The rail economics of East Coast Rail Link (ECRL)


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Rail link seen as game changer but cost is a concern.

TOK Bali, a fishing village in Kelantan with its beautiful sandy beaches and pristine blue waters has long been a hidden gem among well-travelled backpackers. But that may soon change. The idyllic town is one that is touted to potentially become a tourist hotspot, as it sits along the alignment of the East Coast Rail Link (ECRL), a multi-billion infrastructure project that promises many economic spin-offs.

After almost a decade in planning, ECRL was launched with great pomp this week.

Touted as a key game-changer for the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia, the interstate ECRL is expected to help the economy of the four states that it covers by an additional 1.5% per year over the next 50 years.

On a micro level, more employment opportunities, particularly skilled jobs, will be made available to Malaysians. Domestic industry players especially in the construction sector, can now anticipate construction contracts to the tune of RM16bil, at least.

   
Another milstone:Najib checking out a train model at the ground-breaking ceremony this week.He called ECRL ‘another milestore in the country’s land public transport history”.

The ECRL is expected to benefit freight transport because it would link key economic and industrial areas within the East Coast Economic Region such as the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park, Gambang Halal Park, Kertih Biopolymer Park and Tok Bali Integrated Fisheries Park to both Kuantan Port and Port Klang.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak called it “another milestone in the country’s land public transport history”.

Despite the much highlighted economic benefits from the rail network, the venture is attracting its own share of controversies from the way the contract was awarded to the price of contract.

For one, China’s state-owned China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) has been appointed for the construction of ECRL via a direct negotiation method.

Detractors have labelled ECRL – at a cost of RM80mil per kilometre – as the world’s costliest rail project. Note that, the Gemas-Johor Baru double-tracking stretch costs RM45mil per km.

ECRL, however, will go over hilly terrain and has several tunnels to be built.

There are questions on whether the 688km rail venture, at RM55bil, will be financially feasible.

Sources say the price tag is unlikely to have included land acquisition costs.

They indicate that close to half of the land plots required for the rail link sit on private land and would require land acquisition. At this point, the total land acquisition cost is unknown.

No money in rail

The concerns of the critics are understandable, given the fact that public infrastructure projects, namely rail projects are usually not commercially viable.

A quick check on the finances of Malaysia’s very own Keretapi Tanah Melayu Bhd (KTMB) and a number of major rail operators abroad, affirms the fact that rail projects do not promise easy money.

The loss-making KTMB which was corporatised in 1992, has not been able to financially sustain itself, resulting in the deterioration of its level of service despite attempts to turn around the company.

According to the railway service operator’s latest publicly available audited report for financial year 2013, the group registered a total net loss of RM128.2mil. However, note that, the net loss had narrowed by 46% from RM238.5mil in the previous year.

Had it not been for the government’s subsidy which kept it afloat, KTMB would find it difficult to continue its operations without a further raise of its fare.

In India, where railway is a favoured mode of transportation, the Indian Railways has been incurring losses on passenger operations every year. Earlier this year, the lower chamber of the Indian parliament was told that the state-owned rail operator recorded a loss of Rs359.18bil (RM24.04bil) in the period of 2015 to 2016.

This was slightly higher than its loss of Rs334.91bil (RM22.42bil) in the period of 2014-2015.

On the other hand, China’s state-owned rail operator, China Railway Corp, was reported to have recorded a 58% increase in earnings last year despite huge losses in the first nine months. However, a zoom into its finances reveals that the high profit made was only possible due to a significant annual government subsidy.

Similarly, Singapore’s SMRT Corp which manages the city-state’s rail operations posted a profit of S$7.4mil (RM23.33mil) in its financial year of 2016. This was on the back of a revenue of S$681mil (RM2.15bil), which rose by 4.1% year-on-year.

While the rail operations saw higher ridership in that year, SMRT Corp would have registered a loss of S$9.6mil (RM30.26mil) for its rail business, if not for the net property tax refund of S$17.1mil (RM53.9mil).

Considering the lack of commercial viability in such rail projects, ECRL would ultimately require assistance from the government in ensuring smooth operations, while maintaining an affordable service for its users. This is akin a crucial trade-off, to complement the government’s move to provide an integrated transportation system in Malaysia, which is long overdue.

AmBank Group’s chief economist Anthony Dass tells StarBizWeek that for every ringgit spent on capital projects such as transportation, it generates a return or multiplier effect of around 5% to 20%.

In his estimation, he says the ECRL should create around RM50-55bil in terms of gross domestic product.

“The impact of this project to the economy will be multilevel. Impact on the respective states’ GDP and national GDP will be evident, though the magnitude of the impact on the respective states is poised to vary.

“On a longer term, once the entire project is completed, we expect strong benefits seeping into services related activities. Properties in the major towns is likely to enjoy more especially the port-connected towns, driven by logistics- and trade-related businesses.

“Other areas would benefit from the movement of tourism. As for the smaller towns, they are more likely to enjoy from the spillovers of this connectivity through movement of people commuting to work and new areas of business growth especially in areas like the small and medium businesses,” says Anthony.

High cargo projections

By the year 2040, an estimated 8 million passengers and 53 million tonnes of cargo are expected to use the ECRL service annually as the primary transport between the east coast and west coast.

By 2040, ECRL is projected to support a freight density of 19 million tonnes.

The freight cargo projections of the rail network stands in stark contrast to the total cargo volume running through the entire Malaysian railways today.

As of 2015, the entire Malaysian railways operations handled a sum of 6.21 million tons of cargo, according to a study related to the ECRL.

To note, the revenue from the operation of the venture is projected to be obtained through a transportation ratio of 30% passengers and 70% freight.

If the projections of ECRL are anything to go by, the planners are anticipating a ballistic growth in volume of cargo being moved along the tracks.

Is this realistic?

Socio Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie remains concerned on the details of the project financing, albeit the expected trickle-down benefits of ECRL.

“While ECRL has been identified as a high impact public transport project that will connect east coast states with the west coast, especially Greater KL and Klang Valley, the high cost of RM55bil requires further justification. More clarity on the cost structure and terms and conditions of the loan is needed to ease public genuine concerns.

“It must be noted that the high costs, low profits and long gestation periods of transportation projects do not always make them financially viable. The financial viability of the ECRL would depend on the revenue generated to cover operating cash flow, including interest expenses.

“As the loan will have a seven year moratorium, the bunching of loan repayment together with interest payment will be substantial in the remaining 13 years,” he says.

Lowering cost the key

In terms of funding, 85% of the total project value of RM55bil would be to be funded by Exim Bank of China’s through a soft loan at a 3.25% interest.

The balance 15% would be financed through a sukuk programme by local banks.

There is no payment for the first seven years, and the government starts paying after the seventh year over a 13-year period.

At 3.25% interest per annum, the interest servicing bill for the project is huge.

“Hence the main challenge to this project will be to bring down cost as low as possible. The lower the cost, the lesser it would be the burden on the government’s balance sheet,” says an industry player.

Echoing a similar view, Lee noted the ERCL project loan is expected to be treated as “contingent liability” as it will be taken by Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd, a special purpose vehicle owned by the Ministry of Finance.

This is also to ensure that the Federal Government will not breach the self-imposed debt to GDP ratio of 55%.

As at end-March 2017, the Federal Government’s debt stood at RM664.5bil or 50.2% of GDP.

At the end of the day, despite the concerns on the possible cost overrun in the ECRL project, proper management and efficiency in project delivery could lead to cost savings and ultimately lower overall expenditure for ECRL.

History has shown that Malaysian companies can lower the cost, especially on rail projects compared to foreign players.

In the late 1990s, a consortium of India and China state-owned companies were awarded the contract to build a double track electrified railway system from Padang Besar to Johor Baru. The cost was estimated at RM44bil and paid through crude palm oil.

However, an MMC Corp Bhd-Gamuda Bhd joint venture managed to win the job in 2003 with a RM14.3bil proposal. However this project was shelved and subsequently continued after a lull of few years.

ECRL is a seven year project to be built in stages. Many factors can come into play in that period like delay in construction and rise in material costs.

However in the bigger picture, the infrastructure venture should not merely be seen from a commercial-viable lens alone. The trickle-down benefits on the economy and the Malaysian population should also be factored into the calculations.

The lower the cost, the higher the multiplier effect.

Source: The Star by ganeshwaran kanaandgurmeet kaur

Related Link:
Debate on ECRL

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Fake news, piracy and digital duopoly of Google and Facebook


“FAKE NEWS” has seemingly, suddenly, become fashionable. In reality, the fake has proliferated for a decade or more, but the faux, the flawed and the fraudulent are now pressing issues because the full scale of the changes wrought upon the integrity of news and advertising by the digital duopoly — Google and Facebook — has become far more obvious.

Google’s commodification of content knowingly, wilfully undermined provenance for profit. That was followed by the Facebook stream, with its journalistic jetsam and fake flotsam. Together, the two most powerful news publishers in human history have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive.

Both companies could have done far more to highlight that there is a hierarchy of content, but instead they have prospered mightily by peddling a flat-earth philosophy that doesn’t distinguish between the fake and the real because they make copious amounts of money from both.

Depending on which source you believe, they have close to two-thirds of the digital advertising market — and let me be clear that we compete with them for that share. The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates they accounted for more than 90% of the incremental increase in digital advertising over the past year. The only cost of content for these companies has been lucrative contracts for lobbyists and lawyers, but the social cost of that strategy is far more profound.

It is beyond risible that Google and its subsidiary YouTube, which have earned many billions of dollars from other people’s content, should now be lamenting that they can’t possibly be held responsible for monitoring that content. Monetising yes, monitoring no — but it turns out that free money does come at a price.

We all have to work with these companies, and we are hoping, mostly against hope, that they will finally take meaningful action, not only to allow premium content models that fund premium journalism, but also to purge their sites of the rampant piracy that undermines creativity. Your business model can’t be simultaneously based on both intimate, granular details about users and no clue whatsoever about rather obvious pirate sites.

Another area that urgently needs much attention is the algorithms that Silicon Valley companies, and Amazon, routinely cite as a supposedly objective source of wisdom and insight. These algorithms are obviously set, tuned and repeatedly adjusted to suit their commercial needs. Yet they also blame autonomous, anarchic algorithms and not themselves when neofascist content surfaces or when a search leads to obviously biased results in favour of their own products.

Look at how Google games searches. A study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that in 25,000 random Google searches ads for Google products appeared in the most prominent slot 91% of the time. How is that not the unfair leveraging of search dominance and the abuse of algorithm? All 1,000 searches for “laptops” started with an ad for Google’s Chromebook — 100% of the time. Kim Jong Un would be envious of results like that at election time.

And then there are the recently launched Google snippets, which stylistically highlight search results as if they were written on stone tablets and carried down from the mountain. Their sheer visual physicality gives them apparent moral force. The word Orwellian is flagrantly abused, but when it comes to the all-powerful algorithms of Google, Amazon and Facebook, Orwellian is underused.

As for news, institutional neglect has left us perched on the edge of the slippery slope of censorship. There is no Silicon Valley tradition, as there is at great newspapers, of each day arguing over rights and wrongs, of fretful, thoughtful agonising over social responsibility and freedom of speech.

What we now have is a backlash with which these omnipotent companies are uniquely ill-equipped to cope. Their responses tend to be political and politically correct. Regardless of your own views, you should be concerned that we are entering an era in which these immensely influential publishers will routinely and selectively “unpublish” certain views and news.

We stumble into this egregious era at a moment when the political volume in many countries is turned to 10. The echo chamber has never been larger and the reverb room rarely more cacophonous. This is not an entirely new trend, but it has a compounding effect with the combination of “holier than thou” and “louder than thou.”

Curiously, this outcome is, in part, a result of the idealism of the Silicon Valley set, and there’s no doubt about the self-proclaimed ideals. They devoutly believe they are connecting people and informing them, which is true, even though some of the connections become conspiracies and much of the information is skimmed without concern to intellectual property rights.

Ideas aside, we were supposed to be in a magic age of metrics and data. Yet instead of perfect precision we have the cynical arbitraging of ambiguity — particularly in the world of audiences. Some advertising agencies are also clearly at fault because they, too, have been arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity as money in the ad business has shifted from actually making ads to aggregating digital audiences and ad tech, better known as fad tech.

And so, as the Times of London has reported, socially aware, image-conscious advertisers find themselves in extremely disreputable places — hardcore porn sites, neofascist sites, Islamist sites. The embarrassment for these advertisers juxtaposed with jaundice is understandable, but the situation is far more serious than mere loss of face.

If these sites are getting a cut of the commission, the advertisers are technically funding these nefarious activities. Depending on the type of advertising, it is estimated by the ad industry that a YouTube partner could earn about 55% of the revenue from a video. In recent years, how many millions of dollars have been channelled to organisations or individuals that are an existential threat to our societies?

Provenance is profound, and in this age of augmented reality and virtual reality, actual reality will surely make a comeback. Authenticated authenticity is an asset of increasing value in an age of the artificial — understanding the ebb and flow of humanity will not be based on fake news or ersatz empathy, but on real insight.

BY ROBERT THOMSON

Robert Thomson is the chief executive of News Corp, which owns The Australian and The Wall Street Journal. This is adapted from a speech he delivered on March 29 to the Asia Society in Hong Kong.

PETALING JAYA: The proliferation of fake news on social media has benefited publishers like Google and Facebook in terms of digital advertising market share at the expense of other media companies. News Corp chief executive Robert Thomson recently in his speech noted that Google and Facebook, for example, have close to two-thirds of the digital advertising market.

The Interactive Advertising Bureau estimates they accounted for more than 90% of the incremental increase in digital advertising over the past year, he said.

The only cost of content for these companies has been lucrative contracts for lobbyists and lawyers, he added, noting that the social cost of that strategy is far more profound.

Thomson said this during his speech to the Asia Society in Hong Kong on March 29.

News Corp is also the owner of The Australian and The Wall Street Journal. “Google’s commodification of content knowingly, wilfully undermined provenance for profit. That was followed by the Facebook stream, with its journalistic jetsam and fake flotsam.

Together, the two most powerful news publishers in human history have created an ecosystem that is dysfunctional and socially destructive,’’ he said.

Both companies, he said could have done far more to highlight that there is a hierarchy of content, but instead they have prospered mightily by peddling a flat-earth philosophy that doesn’t distinguish between the fake and the real because they make copious amounts of money from both.

“It is beyond risible that Google and its subsidiary YouTube, which have earned many billions of dollars from other people’s content, should now be lamenting that they can’t possibly be held responsible for monitoring that content. Monetising yes, monitoring no – but it turns out that free money does come at a price.

“We all have to work with these companies, and we are hoping, mostly against hope, that they will finally take meaningful action, not only to allow premium content models that fund premium journalism, but also to purge their sites of the rampant piracy that undermines creativity,” Thomson said.

In his speech, he also said although “fake news” has seemingly, suddenly, become fashionable but in reality, the fake has proliferated for a decade or more.

But the faux, the flawed and the fraudulent are now pressing issues because the full scale of the changes wrought upon the integrity of news and advertising by the digital duopoly — Google and Facebook — has become far more obvious, he said.

Thomson also highlighted on the urgency of algorithms. Another area, he said that urgently needs much attention is the algorithms that Silicon Valley companies, and Amazon, routinely cite as a supposedly objective source of wisdom and insight.

“These algorithms are obviously set, tuned and repeatedly adjusted to suit their commercial needs.

“Yet they also blame autonomous, anarchic algorithms and not themselves when neofascist content surfaces or when a search leads to obviously biased results in favour of their own products,’’ he said.

A study reported in The Wall Street Journal found that in 25,000 random Google searches ads for Google products appeared in the most prominent slot 91% of the time.

“How is that not the unfair leveraging of search dominance and the abuse of algorithm?” he asked. All 1,000 searches for “laptops” started with an ad for Google’s Chromebook – 100% of the time.

And then there are the recently launched Google snippets, which stylistically highlight search results as if they were written on stone tablets and carried down from the mountain. Their sheer visual physicality gives them apparent moral force, he said.

“The word Orwellian is flagrantly abused, but when it comes to the all-powerful algorithms of Google, Amazon and Facebook, Orwellian is underused,’’ he said.

Thomson said: “What we now have is a backlash with which these omnipotent companies are uniquely ill-equipped to cope. Their responses tend to be political and politically correct.

Regardless of your own views, you should be concerned that we are entering an era in which these immensely influential publishers will routinely and selectively “unpublish” certain views and news.

He also faulted ad agencies as they have been arbitraging and prospering from digital ambiguity as money in the ad business has shifted from actually making ads to aggregating digital audiences and ad tech, better known as fad tech.

“Provenance is profound, and in this age of augmented reality and virtual reality, actual reality will surely make a comeback. Authenticated authenticity is an asset of increasing value in an age of the artificial – understanding the ebb and flow of humanity will not be based on fake news or ersatz empathy, but on real insight,’’ he added.

Sources: Starbiz

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Landed residential properties much sought after with resilent demand, Market insights


CBRE|WTW managing director Foo Gee Jen (pic) said that in spite of confidence issues among property buyers, there was still good demand for “the right products,” especially for landed units.

PETALING JAYA: Demand for landed residential units is still promising despite the current property glut, said an official from a local real estate services provider.

CBRE|WTW managing director Foo Gee Jen (pic) said that in spite of confidence issues among property buyers, there was still good demand for “the right products,” especially for landed units.

“Despite the issue with the confidence levels, some developers are still registering good sales for landed and affordable homes. High rise developers meanwhile are having to offer a lot more freebies, with some even offering their own financing.

“But you don’t see that for landed property as the demand is still there,” he said at a press conference announcing the joint venture (JV) between real estate agencies CH Williams Talhar & Wong Sdn Bhd (WTW) and CBRE last week.

He emphasised that one of the biggest issues facing the current property sector is not oversupply, but instead a mismatch of supply and demand.

“Developers are putting the wrong products in the market and this is not what the masses want. The demand is there but it’s not the correct product. So the question is, how long will the market take to absorb (these products)?”

As an example of a mismatch between demand and supply, Foo cited low-cost housing in areas that were not accessible to the proper target audience.

“For instance, there are low-cost properties built in Bukit Beruntung. But the daily toll and fuel cost of travelling to Kuala Lumpur for work is heavy for the type of people living in such homes.

“Also, there are so many high-end shoebox units now and Malaysia is unlike Singapore or Hong Kong. We still have plenty of land. If you’re putting the right property in the right location – you’ll still see a long queue of people attending the launches.”

CBRE, the world’s largest commercial real estate services firm and a Fortune 500 company, announced yesterday that it had acquired a significant interest in Malaysia’s largest real estate service provider, WTW, WTW Real Estate Sdn Bhd and WTW Property Services Sdn Bhd.

The business will rebrand as CBRE|WTW effective immediately, with WTW holding a 51% stake in the JV. WTW network of 13 offices in Peninsula Malaysia.

CBRE Asia Pacific chief executive officer Steve Swerdlow said the collaboration was consistent with the firm’s strategy to grow in South-East Asia.

“At a time when planning is underway to link Malaysia and Singapore via high speed rail and with the Asean Economic Community and the Trans Pacific Partnership facilitating greater collaboration for both countries and their wider partner countries, this offers many opportunities for cross border activities when they arise.”

With CBRE as a strategic partner, Foo said the firm can now help its clients expand their activities beyond Malaysia, providing them with more options through a diverse means of expertise. “Conversely we can be a party to help bring greater meaningful inbound investments into the Malaysian market via the CBRE global network.”

By Eugene Mahalingam The Star

Top Story -market insights
An outlook on Malaysia’s property market

May 26, 2016
According to PropertyGuru’s Malaysia Property Market Sentiment
Survey Report H1 2016, things are expected to improve in 2016 as people
are warming up to the idea of purchasing properties.  

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Malaysia’s ringgit has done a stunning about-face as China starts buying Malaysian bonds


The market is saying that this recovery in oil prices will be pretty positive for the Malaysian economy,” said Kelvin Tay, chief investment officer for southern Asia Pacific at UBS Wealth Management in Singapore.

SINGAPORE: Malaysia’s ringgit has done a stunning about-face this year, with surging capital inflows turning it into Asia’s best-performing currency from the region’s worst in 2015.

Still, few expect the ringgit to regain all the ground lost last year, as inflows may have peaked as Malaysian risk assets are starting to look pricey to investors and analysts.

The ringgit strengthened 10 percent against the U.S. dollar in January-March, its largest quarterly gain since 1973, Thomson Reuters data shows.

In 2015, the ringgit had its worst year since 1997, shedding 18.5 percent on the back on plunging oil prices, anticipated higher U.S. interest rates and a financial scandal at state-owned 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

Driving the currency’s U-turn is the return of foreign investors, who have poured into Malaysian stocks and bonds on better crude oil prices, a surprisingly resilient economy and easier monetary policies from major central banks.

“The market is saying that this recovery in oil prices will be pretty positive for the Malaysian economy,” said Kelvin Tay, chief investment officer for southern Asia Pacific at UBS Wealth Management in Singapore.

In February, exports rose faster than expected. Sales of electrical and electronic products, the biggest item, increased 8.9 percent from a year earlier.

JACKED-UP HOLDINGS

Through the week ended April 1, foreign investors bought a net 5.5 billion ringgit ($1.4 billion) of Kuala Lumpur stocks this year, data from the research arm of Malaysian Industrial Development Finance showed. Last year had total outflows of 19.5 billion ringgit, it said.

Offshore investors have raised their local bond holdings by 11.8 billion ringgit in January-March, central bank data shows, with increased interest in longer-tenor debt. For all of last year, foreigners slashed holdings by 11.1 billion ringgit.

The cautious stance of Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen on U.S. rate hikes has caused investors to seek higher yields in Asia, aiding flows into Malaysia.

“This combination of an attractive currency valuation and higher yields in a world of low or negative interest rates is drawing foreign investors back to the local Malaysian market,” said Eric Delomier, Asia fixed income investment specialist for Capital Group of the U.S.

Analysts and investors have concerns, including valuations of Malaysian assets and leadership of the central bank as its internationally-respected governor, Zeti Akhtar Aziz, retires at the end of April, and her successor has not been named.

Malaysian bonds seem “a bit rich,” said Maybank Investment Bank’s fixed income analyst Winson Phoon in Kuala Lumpur. Earlier this month, the 10-year yield fell to 3.77 percent, the lowest since February 2015.

SMALL INFLOWS AHEAD?

“I don’t expect to see a repeat large inflows in months ahead, although the direction should remain slightly positive,” Phoon said.

On share valuations, “Malaysia is actually not particularly cheap or attractive, compared to other markets,” Tay of UBS said. “We don’t think earnings growth has actually improved among Malaysian corporates.”

Local stocks were trading at about 17.3 times the past 12 months’ earnings, according to Thomson Reuters data. That compared with 11.8 times for Indonesian stocks, according to exchange data.

Zeti has led Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) since 2000, and investors are hoping for a successor with her credibility to help Malaysia’s standing at a time of political crisis for Prime Minister Najib Razak, chairman of 1MDB’s advisory board.

“Given the near-term challenges to a new BNM governor, oil prices and festering political risk from 1MDB, among other things, the ringgit’s upside is limited,” said Andy Ji, Asian currency strategist for Commonwealth Bank of Australia in Singapore.

His year-end target for the ringgit is 3.70 per dollar, 16 percent appreciation from its 2015 closing. Late Friday, the ringgit was at 3.90.- Reuters

China starts buying Malaysian bonds

Ong: ‘The Chinese government is keen to buy more Malaysian bonds

KUALA LUMPUR: China’s government has started buying more Malaysian government securities (MGS) and this inflow of new foreign money could rise to 50 billion yuan (RM30bil) in total, according to International Trade and Industry Minister II Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan.

In an exclusive interview with The Star, Ong said a senior representative of the Bank of China told him about this development recently when he met with the bank on issues pertaining to the use of yuan and ringgit in Malaysia-China direct trade.

“This could be one of the key factors contributing to the strength of the ringgit lately. China’s purchase of our MGS, which I am under the impression could rise to 50 billion yuan, will be very positive for our currency as it shows China’s confidence in our economy,” Ong said.

Other factors that had contributed to the strength of the ringgit in recent weeks included the recovery of crude oil prices, softer US dollar and the successful debt rationalisation of 1MDB, he added.

If China were to buy RM30bil worth of MGS, it would mean supporting 8.5% of Malaysia’s debts in the current MGS market. According to Bank Negara’s website, the value of outstanding MGS stood at RM352.06bil as at April 5, 2016.

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s debt markets saw inflows of RM11.5bil, versus RM1.4bil of outflows in February. The March foreign inflow was the largest monthly inflow since May 2014, according to a Nomura research note on April 7.

The inflows pushed foreign holdings of MGS to a historical high of RM171.5bil, the Japanese research house said. As a result, foreign ownership in outstanding MGS has risen to 48.7%.

Ong noted that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang had pledged to support the Malaysian economy – which was hit by a slowdown, local political problems, heavy outflow of funds and consequent plunge of the ringgit – when he visited Kuala Lumpur last November.

On Nov 23, the Chinese leader announced at a local forum that China would buy more MGS, issue yuan bonds in Kuala Lumpur and grant local institutional funds a quota of 50 billion yuan under the Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor programme to invest directly in Chinese equities in the mainland.

The following day, the ringgit reacted positively gaining about 1% and the currency stabilised at around 4.25 to a US dollar in early December. MGS also gained.

“I was told China would use its reserves to buy our bonds. Its international reserves are high, at US$3.21 trillion (RM12.5 trillion) in March. With this development, I don’t think our ringgit will fall to 4.46 again,” said Ong.

Last month, Bank Negara said there were now more foreign governments and central banks holding MGS. A total of 29% was held by these two groups and 13% by pension funds.

The presence of these long-term investors is seen as reducing the risk of Malaysia facing sudden and massive outflows of capital in the event of unfavourable conditions, just like what had occurred last September, which saw the ringgit weakening to a multi-year low of 4.46.

Foreign inflow into the local stock market might be another factor that has boosted the ringgit. According to a Credit Suisse report, Malaysia saw a record net foreign equity inflow of RM6.1bil in March, which contributed to the ringgit’s 10.3% rise against the dollar in January-March 2016. At late trades on Friday, the ringgit stood at 3.9096.

Due to the recent new inflows, Bank Negara’s foreign exchange reserves had risen to RM412.3bil (US$96.1bil) as at March 15 from RM408.5bil (US$95.1bil) as at Jan 15.

This reserves figure is an important buffer against capital flows and has an impact on the ringgit and the sovereign credit rating of the country. Moody’s recently noted this buffer has improved.

Ong also said China would like to see Malaysia conducting roadshows in the mainland so that there is better understanding of Malaysia’s fundamentals and its bonds.

“The representative of Bank of China also told me the Chinese government is keen to buy more MGS, but they also hope our central bank could go there to market our MGS. I have conveyed this to Bank Negara. It is up to them to act,” says Ong.

Ong, who is also MCA secretary-general, noted that China’s huge direct investments had also boosted the ringgit’s sentiment.

The ringgit rose sharply in March partly due to the conclusion of the sale of 1MDB’s energy assets to China’s state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corp for RM9.83bil, as the absorption of all the debts of Edra Global Energy Bhd has reduced the systemic risk to pubic finance, banking system and economy.

Ong is confident that Kuala Lumpur is able to attract more major Chinese investments into the country this year due to Malaysia’s strong bilateral ties with China as well as the many free trade agreements – including the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement – Malaysia has signed with various countries and groupings.

By Ho Wah Foon The Star

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Malaysian home prices may go up 5~8%; heart-warming CNY family ties with EcoWorld 全家福


From Left :- Director of Valuation Services Chee Kok Thim , Rahim & Co Executive Chairman Senator Tan Sri Dato’ Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman, DIrector Real Estate Agency Robert Ang and Director of Research & Strategic Planning Sulaiman Saheh after Press conference and Q&A session – Review on Malaysian Property Market and the prospects of 2016 – on Thursday Feb 4 2016.

KUALA LUMPUR: The property market is expected to remain challenging, with the hike in house prices slowing to between 5% and 8% this year, compared with 7% to 10% last year.

Rahim & Co Chartered Surveyors Sdn Bhd director Sulaiman Akhmady Mohd Saheh expects prices to rise but sees only marginal price gains for the residential sector.

“Depending on location and type of property, some may see price consolidation as the gap between sellers’ asking prices is closing towards the buyers’ expected prices,” he said during the firm’s property market review.

He said that there were concerns that the number of transactions may drop this year, as new property launches could face more challenges and slower take-up.

He said that based on average annual household incomes to the price of average terraced homes, housing affordability could have slightly improved last year compared with 2014 although house prices in general continued to increase.

“Nevertheless, housing affordability is still a big concern especially in urban centres and major towns throughout the country.

“The ratio improved from 3.6 in 2014 to 3.4 last year, which indicates that an average terraced house would cost an average household or family in Malaysia 3.4 times its annual gross income,” said executive chairman Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Abdul Rahman.

Note that the least affordable terraced house in Malaysia last year was in Sabah, with a 5.7 times ratio, Penang, 5.3 times, Kuala Lumpur, 5.2 times and Sarawak, at 4.5 times.

He said that home ownership continued to be beyond the reach of many Malaysians, especially the younger generation.

“The ratio indicate that generally our houses are still moderately unaffordable. For Sabah, Penang and Kuala Lumpur, average prices of terraced houses are even categorised as severely unaffordable,” he said.

He added that the pace of construction and completion for affordable housing needed to be improved in order to address the issue of affordability.

“It is progressing but there should be more effort, for example in PR1MA. Among these, PR1MA is to provide 175,000 units where 74,399 units are currently in various stages of construction. “At present, only 10,000 units is due to be completed by the end of the year.

“That 74,399 units under construction should be intensified instead of completing 10,000 units by the end of the year,” he noted.

For the commercial sector, particularly the office sector, it will still remain challenging as absorption of new supply coming into the market is expected to slow down.

More office buildings are expected to undergo refurbishment to prevent tenants from relocating to newer office buildings.

However, there are concerns on whether the retail property sector might be heading into a glut in supply as a number of malls are being launched within Klang Valley.

Last year, retail sales were affected by the goods and services tax, which was implemented from April as well as a weakening ringgit, driving up costs and lowering consumer spending.

By Nadya Ngui The Star/Asia News Network

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Heartwarning CNY video on family ties goes viral

//players.brightcove.net/4405352765001/default_default/index.html?videoId=4735800122001

Building strong ties: A video grab from EcoWorld’s ‘Family Portraits’ on its official YouTube page captures the essence of maintaining family values.

PETALING JAYA: A heart-warming Chinese New Year video showing a man’s life as seen through his family photographs has been released by EcoWorld Development Group Bhd.

The three-minute video titled Family Portraits, which can be seen on YouTube, has been viewed more than 78,000 times so far yesterday. It is meant to educate the viewer on maintaining strong family values. The video shows glimpses of the man’s life-long journey from early childhood until adulthood.

All throughout, viewers will notice that family plays a huge role in the main character’s life as he encounters the pivotal moments in life that are familiar to many of us. The loving embrace of his family is never too far away even as he grows up and leaves his parents to pursue a career and start a family of his own.

Family Portraits successfully conveys its message through very little dialogue, relying mostly on visual images that reflect the mood and spirit of the central theme of the video.

The touching video, while light hearted and filled with funny moments, sends a strong message that clearly emphasises the importance of family ties and the togetherness that is an integral part of the Chinese New Year festival.

“The love of a family is life’s greatest blessing. This Chinese New Year, capture the warmth and happiness with a family portrait and start a collection of beautiful memories to look back on for generations to come,” posted the company on its YouTube page.

Those who wish to view the video may do so at EcoWorld’s official YouTube page.

Earlier this week, the company announced that it was offering a special Chinese New Year treat for buyers of the few remaining units of EcoWorld’s Eco Meadow Phase 1 homes by giving rebates of RM22,888 on top of an additional 5% early bird rebate from now until Feb 22.

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IJM’s outlook downgraded to negative, debt notes reaffirmed by MARC


IJM LogoMARC: IJM Corp outlook downgraded to negative

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian Rating Corp (MARC) has affirmed its AA- rating on IJM Corp Bhd’s RM1 billion debt notes but downgraded its outlook to negative from stable.

The ratings agency said decline in palm price to current low levels of RM2,200 per tonne and the weak near-term outlook of the sector would likely drag IJM’s plantation division’s earnings.

MARC also noted that the slowdown in the property sector has seen demand moderating at several of IJM’s projects.

MARC said IJM’s RM1 billion debt notes involved the commercial paper/medium-term notes programme (CP/MTN).The outstanding notes under the programme comprise RM300 million CPs and RM250 million MTNs.

“IJM’s borrowings have steadily increased, standing at RM6.3 billion as at end-December 2014,” MARC said, adding at the holding company level, the borrowings amounted to RM1.3 billion.

The rating agency highlighted IJM’s funding of infrastructure projects and capital requirements for its oil palm plantings in Indonesia could further pressurise its credit profile.

On the other hand, MARC observes that IJM’s orderbook for construction division has improved to about RM7.2 billion as at end-financial year 2015. “The improved prospects for the construction division may provide some buffer against weaker performance in the other divisions,” it said.

Going forward, MARC may raise the group’s outlook to stable if it is able to show financial resilience in restoring cash flow protection measures.- New Straits Times

IJM-Land-IJM-Corp-logoIJM’s debt notes rating reaffirmed, MARC also revises the company’s long-term rating to negative from stable 

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian Rating Corp Bhd (MARC) has affirmed its AA- rating on IJM Corp Bhd’s RM1bil debt notes.

In a statement yesterday, MARC said it had also revised IJM Corp’s long-term rating to negative from stable, due to the challenging outlook for the company’s core business.

“The negative outlook incorporates the challenging prospects for IJM group’s core businesses, namely, the palm oil and property development sectors, from which the group generated a combined 45.3% and 60.6% revenue and pre-tax profit for fiscal 2014,” said the rating house.

MARC added that the sharp decline in palm oil prices from last year and the weak near-term outlook for the sector would drag the group’s plantation division earnings.

“The sharp decline in palm oil prices since April 2014 from RM2,800 per tonne to about RM2,200 per tonne currently and the weak near-term outlook for the sector would further weigh on the group’s plantation division earnings.”

The rating agency also said the slowdown in the property sector had seen demand moderating for several of IJM’s property development projects.

“Against this backdrop, MARC observes that group borrowings have steadily increased, standing at RM6.3bil as at end-December 2014. At the holding company level, its borrowings stood at RM1.3bil as at end-December 2014,” it said.

Meanwhile, MARC said the RM1bil debt notes involve the commercial paper/medium-term notes programme (CP/MTN). The outstanding notes under the programme comprise RM300mil CPs and RM250mil MTNs.

It said the funding for the group’s infrastructure projects and capital requirements could add further pressure on its credit profile.

MARC noted, however, that the group’s orderbook for its construction division had improved to about RM7.2bil as at end-financial year 2015.

“The improved prospects for the construction division may provide some buffer against the weaker performance of the other divisions,” it said.

Going forward, the rating agency said it may revise the group’s outlook to stable, if the group was able to show financial resilience in restoring cashflow protection measures, reflecting the credit strength.

“The long-term rating, however, could be lowered should key financial metrics deteriorate due to weakening performance of key business segments and/or additional increase in borrowings,” it said.

Separately, BIMB Securities Research said it was optimistic on the related-party transaction involving the transfer of The Light Waterfront development in Penang from Jelutong Development Sdn Bhd to Aura Hebat Sdn Bhd (AHSB). Both companies are subsidiaries of IJM Corp.

“We are positive on the development, as it will provide an avenue for prodigious development on the land.

“No significant impact to our 2015 and 2016 earnings forecast, as construction will start later in the year,” said the research house.

AHSB will acquire The Light Waterfront development from Jelutong Development, an 80%-owned subsidiary of IJM Properties Sdn Bhd, for RM402.8mil, subject to, among others, the receipt of documents of title to the property from the relevant Penang authorities..

Sources: The Star/Asia News Network

Is Proton seen headed in the right direction?


ProtonProton has been trailling fellow national carmaker Perodua since 2006 in terms of salesTHE recent announcement by automotive conglomerate DRB-Hicom Bhd that it plans to raise RM2bil in funds, mostly to help turn around wholly-owned carmaker Proton Holdings Bhd, is seen as a move in the right direction by many.

One industry observer points out that Proton needs to develop new technology to help keep it competitive.

“For any automotive company to survive and be competitive, it needs to develop new technology on a continuous and consistent basis.

“Unfortunately, this has been a challenge for Proton.”

Proton’s lack of economies of scale is a major issue for the car company, he says.

“The pricing of its vehicles can be more competitive. However, this is not the case as the company can’t bring down the unit price of its vehicles as its development costs are spread across a smaller number of units, unlike many of its foreign competitors.”

Proton has been trailing fellow national carmaker Perusahaan Otomobil Kedua Sdn Bhd (Perodua) since 2006 in terms of sales.

While Proton has been struggling over the years sorting out issues such as its sales performance, quality issues and after sales woes, among others, Perodua meanwhile has been steadily thriving.

In 2005, Perodua, which was still behind Proton in terms of sales, launched its iconic Myvi compact car, a model that changed the automotive landscape and turned the tides in favour of Perodua.

The Perodua Myvi has been the best-selling car in Malaysia for eight consecutive years from 2006 and 2013. The model accounts for about 50% of Perodua’s annual sales.

According to data by the Malaysian Automotive Association, Proton sold a total of 138,753 vehicles in 2013 compared with 196,071 vehicles sold by Perodua in the same year.

Recently, Proton launched the highly anticipated Iriz, which, to many, is considered a game-changer for the company and is regarded as “the car” to protect its market share and directly take on the Myvi.

An automotive analyst points out that added funds are necessary for Proton to come up with not only new technology, but new competitive models as well.

“DRB-Hicom reportedly spent RM500mil to develop the Iriz and the car has been very well received by the public. Therefore, Proton needs more such models to boost sales and grow its marketshare, which is what justifies the need for added funds,” he says.

Earlier this month, DRB-Hicom announced that it was launching a perpetual sukuk programme to raise funds of up to RM2bil, which Malaysian Rating Corp Bhd (MARC) expects will be channelled to Proton.

The rating firm has assigned a preliminary rating of AIS to the group’s proposed perpetual Sukuk Musharakah programme of up to RM2bil. It also affirmed its AA-IS rating on DRB-Hicom’s existing Islamic medium term notes (IMTN) programme of up to RM1.8bil.

Both ratings carry a stable outlook. The two-notch rating differential between the perpetual sukuk and IMTN is in line with MARC’s notching principles on hybrid securities.

The proposed perpetual sukuk is non-callable within five years of issuance and has profit distributions that are cumulative and deferrable on an unlimited timeline.

MARC says the affirmed rating on the IMTN incorporated DRB-Hicom group’s strong market position in the domestic automotive industry, underpinned by a diverse range of car marques and a long operational track record.

It adds that the rating was also supported by a moderately diversified revenue stream from other businesses that included concessions, logistics and property development.

However, MARC has pointed out the ratings are constrained by the group’s large borrowings and its continued reliance on external funding to accommodate expansion and acquisition plans.

An analyst says the sukuk is unlikely to adversely impact DRB-Hicom’s credit profile.

“DRB-Hicom’s debts jumped in 2012 when it acquired Proton.

“Nevertheless, we believe that the sukuk is not designed to place pressure on their earnings.”

MARC, meanwhile, says that Proton’s short term liquidity concerns had eased somewhat following the completion of subsidiary Lotus Group International Ltd’s (Lotus) £207.30mil (RM1.1bil) debt restructuring into a longer tenured debt.

RHB Research Institute director and head of research Alexander Chia says Proton pays a high amount of finance cost per year to pay-off the borrowings it took to acquire Proton in 2012. “DRB-Hicom borrowed RM3bil to buy Proton and is currently paying over RM300mil in finance costs annually, which is a huge chunk of group profits. Proton’s marginal contribution to earnings is not helping matters.

“DRB-Hicom’s balance sheet is over-leveraged and Proton is also not contributing to help boost their earnings,” he says.

According to DRB-Hicom’s financial report for the financial year ended March 31, 2014, its finance cost stood at RM292.38mil.

Alternatively, another analyst says it is vital for Proton to collaborate with a globally-established original equipment manufacturer to enhance its competitiveness.

“A strategic partner can help fasttrack Proton’s presence in the global automotive arena. It also needs to be able to expand its export market.

He notes that tying up with a partner can also help Proton to reduce its costs.

It was reported recently that Proton and Honda Motor Co Ltd are currently engaged in a series of meetings to explore the possibility of collaborating in the field of technology enhancement, new product lines and sharing of platform and facilities.

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed has commented that this venture is expected to help Proton save millions in investment and development time for a new model.

According to MARC, Proton’s debt level rose by 24.1% year-on-year to RM1.79bil, which led to an increase in the car manufacturer’s debt-to-equity (DE) ratio to 0.58 times for financial year ended March 31, 2014 (FY14) (FY13: 0.38 times).

BY EUGENE MAHALINGAM The Star/Asia News Network

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