Behind crazy rich Singapore’s mask, a growing class divide


Inequality bites: In Singapore, households with accumulated wealth and connections over past generations, like the hit movie’s protagonist Nick Young’s family and friends, can pass on advantages to their offspring. — AP
Inequality bites: In Singapore, households with accumulated wealth and connections over past generations, like the
hit movie’s protagonist Nick Young’s family and friends, can pass on advantages to their offspring. —AP
Two Singapores: Poverty has always existed in the cosmopolitan city state, but the setting of the hit movie ‘Crazy
Rich Asians’ has seen a widening income gap in the past few years. —Reuters

 There is another side to the Lion City’s fabled wealth: a widening gap between rich and poor that is forcing its citizens to question whether their home is really the land of opportunity they once thought.

IN the background, a luxury goods shop, a stooped elderly cleaner sweeping its storefront; on one side of the bridge sits expensive condominiums, bars and restaurants, on the other, rental flats housing Singapore’s poorest.

These scenes unfolded in a documentary titled Regardless of Class by Channel News Asia released on Oct 1, with a security guard revealing he felt as though he was not treated like a person. A cleaner said: “I know I’m invisible. I have to get used to this, and learn to stop caring.”

Poverty and inequality in the city state – the setting of the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians and where the per capita income is among the highest in the world, hitting US$55,000 (RM228,494) last year – has always existed.

But in the last year, Singaporeans have been confronted with discomfiting evidence of growing social stratification, shaking to the core a belief that meritocracy can smooth out unequal beginnings and lead to more equal outcomes.

Sociologist Tan Ern Ser from the National University of Singapore said class origin or background now had a greater influence on opportunity and social mobility, as the country faced slowing growth, job losses and obsolescence and an ageing population.

Singapore’s Gini coefficient, a measurement of income inequality from zero to one – with zero being most equal – has fluctuated above 0.40 since 1980 before adjusting for taxes and transfers. It was 0.417 last year. In the United Kingdom, it was 0.52 in 2015, the United States was at 0.506, and Hong Kong reached a record high of 0.539 in 2016.

Experts say inequality in itself is not worrying – sociologist Tan said it could even “be good for motivating people to want to do better”.

But in Singapore’s case, it has allowed households with accumulated wealth and connections over past generations to pass on advantages to their offspring, helping them to shine, while those without the same social capital and safety nets are forced to toil harder to do the same.

As Singapore University of Social Sciences economist and nominated Member of Parliament Walter Theseira put it: “If you can buy advantages for your child, such as tuition and enrichment, they are going to end up doing better in terms of meritocratic assessments.”

Donald Low, associate partner at Centennial Asia Advisors and the former associate dean at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said Singapore’s meritocratic and universal education system for the past 50 years led to a great deal of social mobility initially, but society would “settle” after a few decades.

“This is amplified by marriage sorting. That is the well-educated marrying one another and passing on their advantages to their children,” Low said.

A paper published last December by local think-tank Institute of Policy Studies, which demonstrated the sharpest social divisions were based on class, not race or religion, started the latest debate on the impact of inequality.

The report, co-authored by sociologist Tan, showed low interaction between students who attended elite and regular schools, and between Singaporeans living in private and public housing.

This was followed by a bestselling book by Nanyang Technological University sociologist Teo You Yenn titled This is What Inequality Looks Like, which told of the experiences of the low income group, and the systemic issues keeping them poor.

In early October, a six-minute clip on Facebook of the Regardless of Class documentary sparked feelings of discomfort, guilt and self-reflection among Singaporeans – possibly from realising “there may well be two Singapores in our midst”, said former nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan, a law don at Singapore Management University.

In it, six students from different education streams talked about their dreams and school experiences.

Some were aiming for an overseas degree and a minimum of A’s; others just wanted to pass their examinations.

When presenter Janil Puthucheary, a Cabinet member, mooted putting students of mixed abilities together in one classroom, a girl from the higher education stream said it was not viable, as “it might even increase the gap if these students feel like they can’t cope so they just give up completely”.

Puthucheary asked if the conversation was awkward.

One boy from the lower education stream said: “The way they speak and the way I speak (are) different, I feel like.

Another student completed the sentence: “Like they are high class and we are not.”

Seetoh Huixia, a social worker for 13 years who is assistant director of AWWA Family Services, said she had seen this sort of low self esteem in the people she works with. “The sense of us versus them, the inferiority complex, that they’re not good enough,” she said.

The Straits Times opinion editor Chua Mui Hoong wrote: “It got me thinking; how did we become a society that looks down on people for the work they do or the grades they get? Are we all complicit in this? Can anything be done to turn our society inside out so that we are all less disdainful, more respectful, of one other?”

Academics felt the documentary was a good conversation starter, but urged Singaporeans to look at the underlying causes of this class divide.

Low said the documentary was problematic because “the root causes of economic inequality, an elitist education system and the government’s anti-welfarism are not interrogated, and that a complex issue (of structural inequality) is reduced to people not having enough empathy or being snobbish”.

“All this class consciousness and implicit bias is a function of our systems and policies,” he added.

Teo urged Singaporeans to look beyond attitudes and focus on the inequality that had led to the divide.

“We must not focus on perceptions – whether of ourselves or others – at the expense of real differences in daily struggles and well-being. The perceptions exist in response to those differences. Just as thinking about gravity differently would not stop a ball rolling downhill, pretending differences don’t exist isn’t going to magically make the differences disappear,” she said.

Sociologist Tan said structural changes through policies would be critical. “It can’t be just about telling people to be nice and respectful toward one another.”

Experts have in the last decade proposed ways in which Singapore can mitigate gnawing income inequality, ranging from policy changes in the areas of wages, taxes on wealth, social spending, housing and education.

The government has responded by increasing its social spending — supplementing the income of low-wage workers, introducing a universal health insurance scheme, increased personal income tax rates for high earners. It has also expanded its network of social service touchpoints and just in September tweaked the education system to reduce the emphasis on examinations.

But its social spending is still lower than Nordic countries and personal income taxes remain competitive to attract talent, leading developmental charity Oxfam and non-profit research group Development Finance International to this month call out the government for “harmful tax practices”, low public social spending, no equal pay or non-discrimination laws for women and lack of a minimum wage.

They ranked Singapore in the bottom 10 of 157 governments (at 149th place), ranked on how they were tackling the growing gap between rich and poor.

The government staunchly disagreed with the report, with Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee saying Singapore’s outcomes in health care, education and housing were better than most countries despite spending less. The World Bank’s Human Capital Index, leaders noted, placed Singapore top for helping people realise their full potential.

One area experts agree on is that more tweaks are needed to the education system.

Singapore Management University’s Tan said apart from higher wealth taxes, “the education system needs to ensure not just equal opportunities but endeavour to provide for equal access to opportunities. There is a world of difference between the two. We may have focused on the former but not enough on the latter”.

Low said the education system needed to be “truly egalitarian”.

He suggested the state funds a national early childhood education system for children aged four onwards to remove segmentation from the get-go, to remove the national exam sat by 12-year-olds in Singapore and have schools run for the entire day so parents do not fill their children’s afternoons with tuition.

Theseira had a more novel solution: affirmative action that accords favours to the disadvantaged.

“It basically says that somebody from a disadvantaged background who achieves the same thing as somebody from a privileged background should be given much more credit because that is actually a much bigger achievement given the starting point,” he said.

“Are we willing to contemplate that? I don’t think we are at the moment but it’s a very obvious policy that addresses this problem with the definition of meritocracy.”

There must be a sense that a class divide is harmful for everyone, especially among those who have thrived under the current system, Eugene Tan said.

“A class divide could threaten Singapore’s existence because it would pit Singaporeans against Singaporeans. The divide would render Singapore to be rife with populism and to be consumed by sub-national identities. The class divide is also likely to reinforce existing cleavages based on race, religion and language.” — South China Morning Post by kok xing hui

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China leads the way as world’s billionaires get even richer


The United States created 53 new billionaires in 2017, down from 87 five years ago
China produced around
two new billionaires a week last year as the fortunes of the world’s
ultra-rich soared by a record amount, a report said Friday.Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-10-china-world-billionaires-richer.html#jCp
China produced two new billionaires a week last year as the fortunes of the world’s ultra-rich soared by a record amount – AFP

China produced around two new billionaires a week last year as the fortunes of the world’s ultra-rich soared by a record amount, Swiss banking giant UBS and auditors PwC said.

Billionaires’ wealth enjoyed its “greatest-ever” increase in 2017, rising 19 percent to $8.9 trillion ($7.8 billion euros) shared among 2,158 individuals, said the report by Swiss banking giant UBS and auditors PwC.

But Chinese billionaires expanded their wealth at nearly double that pace, growing by 39 percent to $1.12 trillion.

“Over the last decade, Chinese billionaires have created some of the world’s largest and most successful companies, raised living standards,” said Josef Stadler, head of Ultra High Net Worth at UBS Global Wealth Management.

“But this is just the beginning. China’s vast population, technology innovation and productivity growth combined with government support, are providing unprecedented opportunities for individuals not only to build businesses but also to change people’s lives for the better.”

The report said China minted two new billionaires a week in 2017, among more than three a week created in Asia.

In the Americas region, the wealth of billionaires increased at a slower rate of 12 percent, to $3.6 trillion, with the United States creating 53 new billionaires in 2017 compared to 87 five years ago.

Currency appreciation saw European billionaires’ wealth grow 19 percent although the number of billionaires rose by just 4.0 percent to 414.

Wealth transition from just five families accounted for 30 percent of the continent’s wealth expansion, the study said.

It warned of lower economic growth in the United States and China if the trade war between the two countries escalates.

“US and Asia ex-Japan equities could fall by 20 percent from their mid-summer 2018 levels.”

Asia challenging US dominance

For China’s young billionaires “the country’s fundamentals of a huge population and rising technology will continue to offer fertile conditions for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses,” the study said.

It there were only 16 Chinese billionaires as recently as 2006.

“Today, only 30 years after the country’s government first allowed private enterprise, they number 373 – nearly one in five of the global total.”

It said 97 percent of them are self-made, many of them in sectors such as technology and retail.

Billionaires from Asia, especially in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, are now challenging the traditional dominance of Americans as technology entrepreneurs.

“In 2017, they equalled America’s level of venture capital funding for start-ups, registered four times as many Artificial-Intelligence-related patents and three times as many blockchain and crypto-related patents as their US counterparts.”

Ravi Raju, head of Asia Pacific Ultra High Net Worth at UBS Global Wealth Management, said Asia’s billionaires “are young and relentless. They are constantly transforming their companies, developing new business models and shifting rapidly into new sectors.”

The report said that globally, self-made billionaires have driven 80 percent of the 40 main breakthrough innovations over the last 40 years.
UP AND OUT OF POVERTY – Xi Jinping https://youtu.be/SYWz2bwCUEE

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© 2018 AFP /Phys.org

Asia’s billionaires see fastest wealth growth: report 
September 17, 2014 

 

 Asia’s billionaires see fastest wealth growth: report

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Asia’s billionaires see fastest wealth growth: report



September 17, 2014

Asia’s billionaires led by Chinese tycoons enjoyed the
fastest increase in their wealth this year compared to their peers in
the rest of the world, a report said Wednesday.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2018-10-china-world-billionaires-richer.html#jCp

 

The rich are becoming richer


 

They are becoming richer at a faster rate too

 

DON’T the rich always grow richer, while the poor well, remain poor.

If you’re already disheartened, it gets worst. The rich are getting richer, and at a faster rate too.

A 36-page report released by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) last month showed that global personal financial wealth grew by 12% in 2017 to US$201.9 trillion.

This total, roughly 2.5 times as large as the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) for the year (US$81 trillion), more than doubled the previous year’s rate, when global wealth rose by 4%.

It also represented the strongest annual growth rate in the past five years in dollar terms.

“The main drivers were the bull market environment in all major economies, with wealth in equities and investment funds showing by far the strongest growth and the significant strengthening of most major currencies against the dollar,” said BCG in the report.

The increasing millionaires and billionaires now hold almost half of global personal wealth, up from slightly less than 45% in 2012, says BCG. In North America, which had US$86.1 trillion of total wealth, 42% of investable capital is held by people with more than US$5mil in assets. Investable assets include equities, investment funds, cash and bonds

In terms of asset classes, US$121.6 trillion (60%) of global wealth took the form of investable assets – mainly equities, investment funds, currency and deposits, and bonds, with the remaining US$80.3 trillion (40%) held in non-investable or low-liquidity assets such as life insurance, pensions funds, and equity in unquoted companies.

Residents of North America held over 40% of global personal wealth, followed by residents of Western Europe, with 22%. The strongest region of growth was Asia, which posted a 19% increase. All wealth segments grew robustly, but high growth rates were especially prevalent in the uppermost wealth segments.

The market sizing review encompasses 97 countries that collectively account for 98% of the world’s gross domestic product.

The personal wealth bands are generally measured as such:

1. Retail: below US$250,000

2. Affluent: between US$250,000 to US$1mil

3. Lower High Net Worth (HNW): between US$1mil and US$20mil

4. Upper HNW: between US$20mil and US$100mil

5. Ultra HNW: above US$100mil

Everybody is getting richer

The US is home to the largest number of people with more than US$20mil. Globally, the classes of the ultra-rich are expected to reach 671,000 by 2022.

Meanwhile, the Middle East is the region with the greatest share of wealth held in investable assets US$3.1 trillion of a total US$3.8 trillion. Western European residents held 56% in currency and deposits, while in North America the attention was on equities and investment funds, with 62% of US$47 trillion of investable wealth parked in those assets.

Should personal wealth creation continues at the rate of the past few years, BCG forecasts a compounded annual growth rate of about 7% from 2017 to 2022, in US dollar.

Events like stock market corrections and geopolitical uncertainties could knock that down to 4%.

In a worse-case scenario, such as a major economic crisis, global wealth might produce a compound growth rate of only 1% over five years, the study found.

BCG says opportunities abound for wealth managers seeking to increase their focus on different client segments.

For example, despite being far apart on the wealth spectrum, both the above US$20mil segment (upper HNW and ultra HNW) and the affluent segment are attractive because they represent very large wealth pools with high growth rates.

In 2017, the upper HNW and ultra HNW segments held more than US$26 trillion in investable wealth.

US residents held over 30% of this wealth, making the US easily the largest country of origin.

Other economic areas with large pools of ultra HNW investable assets include developing markets such as China (in second place), Hong Kong, India, Russia and Brazil, and developed markets such as Germany (in third place), France and Italy.

The share of wealth held by upper HNW and ultra HNW individuals varies widely aong the top 15 countries, ranging from 47% in Hong Kong to 8% in Japan.

Over the next five years, the upper HNW and ultra HNW segments wealth is likely to post the highest growth across all regions.

“Financial institutions looking to acquire and serve these segments will need to bring a broad international skill set to the table,” said BCG.

Affluent individuals

Afluent individuals is a segment whose population is burgeoning, hold a large and increasing amount of the world’s personal wealth at US$17.3 trillion or 14% of investable assets in 2017. (see chart)

This group of about 72 million people represents the growing middle class and many of its members will become the millionaires of tomorrow.

“We expect the wealth of this segment to post a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 7% over the next five years, increasing its pool of wealth to nearly US$25 trillion. To successfully tap into this segment, wealth managers must have at their disposal an efficient service model and significant skill in and innovative digital technologies,” said BCG.


Entrepreneurs

The entrepreneur segment represents another attractive opportunity for wealth managers to tap into money in motion and provide needed services.

“We expect these individuals, who have equity in their own companies – recorded as unquoted equities (non-investable wealth) – to significantly increase their pool of investable assets, by liquidating some or all of their equity through sales and by earning new wealth through their entrepreneurial activities. The largest pools of entrepreneurial wealth are in the US, France, Italy and Japan.

 

Asia

Personal wealth in Asia grew by 19% to US$36.5 trillion, with residents of China holding nearly 57% of that amount, and the region registered per capita wealth of US$13,000. Although the asset allocation share of equities ad investment funds has grown over the past five years (from 22% in 2012 to 31% in 2017), Asia remains a cash-and-deposit-heavy region, with 44% of personal wealth held in this asset class. We project regional wealth to grow over the next five years at a CAGR of 12%.

Meanwhile Switzerland remains the largest offshore centre, domiciling US$2.3 trillion in personal wealth in the country. The next largest booking centres are Hong Kong (US$1.1 trillion) and Singapore (US$0.9 trillion) which have grown at yearly rates of 11% and 10% respectively – more than three times the rate (3%) of Switzerland over the past five years.

Over the next five years, BCG feels off

By Tee Lin Say, Starbiz

Too good to be true? Think twice


 

HAVE you ever grabbed an offer without any hesitation, simply because the price is too cheap to resist?

Many of us have this experience especially during sales or promotional campaigns. We tend to spend more at the end or buy things which we are uncertain of their quality when the deal seems too good to say no.

It may be harmless if the amount involved is insignificant. However, when we apply the same approach to big ticket items, it can cause vast implications.

Recently, I heard a case which reinforces this belief.

A friend shared that a property project which was selling for RM300,000 a few years ago is now stuck. Although the whole project was sold out, the developer has problem delivering the units on time.

The developer is calling all purchasers to renegotiate the liquidated and ascertained damages (LAD), a compensation for late delivery.

One of the homeowners said he is owed RM50,000 of LAD, which means the project is 1½ years late. When we chatted, we found that he purchased the unit solely due to its cheap pricing without doing much research in the first place.

The incident is a real-life example of paying too low for an item which can leave us as losers, especially when it involves huge sum of investment, such as property.

To many, buying a house maybe a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a decision made can make or break the happiness of a family.

A good decision ensures a roof over the head and a great living environment, while an imprudent move may incur long-term financial woes if the house is left uncompleted.

Nowadays, it is common to see people do research when they plan to buy a phone, household item, or other smaller ticket items.

Looking at the amount involved and implication of buying a house, we should apply the same discretion if not more.

It is always important for house buyers to study the background of a developer and project, consult experienced homeowners regarding the good and bad of a project before committing.

I have seen many people buy a house merely based on price consideration.

In fact, there are more to be deliberated when we commit for a roof over our heads. The location, project type, reputation of a developer, the workmanship, the future maintenance of the property etc, are all important factors for a good decision as they would affect the future value of a project.

Beware when a discount or a rebate sounds too good to be true, it may be just too good to be true and never materialised. If the collection or revenue of a housing project is not sufficient to fund the building cost, the developer may not be able to complete the project or deliver the house as per promised terms. At the end of the day, the “price” paid by homeowners would be far more expensive.

In general, the same principle applies elsewhere. It is a known fact that when we pay a premium for a quality product from a reliable producer, we have a peace of mind that the product could last longer and end up saving us money. Some lucky ones will end up gaining much more.

For instance, when we purchase a car, we should consider its resale value as some cars hold up well, while others collapse after a short period. Other determining factors include the specifications of the car, the after sales service, and the availability of spare parts.

Quality products always come with a higher price tag due to the research, effort, materials and services involved.

In addition to buying a house or big ticket items, other incidents that can tantamount to losing huge sums are like money games, get-rich-quick scheme, or the purchase of stolen cars or houses with caveats.

When an offer or a rebate sounds dodgy, the “good deal” can be a scam.

Years of experience tells me that when what is too good to be true, we should think twice. I always remind myself with a quote from John Ruskin (1819-1900) who was an art critic, an artist, an architect and a philosopher. “It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that’s all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the thing it was bought to do.

“The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.”

Food for thought by Alan Tong

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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Scientists Finally Discover How the Obesity Gene Works


https://news.yahoo.com/video/key-gene-tied-obesity-maybe-221910667.html?format=embed

Scientists have finally figured out how the key gene tied to obesity makes people fat, a major discovery that could open the door to an entirely new approach to the problem beyond diet and exercise.

The work solves a big mystery: Since 2007, researchers have known that a gene called FTO was related to obesity, but they didn’t know how, and could not tie it to appetite or other known factors.

Now experiments reveal that a faulty version of the gene causes energy from food to be stored as fat rather than burned. Genetic tinkering in mice and on human cells in the lab suggests this can be reversed, giving hope that a drug or other treatment might be developed to do the same in people.

The work was led by scientists at MIT and Harvard University and published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The discovery challenges the notion that “when people get obese it was basically their own choice because they choose to eat too much or not exercise,” said study leader Melina Claussnitzer, a genetics specialist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “For the first time, genetics has revealed a mechanism in obesity that was not really suspected before” and gives a third explanation or factor that’s involved.

Independent experts praised the discovery.

“It’s a big deal,” said Dr. Clifford Rosen, a scientist at Maine Medical Center Research Institute and an associate editor at the medical journal.

“A lot of people think the obesity epidemic is all about eating too much,” but our fat cells play a role in how food gets used, he said. With this discovery, “you now have a pathway for drugs that can make those fat cells work differently.”

Several obesity drugs are already on the market, but they are generally used for short-term weight loss and are aimed at the brain and appetite; they don’t directly target metabolism.

Researchers can’t guess how long it might take before a drug based on the new findings becomes available. But it’s unlikely it would be a magic pill that would enable people to eat anything they want without packing on the pounds. And targeting this fat pathway could affect other things, so a treatment would need rigorous testing to prove safe and effective.

The gene glitch doesn’t explain all obesity. It was found in 44 percent of Europeans but only 5 percent of blacks, so other genes clearly are at work, and food and exercise still matter.

Having the glitch doesn’t destine you to become obese but may predispose you to it. People with two faulty copies of the gene (one from Mom and one from Dad) weighed an average of 7 pounds more than those without them. But some were obviously a lot heavier than that, and even 7 pounds can be the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy weight, said Manolis Kellis, a professor at MIT.

Related: More U.S. Adults Are Now Obese than Overweight

He and Claussnitzer are seeking a patent related to the work. It was done on people in Europe, Sweden and Norway, and funded by the German Research Center for Environmental Health and others, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Researchers can’t guess how long it might take before a drug based on the new findings becomes available. But it’s unlikely it would be a magic pill that would enable people to eat anything they want without packing on the pounds. And targeting this fat pathway could affect other things, so a treatment would need rigorous testing to prove safe and effective.

The gene glitch doesn’t explain all obesity. It was found in 44 percent of Europeans but only 5 percent of blacks, so other genes clearly are at work, and food and exercise still matter.

Having the glitch doesn’t destine you to become obese but may predispose you to it. People with two faulty copies of the gene (one from Mom and one from Dad) weighed an average of 7 pounds more than those without them. But some were obviously a lot heavier than that, and even 7 pounds can be the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy weight, said Manolis Kellis, a professor at MIT.

Related: ‘Healthy Obesity’ Turns Unhealthy Over Time

He and Claussnitzer are seeking a patent related to the work. It was done on people in Europe, Sweden and Norway, and funded by the German Research Center for Environmental Health and others, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“It’s a potential target” for drug development, said Dr. Sam Klein, an obesity researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. He called the work “an amazing study” and “a scientific tour de force.”

Dr. Rudolph Leibel, an obesity expert at Columbia University in New York, used the same term — “tour de force.” Still, some earlier research suggests the FTO gene may influence other aspects of obesity such as behavior and appetite.

“It’s possible there are several mechanisms being affected,” and that fat-burning is not the whole story, he said.

Read This Next: There Are 6 Types Of Obesity — And Each Should Be Treated Differently

– Associated Press

Malaysia’s richest four poorer by RM13b


Their net worth hit by challenging economic outlook and slump in oil prices

PETALING JAYA: The country’s top four tycoons in the latest Forbes Malaysia Rich List are “poorer” by a total of US$3.6bil (RM12.9bil) with last year’s challenging economic out­­look shrinking their wealth, ­albeit slightly.

Robert Kuok, 91, who controls a business empire which includes palm oil, shipping, media, hotels and real estate, topped the list for the 10th year in a row with an estimated net worth of US$11.3bil (RM40.5bil) as of February, down US$200mil (RM720mil) from 2013.

In second place was telecommunications tycoon T. Ananda Krishnan whose wealth is valued at US$9.7bil (RM35bil), a drop of US$1.6bil (RM5.7bil) from the previous year, with third spot taken by property mogul and Hong Leong Group chairman Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan with a net worth of US$5.6bil (RM20bil), down US$800mil (RM2.8bil).

Genting Malaysia Bhd chairman and chief executive Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, who runs casinos in the Bahamas, London, Singapore, Manila and New York besides the home-grown casino in Genting Highlands, claimed fourth place with a net worth of US$5.5bil (RM19.8bil), down US$1bil (RM3.6bil).

“The wealth of some on the list was affected as the local stock market lost steam and the oil price collapse sent the Malaysian ringgit down 10% against the dollar,” according to a statement issued by the business magazine after the release of its latest rankings.

The statement said Ananda’s net worth decreased partly due to a slump in the shares of Bumi Armada Bhd, his offshore oilfield services provider, while Lim’s wealth was affected as China’s economic moderation affected the region’s casino gaming and entertainment sector.

The statement said tycoons with significant investments and ties to the oil sector also suffered a decline in their net worth.

SapuraKencana Petroleum Bhd vice-chairman Tan Sri Mokhzani Ma­­­­ha­­thir was knocked out of the billionaire’s list this year as his estimated net worth fell by US$500mil (RM1.8bil) to US$700mil (RM2.5bil).

The main investors in Sapura­Ken­cana – brothers Tan Sri Shahril Shamsuddin and Datuk Shahriman – also saw their fortunes drop to US$860mil (RM3.1bil) from a reported US$1.4bil (RM5bil) the year before.

It was not all bad news for some Malaysian tycoons as a weaker ringgit boosted exports.

Tan Sri Lau Cho Kun, who heads Hap Seng Consolidated Bhd, made it to the billionaire ranks with a net worth of US$1.08bil (RM3.8bil) on the back of robust plantation and trading revenues.

Software tycoon Goh Peng Ooi, the founder and executive chairman of Silverlake Group, saw his net worth rise by US$450mil (RM1.6bil) to US$1.55bil (RM5.5bil).

– The Star Asia News Network

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Living life to the fullest


living-life-to-the-fullest
Chan, an avid mountaineer and myelofibrosis patient, with a photo of himself (in red jacket) and fellow climbers at the summit of Mount Kinabalu. Photo: UU BAN/The Star >>

Despite having a rare blood disorder, Tan Sri Chan Choong Tak not only continued his active lifestyle , but also took up mountain-climbing.

FORMER Dewan Negara president Tan Sri Chan Choong Tak’s motto in life is to live it to the fullest.

Not surprising then that among his many accomplishments are two Malaysian Book of Records titles as the oldest Malaysian to reach the top of Mount Kilimanjaro’s Uhuru Peak (on Aug 31, 2003, at the age of 70) and the oldest Malaysian to reach the top of Mount Kinabalu’s King George Peak (on Aug 29, 2004, at the age of 71).

Uhuru Peak is the highest point on Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the tallest freestanding mountain in the world (from sea level) and the tallest mountain in Africa, while King George Peak is located on the more challenging and lessclimbed Eastern Plateau of Mount Kinabalu, Sabah.

What makes these two records more significant – aside from the impressive fact that Chan only took up mountain-climbing in his sixties – is that he was suffering from a rare bone marrow disorder at the same time.

His condition, primary myelofibrosis, is one of a group of diseases called myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are caused by abnormal production of blood cells in the bone marrow.

In the case of myelofibrosis, the problem lies in the abnormally-increased production of megakaryocytes, which are the cells that directly give rise to platelets. This results in an initial increased number of platelets in the body.

Cytokines – protein growth factors that are produced by megakaryocytes – are also correspondingly increased.

And as these cytokines are what stimulate the bone marrow’s fibroblasts to produce collagen, this results in an excessive amount of collagen being made.

The collagen deposits in the bone marrow as webs of fibre – similar to scar tissue on the skin – resulting in the disease’s characteristic fibrosis of the bone marrow.

With the collagen taking up so much space in the bone marrow, regular blood cell production is disrupted.

Red blood cells (RBCs) are usually decreased in number and abnormally formed, resulting in anaemia, while white blood cells (WBCs) are abnormal and immature, resulting in increased infection rates.

With production of blood cells in the bone marrow disrupted, the spleen, which is the body’s secondary supplier of blood cells, steps up to meet the body’s needs.

This extra work usually causes the spleen to enlarge (splenomegaly), resulting in pain or a feeling of fullness below the left rib.

Occurring commonly in those above 50 years of age, myelofibrosis is caused by a spontaneous genetic mutation (i.e. not inherited) in the affected person’s blood stem cells. This is what causes the uncontrolled production of megakaryocytes.

The cause of the mutation itself in primary myelofibrosis is, as yet, unknown.

Accidental discovery

As the symptoms of myelofibrosis, like fatigue, shortness of breath, pallor, frequent infections and easy bruising, are quite vague, diagnosis can be quite difficult.

In Chan’s case, he did not notice any signs or symptoms of myelofibrosis prior to his diagnosis.

In fact, it was a combination of a road accident and his wife, Puan Sri Cecelia Chia’s sharp eyes that alerted them to the possibility of a problem.

He shares: “My son gave me a racing bike for my 60th birthday – that was 21 years ago. So, I used to cycle around. Then, I met with a road accident.”

Chan was cycling along the narrow, winding roads of his hillside residential area in Seremban, Negeri Sembilan, when he suddenly met an oncoming car.

With no space to avoid the car, he braked hard and was thrown to the ground in a head-first fall.

“My helmet broke and I thought I would be paralysed. My friend, who is a doctor, straightaway rang up the hospital and they sent the ambulance,” he says.

Fortunately, Chan suffered no major injuries from the accident.

However, his cardiologist son insisted that he be checked more thoroughly for brain injuries, which resulted in him seeing a neurologist.

While his brain turned out to be fine, his wife noticed that his platelet count from the blood test were quite high – between 600,000 to 700,000 platelets per cubic millimetre, when the upper limit for normal is 400,000.

His son then sent him to consultant haematologist Dr Ng Soo Chin, who prescribed hydroxyurea to bring down his platelet count.

That seemed to work quite well for Chan, and it was, in fact, shortly after this that he began mountain-climbing with a group of fellow MBA (Masters of Business Administration) alumni from Tenaga Nasional Bhd.

Chan was then a director of the company, and had gone to Ohio University, United States, to study his MBA along with other Tenaga Nasional executives.

“So, as I climbed, I continued to take hydroxyurea and everything was normal.

“But Soo Chin said, hydroxyurea will eventually bring down your red corpuscles (another term for RBCs), and recommended anagrelide,” he says. Anagrelide is a platelet-reducing agent.

Accelerating disease

Chan continued happily with the two medications, until the year 2011, 18 years after his initial diagnosis.

By then, he was seeing consultant haematologist Datuk Dr Chang Kian Meng at Hospital Ampang, Selangor, as Dr Ng had advised him to continue his follow-ups at a public hospital as his medications are quite expensive.

Chan shares that Dr Chang started him on epoetin alfa and pegylated interferon that year as his blood cell levels were fluctuating.

While interferon decreases the production of blood cells in general, epoetin alfa stimulates the production of RBCs to counteract the effects of anaemia.

However, his haemoglobin levels dropped even further, and he started requiring blood transfusions about once every two months.

The transfusions made a big difference as he reports feeling “very energetic” after receiving the first one. (Fatigue is a common symptom of anaemia.)

The following year, it was the WBCs turn to go “completely haywire”, when a blood test revealed that they had dramatically increased to about 56 from the regular range of about 4 to 10.

He also started experiencing profuse night sweats and cramps, along with the occasional itchiness that had started in his seventies – all of which are among the symptoms of myelofibrosis.

“Then, both Dr Chang and Soo Chin agreed that I had entered into myelofibrosis in acceleration,” he says.

The only cure for myelofibrosis is a bone marrow transplant, but aside from the difficulty of finding a suitable donor and the riskiness of the procedure, Chan’s age rendered him unsuitable for such a treatment.

Fortunately for him, a new drug had recently been approved by both the European Commission and the United States Food and Drug Administration for use in myelofibrosis at that time.


A new drug

The drug, ruxolitinib, inhibits certain enzymes in the JAK pathway, which regulates blood cell production. Half of primary myelofibrosis cases are caused by mutations in the JAK genes, which results in the dysfunctional production of blood cells in the bone marrow.

However, the drug was not available in Malaysia then. (It was only launched in the Malaysian market in 2013.)

This is where his political connections as a Gerakan life member and former secretary-general came in useful.

Then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon offered to help pass on the letter Chan had written to the Health Ministry requesting approval to use the drug on compassionate grounds, to the Health secretary-general.

Four days later, Chan received the approval he needed, and received his first dose of ruxolitinib in October 2012.

Since then, after some adjustments in dosage, Chan’s blood cells are back in the normal range and his last transfusion was in December 2013.

He is currently doing well enough for his doctor to lower his dosage of ruxolitinib, while still taking epoetin alfa and interferon.

Life goes on as normal for this active 81-year-old, who still climbs hills, reads newspapers of various languages and blogs daily, works out in the gym and does regular morning calisthenics.

Of his condition, Chan shares that he never felt the need to know about the disease, being only interested in his blood test results.

“I didn’t know what myelofibrosis was all about until I was asked to do this interview. That was the first time I went into Google to see what was myelofibrosis,” he says with a laugh.

“But I knew it was a dangerous disease, but I wasn’t bothered. I continued to carry on with my normal life.”

He adds: “I’m not bothered with what happens because I have full trust in my doctors.

By Tan shiow China The Star/ANN

Related:

101 Ways To Live Your Life To The Fullest personalexcellence.co/blog/101-ways-to-live-your-life-to-the-fullest/  – If your answer to any of the above is a no, maybe or not sure, that means you’re not living your life to the fullest.

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