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

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Bitcoin must not in your retirement financial planning portfolio


Bitcoin investments have undeniably become a trend among savvy investors in search of the golden goose, but one financial planner is against the use of it as part of the financial planning portfolio for retirement.

Max Growth Wealth Education Sdn Bhd managing director Nicholas Chu said one should not use bitcoin as part of the retirement portfolio and the public must be well aware of the risk in bitcoin trading before getting in.

“It is not asset-backed, it is very unsecure. It is, basically, you want to participate in the future changes. It’s not a proper financial planning way. It is just an experimental thing that you want to go through in this era, but it is not a proper investment product,” he told SunBiz.

“I definitely don’t agree if they use this for their financial planning. But for those who are able to try new ventures, they can go ahead provided they have extra money. If this doesn’t affect their existing financial planning, then I’ll leave it to them. We need to tell them the pros and cons of this investment. It’s up to the clients to do the final decision,” he said.

Chu cautioned on the uncertainties of bitcoin trading, which is driven by market forces.
“It is beyond anybody’s control, all the participants contribute to the bitcoin value. From that, I can say that there are a lot of uncertainties in the future,” he said.

Nonetheless, with the setting up of a few bitcoin exchanges, Chu noted that there will be demand and supply with tradeable markets available.

Bitcoin was the best-performing currency in 2015 and 2016, with a rise of 35.8% and 126.2% respectively.

Year to date, bitcoin prices have leaped more than three times. It stood at US$2,840 (RM12,140) as at 5pm last Friday.

Bitcoins are by the far the most popular cryptocurrency, which exists almost wholly in the digital realm and has no asset backing it. Bitcoin generation, known as mining, while open to anyone with a “mining application” on their computer, needs a great deal of computing power to solve complex algorithms which are later verified with the entire bitcoin network.

Colbert Low, founder of bitcoinmalaysia.com, said the recent spike in bitcoin prices could be partly due to the legalisation of bitcoin by the Japanese government.

He is unsure if the sharp rise in bitcoin prices will create a price bubble, but stressed that one cannot judge its price movement based on the “old economic theory”.

“This is a new economy based on a different model. It’s very hard to say,” Low opined, noting that there has been a growing number of retail outlets that accept bitcoin.

He foresees the usage of bitcoin propagating, especially in different types of payment methods.

However, Low opined that there will not be any “big movement” in the local market if the regulators do not regulate bitcoin.

“Our new Bank Negara governor is forward thinking and he is very much into fintech, technology and innovation. So there would definitely be improvement,” Low said.

The positive development of blockchain will be a catalyst for the growth of bitcoin, he added.

“Blockchain is a real thing that will change the way the IP system is architectured. We need to go down to a deeper level to see how blockchain can change the current problem and solve it.

“There are a lot of projects right now, over 500 companies are looking at this (blockchain) right now. Even IBM, HP and Microsoft are looking at it.”

Blockchain refers to distributed database that maintains a continuously growing list of records, called blocks, secure from tampering and revision. Bitcoin is just an application or software that runs on blockchain technology.

“If you look at blockchain technology, government agencies like the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are looking at it. This is the best way to secure your data,” Low said, noting that the usage of bitcoin will help reduce operating cost.

Currently, there are about 16 million bitcoins in the market and the number is capped at 21 million.

Bank Negara has said that it does not regulate the cryptocurrency and advised the public to be cautious of the risks associated with the usage of such digital currency.

Source: By Lee Weng Khuen sunbiz@thesundaily.com

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Never-ending money games – from fixed return to split schemes


The allure of money game schemes (or money games) seems not to have diminished despite the collapse of many recently.

Instead, there has been a switch in investors’ focus from fixed-return games to split games, which are deemed “more sustainable”.

Fixed-return schemes generally refer to those that give a consistent percentage of return every month or week. However, most of them have collapsed lately.

Investors’ attention is now centred on split games, even though this means they have to wait for a longer period in order to get back their capital.

Mcoin, which is undertaken through MBI International Sdn Bhd and MFace International Sdn Bhd, is an example of a split game based on units of which the value keeps increasing and then split after a certain time.

However, with the raid of MBI’s flagship mall – M Mall in Penang – by the regulators recently, its days look to be numbered, and the sustainability of such schemes is now a big question.

Another prominent split game – Mama Captain, which has a similar business model to that of Mcoin – has also been red-flagged by Bank Negara last Thursday under the Financial Consumer Alert List. An additional 14 companies have been added to the list, bringing the total number of unapproved and unlicensed companies/schemes to 334 as at June 29.

Besides the local ones, there are several foreign schemes in the market, which investors expect to have more staying power than the fixed-return schemes. Two such schemes from China – Smart Traders Ltd and Centennial Coin of Prosperity – have been in operation in Malaysia since last year. However, it is understood that they have stopped distributing returns to their investors.

This, however, appears not to have deterred those who are lured by the promise of fast money. This is evidenced by the huge crowd seen at an event organised by a split game company a few weeks ago in Shah Alam. It was estimated that over 2,000 participants were present and most of them were Chinese investors.

A number of booths were set up at the venue, and investors were able to redeem a variety of stuff, including vouchers, health products, apparels and many more.

An investor whom SunBiz spoke to at the event said he is unfazed by the collapse of money games and is optimistic about the prospects of the split game that he is involved in.

The investor said he has been in the scheme for more than nine months and now it has started to bear fruit.

“Generally, it takes about two months to split once and we can start generating money after it splits for four times. Now I start to get money from the scheme. While you’ve to wait for some time before getting any return, I think it is still worth to join,” he opined.

It is understood that the scheme has tied up with a few product operators to increase its attractiveness.

Another investor, Alan Mu, said he was amazed by the event. “The gala dinner is so grand and there are so many products that I can redeem by participating in this scheme,” he said.

Another scheme that has caught the market’s attention is SV International (SVI), a company that Yong Tai Bhd has denied having links to. Yong Tai alleged that SVI circulated photos taken during a signing ceremony on SVI’s website as well as the social media, for which there was no official agreement entered into between the two parties thereafter.

Yong Tai also refuted speculation that SVI has a stake in its Impression City and Impression Melaka projects.

By Lee Weng Khuen sunbiz@thesundaily.com

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Millennials Will Destroy Bitcoin


Irrational exuberance is alive and well.

A textbook bubble in Bitcoin prices is developing right now.
And it has everything to do with Bitcoin’s investors.
Bitcoin Bubble
I’m probably not going to gain any friends with this perspective. But there are inarguable factors that suggest Bitcoin’s own buyers are irrationally driving up prices. And their
exuberance is setting the market up for a crash.
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Let me clear one thing up about Bitcoin before I explain why I think prices are eventually headed for a crash…
As I argued before, Bitcoin is a legitimate form of money. But for the time being, it’s being treated as a speculative investment.
Money is typically used in exchange. And while Bitcoin can be used in exchange, it’s largely not. Gary Schneider, Professor of Accounting at California State University, says only about 10% of Bitcoin is held by people who use it as currency. The large majority are
speculators hoping to sell at higher prices.
The fact that the market is dominated by speculators is not necessarily the problem for Bitcoin. And here’s where I’m sure to piss some people off… The problem for Bitcoin is its
buyers.
Who are they?
Well, according to a recent survey, approximately 60% of Bitcoin owners are under 35 years old.
Bitcoin User Age
In short, most Bitcoin buyers are millennials. And that’s all we need to know about them to make an inarguable point (told you I wouldn’t be making any friends here).
The fact is this: A 35-year-old speculator intrinsically has much less experience in risk management than a 60-year-old. And remember, most Bitcoin owners are mostly speculators, as opposed to users of the product.
AND remember they’re speculating on a currency, which is among the most volatile of financial instruments.
AND remember they’re speculating on what essentially amounts to a new, experimental currency.
All this considered, Bitcoin looks to me as one of the (if not the) most speculative financial instruments available…
Expect for Bitcoin’s derivatives, of course.
Yes, believe it or not, Bitcoin has a futures market. And there are products that offer even more risk. On its Perpetual Bitcoin/USD Swap Contracts, BitMEX offers up to 100x
leverage!
But to really understand why I think Bitcoin is eventually headed for a crash, let’s consider the most famous market bubble in history…
Dutch Tulip Mania
In the 17th century, formal futures markets developed in the Dutch Republic, providing the infrastructure for a massive bubble in the price of tulip bulbs.
The tulip first became fashionable in France, where early modern ladies of the aristocracy began sporting the flower on their dresses. From there, the tulip became the flower to show off social status and wealth. The demand for bulbs subsequently
skyrocketed, and prices immediately followed.
At the peak of Tulip Mania in 1637, a single tulip bulb could cost as much as 10,000 gilders, the price of a nice middle-class townhouse in Amsterdam. According to one author, 12 acres of land was once offered for one rare bulb. For a flower bulb!
Semper Augustus The Semper Augustus was the most coveted of all Dutch tulips.
Of course, the bubble eventually burst. The price of tulip bulbs collapsed, and fortunes in perceived value disappeared over night.
My team of researchers recently uncovered a key patent that exposes a major chink in Tesla’s armor…
This patent describes a groundbreaking
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We’ve managed to uncover the tiny company
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Over the next several years, I believe the value of this firm could absolutely explode… by my calculations, upwards of 4,600%.
I’ve included the patent filing and everything you need to know about this small company in this brief, free video presentation.
Here’s what I really want you to take away from this story…
If we consider whom the people were who took part in Dutch Tulip Mania and compare them to the majority of Bitcoin owners, it seems both groups share the same shortcomings.
First, we know both groups are speculators betting on the hot new product. But I think we can also make good assumptions to compare the investment sophistication of the Dutch tulip investors and today’s Bitcoin buyers.
Because formal futures markets were only recently developed, the Dutch tulip buyers were inherently unsophisticated investors. All of them. They simply didn’t have the
experience.
The majority of today’s Bitcoin buyers are generally younger, so they share the same inexperience. For many Bitcoin buyers, I imagine it represents their first real investment. They simply don’t have experience in risk management. And I think that’s pretty clear considering some are buying products with 100x leverage!
Bitcoin could be the tulip of the 21st century with the development of a textbook bubble. And I think could be setting itself up for an eventual crash.
Now, even though I’ve been talking about a crash in Bitcoin prices, there’s an epilogue to the Dutch tulip story that’s often overlooked… and that actually provides a bullish outlook for the technology.
Truth is, the Dutch tulip bubble never really ended… it evolved. The price of tulip bulbs collapsed in the 17th century. But the flower industry at large eventually recovered and
has never been bigger. Global floral production value is currently estimated at $55 billion.
People still pay thousands for rare flowers. In fact, an anonymous buyer paid over $200,000 for a rare orchid in 2005. And that’s not even considered the most expensive flower in the world. Rose breeder David Austin spent 15 years and $5 million to develop Juliet rose.
Juliet rose
My point is, the tulip as an individual product lost favor. But the collapse of the tulip  market didn’t completely kill the flower market. In the same way, I don’t expect a
collapse of Bitcoin prices to completely kill the blockchain-based currency market.
Bitcoin is simply one product of many blockchain-based currencies. A crash in Bitcoin would throw a wrench in the blockchain-based revolution. But there is little doubt that blockchain technologies are the future.
As we speak, every major central bank and large financial institution is researching how to implement blockchain into its own systems. It has already been proven to eliminate
verification redundancies and improve security, and new applications are
being tested every day.
So while I think Bitcoin itself could eventually be headed for a crash, the blockchain technologies that are supporting all these digital currencies seem set for unprecedented
growth.
Until next time,
luke signature
Luke Burgess
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Digital currencies rally, but caution prevails

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework.

THIS week, the rally in crypto currencies is at its all-time high.

Bitcoin, the pioneer in digital currency, surged to over US$1,700 per coin in
anticipation of a reversal in United States financial regulators’ ruling to allow for an exchange-traded fund for Bitcoin and other factors.

Bitcoin was trading at US$935 on March 24. It rose 82%, pushing its market capitalisation to over US$28bil.

Ether, another such currency, surged from US$8 on Jan 1 to US$90 this week, gaining 1,125% in five months.

The market capitalisation of the 700-over currencies is over US$50bil. The promoters believe it is the currency of the future, hence the rise, but the naysayers believe it is entering a speculative bubble.

But there are some who are ditching gold to mine Bitcoins.

It is a fact that crypto currencies are gaining traction from their inception in 2009. Now, at least 150 organisations including Apple, Walmart, Sears, eBay, Overstock.com,  Microsoft, Steam, Expedia and even Subway accept them in exchange for goods.

So, what is Bitcoin then?

It is a form of digital currency, created and held electronically, not blocked by any nation or government, not printed like dollars and ringgit but produced by people. Crypto currencies are digital currencies that use encryption to secure transactions and control how new coins are made.

You and I can get Bitcoins by “mining” computers that validate blocks of transactions using software to solve mathematical puzzles every 10 minutes. If you solve it first, you are rewarded with new Bitcoins.

Bitcoin is the mother of all crypto currencies – also known as virtual currencies, digital currencies and private currencies.

Other than Bitcoin and Ether, there is also Dogecoin, Augur, Chinacoin, Litecon, Dash, Waves and Zcash. There are over 40 exchanges globally to trade in Bitcoins.

All this came about because of fintech, the financial services technology that is  disrupting the financial services sector with faster, cheaper and so-called “reliable”
transactions for money transfers, bank exchange rates and other money-related transactions. The average clearance is a 12-hour period, which apparently the banks cannot match.

In Brazil, people use Zcash to pay for their taxes, electricity bills and purchases.

This week, Australia said there would be no double taxation for crypto currencies and to treat it just like other currencies from July 1, paving the way for greater usage.

Many are betting on crypto currencies because of the lure that they are the currency of the future. Would you?

Since 2009, there have been gainers and losers, so you decide.

All these digital currencies came about because of the Internet and data.  The value of data and digital services is becoming more apparent, and in the digital era, data is the new currency.

Amid all this is blockchain, which is simply a digital ledger that keeps track of Bitcoin transactions and transfers it globally. It boasts of instantaneous transactions, transparent and cheaper than the traditional ways. This is why banks are hurriedly getting their acts together in the area of fintech so as to not miss the boat.

There is a growing number of mergers and acquisitions and crowdfunding for blockchains. Last month, music-podcast-video streaming service Spotify  bought over blockchain technology company Mediachain Labs to help reward  online content owners with royalty payments.

Other telcos and IT firms are getting into blockchain because they don’t want to miss out on anything. Other payment companies are getting into the act too. There is just too much interest in this new wave of doing things.

The journey of crypto currencies, however, is not without hurdles, and there are plenty out there that cannot be ignored. Even blockchain’s growth cannot be ignored, especially since it is being positioned by those championing it as the de facto technology of the future.

But will it really be all that or will it just add another layer to the overall cost?

All these transfers do not need regulation as yet, something that central bankers don’t like. In fact, Bank Negara is already in the thick of things where fintech is concerned.

While investing in the future is the way to go, it comes with risks and rewards. The best
strategy would be to not be in a rush. Do your homework, as there is also the other side of Bitcoin – fake websites, fake online gaming sites, trading, etc.

I bet you would know of someone who has lost money mining Bitcoin or Ether. You honestly wouldn’t want to be put in a spot like those caught up in the recent forex scam and the earlier gold scam.

It would be good too to bear in mind that the sweet spot of crypto currencies has been linked to terrorism financing, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud.

Trust and transparency have been the bedrock of financial institutions all these years. Ensure your bedrock is solid, but at the same time, remember what the former US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke had said in a letter to US senators about virtual currencies, that they “may hold long-term promise, particularly if the innovations promote a faster, more secure, and more efficient payment system”.

Do you think blockchain will bring trust and transparency to the world of crypto currency? Share your thoughts with me at bksidhu@thestar

Source: The Star by b.k. sidhu

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Property in a digital era

WITH digital technology all the rage and taking the world by storm, we look at how science and automation has managed to change and revolutionise the way we do things, in this section, property.

While the internet has changed the way we receive information and connect with others and the smart phone transformed the whole concept of a phone, we now look at the evolution of finance and how purchasing items, including a house, is going through reform with the introduction of bitcoin.

Introducing bitcoin

When people hear terms like “bitcoin” and “blockchain”, many are vague while some may not even be familiar with these words. But for the technology industry adept, bitcoin and blockchain is common as these new-age technology concepts and modus operandi have been around, perhaps less widely known in Southeast Asia as it is in the West and China.

For the uninformed and in the dark, bitcoin is a technology that has established a new electronic payment method using “digitised money” made with digital cryptography, otherwise known as cryptocurrency.

This system of payment is carried out when a user uses “bitcoin currency” (or cryptocurrency) to pay for goods by transferring the currency to another user (seller) within the bitcoin community.

Each transaction is recorded in a public data ledger known as “blockchain” and it is here where all the transactions that have taken place within the bitcoin community are stored.

The amazing thing about this system is that anyone in the bitcoin community is able to validate transactions that take place without the need of an intermediary.

Sound too good to be true and a little risky? Well, the reason there is no intermediate party necessary is due to the network bitcoin technology is regulated on.


Modus operandi and more

The bitcoin network is founded on a “peer-to-peer network system (P2P network)” which is explained as “a network of computers/ mobile configured to allow certain files and folders to be shared with everyone or with selected users”.

As a result, the “participants” are in control of their transactions, making everyone equal within the bitcoin community, which is also transparent.

It is said that bitcoin technology was first created in 2008 by a person or a group of persons under the pseudonym “Satoshi Nakamoto” in a research paper. The research stated that there was need for a new electronic payment method, one using digitised money. The analysis also included the future of bitcoin, its benefits, capabilities and potential.

The system was implemented on Jan 3, 2009. And after just a few years, bitcoin grew to become a whopping US$12 billion (RM52.7 billion) globalised economy.

Bitcoin attributes

While not much has been said about bitcoin in this part of the region, the system has been around, slowly developing and growing. Like many things that are cloudy and not often talked about, people are weary hence, there will be sceptics who dissuade others about the system they themselves are unclear about.

With that, theSun’s Brian Chung shares what he learnt of this new method of transaction and currency when he attended a talk by renowned entrepreneur, author and expert on bitcoin Andreas M. Antonopoulos.

Below, Antonopolous shares important information on bitcoin.

1) Bitcoin is an open system of payment: It is a system that anyone can access, participate and innovate, and does not require permission. Bitcoin allows anyone to join in and use the system, validate the transaction and create different kinds of cryptocurrency.

2) Bitcoin is borderless: Like the internet, bitcoin is not restricted to a country’s rules and regulations as it has its own protocol with no distinction across countries.

3) Bitcoin is neutral: Bitcoin does not take the identity of the participant into any consideration. It only validates the transaction that takes place between participants. This attribute also allows participants to remain anonymous.

4) Bitcoin is censorship resistant: Every transaction in the bitcoin network cannot be frozen, censored or canceled. Like the internet, the bitcoin system is a global digital economy with one currency.

5) Bitcoin is a decentralised system: The bitcoin network has no central institution or centre point of control. This trait ensures that there is no one major target for hackers to concentrate their attacks on. Instead, hackers have to create attacks on every single participant’s software with different forms of virus and codes to hack into one computer.

6) Bitcoin is scarce and limited: Bitcoin is a system of value like gold but in digital form. This makes it a system that is not based on credit and debit. It also makes bitcoin a singular global currency with no exchange rate between countries.

7) Every bitcoin transaction is permanent and immutable: The transaction of everyone in the community is verified by everyone in the system. Once it is verified, the transaction will be permanently recorded in the blockchain.

8) Bitcoin is a constantly innovative technology: The open source nature of the bitcoin technology allows other people to further improve on it. There are many other cryptocurrencies based on the bitcoin technology. Moreover, the bitcoin technology is dependent on the internet, which makes improvement and innovation necessary.

Bitcoin transactions can be done via smart phones and computers by downloading the application and software. Users do not need to register themselves to be part of the bitcoin network as all “participants” are referred to by codes and “signature of one’s device”.

However, iPhone users need to remember their iTunes password to download the application. In addition, the device that one has downloaded the bitcoin software on must remain connected to the internet in order for one to use the bitcoin method of payment.

Follow our column next week on the application of bitcoin in property.

[Note: All charts courtesy of Bitcoin Malaysia.]

 

The application of bitcoin in property

 

WHILE last week, we introduced the term bitcoin to those oblivious of this new age cryptocurrency and system of payment, this week, we share bitcoin whiz Andreas M. Antonopoulus’ insights on how this technology is applied in property. Here is what he had to say:

Permanent records

“One very common application is the registration of assets or ownership of tangible and
non-tangible things like the registration of title over land and the ownership of assets
like homes.

When you record something on blockchain, it cannot be modified … it is immutable. Once recorded on the blockchain, the system of trust prevents anyone from reversing or overwriting it. That makes a record on blockchain permanent, an immutable record which is really important in real estate transaction as it allows one to pass the title of a piece of land from person to person independently with no one being able to falsify the record or steal land through paper,” Antonopoulos said.

Moreover, he mentioned that this technology can benefit the industry tremendously as it is able to resolve a huge problem in real estate and property transactions – the falsification of strata titles and property documents.

His view is further enhanced with the emergence of another bitcoin-based system, ethereum. Like bitcoin, ethereum has its own cryptocurrency known as ether. However, ethereum adopts a different technology that is based on the blockchain public ledger system known as Smart Contract.

According to Antonopoulos, a smart contract is an electronic contract with all the contractual obligations of the buyer and seller. The contract is written and coded into an application, which will ensure both parties fulfill their obligations.

Like blockchain technology that is built on trust and verification, these contracts are encoded in a public ledger in the ethereum community. If anyone tries to forge the contract, the ledger will reject it. As such, this smart contract cannot be rewritten and altered as it is a permanent and immutable contract.


Direct transactions

Besides the use of a contract, the technology will make transactions direct, fast and secure.

Antonopoulos also shared about the removal of third parties and its altered role. He said, “Another example relevant to real estate application is the function of escrow. In order to do make transactions for real estate today, people have to use a third party agent, an escrow agent. This escrow agent charges a significant amount of money in most countries. During the process, that agent holds custody of the entire fund, which is dangerous. This means that the escrow agent has to be carefully vetted and have foresight.

Bitcoin can replace all of this by using multi-signature, which allows the seller and buyer to transact escrow programmatically, with the third party acting as mediator only in the case of a dispute.

Buyer and seller will be able to execute a transaction on their own without the need of an escrow agent and without any of the parties having custody of the entire fund. Through bitcoin, you do not need to spend that additional one percent of the sale of the house – the escrow agent is no longer necessary.

It can also change the speed of escrow by doing it in hours instead of a month and changes the security because no one of the three parties can run away with the money. It is faster, cheaper and secure. It can be done in other industries related to real estates like purchasing assets, corporation, mergers and acquisitions.

International property purchase

With the use of decentralised digital currency, one can assume that purchasing items and properties is a little easier, and it is.

The chance of purchasing international property is further reinforced by the fact that bitcoin is not controlled by anyone, not even political and banking institutions. This attribute of bitcoin makes it easier for people buying property from another country. Although each country has its regulations, the use of bitcoin to purchase property abroad saves time and money as one does not need to change currency.

The Australia Real Estate website has stated that there are properties in the United States and Latin America being sold using bitcoin. The Wall Street Journal wrote an article in 2014 regarding a Lake Tahoe property, which was sold for US$1 million in bitcoin.

Follow our column next week for more interesting information on bitcoin, its challenges and how stable a cryptocurrency it is.

By rian Chung

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Be wary of these four types of financial predators


REGRETTABLY Malaysia seems to be fertile ground for all sorts of scammers. Just yesterday I received a text message from Bank Negara Malaysia, warning me not to open emails that claim they are from BNM and ask for payment verification.

The newspapers report every month on hundreds of Malaysians losing millions of Ringgit to all sorts of financial predators.

These are the four types of financial predators you should be aware of.

Financial predators that are selling you something amazing (for them). Some financial predators are trying to sell you something and only later you find out that the item is not the best use of your money at all.


Watch out for these financial predators
:

* The pyramid scheme operator who is selling you products which sound expensive and technologically sophisticated, but are worthless.

* The shop owner, who recommends expensive or high margin products, which turn out to be unpopular or old products to increase his profit or clear his inventory.

* The property agent, who pushes you to purchase a house despite knowing that there is a price correction coming. He just cares about getting his commission.

* Financial predators that want to make you rich (but make you poor instead).

Other financial predators are not selling you a product, but a dream: to be rich one day. You would be amazed to find out how much people are willing to spend in their pursuit of this dream. You can get rich in many ways, but not nearly as many, as ways in which you can get scammed.

For instance, consider:

*The investor or trader that is selling you currency, gold, stock or property with the promise of extremely high returns. Sometimes they don’t sell the assets, but a “secret” formula or (software) tool to always make a winning trade. Don’t fall for it!

* The prince, minister, lottery winner, retired general and other personalities which will reward you with a slice of their wealth. If first you pay some legal / custom fees.

* The fake lottery / contest predator, that tricks you into thinking you won a sizeable sum of money. You just need to pay up some administration fees before you can redeem your prize.

* The scratch & win agent and casino operator. “The house always wins.” You will bring more to the casino operator than he will give back.

* The (soccer) bookie, who extends upfront credit for you to place more bets and win back your losses. But if you keep losing, his friendly helpfulness will quickly vanish.

Financial predators that “just” want to help you (into bigger problems)

Some financial predators pretend they just want to help you – some may even say they have nothing to gain from it. Be aware of these sophists!

* The financial planner that gets more commission the more financial products you buy. Never mind whether you really need all that insurance and other financial products.

* The loan shark that will give you better rates or quicker disbursement than the bank, but asks much higher interest rates in return.

* The salesman that is selling you expensive insurance on top of your car / phone etc that already have guarantee from the manufacturer.

* The car dealerships and stores who encourage you to take their own (more expensive) financing plans instead of your bank’s instalment plans.

* The financial predator that is in love with you (or is it your money)?

* And then finally, the financial predator that lures you with dreams of romance. This one is the saddest of all, because doesn’t everyone deserve more genuine love in their life?

And isn’t it heart-breaking to see how scammers toy with people’s strongest desires, just for monetary gains?

Be aware for online girlfriends and boyfriends that contact you out of nowhere. Don’t be surprised when you find scammers that try to deceive you with romantic talk in the darkest of alleyways on the Internet (or just around the corner on Facebook and other social media apps).

Especially be wary if you have never seen your new love in real life or (s)he is a foreigner and needs your money in order to pay for visa or flights or to pay off local debts before (s)he is allowed to leave.

As you can tell, Malaysia and the world are full of financial predators. Don’t fall prey to them and become their lunch.

By Mark Reijman The Star/ANN

Mark Reijman is co-founder and managing director of https://www.comparehero.my/dedicated to increasing financial literacy and to help you save time and money by comparing all credit cards, loans and broadband plans in Malaysia. Keen on joining the team as a writer, then email mark@comparehero.my

Wira Dani, son of former Finance Minister Daim, declared a bankrupt


PETALING JAYA: Datuk Md Wira Dani Abdul Daim, who just recently got appointed as Reliance Pacific Bhd executive director, has been declared a bankrupt by the high court of Singapore.

According to reports, the son of former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin failed to settle some S$1.65mil (RM4.9mil) in debts that he owed Maybank Kim Eng Securities.

Following the court order, Wira Dani stepped down as non-independent and non-executive director of Singapore-based gold company LionGold Corp Ltd.

He had also ceased to be the executive chairman of investment and investment advisory firm ISR Capital Ltd since Monday.

In a statement filed with the Singapore Exchange, Wira Dani indicated that he intended to settle personal affairs following the court bankruptcy order, which he intends to resolve within the next 30 days.

Maybank secured a high court judgment against Wira Dani in March to reclaim a debt of $2.459mil (RM7.3mil) that he owed.

This was said to have been borrowed by him to buy LionGold shares on a leveraged account.

Wira Dani, together with Daim’s wife Toh Puan Mahani Idris, emerged as substantial shareholders of Reliance Pacific, which operates the famous Avillion Hotel in Port Dickson, at end-July 2016 through their private vehicle Ibu Kota Developments Sdn Bhd.

Ibu Kota owns a 30.96% stake in the company that has extensive interest in the tourism, property development and hospitality sectors.

Wira Dani was named the executive director of Reliance Pacific on July 27.

At present, he is also a non-executive director of GCM Resources PLC, a company listed on the London Stock Exchange and chairman of Astute Capital Ltd, a company incorporated in the British Virgin Islands.

LionGold was among the three companies whose drastic decline in share prices in October 2013 wiped out some S$6.9bil of their market capitalisation in three days.

The event led to an official probe on suspected irregularities, and lawsuits were filed by various parties.

LionGold and the other two companies, namely Blumont Group and Asiasons Capital, claimed they were unaware of the reasons for the plunge of their shares.

LionGold’s market cap stood at S$26.9mil as of June 2015, compared with S$1.59bil at its peak in August 2013.

Wira Dani had reportedly agreed to pay the bank via instalments. However, by August 2014, he had repaid only S$100,000.

Maybank in April accepted the offer from his lawyer, Woo Tchi Chu, to settle the debt, with S$1mil to be paid in two tranches within the month and the rest by end-June.

Maybank’s Allen & Gledhill lawyer Vincent Leow had made clear that bankruptcy was an option in the event of a default by Wira Dani.

In the event, Maybank received only about S$835,950, leaving a shortfall of S$1.65mil and triggering the bankruptcy move.

Wira Dani is said to have property in Singapore, according to court documents filed.

Maybank refused to comment when contacted last night, citing client confidentiality.

– The Star/Asia News Network

Related stories:

Daim’s son resigns as Reliance Pacific executive director

Daim’s love affair with banks
Change of ownership: Alliance Bank’s headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. The change of ownership of Langkah Bahagia marks the end of the era of Daim and his interest in banking in Malaysia.

The end of the Daim era

Daim: 'We are entitled to some answers'Daim: 1MDB should not keep funds overseas

 

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