Archive for June 2015

Palm oil is a natural substitute to the deadly artificial trans fat

There are a lot fewer trans fats in today's average American's diet than there were a decade ago, but the Obama administration is moving toward getting rid of them almost entirely.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says Americans still eat about a gram of trans fat every day, and phasing it out could prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths each year.

The FDA originally proposed in November 2013 to phase out artificial trans fats over time. 

To phase trans fat out, the FDA made a preliminary determination in 2013 that trans fats no longer fall in the agency's "generally recognized as safe" category, which covers thousands of additives that manufacturers can add to foods without FDA review. 

Once trans fats are off that list, any company that wants to use them would have to petition the agency to allow it. That would phase them out almost completely, since not many uses are likely to be allowed.

The FDA reiterated there are no health benefits to trans fats, which are used in processing food and in restaurants, usually to improve texture, shelf life or flavor.

Trans fats can raise levels of "bad" cholesterol and lower "good" cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. Trans fats are widely considered the worst kind for your heart, even worse than saturated fats, which also can contribute to heart disease.

The fats are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil to make it more solid, which is why they are often called partially hydrogenated oils.

The FDA highlighted this ban is not targeted at trans fats that occur naturally in some meat and dairy products, because they are not considered a major public health threat on their own.

Over the years, trans fats have been most plentiful in foods like frostings, which need solid fat for texture, or in those that need a longer shelf life or flavor enhancement. Popular foods that have historically contained trans fats are pie crusts, biscuits, microwave popcorn, coffee creamers, frozen pizza, refrigerated dough, vegetable shortenings and stick margarines.

Trans fats also have been used by restaurants for frying. Many larger chains have stopped using them, but smaller restaurants may still get food containing trans fats from suppliers.

America's Grocery Manufacturers Association, the main trade group for the food industry, says that food manufacturers have voluntarily lowered the amounts of trans fats in their products by 86 percent since 2003. Food companies are using other types of oils to replace them.

That reduction was helped along by FDA's decision to force labeling of trans fats on food packages in 2006. There have also been local laws, like one in New York City, banning the fats. Retailers like Wal-Mart have reduced the amount they sell. 

The FDA estimates the ban will cost the food industry US$6.2 billion over 20 years as it reformulates products and substitutes ingredients. The benefits will total US$140 billion during the same time period, mostly from lower spending on health care. 

Food companies have been switching to mixtures of palm and coconut oils or palm and soybean oils, the combination used in tubs of Country Crock margarine made by Unilever Plc.

Currently, the US market size for palm oil is 1.2 million tonnes annually. Palm oil is already in many products, including Smart Balance peanut butter and spreads, Carotino cooking oil and Luna Bars. 

Once trans fats are totally eliminated from the American food supply chain by mid-2018, palm oil imports is expected to only to increase to 1.7 million tonnes a year. This is because most of the artificial trans fat replacement with natural oils and fats are already in place.

IOI to use RMB in palm oil sale to China

KUALA LUMPUR: IOI Corp Bhd will soon quote its palm oil shipments to China in renminbi to help reduce currency risk and hedging costs, says executive chairman Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng.

Currently, palm oil sold to China is quoted in US dollars and then converted into renminbi.

Similarly, when Malaysia import goods from China, the cargoes are quoted in the greenback before they are converted back to ringgit.

"Now that there is a renminbi clearing house in Kuala Lumpur, we need not convert currencies that many times. There will be some cost savings," Lee told Business Times here yesterday at the sidelines of the Malaysia-China Economic Conference themed 'One Belt One Road' organised by the Associated Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry of Malaysia (ACCCIM).

When asked for a timeline for IOI Corp to quote its palm oil shipments to China in renminbi, Lee said: "very soon."

For the past decade, China has been Malaysia's biggest palm oil buyer purchasing nearly four million tonnes of this kitchen staple to feed its burgeoning population of 1.36 billion.

At a media briefing, Malaysia External Trade Development Corp (Matrade) urged exporters to quote renminbi in their trade with China to help mitigate the weakness of ringgit against the US dollar.

Matrade chief executive officer Datuk Dzulkifli Mahmud noted the renminbi is a stable currency when exchanged from the ringgit. "Exporters doing business with China can benefit from using the renminbi as it is more consistent."

Also present at the briefing were Malaysian Investment Development Authority Deputy chief executive officer Datuk Phang Ah Tong and Bank of China (Malaysia) Bhd chief executive officer Wang Hong Wei. 

The renminbi overtook the euro in 2013 as the world’s second-most used in trade finance and was the fifth most-popular for global payments, according to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT).

Two months ago, China's central bank People's Bank of China noted Malaysia is the second Asean nation to host a renminbi clearing house, after Singapore.

Commercial entity Bank of China (Malaysia) Bhd was appointed by both central banks of China and Malaysia to clear renminbi trades in Kuala Lumpur. The renminbi is now the first foreign currency to be included in the Malaysian clearing system.

By having a clearing house for renminbi in Kuala Lumpur, banks in Malaysia will have direct access to onshore renminbi markets in China without having to route their transactions through a mainland lender.

Dzulkifli noted last year, Malaysia's biggest export component to China was electrical and electronics, followed by chemicals and palm oil. China is Malaysia's largest trade partner, while Malaysia is China's biggest trade partner within Asean. Last year, bilateral trade exceeded US$100 billion. "We have set a goal of reaching US$160 billion by 2017," he said.

China's One Belt and One Road Initiative, a reference to the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, aims to revive the ancient trade route between Asia and Europe. The network passes through over 60 countries and regions, with a total population of 4.4 billion.

Mida's Phang noted China's collaboration with so many countries along this Silk Road Economic Belt poses fierce competition in drawing in investments as well as strategic opportunities for Malaysia. "We must be serious in identifying our needs and offerings in order for business collaborations between China and Malaysia to be mutually beneficial, he added.

ACCCIM president Datuk Lim Kok Cheong urged the government to fully exempt visa for business visitors instead of the current practice of confining it to group tours from China. “China estimates 500 million of its people step out of the country to tour the world. Last year, the total number of Chinese tourists leaving China surpassed 100 million," said Lim.

The growing global role of China's currency RMB

People's Bank of China (PBOC) governor Zhou Xiaochuan speaks on the internationalisation of the renminbi. 

This is an excerpt from

Q: What is the proper pace and timing for the globalisation of the renminbi?

A: Firstly, as renminbi internationalisation or the use of the currency in cross-border trade and investment settlement started from a very low level in a short time, the growth rate looks very high. But, in fact, the share of renminbi in global trade and investment settlement is still relatively low. There was a development opportunity for renminbi globalisation presented by the outbreak of the global financial crisis.

After the crisis, people felt unsatisfied and lacked confidence in the existing global monetary system and so began to use the renminbi. However, we still need to do a lot of ‘homework' before we can realise the globalisation of renminbi usage.

In the last few years, we have mainly focused on removing unnecessary restrictions on the use of the Chinese currency, including changing some laws and regulations. We should also eliminate discrimination against the renminbi, so it can circulate in all the areas where hard currencies are active. This work remains unfinished. 

So, overall, we are a long way from renminbi globalisation and need in particular to increase the renminbi's share in cross-border trade and investment settlement.

Q: What is the role of the PBOC?

A: The People's Bank of China will not ‘overpromote' the use of the renminbi. Instead, it will use its policies to create the conditions that support confidence in the acceptance of the renminbi in the international community.

The choice of whether or not to use renminbi will be left to market participants. Gradually, the barriers preventing its use will be eliminated for parties that want to use it. Another important issue included in our ‘homework' is to steadily promote and gradually realise the convertibility of renminbi capital accounts. 

So the convenience of the renminbi in global use and people's confidence in it will substantially increase. From this perspective, we need to finish our policy reform first. But there is no prearranged pace or timeline for promoting the use of the currency.

Q: What is Hong Kong's future role in RMB globalisation?

A: Hong Kong's renminbi business is developing soundly, and is playing a central role not only in Hong Kong but also in the world. Hong Kong's renminbi business can help to promote the use of renminbi in many countries, especially South-east Asian countries.

Many have shown an interest in promoting renminbi business, which is good and has brought Hong Kong many opportunities. Other places also aspire to be the ‘centre'.

But the real ‘centre' should be recognised by the market because of its actual advantages and good levels of service. Hong Kong has obvious advantages over other places. Hong Kong has a tradition of being a financial hub, and has a world-class financial market, in particular its advanced equity market. Therefore, Hong Kong's position will be strengthened. 

Oil palm planters in Indonesia to pay levy

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia planters with estates in Indonesia are bracing for painful times ahead as the republic starts charging export levies on palm oil to fund biodiesel subsidies. 

Last week, Indonesia's Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro said, effective July 1, Indonesia will collect palm oil export levies ranging from US$10 to US$50 per tonne, depending on the product variants, if palm oil prices fall below US$750 per tonne.

The levy for crude palm oil (CPO) is set at US$50 per tonne, while refined products like palm cooking oil, palm olein and biodiesel will be subjected to levies between US$20 and US$30 per tonne.

Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association or Gabungan Pengusaha Kelapa Sawit Indonesia (Gapki) told Business Times that there had been rising palm oil shipments out of Indonesia in the past couple of months as exporters anticipate the implementation of the levy.

In a telephone interview from Jakarta yesterday, Gapki executive director Fadhil Hasan said all members, including Malaysia investors in Indonesia, are fully aware of the policy and justification for the levy.

“The short-term effect would be burdensome for oil palm planters but we should also look at the policy impact for the longer term. This levy will mainly go to biodiesel subsidies. It will reduce Indonesia's oil imports and hopefully, provide support to palm oil prices,” he said.

"Yes, in these couple of months palm oil shipments out from Indonesia had been on the rise as our members anticipate implementation of this new levy," he added.

CIMB Investment Bank regional head of plantations research Ivy Ng said the levies will impact Malaysia planters with estates in Indonesia such as Sime Darby Bhd, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd, IOI Corp Bhd and Genting Plantations Bhd.

The move is neutral on integrated palm oil players such as PT Salim Invomas Pratama, Golden Agri-Resources Ltd and First Resources Ltd. 

This is short term negative for pure upstream Indonesian planters like PT Astra Agro Lestari Tbk, PT PP London Sumatra Indonesia Tbk, PT Eagle High Plantations Tbk and PT Sumber Air Mas Pratama.

"This policy is medium term positive for CPO producers if Indonesia can significantly boost biodiesel demand to at least 4 million tonnes and shore up CPO prices significantly. We maintain our neutral rating on the sector," she said.

Indonesia has launched a special public service agency (or Badan Layanan Umum) to take charge of the new levies. It is headed by a Board of Commissioners which will supervise executives in the levy usage. 

Fadhil said Gapki president Joko Supriyonno had been appointed as one of the commissioners and the levy collection mechanism will operate like an asset management company for return on investments that is based on good corporate governance.

Gapki forecasted that this year Indonesia is set to produce 32.5 million tonnes of CPO. Around 10 million tonnes is usually consumed in the country, of which close to half that amount goes to biodiesel usage.

Four months ago, Indonesia announced increment in biofuel subsidies from IDR 1,500 per litre to IDR 4,000 to compensate biofuel producers for the price differences between regular diesel and biodiesel due to low petroleum prices since mid-2014. 

In April, the mandatory biofuel content in diesel blending was raised from 10 per cent to 15. A big chunk of this palm oil levy to be collected will go to biodiesel subsidies, thus ensuring better compliance to the B15 mandate.

Fadhil noted a portion of this levy will also go to replanting, research and human resources development in the Indonesian palm oil industry.

It must be highlighted that when palm oil price is higher than the US$750 per tonne threshold, this levy is scrapped. This is a relief for oil palm planters in Indonesia as they will not have to face a double burden, in times of higher palm oil prices.

When prices exceed US$750 per tonne, oil palm planters pay CPO export taxes of between 7.5 and 22.5 per cent if they choose to ship out CPO. Should oil palm planters sell their CPO to local refiners, they are not not subjected to the CPO export tax.

Power tariff stays until Dec 2015

Electricity tariff in Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Labuan stays until the end of this year, despite power generation companies having to pay higher gas prices.

Today, the Energy, Green Technology and Water Ministry said, effective July 2015, the price of piped natural gas in the peninsula go up RM1.50 per million British thermal unit (MMBtu) to RM16.70 per MMBtu from RM15.20 per MMBtu.

The average electricity tariff, however, remains the same at 36.28 sen per kilowatt hour (kWh) for Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Labuan until the end of the year.

This is because via the Imbalance Cost Pass-Through (ICPT) mechanism, Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) will absorb the 2.25 sen per kilowatt-hour (kWh) for Peninsular Malaysia and 1.20 sen per kWh average downward revise of tariff for Sabah and Labuan.

“In other words, the increase of fuel price will not impact the electricity tariff and the said rebate will be able to continue, thanks to the RM1.08 billion cost saving from ICPT for January to June 2015 period,” the ministry said.

“This sum of amount also includes the RM300 million cost saving from the renegotiation of power purchase agreement with first generation independent power producers,” it added.

ICPT is a mechanism implemented since January 2014, which allows the government to pass excessive fuel costs to consumer, which in this case, the previous tariff hike was more than Tenaga Nasional Bhd needed due to falling coal prices and an improved generation mix.

The ministry said the cost saving in the peninsula also resulted from the higher usage of coal-fired power, where prices are relatively lower compared with fuel such as piped natural gas and liquefied natural gas.

Since ICPT is not implemented in Sabah and Labuan, the federal government will continue subsidising the fuel cost and electricity tariff that are estimated to amount to RM685 million this year for these two areas.

“The government will continue to monitor the cost of fuel and other power generation cost until January 2016, when a new review will be conducted,” the ministry said.

According to the Electricity Supply Act 1990, Sarawak's power supply and tariff are not under the ministry’s purview. 

Happy Father's Day

My father has always been there for me through all my painful and humiliating setbacks.

I remember asking my mum, a long time ago, why she married dad. She replied, "your dad is intelligent."

In my younger days I didn't think my dad was clever. I assumed all my classmates' fathers, like mine, had sat down at the dinner table and go through math and science homework with them. I was wrong.  

My mum is right. Dad is clever. He would explain scientific formulas and economic development in easy language using analogies and examples. 

Most of the time, I'm able to understand or spot logical sequences. From there, I find many confusing problems or situations I face become less daunting.

On life experiences, one of the most important thing I learnt from my dad is to think positive. This is because optimism is the foundation of courage and confidence in ourselves to do better than previously.

As I tap on the computer keyboard and reflect on my father's contributions to Malaysia's engineering feats throughout his career, I'm inspired to serve my country in the same measure as a journalist.

No Trans Fat in USA by June 2018

In an effort to save thousands of lives each year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a complete ban on trans fat in food across USA by mid-2018. 

Food manufacturers will have three years to completely phase out the deadly trans fat from their ready-to-serve meals and snacks.

Trans fat is a common ingredient in processed foods — like doughnuts, pies, microwave popcorn, and frozen pizza — that is a cheap way to prolong a product’s shelf life. The ban comes with ample scientific evidence that trans fats are not healthy.

FDA officials say even very small quantities of trans fats can add up to dangerous levels and will not permit the ingredient without an exemption.

“Doctors estimate that eradicating trans fats would prevent 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 deaths from heart attacks per year,” cardiologist Suzanne Steinbaum, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told USA Today. 

This is a huge move for the FDA — one that will make it easier for people in America to eat healthier. 

It has been almost a decade since former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg led the charge to ban trans fats. This deadly ingredient had been outlawed in NYC restaurants since 2006.

Seven years later, the Obama administration has seen the wisdom in that course, declaring that partially hydrogenated oils — a big source of trans-fats — are not generally safe.

“It’s about time,” cheered Dr. Thomas Farley, Bloomberg’s health commissioner and author of the forthcoming book “Saving Gotham,” on the city’s food-policing policies. 

“Trans-fat is an artificial chemical,” he said. “It never should have gotten into our food supply in the first place. It’s toxic over the long term and it’s easy to get rid of.”

Unlike his attempt to limit sugary drinks, Bloomberg was successful in sounding the first municipal alarm on trans-fat and banned it from restaurant cooking.

Bloomberg’s fat ban — among the many health crusades he undertook during his three terms as mayor — was so controversial at the time, the National Restaurant Association called it “a misguided attempt at social engineering by a group of physicians who don’t understand the restaurant industry.”

Some groups such as the the Popcorn Institute, the National Frozen Pizza Institute and the International Chewing Gum Association are complaining that the FDA trans fat ban infringes upon their freedom of choice.

A restaurateur, who is used to using partially-hydrogenated soybean and corn oils in margarine and shortenings, expressed his constitutional rights to freedom of choice over health concerns. 

He said, "I would have been in favor of us having to post stickers that say 'eating this could be hazardous to your health' and letting the customers decide. Cigarettes are still legal and yet trans fats or shortenings are illegal. Go figure."

American food giants General Mills and ConAgra, who are heavily invested in the soft oils value chain, have sought to persuade the FDA to impose very low caps on partially-hydrogenated oils, rather than a total ban. 

FDA, however, is adamant on prioritising the public's health concerns and say the decision stays to completely outlaw the deadly trans fat by mid-2018.

After the Big Apple ban in 2006, some food companies in New York region had been voluntarily phasing out partially hydrogenated oils.

A 2012 study, funded in part by New York City, found trans-fat consumption had declined by a “substantial” amount in fast food chains once the regulation went into effect.

“Former Mayor Bloomberg is a leader in this public health battle and the measure in New York really showed that this could be done,” said Jim O’Hara, director of health promotion policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Still, trans-fats are found in supermarket foods such as microwave popcorn, frosting, pie crusts and margarine. “This is going to be a huge win for the public health,” O’Hara said.

FGV Trading gaining ground

KUALA LUMPUR: Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV) which recently merged its marketing units into FGV Trading Sdn Bhd aims to sell and trade 4.7 million tonnes of palm oil by year-end.

FGV head of trading & marketing and logistics cluster Datuk Khairil Anuar Aziz said FGV Trading has, in the last four months traded 1.3 million tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO). 

"This is a good achievement for a new company. By the end of the year, We aim to trade 4.7 million tonnes of CPO, of which 60 per cent are from our own estates while the rest from external sources," he said in a phone interview yesterday.

Khairil said FGV's traditional clients are China, Japan, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, as well as the Indo-China region such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

As the group expands through acquisitions, it will be selling more oil to new markets in West Asia, the Mediterranean, North Africa, Eastern Europe and the Balkan regions.

"For a start, our new team is trading CPO, processed palm oil and crude palm kernel oil.

By next quarter we're hopeful of adding on to our lauric oils profile by sourcing coconut oil from the Phillipines. We seek to better serve our oleochemical and detergent-making clients," he told Business Times.

"As we add on more products, we aim for our traders become more adept. In the mid-term, we would like to also trade rival oils such as soyabean, rapeseed and sunflower. We want to raise our game to be on par with other global vegetable oils traders," he added.

Moving on the group's logistics operations, Khairil said Felda Transport Services Sdn Bhd carries up to seven million tonnes of CPO products and this will increase in line with more estates being acquired.

Felda-Johore Bulkers Sdn Bhd remains the group's largest and modern vegetable oils storage in the world, capable of handling eight million tonnes per annum with a storage capacity of over 800,000 tonnes.

"We are strengthening our logistics through Logistics Centre of Excellence so as to optimise our transport asset usage and efficiency,” he said.

Besides transporting palm oil, FGV Transport also move hard commodities such as steel bars, petrol and diesel. It plans on bidding for more oil and gas transportation jobs at Rapid Pengerang, Johor.

To date, Khairil said the moving of hard commodities is contributing 30 per cent of its logistic revenue.

French Minister says sorry to Nutella

PARIS/MILAN: France's Ecology Minister Segolene Royal has apologised for telling people to boycott Nutella and misleading the public into believing that oil palm cultivation is the main cause of deforestation and climate change.

"A thousand apologies for the row over Nutella," she wrote on her official Twitter account.

The mea culpa related to comments she made on French television earlier this week that "we should stop eating Nutella... because it's made with palm oil" - an ingredient that ensures the soft but not liquid consistency of the popular chocolate-hazelnut spread.

In the interview, she argued that oil palm plantations were supplanting forests, leading to deforestation and causing "considerable damage to the environment".

Her half truth assertions drew a fierce uproar from Italy, where Ferrero, the company that makes Nutella, is based.

Ferrero stressed all its palm oil - which comes mainly from Malaysia - is sourced in a responsible way.

Italian politicians and media broadened the attack on what they saw as an unimpeachable national product.

"Segolene Royal should leave Italian products alone. The menu tonight: bread and Nutella," Italy's environment minister, Gian Luca Galletti, said in a tweet.

The wife of Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, Agnese Renzi, was even photographed going to a 'Nutella concept bar' at an Expo fair in Milan with her daughter and ordering a Nutella-and-cream crepe.

Several Italian politicians called on Royal to apologise, while the Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore said the French minister's "crusade" was wrong-headed and a Nutella boycott would do nothing against deforestation.

Italy PM wife Agnese Renzi loves Nutella

PARIS: French government minister Segolene Royal was forced to apologize yesterday after saying Nutella was harmful to the environment, a comment that triggered furore in the industry and in Italy where the food spread is made.

“A thousand apologies for the controversy over Nutella,” she wrote in a tweet on Wednesday afternoon. “I agree about highlighting progress (in sustainable palm oil production)."

Royal had earlier urged people to stop eating the hazelnut spread that is beloved of generations of schoolchildren because it is made from palm oil, which comes from oil palm plantations in southeast Asia.

"We have to replant a lot of trees because there is massive deforestation that also leads to global warming. 

"We should stop eating Nutella, for example, because it's made with palm oil," she said in an interview on the French television network Canal+.

"Oil palms have replaced trees, and therefore caused considerable damage to the environment," she said.

Ferrero, the Italian chocolate company which produces the spread, should use products other than palm oil to make Nutella, she said.

France’s Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry body, condemned her comments, saying producers and food companies were making progress on the environmental front.

Privately-owned Ferrero says on its website that its palm oil was sourced from environmentally-sustainable plantations. The company said that 100 per cent of its palm oil came from well-run estates in Malaysia, with the rest coming from Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Brazil.

Agnese Renzi, the wife of Italy’s prime minister, was shown by Italian media ordering a pancake filled with the spread for her daughter Ester. The little girl cheerfully smiled and held up high a bottle of the Nutella spread.

Italian politicians had also reacted to Royal’s call for an unreasonable boycott.

Gian Luca Galletti, Italy’s environment minister, said Ms Royal’s criticism of Nutella was “baffling”, telling her to “leave Italian products alone”. Commenting on Twitter, he said: “I’ll be having bread and Nutella tonight for dinner”.

Roberto Calderoli, a senator with the centre-Right Northern League, a party whose defence of Italian values and products often verges on the xenophobic, also came to the defence of the chocolate spread. 

“We grew up with Nutella and we’ll never give it up,” he said. “If the French don’t want to eat Nutella, too bad for them, they don’t know what they’re missing.”

Michele Anzaldi, a member of the ruling Democratic Party, said Ms Royal should apologise for her remarks, which he called “a grave blunder”.

The debate even made it to the front page of Italy’s respected and sober financial daily, Il Sole 24 Ore, which pointed out that palm oil was not just used in Nutella, but in a huge range of products, from biscuits and chocolate to ice cream.

In 2012, a group of French politicians tried to introduce a 300 per cent tax on palm oil, arguing that it was high in fat and that its cultivation resulted in the clearing of rainforest. The measure was defeated.

Nutella is Italy's national heritage. Four months ago, there was national mourning when Michele Ferrero, the patriarch of the eponymous chocolate conglomerate, died at the age of 89.

Ferrero was Italy’s richest man, with his family’s fortune estimated at around £15 billion.

In a tribute, Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s president, called the chocolate baron “a born entrepreneur”, praising him for introducing products such as Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Tic-Tacs and Kinder Surprise eggs.

It was Ferrero's father, a small-time pastry maker, who laid the groundwork for the Nutella recipe. During the Second World War, when cocoa was in short supply, he hit on the idea of mixing in hazelnuts, which are plentiful in northern Italy, where the company is based.

Over here in Malaysia, the palm oil council chief executive officer Tan Sri Yusof Basiron said that the palm is a healthy oil and all natural. 

Malaysia's booth stand at the Expo 2015, explained to the public there that it is illegal for European food manufacturers to go on labelling "No palm oil" on their products.

Yusof on his twitter, too, questioned the French's Minister's wrongful act of defaming palm oil's reputation.

Unknown to many, oil palm trees are the most environmentally-friendly oil crop compared to other variants such as rapeseed, sunflower and soil. 

This is because on a per-litre basis, palm oil production requires less energy, land and fewer fertilisers or pesticide usage compared to other vegetable oils.

Oil palms have a productive lifespan of 20 to 30 years while its competitors like rapeseed, soya and sunflower need to be uprooted every four months during harvest and that contributes to soil erosion.

More importantly, Yusof highlighted that a study from Fonds Francais Alimentation et Santé finds that replacing palm oil with partially-hydrogenated soft oils is a bad option for consumers as it would potentially lead to more consumption of the deadly trans fat.

FGV financials intact, says Emir

KUALA LUMPUR: Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV) has assured shareholders that the company's financial health remains intact despite its acquisition spree, the latest being the RM2.8 billion deals with Indonesia's Rajawali Group, and falling earnings.

The FGV board came under scrutiny from its shareholders during a 6-hour annual general meeting yesterday. The long drawn meeting was also due to initial dissatisfaction over the increment in directors' fees to RM2.09 million in 2014 from RM2.04 million in 2013.

A couple of minority shareholders told Business Times that they were worried with the group's overall financial health and ability to pay out dividends.

Since its listing on Bursa Malaysia in June 2012, FGV had been on the acquisition trail. Among the major acquisitions are the takeover of Pontian United Plantations Bhd for RM1.2 billion and Asia Plantation Ltd for RM628 million.

It also spent RM2.2 billion to buy the remaining 51 per cent stake in Felda Holdings Bhd from its substantial shareholder Koperasi Permodalan Felda Malaysia Bhd in October 2013. Felda Holdings owns the upstream assets.

Earlier this month, FGV announced purchase of 9,800ha oil palm land from Golden Land Bhd for RM655 million cash.

Group president and chief executive officer Datuk Mohd Emir Mavani Abdullah, however, assured the RM2.8 billion acquisition into Rajawali's plantation arm would not burden FGV's financials.

FGV is buying Rajawali Group's 37 per cent stake in PT Eagle High Plantations Tbk for RM2.54 billion and its sugar assets, which consists of 47,745ha in Indonesia's Papua province for RM251 million.

"FGV will definitely need to raise funds for this deal. We'll structure in a way that it won't burden us," Emir told reporters after the company's annual general meeting here yesterday. 

"FGV can afford this deal and continue to pay dividends to shareholders. We're keeping to our dividend policy of paying out at least 50 per cent of our net profits," he added.

FGV will pay US$174.5 million as a deposit for the proposed acquisitions. Emir said the deposit is fully refundable, should the deals fail to materialise.

He reiterated the acquisition of Rajawali Group's oil palm and sugar business would be a strategic fit to FGV's expansion plans.

"FGV is already in Indonesia and this planned partnership with Rajawali Group's subsidiaries will boost our presence there. FGV will soon open up a fertiliser facility in Indonesia," he said.

Emir said FGV may consider a controlling stake in Eagle High Plantations. "We're thinking about it but right now, we're in a process of doing a thorough due diligence. Then there is the extraordinary general meeting to be called to vote on this deal.

"We have not crossed the bridge yet. Let's wait for the process to run its due course," he said, adding the due diligence to be completed in one month.

Emir reiterated that FGV intends to sell its Canadian downstream operations in the next few months. “We have got some bidders; I can’t disclose who they are. It is in the interest of FGV to divest all non-performing and non-core assets,” he said.

Emir was appointed to his position in July 15, 2013 under a 2-year contract with an option to extend another year. When asked if his employment contract would be renewed, he replied: "It is being discussed by the board of FGV."

FGV buys into Peter Sondakh's plantations

KUALA LUMPUR: Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV) is buying a 37 per cent stake in Indonesia's PT Eagle High Plantations Tbk from Rajawali Group for around US$745 million via cash and shares.

In its filing to Bursa Malaysia, FGV said in the first tranche, it plans to pay US$631.5 million (or RM2.3 billion) to buy a 30 per cent while the remaining 7 per cent stake will be settled via the issuance of new shares amounting to US$47 million.

Eagle High has landbank amounting to 419,006ha, of which 147,000ha are already planted.

FGV, which is among the world’s largest crude palm oil producer commanding some 7 per cent market share, will also buy 95 per cent of Rajawali Group's sugar cane estates and milling business for US$66.5 million.

FGV will pay US$174.5 million (or RM653.6 million) as a deposit or down payment for the proposed acquisitions which was forged in Jakarta yesterday.

PT Eagle High, which is listed on Jakarta stock exchange, is 65.5 per cent owned by PT Rajawali Corp which in turn is the investment vehicle of Peter Sondakh.

According to Forbes, Sondakh has a net worth of US$2.3 billion and is among Indonesia's Top 10 richest man.

The Rajawali Group's economic contribution stretches across telecommunications, hotels, cement, consumer goods, retail, department stores and transport in Indonesia.

Cash-rich FGV has been on the acquisition trail since its listing on Bursa Malaysia in June 2012. 

Among the major acquisitions are the takeover of Pontian United Plantations Bhd for RM1.2 billion and Asia Plantation Ltd for RM628 million.

It also spent RM2.2 billion to buy the remaining 51 per cent stake in Felda Holdings Bhd from its substantial shareholder Koperasi Permodalan Felda Malaysia Bhd in October 2013. Felda Holdings owns the upstream assets.

FGV's latest purchase is 9,800ha of oil palm land from Golden Land Bhd for RM655 million cash.

FGV buys estates from Golden Land

KUALA LUMPUR: Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd (FGV) is buying four plantation-based firms and a parcel of oil palm land in Sabah measuring 836.1ha from Golden Land Bhd for RM655 million.

In its filing to the stock exchange yesterday, Golden Land estimated it would gain RM15.23 million from the proposed disposals. This is after factoring in the real property gains tax of RM25.96 million and estimated expenses for the proposed disposal of RM20 million. As of todate, Golden Land has yet to determine the amount of the net proceeds and how exactly the money would be used.

Golden Land, which will still own about 8,497ha of plantation lands after the proposed exercise, said the disposals may trigger a criteria under Practice Note 17.

The continuous listing of Golden Land on the Main Market may then depend on the ability of the firm’s board and management to formulate a regularisation plan within a stipulated period.

FGV and Golden Land told Bursa Malaysia that FGV’s unit Pontian United Plantations Bhd had yesterday signed a conditional sale and purchase agreement of the 836.1ha and this deal is set to complete in three months.

The land is currently charged to Hong Leong Bank Bhd as part of the security for loan given to Golden Land. Its market value, as assessed by CH Williams Talhar & Wong (Sabah) Sdn Bhd, is RM71.72 million.

FGV closed 1 sen lower at RM1.91 yesterday. Golden Land, whose trading was suspended on yesterday but will resume today, also closed at RM1.91, last Friday.

Sleepless in Singapore

While I was in Singapore, a few days ago, for the SEA Games 2015, I managed to squeeze in a few slot of hours to meet up with a couple of friends who work as commodities traders.

Singapore is the busiest and the world's most efficient seaport. Naturally, one would expect the people who live in the city-island to lead fast-paced lives.

I experienced this firsthand when I caught up with my friends for dinner and supper in the lion city.

As we found ourselves a small table at a corner of a french restaurant, my friend spoke in rapid-fire pace our orders to the waiter.

In turn, the waiter, quickly tap our dinner orders on his mobile device and walked off briskly to the kitchen counter.

As I settle and soak in the chatter surrounding us, my friend excused herself to answer emails from clients as far as the Middle East on her smartphone.

She also answered instant texts from her colleagues. 

"If it's a weak market then we have to go out and sell it more actively, if it's a strong market they come and buy it from us," she said.

Sudden, big movements make it difficult for traders to be off-duty. "We can never leave our positions, even if technically we've left the office or it's the weekend," she said. 

"It really is a 24-hour job because we cannot afford to be complacent. Our income depend on how fast we respond to price spikes and plunges," she added.

"Is that why you have two phones? Is that why your phones are switched on round the clock?" I asked.

She nodded.

During supper at a midnight cafe sited beside a yachting berth, another trader friend casually mentioned his duties involved monitoring multiple computer screens on his desk, which display a bewildering array of graphs, figures, reports and message windows.

"We need to have relevant information in as near real-time possible, so we can avoid trading blindly," he said. 

His daily routine include reading analysts' notes on rival oil price forecast, currency exchange direction and chatting with other traders and business journalists, to try and get a more accurate feel of the market.

Everything from policy and tax changes or natural disasters to more mundane events such as weather pattern changes to temperatures can affect edible oil prices. For traders, it pays to be informed.

As we gained insight into each others' work experiences, I have come away with a deeper respect for traders who left the comforts of their home in Malaysia to seek better fortunes in Singapore.

Life as a trader in the lion city is indeed very stressful. If I were a trader, I would find myself 'sleepless in Singapore.'