Putting our house in order


WITH the announcement of the new Housing and Local Government Minister, Zuraida Kamaruddin, there have been a lot of news and interviews on her proposals to put our housing industry in order.

Her new plans will help create a new housing environment in our country if well executed. I particularly like the minister’s assurance that there won’t be any political intervention in decision-making, especially in housing development matters.

The key objective of the ministry is to synchronise all affordable housing schemes under one roof with the establishment of the National Affordable Housing Council, which is expected to be announced in August.

The streamlining will involve four agencies, Syarikat Perumahan Negara Bhd, 1Malaysia Civil Servants Housing Programme (PPA1M), Rumah Mampu Milik Wilayah Persekutuan (RumaWIP), and 1Malaysia People’s Housing Scheme (PR1MA).

With this prompt move, the housing ministry will have better control over the construction of affordable houses, and will attempt to resolve the mismatch between market supply and demand in certain housing segments.

Apart from the new supply, we should also look at our current housing supply. As at end-2017, we have 5.4 million houses, of which 21% or 1.15 million were low-cost houses and flats. This should be sufficient to accommodate the critical housing needs of our Rakyat if they were allocated to the right group of people.

In my last article, I mentioned that there were potential leakages in our previous distribution system that had caused the failure of qualified applicants to buy or rent a low-cost home.

In early June 2018, the new Housing Minister requested owners of People’s Housing Projects (PPR units) who were renting out their units to foreigners to evict their tenants within 90 days.

It is important for the authorities to carry out surveys on residents of low-cost housing after certain grace period to ensure the ownership and tenancy of government housing fall into the right hands.

By addressing the current leakages and with the identification of the right target audience, the issue can be quickly resolved.

Our new government plans to set up an online platform for application of affordable housing in the future. This would be an effective way to gather market demand based on the actual requirement and ensure greater transparency in the allocation process.

In addition, the government promises to build one million affordable homes within 10 years. It also suggests the housing price for the B40 group (with a median monthly household income of RM3,000) to be around RM60,000, and equipped with basic facilities such as a park and a community hall.

Based on the contributing factors of housing development which include land, the approval process and resources, only the government can build houses at the price of around RM60,000.

Only the government can gather land bank through compulsory land acquisition of agriculture land, then to convert the land for housing development, and increase housing projects with public funds.

As taxpayers, I believe we are more than happy to help elevate the living standards of the B40 group knowing very well that our money is well-spent in making a difference for the future of our nation.

I applaud the new government for taking the bold measures in putting things in order, and walking the talk by planning for more affordable housing.

Offering affordable housing and a comfortable living environment are essential criteria in building a sustainable future for our country. Whenever the government announces more constructive measures and makes things more transparent, the market environment becomes more optimistic. With this confidence, the Rakyat will be more than willing to do our part as taxpayers to achieve the common goals for the benefit of all.

Food for thought Alan Tong

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

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Malaysian new hope for the housing industry with new government


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Alan Tong – Food for thought

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


A group of gamers wearing VR headsets at Zero Latency Singapore. The VR arcade in Singapore is the latest to pop up around the world as backers of the technology seek to shake off teething problems and break into the mainstream. — AFP

Arcades seek to take virtual reality gaming mainstream

 

SINGAPORE: Gamers wearing headsets and wielding rifles adorned with flashing lights battle a horde of zombies, letting out the occasional terrified shriek.

The virtual reality arcade in Singapore is part of a wave of such venues being opened as backers of the technology seek to shake off teething problems and break into the mainstream.

The buzz around virtual reality (VR) gaming has seen Taiwan-based HTC, Sony and Facebook-owned Oculus VR battling to woo consumers with a range of headgear.

But it has been slow to really take off, partly due to the hefty price of top-end headsets, beginning at around US$350 (RM1,362), and the challenges in setting up complex VR systems at home.
But VR arcades, which have been springing up around the world, particularly in Asia, are now giving people the chance to try it out more easily and for a fraction of the price.

“Given the complications of at-home, PC-based VR systems, pay-per-use, location-based entertainment venues can fill the gap,” said Bryan Ma, from International Data Corporation (IDC), a consumer technology market research firm, in a recent note on the industry.

Several VR gaming companies have made forays into Singapore, seeing the ultra-modern, affluent city-state that is home to hordes of expatriates as a good fit.

The zombie fight-out was taking place at a centre where participants stalked a room with a black floor and walls.

“I did paintball before, it’s quite fun… but I think the whole scene is much more interesting here,” said Jack Backx, a 55-year-old from the Netherlands, who was playing with colleagues from the oil and gas industry on a work day out.

The location is run by VR gaming group Zero Latency, which started in Australia and has expanded to nine countries. It uses “free-roam” virtual reality – where gamers move around in large spaces and are not tethered to computers with cables.

It’s not all intense, shoot-’em-ups – VR group Virtual Room has an outlet in Singapore that transports gamers to scenarios in the prehistoric period, a medieval castle, ancient Egypt and even a lunar landing.

Asia leads the way

VR arcades have been springing up in other places. China was an early hotbed for virtual reality gaming although the industry has struggled in recent times, while they can also be found in countries across the region including Japan, Taiwan and Australia.

Many key industry milestones over the past two years have been in Asia but arcades have appeared elsewhere – London’s first one opened last year while there are also some in the United States.

Consumer spending on virtual reality hardware, software and services is expected to more than double from US$2.2bil (RM8.56bil) in 2017, to US$4.5bil (RM17.51bil) this year, according to gaming intelligence provider SuperData Research.

For the best-quality experience, it can be relatively expensive – a session in Singapore costs Sg$59 (RM175).

“The equipment here is not cheap,” said Simon Ogilvie, executive director of Tomorrow Entertainment, which runs the Zero Latency franchise in Singapore.

The industry faces huge challenges.

China offers a cautionary tale – according to IDC, VR arcades have struggled there after expanding too quickly.

There have also been warnings that improvements in home-based technology may eventually lead to VR gaming centres suffering the same fate as traditional arcades that were once filled with Pac-Man and Street Fighter machines.

“The rise and fall of coin-operated videogame arcades in the 1980s suggests that such VR arcades may eventually fade in relevance as home-based computing power and prices fall within mass consumer reach,” said the note from IDC’s Ma.

Rebecca Assice, who runs Virtual Room in Singapore, said one challenge was getting people interested in the first place as many still did not know about the arcades.

“VR is still a really new industry,” she said. “A lot of people just don’t know this sort of activity exists.” — AFP

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Tailwinds and headwinds into 2018


 

2017 was a year of smooth tailwinds, even though everyone was
mesmerized by the Trump reality show. Heading into 2018, one issue on
everyone’s minds is whether headwinds will finally catch up when the
tide goes out.

ALL markets function on a heady mix between greed and fear. When the markets are bullish, the investors know no fear and regulators think they walk on water. When fear grips the markets, and everyone is staring at the abyss, all eyes are on the central banks whether they will come and rescue the markets.

Last year was one of smooth tailwinds, even though everyone was mesmerised by the Trump reality show.

Heading into 2018, one issue on everyone’s minds is whether headwinds will finally catch up when the tide goes out.

Last week at a Tokyo conference, Fed vice chairman Randy Quarles was visibly confident about the US economy. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth through the final three quarters of 2017 averaged almost 3%, faster than the 2% average annual pace recorded over the previous eight years.

The European recovery, barring Brexit, looked just as rosy. Eurozone growth has stepped up to 2.7% in 2017, with inflation at around 1.2% and unemployment down to 8.7%, the lowest level recorded in the eurozone since January 2009.

In Asia, 2017 Chinese GDP grew by 6.9% to 59.7 trillion yuan or US$9.4 trillion, just under half the size of the United States. With per capita GDP reaching US$8,836, China is expected to reach advanced country status by 2022.

Meanwhile, the Indian economy has recovered from its stumble last year and may overtake China in growth speed in 2018, with an estimated rate of 7.4%.

The tailwinds behind the growth recovery seem so strong that the IMF’s January world economic outlook for 2018 sees growth firming up across the board. The IMF’s headline outlook is “brighter prospects, optimistic markets and challenges ahead.”

Expressing official prudence, “risks to the global growth forecast appear broadly balanced in the near term, but remain skewed to the downside over the medium term.”

Having climbed almost without pause in most of 2017 to January 2018, the financial markets skidded in the first week of February. On Feb 5, the Dow plunged 1,175 points, the biggest point drop in history. The boom in 2017 was too good to be true and fear came back with the re-appearance of volatility.

Amazingly, the drop of around 11% from the Dow peak of 26,616 on Jan 26 to 23,600 on Feb 12 was followed by a rebound of 9% in the last fortnight.

Global stock market indices became highly co-related as losses in Wall Street resulted in profit taking in other markets which then also reacted in the same direction.

Will headwinds disrupt the market this year or will there be tailwinds like the economic forecasts are suggesting?

What makes the reading for 2018 difficult is that the current buoyant stock market (and weak bond market) is driven less by the real economy, but by the current loose monetary policy of the leading central banks.

With clearer signs of firming real recovery, central banks are beginning to hint at removing their decade long stimulus by cutting back their balance sheet expansion and suggesting that interest rate hikes are in the books.

The projected three hikes for Fed interest rates in 2018 augur negatively on stock markets and worse on bond markets.

The broad central bank readout is as follows.

The Bank of England and the Fed are leaning on the hawkish side, the European Central Bank (ECB) is divided and the Bank of Japan will still be on the quantitative easing stance.

In his first testimony to Congress, the new Fed chairman Jay Powell was interpreted as hawkish. In his words, “In gauging the appropriate path for monetary policy over the next few years, the FOMC will continue to strike a balance between avoiding an overheated economy and bringing PCE price inflation to 2% on a sustained basis. In the FOMC’s view, further gradual increases in the federal funds rate will best promote attainment of both of our objectives.”

What is more interesting is the divided stance facing the ECB. In his latest statement to the European Parliament, ECB president Mario Draghi reaffirmed that the eurozone economy is expanding robustly. Because inflation appears subdued, although wage growth has picked up, he argued that “patience and persistence with respect to monetary policy is still needed for inflation to sustainably return to levels of below, or close to, 2%.”

In an unusually critical and almost unprecedented article published last month by Project Syndicate, the former ECB Board member and deputy president of the Bundesbank Jurgen Stark called the ECB “irresponsible”, suggesting that its refusal to normalise policy faster is drastically increasing the risks to financial stability. In short, the bigger partners in Europe think tightening is the right way to go.

If both central banks begin to reverse their loose monetary policy and unwind their balance sheets, liquidity will become tighter and interest rates will rise.

Financial markets have therefore good reason to be nervous on central bank policy risks.

There is ample experience of mishandling of policy reversals.

After the taper tantrum of 2014, when markets fell on the fear of the Fed unwinding too early and too fast, central bankers are particularly aware that they are walking a delicate tightrope.

If they reverse too fast, markets will fall and they will be blamed. If they reverse too slow, the economy could overheat and inflation will return with a vengeance, subjecting them to more blame.

In the meantime, trillions of liquid funds are waiting in the sidelines itching to bet on market recovery at the next market dip. But this time around, it is not the market’s invisible hand, but visible central bank policies that may pull the trigger.

Man-made policies will always be subject to fickle politics. The raw fear is that once the market drops, it won’t stop unless the central banks bail everyone out again. This means that central bankers are still caught in their own liquidity trap. Blamed if you do tighten, and damned by inflation if you don’t.

There are no clear tailwinds or headwinds in 2018 – only lots of uncertain turbulence and murky central bank tea leaves. Fear and greed will dominate the markets in the days ahead.


Andrew Sheng is distinguished fellow, Asia Global Institute at the University of Hong Kong.

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Restructuring our household debt


NEW Year always come with new resolutions. Finance is an important aspect of most people’s checklists when it comes to planning new goals.

While it is good to set new financial targets, it is also vital to re-look at our debt portfolio to ascertain if it is at a healthy state.

At a national level, our country also has its financial targets matched against its debt portfolio.

According to the latest Risk Developments and Assessment of Financial Stability 2016 Report by Bank Negara, the country’s household debt was at RM1.086 trillion or 88.4% of gross domestic product (GDP) as at end 2016.

Residential housing loan accounted for 50.3% (RM546.3bil) of total household debts, motor vehicles at 14.6%, personal financing at 14.9%, non-residential loan was 7.4%, securities at 5.7%, followed by credit cards at 3.5% and other items at 3.6%.

Evidently, residential housing loan is the highest among all types of household debt. However, a McKinsey Global Institute Report on “Debt and (Not Much) Deleveraging” in 2015 highlighted that in advanced countries, mortgage or housing loan comprises 74% of total household debt on average.

As a country that aspires to be a developed nation, a housing loan ratio of 50.3% to total household debt would be considered low, compared to 74% for the advanced countries. In other words, we are spending too much on items that depreciate in value immediately – such as car loans, credit card loans and personal loans – compared to assets that appreciate in value in the long run, such as houses.

Advanced economies, which are usually consumer nations, have only 26% debts on non-housing loan as compared to ours at 49.7%.

In order to adopt the household debt ratio of advanced economies, our housing loan of RM546.3bil should be at 74% of total household debt. This means that if we were to keep our housing loan of RM546.3bil constant, our total household debt should be reduced from the current RM1.086 trillion to a more manageable RM738bil. This would require other non-housing loans (car loans, credit card loans and personal loans etc) to reduce from 49.7% of total household debt to only 26%. To achieve this ratio, the non-housing loan debt must collapse from the current RM539.7bil to only RM192bil.

Reducing total household debt from the current RM1.086 trillion to a more manageable RM738bil would also have the added benefit of reducing our total household debt-to-GDP ratio from the high 88.4% to only 60%, making us one of the top countries globally for financial health.

Malaysia’s household debt at present ranked as one of the highest in Asia. Based on the same 2015 McKinsey Report, our household debt-to-income ratio was 146% in 2014 (the ratio of other developing countries was about 42%) compared to the average of 110% in advanced economies.

Adjusting the debt ratio by reducing car loans, personal loans and credit card loans will make our nation stay financially healthy.

Car values depreciate at about 10% to 20% per year based on insurance calculations, accounting standards and actual market prices. Assets financed by personal and credit card loans typically depreciate immediately and aggressively.

The easy access to credit cards and personal loan facilities tend to encourage people to spend excessively, especially when there is no maximum credit limit imposed on credit cards for those earning more than RM36,000 per year.

If we maximised the credit limit given without considering our financial ability, we will need a long time to repay due to the high interest rates, which ranged from 15% to 18% per annum.

Based on a report in The Star recently, Malaysia’s youth are seeing a worrying trend with those aged between 25 and 44 forming the biggest group classified as bankrupt.

The top four reasons for bankruptcy were car loans (26.63%), personal loans (25.48%), housing loans (16.87%) and business loans (10.24%).

It is time for the Government to introduce more drastic cooling-off measures for non-housing loans in order to curb debt that is not backed by assets. This will protect the rakyat from further impoverishment that they are voicing and feeling today.

As we kick start the new year, it is good to relook into our debt portfolio. When we are able to identify where we make up most of our debts, and start to reallocate our financial resources more effectively, we will be heading towards a sound and healthier financial status as a nation.

By Alan Tong – Food for thought

Datuk Alan Tong has over 50 years of experience in property development. He was the world president of FIABCI International for 2005/2006 and awarded the Property Man of the Year 2010 at FIABCI Malaysia Property Award. He is also the group chairman of Bukit Kiara Properties. For feedback, please e-mail feedback@fiabci-asiapacific.com.
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Moving forward with affordable housing


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Critical trends to watch in 2018


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Global Trends by martin khor

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