Market Watch

Malaysia a preferred emerging market


KUALA LUMPUR: “A medium dry Martini, lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred.” That would be the kind of refreshing cocktail the fictional British Secret Service agent James Bond would have ordered.

But the global economy is experiencing a very different cocktail at the moment — a “traditional cocktail” of bad news centred on global tightening among central banks, an appreciating US dollar and the recovery of the energy cycle.

The consequent result has been a huge selldown in emerging markets (EMs) and more than US$2 trillion (RM8.08 trillion) in market capitalisation wiped out since the beginning of the year, as foreign funds cut their exposure to risky assets.

However, David Gaud, the chief investment officer for Asia at Pictet Wealth Management (Singapore) Pte Ltd, said Malaysia could stand out as a preferred market in Asia despite the challenging environment, owing primarily to the recovery of the energy cycle and oil prices, currently hovering at US$78.23  per barrel.

“These are your traditional cocktails of bad news, bad development. In the case of Malaysia, the big difference is that it is still a surplus country. At least from that point of view, it’s stronger. The currency is also relatively stronger compared with the other markets. The big factor is the energy cycle and the oil price because the recovery of the industry is giving Malaysia a much-needed extra boost or support.

“Asia in general doesn’t tend to benefit that much, including [South] Korea, Taiwan and even China. This is actually a positive for Malaysia,” Gaud told The Edge Financial Daily in a telephone interview. Pictet Wealth Management had total assets under management of US$205 billion as at Dec 31, 2017.

Apart from the energy sector, he also viewed technology as another area that is very promising for the Malaysian market.

“Malaysia has been benefitting from the ongoing relocation of capacity, most notably in Penang. The business has been holding relatively well, better than some of the leading players in [South] Korea and Taiwan.”


Huge selldown of GLCs create investment opportunities

Following Pakatan Harapan’s stunning victory over Barisan Nasional (BN) in the 14th general election (GE14) in May, breaking the latter’s 61 years of unbroken rule, the Malaysian stock market saw a huge selldown in companies perceived to be linked to BN.

There was also a big move away from construction stocks as a number of large infrastructure projects were scrapped or reviewed. But although there was an increase in volatility and profit-taking, it was not a complete selldown.

Gaud said: “Well, the money has to go elsewhere. Some went into leaders in their own industries and some into well-established brands.”

He believes real opportunities have emerged for investors, especially companies that have a good balance sheet and history of attractive dividend yields since the average is 3.2% to 3.3%.

“For us, it is also a critical point to invest in leaders — national leaders and even regional leaders. Ideally, Asian leaders who have become global. In Malaysia, we are not short of opportunities in this space. A leader is either a group who can grow its market share externally or a company which enjoys some quasi-monopoly,” he said, adding that liquidity is another important element given monetary tightening.

“Anyone buying [stocks] today is not buying for a quick return,” he added.

While Gaud remains positive about the Malaysian market on both relative and absolute bases, he stressed investors should have at least a six to 12 months horizon as EMs are likely to see further outflows given the ongoing spate of negative news, before a recovery later this year or early next year.

Gaud opined Malaysia can represent up to 5% of regional exposure in Picket’s Asia equity mandate.

He is of the view that the earnings growth of some companies can hit 10% — outperforming projected gross domestic product growth — but noted that investors might have to pay a premium to get in.

Compared with other EMs, he also thinks Malaysia’s sovereign rating is less likely to be downgraded.

“I would like to wait for the revised budget for 2018 and Budget 2019. Probably these should give some comfort to the rating agencies about not downgrading Malaysia as the new government has clearly indicated that it wants to reduce the spending and streamline its expenses. If they give enough arguments and measures to support that view, on a relative basis, Malaysia stands a lesser chance to be downgraded.”

In any event, he observed compared with Hong Kong for instance, local institutional funds have a strong influence on the domestic market and their traditional support ensures better protection against volatility.

“The volatility in the Malaysian market, provided there is no domestic issue, has been lesser historically. It’s a safer market from a flow point of view,” he said, adding that the lesser exposure to hedge funds has also limited its downside.

He observed that the Malaysian equity market has outperformed its peers for the greater part of the first half, except May when GE14 was held.


Looking beyond the trade war

On the current trade tensions between the US and China, Gaud said it is essential to pick companies with strong global exposure and that are less likely to be affected.

“At the end of the day, as a long-term investor, there are companies (locals that are leaders in their industries globally) you want to be associated with. In the event of a trade war, we’re likely to see consolidation in certain industries and it’s usually the industry leaders that will emerge stronger.”

The US-China trade war tensions relate to the US’ continuing large trade deficits with China, which US President Donald Trump has vowed to resolve.

“We are not there yet. July 6 is when we’ll see the implementation of some of these tariff measures. So, the coming week will be very important. Hopefully, they can find a settlement,” he said, noting that stock markets have already moved in anticipation of the trade tariffs to be implemented.

Gaud suggested that investors also pay attention to a stronger US dollar as it could hurt EMs and their currencies, and to keep an eye on the 10-year US Treasury yield. Commodity prices are yet another factor as a slump would be another negative for these markets, including Malaysia.

“There is one [more] element we need to figure out. It’s the Chinese yuan — whether it’s going for more depreciation or not. That’s going to be a big subject in the coming months. It’s something that we need to consider carefully,” he added.


MyEG and George Kent battered again

May 17, 2018 – StarBiz

KUALA LUMPUR: Shares of Government service provider MyEG Services and George Kent continued to come under heavy selling pressure on Thursday after Bursa Malaysia Securities removed the lower price limit for both counters.

At 3.30pm, MyEG tumbled 37.5 sen to 89.5 sen with 365.24 million shares done. It hit limit down when it fell to a low of 89 sen. It is connected with the previous ruling party.

George Kent was down 46 sen to RM1.48 with 86.92 million shares done. It fell to a low of RM1.47.

The FBM KLCI rose 4.8 points or 0.26% to 1,863.06. Turnover was 2.30 billion shares valued at RM2.34bil. There were 400 gainers, 529 losers and 336 counters unchanged.

Both counters werew among several which had fallen sharply since Monday.

StarBiz reported MyEG group managing director Wong Thean Soon said the company has spent close to RM150mil on its Goods and Services Tax (GST) programme, where it has acquired close to 20,000 dongles, and there are grounds to seek compensation should the programme be cancelled.

Wong owns some 30.26% of MyEG via his vehicle Asia Internet Holdings Sdn Bhd, and 7.76% under his name

George Kent and MRCB are the project delivery partner for the Light Rail Transit from Bandar Utama to Klang.

Najib broke down

May 16, 2018 – Reuters via Theedge

AS results poured in from polling stations around Malaysia on the night of May 9, with one parliamentary seat after another falling to the opposition, a stunned prime minister (PM) Datuk Seri Najib Razak stared defeat in the face.

There was no hiding the fact: the Najib-led Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that had run Malaysia for the six decades since its independence from Britain, had lost the election.

Voter anger over a goods and services tax (GST), as well as allegations of corruption that had swirled for years around Najib’s government, and the apparently lavish lifestyle of his wife, had finally taken its toll.

A consultant who was in Najib’s office as the reality of the defeat sank in said the prime minister was stunned. “When he knew that the numbers were not on his side, Najib broke down,” he said.

Explaining Najib’s shock on election night, one political strategist with ties to the now-defeated government said it was not unusual for him to be out of the loop when there were unwelcome developments.

“Najib lives in a bubble,” he said. His advisers “don’t accept others’ views,” he added. “They don’t listen to bad news.”

Najib’s remove, and the disarray in his camp during the campaign and the election, was pieced together from interviews with about a dozen political operatives and members of the ruling coalition and the opposition.

Trump’s favourite PM

The electoral defeat was a humiliating turn for Najib, who had ruled for almost a decade and had projected himself as a statesman who enjoyed a warm relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and played golf with US presidents.

Donald Trump showered him with praise during a White House visit last year, and according to local media once gave Najib a photograph of them together inscribed with the words: “To my favourite prime minister.”

Dubbed “The Survivor” on the cover of a magazine before the election, Najib, 64, had for three years weathered a scandal over the billions of dollars that went missing from the state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).

He consistently denied wrongdoing in connection with 1MDB.

Najib went into the poll confident of victory, according to the interviews with politicians and party officials.

But his week went off-script quickly and — despite frantic efforts — he failed to pull it back.

Reuters was unable to reach Najib or any close aides for comment.

An official who worked on Najib’s campaign said his camp had been sure of victory several days before the vote.

That confidence sagged as election day loomed with mounting evidence that momentum was with the opposition.

The political strategist said that two cabinet ministers were so unnerved that they stopped country-wide campaigning to concentrate on defending their own parliamentary seats.

Despite growing evidence of huge turnouts at opposition rallies, the ruling coalition remained confident of victory, even if with a weaker mandate, banking on its traditional Malay vote base.

Ten hours before polling stations opened, Najib went on national television and made voters a trio of promises.

If they returned him to power, he said, his government would scrap income tax for the young, declare two extra public holidays and make toll roads free for a few days during Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

“It was desperation,” said the campaign official.

Opinion polls showed that voters were angry over living costs after the introduction of the GST, but they were also disgusted by the allegations of corruption surrounding Najib.

“It was conflated with so many other things — with higher costs of living, with inflation, with the goods and services tax,” said Khairy Jamaluddin, the youth and sports minister in Najib’s government, explaining the public discontent.

“But at the root of it was scandal.”

A senior official in one of the opposition parties said that BN had been wrong to count on votes from the country’s majority ethnic Malays on the basis of the affirmative-action policies that benefit them.

That shortcoming was underlined by the large crowds turning out for rallies for the opposition’s Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the 92-year-old former PM, in predominantly Malay areas that had long been bastions of support for the ruling coalition.

“Sometimes on the ground, we were telling ourselves this is too good to be true,” said one leader of Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan, or Alliance of Hope.

On election day, opposition party officials said they were sure of victory by early evening thanks to results that their representatives at polling stations had passed on.

The mood was jubilant in the opposition camp as it became clear its candidates had beaten leading BN politicians and made significant gains across the country.

By midnight, Dr Mahathir felt confident enough to declare victory.

Najib did not concede, however, apparently having recovered his composure as the night went on.

Khairy visited Najib at his house that night and said the prime minister was “calm” and “poised”, but that the people around him were “stunned, shocked and sombre”.

When the Election Commission eventually announced the result, hundreds of jubilant Dr Mahathir supporters waved flags and cheered in central Kuala Lumpur.

The next day, Dr Mahathir, who was once Najib’s mentor and later his bitter adversary, was sworn in as PM.

Dr Mahathir’s challenges for the multi-ethnic nation are substantial: how to keep together an alliance made up of former foes, and implement populist measures and reforms without disrupting economic growth — even as he has promised to cede power to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the opposition leader jailed by Najib.

Dr Mahathir’s immediate attention appeared to focus on Najib. During the election campaign, Dr Mahathir had vowed to hold Najib to account for his alleged role in the disappearance of billions of dollars from a government fund.

As he assumed power last week, he said that those who had broken the law would be punished.

Meanwhile, Najib’s estranged step-daughter, Azrene Ahmad, took to social media to hail “the end of an era of tyranny”.

Anger at the airport

With Dr Mahathir in power, speculation swirled about Najib’s future. Would Dr Mahathir have him arrested? Would Najib try to leave the country?

On the Saturday after the election, an angry crowd gathered outside Sultan Abdul Aziz Shah Airport (formerly Subang Airport).

Online, another 30,000 people tuned into a Facebook live event, streaming from the airfield entrance.

A report had leaked that Najib and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor, were going to try to leave Malaysia aboard a private plane.

“Stop them running away!” said one watcher of the Facebook Live event.

Amid the commotion at the airport, Najib announced on social media that he would indeed be leaving, to take a holiday overseas. But he and his wife never showed up at the airport.

What Najib had not realised then was that, just minutes before his announcement, the Immigration Department had issued a statement that Najib and Rosmah were barred from leaving the country — a final humiliation for the former PM.

Later that day, a sombre Najib appeared at a news conference that appeared to signal the end of his political career.

Struggling to get a microphone to work, he put on a brave face as he announced that he was resigning as leader of both his political party, Umno, and BN.

“Anyone who is the leader and failed, it is the responsibility of that person to accept defeat. With an open heart, I accept it,” he said.

‘Collective denial’

Looking back at the evening of the election, Khairy discounted speculation that Najib had been hoping to find some way out of his predicament.

Once the results had sunk in, Najib’s priority had been figuring out how to achieve an orderly transition, he said.

“There were a lot of concerns that he was going to declare martial law, emergency rule, not hand over power,” Khairy said.

“Those were never ever options that were even discussed, thought or entertained in any way. It was just about accepting it and how we would concede.”

Now, without Najib at the helm, the priority for the former ruling coalition was figuring out how to become the opposition for the first time, Khairy said.

“We were in a state of collective denial,” he said, adding that the coalition had misunderstood the anger of the population.

“We were too drunk on our own Kool-Aid, and this is a sobering lesson for us which we’ll remember for the rest of our lives.”

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