Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

Bad policies are not enough to derail the most powerful economic engine the world has ever seen -- the US economy.

Here is where we are headed in 2012:

Higher stocks prices, lower bond prices.

A slowly expanding economy -- roughly 2 percent. Because of the way GDP is measured, the reported numbers will bounce around, but should average about 2 percent for 2012 as a whole.

China will stumble but recover. Bad government policy will be overcome by the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of ordinary Chinese. China will continue to be on a roll.

Europe will sink further into the abyss. The failure to rationalize sovereign debt problems (meaning the failure to begin some managed default process) will mean negative economic growth in Europe for 2012. At the end of the day, it will turn out that Europe is less important than everyone thinks. Except for very isolated situations, Europe as an economic entity has been moribund for a generation. That situation will only become more obvious in 2012.

Emerging markets will plod along, but if you own emerging market stocks, you'll wish you had bet on the US market by year end (same as 2011).

Growing disparities in the Western economies between the haves and the have nots. But, not what you think. The "haves" in the Western economies are those with "protected" jobs -- public employees, teachers especially, people that work for Universities, heavily regulated industries,companies that are basically the government (Fannie, Freddie, etc.), and elected politicians.

The have-nots in the Western world are those in the bottom half of the income spectrum -- the aged, the young and poorly educated, the minorities. These folks are going to see their situation deteriorate more in 2012, mostly because of the impact of government policies that have built up over the past fifty years.

Inflation will begin to be significantly more visible in 2012, but runaway problems are still a couple of years or more down the road. It will feel good in 2012, but the seeds of future problems will be evident.

So, 2012 will be a plus year and will feel better for the "haves" than 2011.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Another Economist Off The Rails

Laura d'Andrea Tyson has now joined the chorus of academic economists spouting economic nonsense. (Although Tyson is more a politico and a professional board sitter these days and is definitely one of the 1%).

Tyson has a piece in today's NYTimes attacking the Wyden-Ryan proposal to reform medicare that would move medicare more into the free market. Tyson notes that the cost of medicare, in the past ten years (and especially in the last three years) has grown more slowly than private insurance. That is an absurd comparison.

Medicare grows by whatever it's budget is and that's that. Private insurance is beset by changes in state legislation (and virtually every state has dramatically altered it's health insurance rules making them more expensive by mandate) in the past ten years. Tyson also seems relatively unconcerned that medicare has a $ 66 Trillion unfunded liability into the future while private insurance has a zero unfunded liability into the future.

Tyson's argument is like saying if I buy now, pay later, then the cost is zero.

Reading Tyson's piece in today's NYTimes is one more trip down the anti-capitalism roadway that so many "star" economists seem to have taken. Economics to these folks is more about have the right politics than about economic logic and economic facts.

Before medicare came into existence, health care was cheap and plentiful and health insurance cost almost nothing. Go back and read newspapers and articles about health care in the world pre-1964 and you will find that health care was a backburner issue. Health care did not become a major problem until the last thirty years and most of our problems with health care provision have to do with too much government, not too little.

The free market is the best way to allocate a scarce resource. Subsidies for the less affluent are a humane way to deal with poverty and low income families. Entitlements for Warren Buffett and Bill Gates are a prescription for disaster and result in a $ 66 Trillion unfunded liability. Where are economists when we really need them?

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Gold and Investment

Most thoughtful observers realize that the US and the major Western economies are going to have significant inflation at some point. It is unlikely that politicians will ever deal forthrightly with the entitlement issues and the only thing left is to monetize the debt -- print money -- and hope that rampant inflation will destroy the value of the outstanding sovereign debt. An interesting future.

The conclusion that some draw is that gold (and perhaps other precious metals) should thrive in a world of out-of-control inflation and the absence of a safe haven asset. It is an appealing idea and gold has done well in recent years, until recent months.

But, how do you value gold? or silver? Normally things have some alternative use. But the prices of gold and silver are way beyond any alternative use value. Gold could trade anywhere -- up or down. There is no way of establishing a value for gold.

Should gold be a part of a diversified portfolio? No. But gold mining companies should.

Which brings us to the Hedge Fund industry in 2011. The hedge fund industry has stubbed it's toe big time by holding outsize positions in gold and in gold stocks. Why? What "expertise" that is worth paying money for leads a hedge fund to take a huge long position in gold? What are the analytics? Is it simply that Europe is imploding and the US is next? Is that it?

Is their some serious analytics behind the huge gold positions taken by hedge funds in 2011 or is this simply the herd instinct speculating in something with a bubble-like recent history?

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Kenanga Research 2012 Economic Outlook

The year 0f 2011 saw a confluence of mishaps, with the MENA unrest, Japan disaster, US debt ceiling scare and Eurozone's can of worms. We believe that it is very unlikely that 2012 will contain more uncertainties than 2011. After the convergence of these "Black Swan" events, there is also a lot of divergence in the recovery, making it difficult to coordinate economic policy.

  1. Firstly, there is a 2 speed-global recovery as developing economies, particularly Asia, is outperforming the West.
  2. Secondly, within Europe itself, there is a lot of divergence in how each country is coping with the crisis. Only Germany, Sweden and Switzerland have so far returned to pre-crisis growth levels; whilst Greece, Portugal and Ireland are clearly outliers in terms of demand growth.
  3. Finally, there is a lot of mixed recovery in Japan as well, where companies with capital of at least 1bn yen are back to nearly full capacity production as early as May. However, companies with capital between 10m and 100m yen will take longer to recover as their profits fell by 40% in 2Q11, compared to their larger counterparts, whose profits fell by only 4%.
2012 Outlook would be better?
Manufacturing momentum will only truly pick up in 4Q12. Given the bearish external conditions, we believe that the manufacturing recovery is still premature and that it could soften again in 1Q12. In fact, for 2012, we forecast that manufacturing growth will only exceed the 5%-threshold in 4Q12, based on our expectations that developed economies will only show some significant improvements towards end-2012. Collectively, US, Eurozone and Japan constitute more than a third of our total trade, so despite the growing importance of intra-regional trade, Malaysia cannot post a sexy growth number as long as this trinity is still faltering.

Policymakers in developed economies will be inclined to adopt 2012 as the "year of fiscal austerity". The extent of their cost-cutting is really the key to how 2012 will fare. If they overdo it, this will derail the already fragile recovery and could tilt the scale towards a recession. The Eurozone fiscal problem is still the number one risk for the global economy in 2012. We think that the more likely scenario is that Eurozone will choose to maintain its solidarity and they will continue to wade through the mess. Since we are expecting a pick-up in 4Q12, generally we believe that Eurozone is doing the best it can under the circumstances, although we would like to see politicians respond faster to market conditions.

We are maintaining our in-house GDP growth forecast of 5.1% and 5.0% in 2011 and 2012 respectively. The OPR is a sure bet to stay at current levels and our inflation forecast would depend on the timing of the General Election. A recurring theme in this report is time. The ETP projects need time to kick in, Americans needs more time to enjoy expiring fiscal stimulus, Eurozone needs to stall in hopes of better prospects and even the efficient Japanese find that 2012 is nearly upon them with a lot of rebuilding still left wanting. Time is of the essence.

Malaysia inflation to moderate. 
We forecast that inflation will still be able to ease to 2.9% in 2012 from an estimated 3.2% in 2011 despite the rise in global oil and food prices. Again, this is primarily due to a high-base effect but it is also because our economy is quite insulated thanks to our fuel subsidies. Our expectations for the ringgit to appreciate throughout the year will also help to reduce imported inflation from tainting our CPI.

Interest rates to stay pat. 
With expectations of a ringgit appreciation as well as easing inflation, there is no way BNM will hike the OPR from its current 3.00% level. As for the possibility of a rate cut, BNM will only exercise this option if a severe negative shock occurs.

Source: Kenanga Research

Professor Cochrane and Dodd-Frank

Professor John Cochrane of the University of Chicago opines today on the implementation of "too big to fail" in the Dodd-Frank legislation in the Wall Street Journal. As Professor Cochrane notes, the Dodd-Frank structure has nothing to do with the problems that beset the financial industry in the 2008 collapse but instead empowers arbitrary control of the US financial institutions by an unelected bureaucracy, accountable to no one.

Cochrane, correctly, redirects our attention to the stifling impact the Dodd-Frank "reforms" are having on our financial system and, as a result, on our economy. Economic stagnation by design. That's the Dodd-Frank regime.

The spirit of Dodd-Frank has breathed life into an anti-lending campaign by bank regulators the past two years. The result -- a bifurcation in the lending market. For those who don't need credit, it is available in abundance. For those who need credit, it is prohibited by the activities of the regulators. Obama could change this, but he chooses not to.

The time to tighten lending standards is during the boom, not during the bust. Tightening lightening standards during the bust just prolongs the bust. Why isn't that obvious?

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

CIMB: Domestic Drivers to steady the ship in 2012

CIMB research remain cautious on Malaysia's growth outlook for 2012 as several factors will put the brakes on growth - slower export growth due to the fragile western economies as well as slower consumption and investment growth due to heightened uncertainty and volatile financial markets. The implementation of ETP and stimulus measures cannot take up all the slack left by weak exports.

Slowing growth, rising risks
We expect GDP growth to slow to 3.8% in 2012 from an estimated 5% in 2011. The factors that shape the prognosis are:

  1. continuing weak global growth, pressured by volatile financial markets and Europe's sovereign debt worries;
  2. a downturn in Malaysia's export cycle;
  3. an expected slowing of consumption and investment due to worries over economic conditions

What to expect in 2012?
While not forecasting a global recession, a combination of fiscal tightening and a potential bigger financial shock from the debt crisis are expected to result in weaker global growth in 2012.

  1. Limited growth for the US economy. Its recovery is fragile and could succumb to any big external shocks, especially from Europe. This could lead to a double-dip recession. The sluggish recovery of the labor market as well as housing deflation will dampen household spending.
  2. The Eurozone is already in recession in 4Q11 and this will persist in 2012 as the persistent sovereign debt worries, volatility in financial markets and fiscal austerity will weigh significantly on growth. These braking factors will certainly raise the risk of more severe deleveraging, credit contraction and economic drag as the negative feedback loop between the banking system and the real economy becomes entrenched.
  3. China and India to continue growing, albeit at a slower pace due to the laggard impact of monetary tightening measures as well as a less favourable external environment. There are still fears of a hard landing for China.

Domestic demand cushions against weaker exports
With the export engine throwing a spanner in the works, the pressure is on domestic demand to keep the economy going, underpinned by both private spending and public investment. The key drivers of consumer spending are stable income and favorable employment prospects. But concerns over weaker growth prospects and volatile stock markets will bite into discretionary spending. Also, global uncertainties will throw a damper over the investment activity.

Macroeconomic policies: What to expect?
For 2012, the government is not straying from its path of fiscal sustainability as it targets to bring down the budget deficit from 5.4% of GDP in 2011 to 4.7%. The high level of debt constrains the government's ability to take on additional risk on its balance sheet. If the country does not commit to a credible fiscal reduction plan, it runs the risk of a downgrade of its credit rating in the event of a major change that pushes the fiscal deficit off track.

Monetary policy will continue to support activity
There is still a risk of food inflation. For 2012, inflation was expected to moderate to estimated 2.2% due to:

  1. weaker economic growth;
  2. easing commodity prices;
  3. a high base due to the fuel and sugar price hikes in 1H11

Persistent growth concerns, both global and domestic, coupled with expectations of easing inflationary pressures will enable the central bank to maintain an accomodative monetary policy. The tone of its policy statement on 11 Nov 11 suggests that growth is more of a worry than inflation, signalling the central bank's readiness to reverse its monetary course if domestic conditions deteriorate. An early rate cut in 1Q12 is still a possibility and end-2012 OPR to be targeted at 2.50-2.75% (3% at end-2011).

Source: CIMB Research

More Goofball Economics

Today's NY Times has yet another economist in action. Nancy Folbre, whose byline in today's blog puts her at University of Massachusetts as an "economics professor," argues that "...most ordinary people understand that the incentives built into the global capitalist system tend to reward some very bad behaviors." She then goes on to list things like "dumping waste products into the environment" and other capitalistic ills.

That would suggest that where there is no capitalism, there must be no real environmental damage. Is she kidding? The non-capitalist countries lead the league in environmental pollution. Try breathing the air in a typical non-capitalist country. I guess Professor Folbre doesn't travel much.

So, what does Professor Folbre recommend? She cites "calls for changes to articles of incorporation that would allow companies to pursue social missions without fear of shareholder litigation." What a great idea! Who would buy stocks with the knowledge that companies could toss company assets down the chute in pursuit of whatever "social mission" that Professor Folbre approves of? Do we all agree what a "social mission" is? Is my social mission the same as your social mission?

What is truly unbelievable is that Professor Folbre teaches young minds about economics. No mention in her blog today that only countries with capitalism can afford professors who indulge in this kind of nonsense. Countries without capitalism and who pursue "social missions" are mired in poverty, corruption, and, yes, environmental degradation. The non-capitalist countries don't have the luxury of blog-writing economics professors who detest capitalism.

Monday, 26 December 2011

HwangDBS: Volatility will continue in 2012

Global Overview
The market will continue to be challenging and it is tough to make a judgment call at this juncture. News and headlines rather than fundamentals will continue to drive markets and as such, volatility will continue into 2012 largely driven by the lack of clarity with regards to the Eurozone debt crisis, the US debt problem compounded by slowing growth in the US economy. There is no quick fix or immediate resolution to these issues as the problems plaguing developed economies are deep rooted fundamental issues such as mounting debt, low growth and high unemployment.

In the case of the European Union, the fragmented economic and political governance of their common monetary union is working against them as leaders struggle to find an equitable solution to giving aid to highly indebted countries in the South of Europe such as Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, without overburdening financially stronger countries such as Germany and France. And for the US, their economy has not recovered since the Global Financial Crisis in 2008 as evidenced by weak home prices and the stubbornly high unemployment rate.

As such, we expect global growth in the next two to three years to be slow and challenging as the G3 economies; US, European Union and Japan, try to resolve their economic problems. The G3 economies contribute 55% of the total world Global Domestic Product (GDP), combined. Even growth from the Emerging Markets (EM) such as China and India will not be able to pick up the slack left by the G3.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. The potential remains in the EM where the structural growth story remains intact supported by strong fundamentals: rising middle class income, young population, stronger government reserves and healthier corporate balance sheet. Inflation in this region is no longer a threat and is seen to be easing. This means that there will be more room for the governments to maneuver and start its policy loosening cycle. Brazil’s central bank took lead in cutting interest rate end-August 2011, after which many other economies follow suit.

A positive point to note is, there is still a lot of liquidity sitting on the sidelines. That will be supportive for the market as long as market sentiment remains confident. That said, we are cautious on the economic and market outlook for 2012 due to the headwinds coming our way from the external front.

From a macro perspective, our investment strategies and tactics in 2012 will be guided based on the following five pointers:
  1. Attractive Valuations. Currently, there are some buying opportunities. However, those are not at rock bottom prices yet.
  2. Economic Data Improvement. The US economy has been surprisingly resilient and this is showing in its encouraging production and employment data. Meanwhile, China may be entering a monetary loosening phase, considering inflation is no longer a threat. The latter will bode well for the China’s stock market, which is directly correlated to market liquidity. On the other hand, positive production data from the US translates to a pick up in production and business in Asia.
  3. Shock and A "WE" in Policy Action. We are still not seeing this happening at a sustainable level just yet. The coordinated efforts by the global central banks such as the Bank of England, Bank of Japan, European Central Bank and the Swiss National Bank in cutting rates for the US Dollar liquidity swap lines and the agreement achieved at the EU Summit on 9 December 2011 were good start. But, more needs to be done to ‘awe’ the market.
  4. Market Stops reacting to Negative News. Not yet, as of time of writing. 
  5. Elevated Cash Levels. About half of the smart money is sitting on the sidelines, while the other half is slowly flowing back to the market. What will change this trend is a sustained normalization in the market trend before the bulk of the money comes back in. Besides, most of the smart money have already sold down their positions and come January 2012, the market should see a brief pick up (barring any major events happening) due to the Capricorn Effect.
What can Investors Do?
Always buy into companies with solid fundamentals, strong corporate governance and management team, and a healthy balance sheet. Keep a defensive stance by investing in high quality dividend yielding stocks and consider fixed income assets in your investment portfolio (if you have not already done so) to smoothen volatility.

If you cannot stomach the volatility in the stock market and it keeps you up at night, an option would be to consider dividend-yielding or fixed income unit trust funds. It provides consistent income with the added kicker of capital appreciation, while keeping volatility at a manageable level. Then, average-in, rather than taking the plunge to lower the overall cost of investment and avoid timing the market, as even the professional investor could not get the market timing right all the time.

Source: HwangDBS Investment Management

Sunday, 25 December 2011

More Nonsense from Academic Economists

Peter Diamond (MIT) and Emmanuel Saez (Berkeley) recently published an article in The Journal of Economic Perspectives (Fall 2011 issue) entitled: "The Case for a Progressive Tax: From Basic Research to Public Policy." This article exhibits the total absurdity of modern academic economic research.

The point of the article is to show the "scientific" case for progressive taxes. Their conclusion: the highest marginal income tax rates should approach 80 percent! That is the conclusion of Diamond-Saez so-called science.

Here are a few of the assumptions in this "science:"

1. "Because the government values redistribution, the social marginal value of consumption to top bracket taxpayers ...can be ignored..."

Transalation: rich people don't value income at all so they won't miss it if it is taxed away. (Note this is an assumption!) You might wonder how Diamond and Saez know what "the government values" (or what that expression even means). They don't elaborate. They just make the statement "...the government values..." and then they fill in the blanks. Must be nice.

Here's another "scientific" assumption:

2. "Since the goal of the marginal rates on very high income incomes is to get revenue in order to hold down taxes on lower earners, this equation does not depend on the total revenue needs of the government."

Translation: regardless of whether government spends anything we should tax rich people at the highest possible marginal rate so that we can redistribute income.

3. "..the tax avoidance or evasion component of the elasticity e is not an immutable parameter and can be reduced through base broadening and tax enforcement."

Translation: By eliminating all deductions and exemptions and taxing capital gains and all other forms of revenue to high income tax payers as ordinary income, we can eliminate any tendency to avoid taxes.

Turns out this is utter nonsense. All the wealthy have to do is borrow the necessary money to live their lifestyle and not show any income at all -- ordinary or capital income. Consider Warren Buffet. He could just borrow $ 100 million per year and live on that without showing any income for tax purposes at all. Diamond and Saez are probably unaware that high income folks borrow, so they have ignored this among the myriad other things this "scientific" study has ignored.

Or, alternatively, high income folks could move to a country with more rational policies regarding income taxes. Diamond and Saez did not consider that possibility. Perhaps, they should talk to the states of California and New York to discover whether high marginal rates drive people away.

Here's the ridiculous conclusion of this "scientific" paper: "Thus we have identified basic research findings that we find relevant in thinking about practical tax setting......the case for higher rates at the top appears robust in the context of this model."

The above is what passes for economic research in modern academia, along with the argument that increasing minimum wages increase employment. Next, I guess we will be reading about how enacting maximum home price laws will revive the housing market. You can't make this stuff up. This is why tuition levels are going through the support this nonsense.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Poverty of "Economics"

An article in this morning's NYTimes by Catherine Rampell outlines the minimum wage increases that are coming on the 1st of January in eight states. As if lower income employees don't have enough problems this Christmas season, leave it to politicians (and economists) to make their lives worse.

The minimum wage increases will take place in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. Note that some of these states are controlled by Republicans, some by Democrats. This is bi-partisan mischief.

Imagine that these same states passed a law saying that a gallon of milk can't be sold for less than $ 10 per gallon. Would dozens of economists step forward with studies showing that milk consumption would be unaffected by this kind of law? Would there be a bi-partisan consensus that a minimum price of milk is a good idea and would promote milk drinking? But, precisely this kind of absurd reasoning is brought forward to defend minimum wage laws (and their increases). Economists are notorious for putting forward their partisan political views as if they were science.

Minimum wage laws are an infringement on the freedom of contract and they deny job opportunities to people who need them. Those who might wish to work free as a way of gaining skills are legally prohibited from doing so. Those with skill sets below the minimum wage level would like to have a job at a lower wage (rather than no job at all), but are forbidden by law to have that first step up the ladder.

Why not just pass a law saying that poor people should be required to stay poor by law? That would have an effect similar to that of minimum wage laws. Economists and politicians who support minimum wage legislation should be ashamed of themselves. Perhaps we should pass a law saying that economists should be paid $ 10,000 per hour or otherwise be forbidden to work. Then, perhaps, economists would begin to understand the pernicious effects of minimum wage laws.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Another "Rip Van Winkle Year"

In 1987, the Dow Jones Industrial Average began and ended the year in the neighborhood of 2200. In July it topped out above 2700 and hit a low of 1700 in October. A lot of sound and fury to end unchanged!

It looks like we have a repeat performance this year. After the big rally in the first half of the year and the huge slump at the end of the summer, the Dow and the S&P are within a day's rally of being unchanged on the year. Not bad given all the bad news and disappointments.

Look for a big rally in 2012. 2011 isn't over yet, but it certainly seems to be about to finish about where it began, if not better.

Europe is a mess. US government policy is a mess. But, business is getting better and profits are improving. If you're looking for a job and you are in the bottom half of the nation's skill set, you're still in trouble and things aren't going to improve much for you in 2012. But, for the highly paid and for government employees, next year looks pretty good. Stocks will do well, bonds won't. Europe will adopt something akin to a monetization of the sovereign debt of the Eurozone countries -- a big mistake, but one that will give them a few years' breathing space until disastrous inflation overtakes them.

So, the long run future is pretty bleak, but the next couple of years will be good for stocks, good for rich people and good for protected government employees. For everyone else, let them enjoy the liberal rhetoric, because the liberal policies have undermined their future.

Republicans Blink and Cave -- Once Again

Extending the two percent payroll tax holiday is bad policy. The Republican House's rejection of the Senate bill was the right thing to do. Now, for purely political reasons, they are reversing course. Big mistake.

If, at the end of the day, Republicans can't show more backbone than this, then the future is not bright. Obama, even with no constructive policies (he has lots of destructive one) will coast to re-election if the public sees Republicans as lacking principles. Capitulating on the two month payroll tax holiday is not a good sign.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Malaysia Financial Sector Blueprint 2011 - 2020

Bank Negara Malaysia today released the new Financial Sector Blueprint. Themed "Strengthening Our Future", the Blueprint charts the future direction of the financial system over the next ten years.

The growth of the financial system should be ultimately anchored to the growth in the real sector. Based on the rate of growth of the economy projected for the next decade, the financial sector is envisaged to expand to six times of GDP in 2020 from 4.3 times of GDP currently. Meanwhile, the contribution of the financial services sector to nominal GDP is expected to grow from 8.6% of nominal GDP to between 10 and 12% by 2020. 

Recognising the increasingly complex linkages, both between the various components of the financial system and the greater international connectivity and regional financial integration, the Blueprint moves away from the sector-based approach of the previous Financial Sector Masterplan (FSMP).

There are 9 focus areas under the Blueprint to further advance financial sector development to drive Malaysia's transition to a high value-added, high-income economy with adequate safeguards to preserve financial stability:

  • Effective intermediation for a high value-added and high-income economy - This entails the mobilisation of diverse savings to productive investments in Malaysia and to meet the needs of both businesses and households. A vibrant risk-capital ecosystem to support innovation-driven economic activities and start-up ventures will be developed. The initiatives will also include enhancing the provision of large and long-term project financing for infrastructure development.

    To cater to Malaysia's growing affluent segment and maturing population, emphasis will be placed on enhancing the provision of financial services for wealth management, retirement and long-term healthcare. The development of a vibrant private pension industry is also expected to enhance the role of pension funds as a key source of funding for the longer-term and risk-based financing needs of the economy.

  • Developing deep and dynamic financial markets - Efforts will be directed towards improving the liquidity, depth and participation in the money, foreign exchange and government securities markets in Malaysia, in enabling more effective intermediation, transfer of risks and management of liquidity, and meeting the diverse needs of a more developed and internationally integrated economy.

    The foreign exchange administration rules will be progressively liberalised to further raise efficiency in financial market transactions. The development of vibrant domestic foreign exchange and money markets, and ensuring sound risk management and corporate governance practices by financial market players, will be an important agenda in the development of our financial system.

  • Financial inclusion for greater shared prosperity - The aim is to enable all members of society, including the underserved, to have access to and usage of quality, affordable and essential financial services. Initiatives will focus on developing more innovative delivery channels such as agent banking to enhance the outreach of financial services in a cost-efficient manner and expansion of the range of products and services such as more flexible micro financing products, long-term contractual micro saving products, and microinsurance and microtakaful products to cater to distinct financial needs of all segments of society.

  • Strengthening regional and international financial integration - As the Malaysian financial sector assumes a larger role in mobilising regional and cross-border funds and supporting the needs of both Malaysian corporations expanding abroad and corporations that invest in Malaysia, efforts to strengthen Malaysia's international financial linkages will be pursued.

    Moving forward, Malaysia's investment policy will be guided by two key considerations - (i) prudential criteria and (ii) the best interest of Malaysia criteria, which includes the effect of the investment on Malaysia's economic activity, particularly in catalysing new high value-added activities, contribution towards enhancing international trade and investment linkages and impact on financial stability, including the level of competition. A further consideration in assessing the best interest of Malaysia is the continued presence of strong and well-managed domestic banking groups that continue to mobilise a significant share of resident deposits, as this is important for the orderly growth and development of the financial sector. 

  • Internationalisation of Islamic finance - While Malaysia has made significant inroads in becoming an international Islamic financial centre, efforts will continue to be undertaken to enhance the Islamic financial ecosystem. This will entail developing a more conducive environment for the mobilisation of higher volumes of international Islamic financial flows from a diverse range of players to be channelled through innovative Islamic financial instruments. In strengthening the legal and Shariah frameworks and further advancing Malaysia's thought leadership in Islamic finance, a single legislated body to be the apex authority on Shariah matters in Islamic finance will be established. 

  • Regulatory and supervisory regime to safeguard the stability of the financial system - A comprehensive legislative framework will be enacted to reinforce a sound, transparent and accountable system for effective regulation and supervision. Focus will also be accorded towards enhancing capital and liquidity standards of financial institutions in line with international standards as well as raising their governance and risk management standards. As the financial sector grows to be more regionally-and internationally-connected, greater cross-border collaboration will be pursued with other supervisory authorities.

  • Electronic payments for greater economic efficiency - Accelerating the migration to electronic payments (e-payments) will be emphasized. In the next ten years, the Bank targets to increase the number of e-payment transactions per capita from 44 transactions to 200 transactions, and reduce cheques by more than half from 207 million to 100 million per year. Measures to achieve this aim will include providing the right price signals to encourage the switch from paper-based payments to e-payments, and facilitating wider outreach of e-payments infrastructure, such as point-of-sale terminals and mobile phone banking.

  • Empowering consumers - A comprehensive and holistic approach towards consumer protection and education will be pursued in collaboration with various stakeholders. The aim is to promote a culture of mutual responsibility shared between consumers, who are empowered with the knowledge, skills and financial literacy to manage their personal wealth, and financial service providers, who uphold fair and responsible dealings in the conduct of their business.

    The infrastructure to support greater consumer empowerment will be strengthened through establishing a single consumer credit legislation, integrated dispute resolution system and an enhanced credit information framework. Measures to promote financial capability among consumers through the integration of financial curriculum at schools and targeted financial literacy programmes based on life events will be pursued. 

  • Talent development to support a more dynamic financial sector - A Financial Services Talent Council will be established to drive, oversee and coordinate talent development efforts in the financial sector. Other initiatives include developing talent for entry level, promoting continuous learning for the existing workforce, and attracting talent from abroad. Ensuring an adequate supply of skilled talent to meet the challenges in the new financial landscape will require greater collaboration and coordination among various agencies beyond the financial sector.

The Blueprint charts a vision and direction for the Malaysian financial sector for  the next ten years that will support Malaysia's long-term ambitions. To ensure the achievement of the desired outcomes, a robust implementation and monitoring framework will be put in place, including update on the progress of the implementation of the Blueprint.

Source: Bank Negara Malaysia

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

What Explains Corzine? Really?

Who would have thought: a former top dog of Goldman Sachs betting the ranch on Spanish and Italian sovereign debt. Really?

This is one for the behavioral finance boys. Hubris is the only real explanation. You would have to believe that you are the smartest man in the world and that there is virtually no possibility that you could be wrong. Then, away you go! Load up on junky sovereign debt and show the world!

Is this were a movie script, no one would buy it. It's too ridiculous.

But, happen it did. Not only that, Mr. Corzine appeared before Congressional committees and tritely explained that he knew nothing at all about how his company, MF Global, was meeting the daily margin calls (all repo transactions are marked to market daily). But, of course, Corzine did not know anything about that. He bought 6.5 billion in bonds and didn't give a thought to what the necessary cash position was that would be necessary to sustain that position as it collapsed in the market place. Really?

I suppose the reason that Corzine wasn't concerned about how his firm was going to meet the cash marks on their huge bond bet was that it was 100% certain to go his way. No need for cash!

Did they have to dip into customer accounts to meet margin calls? Apparently, this was not Corzine's concern. He was not involved in how the firm met the growing cash margin calls that were escalating daily at MF Global. Really?

I suppose Corzine was merely a face man. Someone else must have been running MFGlobal all this time. I wonder when that person will appear and own up to what happened to the customers $ 1.2 billion in missing funds. Really?

The Payroll "Tax Cut"

Is reducing the payroll tax for one year by 2 percentage points a good idea? Normally, I think reducing any tax is a good idea. Why feed the beast?

But, don't forget the real issues are: 1) economic stagnation; 2) size and reach of government; 3) the growing national debt. A temporary drop in the payroll tax doesn't do much about any of these issues. So, what good is it really?

It's interesting that the politicos have seized on this debate as a big deal. In truth, whether or not the payroll tax is temporarily reduced by an amount of this magnitude is mostly political theater.

The big Obama concession in this drama is the Senate Democrats retreat from the millionaire surtax. The millionaire surtax is a completely absurd idea that moves us away from the resolving the three problems cited above.

Name me a millionaire who cares what the tax rate is. Millionaires can simply readjust their assets (or better yet just take out loans) and avoid taxable income at their pleasure. Thus raising the tax rates on millionaires just guarantees a lower level of tax revenues from millionaires. Who wins with that outcome?

The House Republicans are the only adults in the room. They see the folly of a two month drop in the payroll tax. It is political theater and should be rejected as such.

If the public can't see through this silliness, then they deserve the government (and the economy) that they have.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

New Fund: Public Islamic Savings Fund

The Public Islamic Savings Fund (PISVF) is  an Islamic equity fund that seeks to provide income over the medium to long-term period by investing in a diversified portfolio of primarily Shariah-compliant Malaysian stocks which offer or have the potential to offer attractive dividend yields. PISVF may also invest in Shariah-compliant growth or recovery stocks that have the potential to eventually adopt a dividend payout policy.

As the Fund focuses its investments mainly in the domestic market, PISVF offers investors an opportunity to capitalise on Malaysia’s resilient economic growth prospects in the medium to long-term. The performance of selected Shariah-compliant sectors of the Malaysian economy is expected to remain supported by sustained consumer and investment spending over the longer term.

To achieve increased diversification, the Fund may also invest up to 30% of its net asset value (NAV) in selected foreign markets which include  Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia, Philippines, Luxembourg and other permitted markets.

Growth Prospects for the Malaysian Economy

The Malaysian economy is expected to expand by 4.5% in 2011 and 5.4% in 2012 supported by resilient domestic demand amid higher investment spending and firm private consumption. Despite the anticipated slowdown in external demand amidst a more challenging global economic environment, Malaysia’s domestic economy is supported by  sustained  growth in disposable income, favourable demographic trends and affordable lending rates.

Over  the medium to long-term, higher investment spending under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP) is expected to boost the performance of  selected Shariah-compliant sectors in Malaysia. The communication sector should experience an increase in activities with targeted rollout of 10 content and infrastructure projects with an estimated investment value of RM51billion. This sector offers promising growth prospects as improved communications infrastructure is expected to contribute to the enhancement of business transactions, improvement in information flow and formation of new knowledge in developing high valued human capital in the coming years.

Meanwhile, the consumer sector should continue to benefit from sustained consumer spending in tandem with  resilient incomes. Consumer spending is projected to grow on the back of increased urbanisation, favourable demographics and the government’s efforts to promote tourism activities. To date, the government has announced a total of 12 out 27 projects in the retail and tourism industries with an estimated value of RM25billion under the ETP. 

Furthermore, the 2012 Federal Budget announced in October 2011 contained a wide range of measures to enhance the economic well-being of the lower income, middle-class and the elderly groups. These measures are expected to enhance household disposable incomes and support consumer spending.

The oil & gas sector is also a major beneficiary under the ETP with the national oil company PETRONAS spearheading the initiatives. Since the launch of the ETP, 12 out of 65 projects have been announced with  an estimated investment value of RM88.2billion.

Lastly, the infrastructure sector should experience an increase in activities with the roll-out of projects such as the RM40 billion - RM50 billion Greater Kuala Lumpur Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project and numerous new highways in the Klang Valley.

Source: Public Mutual

Visions of Sugar Plums

One more week and Santa comes cruising our way. What will be in his stocking and what does the New Year portend?

The good news for many Americans is that the US economy is not falling off the cliff. Even the coming debacle in Europe will not prevent the American economy from a slow and steady climb out of the abyss.

Bad economic policy has throttled the American and western economies in ways that the Asian economies haven't yet learned (they will learn in time). But even bad policy can't completely eliminate economic growth, if some remnants of capitalism remain.

So, the future is bright for Asia and the future is bright for most of the under-developed world. The advanced economies have mortgaged their futures, so the lights will dim for the coming generations in the western economies. At the end of the day, someone has to work, someone has to save, someone has to hire people. This is a message that the western world has forgotten, but the underdeveloped world has not.

There will continue to be cycles of all types, booms and busts, bubbles, bankruptcies and all the rest. These are all necessary ingredients of healthy capitalism and will not go away until capitalism is extinguished by ardent reformers.

True economic fairness and justice requires providing the opportunity for every citizen to use his/her talents to the fullest. Policies in the US and Western Europe go in the other direction. Anyone with real talent will be stifled in the western economies over the next few generations. The bright lights are on in Asia, the dimmer switch has been hit in the Western world.

Perhaps this is not all bad. The advanced economies have had their moment in the sun and the current advancing economies are hungry to supplant them. That they will do so will write the history of the 21st century.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

How did Singapore's Cooling Measures Impact Malaysia's Property Sector? (Dec 2011)

On 7th Dec 2011, the Singapore government announced that it would impose an Additional Buyer's Stamp Duty (ABSD) to moderate investment demand for private residential property and promote a more stable and sustainable market. This is needed in view of the stubbornly high inflation rate in Singapore amidst the slowing demand from developed markets. For those who don't know, inflation rate in Singapore was mainly contributed by surging property prices.

The ABSD was effective 8 Dec 2011. After the announcement, property-related stocks slumped last week, following by a slump in banking stocks because of an expected slower housing loan growth. The latest measures are a near-term negative for property developers with an anticipated trend in lower average selling prices and transactional volumes, which will hurt profitability. Nevertheless, most large-cap property developers in Singapore are relatively well diversified, not just across sectors (industrial and commercial), but also geographically.

Under the latest cooling measure, the ABSD will be added on top of the current Buyer's Stamp Duty, and apply to the purchase price or market value of the property (whichever is higher) according to the type of purchase as below:

  1. ABSD of 10% for foreigners and corporate entities buying any residential property
  2. ABSD of 3% for permanent residents who already own one property, and buying the 2nd and subsequent residential property
  3. ABSD of 3% for Singaporean citizens who already own 2 properties, and buying the 3rd and subsequent residential property.

What's the Impact on Malaysian Property Sector and Developers?
Because of our closely linked economies, some of our property players already ventured into Singapore property market, such as Sunway, SP Setia, IOI Corp and YTL Land. According to OSK research report, Sunway has 4 ongoing projects with a total GDV of around SGD1.7bn under its 30:70 joint venture with Ho Hup Group and a small wholly owned project with at GDV of SGD32.8m. Two of the projects, which are under the Executive Condo (EC) and Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS), are exempted from the ABSD. While the remaining three ongoing projects, coupled with another upcoming project (GDV: SGD357m), are under private development (PD) which is subjected to the ABSD. However, with its ongoing PD projects already achieving a strong take-up rate at around 70%, we believe the impact on Sunway will be rather minimal.

Sector wise, Finance Malaysia believes that there will be a in-flowing of money to our shore given its proximity to Singapore, coupled with the attractively packaged Johor's Iskandar Development Region (IDR). This would be a timely process where IDR is gaining traction with basic infrastructures were almost completed. Those developers which had already jumping into IDR may benefits from the announcement. Tebrau Teguh, being one of the most sensitive stocks linked with IDR may see some buying interest. 

Asia property sector to deteriorate?
A combination of excess liquidity, low interest rates and a robust macroeconomic outlook has pushed prices up over the last few years. As a result, housing affordability for low and middle income families has worsened across the region, with low interest rate slightly cushioning the adverse effect of higher prices. Several central banks have intervened and introduced regulatory measures - such as higher minimum down payments (etc. Msia) and more land releases for construction (etc. Singapore) - to cool down the markets and slow credit expansion.

Within a specific market, the prime segment should hold up better than the mass-market segment. Should the real estate market correct instead, steep corrections for the mass segment are unlikely because of the following reasons:
  1. Rental Yields still appear attractive in the current low interest rate environment;
  2. Residential vacancy rates are low in many Asian cities, especially in Hong Kong and Singapore (not in the case for Msia);
  3. Governments are well aware of the potential negative spillover effects of a strong housing market downturn to the overall economy. Thus, they are more proactive in making monetary decision to juggle between tightening or loosing the monetary policies.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

New Fund: ASM Syariah Capital Protected Sector Linked Fund

ASM Investment Services Bhd had recently launched its latest fund called "ASM Syariah Capital Protected Sector Linked Fund". It is a close-ended fund with limited subscription period and a maturity of 3 years.

For this Fund, it aim to provide investors with capital protection upon the maturity of the Fund as well as to give investors potential returns higher than the rate of return of the 12-month Kuala Lumpur Islamic Reference Rates (KLIRR), being the selected Fund’s performance benchmark.

Please read on for more information...

To achieve the capital protection objective, the Fund will invest not less than 88% of the Fund’s Net Asset Value (NAV) in 3-year Islamic Negotiable Instruments of Deposits (INIDs) issued by several premier financial institutions in Malaysia. This will potentially protect investors capital, including a sales charge payable by investors.

To realize the potential return objective, the fund will invest up to 12% of the Fund’s NAV in quality Shariah-compliant equities of various sectors in Bursa Malaysia. These equities have been identified as the leaders of their respective sectors under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP). The Fund’s name thereby reflects the composition of the Fund’s portfolio consisting of INIDs and each sector’s leading equities.

Source: ASM Investment Services

Thursday, 8 December 2011

OSK Strategy and Outlook (Dec 2011)

Essentially, with the uncertainties in Europe continuing amid a potential global slowdown in the economy, we will continue to see market volatility in the next few months. As such, we continue to advise investors to be patient and focus on Defensive counters, while looking out for opportunities to Trade. We continue to advocate Buying into Weakness when the KLCI falls towards the 1,300-pt level, focusing on Banks, O&G and Construction stocks while we advocate Selling into Strength on the same three sectors when the market rallies towards 1,500 pts.

Festive Cheer in December?

While we remain fairly defensive over the mid term, December may still be a bright spot amid the gloom. There is still a possibility of the traditional year-end rally and the just announced joint effort by various central banks, including the US Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, the Bank of England, the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Canada to provide liquidity may just convince markets that there will indeed be a coordinated global effort to tackle the sovereign debt woes.

These central banks will be reducing interest rates on dollar liquidity swaps by 50 basis points. While we doubt that this will be the magic pill for Europe and the world, there may just be enough optimism and hope left in December to see markets rise towards the year end. As such, we see a possibility that the KLCI may still rise to end the year in positive territory, close to our 1,533-pt year-end target, although ultimately economic woes in Europe should drag it down towards our 1,466-pt 2012 Fair Value.

Asian governments also getting into the act. The efforts by central banks is also being supported by Asian countries with the Chinese government cutting reserve ratios for its banks, while Thailand announced its first interest rate cut since August 2009. As such, there could also be a regional boost to support the global effort.

OSK Stock Picks for December 2011

Throwing in some cyclical names in December
Given our view that the KLCI may possibly rise in December with the coordinated efforts by central banks worldwide to put on a united front (at least till the end of 2011), we introduce more cyclical names into our Top Buy list, such as Maybank (replacing Axiata that has done very well) and Dialog (replacing the ever defensive KPJ Healthcare).

Source: OSK Research Report

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

RHBRI's Stock Watch (December 2011)

In contrast, the better-than-expected results of Maybank came mainly from lower-than-expected credit cost and minority interest charged, partly offset by weaker-than-expected non-interest income. In addition, the change in accounting treatment for the recognition of profit equalisation reserve also helped lift earnings.

The stronger-than-expected revenue growth of DiGi, on the other hand, came from stronger data and prepaid voice, aided by festivities, as well as improvement in consensus, were above our forecast on account of better-than-expected EBITDA margins on the back of lower other operating costs and supplies & materials expenses, as well as lower effective tax rate.

During the quarter, BAT experienced stronger-than-expected industry volume growth, while earnings of Genting Plantations were boosted by stronger-than-expected increase in FFB production.

The Under-performers...
Sector-wise, earnings of the semiconductor, building materials, construction, motor, transportation, oil & gas and healthcare continued to disappoint. In addition, the insurance sector which reported stronger-than-expected results in the previous two quarters, succumbed to higher-than-expected claims ratio (as in the case of MNRB Holdings and Kurnia Asia) and lower investment income (LPI Capital) and disappointed this time round.

In the semiconductor/IT sector, both MPI and Unisem sufferred from lower revenue and EBITDA margins on account of lower contribution from higher margin chip packages. The results of Notion Vtec, however, were above our forecast due to better EBITDA margins and operating income from the sales of raw material scrap.

Within the building materials sector, steel players continued to suffer from downturn in the industry and margin contraction as a result of lower selling prices of steel products. Out of the five steel manufacturers we cover, two earnings were below forecasts (CSC Steel and Ann Joo Resources), one in line (Kinsteel) and two above projections (Hiap Teck and Perwaja). In addition, the two cement manufacturers (Lafarge and YTL Cement) also experienced lower-than-expected sales volume and prices on account higher cement price rebates.

Of the eight construction stocks that we cover, two results were below our expectations (MRCB and TRC Synergy) and the other six within our forecasts (Gamuda, IJM, WCT, HSL, Fajarbaru and Eversendai). The variance of MRCB’s earnings against our forecast came largely from lower-than-expected billings for both construction and property divisions, and to a ceratin extent, the lower-than-expected margins. The earnings of TRC Synergy, on the other hand, were dragged down by higher start-up costs from infrastructure projects, particularly the RM950m “package A” main contract of the Kelana Jaya LRT Line extension project.

Similarly, results of the oil & gas sector were also below forecasts as four out of the 10 stocks we cover reported disappointing results (MMHE, Wah Seong, KNM and Perdana Petroleum), five within expectations (Petronas Chemicals, Petronas Gas, Wah Seong, Kencana and SapCrest) and one above forecast (Dayang Enterprise). As mentioned earlier, earnings of MMHE were below projection due to a drop in revenue from the E&C division. During the quarter, Wah Seong’s results were dragged down by forex losses on its contracts on hand and higher-than-expected minority interest, while that of KNM by provisions, likely for cost overruns incurred under legacy contracts won in 2009 to 1H FY2010. The earnings of Perdana Petroleum were hit by lower utilization of the company’s vessels and losses from associate,
Petra Energy due to the Kumang Cluster project. In contrast, Dayang’s earnings were above forecast, boosted by better-than-expected margins from the marine charter division and lower-than-expected interest cost.

Market Strategy: Stay Defensive

Despite the deepening euro debt crisis and a struggling US economy, global equities have been more resilient than what we had expected. However, in the absence of a concrete solution for the euro debt crisis and given that US politicians are too divided to resolve a dispute over taxes and spending, concerns are growing that things could turn from bad to worse in the months ahead. Consequently, we believe investors are still in for a volatile year ahead. Under such circumstances, we continue to advise caution, and this is reflected in our top picks, which include companies with stable cash flows and above-market yields.

Source: RHBRI report

Monday, 5 December 2011

The end of Europe’s liquidity crisis? (Dec 2011)

Well, many people already bored with the on-going Europe debt crisis, and subsequently liquidity crisis. This is like what we have seen in 2008 when Lehman Brothers collapses, which drags down the whole financial systems globally through liquidity crisis. The different is between company and country. Maybe some of us doesn't know how this chain effects rattles the global markets. So, let us start here.

The European Organisation chart of Debts
The root of the problem plaguing the market right now is Europe debt crisis, where Greece and few other European countries were highly in debts. They just simply cannot generate enough revenue (taxes) to support the economy itself. So, they resorted to seek for funding via borrowing by issuing sovereign bonds to finance their day to day operations. However, the debt is piling up intensively after 2008 global financial crisis until recently. Because the government does not have money, their bonds may go into default. So, they were forced to borrow some more, but with higher interest this round.

For them, this kind of measures are simply to prolong the problems and those debts were still there charging higher and higher interest. They are buying time, hoping their economies will survive and growing in the future to repay back whatever they borrow now. What a pretty picture?

Who is the main borrower?
Congratulations, the winners go to French banks. They are the main source of funding for these troubled ladden countries. As long as these banks charges those countries interests, everything is good for banks but bad for countries. What if those countries really go bankrupt? French banks may follow suits too.

So, the pretty solution is to write-off from the book of borrowers (French banks). Why French banks still need to accept the offer? Depending on the % of write-off, banks at least got something better than nothing. Right?

How the liquidity problem set in?
Debt writing-down means that the assets of French banks were being slashed. Last month, there is a 50% hair-cut for Greek debts and the amount will reflects in the books of these banks in the next few quarters. Now, you know why rating agencies are cutting 15 European banks' rating last week?

Sigh... But, not yet ends?
After the hair-cut, banks may having liquidity issues next. They doesn't have enough capital to borrow and this may dampened the whole financial system, thus, businesses and public facing difficulties to finance their expansion or consumption. Don't worry, angels were always by our side.

Angels (not Santa) come before Xmas...
Last week, 6 central banks globally take an important step toward dealing with the problems in Europe by pledging to continue provide funding to global banks (especially European banks). These angels are US Federal Reserve, the Bank of Canada, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, the European Central Bank, and the Swiss National Bank. They would lower the pricing on US dollar liquidity swap arrangements effectively easing the liquidity problems faced by European banks.

This action dissolves one of the stumbling blocks in global financial system. Risk plays a role when one bank lends to another. In the current environment, banks likely don't believe that they are being compensated enough for the risks they face by lending out. With the dollar swap lines, banks can instead go to their central banks for short-term loans, provided that they have good collateral. Win-win situations? Yup. I think so because one can solve the liquidity problem, while US successfully creates a huge demand for its sliding currency.