamed even when their effect is small, he said, commenting on the global picture.

Hanging a ‘foreigners not welcome’ sign on a giant real estate development, Malaysia’s prime minister this week appeared to add to housing curbs around the world fueled by soaring home prices and populist politics.

Describing the Chinese-backed $100 billion Forest City as “built for foreigners” and beyond the reach of ordinary Malaysians, Mahathir Mohamad tapped into the nationalist rhetoric that helped secure him an election victory — and global angst over housing affordability. Around the world, post-financial crisis property booms driven by low interest rates have left locals struggling to buy homes.

“The tension around foreign investment is always going to be much more acute when affordability is getting worse,” said Brendan Coates, a researcher in Melbourne at the Grattan Institute think tank. When locals get “priced out of the market,” foreign buyers may be blamed even when their effect is small, he said, commenting on the global picture.

A wave of restrictions or taxes on foreign purchases already stretches from Sydney to Hong Kong to Vancouver. Measures targeting foreign home buyers have included stamp duties, restrictions on property pre-sales to non-residents and limits on the types of homes that can be purchased.

‘New Colonialism’

New Zealand is banning foreigners from buying existing residential properties after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern campaigned in last year’s election on pledges including affordable housing. Canada and Australia have rolled out one restriction after another, and Singapore just ramped up a tax on overseas buyers. Denmark and Switzerland have restrictions, a Grattan report shows.

The 93-year-old Mahathir’s comments came at a late stage of the game. Globally, property shows signs of cooling from the post-crisis boom. His concern seems to be sparked not by property market overheating but, rather, foreign investments that don’t benefit Malaysia and what he terms the risk of “a new version of colonialism.”

Late Tuesday, a statement from Mahathir’s office said the nation welcomes all tourists, including from China, as well as foreign direct investment that “contributes to the transfer of technology, provides employment for locals and the setting up of industries.” It didn’t refer to Forest City.

“Mahathir has never liked the idea of Forest City or the idea of many foreigners buying up property in Malaysia,” said Ryan Khoo, co-founder of Alpha Marketing Pte Ltd., a Singapore-based real estate consultancy.

Foreigners will be blocked from buying units at the project, on artificial islands in Johor, and refused visas to live there, Mahathir said at a press briefing on Monday. That left analysts and local officials parsing his words to guess at how bans might work. The Chinese developer, Country Garden Holdings Co., said his comments clashed with past assurances. The project’s targeted buyers have included people in mainland China.

With a wall of Chinese money blamed for pushing up prices around the world, local lawmakers, media and the public can
struggle to disentangle xenophobia from legitimate efforts to constrain inflows of capital. In Australia, “populist reporting” exaggerated the role of Chinese investors, according to Hans Hendrischke, a professor of Chinese business and management at the University of Sydney.

Read more on global property:

Chinese buyers had the “bad luck” of becoming overly visible in markets around
the globe, said Carrie Law, chief executive officer of Juwai.com, a Chinese international property website.

Foreign buyers get blamed for soaring home costs even when the evidence is minimal. More than 60 percent of Sydney residents cite foreign investment for price increases,
according to a survey from University of Sydney academic Dallas Rogers. That’s despite research by Australia’s Treasury showing only a marginal impact. Likewise, data suggest foreign buyers play only a small role in New Zealand’s housing market.

(Updates with Mahathir statement in seventh paragraph, chart on global restrictions.)

No Chinese belt, road or bedrooms for Malaysia

Construction works going on normally at the mammoth Forest City project in Gelang Patah in Johor

PERPLEXED, wounded, indignant or still optimistic. The Chinese developer Country Garden Holdings Co can put any spin it wants on its Forest City project, a US$100bil Malaysian township whose fate suddenly has been thrown into doubt after Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s pointed refusal to let foreigners buy apartments or live in them long term.

One thing is clear, though: The prime minister is not acting impulsively. The project claims to be a “new global cluster of commerce and culture,” and a “dream paradise for all mankind.” However, in Malaysian political discourse, Forest City is just a gigantic Chinatown of 700,000 residents.

Taking on the developer is part of Mahathir’s broader plan to redefine Malaysia’s relationship with Beijing, pulling Kuala Lumpur away from the client-state mindset introduced by his predecessor.

Already, the 93-year-old leader has cancelled the Chinese-funded East Coast Rail Link, dealing a blow to China Communications Construction Co, which was building the US$20bil belt-and-road route. Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, ousted in May, claimed the link would bring prosperity to eastern Malaysia.

But Dr Mahathir, who spoke bluntly in Beijing this month against “a new version of colonialism,” took a very different view of the railway, which would have connected areas near the Thai border along the South China Sea to busy port cities on Malaysia’s western coast, near the Strait of Malacca.

He also shelved a natural-gas pipeline in Sabah, a Malaysian state on the island of Borneo. Dr Mahathir justified the cancellations on the grounds that they were too expensive.

However, the abrupt message to Country Garden, which is neither linked to the Chinese state nor would add a dollar to Malaysia’s national debt, shows that sovereignty – and Malaysia’s racial politics – are Mahathir’s real concerns.

Two-thirds of the homebuyers in Forest City are from China. Last year, as a trenchant critic of Najib’s policies, Dr Mahathir flagged the risk that anybody living in Malaysia for 12 years would be able to vote.

Country Garden should have seen the political risk in marketing the flats to mainland Chinese, who were separately lapping up long-stay visas under Najib’s Malaysia My Second Home programme. Najib’s generosity toward the mainland wasn’t the natural state of affairs. In 1965, the country expelled Singapore from the Malaysian federation out of fear that the peninsula’s majority Muslim Malays could lose their political dominance to the island’s ethnic Chinese.

If Country Garden misread the political tea leaves, it’s also wrong to bark up the legal tree after Dr Mahathir’s outburst. So what if Malaysia’s national land code permits foreign ownership? Approval of global investors may not matter all that much to a politician who has, in his previous innings, trapped their money at the height of a financial crisis.

The new prime minister isn’t as reliant on Beijing as his predecessor. If anything, he has to reward local businessmen and contractors for switching their allegiance from Barisan Nasional, the erstwhile ruling coalition that suffered its first loss of power in six decades.

It’s a given then that Malaysia under Dr Mahathir will have little appetite either for One Belt, One Road – or, for that matter, three- and four-bedroom apartments that could create a new political constituency.

Forest City could still be salvaged, but as a predominantly local project. If Donald Trump can unilaterally change the rules of game for China and Chinese businesses, so can, in his limited sphere, Dr Mahathir. As far as Country Garden is concerned, he just has.

Credit Aandy Mukherjee— Bloomberg

 

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