US Federal Reserve rate rise, Malaysia and regional equity markets in the red


 

Fed’s big balance-sheet unwind could be coming to an early end

NEW YORK: The Federal Reserve’s balance sheet may not have that much further to shrink.

An unexpected rise in overnight interest rates is pulling forward a key debate among US central bankers over how much liquidity they should keep in the financial system. The outcome will determine the ultimate size of the balance sheet, which they are slowly winding down, with key implications for US monetary policy.

One consequence was visible on Wednesday. The Fed raised the target range for its benchmark rate by a quarter point to 1.75% to 2%, but only increased the rate it pays banks on cash held with it overnight to 1.95%. The step was designed to keep the federal funds rate from rising above the target range. Previously, the Fed set the rate of interest on reserves at the top of the target range.

Shrinking the balance sheet effectively constitutes a form of policy tightening by putting upward pressure on long-term borrowing costs, just as expanding it via bond purchases during the financial crisis made financial conditions easier. Since beginning the shrinking process in October, the Fed has trimmed its bond portfolio by around US$150bil to US$4.3 trillion, while remaining vague on how small it could become.

This reticence is partly because the Fed doesn’t know how much cash banks will want to hold at the central bank, which they need to do in order to satisfy post-crisis regulatory requirements.

Officials have said that, as they drain cash from the system by shrinking the balance sheet, a rise in the federal funds rate within their target range would be an important sign that liquidity is becoming scarce.

Now that the benchmark rate is rising, there is some skepticism. The increase appears to be mainly driven by another factor: the US Treasury ramped up issuance of short-term US government bills, which drove up yields on those and other competing assets, including in the overnight market.

“We are looking carefully at that, and the truth is, we don’t know with any precision,” Fed chairman Jerome Powell told reporters on Wednesday when asked about the increase. “Really, no one does. You can’t run experiments with one effect and not the other.”

“We’re just going to have to be watching and learning. And, frankly, we don’t have to know today,” he added.

But many also see increasingly scarce cash balances as at least a partial explanation for the upward drift of the funds rate, and as a result, several analysts are pulling forward their estimates of when the balance sheet shrinkage will end.

Mark Cabana, a Bank of America rates strategist, said in a report published June 5 that Fed officials may stop draining liquidity from the system in late 2019 or early 2020, leaving US$1 trillion of cash on bank balance sheets. That compares with an average of around US$2.1 trillion held in reserves at the Fed so far this year.

Cabana, who from 2007 to 2015 worked in the New York Fed’s markets group responsible for managing the balance sheet, even sees a risk that the unwind ends this year.

One reason why people may have underestimated bank demand for cash to meet the new rules is that Fed supervisors have been quietly telling banks they need more of it, according to William Nelson, chief economist at The Clearing House Association, a banking industry group.

The requirement, known as the Liquidity Coverage Ratio, says banks must hold a certain percentage of their assets either in the form of cash deposited at the Fed or in US Treasury securities, to ensure they have enough liquidity to deal with deposit outflows.

The Fed flooded the banking system with reserves as a byproduct of its crisis-era bond-buying programs, known as quantitative easing, to stimulate the economy. The money it paid investors to buy their bonds was deposited in banks, which the banks in turn hold as cash in reserve accounts at the Fed.

In theory, the unwind of the bond portfolio, which involves the reverse swap of assets between the Fed and investors, shouldn’t affect the total amount of Treasuries and reserves available to meet the requirement. The Fed destroys reserves by unwinding the portfolio, but releases an equivalent amount of Treasuries to the market in the process.

But if Fed supervisors are telling banks to prioritise reserves, that logic no longer applies. Nelson asked Randal Quarles, the Fed’s vice-chairman for supervision, if this was the Fed’s new policy. Quarles, who was taking part in a May 4 conference at Stanford University, said he knew that message had been communicated and is “being rethought”.

If Fed officials do opt for a bigger balance sheet and decide to continue telling banks to prioritise cash over Treasuries, it may mean lower long-term interest rates, according to Seth Carpenter, the New York-based chief US economist at UBS Securities.

“If reserves are scarce right now, and if the Fed does stop unwinding its balance sheet, the market is going to react to that, a lot,” said Carpenter, a former Fed economist. “Everyone anticipates a certain amount of extra Treasury supply coming to the market, and this would tell people, ‘Nope, it’s going to be less than you thought’.” — Bloomberg

Malaysia and regional equity markets in the red

 

In Malaysia, the selling streak has been ongoing for almost a month. As of June 8, the year to date outflow
stands at RM3.02bil, which is still one of the lowest among its Asean peers. The FBM KLCI was down 1.79 points yesterday to 1,761.

PETALING JAYA: It was a sea of red for equity markets across the region after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates by a quarter percentage point to a range of 1.75% to 2% on Wednesday, and funds continued to move their money back to the US. This is the second time the Fed has raised interest rates this year.

In general, markets weren’t down by much, probably because the rate hike had mostly been anticipated. Furthermore for Asia, the withdrawal of funds has been taking place over the last 11 weeks, hence, the pace of selling was slowing.

The Nikkei 225 was down 0.99% to 22,738, the Hang Seng Index was down 0.93% to 30,440, the Shanghai Composite Index was down 0.08% to 3,047.34 while the Singapore Straits Times Index was down 1.05% to 3,356.73.

In Malaysia, the selling streak has been ongoing for almost a month. As of June 8, the year to date outflow stands at RM3.02bil, which is still one of the lowest among its Asean peers. The FBM KLCI was down 1.79 points yesterday to 1,761.

Meanwhile, the Fed is nine months into its plan to shrink its balance sheet which consists some US$4.5 trillion of bonds. The Fed has begun unwinding its balance sheet slowly by selling off US$10bil in assets a month. Eventually, it plans to increase sales to US$50bil per month.

With the economy of the United States showing it was strong enough to grow with higher borrowing costs, the Federal Reserve raised interest rates on Wednesday and signalled that two additional increases would be made this year.

Fed chairman Jerome H. Powell in a news conference on Wednesday said the economy had strengthened significantly since the 2008 financial crisis and was approaching a “normal” level that could allow the Fed to soon step back and play less of a hands-on role in encouraging economic activity.

Rate hikes basically mean higher borrowing costs for cars, home mortgages and credit cards over the years to come.

Wednesday’s rate increase was the second this year and the seventh since the end of the Great Recession and brings the Fed’s benchmark rate to a range of 1.75% to 2%. The last time the rate reached 2% was in late 2008, when the economy was contracting.

“With a slightly more aggressive plan to tighten monetary policy this year than had previously been projected by the Fed, it will narrow our closely watched gap between the yield rates of two-year and 10-year Treasury notes, which has recently been one of a strong predictor of recessions,” said Anthony Dass, chief economist in AmBank.

Dass expects the policy rate to normalise at 2.75% to 3%.

“Thus, we should potentially see the yield curve invert in the first half of 2019,” he said.

So what does higher interest rates mean for emerging markets?

It means a flight of capital back to the US, and many Asian countries will be forced to increase interest rates to defend their respective currencies.

Certainly, capital has been exiting emerging market economies. Data from the Institute of International Finance for May showed that emerging markets experienced a combined US$12.3bil of outflows from bonds and stocks last month.

With that sort of global capital outflow, countries such as India, Indonesia, the Philippines and Turkey, have hiked their domestic rates recently.

Data from Lipper, a unit of Thomson Reuters, shows that for the week ending June 6, US-based money market funds saw inflows of nearly US$34.9bil.

It makes sense for investors to be drawn to the US, where the economy is increasingly solid, coupled with higher yields and lower perceived risks.

Hong Kong for example is fighting an intense battle to fend off currency traders. Since April, Hong Kong has spent at least US$9bil defending its peg to the US dollar. Judging by the fact that two more rate hikes are on the way this year, more ammunition is going to be needed.

Hong Kong has the world’s largest per capita foreign exchange reserves – US$434bil more in firepower.

By right, the Hong Kong dollar should be surging. Nonetheless, the currency is sliding because of a massive “carry trade.”

Investors are borrowing cheaply in Hong Kong to buy higher-yielding assets in the US, where 10-year Treasury yields are near 3%.

From a contrarian’s perspective, global funds are now massively under-weighted Asia.

With Asian markets currently trading at 12.3 times forward price earnings ratio, this is a reasonable valuation at this matured stage of the market.

By Tee Lin Say StarBiz

Related:

 

PBOC Seen Mirroring Fed With Hike While Keeping Other Taps Open  Bloomberg

  

Foreign investors more willing to hold yuan assets: FX regulator

Reuters ·

 

 Faster Indian Inflation Puts Analysts on Watch for Rate Hike – Bloomberg

Abenomics’ impact fading at sensitive moment for Japanese economy –
Business News

 

Bank Negara governor a short but memorable stint – Business News | The Star Online

Malaysia should first check yen loan terms, advises economist – The Star

 

 

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Malaysian new hope for the housing industry with new government


MALAYSIANS have been in an uplifting mood, with the various measures announced by the new government since the new Cabinet was formed.

Out of my passion for the housing industry, I am paying special interest and attention to Pakatan Harapan’s proposals on housing matters. There are several initiatives which will give a new breath of life to the industry if they are implemented successfully.

In its manifesto, Pakatan Harapan promises to build one million affordable homes within two terms of their administration. This is a realistic and encouraging move to address the affordable housing issue in Malaysia.

As mentioned in my previous article, I often wondered why the previous government didn’t directly drive affordable housing. I was enlightened when a friend told me last year, “The reason is that there isn’t any ‘money’ involved in affordable housing”. Given the new government’s promise of a cleaner government, I believe this is the right time.

To build one million affordable houses within two terms means that the government needs to build an average of 100,000 homes every year. This exceeds our yearly residential housing production recorded for the past few years.

To make this a reality, the government needs to put in real money to make it happen. The previous government depended on the private sector to drive that number. However, as we have seen from successful public/affordable housing models from Hong Kong and Singapore, our government should be the main driving force in providing affordable homes.

The reasons for such success are obvious. Governments have control over land, approval rights, public funds and development expertise. Given enough political will, and backed by tax payers’ funds, we can achieve these targets.

According to the manifesto of the new government, the above mission will be carried out by a National Affordable Housing Council chaired by the Prime Minister. Setting up a central authority has been suggested by Bank Negara and also in this column before. A centralised system will ensure effective planning and allocation of affordable homes, just as is done by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in Singapore.

Currently, we have different agencies looking at affordable housing, such as the various State Economic Development Corporations (SEDCs), Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd (SPNB), Perbadanan Kemajuan Negeri Selangor (PKNS) and 1 Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme (PR1MA).

Many of them are working in isolation from one another and some have strayed from their original purpose.

In Singapore, prior to the formation of the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in 1960, less than 9% of Singaporeans stayed in government housing. Today, HDB has built more than a million flats and houses. About 82% of Singaporeans stay in HDB housing, according to HDB’s annual report. It is a great example for reference.

Based on the recently published statistics from the National Property Information Centre (Napic), the total residential homes in Malaysia as at the end of 2017 was 5.4 million. Low-cost houses and flats accounted for 21% or 1.15 million of the total.

Some may question whether the number of low-cost homes is sufficient. However, there may be some “leakages” or misallocation in the previous distribution system that caused qualified applicants to face difficulties when buying or renting a low-cost home.

Many years ago, The Star reported that thousands of government housing units in Kuala Lumpur were being sub-let to third parties at five times above the control rental price. It stated that the number of applicants for low-cost units in Kuala Lumpur had reached 26,000, and that many of them had been on the waiting list for more than a decade.

It was even rumoured that some low-cost housing units across Malaysia were sold to political nominees, instead of going towards the rakyat who really couldn’t afford housing. If this practice did actually happen, it is disgusting and should be reviewed.

It is timely for the new government to inspect whether our low-cost homes have fallen into the wrong hands. It is essential to repair the allocation system and stop any form of corruption while building more low cost and affordable homes.

The new government’s manifesto to coordinate a unified and open database on affordable housing, can be one of the solutions to the matter.

In addition, the idea of managing a rent-to-own scheme for lower income groups is a positive measure to encourage residents to take care of their houses, as they will eventually own them.

I am glad to see the manifesto of the new government addressing many areas of concern in building homes for the rakyat. We understand that it takes time to implement these new measures. The rakyat will need to be patient for these new measures to reap their full results. We hope that a fresh start in the right direction will finally shine some light at the end of the tunnel.

By Alan Tong – Food for thought

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the World President of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please email feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
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A challenging year ahead

Malaysia’s RM1.09 trillion debt, 80.3% of GDP demystified


Analysts say new government needs to quickly introduce measures to reduce the country’s liabilities

ASSUMING the government repays its debt by RM1mil a day, it would take Malaysia 2,979 years to pay off its debts.

Malaysia’s new Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad revealed on May 21 that the country’s debt level has breached the RM1 trillion mark during his first address to civil servants.

The statement, which was nothing less than alarming, has since raised concerns among Malaysians on the country’s fiscal sustainability. Bursa Malaysia was hammered for four consecutive days, as investors frantically sold off their stakes.

The benchmark FBM KLCI saw the biggest year-to-date decline on May 23, tumbling by 40.78 points or 2.21% to 1,804.25 points.

Total gains made by the index this year were all wiped out in just four days following Dr Mahathir’s announcement.

The ringgit, which has weakened since early April, continues to decline as concerns on public debt loom.

Big impact: The benchmark FBM KLCI saw the biggest year-to-date decline on May 23, tumbling by 40.78 points or 2.21 to 1,804.25 points.
An economist tells StarBizWeek that Dr Mahathir’s public announcement on the high debt figure is “not helping”, as anxiety intensifies among Malaysians and in the market.

For context, Malaysia’s real gross domestic product (GDP), an indicator of the size of economy, was RM1.35 trillion as at end-2017 – close to the said RM1 trillion debt amount.

Meanwhile, the federal government’s revenue this year is projected at RM239.9bil as per Budget 2018.

Several critics, including Umno Youth deputy chief Khairul Azwan Harun, claim that Dr Mahathir’s statement on the federal government debt was exaggerated and far-fetched.

AmBank Group chief economist Anthony Dass says that although the current scenario shows some signs of similarities to the 1997/98 Asian Financial Crisis, he would not conclude that the current fiscal condition is somewhat similar to the downturn 20 years ago.

At a glance, the “RM1 trillion debt” remark stands in sharp contrast to Bank Negara’s debt tally of RM686.8bil as at end-2017, putting the federal government’s debt-to-GDP ratio at 50.8% – lower than the 55% self-imposed debt limit.

Dr Mahathir refutes this, saying that the national debt-to-GDP ratio has shot up to 65.4%. A day after his announcement, Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng put the ratio at 80.3% of GDP, or about RM1.09 trillion in debt as at end-2017.

Why is there such an obvious difference in the debt amount now that a new government is in place?

Here is where “creative accounting” comes into play.

The lower official debt figures released under the previous Barisan Nasional government had excluded the contingent liabilities and several other major “hidden” debts from the direct liabilities, which amounted to RM686.8bil as at end-2017.

Contingent liabilities, which were released separately prior to this, basically refer to government-guaranteed debt and do not appear on the country’s balance sheet. Examples of contingent liabilities are the loans under the National Higher Education Fund Corp (PTPTN) and certain debt of the controversial 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

As at end-2017, Malaysia’s contingent liabilities stood at RM238bil.

Funding for several government mega-projects such as the mass rapid transit (MRT) projects was also categorised as contingent liabilities. The MRT lines were funded by DanaInfra Nasional Bhd, the government’s special funding vehicle for infrastructure projects.

DanaInfra raises money from the market through sukuk, which are, in turn, guaranteed by the government. The guaranteed amount is classified as a contingent liability.

In the event of less-than-expected revenue collection from the MRT lines moving forward, the government will have to intervene to repay the sukuk holders.

The current ruling government believes that RM199.1bil out of the RM238bil contingent liabilities deserves attention to ensure proper debt repayment.

The 1MDB alone comes with an estimated contingent liability of RM38bil.

High figure: The 1MDB alone comes with an estimated contingent liability of RM38bil. — Reuters
High figure: The 1MDB alone comes with an estimated contingent liability of RM38bil. — Reuters 

On the remaining government guarantees, the Finance Ministry says they have been provided by “entities which are able to service their debts such as Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Tenaga Nasional Bhd and MIDF”.

Apart from contingent liabilities, there are several major “hidden” debts, which do not fall under both direct liabilities and contingent liabilities.

An economist with a leading investment bank in Malaysia calls the debts “off-off-balance sheet” government debt.

These are the future commitments of the federal government to make lease payments for public-private partnership projects such as schools, roads and hospitals.

Examples of such debt would include the debt of Pembinaan PFI Sdn Bhd, a company owned by the Finance Ministry. Pembinaan PFI was established in 2006 under the previous Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi administration to source financing to undertake government construction projects.

According to its latest available financial statement for 2014, Pembinaan PFI held a total debt of RM28.75bil.

Interestingly, at end-2012, the company’s debt was the third highest among all government-owned entities, just behind Petronas (RM152bil) and Khazanah Nasional (RM69bil).

With no independently generated revenue, the interest payments on Pembinaan PFI’s debts would eventually come from the federal government’s coffers.

The Finance Ministry puts the debt under this third category at RM201.4bil.

All together, Malaysia’s debt and liabilities are said to amount to a total of RM1.09 trillion.

Actually, for those in the loop, the different debt categories and total liabilities are not something new.

Lawmakers from Pakatan Harapan, particularly current Bangi MP Ong Kian Ming, have alerted the authorities about the debt figures over that past few years.

Ong is also currently the special officer to the Finance Minister. The layman might ask, what was the former government’s relevance of classifying these debts into separate off-balance sheet items?

The motive is to make sure the national balance sheet looks healthy and lean.

Economists’ take

Many have questioned the new government’s move to lump contingent liabilities and debt obligations with the direct liabilities. It should be noted that as per the standard procedure of credit rating agencies, only the direct liabilities are taken into the calculation of the debt-to-GDP ratio.

In a StarBiz report this year, Moody’s Investors Service sovereign risk group assistant vice-president Anushka Shah said that by carving out certain expenditures off its budget, the government would be able to optimise its expenditure profile and minimise the associated impacts from its spending.

However, she pointed out that Malaysia’s federal government debt burden remains elevated at 51%, relatively higher than the median of other A-rated sovereign states at 41%.

On the country’s contingent liabilities, Anushka described them as “low-risk” at the current level, and added that the government has been prudent and careful in managing the guaranteed debts.

“We find that the government has adopted rigorous selection criteria when it grants the guarantees to the respective entities.

“The companies which have received guarantees from the government are relatively healthy and have strong balance sheet positions,” she said.

Ever since Dr Mahathir shocked the market with the “RM1 trillion debt” remark, the focus among Malaysians has largely centred on the nominal value of the debt.

A greater emphasis should instead be given on “debt sustainability”, which basically refers to the growth of debt against the growth of the economy.

Economists who spoke to StarBizWeek have mixed opinions on the level of seriousness of Malaysia’s public debt problem.

Suhaimi: Malaysia’s debt has risen faster than economic growth.
Suhaimi: Malaysia’s debt has risen faster

than economic growth.

According to Maybank group chief economist Suhaimi Ilias, Malaysia’s debt has risen faster than economic growth over the last 10 years.
“In the past decade, officially published government debt and government-guaranteed debt have risen by 10% and 14.5% per annum, respectively, faster than the nominal GDP growth of 7% per annum, which raises valid sustainability risk.“On the government’s debt service costs relative to the operating expenditure, the ratio was 12.7% as at end-2017 and based on Budget 2018 is projected to rise to 13.2%. It has been rising steadily from 9.5% in 2012.

“There is a 15% cap on this under the administrative fiscal rule, while the 11th Malaysia Plan target is to lower the ratio to 9.8% in 2020. The government is looking at the debt issue from this sustainability perspective in our opinion,” he says.

 

Lee: Malaysia’s rising public debt level warrants close monitoring.
Lee: Malaysia’s rising public debt level

warrants close monitoring.

Meanwhile, Socio-Economic Research Centre (SERC) executive director Lee Heng Guie says that various indicators of debt burden suggest that Malaysia’s rising public debt level warrants close monitoring to contain the long-term risks of fiscal and debt sustainability.

“High levels of government debt over a sustained period will have economic and financial ramifications over the longer term. Rising public debt could crowd out private capital formation and, therefore, productivity growth.

“This occurs through the competition for domestic liquidity, higher interest rates, a shifting of resources away from the private sector or investment in low-impact projects. This situation is made worse if the government wastes borrowed money on unnecessary projects,” he tells StarBizWeek.

In contrast to Suhaimi and Lee, Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd chief economist Manokaran Mottain points out that Malaysia’s debt sustainability scenario is yet to be a cause for concern.

 

Manokaran: Debt sustainability scenario is yet to be a cause for concern.
Manokaran: Debt sustainability scenario is

yet to be a cause for concern.

This is because debt repayments are made on an annual basis as opposed to a colossal one-off payment of RM1 trillion.

“Malaysia’s economic growth of above 5% is sufficient to cover government debt. As long as the economy is growing while the government is able to service the debt charges, it is not really that alarming.

“Even in the United States, the government debt-to-GDP level exceeds 100% at US$21 trillion against the real GDP of US$18.57 trillion,” he says.

Manokaran adds that while total government debt has risen over the years, Malaysia’s annual debt growth rate has been growing slower in recent years.

Deleveraging Malaysia

The government must now move fast to introduce measures to reduce and manage the country’s debt levels. This is highly crucial in assuring creditors and investors that the country’s fiscal health remains uncompromised.

Given the fact that the world is currently at the tail-end of the 10-year economic cycle, it is timely for the government to focus on its ability to fulfil its debt obligations.

In the event of an economic turmoil, a heavily-indebted country would be adversely affected.

Lim has emphasised the federal government’s commitment to honour all of the country’s debts.

“This new government puts the interest of the people first, and hence, it is necessary to bite the bullet now, work hard to solve our problems, rather than let it explode in our faces at a later date,” he said in a statement earlier.

Economists believe that the government must strictly embark on reforming the national expenditure in carrying out debt consolidation.

This includes cutting down on unnecessary expenditure, plugging leakages in the federal government’s finances and containing public-sector wage bills.

Lee has recommended an overhaul the current pension system, considering the unsustainable current trend.

“On revenue reform, the design of tax policy should be fair and equitable in order to be sustainable.

“The push for a wide and investment-friendly reform to boost potential growth should be expedited, as strong investment and economic growth has a huge effect on enhancing revenue growth and reducing public debt.

“On budget planning and development, an oversight body needs to be set up to ensure better fiscal rules, budgetary processes and closer fiscal monitoring to ensure fiscal discipline,” says Lee.

Manokaran says the new government should consider expenditure cuts through the privatisation and reformation of the numerous government-linked corporations, as well as the reduction in size and budget allocation of the Prime Minister’s Office.

On the national mega-infrastructure projects, Manokaran and Suhaimi say that the renegotiation and review of such projects will be vital in managing future debt growth.

Time will tell whether the government can live up to its promise of reducing the public debt dilemma. Pakatan must now balance its “populist” electoral promises and stellar fiscal management policies.

As for now, the government deserves to be complimented for calling a spade a spade, acknowledging the problem at hand.

By ganeshwaran kana The Star

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Robert Quok, Richest Malaysian Back Home


All ears: Bai Tian listening to Kuok during their meeting

 

PETALING JAYA: The return of billionaire Robert Kuok to Malaysia sends an important message that the Government is getting advice from highly-respected experts, a move that could instil confidence and optimism among the business community and the public, say economists.

Prof Dr Yeah Kim Leng said it was reassuring that the Government is listening to the views of a tycoon who has a thorough understanding of the history, as well as the economic and business landscapes of Malaysia and the region.

“We now know that whatever new policies or changes introduced would have been passed through or reviewed by Kuok and the panel of experts.

“We are in safe hands. We are able to secure the best advice. It is comforting and reassuring,” the Sunway University Business School economics professor said.

Kuok, 94, was named as a member of the Council of Eminent Persons (CEP) by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad to help shape policies and programmes to achieve Pakatan Harapan’s 100-day promises.

Headed by former Finance Minister Tun Daim Zainuddin, the CEP also includes former Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz, former Petronas CEO Tan Sri Hassan Marican and renowned economist Prof Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

Kuok, who resides in Hong Kong, returned to Malaysia to attend his first CEP meeting on Tuesday.

Speaking to reporters later, he urged Malaysians to trust the council.

Yesterday, a video of Kuok meeting Dr Mahathir was uploaded on Kelab Che Det’s Facebook page.

He was seen saluting Dr Mahathir, saying: “I salute you. You saved the country.”

Socio-Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie said Kuok and the other eminent persons conveyed a message that the Government was bent on making Malaysia better, more competitive and credible.

“Kuok is a prominent and respected entrepreneur. We can tap into his vast experiences in the corporate world. This will benefit Malaysia,” he said.

Lee expected Kuok to give his fair advice to the Government on how to ensure foreign investors would pour in to place Malaysia in the top of the list for investments.

Meanwhile, on the Government’s decision to review projects approved by the previous government – of which a substantial number of projects involved Chinese private and government-linked entities – Dr Yeah said Kuok could serve as the bridge between both countries.

“Some of the mega projects will likely see a need for a third party to intervene. Kuok will be an excellent intermediary.

“Investors will be more comforted if we have a intermediary that is able to facilitate discussion or smoothen out frictions if there is any,” he said, adding that this was to ensure the ties remained strong and not derailed should there be any hard decisions that needed to be taken.

Separately, China’s ambassador to Malaysia Bai Tian met with Kuok yesterday.

In an official statement, Bai spoke highly of the 94-year-old billionaire’s contributions to the development of Malaysia and the progress of China-Malaysia relations.

“He expects that Kuok would continue to contribute to the future development of China-Malaysia cooperation,” the statement said.

During the meeting, both of them agreed that friendly cooperation between China and Malaysia is in the fundamental interests of the two countries and their people.

“They believe that, as an important country along the 21st century maritime silk road under the Belt and Road Initiative, Malaysia could further benefit from mutually-beneficial and win-win cooperation with China.

“They recall the sound development of bilateral relations during Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s last service as Prime Minister, and are both confident that during the term of the new government, China-Malaysia relations will achieve greater progress,” it added. – The Star

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Robert Kuok to arrive in Malaysia next week

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China buyers eyeing Penang property in growing tourism


Worthy investment: Mah Sing sales executive Victor Cheah (left) introducing the M Vista project to visitors at StarProperty.my Fair in Queensbay Mall, Penang.
Visitors checking out MTT Properties &  Development Sdn Bhd’s Botanica CT Centre during the StarProperty.my Fair in Queensbay Mall, Penang.

PENANG recently come under the radar of investors from China, said Property Talk principal Steven Cheah.

“It used to be Australia that attracted their interests, but now it is Penang. So, we can expect to see potential house buyers from China at the fair,” he said.

Cheah was speaking at the sideline of the StarProperty.my Fair 2018 which opened at Queensbay Mall yesterday and will end on Sunday.

He said the China investors were interested in high-rise properties near the sea priced at around RM1mil to RM2mil.

Cheah added that house buyers were now more selective due to higher interest rates.

“Most of them will be paying attention to the new launches in the southwest district and in Seberang Prai, where it is still possible to find properties priced below RM500,000,” he said.

Cheah said with the right location, good road connectivity, product type and concept, demand for properties in Penang would still be strong.

Potential house buyers checking out BinWan Development Sdn Bhd’s Gelugor Heights during StarProperty.my Fair in Queensbay Mall, Penang. Potential house buyers checking out BinWan Development Sdn Bhd’s Gelugor Heights during StarProperty.my Fair in Queensbay Mall, Penang.

“Malaysia’s strong fundamentals augur well for the outlook going forward.

“Malaysia’s population is young with an average age of 30 to 31 years old, and many people are still looking to start a family. This is a good sign for the property market.

“There will be weaknesses in between as the market is adjusting to the supply and demand situation.

“From the medium to long term perspective, property is still one of the choice investments preferred by investors,” he said.

Meanwhile, Yew Chor Hian, who hails from Kedah, said he was interested in a high-rise property priced at around RM600,000.

“I work in Bayan Baru, so I am interested to stay on the island.

Visitors renewing The Star newspaper subscription at The Star info counter at the fair.
Visitors renewing The Star newspaper subscription at The Star info counter at the fair.

“The size and location are important to me,” he added.

Australian Ray Stubb said he was looking for a high-rise condominium.

“We are interested in getting a unit near the sea,” he said.

A total of 17 exhibitors are displaying their products at the fair, of which 15 are developers.

The developers are SPNB Aspirasi Sdn Bhd, Mah Sing Group Bhd, Ewein Zenith Sdn Bhd, Iconic Land Sdn Bhd, Regata Maju Sdn Bhd, JKP Sdn Bhd, SP Setia Bhd, MTT Properties & Development, Galeri Tropika Sdn Bhd, Devoteshens Sdn Bhd, Binwan Development Sdn Bhd, Bertam Properties Sdn Bhd, Corfield Development Sdn Bhd, Penang Development Corporation and Pembangunan Rasa Sempurna Sdn Bhd.

The other two exhibitors are Property Talk, a Penang-based real estate agency, and East West One Marketing Sdn Bhd, which is an oil palm investment company.

The Star by David Tanby david Tan

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Residential property sales improves, but overhang situation 

“The market is still soft, but things are improving following the strong economic growth in 2017,” Nordin(inset picture) told reporters after the launch of the Property Market Report 2017 here yesterday

“The market is still soft, but things are improving following the strong economic growth in 2017,” Nordin(inset picture) told reporters after the launch of the Property Market Report 2017 here yesterday

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 Bringing smiles to house buyers

Tycoon Robert Kuok stands tall amid the bashings from Umno leaders


Well-regarded: Kuok in his office in Hong Kong. Picture taken from ‘Robert Kuok: A Memoir’.

 

DURING the two week-Chinese New Year celebrations, with the tossing of yee sang for better times ahead, the key topic of conversation among the Chinese revolved around the general election.

But the sudden eruption of high-level political attacks on Robert Kuok last weekend sent shockwaves through the community. Since then, the richest man in Malaysia has been the talk of the town.

The onslaught could not be taken lightly as Kuok is not just any ordinary businessman but someone of stature held in high esteem not only in Malaysia and China, but also by the global Chinese community.

It is a known fact that Kuok helped to lay the groundwork for the end of communist insurgency in Malaysia, played a role in easing racial tension after the May 13 racial riots and contributed funds to Umno and MCA during elections.

His generous donations have benefited the poor and rich.

Kuok has always stood tall among everyone.

Dubbed the “Sugar King of Asia”, Kuok has set up a huge international empire with businesses spanning from commodity trading to hotels, sugar and oil palm plantations, wheat flour milling, property development and entertainment.

In Malaysia, he retains control of Shangri-La Hotels and the wheat flour business after selling his sugar and property businesses.

Hence, the Chinese community here feels hurt to see their business icon being smeared based on hearsay. They see grave injustice done to this man whose loyalty and commitment to the country is being questioned.

However, due to suspicion that the whole episode could be a politically driven scheme ahead of GE14 for various reasons, Chinese community leaders only spoke up after Kuok defended himself.

While many are aware that Kuok’s recent memoir had irked some quarters due to his disdain for the New Economic Policy (1971-90), they are perplexed by the timing of this smear campaign.

Kuok’s political revelations in his book have also earned him brickbats from some people.

This round, the criticisms against the tycoon were based on three articles posted by blogger Raja Petra Kamaruddin on the online portal Malaysia Today.

The most startling allegation made by the controversial blogger, who has a record of stirring up racial hatred towards local Chinese in past writings, was that Kuok had donated hundreds of millions to the DAP in a bid to overthrow the Umno-led government.

Without verifying the content, Malay critics and senior Umno politicians told Kuok to be grateful to the Government as the tycoon had built his early sugar, rice and flour empire based on his good ties with Umno leaders.

The remarks by Tourism and Culture Minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz were particularly scathing, as crude and offensive words were used. In addition, he told Kuok to surrender his citizenship.

The critics might have misconstrued earlier statements by Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, who had said that some of the richest people, including Kuok, owed their success to opportunities created through government policies.

“If we look at the list of names of the richest people in Malaysia, such as Robert Kuok, who gave him the key to become the rice and sugar king? It was given to him by the ruling government,” said the Prime Minister at an event in Selangor on Feb 24.

“Yes, he is driven, hardworking, industrious and disciplined – but that is not enough. Everyone still needs the key to creating these opportunities,” he added.

Although DAP leaders promptly denied receiving money from Kuok, this failed to stop the tirade of aspersions cast against Kuok.

It was obvious that Kuok had to defend himself. He issued a statement last Monday, saying all allegations against him were “untrue, unjustified and amounted to libel”.

The 94-year-old Kuok, who moved his business headquarters from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong in 1975, denied funding The Malaysian Insight portal or opposition parties to overthrow the Government.

He also denied that he was anti-government, a racist or a Chinese chauvinist.

While Kuok’s hint of instituting libel suits might have some deterrent effect, the proposal by MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai to the Prime Minister to intervene in the matter could have shut the mouths of Umno leaders.

Liow tweeted: “I have conveyed the feelings of the Chinese community to the PM. We hope that the PM will intervene to put this issue to rest. Mr Kuok has contributed greatly towards the development of the nation.”

If the vicious attacks on Kuok were allowed to continue, the first casualty in GE14 could be MCA and Gerakan, and ultimately Barisan Nasional, as angry Chinese could be provoked to vote against the coalition in GE14.

And the unintended winner from this latest episode could be the opposition side.

The question now is: Faced with so many challenges in the coming polls, could Barisan afford to sow a new seed of discontent and allow it to germinate unchecked?

The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement, saying Kuok’s success is “an inspiration” for other entrepreneurs.

Though this brief statement and its “cooling effect” came a bit late in the political sense, it was better than nothing.

In addition, a tribute to Kuok posted by Najib’s brother Datuk Seri Nazir Razak on Instagram is also a comfort to the Chinese.

“I may not agree with all his views but he (Kuok) is a patriot, the icon of Malaysian business and a first-class gentleman,” said Nazir, the chairman of CIMB Group Holdings Bhd last Wednesday.

However, the injustice done to Kuok on such a scale is unlikely to be forgotten soon, as this incident has also stirred up some debates.

Is there any hidden political agenda to vilify Kuok before GE14? Do successful businessmen owe their allegiance to ruling political parties? Is it morally wrong to change your political stand?

Dr Oh Ei Sun, former political secretary of Najib, offers some explanations to Sunday Star: “Robert Kuok has shown his contempt for the NEP in his book. This may be seen as questioning Malay supremacy and this attitude must be nipped in the bud.”

He adds that Kuok may not be forgiven for stating the obvious, which many Chinese have wanted to voice out but could not for fear of losing business opportunities.

In his memoir, Kuok stated that although the Chinese have played a significant role in the economic development of Malaysia and other South-East Asian nations, many did not receive just and fair treatment.

Sin Chew Daily, quoting unnamed Barisan sources, says the bashing of Kuok also carried a warning message to the business community to think twice before they contribute election funds to opposition parties.

“These attacks also sent a message to the Malay community that they must be united to support Umno, which is being ditched by others it has helped to prosper,” said the Sin Chew report last Thursday.

Although a life member of the MCA, businessman Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew believes people owe no loyalty to political parties.

He tells Sunday Star: “A businessman is expected to be loyal to his country, not to ruling parties. Politicians and political parties come and go.

“Whoever becomes the government has a duty to create a conducive environment for the people to prosper and live harmoniously. If politicians are not worthy of support, people are free to switch their political stand in a democracy.”

Apart from ordinary people, the business community is also watching developments linked to Kuok with concern.

“If the issue on Robert Kuok is not handled properly, there will be a negative impact on the sentiment of investors. We are all following these developments,” says a businessman at a CNY dinner.

by Ho Wah Foon, The Star

Related Posts:

https://youtu.be/cCoO3JEKZ48 PETALING JAYA: The recent attacks against multi-billionaire Robert Kuok, including those from Umno leader..

Malaysia’s Corruption Perception Index worsen seven rungs


Lawyers participating in a peaceful rally, calling for the Sedition Act
to be repealed, in Kuala Lumpur in 2014. The law was used in the same
year against, among others, a student activist, and another seven
people, including a journalist, were being investigated under the act. –
EPA pic, February 22, 2018.

Need to relook whistleblowing laws

KUALA LUMPUR: The recent conviction of a whistleblower and the absence of political financing laws are among the reasons that affected Malaysia’s global anti-corruption scores, Transparency InternationaI Malaysia (TI-M) president Datuk Akhbar Satar said when presenting the 2017 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) today.

Malaysia ranked 62 among 180 countries in the CPI last year, dropping from 55th spot in 2016.

The index put Malaysia in the same spot as Cuba, with a score of 47 out of 100.

In 2016, Malaysia ranked 55 with a score of 49.

The CPI is a global aggregate index capturing corruption perception in the public sector worldwide based on expert opinions using a scale of 0-100, with a smaller score denomination denoting a higher level of corruption.

“This is the worst score in the last five years and the lowest ranking since CPI was introduced in 1994.”

Akhbar said contributing factors to such poor perception of Malaysia include unresolved cases involving 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), absence of political financing laws and corporate liability provisions in anti-graft laws.

“The reason is simple … the 1MDB and SRC International Sdn Bhd issues, Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd scandal and also the conviction of PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli for whistleblowing.”

Akhbar stressed that Malaysia has to relook into its whistleblowing laws to ensure there is proper protection for those who expose corrupt activities.

“It is very sad that whistleblowers get arrested and punished here when most other countries have tried to enact whistleblowing laws to protect them.

“Here, we are at the opposites. If you don’t comply with the whistleblowing policy and use the media to expose corruption, then you are not protected.

The top five countries in the 2017 index were New Zealand (89) and Denmark (88), followed by Finland, Norway and Switzerland (85).

The index also revealed that more than two-thirds of countries worldwide scored below 50, with an average score of 43.

Countries at the bottom of the index were Yemen, Sudan, Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan and Somalia.

Meanwhile, MACC honorary commissioner and former TI-M president Tan Sri Ramon Navaratnam expressed disappointment on Malaysia’s score.

“All the good work done by MACC to robustly fight corruption has been negated by the apparent inability to do more to contain ‘grand corruption’, which matters in the view of TI,” he said.
By Karen Arukesamy newsdesk@thesundaily.com

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Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 

https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2017

This year’s Corruption Perceptions Index highlights that the majority of countries are making little or no progress in ending corruption, while further analysis shows journalists and activists in corrupt countries risking their lives every day in an effort to speak out.

The index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. This year, the index found that more than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with an average score of 43. Unfortunately, compared to recent years, this poor performance is nothing new.

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http://www.transparency.org/cpi2017

This year, New Zealand and Denmark rank highest with scores of 89 and 88 respectively. Syria, South Sudan and Somalia rank lowest with scores of 14, 12 and 9 respectively. The best performing region is Western Europe with an average score of 66. The worst performing regions are Sub-Saharan Africa (average score 32) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (average score 34).

Download CPI 2017 XLSX dataset

Since 2012, several countries significantly improved their index score, including Côte d’Ivoire, Senegal and the United Kingdom, while several countries declined, including Syria, Yemen and Australia.

Research analysis

Further analysis of the results indicates that countries with the least protection for press and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also tend to have the worst rates of corruption.

Every week at least one journalist is killed in a country that is highly corrupt.

The analysis, which incorporates data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, shows that in the last six years, more than 9 out of 10 journalists were killed in countries that score 45 or less on the index.

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