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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Timely superpower funds from China to ease woes

Fruitful talks: Top Malaysian businessmen having a meeting with Li (centre right) on Nov 23. Also present was Prime Minister's Special Envoy to China Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting (centre left)

Republic’s generous gesture is like prescribing right medicine to a sick patient, say top businessmen.

LAST Monday, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced numerous measures to help Malaysia stabilise its financial market, and their positive impact was felt the next day with the gains in ringgit and bonds seen.

For the country, the most significant measure had to be Beijing’s pledge to buy up Malaysian government bonds, which have been hit by foreign dumping since the second half of last year after crude oil prices began to plunge.

For 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB), the sale of its power assets under Edra Global Energy Bhd to state-owned China General Nuclear Power Corporation for RM9.83bil cash was a huge relief. This transaction will help 1MDB cut its debts of RM42bil by about 24%.

And for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, China’s choice of Malaysia to issue the first “silk-road” bond and plan to invest more here is a major diplomatic victory.

As expected, sentiment on the capital market improved the following day. The ringgit rose the highest among emerging-market currencies, while stocks and bonds gained, due mainly to the power deal, according to Bloomberg. The ringgit strengthened 1.3% to 4.2495 a dollar in Kuala Lumpur while the KLCI index rose 0.5%.

On the sale of power assets, Credit Suisse said in its research report on Nov 24: “The sale of the 1MDB power unit is the first step towards resolving 1MDB’s RM42bil debt. We see this news as positive for the ringgit. The sale of 60% of Bandar Malaysia will likely be concluded by year-end. We believe 1MDB would then be wound down.”

Strong ties: (picture left) Najib showing the development of Putrajaya to Li during the latter’s recent visit to Malaysia and (picture above) Ter (left) sharing a light moment with Li during a meeting as Ong (centre) looks on.Strong ties: (picture left) Najib showing the development of Putrajaya to Li during the latter’s recent visit to Malaysia.

Strong ties: Najib showing the development of Putrajaya to Li during the latter’s recent visit to Malaysia.

To recap, at the Malaysia-China High-Level Economic Forum on Nov 23 in Kuala Lumpur, Li said: “It is imperative to stabilise the financial market. So, we want to assume a market role by purchasing your treasury bonds in accordance with market principles.”

The Chinese premier also said that in the next five years, China was expected to import foreign goods worth US$10 trillion (RM42.6 trillion) and this demand could unleash business opportunities for Malaysian firms.

“A waterfront pavilion gets the moonlight first,” he said, citing a Chinese proverb. This means that Malaysia, being close in terms of distance and diplomatic ties with China, will enjoy the most benefits generated by China’s economic policy.

Li was in Malaysia for four days from Nov 20 to 23 to attend the Asean-East Asia Summit and to hold bilateral talks with Najib.

But Li, who was paying his first official visit to Kuala Lumpur as premier, did not reveal how much Beijing would invest in Malaysian bonds. However, businessmen who know China well believe this bond purchase could be major.

“As the Chinese Premier handles China’s economic policy and affairs, I believe this bond purchase will be significant enough to stabilise the ringgit that is grossly under-valued,” says Datuk Ter Leong Yap, president of the Associated Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM).

Ter was among the 10 corporate captains whom Li met with before speaking at the forum. Ter, in this private meeting, says he had proposed that China buy Malaysian bonds to halt the ringgit’s decline.

Malaysian top businessmen meeting with Premier Li on Nov 23 of 2015.Malaysian top businessmen meeting with Premier Li on Nov 23 of 2015. -
Ter (left) sharing a light moment with Li during a meeting as Ong (centre) looks on.

The ringgit, seen as facing further decline due to the impending hike in US interest rates, has been hit by three waves of outflow of foreign funds.

The first came after the crude oil price plunge, the second after the 1MDB saga was highlighted and the third, political instability amid calls for the resignation of the Prime Minister.

The ringgit has lost about 20% of its value to the dollar so far this year. Its fall is the biggest among currencies in the region.

The outflow of funds has not only hit Malaysia’s economy and investor confidence, but also reduced its international reserves tremendously.

Li also announced that China would provide a 50 billion yuan (RM33bil) quota under the Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (RQFII) programme for Malaysian institutional funds to purchase shares and bonds directly in the world’s second largest economy.

In response to this announcement, Bank Negara Malaysia said the RQFII programme would complement the renminbi clearing bank arrangement in Malaysia. And collectively, the initiatives will support the growing bilateral trade, investment and financial flows as well as position Malaysia as an offshore renminbi centre in the region.

In conjunction with Li’s visit, China Construction Bank (Asia) Corporation Ltd announced it would list the world’s first ever 21st Century Maritime Silk Road bond of one billion yuan (RM667.1mil) on Bursa Malaysia. The notes will support China’s “The Land & Maritime Silk Road” initiative.

“These announcements, together with the bond purchase, are significant for Malaysia as they imply that this big economic power is reading Malaysia positively and has confidence in our country. Confidence crisis is a major reason for people dumping the ringgit.

“By making announcements to invest in Malaysia and invite local funds to invest in China, Li is sending two strong signals: China is reading Malaysia positively and this superpower has confidence in Malaysia,” said Ter in an interview.

Chinese daily Nanyang Siang Pau describes Li’s announcements as “gifts” that will stabilise Malaysia’s financial market, while China Press sees these as “timely rain after a long drought”.

During one of his speeches here, Li told Malaysia to get ready for the influx of Chinese tourists, as his government would encourage its people to visit the country.

Chinese tourists, who form a significant portion of in-bound visitors, have declined since the dis­appearance of Flight MH370 last year.

As tourism is high on Najib’s agenda to bring in the much-needed foreign exchange earnings, this influx will cheer Malaysia up.

But China’s generous gesture is not to be taken that it’s all about friendship, though both countries say bilateral ties have been lifted to a new height now. There is the interplay of diplomatic and economic reasons.

It is public knowledge that Beijing appreciates Malaysia’s stance to play down China’s dispute with other nations in the disputed waters of South China Sea, in which China, Japan and several South-East Asian nations, including Malaysia, are territorial claimants.

China’s construction on islands and reefs in the disputed waters has caused diplomatic tension, heightened recently by the United States’ move to send a warship within 12 nautical miles of a Chinese reef in the area.

There are also investment returns and economic benefits in the long run for the Chinese.

“China’s investments in Malaysia is a smart move, contrarian investing at its finest. What the wise man does at the beginning, the fool does at the end. Our fundamentals are intact, ringgit tremendously undervalued,” says Ian Yoong Kah Yin, business development director of Red Sena Bhd.

This former investment banker at CIMB believes Chinese investments will pay as the ringgit should improve to 3.70-3.90 to a dollar by the end of 2016, from current levels of around 4.25 to 4.30.

In response to China’s timely aid, Najib pledged that Malaysia was committed to awarding the Johor Baru-Gemas double-track rail project to a consortium of Chinese companies. Indeed, China’s state-owned construction giants have been awarded local projects worth over RM15bil in the last three years.

Najib also took note of China’s interest in the high-speed rail project between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, but said this would be decided via international tender.

Referring to the bilateral trade target of US$160bil (RM683mil) by 2017, the Prime Minister said there should be doubling of efforts to reach the level. Annual bilateral trade has exceeded US$100bil (RM426bil) since last year.

Summing up Li’s visit to Malaysia, QL Resources Bhd’s Dr Chia Song Kun says: “All these measures announced by Premier Li during our most trying times will certainly help Malaysia, be it from the economic or political aspect.”

The vice-president of the Selangor/Kuala Lumpur Chinese Chamber of Commerce adds: “Our country is facing a confidence crisis and this has undermined business and consumer confidence. China’s move this time is like prescribing the right medicine to a sick patient.”

By Ho Wah Foon The Star/Asian News Network

A superpower, but not a threat

Premier Li’s visit to Malaysia serves as ‘silent counterattack’ over South China Sea conflict.

600-year-old bond: Li (second from right) and his wife Cheng Hong touring the Cheng Ho Museum during their visit to Malacca. — Bernama

“WE come in peace, as always,” is the strong message sent out by China’s Li Keqiang to Malaysia and other countries in the region during his recent visit.

When the Premier made repeated refe­rence to Admiral Zheng He (or Cheng Ho) in his speeches, he reiterated that the prominent navigator had embarked on his voyages with friendship and peace in mind.

Admiral Zheng He and his Chinese fleet of the Ming Dynasty did not invade the lands they visited 600 years ago, and China has no plans to do so now, too.

China wishes to assure its neighbours that its rise as a superpower in the realms of politics, economy, and military should not be seen as a threat.

On the contrary, it is now offering vast opportunities to cooperate for mutual benefit while insisting on harmonious ties with other countries.

Li, who was on his first official visit to Malaysia as the Premier of China, had inclu­ded Malacca in his itinerary.

Dotted with historical landmarks, the state has a meaningful position in the relations between Malaysia and China.

It was where it all began.

From the Sky Tower observatory deck on the 43rd floor of The Shore shopping complex, Li looked out at the Strait of Malacca, which Admiral Zheng sailed through to dock at the port of Malacca during his voyages.

At the Baba Nyonya Heritage Museum, Li learned about Peranakan culture that came into existence from the interactions between people from the two lands. He also toured the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum, where Admiral Zheng’s warehouse once stood.

But Li’s visit to the state was more than just a walk down memory lane.

Malacca is now the “friendly state” to China’s southern province of Guangdong. This is the first of such status approved by the Cabinet, as the usual practice has been establishing a sister city tie with another foreign city instead of a state-to-state pact.

According to the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Guangdong province is now “actively dovetailing development with Malacca, and making preparations to build a modern seaside industrial park integrating maritime high-tech industries, deep-water wharf and logistics centres”.

The Strait of Malacca is included in the route of the 21st-century Maritime Silk Road, together with the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt, which represents China’s great ambitions to boost connectivity and cooperation with countries in the world.

Malacca Port is also one of the six Malaysian ports to form an alliance with 10 Chinese ports, as specified in a memorandum of understanding signed between both coun­tries during Li’s visit.

Li’s stopover in Malacca, although brief, has reverberating effects. Besides giving an official stamp of approval to the bilateral project in Malacca, Li wanted to get across the message of peaceful exchanges, harmony and inclusiveness.

China Foreign Affairs University vice-president Jiang Ruiping told state-owned news agency, China News Service, that Admiral Zheng’s friendly diplomacy is still relevant today.

It serves as a “silent counterattack” at a time when the international community plays up the South China Sea issue, referring to the territorial row between China and a few South-East Asian nations including Malaysia.

China’s assertiveness over the waters, as illustrated by its recent reclamation activities, has prompted the United States to patrol in the disputed waters. The US Navy has received the support of Japan, which is also embroiled in a territorial dispute with China over islands in the East China Sea.

Opposing the interference from countries outside the region, Li, when speaking at the Asean-China Summit in Kuala Lumpur during his visit, said China sees the high-profile intervention as an act that does no good to anyone.

He said China is committed to peaceful settlement of the dispute through negotiation and consultation.

“Together with our Asean friends, we have the confidence to make the South China Sea a sea of peace, friendship and cooperation for the benefit of all countries in the region.”

 By Tho Xin Yi Check-in China


A new journey to make history 


1MDB exits power business, sells it to China for RM9.83bil ...

Ringgit at 5-week high - The Star Online

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Can Asia escape global secular stagnation?

AS we settle down for the end of the year, the picture on the economic front seems to be a bit clearer, although on the political front, the Paris attacks, the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey and continuing refugee migration into Europe have escalated geopolitical risks.

By spreading the war on terror from 9/11 in New York to Paris, consumer confidence in Europe is likely to suffer, depressing already a weak recovery in Spain, Italy and Ireland.

Fed vice-chairman Stanley Fischer, one of the wisest and most experienced central bankers, gave a speech earlier this month in San Francisco on Emerging Asia in Transition. His view was surprisingly upbeat but clear-eyed, noting that a slowdown in Asia is not slow but still impressive. The pattern of growth in Asia has been quite consistent – a period of fast growth before deceleration to a moderate level, and when the economy reaches maturity, as in the case of Japan, a phase of slow growth or stagnation. Fischer explained the growth through two major drivers – trade and demographics.

Export drive: One of the reasons for the Asian success story was the export-driven manufacturing, creating he Asian global supply chain

One of the reasons for the Asian success story was the rise of export-driven manufacturing, creating the Asian global supply chain. But after the global financial crisis of 2007, imports from the advanced countries declined, which was compensated by China’s imports of commodities from the commodity producers.

But once the investment-led cycle in China turned, commodity prices declined sharply and today, demand from the emerging markets also came down. On top of weak demand in the advanced economies, this meant real weak aggregate demand in the world, facing a situation of huge excess capacity in manufacturing and commodity production.

Basically, despite massive monetary creation, the world is facing slower growth with very little inflation in sight, namely, secular stagnation. The second factor for the current situation is demographics. East Asia had a demographic dividend, as a flood-tide of young labour emerged even as global exports took off. But the advanced economies of East Asia are aging, just like the advanced countries of Europe. The 2015 UN World Population Projections show these trends starkly.

The two manufacturing powerhouses, Japan and Germany, have the highest median population age of 47 and 46, and by 2030, just under one in three persons will be over the age of 65. By that time, Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore population would have one in four over the age of 65.

China and the US share roughly the same population profile, with the median age of 37 and 38 respectively, but by 2030, 21% of the US population would be over the age of 65, still higher than the 17% in China.

On the other hand, the younger populations in India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia still enjoy potential for high growth, with a median age of not more than 29 years and by 2030, less than 10% of the population would be more than 65. These large population countries, with the right infrastructure and policies, have the potential to grow above 5% per annum, with India leading the charge at 7.5%. We cannot underestimate power of these emerging population giants as new engines of grow.

India is today a US$2 trillion GDP economy, one fifth the size of China, with roughly the same population. When the Philippines and Vietnam (100 and 91 million population respectively) reach the same per capita income as Malaysia, their economy would be in the US$1 trillion class, roughly 3 times the size of either Singapore and Hong Kong today.

On the same basis, Indonesia would be a US$2.8 trillon economy, roughly the same size as France today. One of the factors weighing down markets is the trajectory of interest rates, which are still historically low. The Fed may be interested in raising them back to normal, but the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan are still committed to quantitative easing.

Emerging market interest rates and corporate borrowing rates have already started rising worldwide and this is, in the short run, negative to growth recovery. However, getting these population giants to move beyond the middle-income trap require huge reforms in many areas, including the power to put in infrastructure, educate the labour force and deal with structural impediments.

Countries like the Philippines and Vietnam are using external pressure, such as signing up to the TransPacific Partnership, to push through reforms even as opportunities for more trade appear. But the headwinds against such reforms are not small. Each country faces its own set of internal obstacles. In some countries, it is antiquated labour and land laws, in others corruption, inefficient state-owned enterprises, and lack of much needed infrastructure. In many, the transaction costs of doing business remain too high to compete effectively. In others, domestic giants resist competition from foreign multinationals that can bring in new knowhow and markets.

At the same time, labour unions and fear for jobs resist the introduction of new robotics and labour and resource-saving technology. All these risk factors collectively produce a global secular stagnation trap, very much like the 1930s, when no single government was strong enough to pull the world out of the global depression.

The US today is no longer in the position to be the lead engine. Even though it is recovering, US consumers are spending less on hardware imports and more on domestic services. Hence, even if emerging markets cut exchange rates to defend their trade positions, the exorable rise in dollar exchange rates spell future trouble because there are limits to the growing size of US trade deficits.

What can Asian countries do to get out of the secular stagnation? The answer lies in the willingness to reform and to restructure the current overdependence on exports, debt and manufacturing/resource exploitation. The willingess to bite the bullet will produce a J-shaped recovery, rather than the current L-shaped stagnation.

But every leader knows that reform is politically unpopular because it hits various vested interests. So all pundits deplore the lack of leadership. Leadership in these times of transition requires guts and will. The only problem is that it often takes someone else’s guts and the need to write the reformer’s own political will.

By Andrew Sheng Think Asian

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on Asian global issues.

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Global growth retreats

US Dollar-euro parity in sight

To raise or not to raise: the uS Federal reserve Building in Washington, DC. the probability of a rate-hike in December now exceeds 80% - delivering the first rise in borrowing costs

THERE we go again. Even before the ink is dry, global growth forecasts are downgraded once more.

Paris-based OECD’s (rich nations’ think tank) November Economic Outlook attributes a slump in the growth of world trade (brought about partly by China’s slowdown) as the major factor behind the sluggishness of the global economy.

It was only in October that IMF estimated world GDP will grow 3.1% in 2015 and 3.6% in 2016, in the face of slowing global trade at 2.8% this year (3.9% in 2016).

Now, OECD thinks global growth will ease to 2.9% (3.3% in 2014) and recover modestly to 3.3% in 2016.

Even these, I think, are optimistic. Bear in mind that growth in world trade had slackened in recent years (falling behind global GDP growth which is unusual and not a good sign) and has stagnated since late 2014. It is expected to grow only 2% this year against 3.4% in 2014 and a much faster rate in the early years of the decade: “World trade has been a bellwether for global output, and that global trade growth observed so far this year have in the past been associated with global recession.”

Meanwhile, further GDP slowdown in emerging market economies (EMEs) is weighing heavily on global economic activity. In addition, sluggish trade and subdued investment and low productivity growth are checking the momentum of recovery in the rich nations.

Indeed, there are already signs that many advanced economies are unlikely to reach anywhere near their potential output, despite continuing easy money. Over the medium term, the risks of recession and deflation have become more probable than indicated by the IMF.

Because of recent headwinds, the probability of recession in eurozone and Latin America has risen beyond 30% and 50% respectively, with Japan now in recession.

Simultaneously, the probability of deflation in eurozone and Latin America now exceeds 30%, while Japan is already experiencing significant deflationary tendencies.

This raises the spectre of secular stagnation (what Harvard’s Larry Summers refers to as the inability of an economy to grow to reach its full potential) at a time when policymakers are running out of firepower – fear that the policy tools available to combat deflating forces are becoming increasingly blunt.

The immediate risks

As I see it, many factors are shifting the global economy into a secular slowdown. Immediate risks include:

> Continuing deficient global demand in the face of excess capacity: The rich nations as a whole are in growth recession, with the US pulling-up the others which are struggling to jump start anaemic output. The eurozone is in extended stagnation; growth if any is low (in Germany) and uneven; indeed, the region is flirting with deflation.

Consumer prices have turned increasingly negative in Q3’15. Abenomics is faltering, moving Japan into recession (-0.7% in Q2’15 and -0.8% in Q3’15). IMF predicts the biggest contributors to global growth in 2015-2020 are the faster growing EMEs. Among the top 10, only two are rich nations (US & UK); heading the list are China (accounting for nearly 30%), India (15%) and US (10%); the remainder being (in descending order) Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, Brazil, Nigeria, UK and Turkey.

> Falling commodity prices: Energy, food and metals prices have fallen significantly over the past year. As a whole, commodity prices are now down 51% from its peak on April 29, 2011. Oil price has fallen 61% since June 14 and is languishing very near US$40 a barrel last weekend. Gold price lost 9% so far in 2015, dropping to a 5-year low at below US$1,065 per troy ounce on Nov 18.

Already, weary investors have begun to sense an end to the raw materials rout, as prices for most dipped below production costs. But few expect a quick rebound. The historical record: after commodity prices tipped over in 1997, it took 21 months to correct the fall. In 2000-01, it was 13 months.

After collapsing in 2008, commodity prices hit bottom in just eight months. This time, the index has been falling for four years and still counting. Nothing preordains a turnaround. Studies of commodity prices dating back to the 19th century found that cycles have been known to last 30-40 years.

So, don’t raise your hopes. Off-setting these “cuts” are currency weaknesses in many commodity-exporting nations since most commodities are priced in US dollar - thus translating to higher revenues in local currency, at least for now.

> China slowing down; so are EMEs and BRICS: Latest data points to an Asia where growth is stabilising in the region of 5%, reflecting very low growth in the more advanced Asian nations as a whole, where growth was at 1.5% annually (with South Korea and Taiwan expanding about twice as fast).

Asian EMEs are decelerating from close to 8% in 2011 to 6.5% or less in 2015. China is down to 6.8% this year but India is doing well at 7.3%. Similarly, the Asean 5 (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam) is also slowing down, from 6.2% in 2012 to 4.6% expected this year.

Within the region, performance is mixed: Thailand is doing rather badly at 2.5%; while growth in Vietnam will accelerate to 6.5%, with the Philippines not far behind at 6%.

Both Malaysia and Indonesia will each grow at around 4.5% this year and not much more next year. Expectation is that growth in Asean 5 will likely stabilise in 2016 at between 4.5%-5%.

The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) will continue to slacken considerably, growing at less than 2%, dragged down by severe recession in Russia and Brazil and hardly any growth in South Africa. EMEs now face a host of problems constraining their ability to grow.

Plummeting commodity prices, BRICS’s slowdown and investor flight are exposing deep-rooted weaknesses requiring fundamental economic overhauls, but made difficult by domestic politics and corruption. China’s successful transition towards a slower, but a more sustainable growth path will benefit growth all round, despite disruptions generated by rebalancing reforms, notwithstanding China’s sizable buffers available for it to cope.

> Rising US interest rates: The spectre of Fed uncertainty over the rate uplift that has spooked world markets will soon end, hopefully. The probability of a rate-hike in December now exceeds 80% - delivering the first rise in borrowing costs for nearly a decade. Expectation is for a quarter of 1% rise, with gradual but orderly small bites over the coming year. No big deal really, considering that Federal funds rate is already close to zero (below 0.2%) today and the yield on 5-year US Treasuries is only 1.65% per annum.

> Strengthening US dollar: The consensus is for US dollar to continue to strengthen, reflecting its relatively strong economy and prospects of a near term rate-hike in the face of economic weaknesses world-wide. The US dollar index (against six of its peers) has tipped past 99.6 (up 10.3% so far this year) for the first time since April.

Odds are for euro to be at parity with the US dollar; it has already touched 1.05. Tge euro has depreciated 13% so far this year.

The Chinese yuan is stable since this summer’s policy change. It is now likely that the yuan will be included in the SDR basket of elite currencies before year-end – in practice, bestowing on it reserve currency status.

Against a basket of EME currencies, however, the JP Morgan US dollar index is up 13.7% over the year; the Brazilian real is down 30.1% so far this year (until December 10); Malaysian ringgit, -20.2%; Turkish lira, -18.6%; Mexican peso, -12.1%; and Indonesia rupiah, -9.9.

Most certainly, Malaysia’s strong economic fundamentals don’t deserve a near 30% currency downgrade over the past year – it’s over-depreciated by at least 10%-15% after discounting the “bad” politics.

US President Obama (in Malaysia recently) is right to emphasise the critical importance of accountability and transparency, and the need to root out corruption in government.

> Destabilising politics and conflict: G-20 continues to struggle to come up with workable viable steps to reshape an increasingly dour economic outlook. They also face a host of new troubles, from political problems to security crises, raising doubts about preventing the global economy from falling into a long-term funk. Now, the growing refugee crisis in Europe and renewed fears of widespread terrorism after the Paris, Sinai (Egypt) & Bamako (Mali) attacks are proving difficult to fix. Soon enough, these heinous acts will become a pressing economic and business issue, bringing with it far reaching pressures on recovery efforts on the global economy.

What then, are we to do

So it’s not surprising that global economic prospects are repeatedly marked down in recent years. Add to this calls to join-in the war to fight terrorism with its multi-faceted business implications.

What’s worrisome is the rising risk of a world economy persistently mired in sub-par growth – as though hysteresis (impact of past experience on subsequent performance) has taken hold, with the attendant unacceptably wide income disparities, serious security issues, and persistent unemployment.

There is also the need to address the “large-scale displacement of people” with far reaching humanitarian development dimensions. Given that the global economy is still faced with much economic slack and very low inflation (indeed, even deflation), the complex challenges ahead will require continued monetary accommodation and fiscal support, notwithstanding frequent disruptions arising from China’s and EMEs’ reform transition, in the face of financial market volatility emerging from the pending Fed rate lift-off and the prospective strengthening of the US dollar.

Warren Buffett is known to have said: only when the tide has receded can you see who has been swimming naked. Cheap QE money has spoiled EMEs. Traditionally, debt busts in EMEs are centred on their sovereign US dollar denominated bonds.

Today’s “naked” EMEs reside in the corporate sector, mostly exposed to local currency bonds.

Their total private debt now far exceeds 100% of GDP, even higher than it was among the rich nations on the brink of the 2008 financial crisis. In the face of a debt crunch, they can become unduly vulnerable, especially for EMEs with a difficult and uncertain future.

Clearly, tepid and uneven growth raises the risk that can tip an economy into recession. Easy times have come & gone. Much soul searching lies ahead.

By Lin See-Yan What are we to do? 

Former banker, Harvard educated economist and British Chartered Scientist Tan Sri Lin See-Yan is the author of ‘The Global Economy in Turbulent Times’ (Wiley, 2015). Feedback is most welcomed; email:

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Thursday, November 26, 2015

If China killed commodities super cycle, Fed is about to bury it

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Has the Commodities Supercycle Run Its Course?
Gordon Johnson, Axiom Capital Management analyst, discusses the outlook for commodities and the prospects for SolarCity with Bloomberg's Carol Massar on "Bloomberg Markets." (Source: Bloomberg)

For commodities, it’s like the 21st century never happened.

The last time the Bloomberg Commodity Index of investor returns was this low, Apple Inc.’s best-selling product was a desktop computer, and you could pay for it with francs and deutsche marks.

The gauge tracking the performance of 22 natural resources has plunged two-thirds from its peak, to the lowest level since 1999.

That shows it’s back to square one for the so-called commodity super cycle, a hunger for coal, oil and metals from Chinese manufacturers that powered a bull market for about a decade until 2011.

“In China, you had 1.3 billion people industrializing -- something on that scale has never been seen before,” said Andrew Lapping, deputy chief investment officer at Allan Gray Ltd., a manager of $33 billion of assets in Cape Town. “But there’s just no way that can continue indefinitely. You can only consume so much.”

If slowing Chinese growth, now headed for its weakest pace in 25 years, put the first nail in the coffin of the super cycle, the Federal Reserve is about to hammer in the last.

The first U.S. interest rate increase since 2006 is expected next month by a majority of investors, helping push the dollar up by about 9 percent against a basket of 10 major currencies this year.

That only adds to the woes of commodities, mostly priced in dollars, by cutting the spending power of global raw-materials buyers and making other assets that generate yields such as bonds and equities more attractive for investors.

The Bloomberg Commodity Index takes into account roll costs and gains in investing in futures markets to reflect actual returns. By comparison, a spot index that tracks raw materials prices fell to a more than six-year low Friday, and a gauge of industry shares to the weakest since 2008 on Sept. 29.

The biggest decliners in the mining index, which is down 31 percent this year, are copper producers First Quantum Minerals Ltd., Glencore Plc and Freeport-McMoran Inc.

With record demand through the 2000s, commodity producers such as Total SA, Rio Tinto Group and Anglo American Plc invested billions in long-term capital projects that have left the world awash with oil, natural gas, iron ore and copper just as Chinese growth wanes.

"Without fail, every single industrial commodity company allocated capital horrendously over the last 10 years,” Lapping said.

Drowning in Oil

Oil is among the most oversupplied. Even as prices sank 60 percent from June 2014, stockpiles have swollen to an all-time high of almost 3 billion barrels, according to the International Energy Agency.

That’s due to record output in the U.S. and a decision by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to keep pumping above its target of 30 million barrels a day to maintain market share and squeeze out higher-cost producers.

A Fed move on rates and accompanying gains in the dollar will make it harder to mop up excesses in raw-materials supply.

Mining and drilling costs often paid in other currencies will shrink relative to the dollars earned from selling oil and metals in global markets as the U.S. exchange rate appreciates.

Russia’s ruble is down more than 30 percent against the dollar in the past year, helping to maintain the profitability of the country’s steel and nickel producers and allowing them to maintain output levels.

"The problem with lower currencies is operations that were under water a year ago are all of a sudden profitable on a cash basis," said Charl Malan, who helps manage $31 billion at Van Eck Global in New York. "Why would you shut them?"

While some world-class operators such as Glencore plan to cut copper and zinc output, others like iron-ore producers BHP Billiton Ltd., Vale SA and Rio Tinto are locked in a "rush to the bottom" as they seek to drive out competitors by maintaining supply even as prices slump, according to David Wilson, director of metals research at Citigroup Inc.

“With the momentum on the downside, it’s very difficult to say that we’re reaching a bottom,” Wilson said.

Source: Bloomberg

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Wednesday, November 25, 2015

US hypocrisy in international relations

US President Barack Obama deplanes upon his arrival at the Royal Malaysian Airforce base to attend the 27th Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur on November 20, 2015. - AFP

Issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in foreign affairs.

THE first American president to visit us was Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1960s. His reasons for visiting were probably the same as President Barack Obama’s: security (although in those days it was about the “threat” of Vietnam and the feared domino effect of nations falling under the thrall of Communism, whereas now it’s Islamic State) and economy (although then it was probably more about ensuring we keep on supplying tin and rubber whereas now it’s about keeping us from being too influenced by China).

Whenever the President of the United States visit another country, he is bound to make waves of some sort. According to oral history (i.e. my mum and dad), when LBJ came here all sorts of craziness ensued, like the inexplicable chopping-down of strategic trees; as though some renegade monkey was going to throw himself at the presidential convoy.

Our Prime Minister at the time, Tunku Abdul Rahman, wasn’t too fussed about the visit, saying that Johnson needn’t have come at all.

Obama’s visit wasn’t quite as colourful, with security measures being limited to thousands of guns and the closing of the Federal Highway (no more monkeys in KL) and all our leaders expectedly excited and giddy.

What I found interesting about Mr Obama’s trip is his consistent request to meet with “the youth” and civil society. He did it the last time he was here and he did it again this time.

This is all well and good; he’s quite a charming, intelligent fellow and he says soothing things. So what if he gave us a couple of hours of traffic hell (in this sense, the American Presidency is fair for he treats his citizens and foreigners alike: I have been reliably informed that whenever Obama visits his favourite restaurant in Malibu, the whole town is gridlocked by security measures. What, you can’t do take away, Barack?).

Anyway, I see no harm in all these meetings. But then neither do I see any good. At least not any real and lasting good, apart from perhaps the thrill of meeting one of the most powerful people on earth and having him say things that match your own world view.

The world of social media went a bit loopy when a young man at the “town hall meeting” with youths asked the President to raise issues of good governance with our Prime Minister, to which he replied that he would. And maybe he did, but at the end of the day, so what?

Frankly that’s all he will do, a bit of lip service, because issues of good governance, democracy and human rights will always be low on the agenda of any country when dealing in international affairs. They may make a big song and dance about it, but they don’t really care.

And before you accuse me of anti-Americanism, I believe this applies to most, if not all, countries. The Americans like us because we appear to be hard in the so-called “war on terror”.

They need us, not because we are such a huge trading partner, but because they want us on their side (by way of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement) in the economic battles that they have been, and will be, continuing to fight against China.

We see this behaviour of putting self-interest over any sort of serious stand on principle happening again and again. Why is it that the United Nations Security Council did nothing when Saddam Hussein massacred thousands of Kurds using chemical weapons, but took hurried military action when he invaded Kuwait?

Perhaps it is because at the time of the Kurdish genocide, Saddam was fighting Iran which was deemed by some, at least, as the great enemy. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if he is a genocidal butcher.

It is trite to mention the hypocrisies abound in international relations. Anyone with the vaguest interest in world affairs can see it. To expect any less is naïve.

Besides, there is another danger of having a big power like the US mess around with our national problems. If they do so, it will be all too easy for the rabid so-called nationalists amongst us to scream that foreign intervention is leading to loss of sovereignty and national pride. Their “patriotism” will muddy the waters, adding issues to confuse people when there need not be any added issues at all.

The point of this article is this – for those of us who want to create a nation with true democracy and respect for human rights, we’re on our own folks.

By Azman Sharom brave new world The Star/Asia News Network

Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.


United States Hypocrisy | A critical analysis of the American ...
A critical analysis of the American empire's high-minded rhetoric, and the ways in which it continually fails to square with reality. (by Caleb Gee)

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Monday, November 23, 2015

Real estate crowdfunding in Malaysia

CROWDFUNDING – the practice of funding a project or venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people typically using an online platform – has gained popularity due to the massive demand and supply in today’s competitive market.

In one way, it benefits start-ups and entities that require funds to either commence or expand their business portfolio.

Investors have the opportunity to participate in any potential investment that they are comfortable with and which corresponds to their personal investment portfolio via a simple click online. It is a chance to participate early in something potentially very big.

The Securities Commission has approved six equity crowdfunding platforms for issuers to offer share subscriptions to interested investors. This comes with strict compliance and regulations imposed on the platforms providing such equity crowdfunding services. The good news for investors is that these platforms, which represent another type of investment option, are expected to be launched very soon.

Rising property prices have increased the investment cost for real estate investors. Consequently, real estate investment trusts, which offer liquid stakes in real estate complemented by constant dividend yields, have become fashionable. Alternatively, real estate investors may also leverage on the informal real estate investors club that attracts a lower acquisition cost with bulk purchasing arrangements with developers.

We can draw one conclusion from these real estate investment options – that property investment is no longer an individual game but a team sport that thrives on leverage and collective bargaining.

There are even suggestions that political parties raise funds via crowdfunding in a bid to promote transparency and efficiency. This makes it easier to comprehend the call for crowdfunding in a sector like property. So, how does real estate crowdfunding work?

Online platform

The basic concept of crowdfunding is an online platform operated by an approved operator and regulated by a certain ministry that provides services to matchmake the issuer and the investor. The obligation of the operator is to conduct sufficient due diligence on the issuer and its product prior to allowing the issuer to campaign for fund-raising on its online platform.

To promote independence, there should not be any relationship between the operator and the issuer, and the operator should not personally join the fund-raising campaign by the issuer. Besides this, the operator has to approach private financial institutions or trust companies to set up trust accounts for the investment funds to capture, as trustee, those investors who are willing to invest in the issuer.

Similarly, to remain independent, the operator should not be related to the private trustees or financial institutions.

In this investment option, the utmost requirement for the issuer is that they shall be either a developer, a real estate agency or a land owner who owns the property slated for development and who is seeking to raise funds for that purpose. The operator may perform due diligence on the land background and require the issuer to show proof of ownership of the said land and also the proposed development plan. These are to be advertised on its platform as convincing tools to attract investors.

Nonetheless, contrary to conventional real estate investment where you would get the key to the property and may use it as a tangible asset for further financing in the future, any investment into the real estate crowdfunding platform does not give you ownership of an immovable property, unless it is agreed upon and offered by the issuer based on its fund-raising campaign.

The upper hand here is that the expected term for your return on investment (ROI) may be fixed and shorter. Investors may receive the expected ROI upon completion of the development. The investment amount is also within an affordable limit, and information is easily accessible via the Internet. Crowdfunding also promotes transparency in one’s investment and with collective investors, the bargaining power with the issuer is also greater as compared to individual investors.

Real estate crowdfunding might still be a new concept and some might have never heard of it until now, but with real estate investment running the risk of remaining merely a dream for the mid-range salary earner, it might be a good alternative to maximise returns on your hard-earned money without a hefty price tag.

However, as with all forms of investment, there are risks involved here despite the due diligence performed by the operators. Smart investors, nonetheless, always walk the extra mile to conduct their personal due diligence on the accuracy of the information made available on the crowdfunding platform.

The current regulatory framework only permits equity crowdfunding for the real estate business and is not yet a direct crowdfunding avenue into the acquisition of real estate.

By Chris Tan Real legal viewpoint

Chris Tan is the founder and managing partner of Chur Associates.

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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Kuala Lumpur property: KSK Land ups the ante with iconic 8 Conlay

KSK Group Bhd chairman Tan Sri Kua Sian Kooi with daughter Joanne who is KSK CEO & KSK Land Sdn Bhd MD

Flexibility: 8 Conlay units have the flexibility that allows residents to live their story the way they desire.

Fresh from announcing that its branded residence for Tower A at 8 Conlay project will be sold at a record RM3,200 per sq ft, Kempinski Hotel Kuala Lumpur has now been recognised under the Government’s Economic Transformation Programme.

IF 8 Conlay’s RM3,200 per sq ft (psf)selling price has set tongues wagging for possibly setting a new pricing record in luxury living, here is another development to add to the several “firsts” the project has notched since it was announced some two-and-a-half years ago.

Kempinski Hotel Kuala Lumpur, which is a component of 8 Conlay, has been recognised as an entry point project under the Tourism National Key Economic Area (NKEA) of the ETP - the Government’s initiative to propel the economy into high-income status by 2020.

Kempinski Hotels, Europe’s oldest luxury hotelier, is the hospitality partner of 8 Conlay’s owner and property developer KSK Land Sdn Bhd.

The hotelier will provide services for the project’s branded residence towers as well as manage the hotel tower.

“We got it (the endorsement) recently,” declares a proud Joanne Kua, who is the managing director of KSK Land.

According to the 30-year-old, the recognition is a sign of “quality assurance” that will place 8 Conlay on the global map.

“Even though we are in the ETP because of Kempinski Hotel Kuala Lumpur, Kempinski is also servicing our branded residence.

“This means there is a level of service that we need to adhere to for the entire development. This has always been what we have been reiterating at KSK Land, where every development we undertake has to be of good quality, and the service we provide to customers is always on top of our minds,” Joanne tells StarBizWeek.

“Being the owner of Kempinski Hotel Kuala Lumpur, we are proud to be pushing the boundaries by bringing the Kempinski brand into the Malaysian market because we are one of the few - if not only - fully integrated branded residence developments in the KLCC area.”

Kempinski Hotel Kuala Lumpur is slated to open its doors in 2020, coinciding incidentally with the planned “Visit Malaysia Year” in that same year.

In terms of numbers, Kempinski Hotel Kuala Lumpur is projected to bring in RM19.8mil in gross national income or GNI in the year 2020, which is expected to grow in the following years. Job-wise, the hotel is expected to create some 780 employment opportunities when it opens its doors in January 2020, while committed private investments amount to RM360mil, shares Joanne. This RM360mil is the cost of developing the hotel minus the land cost.

Shedding more light on the ETP recognition, the KSK Group director for corporate strategy and investments Pankaj C Kumar says that these numbers have been audited by the panel of auditors at the Performance Management and Delivery Unit or Pemandu, the driver of the ETP initiative.

“We started engaging with them early last year. Under the ETP’s Tourism NKEA, the Government’s plan is to increase the number of four- and five-star hotels, as well as increase the room rate in Malaysia, which is still relatively lower as compared to the region. They also want to create more vibrancy within the KLCC and Bukit Bintang areas,” says Pankaj.

Kempinski Hotels chief executive officer (CEO) Alejandro Bernabé says the ETP recognition raises the profile of its upcoming hotel in Kuala Lumpur. “For us, this creates even bigger expectations not from the construction point of view, but from the deliverance of (service) expectations. With the opening of the hotel in 2020 coinciding with a planned Visit Malaysia Year, we have to ensure we get it right from day one, as we cannot afford to let the honour of the country down,” he says in the joint interview. Bernabé was in town for the launch of 8 Conlay’s signature sales gallery on Wednesday. During the launch, phase one of 8 Conlay’s branded residence units known as YOO8, serviced by Kempinski, was officially open for sale. A private viewing for a select few of around 200 comprising the who’s who of the corporate circle was held on the same evening of the launch.

With piling works having begun at the four-acre site, it seems to be all systems go despite the expected slowdown seen in the property sector by analysts.

And in what is seen as a “coup of sorts” in positioning and differentiating 8 Conlay, the company has teamed up with the crème de la crème of brand partners like internationally-celebrated design company YOO, local architect Ar Hud Bakar and Bangkok-based landscape design firm TROP other than the world-class hotel management services of Kempinski.

8 Conlay unveiled

8 Conlay owes its name to the auspicious address it sits on in Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle. The development comprises of two YOO-interior designed branded residence towers of 57- and 62-storey blocks that will be connected via two sky bridges on levels 26 and 44. The development is complemented by a 68-storey five-star Kempinski Hotel, serviced suites and a lifestyle retail component.

YOO8 comprises two spectacular towers of 1,062 luxury branded residence, ranging from one to three-bedroom units.

Tower A of YOO8 will feature 564 units covering 700 square feet to 1,308 square feet selling at an average price of a whopping RM3,200 psf.

According to the company, 70% of Tower A has been reserved, with 80% comprising Malaysians.

Meanwhile, Tower B of YOO8 will feature 468 units to be launched some time next year.

Can 8 Conlay usher KSK into the competitive world of property?

8 Conlay’s selling price of RM3.200 psf, which is RM500 psf higher than the indicative RM2,700 psf it was only recently looking at, begs the question of whether it can sell in a soft market. Being the maiden venture for KSK Land, all eyes are on the company and its young and petite head honcho, Joanne. After all, 8 Conlay’s entry into the branded residence space is coming after a hiatus of similar launches in the city.

Joanne: ‘Price is reflection of interest.’
Joanne: ‘Price is reflection of interest.’

KSK Land is the property arm of KSK Group Bhd, which has insurance as its other core business. KSK Group was formerly known as Kurnia Asia Bhd that was privatised in 2013.

Joanne, who is also KSK Group’s CEO, is the daughter of the 62-year-old KSK patriarch and executive chairman Tan Sri Kua Sian Kooi.

While Joanne is playing a bigger role as the face of property in the KSK stable, it is no secret that senior Kua remains the driving force of the group.

KSK had sold its Malaysian insurance business in 2013 and diversified into property in the same year. It still operates insurance businesses in Thailand and Indonesia.

A quick check with property consultants indicate that the Banyan Tree branded residence is being transacted at prices between RM2,500 and RM3,000 psf, while St Regis was approaching the RM3,000 psf mark as at July estimates.

As for Four Season’s Place, a property consultant puts the going figure between RM3,000 and RM3,500 psf. “At RM3,200 psf, 8 Conlay is trying to position itself in the likes of Four Seasons. However, Four Seasons sold its units much earlier and it would be interesting to see if 8 Conlay is able to match Four Seasons, given the current market situation,” says the property consultant.

Joanne, however, remains optimistic that 8 Conlay would do well and prove the sceptics wrong.

“The price is a reflection of interest coming from the market. At the same time, if you were to compare what’s around the KLCC area, the pricing will justify the product.

“In terms of value, our location on Jalan Conlay is a strong point as in the branded residence market, buyers buy for location, which itself is capital preservation,” she says, pointing out that branded residences command a 30% higher value than luxury apartments based on a recent Knight Frank report.

Bernab: ‘Kempinski Hotel Kuala Lumpur in the ETP raises the hotel’s profile.’ Bernabé: ‘Kempinski Hotel Kuala Lumpur in the ETP raises the hotel’s profile.’

The disproportion between local and foreign buyers is due to the lack of marketing so far. “With the launch of the sales gallery, we are only now officially going out to market. We are eyeing all major cities like Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei, Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and the Middle East.”

The project is eyeing an equal spread of local and foreign buyers.

Locally, she shares that interest has been coming from surprisingly “young professionals who are well-travelled and know of Kempinski”.

“A branded residence is something one buys for capital appreciation for the long term. The buyers are a discerning lot and yearn to have a certain lifestyle.”

In terms of benchmarking, Joanne says that 8 Conlay is being benchmarked with other similar branded residences around the world and that prices in Malaysia are still relatively on the low side.

“If you look at branded residences in London, they are really about infusing three components. One is a five-star luxury service provider which you cannot deviate from. The second is the design element. When you partner a good name for design, buyers feel “safe” knowing that what is to be given is of a certain quality and level.

“The third is the architecture component, which often tends to be overlooked. But people who buy a branded residence are discerning buyers who look for offerings that are limited and unique.”

A unique proposition

Joanne describes it as providing a seamless experience for buyers all the way from the outside to the inside.

“When the thought process began to develop 8 Conlay, we looked at the branded residence space around the world and asked ourselves what was really available here. This is when we decided that we had to differentiate ourselves from the rest and would be able to do it,“ says Joanne.

This in essence sealed the company’s partnership with Kempinski. “What is unique about Kempinski is that in every hotel in the different cities it operates, there is a combination of its heritage and the owner’s identity, which I think is a strength many hoteliers don’t have. That’s one of the reasons why we like Kempinski because of the flexibility that allows for both parties’ personalities to stand out. That makes a very good hotel,” says Joanne.

She shares that the affinity to Kempinski is not altogether a new idea to KSK.

“The (Kua) family has had experience with staying at different Kempinski Hotels as we travelled a lot. So, when we were looking to partner a hotelier, Kempinski naturally popped into our chairman’s mind fairly quickly,” she says.

At the same time, Kempinski was also scouting for opportunities in Kuala Lumpur as part of its expansion into this part of the region.

Water theme: A unit designed around the ‘water’ element. Upon entering, one is treated to the magnificent view of KL City Centre beyond the foldable doors. Water theme: A unit designed around the ‘water’ element. Upon entering, one is treated to the magnificent view of KL City Centre beyond the foldable doors.

“Kempinski is quite exclusive. We choose our projects very carefully and make sure we work with partners that share the same common values.

“We are looking for exclusivity and authenticity and benchmark ourselves with the top residences in the world because customers who buy these residences have choices being well-travelled,” adds Kempinski’s Bernabé.

He reckons that having other branded hotel residences around 8 Conlay is not competition, but rather a good thing for the person who lives there because “if you live in a branded residence, you would want your neighbourhood to be of the same calibre”.

Drawing strength from brand partners

Joanne says 8 Conlay’s strength is the diversity of the international brand partners it has teamed up with, which would serve as an advantage as it markets overseas.

“Tower A is designed by Steve Leung and YOO. Steve Leung is akin to the “Andy Lau of design” in Hong Kong and China, while Kempinski has a strong presence in the Middle East and China,” says Joanne.

“For interior design, we have YOO which is not new to the branded residence segment. It knows what it means to take on the little details that people don’t see in space optimisation. This is why we market our residence fully furnished because that is the strength we want to show in one of our brand partners.

“And as far as the Kempinski name for service is concerned, you can only experience it if you have stayed in one of the Kempinski Hotels and understand the service standard it brings to the table.”

Incidentally, for Kempinski, YOO, Steve Leung and TROP, this is their first time in Malaysia. “The good thing about this is that it gives us a fresh pair of eyes, where we can innovate and do something different.”

Joanne says the company is also not strategising to compete with other players for its retail component. “In fact, we like it that Pavilion is close to us because it provides options for our buyers.

“We are not building a mall, we’re building a retail lifestyle quarter. We are going with the design first, as it needs to complement the whole development and be an attractive point on its own,” she says.

Taking a leaf out of its insurance book

Joanne believes that 8 Conlay’s unique concept will pan out as planned.

“When we conceptualised the project, our chairman Tan Sri Kua made it clear that he wanted to grow into a conglomerate. It’s not that we woke up one morning and decided that we wanted to go into property. The root of our business is in insurance, which is a long-gestation project. There is no denying that property is also for the long term, so there is no right or wrong time to go into this business.

“In insurance, we come from a base where it is all about customer service. So, when looking at property, we also looked at it from a completely different angle ... we put ourselves in the customer’s shoes and decided what we could do differently.

“When we decided which direction we wanted to go into in property, the message was very clear - to make sure we added value to the customer.”

“Creating extraordinary living spaces is what we do. KSK Land is formed on this philosophy and our job here is to create something extraordinary for 8 Conlay.”

On her taking on a mammoth project at a relatively young age, Joanne says she does not see her role from a gender perspective. “Any CEO would face the same challenges as me. The important thing is mutual respect, and in KSK, we are a family. We work together and celebrate together.”

By Gurmeet Kaur The Starbiz

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13 Apr 2014
New kid on the block: Singapore's 'shoebox king' Oxley spices up Kuala Lumpur a record RM3,300 per sq ft. IN just 10 months, Singapore-listed Oxley Holdings Ltd has quietly amassed a gross development value (GDV) of ...