S'poreans head to JB as ringgit hits record low

This is written by Tiffany Fumiko Tay of Singapore Straits Times.

Singaporeans Neo Yiwen (left) and Adelina Chan stocking up on household items at Tesco hypermarket in KSL Mall in JB yesterday. Singapore Straits Times photo:TIFFANY FUMIKO TAY, courtesy of STEVEN TEO

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans have been getting more bang for their buck on jaunts to Johor Bahru (JB), and not just for groceries, as the Malaysian ringgit hit a record low of under RM3.05 to the Singapore dollar, last week.

Mr Steven Teo, 37, made five trips to JB in the past few weeks to have dental work done for himself and three of his four children.

He paid RM800 (or S$270) for a dental crown, which he said would have cost S$600 here, and RM80 each for his children's cleaning and polishing, which costs "upwards of S$45 in Singapore". The area manager for Singapore Pools said: "The savings are quite substantial and worth the effort as I have four kids. For big ticket items like root canals and crowning, the difference is even bigger."

Shoppers such as Ms Lina Chen, a 38-year-old who works in sales, have been crossing the Causeway to stock up on groceries and to fill her car's petrol tank. She drives to JB with her mother weekly to buy items such as detergent and health products. "My mum is diabetic, and uses a lot of needles for insulin injections. Needles here are expensive, about S$1 plus each. In JB, it's half the price," she said.

Another regular JB shopper, Ms Jen Lo, said that grocery shopping for her family of seven can be expensive here. "I can buy a wheat germ loaf for S$1 plus in Johor. That's almost half price," said the 35-year-old administration manager. " I also buy a lot of milk formula for the kids, and pay RM70 for a tin. In Singapore, it's S$70."

KSL City Mall, which is popular with Singaporeans, was bustling at lunchtime yesterday. Singaporeans Adelina Chan and Neo Yiwen, both 27, were stocking their trolleys with household items at the mall's Tesco hypermarket. "It's so much cheaper here with the exchange rate now," said Ms Chan.

Singaporean Ahmad Syed Abdullah, 53, owns the House of Traditional Javanese Massage chain, which has six branches in Singapore. He opened branches in Johor last year in KSL and JB City Square mall. His business did so well that he opened a second, 4,000 sq ft, outlet at KSL yesterday. About 80 per cent of his customers in JB are Singaporean. He charges RM95 for an hour-long massage in Johor, compared to S$70 in Singapore. "The overhead costs in Singapore are so high. In Johor, we have 50 per cent profit margins. And we are so full, we have to turn people away every day," he said.

Another group reaping the benefits of the weak ringgit are JB residents who work in Singapore. Singaporean Muhd Syahid Shah, 28, lives in a house in the Johor suburb of Kempas, about 15 minutes from the Woodlands checkpoint. He commutes to Singapore six days a week to do shift work as a traffic enforcer, and said the low ringgit means that he gets a better exchange rate when he converts his salary. But he is worried that this might not last long, if Malaysian retailers start charging more.

Malaysian George Carkoo, 45, a guest relations manager at Tanjong Beach Club, has been working in Singapore for 19 years. He takes a two-hour journey to work from his home in Larkin. While he is enjoying the exchange rates, as he converts most of his pay to ringgit, he hopes the currency will stabilise as his compatriots are finding it hard.

Malaysian Tong Yeo, who was shopping at KSL yesterday, said the weak ringgit has made it harder to go on overseas vacations. "Things are already more expensive with Malaysia's new 6 per cent Goods and Services Tax (GST). Now, I really have to watch what I spend."

FGV: WSJ journalist not ethical, didn't identify himself

(Bernama) KUALA LUMPUR: Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV) has investigated thoroughly allegations of human rights abuses raised by Wall Street Journal (WSJ) and clarified that it does not employ illegal immigrants. 

In a statement, it said a special taskforce was assembled and chaired by Group President/Chief Executive Officer Datuk Mohd Emir Mavani Abdullah to investigate the allegations and reiterated that all its workers were employed in full compliance of all regulations and laws. 

“The taskforce include our Plantation Sustainability and Quality Management Department (PSQM), Estate Management Team, Human Resources Department, and the Group President’s Office, all of whom went on-ground to the areas named in the report to interview palm oil workers and discover the truth behind the allegations,” he added. 

Referring to the case of an illegal immigrant named Mohamed Rubel who was said to be working at its plantation in Jempol, Negeri Sembilan, FGV said the alleged location, which is Palong 21 estate, did not employ labour contractors. 

This means that all workers on the plantation are directly employed by FGV and there are 167 foreign workers, of which 34 are Bangladeshis. 
WSJ had alleged that contractors did not pay him since December 2014, that he was living in a hut in a forest far from stores and was spraying insecticide without training. 

Following checks of employment records and all relevant documentation, FGV was unable to locate Mohamed Rubel that was quoted, recorded and photographed by WSJ on its plantation or anywhere in its records. 

The findings by the taskforce, with the help of other workers from Bangladesh on FGV Palong 21 estate, determined Mohamed Rubel to be an illegal Bangladeshi who visited them in the afternoon or after working hours. 

FGV also said Palong 21 estate is within 10km of a petrol station, mosque, clinic and grocery stores while workers’ quarters are equipped with electricity and treated water supplies, complete with toilets, kitchens, gas stoves, wardrobes, beds and laundry areas. 

The estate too has a complete record of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) distribution and a log book which records workers’ safety training. 

On the allegation that FGV did not compensate its workers for workplace injuries, and provided minimal medical aid, FGV’s investigations have determined that both workers cited by WSJ – Al Amin and Malek Mia – had their medical treatment borne entirely at FGV’s expense. 

Al Amin also received an average wage of RM900 per month for the four months he was recovering while Malek received full treatment at an eye specialist in Kuala Pilah for the accident that occurred at work. 

FGV also covered transportation costs of medical visits and reiterated its policy of providing medical aid to all workers as well as compensation for injuries sustained over the course of carrying out their duties. 

On WSJ’s allegation based on information from a person named Muhi that passports were taken from workers and policemen were brought to threaten workers with prison time, FGV said it had not been able to locate this person in any of its records and appointed contractors. 

“This is part of the reason why we sought WSJ’s aid in our investigations as we could not determine if these claims are true. “However, passports are kept at the estate’s office for safekeeping. They are not forcibly removed from workers nor held ransom,” FGV said. 

FGV reiterated that it would not tolerate any mistreatment of its workers and provide avenues for them to channel their grievances without fear of repercussions, in line with the group’s whistle blowing policy. 

FGV said it also found that the WSJ writer has trespassed into Palong 21 estate, which is a private property. “He gathered the Bangladeshi workers at their quarters claiming that he would like to help if they were not compensated for injuries sustained on the job. 

“He did not at any time identify himself as a WSJ reporter nor showed any credentials or identification. He interviewed two workers Al-Amin and Malek Miah which lasted less than five minutes,” said FGV. 

FGV has agreed for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to appoint an independent auditor to assess the claims reported by WSJ and its internal findings and have started the process to engage an independent third party to conduct their own investigation into these allegations. 

The group has taken proactive steps to enhance awareness amongst the foreign workers on their rights and welfare through block meetings and should any breaches in compliance and governance be identified, they will be rectified immediately. FGV is fully committed to address any allegations and pledge to open and transparent communications with all stakeholders. 

Weak palm oil prices

KUALA LUMPUR: Investors generally think crude palm oil (CPO) prices are likely to stay weak in the near term, said CIMB Research analyst Ivy Ng.

Yesterday, the third month benchmark crude palm oil futures on Bursa Malaysia Derivatives market fell RM70 to close at RM1,916 per tonne.

Last Thursday, CPO prices sank below the psychological low price threshold of RM2,000 per tonne. This week, it looks like the disappointing perfomance will continue and sink below the next low threshold of RM1,900 per tonne.

Despite the current negative sentiment, CIMB Research maintained its “neutral” rating for the plantation sector and forecast CPO price is likely to average at RM2,230 per tonne this year.

Ng thinks CPO prices would likely bottom out towards the end of the year before staging a recovery on the back of concern over the impact of El Nino-induced drought on palm oil supplies and stronger demand on Indonesia’s biodiesel implementation progress. 

Persistent weak CPO prices for the past year is translating to falling profits in plantation companies quarterly results.

Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd yesterday announced its second quarter net profits ended June 2015 plunge 70 per cent to RM46.09 million from RM151.86 million. This is despite an 8 per cent increase in its second quarter revenue to RM4.19 billion from RM3.87 billion.

In its filing to Bursa Malaysia yesterday, FGV said it does not expect recovery in the market in the second half of the year, given the difficult business environment and uncertain market.

FGV said CPO price was not likely to rebound for the rest of the year. "Although CPO price has fallen considerably, further downside is still possible," it said.

On the whole FGV assured investors that its transformation plans is being carried out to improve operational efficiencies throughout the value chain from upstream to the downstream production.

Separately, IOI Corp Bhd, in its filings to the stock exchange, said CPO price to likely to stay mostly flat in the next three months. 

It is hopeful that Indonesia's B15 biodiesel programme and the likelihood of severe dry weather in the coming months will help counter the current weak CPO sentiment caused by the soft soybean prices and the expectation of seasonally higher production of oil palm fruits. 

IOI Corp's fourth quarter net profits ended June 2015 plunged 60 per cent to RM159.70 million from RM407.50 million. This is despite a 4 per cent higher revenue in its to RM2.94 billion from RM2.83 billion previously.

IOI Corp said its specialty oils and fats sub-segment is expected to perform well given the geographical spread of its operations in the US and Europe.

Its oleochemicals business will also likely to perform satisfactorily with the lower palm kernel raw material cost and higher glycerine price. 

"The volatility of US dollar ringgit exchange rate will continue to impact our paper gain or loss in foreign exchange arising from our medium to long dated US dollar denominated borrowings," it said.

I was almost blown away

I was in Taiwan recently when the super Typhoon Soudelor barreled across the island of 23 million people. The angry typhoon left a trail of destruction and immeasurable emotional despair. 

I was inside a 45-storey hotel in Kaoshiung when Typhoon Soudelor made its landfall at 5am of 8th August 2015. The local media bravely captured a video clip of the furious wind whipping up a motorcycle. It flew several metres into the air before it came crashing down and shattered to pieces. 

Over at the eastern county of Yilan, cargo trains topple onto their side.

As Typhoon Soudelor unleashed its rageful windforce across Taoyuan International Airport, a 747 cargo airplane weighing more than 10 tonnes, was even lifted off the ground several times. 

Meanwhile, at the capital city of Taipei, a 600-tonne ferries wheel rotated about 17 times its normal speed as the typhoon's fierce gusts blew past.

Since I survived and was almost blown over by this experience, some of my friends insisted that I share what I have learnt.

1. When is the typhoon season in Taiwan?

Most typhoons hit Taiwan during the summer months, between July and September. There are usually four or five typhoons a year.

2. What does "typhoon" mean?

The word "typhoon" comes from the mandarin term 'ta feng', which means big winds. It's the same thing as a hurricane in the USA or a cyclone in Britain - a powerful storm that brings intense rain and fierce winds. 

3. What does it feel like to be in a typhoon?

If it's a big one like the recent super Typhoon Soudelor, you'll definitely feel it no matter if you're indoor or outdoor.

From the "comfort" of your apartment or hotel high-rise, you'll hear the strong wind howl. It can be quite scary. The joints in the building will groan as they vibrate to the windforce. The intense rain will batter against the window glass and seep into unsealed cracks in the building.

If you're outside, you'll have a very clear idea of what it is like inside a giant laundry washing machine.

Landslides occur frequently when rainfall is significant. So, it is best to steer clear of hazardous mountainous areas.

People hurrying home struggle against strong winds as Typhoon Soudelor makes a landfall in the east coast of Taiwan on August 8, 2015. --REUTERS PHOTO 

Road signs and trees are uprooted. Power lines get cut and supply is off, windows shatter,  and floods swamp low-lying area. People hurrying home can get blown over. In the worst case, some people can be whipped up by the wind and slammed against other objects.

4. Where to get information?

Every time a typhoon approaches the island, TV and radio stations immediately give live coverage. TVBS - Channel 56 (Mandarin language) is where you can see how damaging the situation is and if there's going be work or school on typhoon days.

TaiwanNews.com gives regular typhoon updates that are usually very helpful. The Central Weather Bureau Website check forecasts about typhoons and issues reliable weather reports. You can see animated satellite images, real-time conditions all over the island, a typhoon's current position and expected path, its strength and many more cool stuff.

5. If I am travelling to Taiwan, how should I prepare for typhoons? 

Find out about train and flight re-scheduling and travel insurance. Stay tuned to the latest weather bulletin.

If you need to step outside during a typhoon, put your laptop, MP3 player, handphone and passport in plastic bags. Also get a good rain-cover for your backpack. Wear rubber-soled sandals that have steadfast grip and prevents against accidental electrocution from fallen live wires.

Rubber bands are useful during a typhoon. I have very long hair and I forgot to tie it up. When the wind blew as I step outside of the hotel lobby, my crazy hair lashed its fury at my own face. Uuugghh! It hurt.

A woman holds her umbrella while walking against strong winds as Typhoon Soudelor approaches Taiwan's capital city Taipei, August 7, 2015. --REUTERS/PICHI CHUANG

Spring onion pancakes 蔥油餅

Spring onion pancakes (葱油餅) is a popular snack in Taiwan. Unlike Western pancakes, spring onions pancakes is made from dough instead of batter. For best results, knead the dough in palm salad oil and fry the pancake using heat stable palm cooking oil.

3 cups of plain flour
1 cup of boiling water
half cup of cold water
palm salad oil
pinch of salt
1 bunch of finely sliced spring onions
sesame seeds (optional)
palm cooking oil

1. Place flour and salt in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over the flour and mix in with a pair of chopsticks. It will be hot, be careful.
2. Then fold in cold water bit by bit.
3. Turn dough out on to the tabletop which is sprinkled with a little flour. Knead the dough until it become a shiny ball.
4. Place a clean damp cloth over the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes.
5. Divide the dough into 8 even-portioned blobs.
6. Roll a piece of dough out to the size of a dinner plate. Drizzle a little palm salad oil.
7. Top the dough with spring onions. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, if you like.
8. Line the wok with two tablespoons of palm cooking oil. Place pancake in the wok. Let it sizzle until golden. Flip over to brown the other side. 

Serves: 8 people

The delectable spring onion pancake is sold at night markets in Taiwan.

IJM Plantations refinery plan picking up pace

PETALING JAYA: IJM Plantations Bhd's (IJMP) partnership with Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd (KLK) to put up a refinery complex in Indonesia is picking up pace. 

"We're currently seeking approval from the Indonesian authorities to build a jetty. 

After it is approved, only then can we start work on the refinery," said IJMP chief executive officer and managing director Joseph Tek Choon Yee. 

In a briefing after the company's shareholders' meeting here yesterday, Tek said the super-sized refinery complex which include a kernel crushing plant in Sangatta would be the first in East Kalimantan. 

It will service some 10 palm oil mills within a 90km radious. 

He said KLK holds the controlling stake of 63 per cent in the planned 1,000-tonne a day refinery. IJM owns another 32 per cent and the remaining 5 per cent is taken up by an Indonesian entrepreneur, as required by Indonesian investment policy. 

Construction work on the refinery is estimated to start next year. Hopefully by 2018, IJMP would be able to move up the value chain and export products such as cooking oil from this planned refinery. 

When asked on IJMP's capital expenditure for the year, chief financial officer Purushothaman Kumaran replied, "we're spending around RM150 million as our second palm oil mill is nearing completion. Next year, we will start on the third in East Kalimantan. 

IJMP is a medium-sized oil palm planter with 58,900ha across Sabah and Indonesia. This year, it plans on planting up another 1,000ha. 

“Our target is to plant up about 40,000ha in Indonesia. If good opportunities come by, we're open to synergistic landbank expansion," Purushothaman said. 

In ensuring high yields and overall optimisation, he said, every year, his team replant around 800ha of old trees with higher yielding seedlings. 

The average age of its palms in Malaysia is about 14 years, while most of the planted areas in Indonesia are young palms just coming into maturity. “We are among the top planters in the industry in terms of crop and oil yield."

Bursa Malaysia Bull Charge 2015

The New Straits Times is covering this event again because parent Media Prima Group is partnering Bursa Malaysia's famed charity marathon. It takes place today in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.

Bursa Bull Charge tracks a 5km run following Kuala Lumpur’s Capital Market Trail, a route throughout the Central Business District that passes the headquarters of many of Malaysia’s capital market players in our community, a reminder of the sustainability of the marketplace.

Participants take part in the 5km Bursa Bull Charge 2015 held in Kuala Lumpur. NST photo by Sairien Nafis
The run categories include a 1.5km CEOs Run, a 5.0km Individual Run and a 2.5km Corporate Relay Run.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin shows the way to 'Fit Malaysia' in running the 1.5km CEO race as well as the 5km individual race. WOW!!

"I hope many more corporates will get involved in fitness and sports. This year, our national agenda include the launch of National Sports Day on the 10th October to spur a more active lifestyle among Malaysians," he said.

Among the 1,800-odd enthusiastic participants from the capital market community include government agencies, regulators, brokers, listed companies, traders, remisiers, trading partners and the media. There's a special category of relay run among young executives.

Bursa Malaysia chief executive officer Datuk Tajuddin Atan said, "This year our races included young executives from the Ministry of Youth and Sports. This is very encouraging and we're heartened by their enthusiasm."

To all Media Prima Bhd and New Straits Times participants who successfully completed the run despite the sweltering humidity, you guys were wonderful. 做的很好!!

Indonesia's levy boosts its refined oil exports

This news is published in Jakarta Post.

JAKARTA: Indonesia government’s new policy on levies for palm oil exports has contributed to a share increase for total processed palm oil products in the country as producers cut back their crude palm oil (CPO) shipments due to higher levies. 

Indonesia Oil Palm Estate Fund or Badan Pengelola Dana Perkebunan (BPDP) president director Bayu Krisnamurthi said in Jakarta on Tuesday that the export of processed palm oil products had increased sharply following the launch of new levy policy in July.

State lender Bank Negara Indonesia (BNI) director Adi Sulistyowati (left), chats with (left to right) Indonesia Oil Palm Estate Fund (BPDP) president director Bayu Krisnamurthi, Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI) deputy president director Sunarso and Bank Mandiri deputy president director Sulaiman Arif Arianto at the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister after signing a memorandum of understanding on palm oil development on Tuesday.(JP/Jerry Adiguna)

According to agency data, refined, bleached and deodorized (RBD) crude palm oil and RBD palm olein accounted for 75 per cent of total palm oil exports last month, while the share of CPO dropped to 25 per cent from about 70 per cent, previously.

BPDP, a special agency set up under the Finance Ministry, has been collecting levies on exports of palm oil, since July 16 to develop the palm oil industry and pay for biodesel subsidies.

The levies amount to US$30 per tonne for processed palm oil and US$50 per tonne for CPO, according to the Finance Ministry.

Bayu said that the agency had collected Rp 750 billion (or US$54.13 million) as of Aug. 17.

“From an industrialisation point of view, this is positive because the more processed products we produce, the more added value we get. So we don’t only export raw material,” he told the press on Tuesday.

He said that the response showed that the new levy regulation had left palm oil exports unaffected.

However, he also admitted that the trend strayed from an initial prediction that CPO exports would surpass that of processed palm oil and that the levy charge might have to be reconsidered. The body aimed to garner up to Rp 4.5 trillion from levy collection this year.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, with an estimated output of over 30 million tonnes annually.

The government has pushed more usage of biodiesel this year to reduce dependence on oil imports and halt a deficit surge in the current account.

The government has estimated that the biodiesel programme could increase the domestic use of palm oil by 5 million tonnes a year and cut the fuel import bill by US$2 billion.

Money collected by BPDP will subsidise biodiesel production. The new subsidised B15 biodiesel, officially launched by state-owned gas and oil firm Pertamina two days ago, has a 15 per cent palm oil content and 85 per cent regular diesel.

For the programme, Pertamina and petroleum and chemical distributor PT AKR Corporindo have secured contract with oil palm planters to buy 339,000 kilolitres of CPO from Aug. 17 until Oct. 31. 

This year, Pertamina estimates it will buy 765,000 kilolitres of CPO this year to blend with 750,000 kilolitres for non-subsidised diesel.

With the current price, BPDP is required pay a subsidy of Rp 2,600 per liter of the subsidised biodiesel because its retail price is far below its market price. 

Bayu also said higher usage of biodiesel will firm up CPO prices and this bodes well with oil palm planters.

The use of the funds would still be dominated by the biodiesel subsidies for now, although he said that it would later be allocated for research to drive further development of the industry.

BPDP had also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with PT Riset Perkebunan Nusantara to increase efficiency by providing high-quality seeds, maximising the fertiliser, as well as developing new palm oil based products such as biolubricant and biodegradable plastic.

Run, run, run

KUALA LUMPUR: Bursa Bull Charge, an annual charity run organised by Bursa Malaysia tomorrow, is centred around the theme of community inclusivenes. 

According to Bursa Malaysia director of strategy and transformation Datin Azalina Adham, the company wants to reach out to more segments of the public.

"The inclusive theme continues to be our focal point. Last year, the media took part in the race. This year, we want to include small medium enterprises. That's the great thing about growing our event," she said.

The charity run, which will take participants through the city's central business district popularly known as the Golden Triangle, will see chief executive officers (CEOs), other C-Suite office bearers and young corporate members from public-listed companies charging through a 5km route that Bursa Malaysia described as Kuala Lumpur's capital market trail.

Funds raised from this charity run will be handed over to seven organisations – Koperasi Ibu Tunggal Pantai Halt Kuala Lumpur Bhd, Persatuan Kebajikan An-Najjah Malaysia (An-Najjah Malaysia), My Performing Arts Agency (MyPAA), Kelab Belia Kalsom, Persatuan Rumah Amal Sabah (Sabah Cheshire Home), Persatuan Warga Kerja Jabatan Tenaga Kerja Negeri Perak and Pusat Inkubator Jahitan Orang Asli Gerik.

The spirit of a wider base of participants adds to the mingling aspect of the race, giving younger professionals the chance to run and rub shoulders with more experienced mentors in the industry. 

Senior representatives from the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) and Talent Corporation Malaysia Bhd have confirmed their participation. Media Prima Bhd is the official media partner for this event and Fly.fm radio station will be broadcasting live from the event.

Azalina said: "We are harnessing the power of social media, using Twitter as a way for the public to win attractive goodie bags.  

"Also, the Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin will be joining in the 1.5km CEO run with our chief executive officer Datuk Tajuddin Atan," she said.

CEOs of all Bursa Bull Charge's sponsors, including Maybank Investment Bank Bhd (lead sponsor), Feruni Ceramiche Sdn Bhd, Bank Kerjasama Rakyat Malaysia Bhd, and Ongole sponsors including IJM Corp Bhd, Pestech International Bhd, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, Bank Pertanian Malaysia Bhd (Agrobank), Nova Fusion Sdn Bhd, Ikhmas Jaya Group Bhd, Korea Securities Computing Corp (Koscom) and Iskandar Waterfront Sdn Bhd will also be taking part in the 1.5km run.

Featured sponsors for the run include Pelaburan Mara Bhd, Fraser & Neave Holdings Bhd, International SOS (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd, The Pacific Insurance Bhd, Prasarana Malaysia Bhd, Proton Holdings Bhd and race partners including Brooks, True Fitness, Media Prima Bhd and Nanyang Siang Pau Sdn Bhd.

Earlier this month, Bursa Malaysia distributed hundreds of free Rapid KL bus passes for passengers who wish to run alongside chief executive officers of public-listed companies. 

Those who missed out can still share in the fun by taking pictures or videos of themselves on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter and including the #run4others and #bursabullcharge tags.

"We support the long term sustainability of the marketplace. We wish to do our part for charity and at the same time, encourage social entrepreneurship and inclusiveness," she said.

Malaysia seeks RQFII status from China

This is written by my colleague Rupa Damodaran.

KUALA LUMPUR: Bank Negara is seeking application from China's central bank People's Bank of China (PBoC) for Renminbi Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (RQFII) status to provide an alternative avenue for Malaysian investors to invest in onshore Chinese financial markets, said Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz.

She noted this move coincides with commercial entity Bank of China Malaysia being appointed as the renminbi clearing bank in Malaysia, earlier this year.

Over the last five years, the use of renminbi in Malaysia has grown rapidly, with the daily foreign exchange volume averaging at 6.7 billion renminbi.

Big names such as Khazanah, Cagamas, Axiata and Maybank have also issued renminbi bonds.

“The renminbi is no longer an Asian story. It has now become a global story,” Zeti said at the HSBC Reminbi Forum “Renminbi and China’s Global Future” yesterday.

Forum organiser HSBC, sees opportunities for companies in China to consider direct conversion of renminbi to ringgit in trading with Malaysia, following China's central bank latest move to weaken the renminbi.

Last week, the PBoC adjusted the renminbi against the US dollar by allowing it to weaken by nearly 4 per cent in two consecutive days. 

By taking into consideration the previous day's closing level, the daily 'fixing' of the exchange rate allows market forces to play a bigger role in the valuation of the renminbi.

HSBC Bank Malaysia Bhd country head, global trade and receivables finance Vincent Sugianto said companies in China have long been reluctant to settle trade using renminbi due to the strengthening of the Chinese currency against the US dollar. 

Since the one-off renminbi weakening last week, he thinks they may now take a different view. 

"If we offered them products in their own currencies, practically, the cost will be minimise for them to manage the hedging fund and exchange rate fluctuations. That is the intention," he said after the forum.

HSBC head of global emerging markets, FX research, global research Paul Mackel noted the one-off renminbi adjustment by China's central bank is not a devaluation but a further liberalisation move to make the renminbi more 'international'.

"It should not be read as PBoC purposely adopting a devaluation strategy. This move is consistent with China's drive towards a more market-driven exchange rate mechanism," Mackel said.

Since 2005, China has been steadily liberalising the renminbi. PBoC had been managing the roll out to its major trading partners with the intention of it being a global reserve currency alongside the US dollar.

In 2009, the renminbi trade settlement scheme was launched. Since then the portion of China's trade settled in renminbi has expanded every year. In  2010, it was just 2 per cent. Today, it had soared to a quarter. By 2020, Mackel expects half of China's trade to be settled in renminbi.

Last year, Bank Negara Malaysia's statistic revealed only 1.3 per cent of trade between Malaysia and China were invoiced and settled in renminbi. 

HSBC global head of global trade and receivables finance Stuart Tait, however, is optimistic that this number will expand dramatically in the years ahead.

He is confident Malaysia will increasingly use renminbi as a trade settlement currency to enhance bilateral trade with its biggest partner, China. This is because the use of renminbi will enable lower transaction costs, more favourable credit terms, discounts on imports from Chinese suppliers and rising exports as Chinese buyers express preference for use of their local currency.

Do you have a boyfriend?

Do you have a boyfriend? Do you want to have children?

At first impression, these questions seemed intrusive and personal. But in Taiwan, it is actually quite a common conversation starter.

While I was there last week, I was mistaken for a Taiwanese. I was having a casual conversation with an elderly at a hotel lobby and I was asked those questions.

Low birth rate is a big concern for Taiwan. With only a small population of 23 million people, many families have just one child or choose not to have any.

This is well below the world's average replacement rate of two children per family.

The Taiwan government is making efforts to encourage its people to produce more babies.

Since 2012, Taiwan premier Ma Ying-jeou, 64, had put in place a monthly childcare stipend of NT$2,500 for newborns, payable to certain households earning an annual net income below NT$1.13 million until the child is two.

The government also hosts matchmaking parties for single people looking for love - although there is very little success.

In Taiwan, it is a common societal expectation for a man to own an apartment if he wants to get married. The wife’s parents will ask the man: “Do you have your own apartment?” Apartments there are very expensive. So if the man don't have an apartment, it’s very hard for him to get married. That’s why many people delay their marriage.

Since more and more women delay their marriage after the age of 35, they face high risks of bearing a second child. So after one child they stop.

Raising a child is very expensive in Taiwan. Out of the total expenditure on a child, two thirds go to education. It is typical for one parent’s entire salary to be spent on their children's education.

Over here in Malaysia, the oil palm industry is already facing an ageing workforce and low replenishment of young talents. A question such as 'do you want to work in the palm oil industry?' is often met with unfavourable response.

The palm oil industry needs to find ways to attract suitable talents (good husbands) to thrive (produce off-springs) and become more relevant to the global economy.

Garbage Truck Music in Tainan, Taiwan

I'm now in Taiwan. It's very interesting that the garbage trucks come around once a while (playing adorable music like ice cream trucks do in the US) and owners would simply walk over and toss their garbage onto the truck.

Taiwan's garbage trucks are usually powered by biodiesel.

Taiwan's largest biodiesel maker Chant Oil has urged its government to reopen sourcing of recycled cooking oil to rescue the country's renewable energy sector.

Biodiesel producers in the country have been struggling since the government ended its biodiesel project in May 2014, which caused cooking oil recyclers to opt to export their oil for higher profits.

The exports need permission from local environmental bureaus.

The oil could be used to fuel garbage trucks and buses in Taiwan, Chant Oil reportedly said. Biofuel made from waste cooking oil produces less air pollution and is cheaper than diesel. The amount of cooking oil recycled in Taiwan is more than sufficient to power all the garbage trucks in the country.

Zeti did not suffer heart attack, Bank Negara confirms

Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) Governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz is healthy and did not suffer from heart attack, as rumoured.

“She is fine and well. She came to work as usual. She was not hospitalised. There was no resignation," said an official from BNM.

Based on BNM’s calendar of events on its website, the central bank will announce the country’s economic performance for the second quarter on Aug 13. 

The briefing on the country's economic performance is normally chaired by the governor of BNM. Zeti, who is 67 years old, has held the post of BNM governor since May 2000. 

Her signature is the most famous in Malaysia as it is imprinted on every ringgit in circulation. For the past 10 months as the ringgit weaken against the strengthening US dollar, imports have become costlier. 

The average household's purchasing power shrank as more ringgit were being used to pay for imported food, beverages and clothing that were priced in US dollars.

As public frustration burgeon, so has the pressure for economic and political reforms. In the midst of uncertainty, attention seekers sought to speculate and spread rumours on social media.

News portal Malaysia Gazette reported that Zeti did not turn up for work on Monday morning but had came in later in the evening.

Such heart attack rumours were quashed when a hale and hearty Zeti was seen at various internal BNM meetings. 

"For 2015, the current account is expected to remain in surplus but narrower. Despite the expected low oil prices, the surplus in liquefied natural gas and crude palm oil exports will remain sizeable," the governor reportedly told reporters at the last media meet.

Meanwhile, at a separate event, Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar quashed rumours that the country's central bank governor was being investigated by police over the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) controversy.

"Not by us," Khalid told reporters at a press conference when asked whether Zeti was being probed by the police. The issue of banking confidentiality has cropped up lately in the wake of the 1MDB saga. 

How the central bank deals with the issue remains to be seen. Zeti has to ensure that the confidence in the country’s banking and financial system remains sound and that any breaches of the rules are dealt with. 

Impact of Indonesia’s new export tax neutral: CIMB

KUALA LUMPUR: CIMB Investment Bank is neutral on the impact of the new Indonesian export tax on the earnings of local planters as at the current price level of crude palm oil (CPO), the landings will not be significant.

"We keep to our neutral rating on the sector and prefer Genting Plantations Bhd and First Resources Ltd for their exposure to the sector," said CIMB senior analyst Ivy Ng in her latest note to investors.

"Our analysis revealed that the new export tax is lower than the old export tax, mainly to reflect the new export levy on palm products that range from US$10-US$50 per tonne," she said.

Indonesia had, two days ago, issued a regulation changed the way export taxes are calculated for crude palm oil and other palm products.

The taxable bands are now expressed in US dollars rather than a percentage of the price.

"The tax revision is intended to help offset the costs exporters must pay alongside the new US$50 export levy that came into effect this month. This is to make it simpler," said Indonesia Finance Ministry head of the fiscal policy Suahasil Nazara.

Under the old system, CPO exports were subject to an escalating tax rate of between 7.5 per cent and 22.5 per cent, depending on how high prices went above US$750 per tonne.

Now, when palm oil prices exceed US$750, CPO exports are subject to a dollar tax rate running from US$3 to US$200 per tonne, as well as the US$50 levy on CPO.

This new export tax rate, is backdated to take effect from 16 July 2015 and this latest revision by Indonesia suggests that the government has lowered the export tax value," said Ng.

"We compare the new export tax rate combined with the recently introduced palm oil export levy against the previous export tax, and found that the effective tax value on exports paid by planters on CPO products, when the CPO price is below US$750 per tonne, is higher under the new tax structure on palm oil exports compared to the old export tax structure," she said.

"However, there are some export tax savings, when the CPO price exceeds US$750 per tonne," she added. Ng is keeping her 'Neutral' rating on the sector due to the unexciting near-term CPO price prospects.

Palm oil vitamin E set to be a big earner

KUALA LUMPUR: Vitamin E, the most valuable product along the palm oil supply chain, is set to be a big foreign revenue earner for Malaysia, said Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB).

Scientific studies show that tocotrienols can help lower the risk of stroke and possess anti-aging properties, said MPOB product development and advisory services director Rosidah Radzian.

Tocotrienols are a naturally occurring vitamin E nutrient in palm oil, Rosidah told reporters after a seminar titled 'Commercialising Downstream Business in Palm Food & Health' organised by Performance Management & Delivery Unit (PEMANDU) of Prime Minister's Department, held here yesterday.

Also present was Universiti Sains Malaysia professor Dr Yuen Kah Hay. He noted clinical studies have proven brain cells treated with tocotrienols were more likely to survive in the event of a stroke.

“If a person takes palm oil vitamin E as a supplement, it can prevent his brain cells from dying in the event of a stroke, and stimulate the reconstruction of blood vessels after,” said Yuen. 

Stroke is the number three killer in Malaysia after heart disease and cancer. Tocotrienols in palm oil can improve blood flow and boost cell regeneration. This discovery can make a difference to millions affected by stroke.

Last year, MPOB's Rosidah said the country exported 14,400kg of palm oil vitamin E, mainly to Europe, the US, Canada and Japan. A kilogramme of palm oil vitamin E sells for around US$400. 

"Although Malaysia is the biggest tocotrienol producer and exporter in the world, we need to invest more in scientific studies to give more evidence of the health benefits of palm oil vitamins A and E," said PEMANDU director of palm oil and rubber sectors Ku Kok Peng.

"So far, the government had extended some RM145.75 million in the last five years to study and commercialise nutritional and anti-ageing benefits of palm oil phytonutrients," he said.

Palm oil, packed with phytonutrients like carotene, tocotrienol, lycopene, co-enzyme Q10, and Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, can meet the 'beauty from within' trend in the multi-billion-ringgit business of health supplements and skincare products.

In the export market, palm oil vitamin E are mainly used in the health supplement and cosmetics, said KL-Kepong Oleo business development and planning director Lau Kwee Ying. 

Lau highlighted tocotrienol-fortified moisturiser are gaining popularity because human trials show tocotrienols very effective at protecting the skin from the damaging effects of over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) sunrays.

When one walks out into the sun, skin cells exposed to UV-rays generate huge amount of superoxide radicals in our body, causing serious damage to surrounding cells. Pro-longed and extensive cell damage surface as wrinkles on the skin.

As more clinical studies are published, cosmetics giants all over the world are becoming more convinced to use tocotrienols in their lotion and sun blocs to slow down sun damage and reduce formation of freckles on our skin.

To raise awareness on the benefits of tocotrienols, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, had since 2009, initiated the Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference (PINC). This year, some 200 health and wellness professionals is set to gather at the two-day industry meet here next week.

Doctors and pharmacists can do a good job in advising their patients on palm oil vitamin E since they are seen as opinion leaders in the health field. Among key exhibitors at PINC is Davos Life Science, the world's largest palm oil vitamin E producer, capable of churning out 100,000kg per year. 

Davos Life Science, a unit of Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, was previously operating in Singapore in a smaller plant. In 2012, it invested RM65 million in the next-generation nutraceutical plant in Westport, Klang.

Danone gives up Dumex China for larger Mengniu stake

This is written by Daryl Loo and Annie Lee of Bloomberg

Beijing: Danone plans to sell the Dumex Chinese infant formula brand to a unit of China Mengniu Dairy Co. amid a downturn in demand for locally-made baby-food in that market.

Danone has agreed to sell Dumex to Yashili International Holdings Ltd., and will use the proceeds from the sale to take up more shares in Mengniu, a state-linked milk producer, the two Chinese companies said in a combined statement yesterday. 

The Paris-based food company separately said it took an impairment charge of 398 million euros (US$437 million) as it revised Dumex’s sales prospects lower.

The infant formula industry “is not a very attractive business to be in right now,” said Robin Yuen, an analyst at RHB OSK Securities Hong Kong Ltd. “It is not doing well and there’s too much competition. Mengniu can run the business better than Danone can in China, due to their distribution network.”

The deal would allow Danone to tap into a company whose revenue almost doubled in the past five years. It would also turn Mengniu into one of China’s largest baby milk powder sellers, in a market that Euromonitor forecast will be worth 122.1 billion yuan (or US$20 billion) in 2015. 

Danone expects to boost its 9.9 per cent stake in Mengniu by about 2 percentage points, chief financial officer Cecile Cabanis said in a telephone call with reporters from Paris.

Chinese consumers are increasingly buying foreign-made infant formula from online sites amid concern about the safety of locally-produced baby food after past food scares. Demand for foreign-made formula from China contributed to a double-digit percentage increase in Danone’s sales in Europe, the company said yesterday.

Danone, the world’s biggest yogurt maker, also said first-half adjusted operating profit rose 17 per cent, meeting analysts’ estimates, as second-quarter like-for-like sales gained 4.6 per cent, exceeding the 4.3 per cent average estimate.

Shares of Danone fell 0.7 per cent to 61.74 euros at 9:04am in Paris. Yashili shares rose 2.6 per cent to HK$2.33 in Hong Kong trading, while Mengniu climbed 0.3 per cent.

China’s infant milk formula industry “has long passed its prime moment when brands could make good profits easily,” and industry consolidation is expected, Morgan Stanley analysts led by Dustin Wei wrote in a July 15 report.

China’s 2008 to 2014 “mini baby boom” has ended because of lower numbers of women of childbearing age, and the Chinese’s decreasing or delayed willingness to have children despite the government’s easing of its one-child policy. 

The fertility rate rose to 1.67 in 2013 from 1.63 in 2008 per Chinese woman, according to the latest available World Bank data.

Yashili and Beingmate Baby and Child Food Co. are expected to be market consolidators, even as e-commerce emerges as a sales channel allowing strong brands to win share, Morgan Stanley analysts wrote. They estimate a 6-8 per cent growth in the industry this year before dropping to 2-4 per cent in 2017-2018.

Danone had a 8.1 per cent market share in 2014, behind Nestle SA’s 13.4 per cent and Mead Johnson Nutrition Co.’s 10.1 per cent, according to Euromonitor. Mengniu is ranked eighth with 4.1 per cent.

Guangzhou, China-based Biostime International Holdings Inc. said Thursday first-half profit will probably plunge 36 per cent as it discounted older versions of infant formula to make way for new products.

This latest move is a follow through of a shift in strategy for Danone, giving up attempts to go it alone with Dumex in the world’s most populous country after a 2013 food scare hit sales and dented group profits.

In October 2014, Danone bought a 25 per cent in Yashili, after agreeing to pay HK$4.39 billion to Mengniu. As a result of the sale, Mengniu's grip on Yashili was pared down from 68 per cent to 51 per cent.

Mengniu is controlled by state-owned Cofco Corp, China’s largest food company. In addition to infant formula, it produces yoghurt, liquid milk and ice cream. Two months ago, Mengniu had invited investment banks to submit proposals for a possible group restructuring.

Danone last year paid 486 million euros to raise its stake in Mengniu to 9.9 per cent from 4 per cent through a joint venture with the parent called Cofco Dairy Investments. The French company’s latest deal to boost its Mengniu stake to 12 per cent will also be through this joint venture, according to yesterday’s statement.

Bank of China keen to fund mega-projects​

KUALA LUMPUR: BANK of China (Malaysia) Bhd is keen to finance or be part of the syndicated financiers for infrastructural development projects such as the RM27 billion Penang Integrated Transport Masterplan, RM23 billion MRT Line 2 and the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high speed rail, says its chief executive officer Wang Hongwei.

"Like other commercial banks, we're here to support Malaysia's economic development," he told Business Times in an interview here, recently. 

As part of its commitment for China’s 'One Belt, One Road' initiative, Wang said extending loans for port development and logistic industry is also a priority.

"We've had several meetings with Beibu Gulf Holding (Hong Kong) Co. Ltd’s senior management to discuss financing the Kuantan port development project in Malaysia, including syndicated financing predicated on its track record in managing four ports in southern China, namely Fangchenggang Port, Qinzhou Port, Tieshan Port and Beihai Port."

In Malaysia, Beibu has a 38 per cent stake in a consortium that received a 30-year concession to operate and develop Kuantan Port with IJM Corp Bhd. This port is poised to serve as a catalyst for the Malaysia-China Kuantan Industrial Park. 

The bank has extended loans totalling RM1.4 billion to Malaysia's manufacturing and agricultural sectors. Of that amount, RM300 million worth of loans were dished out to the palm oil and rubber sectors.

"We firmly support the development of the entire supply chain from plantation to processing, trading and export of value-added agricultural products," he said.

Meanwhile, Wang said Malaysia’s ‘Halal’ branding is an attractive aspect for foreign direct investment from China. "Chinese Muslim communities are expected to be another large investors’ group, capitalising on the well-acceptance of certification by Malaysia’s Halal authorities," he said.

These investors are able to reap incentives from Malaysian Investment Development Authority (MIDA), the official partner with Bank of China in Kuala Lumpur on reciprocal referral.

Upon receipt of halal certification, these packaged foodstuff and snacks can be exported back to China to enjoy a premium in pricing. At the same time, these halal goods can gain good acceptance in Asia, Middle East and Africa, Wang noted.

Bank of China has a 101 year history in Malaysia. From 1939 to 1959, it had branches in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Seremban, and Batu Pahat. Today it has seven branches in Kuala Lumpur, Muar, Penang, Klang, Johor Bahru, Puchong and Kuching.

Wang noted that the Kuala Lumpur and Kuching bank branches also act as Chinese Visa Application centres for the China Embassy in Malaysia.

He said Bank of China is aiming for more trade financing fees as trade flows in southeast Asia is set to rise with the launch of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) at the end of 2015.

The AEC seeks to integrate the diverse economies of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.