Penang’s LRT project gets conditional approval from Transport Minister


GEORGE TOWN: Waves of excitement swept through Penang when the Transport Minister announced that the Bayan Lepas light rail transit (LRT) has received conditional approval.

It is seen as a move to reduce traffic congestion in the city and create a next wave of growth for the state.

The approved 29.9km Bayan Lepas LRT will bring convenience not only to the local folk but also tourists and investors, said Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers Penang chairman Datuk Dr Ooi Eng Hock.

Ooi, who is positive that the project will spur growth on the island, believes the LRT will bring in another wave of development into the state.

“The LRT will divert traffic congestion. It will attract new investments, make life easier for our workforce.

“I believe it will boost the state’s economy with another wave of growth,” he said yesterday.

Following the Transport Ministry’s conditional approval of the project, Ooi added that it is the first step for a change in landscape and behaviour of transport mode in Penang.

Yesterday, the Transport Ministry gave conditional approval to the Bayan Lepas LRT project.

Transport Minister Anthony Loke in a statement said that after a detailed study of the application by Penang Economic Planning Unit (BPEN) to develop the Bayan Lepas LRT project, approval with 30 conditions for the state to comply was given on Tuesday.

Loke said the conditions included a detailed environmental impact assessment (DEIA) approval including traffic, social and heritage assess­ments.

The state must now exhibit documents on the project for three months, and the final go ahead will only be decided after the public responses are evaluated, said Loke.

“I welcome public participation from the people, NGOs and all stakeholders in this public review.

“The relevant documents are to be exhibited in public places including government offices.

“The state government must also upload a copy of these documents on a website for online viewing.

Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow thanked the Federal Govern­ment and said the state is committed to fulfilling all requirements.

“We will wait for the official letter from Transport Ministry to proceed and initiate public viewing of the documents,” he said.

The RM8.4bil Bayan Lepas LRT together with a monorail, cable cars and water taxis, is part of the state government’s RM46bil Penang Trans­port Master Plan (PTMP).

This LRT will begin at Komtar in the northeast corner of the island and head south through Jelutong, Gelugor, Bayan Lepas and Penang Interna­tional Airport, ending at the Penang South Reclamation (PSR) development.

It is expected to provide a fast route to the airport and will traverse densely populated residential, commercial and industrial areas.

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Housing woes: death spiral or virtuous cycle?


THE World Economic Forum estimates that the global cost of corruption annually is at least US$2.6 trillion (RM10.9 trillion) or 5% of global gross domestic product (GDP).

According to the World Bank, businesses and individuals pay over US$1 trillion (RM4.2 trillion) in bribes each year.

Corruption adds up to 10% of the total cost of doing business globally and up to 25% of the cost of procurement contracts in developing countries.

I gathered these shocking facts at a conference. There are other alarming statistics that shed light on the damage brought about by corruption and its dreadful impact on the economy.

Corruption leads to further impoverishment of the poor and other issues in many countries. The average income in countries with a high level of corruption is about one-third of those countries with a low level of corruption. In addition, corrupt countries have a literacy rate that is 25% lower.

The Corruption Perception Index 2018 released by Transparency International shows that on the scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean, over two-thirds of 180 countries score below 50, with the average score of 43.

In the index, Denmark ranked first in the world followed by New Zealand second. Finland and Singapore were tied for third with a score of 85. Malaysia was ranked 61st in the world, scoring only 47.

We were ranked the third highest in the Asean region, after Singapore and Brunei. Our country is doing better now with the ongoing investigation of the 1Malaysia Development Bhd scandal and other prominent cases.

In TI’s report, Malaysia is one of the countries on the watch with promising political developments against corruption. However, more solid action is needed in combatting all elusive forms of corruption.

According to Transparency International Malaysia, corruption had cost our country about 4% of its GDP value each year since 2013. Added together, this amounts to a high figure of some RM212.3bil since 2013. For 2017 alone, that figure was a whopping RM46.9bil!

As a comparison, our development expenditure in 2017 was RM48bil. If the value of corruption above was accurate, our development fund was almost “wiped out” because of corruption.

Transparency International Malaysia president Datuk Akhbar Satar said: “This is our estimate. It is likely to be higher in reality (on the value of corruption).”

No country can eliminate corruption completely. However, we can learn from good practices shown in some developed countries, such as the Scandinavian countries which all scored high on the Corruption Perception Index.

Corruption leads to poverty as money collected is not used for the welfare of the nation. As a result, the people end up suffering and paying for the leakage in the system.

If a country is corrupt-free, it will reduce the need for non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs advocate for the rights of marginalised groups. The government can take care of those group when it has a surplus in the budget.

A clean government and system will have a positive impact on many aspects including affordable housing, one of the prominent needs of the people.

Whenever there is corruption, there is a compromise in the delivery of goods and services. The same situation applies to affordable housing.

Someone mentioned to me in the past that “the government isn’t interested in affordable housing as there is literally ‘no money’ to be made in it”!

Things have made a dramatic change for the better since May last year. Our new government is working on a platform of clean government and improving transparency. It plans to build one million affordable homes within two terms of its administration. To make this a reality, the government needs to put in real money to make it happen.

Corruption causes a death spiral that leads to various problems. Without it, a virtuous cycle grows that ensures every part runs smoothly and the marginalised in society are looked after.

With a promise of a cleaner government, we hope we will soon see a virtuous cycle that makes the one million affordable homes an achievable target.

By Datuk Alan Tong, who has over 50 years of experience in property development. He is group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email bkp@bukitkiara.com. The views expressed here are solely that of his own.

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Parcel rent bills mailing soon


Stratified property owners given till December 31 to settle dues for 2019

Chow (second right) with (from right) Jagdeep Singh, State Land and Mines office director Akmar Omar and State Secretary Datuk Seri Farizan Darus, showing the new bills for the parcel rent in Komtar, Penang.

OWNERS of stratified properties will now have to pay parcel rent directly to their respective district and land offices.

Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow said the billing for parcel rent, replacing quit rent, would be sent out to all parcel owners next month through their respective management corporations.

“Previously, it was paid by the respective management corporations of stratified properties.

“Since the bills will be sent out late, parcel owners are given until end of this year to pay up although the deadline is usually May 31 each year,” he told a press conference at Komtar on Friday.

Chow said the parcel rent came into effect since January this year.

He said the rates for parcel rent would be based on the size of each unit, while quit rent was based on the total plot of land which the building was built on.

“Parcel owners will need to update their addresses with the respective district and land offices when paying their parcel rent this year,” he said, adding that the parcel rent billing for next year will be sent to their addresses.

Citing an example, Chow said the total quit rent collected from a specific stratified property last year was RM28,268.

“The collection in parcel rent for the same property will be lesser at RM24,239, as it will not take into account common areas, unlike for quit rent,” he said.

State housing, town, country plan­­ning and local government committee chairman Jagdeep Singh Deo, who was also present, said the arrears for quit rent has amounted to RM65mil to date.

Parcel owners are advised to update their mailing addresses at the land and district office or online at etanah.penang.gov.my

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Declining performance of Malaysia’s civil service, World Bank report


KUALA LUMPUR: The performance of Malaysia’s civil service has been declining since 2014, according to a World Bank report, which also expressed concerns about the sustainability of the country’s public sector wage bill.

The report, which came about following the visit of World Bank vice-president for East Asia and Pacific Victoria Kwakwa to Malaysia last December during which she met the Prime Minister, also ranked Malaysia lowly in its indicators for accountability, impartiality as well as the transparency and openness of its public service.

The report – which is included in the World Bank’s six-monthly economic monitor on Malaysia – will be formally launched today.

World Bank lead public sector specialist Rajni Bajpai said that while Malaysia was doing better than others in South-East Asia, there was a very “big gap” in the performance of its civil servants with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

She said the report decided to compare Malaysia with the OECD countries as it was hoping to move from a middle-income status country to that of high-income.

“When you compare Malaysia with others in the region, Malaysia has been doing pretty well but we see that the performance has stagnated.

“If you look at the indicator for government effectiveness, Malaysia is still above in the region but in 2018, the performance is below that of between 1991 and 2014.

“If you take the average of that period between 1991 and 2014, it was higher than that in 2018, which means the performance is declining,” she said in an interview.

There were also some indicators in which Malaysia ranked even below the region, said Rajni, adding that this included accountability, impartiality and the openness of its public sector.

“There is a strong perception … that recruitment of the civil service is not fair and neutral (with) Malaysia scoring very poorly on the indicators for impartiality in the government.

“It’s the lowest ranked, even below the region and way below the OECD,” she said, adding that the government in its election manifesto had suggested setting up an Equal Opportunities Commis­sion meant to tackle discriminatory practices in both the public and private sector.

“Malaysia also scores very poorly on the openness indicators. Malaysia is not a very open economy in the sense that data sharing is a very big problem.

“The government does not share of a lot of data, even within its own departments or with the citizens.

“And citizens’ feedback and voices are not factored by the government into the design of programmes,” she said, adding that the report would suggest the setting up of an institutional and legal framework for open data sharing.

Another indicator that Malaysia performed “not very well”, according to Rajni, was in digitisation and technological advances, which the government had not been able to integrate into its system to provide services.

The report, said Rajni, also focused on another critical element in Malaysia’s civil service, in that the recruitment, which was carried out by the Public Services Department, was overcentralised.

Describing Malaysia as one of the “most overcentralised”, she pointed out that in many countries, this function had been devolved to other departments and even state governments.

“Overcentralisation does not allow for the people who actually need the public servants to do certain jobs … because they don’t have the right people or the recruitment takes a very long time,” she said.

OECD countries, said Rajni, had been using a competency framework for the recruitment of their civil service, which defined the kind of roles and skills needed in the public sector, rather than taking in people generally for everything.

Among the indicators that Malaysia performed very well were for the ease of doing business – for which Malaysia is ranked 15th – and the inclusion of women in its civil service.

“Women occupied almost 50% of the civil service although there are some issues with women in higher management,” said Rajni.

Other indicators that were highlighted in the report included political stability, regulatory quality, rule of law and control of corruption.

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Recession fears hit Asian region including Singapore


Malaysia may, to a certain extent, be less vulnerable with the revival of major construction projects which in view of the country’s strained finances, have been shrunk to cut costs. The Singapore economy may undergo a “shallow, technical recession” in the third quarter.

TALK of recession has hit the region, and near home, Maybank Kim Eng Research is flagging that possibility for Singapore in the next quarter.

Export-reliant economies are hard hit by slowing growth and supply chain disruptions caused by the prolonged US-China trade and tech war.

There may be a ceasefire now in the fight between the US and China following talks between President Donald Trump and President Xi Jinping at the Group of 20 Summit in Osaka last Saturday.

Existing US tariffs on Chinese imports still remain; additional tariffs on the remaining US$300 bil worth of Chinese imports, as threatened, will not be imposed for now

However, the new timeline for truce remains elusive; the suspicion is that of a “creeping” imposition of tariffs, as “each truce is followed by new tariffs and then, another truce.”

In December last year, Trump and Xi had struck a truce following which talks broke down in May this year, and tariffs on US$200bil of Chinese imports leaped from 10% to 25%.

Will there be light out of this tunnel, with harder issues involving tech and supremacy not tackled? Smaller economies with the fiscal and monetary space may be able to cushion their economies somewhat from the downdraft on growth.

Malaysia may, to a certain extent, be less vulnerable with the revival of major construction projects which in view of the country’s strained finances, have been shrunk to cut costs.

The Bandar Malaysia and East Coast Rail Link projects to be revived, are now downsized to RM144bil and RM44bil respectively.

Works for the Light Rail Transit (LRT) 3, from Bandar Utama in Petaling Jaya to Johan Setia in Klang, will resume in the second half of the year, at a reduced cost of RM16.63bil.

Talks are said to be ongoing to revive the Mass Rapid Transit Line (MRT) 3, or MRT Circle Line round the city centre, at possibly RM22.5bil which is half the original cost.

“The timing (of the revival of these projects) has been very good for Malaysia,’’ said Pong Teng Siew, the head of research at Inter-Pacific Securities. “These projects will go on for several years and positively impact the economy over that period.’’

Domestic spending and activities will provide ‘some comfort’ to the local economy but we should ensure that any further monetary easing actually goes into the real economy to support these activities, according to Anthony Dass, head of AmBank Research.

Malaysia’s private consumption was at a record 59.5% of its nominal (calculated at current market prices) Gross Domestic Product, which hit US$88.5 bil in March, 2019, according to CEIC Data.

Benefits from trade diversion from China, the current US tariff hotspot, are offset by downward pressure on global trade where volume was flat in the first quarter, the weakest since the financial crisis.

Global semiconductor sales also declined in February and March, the first back-to-back double digit contraction since the financial crisis.

In view of this decline, the volatile global trade environment and rising geopolitical tensions, open economies “should be prepared for the unexpected,’’ said Nor Zahidi Alias, the associate director of economic research of Malaysian Rating Corp.

The Singapore economy may undergo a “shallow, technical recession” in the third quarter, said Maybank Kim Eng, pointing to possible intensification of supply chain disruptions and US export controls on more Chinese tech firms.

Following the Trump-Xi talks, the US has reversed its equipment sales ban on Huawei but will that ease fears of other similar bans down the road? Defined as two consecutive quarters of negative quarter-on-quarter growth, a recession will prompt further easing of monetary policy in Singapore.

Manufacturing in Singapore, which accounts for a fifth of the economy, fell 2.4%, with electronics dropping 10.8% in May from a year ago; output is expected to decline again in June.

Hong Kong has also been issued warnings of recession, as its economy experienced the largest contraction since 2011, declining by 0.4% in the first quarter against the previous quarter.

Thailand’s economy grew at its slowest pace in four years, in the first quarter, hitting 2.8% from 3.6% in the same period last year; exports remain weak.

Taiwan’s economy avoided contraction in the first quarter but private consumption and gross capital formation slowed significantly while government consumption declined.

In the US, a mis-calibration in interest rate policy by the Federal Reserve can cause a sharper slowdown than expected or bring on a recession.“Monetary policy affects the economy with unpredictable lags, it could be hard for the Fed to time its policy (rate cut) that can prevent a downturn this and next year,’’ said Lee Heng Guie, the executive director of Socio Economic Research Center.

Columnist Yap Leng Kuen notes the reminder to ‘expect the unexpected.’

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Landslide tragedy caused by slope instability, was a Construction mishap, not landslide!


Earth patch: Workers covering the landslide area with canvas to prevent more soil erosion in Tanjung Bungah.

Construction mishap, not landslide

GEORGETOWN: The incident that claimed four lives at a beach resort in Tanjung Bungah was a construction mishap, said Penang Island City Council (MBPP) mayor Yew Tung Seang (pic)

He said that the slope was unstable due to digging activities as the resort’s owner was building a retaining wall without informing the authorities.

“It’s not a landslide. The incident occurred after the retaining wall collapsed within the resort’s premises.

“We need to be informed of any construction activity and make sure that it is done under the supervision of engineers.

“We are monitoring the situation closely before making a decision on whether to stop the resort’s operations,” he said at a press conference after the launching of the Karpal Singh Digital Hub at SK Sungai Gelugor yesterday.

On Tuesday, four foreign workers were buried alive in a freak accident at the construction site in Tanjung Bungah.

It is learnt that the resort owner recently contracted a Myanmar worker to build a retaining wall after finding that the hill separating the resort and Jalan Batu Ferringhi showed signs of erosion.

The contractor hired three other Myanmar nationals to assist him.

Checks found that the retaining wall, which was supposed to be about 5m wide, had yet to be built but there were other retaining walls beside it.

State local government commit­tee chairman Jagdeep Singh Deo said mitigation works along the 50m stretch of Jalan Batu Ferringhi would be completed in three to four weeks’ time.

“Although the incident happened on private land, it has affected the federal road where many heavy vehicles pass by every day.

“It is important to stabilise the road to ensure the safety of road users,” he said.

Meanwhile, Citizens Awareness Chant Group adviser Yan Lee called on the MBPP to reveal its standard operating procedures for investigating illegal earthworks done in the state.

“I hope that the council can share with us how many officers or workers are available to check on such earthworks,” he said.

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GEORGE TOWN: Soil movement due to slope instability is said to be the cause of the freak landslide that claimed four lives at a beach resort in Batu Ferringhi, says Penang Public Works Department (PWD) director Shahabuddin Mohd Muhayidin.

He said preliminary investi­gations showed that the slope was unstable as a result of digging by a third party.

“The digging at the slope caused soil movement with a whole lot of earth coming loose.

“Right now, we are taking the necessary steps to stop further soil erosion at the slope.

“After this, we will install sheet piles to stabilise the slope,” he told reporters at a press conference in Komtar yesterday.

Following the landslide, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow had ordered PWD to conduct a thorough study of Jalan Batu Ferringhi to check on conditions of the road and slopes along the 15km stretch.

“If the study finds any of the slopes or roads unsafe, repair works will be carried out following recommendations from the study.

“For now, a 50m-stretch of the road leading to Teluk Bahang has been closed for mitigation work and to ensure the safety of road users.

“The mitigation work is expected to be complete within three to four weeks, and in the meantime, a flagman will be assigned at the road stretch to direct the one-way traffic,” said Chow at the press conference.

He said the state had no information on the status of the Myanmar workers who died in the incident.

“Relevant authorities will need to investigate the landowner and project owner so that appropriate action can be taken.

Chow said they have called on the police and government agencies like the Department of Occupational Safety and Health to investigate the and take action against those responsible.

“From monitoring at the site, we believe the works to build the retaining wall were carried out without professional help.

“It was just action taken by the landowner who wanted to fix a condition on the site. And, due to the way the work was carried out, it caused soil movement and eventually the soil collapsed.”

He said PWD and the Penang Island City Council (MBPP) would continue monitoring the issue.

“In this incident, the landowner should be responsible as he or she is responsible for monitoring the land.

“Although the landowner tried to take the initiative to build the wall, professional help should have been sought to ensure safer and more secure work.”

MBPP mayor Datuk Yew Tung Seang said the council would serve notices to the landowner and other parties concerned under Section 70A of the Street, Drainage and Building Act 1974.

“MBPP is investigating, and will take appropriate action against the parties involved.

“Although we have a team monitoring illegal construction, the construction work on this particular site was not visible to public view.”

Yew advised landowners to apply for permits before embarking on any construction work in future.

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Experts: Human error could have led to landslide

GEORGE TOWN: A landslide which occurred even when there was no rain to trigger it might have been due to many reasons, including human error, says an expert.

Universiti Sains Malaysia geotechnical engineering professor Prof Dr Fauziah Ahmad said the workers may have dug at the toe of the slope while trying to build a retaining wall.

“During the digging process, pressure might have been released from the top of the wall, which could already have had cracks.

Prof Fauziah said traffic vibrations could also trigger pressure and cracks on the wall.

“Once there are cracks, water will seep through over a period of time, and when it reaches the instability between backfill and the wall, the slope will collapse,” she added.

Prof Fauziah was asked to comment on the incident on Tuesday where four foreign workers were buried alive in a landslide at a construction site in Batu Ferringhi.

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia Centre of Tropical Geoengineering director Prof Dr Edy Tonnizam Mohamad said the stability of a slope, among others, depends on its soil properties, slope geometry, volume, effect of gravity and also the pore water pressure.

“A slope could fail if one or a combination of factors passed its equilibrium and factor of safety.

“If the geometry of a slope is not properly designed according to geologic, engineering and climatic factors, a slope failure could occur.

“There have been several cases of landslides even when there was no rain,” he said.

Prof Edy added that to prevent such incidents, monitoring and inspection before and during construction is important.

“Professional supervision is also needed at the construction site.

“During construction, the standard operating procedure should be made clear.

“The construction site should be managed properly and safety procedures adhered to,” he said.

‘Owner built walls on his own’

Earth patch: Workers covering the landslide area with canvas to prevent more soil erosion in Tanjung Bungah. — MUSTAFA AHMAD & ANDY LO/The Star
Earth patch: Workers covering the landslide area with canvas to prevent more soil erosion in Tanjung Bungah. — MUSTAFA AHMAD & ANDY LO/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: The owner of a resort along Jalan Batu Ferringhi may have been building walls on his own to prevent soil erosion for some time before a landslide struck, killing four foreign workers.

Penang Works, Utilities and Flood Mitigation Committee chairman Zairil Khir Johari said there were signs of such efforts but the authori­ties had never been informed.

“It appears to me like he had been doing it on his own, without informing the authorities,” he said.

Attempts to contact the resort owner for comments were futile as of press time.

On Tuesday, four foreign workers were buried alive in a freak landslide at a construction site in Batu Ferringhi at 9.21pm.

George Town OCPD Asst Comm Che Zaimani Che Awang said all four bodies had been recovered.

He added that three of the victims were discovered in a standing position while holding the metal poles for the retention wall while the other was leaning over.

He said the victims did not have any identification papers.

It is learnt that the resort owner had recently contracted a Myanmar worker called Ong to build a retaining wall after finding that the hill separating the resort and Jalan Batu Ferringhi showed signs of erosion.Ong then hired three other Myanmar nationals, to assist him.Checks found that the retaining wall, which was to be about five metres wide, had yet to be built but there were other retaining walls beside it.

The exposed slope has been covered with tarpaulin sheets to prevent further erosion.

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US technology sector faces triple threat


Uncertainty over the future of US-China economic relations has derailed the once high-flying global equity market, which rose almost 15 per cent in the January-April period.

Clive McDonnell, head of Equity Strategy at Standard Chartered Bank, looks at the causes behind the decline.

The technology sector, now facing challenges on a number of fronts, is supposedly the main cause behind the decline.

While President Trump’s policies get blamed for a lot of events impacting global equity markets, he is probably less responsible for the upset in the technology sector than many would have you think.

There are three primary challenges facing the US technology sector:

1. The sector’s high overseas revenue share: over 60% of total revenue comes from

abroad.

2. The threat of regulation on accessing and using personal data.

3. Monopoly powers and the risk of an antitrust investigation.

Let’s consider each factor. US economic growth appears resilient in the face of weaker growth prospects in the euro zone and emerging markets.

However, since US technology companies generate more than 60% of their revenue from overseas, they are acutely sensitive to slower growth prospects outside the US. In the past, they have been able to offset slower growth in the euro zone with robust growth in emerging markets led by China.

The next downturn may witness slower growth in both regions, which would leave US technology companies exposed relative to US banks and utilities which have the lowest overseas revenue exposure amongst US companies.

Additionally, there is a risk that China responds in kind to the US President’s targeting of Chinese technology companies. There is also a risk that US dollar strength creates a negative effect on US technology sector earnings once overseas revenue is converted into US dollars.

The threat of regulation on accessing and use of personal data looms large for technology companies, particularly those in the social media space. Europe has been at the forefront of regulating use of personal data via the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

These regulations changed the balance of power between individuals and companies over the use of personal data. The rules give EU citizens more control over their personal data held by companies and the right to have their data removed from databases, the so-called “right to be forgotten” law.

The challenge for US companies is these rules cover their processing of personal data in Europe, regardless of the residential location of the individual generating the data.  

The rules give EU citizens more control over their personal data
held by companies and the right to have their data removed from
databases.

Similar to the long arm of US financial regulators – which impact banks regardless of where they are incorporated once they engage in US dollar transactions – European rules on personal data are impacting US technology companies in ways that are not covered by domestic laws.

The central business challenge for US technology companies, in particular those in the social media sector, is their business models are built on free access to consumer data in exchange for free use of their software, including search, email and productivity tools, such as those available on Google Drive.

If these companies lose unfettered access to personal data, they would likely start charging consumers for use of the same software.

This, in turn, will have a significant impact on their advertising revenues, as the precision they have been able to offer companies targeting customers would decline. No doubt their business models would evolve, but this could be at the cost of lower net margins relative to the near-20% margins they currently enjoy.

Finally, the perceived monopoly power of some of the sector’s leaders and the resultant risk US technology companies face from antitrust investigations is probably the biggest risk to the sector.

The definition of monopoly power in the US, focusing on the short-term price impact on consumers from company actions, has been unchanged for over 40 years.

Specifically, if company actions lead to higher prices, it could be designated as a monopoly (and importantly, the reverse also applies). This is relevant for technology companies as many have helped to lower prices for consumers.

The definition of monopoly power is changing. This is led by Lina Khan, a Legal Fellow at the Federal Trade Commission and an academic Fellow at Columbia Law School.

In a paper, entitled “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox (1)”, she challenged the current interpretation of antitrust law which is designed to curb monopolistic power. She proposed that lower prices were not necessarily good for consumers if prices were used as a tool to choke off competition and eventually restrict consumer choice.

The primary tool available to technology companies to manipulate consumer choices (and some would say restrict competition) is their search algorithm.

Whenever a social media or e-commerce company implements a change to their search algorithm, the ensuing uproar amongst its users and customers is a measure of the importance this tool has to drive sales and choices for consumers.

The search algorithm assumes unique power once a platform becomes dominant in an industry and consumers no longer look at other platforms as they believe that their chosen one offers them all the choice they need.

The risk is: their choices are being determined by companies who pay more to appear higher up the search results than those which pay less, even though the latter companies may offer lower prices.

If regulators’ definition of monopoly power evolves, as Lina Khan suggests, there is a risk of antitrust investigations against US technology sector leaders, with penalties ranging from fines to reversal of prior acquisitions.

The challenges facing the US technology sector have converged at a time when valuations are elevated and earnings growth has weakened.

They are shining a light on their business model, which can undoubtedly evolve, but may require changes that the market is not currently anticipating.

Clive McDonnell is Head of Equity Strategy at Standard Chartered Private Bank.

The views expresssed here are entirely the writer’s own.

 

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US block spurs tech independence drive by Chinese companies

The latest US blacklisting of the Chinese supercomputing companies will not reduce domestic technology companies’ resolve to pursue innovation and research and development (R&D) as they strive to make up for shortcomings in certain segments to pursue further growth despite “irrational assaults” by Washington, industry insiders said.

 

Innovation is a driving force within China’s economy today. Yet behind that innovation, what’s the role of research and development?

 

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