The American dream turned nightmare, President Trump’s first year …


A homeless man sleeps under an American flag blanket on a park bench in New York City in this file picture. As of June 2013, there was an all-time record of 50,900 homeless people, including 12,100 homeless families with 21,300 homeless children in New York – Photos AFP
A young homeless woman panhandles on the streets of Manhattan in New York City. According to a new report released by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development New York City’s homeless population expanded by about 4% in 2017.

American culture and a new tax Bill are exacerbating chronic poverty by helping to widen the wealth gap.

SITTING among a jumble of his few possessions on a San Francisco sidewalk, 41-year-old “Kaels” Raybon has begun to accept the bad choices he made.

He was a drug user, and did jail time. By the time he was let out, his wife and four children – two boys and two girls – had left him. Other family members had died and he had nowhere to live. He has now spent over 15 years on the street.

America may be the land of equal opportunity – but like many other countries, there is a thin line between a life on the street and a roof over one’s head. Poverty creates its own loop; a prison record, for instance, makes it difficult to find employment.

Raybon’s voice trembles as he speaks of his children.

“Emotionally, I’m a wreck most of the time,” he admits. “I see kids and dads, and I want that too. But it’s just not in my cards.”

The children came to visit him one day, he says. He was torn. “I wanted them to stay, but at the same time I didn’t, because I have nothing to offer them.”

Raybon is among those who make up the most visible indicator of America’s worsening poverty and inequality – over half a million urban homeless. They are a stark contrast in arguably the world’s richest, most powerful and most technologically innovative country.

But homelessness is only the visible tip of the poverty iceberg. Large areas outside big cities are mired in chronic poverty. The definition of poverty varies, but a commonly used measure from 2015 is an annual income of US$12,000 (RM47,500) or less.

Forty-one million Americans live in poverty – 12.7% of the country’s population. Some 46% of those live in “deep poverty” – on an annual income below US$6,000 (RM23,700).

Among them are 1.5 million households, including 2.8 million children, who live in extreme poverty or on less than US$2 (RM8) per person per day.

“These are people who cannot find work … who do not qualify for any other (welfare) programmes or who may live in remote areas. They are disconnected from both the safety net and the job market,” Dr Premilla Nadasen, author and professor at Barnard College in New York City, wrote in the Washington Post newspaper on Dec 21.

Poverty is in the news again on the heels of a scathing 15-page statement released late last year by Dr Philip Alston, a tall, lean, 67-year-old New York University law professor from Melbourne, Australia, who is the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. A special rapporteur functions like an investigator and reports back to the UN.

Dr Alston is not known for beating about the bush. After a 15-day swing across six American states and cities, he is warning that worse is in store for America’s poor, at the wrong end of an increasingly widening wealth gap, and in an environment and official culture in which if you are down and out, it is probably your own fault.

The recent passage of the Republican Party’s tax Bill will make their lives worse, says Dr Alston. The Treasury Department has explicitly listed welfare reform as an important source of revenue in part to make up for the deficit that the tax cut is likely to trigger.

More important, however, is the culture.

“In a poor country, there are two starting points – that there are social rights, and citizens have a right to healthcare, a right to education, a right to food,” Dr Alston says at an interview in his booklined office at New York University.

“Second, the only thing standing in our way is resources; we just don’t have the money.”

“In the US, it’s the exact opposite,” he says. “There’s no such thing as social rights. If people are living in abysmal conditions, it’s their fault because we have equality of opportunity.

“Secondly, it’s not a resource problem. We just found US$1.5trillion (RM6trillion) to give to the super rich. The money would have been there to eliminate poverty if there had been any political will. But there isn’t.”

The US$1.5trillion refers to the Republicans’ tax Bill, passed just before Christmas that will bring the middle class some relief but inevitably, analysts say, end up benefiting the wealthy disproportionately.

America’s wealth gap has been steadily widening. On average in 1981, the top 1% of adult Americans earned 27 times more than the bottom 50%. Today, they earn 81 times more.

Meanwhile, since the 1970s, the safety net has been considerably diminished, Dr Nadasen wrote in the Post recently. “Labour regulations protecting workers have been rolled back, and funding for education and public programmes has declined. The poor have been the hardest hit.”

She added: “The shredding of the safety net led to a rise in poverty. The United States has the highest child poverty rates – 25% in the world.

In the course of his tour, Dr Alston saw houses in rural areas of Alabama surrounded by pools of sewage. “The state health department had no idea how many households exist in these conditions, nor did they have any plan to find out, or devise a plan to do something about it,” he says in his statement.

He could not help noticing that most of the area’s residents were black. But while racial divisions are not far below the surface, it would be misleading to assume that poverty is generally worse in the Native American and African American minorities. It cuts across all ethnicities. There are eight million more poor white people than black people.

Like Rudy Damian, 53, who as a teenager ended up homeless in San Francisco after taking drugs and alcohol and being involved in crime – a common pattern contributing to broken families and financial ruin.

He has several missing teeth – dental care is not covered by most health insurance and the poor, at best, can go only to hospital emergency rooms where invariably a tooth is simply extracted.

Damian says he is sober now, and even works part-time as a security guard, but still can’t afford to rent a home. He calls his sister and his 94-year-old mother sometimes, but they avoid talking about his life. “They are disappointed by my lifestyle,” he says. “I was just a loner. I was the youngest when my father died, I decided to leave (home), and that isolation has lasted throughout my life.”

Fragmentation of families and the weakening of community support contribute to the isolation of homeless people in particular. But there is more.

“Caricatured narratives” drive the debate on poverty and homelessness in America, according to Dr Alston. The rich are seen as “industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic, and the drivers of economic success”. The poor are “wasters, losers and scammers”.

“As long as you have the mindset that we’re all on our own, it becomes possible that when my own brother falls off the cliff, I’m able to say, ‘Well, he had the same opportunities as me. He’s failed, he has to cope with it,’ instead of saying, ‘I can’t let that happen. I’ve got to do something.’”

In Los Angeles, he found that the objective for the local authorities was to raise the standard of Skid Row, an area less than a square kilometre but containing many hundred homeless, to that of a Syrian refugee camp.

“One of the richest countries in the world, and we’re aiming to meet the standards of a Syrian refugee camp for a large population in one of our richest cities,” he says. “It is sort of stunning.”

Sources: The Straits Times/Asia News Network, by Nirmal Ghosh who is The Straits Times ’US Bureau Chief.

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China raps US for ‘Cold War mentality’ in defence strategy – ASEAN …

Beijing: China has denounced the United States government for what it calls its “Cold War and zero-sum mentality” in its latest national defence strategy, which named China and Russia as “revisionist powers” that “seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models”.

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PTMP: Losses making fashion company in Penang Undersea Tunnel Project



Filepic: PenangPropertyTalk

Did the Penang Govt do a “bait and switch” on the Penang people?

That was the question posed by MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong after it was revealed that a local fashion company has been identified as the shareholder of a special purpose vehicle (SPV) for the RM6.3bil Penang undersea tunnel project.

He questioned how the DAP-led Penang state government can claim that it is normal for a loss-making local fashion company to be suddenly involved in building a complicated multi-billion undersea tunnel as its first project as part of normal buisness diversification process.

Shareholdings disclosure of the company on Bursa Malaysia. Pic: mca.org.my
Shareholdings disclosure of the company on Bursa Malaysia. Pic: mca.org.my

Shareholdings disclosure of the company on Bursa Malaysia. Pic: mca.org.myShareholdings disclosure of the company on Bursa Malaysia. Pic: mca.org.my

“Taking aside the fact that the fashion company has reported losses in each of the past 3 financial quarters and their last financial statement submitted to Bursa Malaysia on 29 Nov 2017 showed that the company had cash balances of RM1,7 million and short-term loans of RM16.5 million, I believe the Penang Government is completely missing the point.

“The main point is that the Penang Govt had reassured and promised to the people of Penang in March 2013 when the project was awarded that the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) company had strong financial backing of RM4.6 billion and had deep experience in construction,” Wee highlighted, in a statement posted on MCA’s website.

He points out that five years later there was nothing to show except for the millions spent on uncompleted feasibility studies.

“Did the DAP government lie to the public and made a bait and switch?” he asked.

Meanwhile, political analyst Datuk Eric See-Toh has revealed that the project never awarded on open tender.

“This is an interesting development as the project was never awarded based on Open Tender as DAP frequently claims.

“It was done via a Request for Proposal (RFP) exercise where a company was then selected for further negotiations before agreement signing,” he noted in a recent Facebook posting.

“The Penang Government should release the minutes of why the winner was selected and why others were rejected,” he urged the DAP-led Penang government to give a proper explanation over how this could have happened.

This is important, he stressed as the result has clearly led to “such lop-sided terms that is in favour of the contractor and at the expense of the people of Penang” which is the reason for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation now.

“Allowing many to participate in an open RFP is not the most important question but how and on what basis the final party was selected and the negotiations after that,” he added.

“Taking aside the fact that the fashion company has reported losses in each of the past 3 financial quarters and their last financial statement submitted to Bursa Malaysia on 29 Nov 2017 showed that the company had cash balances of RM1,7 million and short-term loans of RM16.5 million, I believe the Penang Government is completely missing the point.

“The main point is that the Penang Govt had reassured and promised to the people of Penang in March 2013 when the project was awarded that the Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) company had strong financial backing of RM4.6 billion and had deep experience in construction,” Wee highlighted, in a statement posted on MCA’s website.

He points out that five years later there was nothing to show except for the millions spent on uncompleted feasibility studies.

“Did the DAP government lie to the public and made a bait and switch?” he asked.

Meanwhile, political analyst Datuk Eric See-Toh has revealed that the project never awarded on open tender.

“This is an interesting development as the project was never awarded based on Open Tender as DAP frequently claims.

“It was done via a Request for Proposal (RFP) exercise where a company was then selected for further negotiations before agreement signing,” he noted in a recent Facebook posting.

“The Penang Government should release the minutes of why the winner was selected and why others were rejected,” he urged the DAP-led Penang government to give a proper explanation over how this could have happened.

This is important, he stressed as the result has clearly led to “such lop-sided terms that is in favour of the contractor and at the expense of the people of Penang” which is the reason for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) investigation now.

“Allowing many to participate in an open RFP is not the most important question but how and on what basis the final party was selected and the negotiations after that,” he added.

“According to a MACC source, the investigation was zeroing in on the tender process and appointment of the company to carry out the feasibility study for the (Penang Tunnel) project.” said a report today. This is an interesting development as the project was never awarded based on Open Tender as DAP frequently claims. It was done via a Request for Proposal (RFP) exercise where a companywas then selected for further negotiations before agreement signing.

The Penang Government should release the minutes of why the winner was
selected and why others were rejected as well as the minutes of the attendees and what was discussed during the negotiations with the winner prior to the final agreement that led to such lop-sided terms that is in favour of the contractor and at the expense of the people of Penang. Allowing many to participate in an open RFP is not the most important
question but how and on what basis the final party was selected and the negotiations after that.

Eric See-To. http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/…/undersea-tunnel-probe-m…/

Here’s an explanation between RFP and Request for Tender/Quote and other methods:

http://thoughtbubble.com.au/…/whats-the-difference-between…/

Image may contain: text

 

Source: Malaysian Digest: http://www.malaysiandigest.com/
Related Links:

Politicians on MACC radar over tunnel payoffs – Nation

Video:  //players.brightcove.net/4405352761001/default_default/index.html?videoId=5714956846001

“There were politicians who received a few hundred thousand ringgit and those who took millions.

“Investigators are digging in on the extent of the misconduct and where the payments took place.

“It is believed that this is also related to the two land swaps
done as payment for the feasibility study,” said a source, who declined
to elaborate.

Feasibility study cost just doesn’t add up, says Wee – Nation

Undersea project: Fashion apparel just an investor not contractor, says Lim

More arrests likely in undersea tunnel probe – Nation

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Moving forward with affordable housing


One way to solve housing shortage problem is to build more houses.

“If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such
as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very
important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing
for their people.”

THE issue of affordable housing has been a hot potato for many countries, especially for a nation with a growing population and urbanisation like ours.

In my previous article, I mentioned that there was a growing shortage of affordable housing in our country according to Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Muhammad Ibrahim. The shortage is expected to reach one million units by 2020.

According to Bank of England governor Mark Carney, one of the most effective ways to address the issue is to build more houses. There are good examples in countries like United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore, which have 2.4, 2.6 and 3.35 persons per household respectively.

In comparison, the average persons per household in our country is 4.06 person, a ratio which Australia had already achieved in 1933! To improve the current ratio, we need to put more effort into building houses to bring prices down.

If we take a look at countries with commendable housing policies such as Singapore and Hong Kong, we notice that the government plays a very important role in building and ensuring a sufficient supply of housing for their people.

For example in Singapore, their Housing and Development Board (HDB) has built over one million flats and houses since 1960, to house 90% of Singaporeans in their properties. In Hong Kong, the government provides affordable housing for lower-income residents, with nearly half of the population residing in some form of public housing nowadays. The rents and prices of public housing are subsidised by the government and are significantly lower than for private housing.

To be on par with Australia (2.6 persons per household), our country needs a total of 8.6 million homes to house our urban population of 22.4 million people. In other words, we need an additional 3.3 million houses on top of our existing 5.3 million residential houses.

However, with our current total national housing production of about 80,000 units a year, it will take us more than 40 years to build 3.3 million houses! With household formation growing at a faster rate than housing production, we will still be faced with a housing shortage 40 years from now.

Therefore, even if the private sector dedicated all its current output to build affordable housing, it will still be a long journey ahead to produce sufficient houses for the nation. It is of course impossible for the private sector to do so as it will be running at a loss due to rising costs of land and construction.

In view of the above, the government has to shoulder the responsibility of building more houses for the rakyat due to the availability of resources owned by the government. Land, for example, is the most crucial element in housing development. As a lot of land resources are owned by government, they must offer these lands to relevant agencies or authorities to develop affordable housing.

I recall when I was one of the founding directors of the Selangor State Development Corp in 1970s, its main objectives was to build public housing for the rakyat.

However, today the corporation has also ventured into high end developments in order to subsidise its affordable housing initiatives. This will somehow distract them from focusing on the affordable housing sector.

Although government has rolled out various initiatives in encouraging affordable houses, it is also important for the authorities to constantly review the original objectives of the relevant housing agencies, such as the various State Economic Development Corporations, Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, and 1 Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme, to ensure they have ample resources especially land and funding to continue their mission in building affordable housing.

A successful housing policy and easy access to affordable housing have a huge impact on the rakyat. It is hoped that our government escalates its effort in building affordable housing, which will enhance the happiness and well-being of the people, and the advancement of our nation.


Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
By Alan Tong

Pakatan taking a step backwards’


PETALING JAYA: Pakatan Harap­an’s choice of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as its candidate for prime minister is a step backwards for the Opposition grouping, said Institute of Strategic and Inter­national Studies Malaysia Senior Fellow Sholto Byrnes.

In an opinion piece yesterday in The National, a newspaper published in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, Byrnes wrote that Pakatan’s choice of Dr Mahathir showed it did not have confidence in its own leaders.

He said it also reflected badly on Opposition supporters who were strongly against the Government, which Dr Mahathir led for 22 years.

“The notion that this represents change, let alone fresh blood, is laughable and reflects very poorly on the Opposition’s confidence not only in its younger cadres, but also in those who have always opposed the Barisan Nasional governing coalition,” said Byrnes.

He said many Opposition supporters and leaders were imprisoned by Dr Mahathir, who is currently Pakatan Harapan chairman, for no good reason other than that their vehement opposition inconvenienced him.

“They are entitled to feel bitter at having to kowtow to their former jailer,” he added.

Byrnes noted that Dr Mahathir, who is now 92, would become the world’s oldest leader if elected in the event that Pakatan Harapan wrests power from Barisan.

This, he said, would open Malay­sia to international ridicule.

“Any who doubt that should imagine the incredulous laughter if either George H.W. Bush, aged 93, or Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a sprightly 91, were to seek to return to the presidencies of the United States and France respectively,” he said.

Commenting on Dr Mahathir’s Dec 30 apology for his past mistakes when he was prime minister, Byrnes pointed out that the former leader said sorry for nothing specific.

Dr Mahathir later suggested that it was Malay custom to apologise for possible past mistakes.

“Whatever charges might be laid against him over possible wrongdoing during the course of his premiership – and Opposition activists have in the past called for him to be put on trial for them – he is essentially unrepentant,” Byrnes wrote.

He said Dr Mahathir would never have switched to the Opposition if Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak had been prepared to act as Dr Mahathir’s tame supplicant and do everything his former boss wanted.

“For ever since he stood down from the premiership, Dr Mahathir has not been able to let go,” he said.

Recognising that it was Chinese faces who had the track record and visibility in the Opposition after Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s jailing, Byrnes said Pakatan was trying to hide them behind a facade of Malay politicians to win the crucial votes of the majority Malays.

“There are decent people in the Opposition, whom I have come to know personally. But this new top ticket drives a coach and horses through the Opposition’s old principles and thus through whatever moral authority it had,” he said.

Choosing a nonagenerian former PM to head Malaysia’s opposition is a regressive move

– REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin/File Photo

THE announcement last weekend that Malaysia’s opposition coalition, Pakatan Harapan (PH), had chosen Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as its candidate for prime minister made international headlines for two reasons. Firstly, Dr Mahathir has been the country’s head of government before, for a record-breaking 22 years from 1981 to 2003, during which (and afterwards) his governing style was described as “authoritarian”. With trademark sarcasm, the good doctor now one-ups that by conceding that in office he was nothing less than a “dictator”. He is not renowned as an advocate for reformist democracy, which is what PH claims to stand for.

Secondly, he is now 92, which would make him the world’s oldest leader if elected. Opposition columnists have ludicrously compared Malaysia, much praised by the World Bank, the IMF and other international bodies for its current government’s reforms, prudent economic stewardship and excellent growth, with Zimbabwe. In fact, it is the latter’s former president Robert Mugabe, a 93-year-old gerontocrat deposed ignominiously last year, who was so close to Dr Mahathir that the BBC’s John Simpson once paid him the backhanded compliment of calling him “a kind of successful, Asian Robert Mugabe.”

Malaysia’s opposition is now effectively helmed by two leaders from 20 years ago: Dr Mahathir and Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the deputy he sacked in 1998 and humiliated after the latter was charged and then jailed for sodomy and corruption. Anwar is currently in prison on a second sodomy charge. His wife, Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, is nominally PH’s candidate for deputy prime minister but should the opposition win, its plan is for Anwar to be given a royal pardon, enter parliament via a by-election and then take over from his former nemesis as prime minister.

The notion that this represents change, let alone fresh blood, is laughable and reflects very poorly on the opposition’s confidence not only in its younger cadres (and by younger, that means 50 and 60-year-olds) but also in those who have always opposed the Barisan Nasional (BN) governing coalition, which has never lost power since independence.

Theirs has not been an easy road. Many were imprisoned by Dr Mahathir for no good reason other than that their vehement opposition inconvenienced him. They are entitled to feel bitter at having to kowtow to their former jailer. And while Dr Mahathir might still be very sharp – his tongue has lost none of its spikiness – they cannot be oblivious to the fact that proposing a man who could be 93 by the time he became prime minister again opens the country to international ridicule. (Any who doubt that should imagine the incredulous laughter if either George HW Bush, currently aged 93, or Valery Giscard d’Estaing, a sprightly 91, were to seek to return to the presidencies of the US and France, respectively.)

So why has Malaysia’s opposition proposed him as their leader? Ah, but Dr Mahathir has changed his tune, some will say and has even recently apologised. Firstly, he said sorry for nothing specific and secondly, he then suggested it was Malay custom to apologise for possible past mistakes. However, whatever charges might be laid against him over possible wrongdoing during the course of his premiership – and opposition activists have in the past called for him to be put on trial for them – he is essentially unrepentant.

The late Karpal Singh, the formidable Indian national chairman of the mainly Chinese Democratic Action Party (DAP), would never have stood for it. His daughter and others with a long record in the opposition cannot stomach Dr Mahathir at the top and have said so vocally, as have some significant members of Anwar’s People’s Justice Party (PKR).

No wonder, for this is no alliance of principle. It is one of convenience. And if the current prime minister, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, had been prepared to act as Dr Mahathir’s tame supplicant and do everything his former boss wanted, this would never have happened. For ever since he stood down from the premiership, Dr Mahathir has not been able to let go. First he undermined his handpicked successor, Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, and then Najib – not for any malfeasance on their parts but for the crimes of not taking his “advice” as orders and for not indulging his dynastic ambitions.

Paradoxically, Dr Mahathir’s appearance at the head of the opposition pact is actually a testament to how strong a position Najib has built over the last two and a half years. Recognising that it was Chinese faces who had the track record and the visibility in the opposition after Anwar’s jailing, PH is now trying to hide them behind a facade of Malay politicians to win the crucial votes of the majority Malays.

But their new alliance is incoherent, with politicians having entirely contradictory records on matters of civil liberties and free speech, for instance – and, worse, deceitful ones, claiming that the goods and services tax that the current government has introduced could be removed, with no real plans for how they would replace the vital revenue.

There are decent people in the opposition, whom I have come to know personally. But this new top ticket drives a coach-and-horses through the opposition’s old principles and thus through whatever moral authority they had.

Malaysia has a good government that has won accolades for its determined fight against violent extremism and its successful economic transformation programme. It deserves a better opposition. And there’s a certain 92-year-old who deserves the gratitude of his people for services past – but also a retirement he has put off for far too long.

Source: by Sholto Byrnes, The Star

> Sholto Byrnes is a senior fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia

PKR gives up 14 seats to Pribumi for GE14

PETALING JAYA: PKR has given up 14 constituencies it contested in the last general election to Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (Pribumi) for the upcoming 14th General Election (GE14).

Pakatan Harapan’s approved distribution of parliamentary seats for GE14 shows PKR giving up seats in Selangor, Negri Sembilan, Johor, Perak, Kelantan and Pahang to Pribumi.

Notably, it has surrendered the Pekan seat – currently held by Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak – to Pribumi.

Notably, PKR has given up its Lumut parliamentary seat, currently held by Mohamad Imran Abd Hamid, to Amanah.

Since the departure of PAS from the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat coalition, many of that party’s previously-contested seats were distributed evenly among Pribumi and Amanah, a PAS breakaway party.

Interestingly, Pribumi is the Pakatan Harapan party contesting seven seats in Kelantan, against five by Amanah and two by PKR.

Pribumi will have a strong presence in the Umno stronghold of Johor, fielding candidates in 10 seats.

Four of those seats (Sri Gading, Pengerang, Pontian and Muar) were previously contested by PKR, while Tanjung Piai was previously contested by DAP.

Johor’s Ayer Hitam seat, which was previously under DAP’s quota, will be contested by Amanah.

Pribumi is set to contest eight seats in Perak, after PKR gave up four seats there – Tambun, Bagan Serai, Tapah and Pasir Salak.

PKR is also slated to contest the Sungei Siput seat now held by PSM’s Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj. Dr Jeyakumar won the seat under the PKR banner in the last election.

Apart from Johor, Pribumi also has strong representation in Perak (eight seats), Kelantan (seven), Pahang (six) and Kedah (six).

It is believed that Pribumi is thought to have a better chance against Umno in those seats, compared to Amanah.

Some instances of give and take were seen in the planned parliamentary seat distribution.

Amanah in turn has given up the prized Titiwangsa seat to Pribumi, leaving it with no potential representation in Kuala Lumpur.

Related Link:

Dr Mahathir has hijacked Pakatan, says Liow

Dr Mahathir has hijacked Pakatan, says Liowicon video

Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP) – Tunnel project rocked, Directors arrested in graft probe


 

 

 

Stalled ambition: A view of the Gurney Drive seafront, which is meant to be connected to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai under the Penang undersea tunnel project.
The RM6.3bil undersea tunnel project in Penang is on rocky ground with the MACC going on a day-long swoop on companies and state government agencies involved. A high-ranking Datuk in one of the companies has been detained to help in investigations into allegations of corruption in the long-delayed mega project and feasibility studies.

PETALING JAYA: Graft-busters have arrested a Datuk holding a high post in a company involved in the controversial Penang undersea tunnel project to help investigations into corruption claims.

The arrest came after a day-long massive swoop on several offices in Penang, where the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) seized documents related to the RM6.3bil mega project.

The anti-graft agency raided the offices of four state government agencies – the Penang Public Works Department, Penang State Secretary, Penang Office of Lands and Mines and Penang Valuation and Property Services Department – and three property development and construction companies – Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, 555 Capital Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd’s Penang office.

MACC officers also questioned several officers in charge of the respective agencies and companies since the raids began yesterday morning.

Sources familiar with the investigation said the probe into the undersea tunnel project was also zooming in on land swaps.

Ewein Zenith is a joint-venture vehicle of Ewein Land Sdn Bhd and Consortium Zenith BUCG Sdn Bhd.

The latter is a Malaysia-China joint venture that was awarded the RM6.3bil mega project to build the 7.2km undersea tunnel connecting Gurney Drive on the island to Bagan Ajam in Seberang Prai, a 10.53km North Coastal Paired Road (NCPR) from Tanjung Bungah to Teluk Bahang, the 5.7km Air Itam–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass and the 4.075km Gurney Drive–Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway bypass.

Consortium Zenith BUCG changed its name to Consortium Zenith Construction Sdn Bhd on Jan 18 last year after the withdrawal of Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG).

It is believed that the MACC is looking into why the state government allowed the Penang Tunnel special purpose vehicle (SPV) company to pre-sell state land rights worth RM3bil despite a four-year delay in the construction of roads.

Investigators are also believed to be looking into the RM305mil feasibility and detailed design studies that have yet to be completed, even though a payment of RM220mil was made to the SPV.

On Oct 11 last year, the main contractor of the project announced that there was no urgency to finish the feasibility study for the undersea tunnel, as it was only set to begin in 2023.

The feasibility study of the tunnel started in February 2015 and as of October last year, it was said to be 92.9% complete.

Works Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof has said the delay in submitting the feasibility report to him was very unusual considering that the project was awarded in 2013.

On Friday, Parti Cinta Malaysia (PCM) vice-president Datuk Huan Cheng Guan lodged a report at the MACC headquarters in Putrajaya and handed over documents which he claimed contained new evidence of corruption in the project.

It was Huan’s third report about the matter. He first lodged a police report on July 17 last year, claiming that the project was awarded to an “undercapitalised” company.

He then lodged a report with the MACC on July 21, calling for a corruption probe.

In George Town, a source in the MACC confirmed that they had ­visited the offices of Ewein Zenith, Consor­tium Zenith Construction and 555 Capital, all of which are involved in the Penang undersea tunnel project.

“We went in the morning, shortly after their offices opened,” said the MACC officer.

However, none of the senior management staff were in and only the front office and sales staff were present to attend to them.

State Works Committee chairman Lim Hock Seng said he was not aware of the raids, while Consortium Zenith senior executive director Datuk Zarul Ahmad Mohd Zulkifli could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, state secretary Datuk Seri Farizan Darus said the National Economic Planning Unit on the 25th floor of Komtar was also raided, but declined to give details.

Huan thanked the commission for acting on his report.

“I believe the MACC will carry out its investigation professionally without any fear or favour,” he said.

The MACC is expected to hold a press conference today to explain the spate of raids and provide updates on the investigations.

By royce tan, tan sin chow, r. sekaran, cavina lim The Star

New Year 2018 high for Malaysia


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

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

 

Busa and ringgit on a high

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

US$ vs ringgit at 3.9965 

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

FBM KLCI up 14.52pts to 1,817.97

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exports in November rise to RM83.50bil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By leong hung yee The Staronline

Bursa and ringgit on a high

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Experts see good tidings in firmer currency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By martin carvalho The Staronline

Ringgit boost for investors, importers 

Companies which lost out during a low ringgit recouping fast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By daniel khoo TheStaronline

Critical trends to watch in 2018


There are many issues on a fast and slow boil and some of them could reach a tipping point in the new year

ANOTHER new year has dawned, and it’s time to preview what to expect in 2018.

The most obvious topic would be to anticipate how Donald Trump, the most unorthodox of American presidents, would continue to upset the world order. But more about that later.

Just as importantly as politics, we are now in the midst of several social trends that have important long-term effects. Some are on the verge of reaching a tipping point, where a trend becomes a critical and sometimes irreversible event. We may see some of that in 2018.

Who would have expected that 2017 would end with such an upsurge of the movement against sexual harassment? Like a tidal wave it swept away Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, film star Kevin Spacey, TV interviewer Charlie Rose and many other icons.

The #MeToo movement took years to gather steam, with the 1991 Anita Hill testimony against then US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas being a trailblazer. It paved the way over many years for other women to speak up until the tipping point was reached. So, in 2018, expect the momentum to continue, and in more countries.

Another issue that has been brewing is the rapid growth and effects of digital technology. Those enjoying the benefits of the smartphone, Google search, WhatsApp, Uber and online shopping usually sing its praises.

But the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” is like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. It has many benefits but also serious downsides, and the debate is now picking up.

First, automation with artificial intelligence can make many jobs redundant. Uber displaced taxis, and will soon displace its drivers with driver-less cars.

The global alarm over job losses is resonating at home. An International Labour Organisation report warning that 54% of jobs in Malaysia are at high risk of being displaced by technology in the next 20 years was cited by Khazanah Research Institute in its own study last April. TalentCorp has estimated that 43% of jobs in Malaysia may potentially be lost to automation.

Second is a recent chorus of warnings, including by some of digital technology’s creators, that addiction and frequent use of the smartphone are making humans less intelligent and socially deficient.

Third is the loss of privacy as personal data collected from Internet use is collected by tech companies like Facebook and sold to advertisers.

Fourth is the threat of cyber-fraud and cyber-warfare as data from hacked devices can be used to empty bank accounts, steal information from governments and companies, and as part of warfare.

Fifth is the worsening of inequality and the digital divide as those countries and people with little access to digital devices, including small businesses, will be left behind.

The usual response to these points is that people and governments must be prepared to get the benefits and counter the ill effects. For example, laid-off workers should be retrained, companies taught to use e-commerce, and a tax can be imposed on using robots (an idea supported by Bill Gates).

But the technologies are moving ahead faster than policy makers’ capacity to keep track and come up with policies and regulations. Expect this debate to move from conference rooms to the public arena in 2018, as more technologies are introduced and more effects become evident.

On climate change, scientists frustrated by the lack of action will continue to raise the alarm that the situation is far worse than earlier predicted.

In fact, the tipping point may well have been reached already. On Dec 20, the United Nations stated that the Arctic has been forever changed by the rapidly warming climate. The Arctic continued in 2017 to warm at double the rate of the global temperature increase, resulting in the loss of sea ice.

These past three years have been the warmest on record. The target of limiting temperature rise to 2°C above pre-industrial levels, a benchmark just two years ago by the UN’s top scientific climate panel and the Paris Agreement, seems outdated and a new target of 1.5°C could be adopted in 2018.

But it is much harder to meet this new target. Will political leaders and the public rise to the challenge, or will 2018 see a wider disconnect between what needs to be done, and a lack of the needed urgent response?

Another issue reaching tipping point is the continuing rise of antibiotic resistance, with bacteria mutating to render antibiotics increasingly ineffective to treat many diseases. There are global and national efforts to contain this crisis, but not enough, and there is little time left to act before millions die from once-treatable ailments.

Finally, back to Trump. His style and policies have been disruptive to the domestic and global order, but last year he seemed unconcerned about criticisms on this. So we can expect more of the same or even more shocking measures in 2018.

Opposition to his policies from foreign countries will not count for much. But there are many in the American establishment who consider him a threat to the American system.

Will 2018 see the opposition reach a tipping point to make a significant difference? It looks unlikely. But like many other things in 2018, nothing is reliably predictable.

Global Trends by martin khor

Martin Khor is executive director of the South Centre. The views expressed here are entirely his own.
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