Thursday, March 31, 2016

China start-up 'Little Red Book', Xiaohongshu valued at US$1bil

 
Colour of success: A Chinese actress dressed as a Red Guard and holding a ‘Little Red Book’ performs in front of a portrait of the late Chairman Mao Zedong at a restaurant in Beijing Xiaohongshu says its name has nothing to do with Mao’s famous tome. — Reuters

HONG KONG: The “Little Red Book” has become a symbol of capitalist success in Communist China.

E-commerce start-up Xiaohongshu, which means “Little Red Book” in Chinese, has raised US$100mil from Tencent Holdings Ltd and other investors at a valuation of about US$1bil, two people familiar with the matter said.

The online shopping site co-founded in 2013 by Charlwin Mao, which connects overseas merchants with local buyers, becomes China’s newest billion-dollar startup. It also attracted investment from Genesis Capital and Tiantu Capital in its latest round, the people said, asking not to be identified because the matter is private.

The funds will help bankroll the Shanghai-based startup’s expansion. Xiaohongshu -- which calls itself RED and stresses its name bears no relation to Mao Zedong’s book of quotations - works by letting its mostly younger female users post pictures of favorite products. It then connects them with sellers abroad of everything from Body Shop anti-dandruff shampoo to Lotte peach liquor.

Its fundraising comes as venture capital firms grow more cautious about valuations in China, an economy forecast to grow this year at its slowest pace in a quarter-century.

Genesis Capital is a late-stage investment firm founded by Richard Peng Zhijian, who oversaw Tencent’s investment unit. Genesis and Tencent didn’t respond to e-mailed queries. Calls to Shenzhen-based Tiantu’s general line went unanswered. Xiaohongshu co-founder Mao said he couldn’t immediately comment.

Three-year-old Xiaohongshu claims 17 million registered users on its LinkedIn page and had attracted investment previously from GGV Capital and Zhen Fund.

It specialises in cross-border e-commerce, marketing foreign brands to increasingly wealthy local shoppers.

That’s a market forecast to reach 6.5 trillion yuan (US$1 trillion) by 2016, the state-run Xinhua News Agency cited the Ministry of Commerce as saying in March.

It didn’t elaborate on that figure.

The company says its name has nothing to do with Mao’s famous tome, considered one of the most-printed works in history and known to English-speakers as the “Little Red Book.” The late Communist leader’s book is called “Hong Bao Shu” or “red treasure book” in Chinese. “Why isn’t your website called ‘Little Black Book,’ ‘Little Blue Book,’ ‘Little Purple Book’ or ‘Big Red Book’?” reads a question posted by Xiaohongshu in a section of its website sketching out its origins. “We don’t know. But anyway, our name isn’t because of Hong Bao Shu.” — Bloomberg

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Hedge funds invasion of US treasuries puts bond at risk, more turbulence in US debt market

Hedge funds are crowding into U.S. Treasuries, and that has bond traders bracing for more turbulence.


While the Federal Reserve doesn’t break out hedge-fund ownership, a group seen as a proxy increased its holdings to a record $1.27 trillion in the past year, according to a quarterly report released by the central bank this month. That came as foreign central banks and finance ministries, the biggest buy-and-hold owners in recent years, culled their investments for the first time on an annual basis since 2000.


The surge of hedge funds into U.S. government debt is a worrying sign to Societe Generale SA and Commerzbank AG.

They say the firms, which often use borrowed money and jump in and out of trades at a moment’s notice, will boost the chances of sudden shocks in the world’s de facto haven market. That may compound swings in Treasuries, which by some measures have reached record levels as concerns about China, the global economy and diverging central-bank policies whipsaw bond traders. The Treasury Department is already looking into whether the market isn’t running as smoothly as it should.

Volatility Risk

Foreign central banks’ “market share is being replaced by private investors who take a much more active approach,” Rob VandenAssem, the head of investment-grade fixed-income for developed markets at PineBridge Investments, which oversees $85 billion, said in an e-mail. “Hedge funds in particular pose a risk to volatility.”

The potential that hedge funds will amplify Treasury swings adds to questions about the resilience of the $13.3 trillion market, especially as the Fed considers whether to raise interest rates this year. And because yields are so low, sudden shifts in momentum could lead to big losses, especially for less nimble investors.

Ten-year Treasuries yielded 1.89 percent today, more than a half-percentage point below their June peak of 2.5 percent.

In the Fed’s quarterly reports, domestic hedge funds are categorized under “households and non-profit organizations.” Most analysts consider it an accurate gauge of Treasuries held by those high-powered firms, and to a lesser degree, ownership by households and other groups like private-equity shops and personal trusts. The latest data released March 10 showed they were the largest buyers of Treasuries last year, adding $398 billion. That’s the biggest increase on an annual basis since 2009.


Hedge funds are also signaling their presence in the U.S. bond market in other ways. Since the end of 2013, investors domiciled in the Caribbean, a popular legal home for hundreds of hedge funds seeking lower taxes, have increased their holdings of Treasuries by 43 percent to $352 billion, Treasury Department data show. As a group, they’re now the third biggest overseas creditors, behind only China and Japan.

At the same time, foreign investors, who still hold 40 percent of America’s bonds, were the only net sellers in 2015 as central banks in China and other emerging markets raised cash to support their currencies. And Treasury Department figures showed they kept selling at the start of the year.

The rise of hedge-fund ownership may already be making fluctuations in Treasuries worse. This year, daily swings in 10-year yields exceeded one standard deviation -- equal to 0.043 percentage point -- about 39 percent of time, according to TD Securities. That eclipses last year’s figure of 34 percent, which was the highest for any year going back to 1975, the data show.

“This will likely add volatility” said Bruno Braizinha, a fixed-income strategist at SocGen in New York.

Treasury Review

Concerns over abrupt swings, whether it’s because of a lack of liquidity or an increase in high-volume traders, have already caught the attention of the U.S. government. Spurred by a 12-minute plunge and rebound in yields on Oct. 15, 2014, the Treasury Department is conducting its first comprehensive review of the market’s structure since 1998.

Some say hedge funds aren’t the problem, but a potential solution.

By stepping in to take the place of traditional Wall Street banks, whose bond-trading businesses have come under pressure from regulations and shifts in technology, hedge funds may actually increase liquidity. And their use of leverage, or borrowed money, means they have the wherewithal to trade vast quantities of securities.

Leverage, Liquidity

At least that’s the view of Ronin Capital LLC, a Chicago-based proprietary trading firm. When U.S. officials asked for comments on liquidity and market structure earlier this year, the firm wrote in a March 19 letter that “leverage and liquidity in the U.S. Treasury market go hand in hand.”

“If the only entities willing to hold positions in U.S. Treasuries are ‘buy and hold,’ meaningful liquidity in the U.S. Treasury market will be nonexistent,” the firm said.

Some sophisticated investors have also started to trade on Treasury platforms previously reserved for bond dealers, according to an October report from financial-services consulting firm Greenwich Associates. Christian Hauff, the co-founder of Quantitative Brokers LLC, says many of those funds now look a lot like Wall Street’s proprietary bond-trading desks from years ago.

“You’re seeing those that used to trade on Wall Street transition to working at hedge funds,” he said.

Even if hedge funds provide more liquidity, it doesn’t necessarily ensure the ride won’t be bumpy. That’s because while traditional dealers often served as buffers for their clients during times of stress, hedge funds have no such incentive.

When volatility picks up, hedge funds can “jump on another ship,” said David Schnautz, a London-based rates strategist at Commerzbank. - Bloomberg

What is a hedge fund? - MoneyWeek Investment Tutorials




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Monday, March 28, 2016

Entrepreneurship is not a job but providing a solution

Coming up with a winning idea


Entrepreneurship is not a job. It’s about providing a solution, and pulling people and resources together to make that change. Workable business ideas are all about solving problems.

Q: I’m an engineering student in Portugal, but I feel I really was born to be an entrepreneur. I started creating logos for companies when I was about 15. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and I’m always trying to think of new ways to start businesses. I want to follow my passion — but it’s tough when you have a great business idea, and no support. How do I find the right path? — João Bandeira, PortugalJoão, it’s always heartening to hear a young would-be entrepreneur talk about passion being a key driver in his life. The most successful entrepreneurs share that indescribable desire to change the world and make a positive difference in people’s lives.

And while it can be a struggle in the early days to find one project to pour all your enthusiasm into, just remember that successful entrepreneurs always manage to come up with an idea that’s right for them, and they make it work.

Your question reminds me of the origins of Ring — a wildly successful business that I have invested in.

For years, founder Jamie Siminoff had attempted to come up with a winning business idea — he even turned his garage in California into a lab for prototypes. As he worked there, though, Jamie was annoyed that he couldn’t hear the front doorbell.

One day he decided to fix this problem — he created a program to link the doorbell to his smartphone so that he could answer the door remotely with a video call. It was a great solution.

Jamie’s wife loved the idea as well: When Jamie was away, she could always see who was at the front door, and she felt safer.

Later, Jamie invited friends around to check out his other inventions, but the only thing anybody cared about was the doorbell!

He soon realised that this was the best business idea he ever had, and Ring was born. Just like that, the hours of searching for a winning idea were over.

João, the fact that you are constantly thinking of new businesses to start is a hugely valuable asset. Being proactive is a good thing, but I would strike a note of caution about the idea search.

I recently joined a host of fellow entrepreneurs in Los Angeles for Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural “Business Is an Adventure” event, and the topic of generating business ideas came up in a panel. Sean Rad, the CEO and founder of the dating app Tinder, made a great point.

“Entrepreneurship is not a job — it is a reaction to you wanting to solve a problem,” he said. “You have to wake up and say: ‘I am passionate about making a change, and I am passionate about pulling together people and resources... Not wake up and say: ‘I want to be an entrepreneur’ because I think you’ll kind of be lost... you’ll be looking for a problem instead of finding a problem looking for a solution.”

It’s a shrewd observation, and one that underlies the success of many companies, including Tinder.

In our daily lives, we all come across problems, annoyances or frustrations that we would love to see solved. Luckily, entrepreneurs are perfectly placed to solve those problems.

Interestingly enough, that’s how Virgin Atlantic began. After one particularly terrible experience as a passenger with an unscrupulous airline, I decided there must be a better way to fly. The next day, our team was on the phone with Boeing asking if they had any second-hand 747s that they were willing to sell.

Thankfully, they didn’t laugh and hang up — and the first Virgin airline was born.

So keep in mind that generating ideas is a great strength, but make sure that you’re spending your time and energy searching for solutions, not problems. That’s the best way to approach workable business ideas. Become a passionate problem-solver, and you’re half-way to being a successful entrepreneur.

Also keep in mind that once a great idea has been sparked, getting it off the ground can feel like a daunting task for anyone — especially if you have nobody there to support you, as you point out. I would advise you to take advantage of the connectivity offered by the Internet. Plenty of resources, networks and fellow entrepreneurs are just a click away.

Additionally, getting a mentor who can point you in the right direction and share his experiences is one of the best things you could ever do. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help if you just ask. — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

By Richard Branson

Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.

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Sunday, March 27, 2016

House buyers' traps: purchasers lose their homes because of defaulting developers

WHY does this keep happening to house buyers in Malaysia?


This incident happened two years ago in Taiping where a laid-back community of mainly retirees found the roof over their heads nearly, and in some cases, actually, blown away. The purchasers had paid the developer and had moved into their houses and lived there for 10 years. Problem was that the purchasers paid the developers in cash remittance without taking out end-financing loans.

Unknown to the purchasers, the developer did not pay the developer’s bank to settle the developer’s loan vide bridging loans. The developer’s charge remained and grew into bigger indebtedness to the bank.

Apparently, the developer’s bank had not been collecting payment of the loan from the developer, even as the developer was collecting the instalments of the purchase price from the purchasers, as provided in the sale & purchase agreement (S&P) schedule.

Having waited for 10 years for the developer to settle his loan, the bank realised that the developer was not going to pay; that foreclosure was unavoidable.

The bank had a problem. Apart from the developer’s loan having ballooned over the years because of the bank’s laxity in not insisting on the developer paying promptly, there was also political repercussion. There are a few issues here, namely, the destruction of a settled community in a pleasant location, the injustice of the S&P; the solicitousness for developers in preference to purchasers on the part of the powers that be; and the embarrassment resulting from the bank’s philanthropic ramifications.

Has the bank breached the fiduciary duty of care to the purchasers as the bridging loan financier to the defaulting developer?

The crux of the problem is that the Housing Ministry-prescribed S&P allows the developer to build the purchaser’s house with the instalments of the purchase price paid by the purchaser from the day the S&P is signed. On top of this, and even more seriously, the developer is allowed to borrow from the developer’s banks on the security of the purchaser’s property.

Where a purchaser has paid the purchase price in full to the developer, and the developer does not pay the developer’s loan secured by the purchaser’s property, the developer’s bank may foreclose, auction off the purchaser’s property to recover the developer’s loan.

The developer suffers nothing. It has received the purchase price and pocketed it. The developer borrowed from its bank and gave the purchaser’s property as security, and with foreclosure the developer’s bank recovers its loan, and so the developer owes no money to the bank. It takes no risk, suffers no loss.

Purchasers the victims

It is the purchaser who loses. He loses his house and he has to settle the loan he took to buy the house with increasing interest on it. He is blacklisted, which means he can never borrow again. He may never buy a house again! Is this fair to the buyer who never did anything wrong to the developer or to the developer’s bank? In the Taiping housing fiasco, some of the purchasers had to buy their houses again at prices bloated by 10 years’ arrears of interest (i.e. pay the developer’s debt) to stave off foreclosure.

Who is to blame for this sad state of affairs? We will consider each one in turn. The most obvious candidate is, of course, the developer. Not so. It is the Housing Ministry for providing a standard form S&P that allows this to happen. Firstly, the S&P allows the developer to borrow money from a bank with a charge on the whole housing development land before it is sub-divided and sold. This pre-sale loan is referred to in the recitals to the S&P. This is understandable as the developer needs money before sale. The result of this is that the purchaser buys an encumbered property but the purchaser is not told how much of the developer’s loan, if apportioned equally, is borne by each purchaser’s sub-divided land (the redemption sum). After sale, the developer collects money from the purchaser from the day the S&P is signed, and should be able to make use of it to meet all the expenses of the development. However, after the sub-divided land is sold, the developer keeps borrowing, and no effort is made to keep the purchaser informed about the increasing amount of the developer’s loan/ the redemption sum.

The purchaser’s consent to the additional, post-sale loans is taken for granted. In fact, the purchaser cannot withhold his consent as long as the purchaser receives some fig-leaf protection from the developer’s bank in the form of an undertaking not to foreclose.

What is the use to the purchaser of the developer’s bank’s undertaking not to foreclose? What the purchaser needs is the absolute undertaking by the developer and the developer’s bank that a purchaser who has paid the purchase price will not face foreclosure vis-à-vis the disclaimer(s). This would have helped the Taiping purchasers. It is, therefore, a matter between the developer’s bank and the developer, with the Housing Ministry playing the proper protective role required of it by law, to ensure that such an undertaking/ disclaimer is given by the developer’s bank to the purchaser. This and other issues arising from the S&P have been raised by HBA with the Housing Ministry which continues to procrastinate.

To the developer’s bank, the loans to the developer on the security of the purchaser’s land is regarded as if it is the developer’s property entirely; it is of no concern to the developer’s bank that some of the purchasers have paid the developer and the developer may or may not have forwarded some of these payments to the developer’s bank.

The developer’s bank’s concern is whether the whole loan has been settled by the developer-borrower. If not, the developer’s bank feels secure in the knowledge that the entire housing development land is available to the developer’s bank to recover its loan/s. In so far as the developer’s bank is concerned, payments made by each purchaser to the developer is of no consequence. The transaction between the bank and the developer is the one that matters.

Under the then S&P, there is also no control over how much the developer should be allowed to borrow, for what purpose and by when it should be settled. Each loan to the developer increases the risks to the purchaser.

In the recent past, developer’s borrowed only for the purpose of meeting the expenses of the housing development. The developer was allowed to borrow twice only – once before sale and once after sale. Although the developer was not required to disclose the redemption sum, there was a very important safeguard. And that is, the developer had to settle the redemption sum to the developer’s bank before completion of construction so that at the end of the 24- or 36-month construction period, as the case may be, the property was free from the developer’s encumbrances and safe from foreclosure, even if the property was not transferred to the purchaser just as promptly. It was at least safe from foreclosure.

Bank initiatives

Banks/financial institutions should take the initiative to recover progressively the loan it had given the developer. Banks should stipulate as a condition for giving loans to their customers (developers) that the latter open its Housing Development Account (HDA), a statutory requirement, with the same bank and require the instalments of the purchase price be paid into it, and authorise the bank to deduct the developer’s loan by instalments from the HDA so that when the purchaser completes payment, the developer’s loan is also settled.

There is no such statutory requirement in the S&P so that if it happens at all, it’s serendipity!

HBA had meetings with the Housing Ministry to propose changes to the law and S&P with the view of giving greater protection to purchasers within the framework of the sell-and-build (which Rehda defend so fervently) but some pertinent ones had been objected by Rehda.

As if that is not enough, the ministry too have rejected those proposals vis-a-vis pre-determination of redemption sums in the S&P transaction. And that notwithstanding the Housing Development Act 1966 stating that it is inter alia for “the protection of the interests of purchaser.”

The next continuing article will dwell on the new “protection” or whatever in lieu thereof approved by the Attorney-General’s Chambers vis-à-vis “redemptions and disclaimers”.

Buyers beware by Chang Kim Loong

Chang Kim Loong is secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association: www.hba.org.my, a non-profit, non-governmental organisation.

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Chinese hacker pleads guilty, deserves respect whether guilty or innocent


A Chinese national named Su Bin pleaded guilty in the US on Wednesday to conspiring to hack into the computer networks of several major US defense contractors to obtain sensitive information, according to a US Department of Justice statement. The information allegedly includes technical files about F-22 and F-35 fighter jets and C-17 military transport aircraft.

The statement says "Su Bin admitted to playing an important role in a conspiracy, originating in China," where he has two accomplices. Some US media have conjectured that the two accomplices must be Chinese military personnel.

Su was arrested in Canada in July 2014, and was handed over to the US this February. The Chinese government has denied any involvement in Su's case, and the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked the US to ensure the privacy and legal rights of Chinese citizens on US soil.

Plea bargaining is a common US judicial practice. Defendants can plead guilty in exchange for softer punishments. The disadvantage of this practice is that it is hard to know what the defendants truly think, and whether there might be any wrongs in the judgments.

Every country is gathering intelligence. The largest and most well-known information-collecting agencies are the CIA and FBI in the US. The FBI has even listed China as their top target. Recent years have seen the FBI arresting quite a few "Chinese spies," but most of them proved to be innocent. In the meantime, China has kept a low profile in reporting the exposure of US spies out of various considerations.

In most cases, governments won't acknowledge these spies after they have been caught. For example, whenever China intercepted spies from Western countries, the governments they served routinely denied any connection and even mobilized the Western media to attack China's human rights and win over sympathy.

We have no reliable source to identify whether Su has stolen these secrets and transferred them to the Chinese government. If he has, we are willing to show our gratitude and respect for his service to our country. On the secret battlefield without gunpowder, China needs special agents to gather secrets from the US. As for Su, be he recruited by the Chinese government or driven by economic benefits, we should give him credit for what he is doing for the country.

If Su was wronged and forced to plead guilty, he should have our sympathy. As the "war of information" between China and the US continues, there will probably be more Chinese framed as spies and jailed in the US. This is a tragedy of the times, and we hope the Chinese working in sensitive professions in the US can protect themselves.

At the helm of international public discourse, the US is able to define whether certain activities are espionage or not. When US espionage is exposed, the US media will try to divert public attention and tone down the case. But when the CIA or FBI catches suspects, hyperbole about these cases makes headlines in US media.

The most infamous case is that of Edward Snowden, who revealed the global US surveillance program PRISM. The whistleblower is wanted by the US government, which refuses to reflect on its behavior, but keeps criticizing China for espionage without solid proof.

China lags behind the US in technology. The existence of US cyberspace military forces is openly known to the public, and its capability is way higher than Chinese "hackers." But it doesn't mean that China cannot fight back in the face of ill-founded US accusations of Chinese spies. China should uncover Washington's brazen hypocrisy with concrete evidence. - Global Times

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

BOAO Forum 2016: Asia's New Future - New Dynamics, New Vision





http://t.cn/RqvW8Fw

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivers a speech at the opening ceremony of the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference in Boao, South China's Hainan province, March 24, 2016.[Photo by Zou Hong / chinadaily.com.cn]

Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday relevant parties should try to complete negotiations of Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) within this year.

The statement is an injection of confidence into Asia-Pacific, which since last year has been hit by slowing growth, plunging commodity price and depreciation of local currencies. Li made the comments at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference.

RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement (FTA) between the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the six states: Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and New Zealand. RCEP negotiations were formally launched in November 2012 at the ASEAN Summit. The final round of negotiation is expected to be held in Laos in September.

"The economic situation is not optimistic, but the confidence cannot be shattered. The region, which has experienced two financial crises in the past, is not what it used to be. Contributing to one third of the global trade last year, Asia remains the most dynamic region in the world," he said.

Developing countries in the region last year grew 6.5 percent in GDP, contributing 44 percent of the world growth, according to him.

Premier vows to implement 'Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect'

Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday vowed to implement the "Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect" program within this year.

"We'll launch the Connect at an appropriate time within this year," Li said at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference.

The statement is a further indication of central government's resolve to launch the program to facilitate cross-border securities investment. Li said last week at the closing of annual legislature session that China will "work toward the launch of the Shenzhen-Hong Kong Stock Connect within this year".

China opened the Shanghai-Hong Kong Stock Connect at the end of 2014. Plan to further expand cross-border investment activities was delayed by the stock market rout last year.

China will adopt measures if economy runs out of 'reasonable range'

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said on Thursday that the government will resolutely take comprehensive measures if the economic growth slips out of the "reasonable range."

He said the government will prevent the loss of speed and maintain economic growth within a reasonable range.

Li made the remarks at the opening ceremony of the 2016 annual conference of Boao Forum for Asia in the country's southern island province of Hainan.

No foundation for the yuan's long-term decline, says Li

Premier Li Keqiang said at the Boao Forum for Asia Annual Conference on Thursday that there's no foundation for a long-term decline in the value of the yuan.

"The renminbi will stabilize at a reasonable level, and China is a responsible world power," said the premier.

Such stress comes as markets are concerned about the yuan's slump as a way to boost exports.

The country's fundamentals have ruled out the possibility of a long-term depreciation, the premier stated at the forum.

The 2016 Boao Forum for Asia is held in South China's Hainan province from Mar 22 to 25. The annual conference aims to open the floor to discuss Asia's New Future, New Dynamics, and New Vision.

Premier calls on Asian countries to be good neighbors

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Thursday that Asian countries should keep peace and stability in the region and work together to maintain Asia as the key driver for the world economy.

One important reason why Asia had achieved a rapid growth over the past decades is that the region kept a generally peaceful and stable environment, Li said when addressing the opening ceremony of the 2016 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) in Hainan province.

Dialogue and cooperation is the golden key, the premier said.

He stressed that, inspired by history and experiences after the WWII, Asian countries should be good neighbors and friends and not be disturbed by minor frictions and contradictions, no matter what stage of development they are in.

Citing views that the Asian economy is in a difficult situation, Li called for coordination and united efforts to overcome difficulties.

This year's meeting in Boao, Hainan, from March 22 to 25, is themed "Asia's New Future: New Dynamics and New Vision." More than 2,000 participants from over 60 countries and regions attend the forum. The event features discussions on the macro-economy, politics, entrepreneurship, innovation, the Internet, public well-being and culture.- China Daily

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Corruption case in the Youth & Sports Ministry Malaysia is a reflection of broken systems in country

The brazen embezzlement of RM100mil from the Youth and Sports Ministry exposes stark weaknesses in the management of public funds.




THE case of the mid-level civil ser­vant who embezzled more than RM100mil undetected from the Youth and Sports Ministry for years should rightly boggle the mind.

But when it comes to corruption and fraud in the country, most Malaysians aren’t easily baffled anymore. There are more outrageous scandals in our midst, including one best described as the proverbial jumbo in the room.

Still, the misappropriation of RM107mil of public funds by the official is yet another appalling reflection of what has gone wrong in the system.

It does not make sense that the 56-year-old division secretary who was arrested with eight others, including a woman, last Friday, could brazenly make payments to 14 companies for non-existent work without the knowledge of those above or below him.

According to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC), he pocketed at least RM20mil in kickbacks from the procurement fraud operation which began in 2010 and perhaps even earlier than that.

The money from the National Sports Council was channelled directly to the companies and to his bank accounts – all 69 of them.

Surely he could not have done this all by himself. Under the ministry’s standard operating procedures, who were the others responsible for super­­­vising and approving the payments? The perception is they were either grossly negligent or in cahoots with him. And what about the internal auditors? Were they caught napping too?

As Transparency International-Malaysia president Datuk Akhbar Satar has pointed out, the ministry’s internal auditors should have spotted the stealing.

Let’s not forget that this ministry endorsed the Corporate Integrity Pledge under the Anti-Corruption National Key Results Area initiatives with much fanfare in 2014.

The pledge was made two years after allegations on questionable spending by the media and a Public Accounts Committee hearing in Parliament.

Among the issues raised was a bill amounting to more than RM10mil for the 2012 Hari Belia Negara event.

It was for supplies and services supposedly provided by an events management company for rental of tents, booths, stage, lighting and sound systems and performances by local entertainers and three K-pop groups – Dal Shabet, Teen Pop and U-KISS.

The investigations into the embezzled RM107mil are still at the initial stages. The MACC is now following the money trail and questioning more people, including those in the ministry and former senior officials, under Section 17(a) of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 and the Anti-Money Laundering Act. As for the main suspect, who is under remand for a week along with the eight others, he was clearly living beyond his means.

His audacious showiness and extravagant lifestyle blew his cover.

Among the things seized from his house and office in Putrajaya were 12 luxury cars, a wide assortment of jewellery, including a RM600,000 Cartier ring, paintings, luxury watches and 40 designer handbags.

The MACC has also seized RM8.33mil from the 69 bank ac­­counts. The officer is also believed to have received other kickbacks from the companies in the form of houses, trust fund payments worth millions and supplementary credit cards.

Apparently, he withdrew RM500,000 from one of his bank accounts a day before he was nabbed and used RM200,000 to pay his cre­dit card bills and sent RM40,000 to his son’s bank account in Australia.

Investigations also showed that man and his family had been travelling first class to Australia, Europe and the US at least once a month.

As always, pledges of impro­ving the system are made each time a new financial scandal is unco­vered.

Chief Secretary to the Government Tan Sri Dr Ali Hamsa said the Auditor-General’s Depart­ment would conduct a check on the Youth and Sports Ministry and its agencies.

He said it would cover financial and procurement processes and identify weaknesses.

But, as Dr Ali said, the secreta­ries-general of ministries should have been aware of all expenditure in the first place, as they were effectively chief financial officers.

According to him, there should not be any case where an officer could approve funds without autho­risation from the secretary-general, adding that a circular on this had been issued for some time now.

So why was this not followed in the case of the Youth and Sports Ministry, where there have been se­veral secretaries-general since 2010? The simple answer is the rules are there but they are not being followed, even at the highest levels.

Our system is broken and this is the main reason why corruption is so rampant in the country and the trust deficit in the Government is growing by the day.

Earlier this month, the Sultan of Perak, Sultan Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah, called for corruption to be fought with more determination.

“It must be tackled without bias, without fear and without favouri­tism because corruption is corruption no matter who commits it,” the Perak Ruler said in his speech at the Utusan Business Awards presentation on March 1.

Likening corruption to termites eating into the main pillars of the country, he warned that failure to address the scourge would lead to Malaysia’s certain downfall with citi­zens undergoing suffering like that being experienced in under-deve­loped countries.

“The public must be inculcated with a culture to hate corruption and to reject leaders involved in corrupt practices,” said the Perak Ruler, describing Malaysia’s poor score in Transparency International’s corruption perception index as a cause for alarm.

Malaysia’s current 50th spot is be­­hind Saudi Arabia (48), Jordan (45), Namibia (45), Mauritius (45) and even Rwanda (44). It only scored 50 points in 2015, two less than in 2014.

Last week, Time magazine deli­vered another damning blow on the level of corruption in the country.

In outlining specifics explaining the state of global corruption, it named five countries led by Brazil. Malaysia was second, followed by South Africa, China and Russia.


Along The Watchtower By M. Veera Pandiyan The Star

Associate Editor M. Veera Pandiyan likes this observation by 4th century Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi who said: “The petty thief is imprisoned but the big thief becomes a feudal lord.”

Related post:

Malaysia slides in global Corruption perception index

 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The iron lady of the last survivors of Japanese occupation in WWII Part 4

>
The Last Survivors: Yap Chwee Lan 


How Japan Forced Women Into Sexual Slavery 

AT the age of 15, girls were pretending to be boys during the Japanese Occupation in Malaya, but Yap Chwee Lan was bravely rescuing the people of Kampung Baru, Johor, all because she could speak Japanese.

“Every night, about seven or eight young girls from the neighbourhood would come to my house to sleep because they felt safer there. They knew I could speak Japanese,” recalled Yap, now 90.

“The Japanese soldiers would come knocking on our door to ask for young girls and I’d respond in Japanese, ‘ Why do you need women? You need housekeepers?’. They were shocked I could speak Japanese.”

Yap learnt the language from her former Japanese employer, who was a hairdresser in Johor. The then 13- yearold picked up the language quickly, and was even treated well by his family.

Yap’s fluency in their language granted her favour in the eyes of the Japanese, and this ordinary girl found herself holding extraordinary power – the ability to save people.

She managed to save those who lived in her town, Kampung Baru, Johor, by identifying them – in Japanese – to the soldiers who would have killed them on suspicion of aiding the resistance.

And we were there to capture her experiences as the R. AGE crew brought her around Johor to film at locations that hold significant memories during the Occupation. This is for The Last Survivors, an interactive online documentary project that aims to raise awareness to youths about the importance of preserving Malaysian World War II stories.

Listening to her stories when he was growing up, one of Yap’s grandson Sebastian Chew, 18, is glad he didn’t have to experience WWII and the Occupation as he thinks it will haunt him throughout his life.

“I can’t imagine going through everything – from the bombings, hiding, living in fear and when the Japanese made the people dig their own graves in one of the fields and killed them. I don’t know how my grandma did it,” he said.

“That’s why I think it’s important for young people to know about these war stories so they can prevent anything of this sort from happening in the future. It’s cruel and heartbreaking.”

In her teenage years, Yap, whose father passed away when she was seven years old, had to work because her family was living in poverty.

She got married when she was 15, and lived with her husband Chiew Seng Leung at his laundry shop, Kedai Dobi Shanghai, in Johor Baru. Twenty days after their wedding, the Japanese started bombing Singapore.

Japanese fighter jets, based in Johor, would fly across to Singapore twice a day to bomb the neighbouring country. As the Japanese was attacking Singapore, lots of people walked over to Johor for safety. Yap and her family evacuated to Tampoi.

“We packed food and clothes, and placed them on my husband’s bicycle. As we were walking to Tampoi, we were stopped by a soldier because he wanted our bicycle. I told him in Japanese that it was ours and he let us through,” said Yap.

“The soldiers would leave you alone if they knew you could speak Japanese because it was like you were one of them. They’ll have more respect for you.”

Once they were in Tampoi, they sought refuge in a temple along with about 50 other refugees, but soldiers came looking for comfort women. Yap not only told them there were none, but also said she was part Japanese, hoping they wouldn’t come back.

But the next day, the Japanese returned. This time, they were with their general.

Yet, Yap wasn’t afraid. “Strangely enough, I wasn’t scared. He was impressed that I could speak Japanese and praised me, saying it was good because I could help the Japanese soldiers,” she said. He proceeded to ask Yap if they had enough food and made sure they did by sending them rice, sugar and flour so they could cook.

He also offered her a job in Singapore as a liaison officer between the Japanese and the locals. She took the job after the island was invaded, but later learned that the Singaporeans she had liaised with were all eventually killed.

The distance was too much for Yap to handle as well, as she didn’t know if her family was well and alive. She returned to Johor one week later, and things were unfortunately similar to what was happening in Singapore.

Chiew’s boss had been arrested, along with a bunch of other people.

“There were black flags all along the streets,” Yap recalled. “It meant everybody was to stay home, because the Japanese would arrest anyone on sight.”

Those who were arrested were taken to a house in Jalan Abdul Samad, behind what is now the Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar, to be held before being taken to Dataran Bandaraya, where they would be executed.

“When I got to the house, the people were kneeling on the ground, their hands tied behind their backs with thick wire as the Japanese soldiers pointed bayonets at them,” said Yap.

“A lot of them called out my name, begging me to save them. Then the Japanese asked if I knew these people.”

“I said, ‘ Yes, I do’. A lot of them lived in my neighbourhood. When I identi- fied them, they were freed.”

The rest, whom she couldn’t identify, weren’t so lucky. Her mother’s friend’s son was one of the unlucky ones.

“I didn’t see him there, I was devastated when I found out. His mother was crying in the street,” said Yap, recalling the horrors of wartime Malaya.

Those remained were brought to the field. They were asked to dig holes in the ground, sit at the edge of the holes and were shot with machine guns. As the bodies fell in, those who were merely injured were kicked into those holes they had dug themselves and buried alive together with the dead.

While a great number of people died during the Occupation, many more owe their lives to Yap.

Her family, though, remained safe, thanks to Yap.

“Before I went to Singapore, the Japanese general gave me a permit for my family,” she said. “He told me, ‘ If anybody disturbs your family, ask them to report to one of my officers’.”

Today, Yap and her family still live in Johor, where some of the survivors’ descendants still recognise her.

“I was walking around town and suddenly someone called out, ‘ Ah Ma!’. They told their kids that I saved their grandfather or grandmother,” Yap said with a laugh.

By VIVIENNE WONG The Star

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  Malaysian WWII survivors share experience Part 2


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Monday, March 21, 2016

Foreign funds comeback, rising interests in Malaysian properties and equities

Foreign interest in Malaysian real estate picks up: Knight Frank


KUALA LUMPUR: Foreign investors' interest in Malaysian real estate, particularly commercial property, is picking up due to the weakened ringgit, said Knight Frank Malaysia Sdn Bhd.


"What we are noticing is that given the ringgit is currently at one of its lowest (levels) in the last many years, interest in Malaysian real estate is actually now coming back because people feel there is upside not only in terms of capital value appreciation but also the fact that the ringgit will move back possibly to better levels. We are certainly seeing this," its managing director Sarkunan Subramaniam told reporters at a briefing on Knight Frank's The Wealth Report 2016 yesterday.

Executive director James Buckley said it has been seeing interest from the Middle East and the US who are typically opportunistic investors attracted by the currency play here which, combined with the slightly subdued property market fundamentals, makes it a good time for them to enter the market.

"I've got two significant groups coming this week ... one from the US, one from Japan. It's a regular basis now and has been picking up from last year. A lot of them are doing initial trips to understand the market a bit better. They are really focused on commercial investments so the office market, retail market and some are interested in hospitality assets as well," he said.

Buckley said in the past, foreign investors investing in Malaysia were typically from Japan and the growing interest from the US is surprising as the Malaysian market is small compared with the US market.

He said these investors are attracted by the currency and the slight oversupply of office space in Kuala Lumpur.

"It is a good time for them to negotiate some good deals here," Buckley said, adding that most of the foreign interest in Malaysia come from Korea, Japan, Singapore and the Middle East.

Meanwhile, the trend among local property investors is also changing, with interest moving from office space and agricultural land to office, retail and hospitality assets. However, residential property remains the core real estate investment for Malaysians.

"In the global context, interest in commercial property is growing quite strongly. What came out of The Wealth Report is that 47% of UHNWIs (ultra high net worth individuals) are expecting to increase their allocation in commercial property. In the Malaysian perspective, we do see a gradual rise in the interest in commercial property. Particular popular choices for Malaysians are office and retail investments, and they are looking to increase their exposure to these assets over the next 10 years," said Buckley.

He said there is a misconception that investing in commercial property is more complicated while some feel they lack experience investing in this sector but interest is picking up as investors are becoming more familiar with the market and understand better the benefits of investing in commercial property.

The report showed that Malaysian high net worth individuals (65% of survey respondents) have increased their asset allocation to residential property.

Moving forward, 65% of Malaysian survey respondents said they will increase asset allocation to residential property in the next 10 years.

In terms of property purchases this year, 39% of Malaysian UHNWIs said they are considering residential purchases. This is more than 29% of global UHNWIs who intend to buy residential property this year.

On average, Malaysian UHNWIs own more properties (4.7) compared with the global and regional average of 3.7 and 3.92 respectively. As for overseas investments, the top three locations for Malaysian investors are Australia (Melbourne), the UK (London) and Singapore.

Bulls making a comeback


Foreign funds are putting money in emerging markets


HUMAN beings have a natural tendency to fear heights – it’s a natural survival instinct which worked well in the wilderness and in the outback, but one which severely plays against us when it comes to the stock market.

Seven years ago, back in early 2009, these were some of the top financial headlines in the US:

> Georgo Soros says US banks ‘basically insolvent’

No one knew it then, but the Dow Jones was about to embark on a seven-year bull run and would gain some 92% over that period. Riding along was the FBM KLCI, which gained 85% over the same period.

For sure the ride has been bumpy and riddled with sharp corrections. But for investors who held on to their stocks, they would have been rewarded with handsome returns.

For any investor invested in the market – volatility will always be there. But as long as they are able to endure the frailty and fluctuations of the market, the long-term rewards historically outweigh the short-term fickleness.

We have heard it many times before – the best time to own stocks is when sentiment is at its worst,

This was especially apparent in early 2009 when the US economy was on the brink of a banking collapse, In those dark days, there were more forecasts of Black Mondays than predictions of light at the end of the tunnel.

Eng: ‘The market has had a good run since January.’
Eng: ‘The market has had a good run since January.’

The stock market, as always, had a mind of its own. Despite the proclaimation of dooms and the fall of many American banks, the Dow was heading almost on a straight upward trajectory by mid-March 2009. 

Sir John Templeton said: “Bull markets are born on pessimism, grow on skepticism, mature on optimism and die on euphoria.”

That was true seven years ago, 50 years ago, and definitely just as true today.

Logically speaking, what comes down must go up.

Earnings can still be nasty, but doesn’t the market always behave a year forward. At the heart of it all, the market is made up of buyers and sellers. All it takes are a few buyers during a down period to sniff out an opportunity, and suddenly, the market is edging upwards.

It’s the same story with oil prices. Do not expect the coast to be completely clear – for example no more excess inventories, oil demand significantly outpacing supply or the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) deciding to cut production by 50% – before we see oil prices moving up.

By the time these signs are crystal clear, oil prices have made new highs months ago.

In any case, last week the International Energy Agency (IEA) said that oil prices had bottomed out due to US and other output cuts outside the Middle East-dominated Opec.

The US rig count fell for a 12th straight week last week to a total of 386, its lowest since December 2009 as drillers continue to slash capital expenditure.

Zulkifli: ‘These are still early days of a recovery. People are still sceptical ...’
Zulkifli: ‘These are still early days of a recovery. People are still sceptical ...’

The problem now is that after a seven-year run, investors are getting nervous. Investors have mostly been in a flux wondering where the market is heading. Most investors are waiting for the crash to come. They talk about a sluggish economic outlook, falling earnings, recessions in commodity-heavy nations, slowing growth in China, negative interest rates, the end of quantitative easing in the US, the UK (potential Brexit) and flatter yield curves. 

Has the market stalled and lost some of its stamina? With the expectation only of mediocre growth and low yields, is it time to sell stocks?

Behind the scenes, some under-appreciated indicators are starting to show some light.

First of all, the ringgit has been strengthening – a reflection of foreign money coming back to Malaysia. It strengthened 0.6% this week to RM4.09 against the greenback.

Last week, foreigners bought listed equities amounting to RM1.04bil on Bursa Malaysia, higher than the RM972.2mil acquired in the preceding week. To date, there are some 12 consecutive weeks of total net inflows and brings cumulative year-to-date foreign purchases to RM1.6bil.

For the entire 2015, there was a net outflow of RM19.5bil.

Meanwhile the FBM KLCI closed at 1,703.19 on Thursday, which is also its six-month month high. The seven-month high is 1,744.19 recorded on Aug 3, 2015.

From a charting perspective, a recovery in the FBM KLCI appears to be playing out.

“We reiterate our view that KLCI must close above 1700 levels convincingly to sustain the ongoing rally from 1600, with key upside target at 1710 (March 7 high), 1727 (Oct 19 high) and 1740 (200-day simple moving average) levels. Failure to close above 1700 will see the index continue its short-term congested range-bound consolidation within the 1660-1700 territory,” says Hong Leong analyst Nick Foo.

Etiqa Insurance & Takaful head of research Chris Eng, on the other hand, feels that the market is toppish for now.

“The market has had a good run since January. It may have a few more legs to run, but come April, it will be earnings results in the US, and in May, it will be earnings result in Malaysia. We aren’t expecting very positive earnings coming out, so market may start falling again by April,” says Eng.


From a trading perspective, he would ask clients to sell into strength.

On a fundamental perspective, however, he isn’t expecting a recession, well at least not this year. He would still advice investors to stay invested in equities.

“We are expecting some weakness in the market come middle of the year. That would be a better time to buy. We would identify that weakness and look for opportunities then,” says Eng.

MIDF Research has been recommending its clients to start buying since the start of the fourth quarter last year.

“These are still early days of a recovery. People are still sceptical, especially retail investors. But we have been tracking the money flows, and foreigners have been net buyers every single day of the 14 trading days so far this month, which is a phenomenon not seen in more than two years” said Zulkifli Hamzah, head of MIDF Research.

According to Zulkifli, the Malaysian equity market is benefiting from a tide of global liquidity flowing into Asia. Some of the money is actually global funds in China, being reallocated to other Asian markets as the outlook in Asia’s biggest economy is challenging.

“In the bond market, Malaysia started to look attractive to the foreigners as early as September last year. The low global interest rate environment, with negative rates in some countries, has made local yields very attractive indeed. That is reinforced by the depressed Ringgit,” said Zulkifli.

“Overall, we are positive on the market. Sceptism of the market has been partly due to the relatively restrained climb in the index. But this has been due to selling by local funds, which are understandably taking the opportunity of the market’s upward march to realize their profits. We also do not expect to see such a steep incline in the indices because of rotational forces at work,”

“Global investors are not going to come in and buy blindly across the board although the Ringgit is seen as undervalued. They will be selective and buy only those stocks that they see value. We believe the current uptrend has legs. However, there are potential potholes which may cause temporary retracement, at which point it would be opportune to enter the market,” said Zulkifli.

He added that the changing of guard in Bank Negara and the Sarawak state election would be closely watched by foreigners.

No rate hike is good for Malaysia

On Wednesday, Federal Reserve officials lowered their view of the economy and said they likely won’t raise interest rates as swiftly as they had previously anticipated as there are lingering risks posed by soft global growth and financial-market volatility.

Policy makers left short-term interest rates steady and said they would raise their benchmark rate just twice this year, after an initial increase in December 2015, down from the four they previously predicted.

Last week European Central Bank (ECB) chief Mario Draghi announced a much bigger and wider-ranging stimulus package than anyone had expected

He increased his purchases of financial assets by a hefty 20 billion euros per month (from 60 billion-80 billion euros), pushed interest rates lower into negative territory (by 10 basis points), improved financing for the banks and announced his intention to buy investment grade corporate bonds.

In other words, the ECB will pay banks 0.4% to lend. This puts the eurozone in a negative interest-rate situation.

This move inevitably makes Malaysia more attractive.

Recessionary pressures and low interest rates in the US are a boon for emerging markets like Malaysia. This is further helped by economies like Japan and China which are continuing to cut interest rates to kickstart their economies.

With US and eurozone interest rates having stayed in negative territory for so long, and doubts on future rate hikes, investors are getting desperate for yields.

So they come to Malaysia, where the average yield on a 10-year dollar bond is higher by some 140 basis points than a similar US Treasury 10-year note.

Also, after a torrent of bad news, some confidence is returning to Malaysia.

Last month, Fitch Ratings affirmed Malaysia’s long-term foreign and local-currency issuer default ratings (IDRs) at A- and A respectively, with stable outlook.

Malaysia’s senior unsecured local-currency bonds were also affirmed at A while the country ceiling was affirmed at A and the short-term foreign-currency IDR at F2.

The three rating agencies – Moodys, S&P and Fitch Ratings – have given the same credit rating of between A3 and A- with stable outlook for Malaysia.

Bank Negara also announced that Malaysia’s economy grew by 4.5% in the final quarter of last year, which was better than expected. This brings the full-year gross domestic product growth to 5% from 6% in 2014.

The recent stability in the ringgit was also a positive factor for foreign investors, and this has taken away some of the foreign exchange risk of investing here.

The ringgit is the best-performing emerging-market Asian currency over the past three months, having been one of the worst performers last year. Year-to-date, the ringgit has gained 2.05% against the US dollar.

The economy is on a better footing now that the Government has revised its budget based on oil prices between US$30 and US$35, and the country is on track to achieve its targeted budget deficit of 3.1%.

by Tee Lin Say The Star

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Door opening in emerging markets

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