Showing posts from March, 2012

If Obamacare is Overthrown

If the Supreme Court tosses out Obamacare, the United States may have a unique opportunity to think about a framework for a rational health care industry.

The framework should begin with the free market. The guiding principle should be that individuals pay for their own health care. Without that guiding principle, health care provision will always be too expensive, inadequate for many, and absurdly inefficient. Check out the health care programs in Europe. None of them are any good because they all have too much government involvement.

Let us all admit that the free market isn't perfect. No question about it. The free market provision of health care will inevitably end up with situations that none of us like. No denying that.

But all policy decisions are a question of choosing among alternatives. No solution is perfect and government solutions almost always tend to be the worst available. Should the government really be delivering the mail?

We now have a completely absurd …

Greece's Future -- Red or Brown?

The mainstream political parties are losing their support in Greece, as one would expect, given the imposition of austerity. The communist party and neo-nazi parties are on the rise and threaten political chaos and civil unrest. Sound familiar? This was the Germany of 1922-23 as the German government faced a mountain of reparation payments from the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles and an enforced austerity program. Now Germany is the enforcer and Greece may well become the new Germany.

This is the predictable outcome of the Merkel-Sarcozy-IMF bailout scheme. There is no way that this solution will hold. It will come apart and Greece will become a different country, unrecognizable from the rest of Europe. Portugal, Spain, and Italy will eventually be on that path as well, unless the Merkel-Sarcozy-IMF plans are abandoned.

Europe needs a reality test, not austerity. The sovereign debts in Europe are unsustainable and unpayable. This is a pretty harsh reality, but it is the r…

All you need to know about DORMANT account

In general, banks define dormant account (sometimes referred as inactive) when an account does not have any transaction (deposit or withdrawal) for a continuous period of at least 12 months. When your account becomes dormant, the bank would send you a notice letter to the registered mailing address to remind you to activate your account. You may be required to withdrawal or deposit some money over the counter to re-activate your account.
What are the charges?
In addition, should your account balances be RM10 or less, the bank would also inform you of its intention to close the account. The bank will send you a 2nd reminder when it does not receive any response from you (i.e. for activation of account or objection to the closure) within 3 months after the 1st notice. If there is still no response after 2 notices, the bank may proceed to close the account and absorb the balances as service fee.
For account with balances of more than RM10, the account will usually be charged with a dormant …

Europe -- The Unraveling Process

German bonds are beginning to sink. A national strike has been called in Portugal to shut down the economic life of the country to protest the government's austerity measures. Bond yields in Spain and Italy have resumed their upward march. There is a growing awareness that Greek reforms will never take place.

No surprises here, unless your name is Merkel, Sarcozy, Bernanke or Geithner.

The European debt explosion marches on to its inevitable conclusion. The forces that drive sovereign debt expansion in Europe, in Japan, in the US, are alive and well. Politicians can huff and puff all they want, but it won't matter. The unraveling process is well under way. Check out the trend in US bond yields. We're going the same route.

In case you didn't see it, Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner weighed in yesterday on how things are going in Europe.

Bernanke (to a House Oversight Committee): "In the past few months, financial stresses in Europe have lessened, which has contri…

Summary of 2011 Bank Negara Malaysia Annual Report

The global economy grew at a more moderate pace in 2011 after the strong rebound in 2010. The growth momentum was weighed down by continued structural weaknesses and fiscal issues in the advanced economies, geopolitical developments in the Middle East and North Africa region and the disruptive impact of natural disasters on global manufacturing production. These developments reverberated onto international financial markets and contributed to heightened market volatility throughout the year.

Despite the less favourable external environment, emerging economies continued to record firm domestic-driven economic growth. At the same time, emerging economies faced increasing challenges from volatile capital flows and rising inflationary pressures. Amidst this environment, the Malaysian economy continued to grow steadily underpinned by the expansion in domestic activity and firm regional demand.
The Malaysian Economy in 2011 The Malaysian economy recorded a steady pace of growth of 5.1% in 2011…

New Fund: Public Strategic SmallCap Fund and Public Enterprises Bond Fund

Public Mutual today launched two new funds, namely Public Strategic SmallCap Fund (PSSCF) and Public Enterprises Bond Fund (PENTBF), and categorized as equity growth and bond fund respectively.

Public Strategic SmallCap Fund seeks to achieve capital appreciation over the medium to long term period through investments primarily in companies with small market capitalization, by investing in stocks with market capitalization of up to RM1.25bn at the point of purchase. The fund may also invest in companies which at the point of purchase form the bottom 15% of the cumulative market capitalization of the market which the stock is listed on, although the fund will focus its investments in the domestic market.
Funds' key data were shown at the end of this post...

To achieve increased diversification, the fund may invest up to 30% of its NAV in selected foreign markets if the returns are assessed to be promising. The fund generally maintains equity exposures within a range of 70% to 98% again…

Big News -- Greece Back in the Headlines

Elections are coming up in Greece and guess what? Greeks don't care for the austerity plans and economic reforms foisted upon them by the terms of the recent bailout. Surprise, surprise!

Merkel, Sarcozy, the ECB and the IMF are a ship of fools. There is no way the Greek population, or any population, would agree to these terms. It won't happen. So, why are the politicians putting us through this ruse? The same reason that American politicians are going through the charade that higher taxes on the rich can fund the American welfare state.

This is all ridiculous. The Greeks will never abide by the agreements. All that has happened is that the debts of Greece have been assumed by Germany (and, to some extent the, US through the IMF backing). "Extend and pretend" continues to be the policy of the Eurozone, enthusiastically supported by the Obama-Geithner team. It won't work. Give it up.

These sovereigns debts are unpayable and the sooner that this truth is fa…

Diamond in the Rough

The "Jobs Bill," currently under consideration by the United States Senate is a terrible piece of legislation. Nothing surprising about that. The fact that it is bi-partisan only adds to its odor. However, buried within the bill is a provision that limits some of the worst provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley legislation of 2002 that has all but destroyed the US IPO market. Sarbanes-Oxley is the legislation that was passed in the heat of reaction to Enron and World Com and is one of the worst pieces of finance legislation that ever found its way through Congress (although Dodd-Frank is certainly even worse).

Sarbanes-Oxley was a reaction to the fact that the US stock market, from 1981 until 2002, had increased 1200 percent. That, apparently, was an inadequate return, according to the political class...hence the adoption of Sarbanes-Oxley. Since Sarbanes, Oxley, the stock market has basically done nothing, which, I suppose, is more in keeping with what the political class de…

Why All of Us Must Care about 1Care Malaysia?

Heard about 1Care Malaysia healthcare plan? If no, then you must read this article thoroughly word by word. Because the the proposed healthcare system will drastically change the way we seek for treatment in the future. The main issue was "Is it viable to implement 1Care?".

Well, the intention is good for our community. The plan had a very beautiful definition as below:


Concern is always there whenever Government want to implement something and that thing is managed solely by Government. Experience? Got (bad experience). Money? Got, but already drained somewhere (normally). You can't prevent Malaysians from worrying, especially when 1Care touches each and everyone of us for life.
What are the concerns? Each person in different sector have different risk level. How to determine the amount of contributions of each contributor?
Subsequently, how to determine the benefits package each individual entitled to? If the benefits was based on the amount of contribution, then, our…

Read Danny Hakim's NYTimes Article

I am not normally a fan of plugging NYTimes stories, but this one has to be read. Danny Hakim has written a terrific article laying out the plight of cities and counties in the state of New York. He recounts one story after another of impending municipal bankruptcies. In every case, the cause is the same -- bloated public employee expenses -- mostly public employee retirement and health care.

Normally in recessions, the costs of running government agencies slows down since there isn't any reason for employment costs to rise. But, not so with pension and health benefits. They rise astronomically regardless of the economy.

This problem is not confined to cities and municipalities in New York. California faces the same situation for almost all of its large cities and counties. Many other states are in the same boat, especially where unions have major political clout -- Illinois, for example.

So, for those who think Europe has problems, just relax. European debt problems are comi…

Spain Says: "No Way, Jose"

The new Spanish government has announced that it plans to flaunt Eurozone rules regarding it's fiscal deficit. The 4.4 % promised by the previous government in its deal last year with the European Commission has been tossed aside by the new Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. So much for fiscal austerity. Spain now has the worst of both worlds -- expanding debt and no real spending curbs. The Spanish economy has the highest unemployment rate in Europe, pushing it's way toward 25 percent. Not surprisingly, the new Spanish government cannot survive politically if it fully implements the austerity program that it agreed to just twelve months ago.

This will be the continuing tale. European countries will not live up to the austerity agreements that they forge with the ECB and the European Commission. Merkel and Sarcozy are wasting a lot of people's time with this. It is not going to happen.

Meanwhile, interest rates on Spanish debt surged upward. The beat goes on. So…

More Nonsense from the NY Times

Nicholas Kristof has a piece in today's NY Times depicting the plight of present day Athens. He concludes that the economic collapse of Athens is the result of "Republican-like" policies enacted by the Greek government. Really?

According to Kristof, the problem in Greece is the result of "austerity" imposed by Germany and France. I'll buy that. But, the question is why is the austerity being imposed. The answer, which Kristof seems blissfully unaware of, is that Greece is broke and cannot borrow any more money from anywhere. Thus, on their knees, they have gone to the ECB for funding. Should the ECB simply write them a blank check. That seems to be the view of Kristof.

Kristof joins a long list of commentators that cannot seems to add and subtract. Where is the money to come from to continue to support Greek profligacy? Kristof, like most far left commentators, seems unconcerned about who pays for all of this. But, at some point, someone must pay f…

The Right Energy Policy

Why does the US government need an "energy policy?" The free market is available. Oil companies, owned mostly by average Americans through their pension investments, will develop whatever is needed. Recent natural gas discoveries and production have blunted the environmental argument against the use of fossil fuels. So, why doesn't government just get out of the way?

The Obama crowd seems to believe that if they legislate a drop in demand that will solve the energy problem. I guess, in the extreme, if they were to outlaw the use of cars, fossil fuel consumption would drop precipitously. Outlawing cars probably seems extreme even to the Obama crowd, so they have taken the half way step -- tell everyone what car to buy -- the Volt. Since Americans don't want to buy the volt, the Obama folks sweeten the pie with a $ 7,500 tax subsidy per car (now, urging that the subsidy be raised to $ 10,000 per car).

But Americans don't like the Volt and it's sales are mo…

Austerity as the Welfare State Unravels

We are treated daily to news accounts of families suffering from removal of government benefits that such families had come to expect. Today's NYTimes features a community in England facing the loss of a government-provided day-care center. These stories describe the often desperate plight of families suddenly deprived of something that they had come to depend upon. This is the cruel downside of the modern welfare state.

Inevitably, the welfare state, in every country, expands it's reach into every aspect of life. Eventually, with the elimination of private saving and a sense of personal responsibility, the welfare state becomes wildly unaffordable. That's where we are now in most of the Western world. Now comes the painful, but inevitable, process of dismantling the welfare state as the promises run up against reality.

The money has to come from somewhere. No matter how loudly welfare proponents proclaim the existence of this economic right or that economic right (no…

Valuing Common Stocks

The smart money is still bearish. With the Dow Jones hovering just below the 13,000 level, the financial pundits are almost unanimous in their bearish outlook. The exception to the gloom is the optimistic view of the sell side -- the brokers. They like the market here, but then, they pretty much always like the market. It comes with the territory (that is, the job).

So, are the bears right? Is the party over? Is it time to take a pause?

First a caveat. The only honest answer is that no one really knows, no matter how convincing one's argument may be.

That said, my guess is that the pundits are wrong. Common stocks will likely be much higher in value ten years from now than they are now. It would not be a surprise to see stock performance exceed historical levels over the next ten years, which would mean a Dow Jones of over 30,000 by 2022.

But what of the next twelve months? Will the market conveniently sell off or pause to give the late-comers an opportunity to climb aboar…

RHBRI: 4Q11 Earnings Review and Market Strategy

In tandem with the moderating economic growth trend, corporate earnings remained weak in 4Q 2011. Of the 113 reported earnings that we cover, 55 of the results (48.7% of the total) were within our expectations, 33 below projections (29.2% of the total) and 25 above forecasts (22.1%) (see Table 1). Against the consensus numbers, 44.2% of the reported earnings were within expectations, 38.1% below and 17.7% above projections (see Table 2). Sequentially, net EPS for the FBM KLCI stocks under our coverage weakened back to +1.7% qoq and +2.8% yoy in the 4Q, from +8.9% qoq and +12.4% yoy in the previous quarter (see Chart 1).

However, the downgrade to upgrade ratio has improved significantly to 1.07 times, from 1.65 times in the previous quarter. Overall, 2011 has been a year where Corporate Malaysia suffered from slowing sales and falling utilisation rates. This, coupled with the trend of higher costs, resulted in falling margins for many companies under our coverage. Consequently, normalis…

OSK's March 2012 Outlook and Strategy

While Malaysia remained a laggard compared to the rally in developed markets, the global rally that had started in January finally dragged the local bourse kicking and screaming up during February with a rally of more than 3%. Globally, markets continued to rise despite the patchy fundamental landscape. Thus, while we had anticipated a potential rally in the 1st half of February, our expected market retraction in the 2nd half failed to materialize.

Top Gainers for February were dividend plays such as Carlsberg or companies with corporate activities such as Hartalega with its bonus issue or potential targets such as RHB Cap and MBSB. Smaller plantation companies such as TH Plantations and RImbunan Sawit also had a good run.
On the flip side, companies with poor results such as Maybulk, MAS and KNM got sold down. On a broader sectoral basis, telcos were the dominant play. It was the return of the Big Caps in February as the catch-up played by the KLCI meant that big caps ran up with the i…

Another Economist Off the Rails

Maybe he is being misquoted! In today's NY Times Professor Ronald Kurtz of MIT's Sloan School of Management is described as believing, in his new book, that tax policy is the reason we have an out of control debt situation. If Kurtz believes this, he must have some serious trouble with arithmetic. Taxes are really irrelevant to our long run debt situation -- whether high or low. The entitlements cannot be afforded if we were able to grab 100 percent of everyone's income -- rich and poor.

So what difference does the tax rate make? There are, of course, two debates going on. One is the "fairness" debate which is a bit misleading, since those who advocate "higher taxes on the rich" are well aware that higher tax rates may end up reducing what rich people will show as taxable income and reduce revenues, potentially dramatically reduce revenues. So "fairness" may come at the price of lowered federal revenues. Is that fair?

The other part of th…