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||Asean Affairs 15 June 2012
ASEAN Market Summary
By Shayne Heffernan Ph.D.
In the Usa Over Night
Moody's Investor Service cut its rating on Spanish government debt on Wednesday by three notches to Baa3, saying the recently approved euro zone plan to help Spain's banks will add to the country's debt burden.
On Thursday, Egan-Jones cut France's sovereign credit rating to BBB-plus with a negative outlook, citing expectations that France's funding costs will see more pressure as the euro zone sovereign debt crisis continues to roil markets.
The news late in the trading day invigorated a market that has been highly volatile this week, whip-sawed by concerns the ballot in Greece on Sunday may set the stage for the country's exit from the euro zone.
Energy was the top-gaining S&P sector .GSPE, rising 1.7 percent, helped by a 2 percent rise in U.S. crude oil prices. Chevron Corp (CVX.N) was a top boost to the Dow, up 1.8 percent to $101.92.
Some of the initial pop in prices faded into the close, however, with Wall Street seen still subject to sharp swings. The Dow hit an intraday high up 1.6 percent but closed up 1.2 percent.
"I can't imagine it as the start of the big move up because there are still many issues out there," said John Manley, chief equity strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management in New York.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI gained 155.38 points, or 1.24 percent, to 12,651.76. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 14.22 points, or 1.08 percent, to 1,329.10. The Nasdaq Composite Index added 17.72 points, or 0.63 percent, to 2,836.33.
Singapore is unlikely to introduce additional measures to cool the housing market because of a weak economic outlook and lower property transactions, according to Bank of America and JPMorgan.
“A fragile economic outlook and softness in the broader property market suggests that another round of measures may be unwarranted at this point,” Hak Bin Chua, a Singapore-based economist at Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch unit wrote in a note to clients on Thursday.
“The last round of measures in December already dealt quite a severe blow to overall sentiment and transactions.”
Prices of private residential properties declined 0.1 per cent in the quarter ended March 31, compared with a 0.2 per cent increase in the fourth quarter.
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Transaction values and volumes tumbled about 26 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively, from the three months to December 31, according to the report. Singapore will report its monthly home sales for May on Friday.
Singapore has been attempting to rein in prices since 2009, when the government barred interest-only loans for some housing projects and stopped allowing developers to absorb interest payments for apartments still being built.
Foreigners and corporate entities have to pay an additional 10 per cent stamp duty following measures introduced in December.
The extra levy is 3 per cent for permanent residents purchasing a second home and for citizens buying their third residential property.
Expectations of more measures were raised after developers sold a record number of so-called shoebox apartments in the first quarter. The increase in the sales of apartments smaller than 50 square metres is a concern and the government has asked developers to provide more details, Khaw Boon Wan, Singapore’s National Development Minister, said on May 14.
“We expect residential prices to moderate between 5 per cent and 10 per cent from here,” Joy Wang, an analyst at JPMorgan, said in a note to clients on Thursday.
“Together with a moderating land sales market, we are of the view that additional policy measures are unlikely.”
Home sales climbed to 6,682 units in the three months ended March 31, the highest quarterly figure since 1996 when the Urban Redevelopment Authority began reporting the data.
Sales to foreigners fell 74 per cent in the quarter from a year earlier and sales to Singaporeans declined by 12 per cent in the period, Jones Lang LaSalle said on April 24, citing URA data.
“The risk of property cooling measures is ever present but we do not expect any significant new ones in the near term,” Macquarie Group said in a report on Thursday.
Singapore’s economy increased 1.6 per cent in the first quarter from a year earlier, after rising 3.6 per cent in the previous three months, the Trade Ministry said on May 17.
Industrial production unexpectedly fell for the third time in four months in April. Manufacturing dropped 0.3 per cent from a year earlier, the Economic Development Board said on May 25.
The Thai banking sector experienced rapid growth in the first quarter of 2012 on the back of significant expansion of the economy as a whole, with most banks posting increases in profits and loans.
The country’s banks posted total net profits of BT41.36bn ($1.29bn) in the first quarter of the year – an 8.9% year-on-year (y-o-y) increase. Of these, Land and Houses Bank (LH Bank) posted the largest percentage growth: 54.46% y-o-y in the first quarter of 2012.
Siam Commercial Bank (SCB) posted a y-o-y loss of 20.8% due to a one-time investment gain that stemmed from the acquisition of shares in SCB Life in March 2011. However, SCB’s profit, excluding the acquisition-related gain, was BT10.3bn ($322.19m), a 29.4% y-o-y increase and the highest net profit among the country’s banks.
Kasikornbank also grew significantly, posting a 47.2% increase in net profit for the quarter. Bangkok Bank, CIMB Thai Bank and the Bank of Ayudhya also performed well, posting profit increases of 24.97%, 22.4% and 22.2%, respectively.
The success of Thailand’s banks in the first quarter was largely supported by strong loan growth, which rose 13.9% y-o-y. Though this was lower than the 14.8% y-o-y expansion reported in the first quarter of 2011, it still shows a strong demand for loans – and a strong ability of banks to meet such demand. This growth has continued into the second quarter, with nine commercial banks posting a 15% expansion in April, contributing to a 4% rise for the first four months of the year.
Property loans, which accounted for 29% of total loans, played a large part in supporting this growth, having expanded by 15.7% in the first quarter of 2012. This was an increase on the 15.4% expansion reported in the first three months of 2011.
While demand from large corporations for loans has declined, loan demand by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) increased by 14.8% y-o-y in the first quarter. LH Bank, which expanded its lending portfolio to support more SMEs, was reported to have the largest lending growth in April, at BT60.96bn ($1.89bn), up 3.72% from March. The Bank of Ayudhya, meanwhile, had the second-highest percentage growth, having increased by 2.61% between March and April.
The success of the country’s banks is largely due to wider economic growth, with the Bank of Thailand’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) saying in late May that it expects GDP to increase by more than the 6% it had predicted in early May – a number that had already been revised upward from 5.7%.
“The first-quarter growth was better than expected,” said Suchada Kirakul, the deputy governor of the Bank of Thailand. “There is high possibility for the economy to expand by more than 5%.”
Suchada added that increased domestic consumption and investment would be likely drivers of growth in 2012. Indeed, the bank raised its forecasts across the board for private and public consumption and investment growth in 2012: private consumption is set to increase by 5.7% y-o-y, up from the 4.5% predicted in early May; private investment is forecast to grow by 14.3%, revised up from 10.6%; public consumption is set to increase by 4.9%, revised up from 2.2%; and public investment is expected to rise by 17.9%, up from 17.7%.
It is also likely that the MPC will further raise its GDP growth estimate to reflect continued economic success in the second quarter at its meeting on June 13. However, Suchada said that growth in the second half of the year could be jeopardised by potential global effects of the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.
“There is political risk in Europe. We are not certain about the level of its impact, and this becomes a major risk,” she said.
In spite of these risks, however, it seems the banking sector will remain on a growth path for some time to come. Between the expectation of further upward revisions to the GDP growth estimate and the likelihood of further increases in lending to individuals and small businesses, the country’s banks should continue to be successful throughout 2012.
Cambodia yesterday signed deals for about US$430 million in loans from China, the latest in a number of high-profile borrowing deals with its northern neighbour.
The bulk of the loans, from Export-Import Bank of China, would go towards two national road projects and a multipurpose dam in Battambang, according to documents obtained by the Post.
An extension on the rehabilitation of National Road 6 alone was set to cost about $250 million.
The signing ceremony, chaired by Prime Minister Hun Sen and China Politburo Standing Committee member He Guoqiang, generated fierce criticism from the opposition Sam Rainsy Party, which called the borrowing opaque.
The Kingdom signed on for $302 million in similar loans from China in February.
Although an exact figure for Cambodia’s debt to China has been disputed, Minister of Economy and Finance Keat Chhon in February said the figure stood at about $1.8 billion.
The prime minister yesterday touted the borrowing as a boost to the development of Cambodia.
“China’s progress has led to harmony in neighbouring countries including Cambodia,” Hun Sen’s personal adviser Eang Sophallet quoted the premier as having said.
“Chinese aid has not only helped the development of Cambodia’s economy, it has also helped Cambodia to be independent.”
Yesterday’s signing also included a $2 million deal with China’s biggest technology company Huawei for what the document called a “Hotline and Traffic Control Project”. Officials at the company could not be reached.
A $550,000 hospital project donated by the China Foundation for Peace and Development, as well as the delivery of two Chinese-built MA60 aircraft, was also noted in the document.
The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank earlier this year called Cambodia’s debt levels stable, but questioned the country’s ability to manage future economic crises if borrowing continued.
A joint report issued by the two institutions in late February estimated Cambodia’s foreign debt at about 28 per cent of gross domestic product for both 2011 and 2012.
Although debt levels were projected to increase from about $4 billion to $5.6 billion over the next four years, its share of GDP will decrease by about a percentage point to nearly 27 per cent.
Yim Sovann, spokesperson for Sam Rainsy Party, said access to information concerning Cambodia’s debt to China was restricted, even to members of parlament.
He claimed that the Kingdom’s external debt was more than $6 billion, at least a third of which was owed to China.
“These loans are dollars that Cambodian citizens owe and have to pay back through tax payments. The most important thing is to curb the corruption that leads to these failures in transparency,” he said.
The lending, which China has often advertised as having “no strings attached”, entitled Chinese companies to exploit Cambodia’s mineral wealth and land concessions, he added.
For Sun Yunhua, the country roads of Yunnan not only take him home, but also reveal a thoroughfare toward prosperity.
After running a furniture business in Laos for many years, the Yunnan-born businessman has decided to enter the floral and tourism industries back in Yunnan, as he senses a business boom taking off in his home province in Southwest China.
"China has launched a strategy to build Yunnan into a gateway for South and Southeast Asia, which will bring more favorable and open policies to the province," Sun says.
Sun's optimism is shared by 35,000 businesspeople from 31 Asian countries and regions attending the ongoing China Kunming Import & Export Fair (Kunming Fair), where they have clinched $179.1 billion in contracts on investing in Yunnan's mining, energy, tourism and infrastructure sectors.
Despite the economic slowdown China is currently experiencing, Chinese and foreign entrepreneurs are eyeing new opportunities as the country has pledged to expand the opening-up of its southwestern border regions.
Although it is an area long marked by poverty, Southwest China is nevertheless believed to have huge yet untapped potential. It is also geologically close to South Asia and Southeast Asia -- regions China is looking to boost trade with in order to buffer the effects of waning Western demand.
Massive infrastructure projects are currently in full swing to complete the transport and logistic networks in Yunnan, which positions itself as the "bridgehead" on the opening up of Southwest China.
Construction has begun on 12 railroads connecting Yunnan with other parts of China as well as Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam, and these projects are "making progress," said Li Jiming, vice head of the Commercial Department of Yunnan.
Yunnan is also building a financial center to facilitate trade between China and South and Southeast Asia. Last year, 85 percent of local companies in the import and export sector got approvals to settle their foreign trade using renminbi, or yuan, China's currency.
Favorable winds are also blowing throughout other southwestern provinces and autonomous regions, including Guangxi and Guizhou, where officials have promised favorable investment conditions.
"Guizhou has rolled out new measures on land supply, tax reduction and support services, which are all to better serve our investors," Meng Qiliang, vice governor of Guizhou, said at the fair.
Burma is one of the last large countries to take the reform route. It has two choices. It can either muddle along as India has been doing; the problem of a democracy is that you must take everybody on board. Things move slowly. It takes a new crisis -- as is being experienced by India now -- to get the ship of government back on the rails. Or you can fly -- like China. If you are lucky, you manage; if you are not, the pressure cooker will explode. The liberalization process will get a setback from which it may take years to recover.
There don't seem to be too many doubts that Myanmar President U. Thein Sein has some reformist aspirations. Over the past few years, he has patched up relations with pro-democracy Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who leads the opposition. He has held some sort of elections, where Suu Kyi's party bagged 43 of the 45 seats on offer. (The Myanmar Parliament has more than 600 seats, so a transition to an elected government has a long way to go.)
The Indian Prime Minister is not alone in accepting the democratic credentials of the ruling general. U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton is also a convert. On May 17, after meeting Myanmar foreign minister U. Wunna Maung Lwin in Washington, Clinton told a press conference at the state department's Treaty Room: "Today we say to America's businesses: invest in Burma." U.S. President Barack Obama added. "As an iron fist has unclenched in Burma, we have extended our hand,". He lifted the trade sanctions that have been in place since 1993. He also nominated Derek Mitchell as ambassador to Myanmar. Mitchell has previously served as the state department's special representative to that country.
There was some excitement in Yangon. But it was muted. The generals have promised democracy on several occasions. But they have always ended with the people asking for more and brutally repressed uprisings. Why should this time be any different?
Corporate America too didn't show much visible excitement about investing in Myanmar. When Vietnam was thrown open by President Bill Clinton in 1994, Coke and Pepsi rushed into the country. Bottles of the soft drink were made available -- free -- on the streets of Ho Chi Minh City in just a few hours. Today, U.S. investment will come, but in more measured fashion.
Vietnamese stocks, Asia’s biggest losers during the past five years, are rising the most in 2012 as the nation’s largest money managers say falling interest rates will reverse the deepest earnings slump in three years.
The benchmark VN Index may extend its rally by another 65 percent through 2013 after climbing 24 percent since December, said Samsung Asset Management. Financial and real-estate companies in Asia’s 13th-largest equity market may lead gains, Eastspring Investments said. Dragon Capital, Vietnam’s biggest private stock investor, favors consumer and agricultural shares such as Vietnam Dairy Products Joint Stock Co. and Petrovietnam Fertilizer & Chemical Joint Stock Co., the nation’s largest listed fertilizer maker.
Amid challenges to energy security and the threat of lower investment due to global economic woes, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has high expectations for the two new members of his economic team.
Yudhoyono appointed on Wednesday Rudi Rubiandini, upstream oil and gas regulator BPMigas’ operations deputy, as the new deputy energy and mineral resources minister and Chatib Basri, vice chairman of the National Economic Committee (KEN), as head of the Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM).
Rudi replaces Widjajono Partowidagdo, who died in April, while Chatib replaces Gita Wirjawan, who was appointed trade minister in the last cabinet reshuffle.
“Like Widjajono, [Rudi] has real action plans to support our energy policies, including the energy efficiency program,” Yudhoyono told reporters at a press conference at the Bogor Presidential Palace, West Java.
Yudhoyono said he hoped Rudi would develop policies and action plans to improve the performance of Indonesia’s resource industry.
In response to his appointment, Rudi said he would focus on developing energy diversification so as to achieve a more sustainable energy mix in the future amid declining oil production.
“Demand grows rapidly, but we face difficulties in catching up with the demand due to poor infrastructure. The number of oil refineries is limited, so it’s necessary to build new plants. The pipelines channeling gas to the downstream sector are also not sufficient,” Rudi said.
“The role of geothermal has to be boosted. We have 40 percent of the world’s reserves. We also have 12 hours of sunlight a day, which is a tremendous opportunity to develop solar energy. We need to also to remain open to the possibility of continuing our nuclear program,” he said.
On non-oil and gas resources, Rudi said Indonesia would follow through on its plan to create added value to raw minerals. Recently, the government issued stricter export requirements for 65 raw minerals and imposed a 20 percent export tax.
Special measures were necessary, he said, to encourage domestic mineral processing.
“We also have to strengthen supervision over the size of mining areas, production calculations, tax payments and corporate social responsibility programs of mining companies,” Rudi elaborated.
In the electricity sector, he was committed to helping to increase the electrification ratio, while pushing PT PLN to improve its operational and business efficiency.
An energy expert from ReforMiner Institute, Pri Agung Rakhmanto, hailed Rudi’s appointment. He said Rudi was a person with the same caliber as the late Widjajono.
“Rudi is a professional and, judging by his track record, he is free from [business or political] interests,” he told The Jakarta Post.
Rudi graduated from Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) in 1985, majoring in oil and gas engineering. He pursued his doctorate in oil engineering at the Technische Universitaet Clausthal in Germany and graduated in 1991.
Rudi is one of only a few senior government officials that have referred publicly to the Lapindo volcanic mud flow in Sidoardjo, East Java, as a man-made disaster, disputing the government’s official stance on the matter.
On the appointment of Chatib, Yudhoyono said strengthening the investment sector was crucial amid the protracted global economic crisis and its consequent potential impact on foreign investment.
He said Chatib had been active in contributing his ideas on national economic development and business.
“I believe he is suited to be the head of the BKPM […] Amid the current global economic turbulence, maintaining trade and investment is very important,” he said.
According to Chatib, it is a challenging task to improve the investment value in the country during the economic crises in Europe and the US, which have started to loom over the global economic situation.
“This is not an easy task. Hard work from all sectors is needed so that investment can really contribute to the growth of our economy,” said Chatib, as quoted by Antara news agency.
Besides being a member of KEN, Chatib is also a lecturer at the University of Indonesia (UI). He completed his undergraduate studies at UI in 1992, studied for his master’s in economic development at the Australia National University and received a PhD from the same university in 2001.
An economist from the Institute for the Development of Economics and Finance (INDEF), Ahmad Erani Yustika, said he was in no position to comment on whether or not Chatib was the right man for the job, but he had two recommendations for him.
“First, Chatib has to be able to increase the proportion of domestic investment, which currently only accounts for 30 percent of total investment. Second, investment outside Java has to be boosted,” he said.
San Miguel Corp. plans to complete a landmark P80-billion offering of preferred stocks by September, from which some proceeds will be used to redeem non-voting preferred shares held by the government.
During its stockholders’ meeting Thursday, SMC shareholders approved a plan to boost the company’s authorized capital to P30 billion from P22.5 billion, supporting further expansion and diversification plans.
SMC also announced to stockholders its plan to redeem the old series of preferred shares issued three years ago.
SMC’s recapitalization will be achieved through the following: an increase in common shares by 400 million to 3.79 billion; and an issuance of 1.1 billion new preferred shares with a par value of P5 apiece.
SMC president Ramon Ang told reporters after the company’s stockholders’ meeting that the conglomerate had “many options” on how to use the proceeds from the issuance of preferred shares.
Asked whether this would include redeeming the government’s preferred shares in SMC, Ang said: “Yes.”
Ang said the issuance would likely happen in September and that SMC would try to complete the P80-billion preferred shares offering in a single tranche.
The first series of preferred stocks, which targeted shareholders who would like a fixed return instead of sharing in the risks from SMC’s diversification, was issued at P75 a share in 2009. There are about 970.506 million of these first-series preferred shares with a total market capitalization of P72.5 billion, based on Thursday’s closing price of P75.50 a share.
The government holds 753.8 million preferred shares in SMC, previously equivalent to 24 percent of common shares but were converted into preferred shares in 2009, which SMC has the option to redeem this year. Following an affirmation from the Supreme Court that these assets belong to coconut farmers, the government is now technically free to sell its SMC preferred shares, analysts said.
At the same time, SMC will be able to lower its debt servicing cost by redeeming outstanding preferred stocks and avoid incurring higher rate under a “step up” feature on these preferred stocks. SMC currently pays 8 percent per annum to holders of those preferred stocks.
“The issuance of a new set or series of preferred perpetual preferred shares would be advisable to finance the redemption of the series 1 shares as it would enable SMC to potentially reduce cost of capital,” said Jose Mari Lacson of Campos Lanuza & Co.
Yesterday in Asia
Tokyo fell 0.22 percent, or 19.95 points, to 8,568.89, Sydney closed 0.53 percent, or 21.6 points, lower at 4,042.2 and Hong Kong was 1.15 percent, or 218.12 points, down at 18,808.40.
Shanghai lost 0.99 percent, or 22.97 points, to close at 2,295.95.
However, Seoul gained 0.65 percent, or 12.16 points, to 1,871.48.
– Taipei fell 0.19 percent, or 13.73 points, to 7,075.10.
Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. lost 1 percent at Tw$79.2 while Hon Hai Precision edged down 0.12 percent to Tw$82.1.
– Manila ended 1.74 percent, or 88.76 points, lower at 5,020.85.
Philippine Long Distance Telephone gave up 3.69 percent to close at 2,350 pesos and Globe Telecom retreated 6.5 percent to 1,020 pesos.
– Wellington ended 1.02 percent, or 34.36 points, higher at 3,416.09.
Fletcher Building was up 0.33 percent at NZ$6.15, Telecom rose 3.0 percent to NZ$2.40 and Contact Energy was up 1.5 percent at NZ$4.66.
– Kuala Lumpur ended 0.34 percent, or 5.29 points, lower at 1,570.94.
Telecommunications firm Axiata Group lost 0.19 percent to 5.39 ringgit, while Petronas Chemicals Group shed 0.47 percent to 6.35. Public Bank gained 0.29 percent to 13.70 ringgit.
– Singapore was down 0.47 percent, or 13.07 points, at 2,773.81.
Singapore Airlines was down 0.49 percent to Sg$10.10 while DBS Bank shed 0.15 percent to Sg$13.28.
– Bangkok was down 0.45 percent, or 5.21 points, to 1,153.01.
Oil giant PTT closed unchanged at 326 baht, while energy firm Banpu fell 1.72 percent to 458 baht.
– Jakarta fell 1.78 percent, or 68.84 points, to 3,791.62.
Coal producer Bumi Resources fell 8.5 percent to 1,030 rupiah, nickel miner Vale Indonesia slid 4 percent to 2,375 rupiah and Indofood Sukses Makmur lost 2.06 percent to 4,750 rupiah.
– Mumbai fell 1.20 percent, or 202.63 points, to 16,677.88.
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