Curated Insights 2017.10.29

How Intuitive Surgical turned medical sci-fi into reality

Intuitive’s devices are now used at all of the top-ranked U.S. hospitals for cancer, urology, gynecology, or gastroenterology—including venerable institutions like New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and the Cleveland Clinic. More than 4,100 da Vinci base units have been installed worldwide as of June 30, including 2,703 in the U.S., 698 in Europe, 538 in Asia, and 210 in the rest of the world.

The systems aren’t cheap: The list price for the fourth-generation da Vinci Xi is $1.9 million, and that doesn’t include the cost of various surgical appendages, which can add tens of thousands of dollars more to the price tag. Still, the robots keep selling—and surgeons are increasingly adopting them in their practices.

The company says that more than 4 million minimally invasive surgeries have been performed with da Vinci systems since 2000—a new one begins every 42 seconds somewhere around the globe, Intuitive CEO Gary Guthart tells Fortune. The number of those procedures done worldwide spiked 15% in 2016 compared with the previous year, and Intuitive pro­jects an additional 14% to 15% rise in the number by the end of 2017. Indeed, for certain more complicated procedures, such as radical prostate removal, robotic-assisted surgeries now account for nearly 90% of operations.

The boom has driven Intuitive to $2.7 billion in 2016 global revenue, with more than 70% of sales being recurring in nature—a fact that underscores the advantage that comes from being the first major player in a rapidly growing market.

It isn’t clear whether robotic surgery uniformly leads to better outcomes. (Don’t look to the extensive medical literature for a clear-cut answer; conclusions differ from study to study.) But surgeons who swear by their robotic arms tend to return to the same words of praise: They tout the “speed of recovery” for patients, who typically don’t need to spend days or weeks in a hospital as they might after traditional open surgery. They speak of the “clarity” of its camera, the “flexibility” of its instruments.

A survey by investment and research group RBC Capital last year found that American surgeons think that within five years, 35% of operations will involve robots in some form, compared with 15% today.

 

Shake Shack founder on changing the way restaurants do business

And I think what fine-casual is doing is, “If you’re willing to give up waiters and waitresses and bartenders and reservations and table cloths and flowers, we’re gonna s– we’re gonna give you about 80 percent of the quality that you would have gotten in a fine-dining restaurant. We’re gonna save you about 80 percent of the money you’d spend in a fine-dining restaurant. And we’re gonna save you about 60 percent of the time.”

So by saying, “Hospitality included,” it’s basically saying, “You see that price that it costs to get the chicken? That includes everything. That includes not only the guy that bought the chicken and the guy that cooked the chicken, but it also includes the person who served it to you and how they made you feel.”

 

AlphaGo Zero: Learning from scratch

Previous versions of AlphaGo initially trained on thousands of human amateur and professional games to learn how to play Go. AlphaGo Zero skips this step and learns to play simply by playing games against itself, starting from completely random play. In doing so, it quickly surpassed human level of play and defeated the previously published champion-defeating version of AlphaGo by 100 games to 0.

It is able to do this by using a novel form of reinforcement learning, in which AlphaGo Zero becomes its own teacher. The system starts off with a neural network that knows nothing about the game of Go. It then plays games against itself, by combining this neural network with a powerful search algorithm. As it plays, the neural network is tuned and updated to predict moves, as well as the eventual winner of the games.

 

Nike’s focus on robotics threatens Asia’s low-cost workforce

For Nike, the shift to greater automation has two huge attractions. By driving down costs, it could lead to a dramatic improvement in profit margins. It would also allow the company to deliver new designs more quickly to fickle, fashion-conscious customers at a premium. A pair of Nike Roshe shoes costs $75 without Flyknit uppers, compared to as much as $130 with Flyknit.

The potential upside for Nike of greater automation is immense. Analysts at Citibank estimate that by using the Flex manufacturing process to produce Nike’s 2017 Air Max shoes, one of its top-selling lines, the cost of labour would decrease 50 per cent and materials costs would fall 20 per cent. That would equate to a 12.5 percentage point increase in gross margins to 55.5 per cent, according to analysts Jim Suva and Kate McShane. If Flex were to produce 30 per cent of Nike’s North American footwear sales, Nike could save $400m in labour and material costs, representing a 5 per cent benefit to earnings per share, according to Citibank estimates.

Traditional shoe production has required as many as 200 different pieces across 10 sizes, often cut and glued together by hand. The new manufacturing process being developed by Flex has introduced two ideas once thought impossible: the gluing process has been automated and lasers are used to cut the Flyknit material. Lead times in the shoe industry once ran to several months: Flex has promised to help Nike speed up lead times, which can be three to four weeks for a customised pair of sneakers.

Nike has reduced its supply chain by nearly 200 factories in the past five years to focus on fewer “quality, long-term partnerships”. However, the process of closing a factory, including those with compliance issues, can be a long and costly process for “brand-sensitive companies like Nike” to mitigate the disruption to local economies.


Birth of a Hidden Champion: TSMC & Morris Chang

Morris Chang said Intel’s advantage lies in its robust technological power and strong business operation foundation, having maintained No. 1 in the global semiconductor for decades. But its biggest drawback rests with its inexperience in the wafer foundry sector that highlights a service-oriented corporate culture, as Intel’s technology departments have long served the company’s own needs, totally different from the core culture of serving others seen in the pure-play foundry sector. With his 25-year experience at Texas Instruments before founding TSMC, Chang said he realized very well what kind of corporate culture was needed for the foundry sector. He said when establishing TSMC 30 years ago, he was able to easily inject the service-oriented culture into the TSMC at the very beginning.


Apple’s COO Jeff Williams recounts how business with TSMC began with a dinner at the founder’s home

Williams said that in the next 10 years, the biggest problem lies not in computing performance, but in the lack of sufficient visions to apply new advanced technologies such as AI (artificial intelligence) as well as how to safeguard privacy.

He said Apple has many expectations for AI applications, but what the company needs is neither to make chips with faster computing performance or to make cars able to fly, but to utilize advanced technologies to change the world, such as making use of semiconductors to achieve medical technology innovations.”


Apple supplier TSMC says Moore’s Law is no longer valid

Chang said that the time frame set in Moore’s Law is no longer applicable. He said TSMC has kept increasing transistor density, but not at a pace according to the law. Chang continued by noting that discussions about the applicability of Moore’s Law in recent years have often focused on ASML, a leading semiconductor lithography equipment supplier, because the company is now the world’s only supplier of EUV (extreme ultraviolet) lithography equipment and EUV technology bears a great responsibility of keeping Moore’s Law valid. Chang said major semiconductor firms have been keen to incorporate EUV technology into their 7nm process.


ChowNow, a GrubHub competitor, raises $20 million Series B round

ChowNow prides itself on being different from the likes of GrubHub and Seamless. ChowNow’s flagship service offers restaurants a white-label platform that enables restaurants to own their customer data, and feel confident their customers aren’t constantly fending off menus and discounts from competitors. Unlike its competitors, ChowNow charges an upfront monthly cost of $150/month per location instead of taking a commission on all orders.

“Yes, our software supports delivery but we have a unique place in the restaurant where we don’t play in the delivery space outright,” Webb said. “We’re also not a traditional marketplace either. Shopify for restaurants is an accurate way to describe us. Restaurants can plug in to our system and integrate it into their delivery backend.”

In charts: has the US shale drilling revolution peaked?

Throughout its existence, the shale oil industry has consumed cash. Companies have been unable to cover their drilling costs from their incomes, and have needed constant infusions of debt and equity financing. They have had little difficulty in raising that money, in part because investors wanted to share in the productivity miracle that the companies represented. If the miraculous days are over, and a more humdrum reality is setting in, will investors still be prepared to back the industry so willingly? Already equity raising by US exploration and production companies has slowed sharply this year. Plenty of attractive investment opportunities still exist in shale: internal rates of return of 30 per cent and higher are available in the Permian Basin, according to S&P Global Platts Well Economic Analyzer. Will there be enough of those attractive opportunities to keep US oil production rising, as the government’s Energy Information Administration and others expect? The industry says yes, but the drilling and productivity numbers will be worth watching closely over the months to come.

 

Australia’s got a lock on supply of the metal used for EV batteries

“Australia’s importance has been cemented by offtake deals and equity investments in mines,” Alice Yu, a Hong Kong-based consultant at CRU, said by phone. Backing from major battery manufacturers and auto producers could also see the nation add processing facilities to develop exports of higher-value lithium chemicals, she said.

Still, Macquarie Group Ltd. has warned there’s a bearish outlook for lithium prices in the short-to-medium term as “too many Australian rock producers are crowding in” with new projects. The surge is threatening to create a period of oversupply before rising demand for electric vehicles clears the surplus from about 2021, the bank said in a note this month.

Even with a wave of new supply, including from Australia, the lithium market is likely to remain tight with a stronger demand outlook than anticipated, according to Melbourne-based UBS Group AG analyst Lachlan Shaw. “We have had increased supply this year, and all the while lithium prices have kept going up,” he said. “The market is probably underestimating demand.”

How Saudi Arabia is building its $2 trillion fund

The kingdom plans to transfer ownership of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company, to the PIF. An initial public offering of a small Aramco stake — probably just under 5 percent — will provide investment cash. That sale could raise about $106 billion, according to the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute. Transferring Aramco to the PIF would allow the government to get its revenue from investments, rather than oil, according to the Prince, and along the way transform the PIF into the world’s biggest sovereign fund.

 

Bogle: Vanguard’s Size a Worry

The economies of scale just can’t keep going on much longer. We’ve only got 12 basis points to go, and let me say it: There’s an irreducible minimum, no matter how big you are, just for the fun of it, 8 basis points, cost a lot of money to run this business. We’re now talking about a 4 basis point improvement in cost. I just don’t think it’s worthwhile, hyping and trying to bring in more and more money.

The David Rubenstein Show: Masayoshi Son

On his US$100bn Vision Fund: He thinks that machines will become more intelligent than humans across a wide range of subjects within the next 30 years, an event referred to as the singularity. This will have a profound and largely positive impact on humankind. The fund will invest in companies that underpin the global shifts brought on by artificial intelligence.

On the Alibaba investment: Invested US$20m early on in the company’s history. He met with Jack Ma, who at the time had no business plan, zero revenue and only 35-40 employees. Still, he could tell from the way he talked (with “strong, shining eyes”) that he had a vision and impressive leadership skills. Similar story with Jerry Yang and the Yahoo! investment.

On his recent investment in ARM: Biggest investment to date. UK-based semiconductor company that has an overwhelming market share for semiconductor designs used in mobile phones and other mobile devices. He says they will ship more than 1 trillion IoT chips in the next 20 years.

Chinese women are getting rich by simply livestreaming their days

In China, young women like 23-year-old Huan Huan can earn up to $20,000 a month livestreaming themselves just doing regular things. That’s about 30 times more than the average college graduate makes at their first job.

In China, which banned online porn in 2000, PG-rated livestreaming has become a $4 billion-a-year industry with nearly 350 million followers — more than the entire population of the United States.


How do I get my daughter interested in computers?

Nobody becomes a software engineer because they love writing code; they become a software engineer because it allows them to build out ideas. This is a useful skill to have. Except that most software engineers aren’t realizing their own ideas. They’re getting paid to build someone else’s pet project. Software engineers are the wage labourers of the tech industry.

The most important tech skill, then, isn’t computers or engineering — It’s the art of getting paid to control vast amounts of money. Then you can make programmers build out whatever dumb ideas you like. Parents who want their daughters to succeed in Silicon Valley need not worry about teaching their girls to code: Teach them about capitalism instead.

Company Notes 2017.10.27

British American Tobacco Q3 FY2017 Results

The Group registered market share decline from 54.5% in the second quarter of 2017 to 53.9% in the third quarter of 2017. Dunhill, the biggest Premium brand in legal market, registered 38.4% market share in the third quarter of 2017 (-0.6% versus previous quarter). The decline is mainly due to the prevailing high level of illegal cigarette incidence at 56.1% as of August 2017 (Source: Consumer Track by Kantar Research Agency) as well as the growth of a lower price segment within the legal market.

In relation to the cessation of the manufacturing operations announced on 17th March 2016, the Group has further recorded a one-off restructuring expenses of RM7.9 million as of year to date September of 2017 which consisted of on-going cost of the project, outplacement programs and one off expenses associated with the storage and transfer of unprocessed leaf and raw materials.

 

Maxis Q3 FY2017 Results

Demand for data continued to grow with 6.0 million 4G LTE users (3Q16: 4.1 million) and an average usage of 7.4GB per month (3Q16: 4.4GB). This was supported by the increase in smart-phone penetration which stood at 80.3% against 73.7% on a blended basis. The Group continued to lead the market with its expanded 4G LTE network at 89% population coverage, enabling customers to enjoy high speed and unmatched digital experience. In addition, the Group recorded an all-time high touch point net promoter score of +52 in the current quarter compared to +41 in Q3 2016.

 

Bursa Malaysia Q3 FY2017 Results

Bursa Malaysia-i , as the world’s first fully integrated end-to-end Shariah-compliant investing platform, will continue to intensify its efforts to promote Shariah investing in the market. Meanwhile, trading activities in Bursa Suq Al-Sila’ (“BSAS”) continues to record improvements. Bursa Malaysia will continue with its efforts to expand BSAS reach in new regions such as North Africa and Central Asia.

Bursa Malaysia recorded a significant milestone with the launch of the Leading Entrepreneur Accelerator Platform (“LEAP”) Market in July to assist small and medium enterprises (“SMEs”) to raise funds from the capital market for their business expansion. The LEAP Market went live on 3 October with the successful listing of Cloudaron Group Berhad.


Gadang Holdings Q1 FY2018 Results

On-going projects i.e. RAPID package 301 and 402, KVMRT V206 and TRX are executed on a fast track basis to optimise on cost saving and design effectiveness. With the latest award of Cyberjaya Hospital in August 2017, the outstanding order book of the Division has increased to RM1.98 billion.


Public Bank Q3 FY2017 Results

The Group’s Common Equity Tier I capital ratio, Tier I capital ratio and total capital ratio stood at a healthy level of 11.7%, 12.4% and 15.4%. The Group’s liquidity position also remained stable and healthy with Loan to Fund ratio standing at 88.6% as at 30 September 2017.

Tan Sri Teh said, “The Public Bank Group has always focused on asset quality in the pursuit of business growth. Thus, the Group has been able to sustain its stable asset quality even in challenging times. As at the end of September 2017, the Group’s gross impaired loan ratio of 0.5% continued to remain the best in the domestic banking industry.”


Lotte Chemical Titan Q3 FY2017 Results

Overall market started off moderately in Q3 2017 after the Hari Raya holidays. Market demand rebounded by late July following the Chinese government’s announcement to ban importation of plastic scrap by end of 2017. The capacities taken offline caused by Hurricane Harvey in United States had temporarily affected supply from United States, especially to Latin America. The market was briefly lifted up as concern on the supply disruption from US lingered. Meanwhile, supply from other regions was reportedly diverted to Latin America to fill the void.

Group plant utilization was lower at average 77% compared to average 92% in corresponding quarter. This was mainly due to statutory routine turnaround (every 5-6 years) for Cracker 1 plant in Malaysia and Indonesia polyethylene plants load was reduced during the quarter due to poor polyethylene economics as a result of tight ethylene supply and high cost.


Texchem Resources Q3 FY2017

The revenue recorded for YTD Q3 2017 was RM192.2 million against RM164.3 million in YTD Q3 2016. The Restaurant division incurred pre-tax loss of RM1.6 million against pre-tax profit of RM4.3 million in YTD Q3 2016 mainly due to closure costs of RM5.2 million arising from cessation of business by a subsidiary and losses from new concept restaurants.


Suiwah Q1 FY2018 Results

The Manufacturing division experiences high prospect projects entering commercialization stage during the past few months. The Group foresees continuous growth in the flexible electronics sphere. The new expansion project at Batu Kawan has also taken off and the rate of construction work is progressing in accordance with the milestone target. The Group will continue its mission to create and add values to all customers, employees, and shareholders by delivering innovative, competitive and quality interconnect technology solutions.


WZ Satu Q4 FY2017 Results

For civil engineering and construction segment, the Group not only accumulated an order book to last for the next two to three years but also the Group is confident that its order book will grow beyond the run-off rate. The outlook of this sector is promising with the Group benefiting from Government expenditure in infrastructure.

Full restoration of plant may take up to 1 year, says Notion VTec (filing to Bursa Malaysia)

It has affected more than 552 Computer Numeric Control (“CNC”) machines and Work-in-Progress (“WIP”) goods and the Quality Control “QC” building but not the rear building and the surface treatment plants are good and operational.

Notion has adequate insurance coverage – RM350 million for property damage, RM217 million for business interruption up to 18 months. The preliminary estimate of the loss is about RM150 to 200 million. Once we gain access to the site we shall be able to assess the extent of damage and provide a more accurate estimate of loss.

At this moment, the Company estimates the affected segments are the camera, Hard Disc Drive top clamps and automotive parts but the Company will re-commence production in Factory 3 using any spare capacity that Notion has as well as sourcing and renting suitable CNCs and if needed, rent additional floor space to meet current and new customers’ requirements. It is not easy to outsource to other machinist companies as it requires safety certification and approved vendor which will take time. Notion is committed to restoring the orders to the customers’ requirement.

The immediate effects of this outage in this affected Plant are about 50 to 60% of the Company sales revenue but with the fast recovery plan, Notion will have restored 75% of the outage progressively within 5 months and the balance within another 3 months. But of course, the full restoration of structure and Certificate of Fitness may take up to a year.

 

Comintel to give special cash dividend after sale of subsidiary (filing to Bursa Malaysia)

The buyer is Aurelius Holdings Sdn Bhd, a newly incorporated investment holding company, where Comintel executive director Loh Hock Chiang is also a shareholder of Aurelius. As at 29 August 2017, Loh holds direct interest of 0.07% in Comintel. Comintel’s CEO of Comintel’s manufacturing segment Lee Chong Yeow is also a shareholder of Aurelius.

Comintel said the proposed disposal will give the company the opportunity to unlock and realise the value of its investments in BCM Electronics. BCM, which is involved in electronics manufacturing services, provides turnkey manufacturing services. Comintel said “there is limited leverage to further increase the competitive edge of the electronics manufacturing services (EMS) and EMS-related industries.” If Comintel is unable to continue to maintain the competitiveness of the EMS business, there could be adverse impact of potentially losing its key customers to its competitor’s, the filing said.


Thriving Top Glove believes growth is sustainable

“We are very fortunate to operate in a growing industry. Not only demand for medical gloves is growing but even the food industry, such as in the restaurants and supermarkets, is using a lot of gloves, especially disposable gloves. Demand is growing, so growth is definitely sustainable. To grow by 10% a year in any industry is very good and we have been growing for the past 30 years.”

“Margins over the past 15 years is about the same, which is about 10% for net profit margins. I think these margins are reasonable. Profit margins, which are too high at 30%-40% in the manufacturing industry, won’t last. You will invite competition when your margins are too high. Margins which are too low will affect the industry as it cannot grow well. I think net profit margins at the 10% level is sustainable and will likely continue for the next 10 to 20 years.”

“On average, our revenue per worker per year is about RM250,000. This figure is better than an electronics factory, which is about RM200,000. Some 10 years ago, we were only at RM150,000. So we have improved a lot, much more than an electronics factory.”

Surgical gloves are thicker than the normal gloves due to requirements during surgery. It also requires more raw materials per piece to manufacture. Top Glove presently only produces 2% of surgical gloves compared to its total product mix by sales quantity. “It is certainly good to consider expansion in terms of acquisition for surgical gloves. We are No. 1 in terms of examination gloves and rubber gloves that is exported from Malaysia. When it comes to surgical gloves, we are at No. 4 or 5. It is also in our plans to tap into the growing market of surgical gloves.”


This little known Malaysian stock has surged 400%

“The margins are beautiful,” Yap, 61, said in an interview at the company’s headquarters on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, referring to the Manno tie-up. Clients in those sectors are willing to pay more for quality machined parts, such as shoulder screws used to secure protective casings for sensitive equipment, he said.

The company, which supplies its mold-cleaning rubber sheets to about 70 percent of Malaysia’s chipmakers, is expanding into markets like Taiwan and China after winning clients including Chinese chip-testing company Tianshui Huatian Technology Co. “There’s a reason why we control the market here, and Tianshui as a client is a testimony to our capabilities,” Yap said. The manufacturing process may seem simple, but “it’s difficult to replicate,” he said, adding that there’s plenty of room to expand in those countries: while they require about 180 tonnes of rubber-cleaning sheets per month, Techfast currently only supplies about 12 tonnes.

Still, for Yap, the share-price surge is just the start. He says he plans to return 40 percent of the company’s net income to shareholders starting this financial year, up from 26 percent in 2016. The “big leap” in profit will be in 2018, he said.


Favelle Favco’s next phase of growth

Although the decline in oil prices for the past three years has not deterred the company’s growth, Favelle’s orderbook replenishment is slowing down. This is because more than 60% of its business is in the offshore oil and gas (O&G) cranes. As such, diversification has been part of the company’s plan. Presently, it has an orderbook of RM536mil, halved from its orderbook in 2014 of RM1.02bil. Earnings wise, the company saw its net profit grew marginally to RM32.3mil in the first half ended June 30, 2017, from RM31.3mil a year ago.

Favelle says it has inked a heads of agreement to acquire 70% stake each in Exact Automation Sdn Bhd, Sedia Teguh Sdn Bhd, Exact Analytical Sdn Bhd and Exact Oil & Gas Sdn Bhd. These companies are primarily involved in the provision of engineering services, industrial automation solutions, and specialised equipment mainly for the O&G industry.

It is worth noting that Favelle has about 40 years experience in the crane business. With the O&G sector starting to gain traction as crude oil prices continue to stabilise, it is timely for Favelle to embark on its next phase of growth.


Higher capacity boost for Hartalega

The world’s largest nitrile glove maker, which has been enjoying an average year-on-year revenue growth of 28% for the last 13 years, has attributed the stronger growth to the expansion of its production capacity.

At an investment of RM2.2bil, the NGC will comprise six state-of-the-art manufacturing plants housing 72 of the most technologically advanced production lines in the industry. Upon completion, the NGC will see Hartalega’s total installed capacity increase substantially to 42 billion pieces per annum from the current 29 billion pieces. Over the next five years, Hartalega aims to have an average growth of 15% per annum in terms of manufacturing output via capacity expansion.

On the likelihood of diversification to rubber products, he said the company would not undertake such an exercise. “We don’t plan to diversify. This is because our profit margin is double than the industry average. Furthermore, we have the competitive advantage in terms of strength and there is good potential for future growth in the glove business.”


Caring to launch digital platform

“We want to streamline all our channels, from our [present] bricks and mortar stores and e-commerce store to a website and mobile app, for our customers’ convenience in enjoying a seamless shopping experience. Customers can order products and have them delivered to their doorstep, or if they want to save on courier charges, they can order online from home and pick up their products from our outlets three days after.”

As of Aug 31, 2017, the group operated a total of 110 pharmacies, Chong said, adding that it plans to open 10 to 12 new outlets a year.

“We are conducting surveys and studies on locations in the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia, Sabah and Sarawak to prepare for our expansion there. Last month, we opened [a branch] in Kuantan and in December, we will open a branch in Kota Baru. We have identified a site in Sabah where we plan to open [an outlet], hopefully in six months. [Our aim] is to be a complete national player,” said Chong.


Nationwide Express sees Airpak buy as growth catalyst

The acquisition of Airpak, Rosilawati said, fits in with the group’s strategy of expanding its business-to-consumer (B2C) or consumer-to-consumer segments, which currently account for just 5% of Nationwide’s revenue. The bulk of its revenue is derived from serving business-to-business (B2B) customers.

While Airpak’s courier business is seen as complementary to Nationwide’s existing operations, the acquisition of MTR is geared towards the group’s diversification, expansion, and long-term sustainability, she said.


MAHB on connectivity goal

“By having Alibaba here, the programme would help startup to establish e-commerce and transaction and payment. When you have access to global market, the growth rate of e-commerce would be in a single-digit but once the ecosystem is implemented, it will quickly jump into high double-digit.”

“Commercial airlines have the opportunity to carry e-commerce cargo, which in turn would boost airlines profitability and good for the airport. Thus, airlines would also look at other opportunities to either same or introduce new destinations.”

“The aviation industry is about inbound foreign direct investments. For example Boeing and Airbus will save 40 per cent of their new aircraft deliveries over the next 10 years in Asia. Aircraft manufacturers need to move a lot of those activities in Asia to serve their customers. They need to open up more MRO centres.”


ES Ceramics seeks new revenue streams

“We want to further diversify our portfolio to include complementary new products within the dipping industry. It does not help that key glove makers have been expanding so aggressively over the years. There is a price competition because some players are hungry. Why? Maybe they have increased capacity, but utilisation has not caught up.”

On its part, ES Ceramics has diversified from producing moulds for different glove types — examination, household, industrial and specialty — to include breathing bags and balloons as well. Wong did not reveal the latest products that ES Ceramics is looking to include in its list, noting that discussion is still at its infancy stage.

“We do not have the advantage of some manufacturers who can purchase turnkey machinery [to adopt automation]. Our machinery needs to be modified and tested. For that, we need engineers. But some engineers are from fields that are relevant to our operations, and some are inexperienced. We have been hiring and firing, that has caused our staff costs to increase slightly, but that will stabilise when the right team is established to speed up the adoption.”

“Right now, our factories are not applying automation at a significant level,” said Wong. The group is currently focusing on less critical parts of the manufacturing line to allow for more room for modifications. “The first objective is to make sure automation can work before it is being applied across the board. Only then can we look at improving quality,” he said, without giving a timeline for the adoption to be meaningful to ES Ceramics’ financial performance.


Perodua has no plan to introduce EVs in Malaysia yet

Daihatsu holds a 20% stake in Perodua and is also the latter’s technology and technical partner.

“I would rather we focus on our bread-and-butter internal combustion engine (ICE), which is energy efficient and can still be used in Malaysia. What we’re doing now is looking at how we can realise the full potential of this engine in terms of fuel consumption. Until such time we cannot improve on it anymore — that is, once it already reaches its full potential — then only we’ll consider EVs.” Zainal said it does not make sense for Perodua to venture into EVs now as the infrastructure that is needed to support such technology, such as charging stations, is not yet widely available in Malaysia.

He explained that the government’s policy on EVs is two pronged — to try to bring down the cost of EV production by allowing lithium-iron batteries to be produced in Malaysia, and to install more charging stations nationwide. He said there are currently 230 charging stations being installed and it is expected that by 2020, there will be 1,000 stations.


Pensonic eyes IoT market

“We have not committed ourselves to a time frame for the IoT project. But we can safely say that we are committed to the project, which is now part of five-year business strategy. The Malaysia IoT Consortium (MyIoTC) is looking into creating an IoT ecosystem so that it could better tap into the IoT business opportunities worldwide, leveraging on the members’ respective strengths and area of specialisation.”

On the local front, Weng Khak said the company has been granted nationwide MYTV set-top box (decoder) distributorship in anticipation of Malaysian television broadcasting going digital in 2018. “The decoders would be a required item to receive television signals for continued access to Free-to-Air TV channels. The management is of the view that this distributorship would contribute to the group’s revenue in the short to medium term.”


Top Glove’s Lim buys 10.24% of Tropicana

The transaction price was not disclosed in the filing with the stock exchange. Based on yesterday’s closing of 93 sen, Lim’s 10.24% stake will cost him RM139.6 million.

“Over the years, Tropicana has proven itself by delivering high-quality and iconic projects to its customers. With my business experience, and regional as well as international contacts, I hope to contribute positively in moving Tropicana up the value chain.”


TMC to expand bed capacity to 1,100 in five years

“We are hoping to achieve this target if, and only if, we manage to complete the expansion of our capacity at Tropicana Medical Centre, as well as get the health ministry’s go-ahead to kick-start the Iskandariah Hospital in Johor. Most importantly for us is to expand our current facilities first, as we bank on the growing local population and increasing demand for medical services. Gradually, I am hoping the facility in Kota Damansara will reach to 600 beds by 2020.”

The construction of the additional facilities on a six-acre (2.43ha) land in Kota Damansara, serving a neighbouring population expected to increase soon to 200,000, will take three years to complete and cost around RM300 million. The centre’s overall weekly utilisation rate is 60%.

“We are also planning to open a fertility centre in East Malaysia. Hopefully, this will garner more interests from the locals and tourists. We recently celebrated the delivery of the 1,000th baby born via the in-vitro method. Obviously, this business is doing well.”


TNB’s net profit could fall by RM1b p.a. if 2% tariff mark-up removed, says CIMB Research

Under the IBR framework RP1 (2014-2017), TNB’s return on its transmission and distribution (T&D) assets is 7.5%, said CIMB Investment Bank Bhd in a note to clients today. However, its actual average tariff is about 2% higher than the base tariff set by the IBR due to higher electricity consumption by the commercial sector.

“As such, when the regulator revises the IBR parameters for RP2 starting in 2018, the allowable return may be lowered and we see potential earnings risk as it may no longer enjoy the additional 2% tariff,” said its analyst Ngo Siew Teng.

“Assuming TNB is only allowed to earn a 6.5% return (its weighted average cost of capital based on CIMB estimates) on its T&D assets and the 2% mark-up in tariff is entirely removed, we estimate that TNB’s net profit could be lowered by as much as RM1 billion per annum. This, plus the risk of a higher effective tax rate, may lead to a RM2 billion reduction in TNB’s annual net profit,” she added.


Plywood prices on uptrend

“Delay of shipments is about three to four months now, and port inventories are down in Japan while the demand continues to be strong. Plywood mills operate with very little log inventories. Also quality logs are hard to come by now,” revealed International Tropical Timber Organisation (ITTO) report in its latest issue. Reduced supply volume and higher export prices will continue.

“Floor base plywood demand has been shifting to domestic softwood plywood. Demand for softwood plywood is brisk mainly by large precutting plants. August softwood plywood production was high at 254,700 cu m, 10.8% more than August last year. It is a fact that domestic plywood is now more than imported plywood in Japan but imported plywood is absolutely a necessary product for Japan. But in the coming years, the (Japanese) market would not accept any product without traceability of forest certificate.”

“In Indonesia, 40% of total harvest is now planted timber and in Sarawak, share of planted timber in total harvest will be more than 50% in five years.”

Tax laws must not be complicated

Seah noted that the government had in recent times amended the laws after losing out in court disputes with taxpayers. The CTIM, she added, supports amendments that are made for tax laws to stay relevant to current trends and to maintain their original intent. “However, amendments [made] after the loss of a tax case are often drafted with a very wide scope to cover any imaginable circumstances and they [the amendments] sometimes unintentionally affect other taxpayers and put them in a difficult position,” said Seah.

Seah said policymakers should have guidelines and implementation plans ready to be rolled out immediately after amendments are proposed. Similarly, for all the rulings, Seah opined that the effective date should not be on a retrospective basis.

To avoid hiccups in implementation, communication between different government agencies and policymakers is essential to enable harmonisation of laws whenever there are changes or implementation of new rulings.

Curated Insights 2017.10.22

Tesla’s new car smell

As I watched Tesla’s messy, hiccuping line, with workers dashing in to fix faulty parts in place, my mind travelled back to the Honda plant I had visited years ago in Marysville, Ohio. Clean, calm, everything moved smoothly. I was so shocked by the contrast that I imprudently voiced my concern. That didn’t go over well with my fellow Tesla owners. I was a killjoy, I was calling their choice into question.

“Unknown to analysts, investors and the hundreds of thousands of customers who signed up to buy it, as recently as early September major portions of the Model 3 were still being banged out by hand, away from the automated production line, according to people familiar with the matter.”

Moving from fewer than 100K cars a year to 500K and up isn’t “more of the same”, it can’t be achieved through clever, conventional-wisdom-defying improvisation. That sort of growth is a bold jump in scale that requires a smooth, well-oiled and well-understood manufacturing process.


Millennials are helping Jack Ma’s financing firm become a debt giant

Securitized products that bundle such obligations are meant to spread the risks among different investors. The tech companies can’t take deposits like banks, so the ABS, which are generally sold in private placements to institutional investors, give them a way to raise funds. The latest ABS from Ant Financial that’s backed by loans through its Jiebei service pays a 5.5 percent coupon for the senior tranche, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

“In the short term, default risks for consumer loan ABS are very low because the underlying assets are composed of a number of loans in small sizes,” said Zuo Fei, an executive director and head of the ABS group in the investment banking division of China Merchants Securities Co. in Shenzhen. “These ABS products will be safe, unless systemic risks emerge in the economy and cause widespread defaults in consumer loans.”

Shell buys NewMotion charging network in first electric vehicle deal

Demand for electric vehicles is expected to rise significantly in coming decades and Morgan Stanley estimates that 1-3 million public charging points could be needed in Western Europe by 2030. Currently, there are fewer than 100,000. Shell expects around a quarter of the world’s car fleet to be electric by 2040.

Oil companies are growing increasingly aware of the potential threat to parts of their downstream business from the electrification of transport.


Solar wants to help fix a power-grid problem it helped create

Solar panels have proliferated in the Golden State, flooding the grid with power supplies in the middle of the day when the sun’s out — and then quickly vanishing after sunset. This has created a sharp curve in California’s net-power demand that’s shaped like a duck. And the so-called duck curve is getting steeper every year, sending wholesale electricity prices plunging into negative territory, forcing generators offline and making it increasingly difficult to maintain the reliability of California’s transmission lines.

…change the way solar farms are paid. If the state’s utilities compensate them for shutting generation when the grid doesn’t need it and providing power later when it does, he said, farms could use increasingly sophisticated inverters and software controls to adjust.


How Amazon’s $13.7B purchase of Whole Foods is a ‘blessing in disguise’ for Instacart

“When Amazon bought Whole Foods, what they did was they sent the signal to the entire grocery/retail landscape that Amazon was coming,” Mehta said. “Now, for every single grocery retailer at this point in time, whether they believed it or not before, now they needed an e-commerce strategy. They needed to have same day delivery. The reality was, for the last five years, that’s what we have done. We have brought hundreds of grocery retailers online, and so we had the track record of being able to do this successfully.”

Instacart has been growing faster than expected this year, and it has expanded to 149, up from only 30 at the beginning of the year. Mehta said the company can now reach 63 million households as potential customers, up from about 11 million a year ago.


This little-known startup just hit a valuation of $30 billion

Travel is becoming the latest competitive ground. With the recent fundraising, Meituan plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three to five years to become a leading travel booking site. It’s also exploring opportunities to collaborate with Priceline as part of the investment. That may present a challenge to China’s biggest online travel site, Ctrip.com International Ltd., which is backed by Baidu. Ctrip shares fell 8.2 percent in U.S. trading.

China’s internet crackdown isn’t going anywhere

“Xi Jinping has definitely been a turning point in terms of the degree of censorship that is happening in China,” said Charlie Smith, who founded Greatfire.org, an organization that finds ways around government restrictions. “He is the first Chinese leader to truly understand the power of the internet and hence, we are seeing an unprecedented crackdown on dissenting information,” said Smith, who uses a pseudonym for fear of government reprisals

In June, Weibo Corp., the Chinese equivalent to Twitter, was one of three firms fined and banned by regulators from broadcasting certain types of content without a license. In an August earnings call, its chief financial officer said current rules made it legally impossible to acquire a license without becoming “wholly state-owned or state-controlled”.

The tightening presents unique challenges to foreign firms navigating the legal landscape. Services that rely on free-flowing information, such as Google and Facebook, would struggle to exist in such a regime, though they remain intent on finding a way in given the size of the potential market.


Who has the world’s No. 1 economy? Not the U.S.

Gross domestic product is supposed to measure the amount of real stuff — cars, phones, financial services, back massages, etc. — that a country produces. If the same phone costs $400 in the U.S. but only $200 in China, China’s GDP is getting undercounted by 50 percent when we measure at market exchange rates. In general, less developed countries have lower prices, which means their GDP gets systematically undercounted.

Economists try to correct for this with an adjustment called purchasing power parity (PPP), which controls for relative prices. It’s not perfect, since it has to account for things like product quality, which can be hard to measure. But it probably gives a more accurate picture of how much a country really produces. And here, China has already surpassed the U.S.

China’s modest per-person income simply means that the country has plenty of room to grow. Whereas developed countries can only get richer by inventing new things or making their economies more efficient, poor countries can cheaply copy foreign technology or imitate foreign organizational practices. That doesn’t always happen, of course — many poor countries find themselves trapped by dysfunctional institutions, lack of human capital or other barriers to development.

In other words, not only is China already the world’s largest economy, the gap between it and the U.S. can be expected to grow even wider. This continues to be borne out in the growth statistics — though China has slowed in recent years, its economy continues to expand at a rate of more than 6 percent, while the U.S. is at just over 2 percent. If that disparity persists, China’s economy will be double that of the U.S. in less than two decades.


China to build giant facial recognition database to identify any citizen within seconds

The system can be connected to surveillance camera networks and will use cloud facilities to connect with data storage and processing centres distributed across the country, according to people familiar with the project.

Commercial application using information sourced from the database will not be allowed under current regulations. [But] a policy can change due to the development of the economy and increasing demand from society.”

“To download the whole data set is as difficult as launching a missile with a nuclear warhead. It requires several high-ranking officials to insert and turn their keys at the same time,” the vendor said.

The 1.3 billion-person facial recognition system is being developed by Isvision, a security company based in Shanghai.

They found that the accuracy of the photo that most closely matched the face being searched for was below 60 per cent. With the top 20 matches the accuracy rate remained below 70 per cent, Fan and collaborators reported in a paper published in the domestic journal Electronic Science and Technology in May. “It cannot solve problems with real-life applications,” they added.

The researcher warned that the cost of the convenience facial recognition could bring to everyday life was “sacrificing security”.


Warning signs are mounting for Sweden’s once-hot housing market

SEB AB’s monthly housing-price indicator shows households are becoming less optimistic about the market. The gauge, which measures the difference between those who see rising housing prices and those who believe in a decline, has dropped to its lowest level since August 2016. While 66 percent of Swedes still expect prices to rise, and only 16 percent believe in a decline, the indicator has dropped for four consecutive months.

Regulators have been tightening regulations to cool debt growth. Swedes are now subject to a mortgage cap, limiting loans to 85 percent of a property’s value, and an amortization requirement, which forces borrowers pay off the part of their new loans that exceeds 50 percent of the property’s value. The regulator now wants to introduce an additional amortization requirement for the most indebted households, and has also floated the idea of a cap on loans in relation to incomes.

Developers are taking action to prepare for a slowdown. Wallenstam AB said this month it would convert 90 apartments in a development in the Stockholm neighborhood of Solberga to rentals rather than trying to sell them. The situation is “a bit uncertain,” with the market for ownership apartments having “cooled down,” Wallenstam said on Oct. 9.


Indonesia set for trillion-dollar economy in bittersweet triumph

Size isn’t everything. Even after eight rate cuts since the beginning of last year, the economy is struggling to fire up: loan growth remains muted, while the central bank expects low inflation to linger for some time. The picture is made more complex by a wide divergence in growth across the archipelago of more than 17,000 islands, with rates ranging from negative to more than 7 percent.

Jokowi is ramping up spending on roads, rail and seaports as he targets economic growth of 5.4 percent in 2018, the fastest rate in five years. But a massive infrastructure deficit — estimated by the World Bank at $1.5 trillion — is frustrating his efforts. The global lender says another $500 billion in infrastructure spending is needed over the next five years.

Indonesia’s tax revenue as a portion of GDP remains one of the lowest in the region with the OECD estimating it at around 12 percent two years ago. It has since fallen to 10.3 percent, which Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati in July described as “low and unacceptable.” She’s aiming to boost that ratio to 16 percent by 2019.


Like Bali? Indonesia wants to create 10 of them to draw Chinese tourists

Jokowi’s plan, according to Yahya, will see the contribution of tourism to the economy climb to 7.5 percent by 2019 from 4.5 percent last year. Tourism receipts are forecast to grow more than 60 percent to $20.7 billion over the same period, with the number of jobs seen rising to 13 million from 11.8 million.

Even with that kind of growth, Indonesia is far behind neighboring countries in developing tourism and targeting Chinese visitors. Thailand’s industry makes up about 18 percent of gross domestic product, with the country’s famed beaches and nightlife attracting 26 million foreign visitors so far this year, 28 percent of them coming from China. Indonesia also trails Singapore and Malaysia in number of tourists.

Funding Jokowi’s 10 New Balis plan will be a big challenge. Yahya estimates the industry needs $20 billion of investment over five years, of which about $10 billion will come from the government. Given its vast infrastructure needs in everything from ports to roads, and a budget deficit cap of 3 percent of GDP, authorities are seeking more private-sector funds.


Silicon Valley Vs. Wall Street: Can the new Long-Term Stock Exchange disrupt capitalism?

If the LTSE succeeds, it could offer a new incentive for privately held tech giants such as Airbnb Inc. and Uber Technologies Inc. to go public, at a time when many market veterans and regulators fear the process of going public has lost its luster. But skeptics wonder whether the LTSE is just another way for tech founders and elite Silicon Valley investors to maintain control at the expense of other shareholders.

For instance, executives’ bonuses couldn’t be tied to financial-performance targets over periods of less than one year. If the executives are paid in company stock, the shares couldn’t fully vest for at least five years. LTSE-listed firms would still publish quarterly results—an SEC requirement—but they would be barred from releasing quarterly earnings guidance, a practice that some critics say fosters short-term thinking. Meanwhile, tenure voting would be available to any shareholder of an LTSE-listed company. If an investor opted into the system, the voting power of his or her shares would grow over time, capped at 10 times the power of ordinary common stock after a decade. If the shares were sold, the voting power would be reset for the new owner.

Mr. Ries disputes the idea that the LTSE is good for founders and bad for everyone else. In his view, tenure voting is better than the solution favored by some Silicon Valley firms: severely limiting the voting power of ordinary shareholders through two or more share classes.

Company Notes 2017.10.20

Digi.com Q3 FY2017 Results

Digi continued to register notable milestones, with our 4G Plus network being one of the fastest growing networks in Malaysia, capable of delivering consistent LTE speed around 10Mbps 80% of the time. Meanwhile, rapid LTE 2600Mhz and LTE 900Mhz deployments expanded Digi’s LTE-A coverage to 49% of the population, making us the frontrunner for widest LTE-A network coverage nationwide.

Postpaid ARPU levelled to RM77 on the back of a larger postpaid subscriber base supported by sturdy demand for our new postpaid plans. Prepaid ARPU steadied at RM32, with higher contribution from prepaid internet revenue.


Palette Multimedia Q1 FY2018 Results

Palette has moved into the medtech space with the significant investment made over the past few years on the development of imedic, the mobile health system. imedic enable patients to have wireless medical devices at home or anywhere, to regularly make measurement and upload the vital sign data to the Cloud. This would allow doctors from anywhere in the world to have access to the patient’s data 24×7 to review and provide online consultation to the patients. More than 15 devices have been developed to connect to imedic including CPAP machines for sleep apnea patients. The Company will continue to invest in the innovation and development of its next generation of imedic with extensive artificial intelligence (AI) technologies performing analytic on the “Big Data” of the patients and make useful recommendation of diagnosis and treatment plan to the doctors and patients.

The Company has effectively combined the latest innovative technologies: medtech, AI and Big Data in imedic. The power to be unleashed from these 3 technologies could be enormous. In additional to its early adoption by hospitals and doctors in the China market and other Asian countries, the Company has made successful penetration into the Russia market. The Company has recorded profit last quarter and Q1 FY2018. The Board of Directors is in the opinion that the Company will be profitable for the current FY.

Scientex expects growth from major investments

“For the manufacturing side, for the last three to four years, we have invested probably almost RM1 billion to expand the capacity to [produce] 350,000 tonnes [of stretch films per year].”

He said the group’s new stretch film facility in Arizona in the US is on track to commence its operations early next year. The two lines at the US facility, he said, will take about two years to be fully utilised. At full utilisation, the plant will be able to produce up to 30,000 tonnes of stretch film per annum. With this new plant, Lim said the group expects its sales in the US market to increase further.

Scientex now has a total land bank with a gross development value (GDV) of RM11 billion, which includes completed projects with a RM3.2 billion GDV and ongoing projects worth RM1.5 billion. The remaining RM6.3 billion worth of land will be used for future projects which can last the group for up to 10 years, said Lim.


Oriental Food seeks growth via biscuit venture

“We originally planned to launch our biscuit products this month, but we wanted to make a bigger impact by launching the entire series on the market. We still have another few products to finalise and we will be launching them next month.”

“We can easily add machines to our existing four production lines for our potato products. Adding one [machine] could boost our revenue probably another 5% to 10%. But in order to have more growth, we have to venture into another [new] segment.”

“For this financial year (FY18), it is very difficult for us to estimate our bottom line due to the rising cost of raw materials and labour. This year, we see a rise in sugar prices, as well as packaging cost due to higher paper prices. And the price of paper is expected to rise by another 8% in the near future as some China paper mills had stopped production on environmental grounds, resulting in supply shortage.”

“Although we absorb some margin loss, all of us are still making money,” he said, adding that raw materials account for 60% of the group’s production cost.


YSP Southeast Asia’s Vietnam ops to break even

“Our bottom line was previously very much affected by unrealised foreign exchange losses due to the volatility of the Vietnamese dong and the US dollar.” YSPSAH purchases a good 60% of its raw materials in US dollars. Lee said its exports, which are also denominated in US dollars, helped mitigate the situation.

“Our animal use drugs segment faces strong headwinds”, he said, since this segment, which caters to livestock and aquatic creatures, took a hit after the Chinese embargo on Vietnamese swine took place. Vietnam is one of the biggest pork producers in Asia, and the largest within the Asean region. The biggest buyer of Vietnamese pork used to be China, up until political tensions between both countries led to an import ban in November last year. “We have been trying to reduce our reliance on the domestic market there, and instead to focus on exporting products from there.”

The Vietnamese plant is running at a rather low utilisation rate of 40%, where it manufactures over 50 registered products that are distributed to more than 1,200 clients through 35 YSPSAH sales representatives to date. Lee said this is not its full range of products just yet. By year end, YSPSAH aims to have a total of 60 products registered and launched in Vietnam.


Affin to focus more on retail banking

The group now wants to shift its focus to retail banking, which had already contributed close to 50% to overall revenue this year.

“In this five-year programme from 2016 to 2020, we have allocated about RM300 million to spend not only on IT (information technology) but also with a view to improving the performance and delivery of our retail banking operation. So it’s actually quite a substantial improvement. I think we are well within our target to meet the 40% goal for Islamic banking by 2020 [set] in the Malaysian financial sector blueprint.”

“The positioning of the bank will be enhanced because the bank is at the apex [of the corporate structure], and hence [it holds] all the assets of the entities underneath it so the size will be enhanced as well. The bank will also have a direct access to the capital and equity market which, again, profiles the company as a much stronger entity.”


MPay gets MCMC licence to roll out mobile services

“With the ASP licence obtained from MCMC, MPay Mobile has become the latest mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in Malaysia supporting a wide spectrum of services to the public nationwide, including the latest high-speed broadband 4G network.”

“Enabling Asia is a mobile virtual network aggregator, who has a wholesale MVNO agreement with one of four network operators in Malaysia, offering a complete network product and services to MVNOs.”

“The aim is to bring more convenience and accessibility for customers who are located at remote areas with difficulty to access to bank branches, or who intended to move away from traditional banking at branches towards online and mobile banking.”


Bellew explains why he is leaving Malaysia Airlines to return to Ryanair

On Malaysia Airlines, Bellew pointed out that success is just within its grasp. Just another 4%-5% in revenue monthly and it should move to profits, he added.

“It is Ireland’s greatest company. They need my help and there is a big challenge. It is a form of national service,” he said in a personal statement why he was rejoining the Irish low-cost carrier.

ASEAN Open Skies implementation remains slow — IDEAS

“Freedom of travel in air is characterised by nine different levels of freedom. Asean has implemented perfectly the first four levels of freedom, [while] the fifth freedom is in progress. The ninth level of permission, which is the final spectrum of freedom of air, essentially gives an airline the freedom to travel in the domestic destination of a foreign country, not just the capital city itself. We are halfway to full freedom of flight in the air. There is an understanding among the Asean countries that this can be done by the year of 2020, but as a think tank, we observe that the progress has been slow, and a lot of obstacles at regulatory and policy levels still exist.”

Ali noted that there are no national supportive policies in certain large countries in the region, which allows a foreign carrier to freely navigate across the country. “And then there are of course government-owned airlines operating in different countries, which also impose restrictions on private airlines originating from the same region to fly without permission,” he said. Therefore, Ali opined that Asean governments should stay away from aviation businesses over time.


Unshackle the EPF or face the consequences

The provident fund, which endears itself to many above 55, warned that it may not be able to keep up with the current rate of dividends if there are continued restrictions on its efforts to invest outside Malaysia.

The returns from its investments overseas outweigh the proportion of money allocated. For instance, as at June 30 this year, the returns from overseas investments accounted for 32.5% of the EPF’s total investment income. This is despite overseas investments making up only 29% of the total investment assets of the fund.


Economists warn of inflation if minimum wage hiked

“If there is a minimum wage increase next year, it would likely result in a cost-push inflation as businesses are likely to pass on the rising costs to consumers. It would also contribute to demand-pull inflation at the back of income growth. The increase in minimum wage will cascade up to other income groups and higher wage across the economy.”

“We will see another round of inflationary pressure [if minimum wage is raised], but it’s crucial to move Malaysia out of the low-wage industries. We need to move to higher value products and services. The increase in minimum wage will force manufacturers to seek out for higher value-added jobs and activities rather than the low value-added [jobs], high volume output.”

Noting that the minimum wage-earning workers in Malaysia are largely made up of foreigners, she said an increase in the wage rate could spur Malaysians to take on more of these jobs, and thereby help reduce unemployment in the country.

“A hike will add to the costs of doing business, which may mean more people in the lowest strata losing their jobs,” Wan Saiful said, adding that an increase in wages should come only after there is an increase in the productivity level.

Curated Insights 2017.10.15

86-year-old billionaire iPhone chipmaker retires just as his industry heats up

“Since we established ourselves, fabless companies began to mushroom worldwide. Most of the innovations in the semiconductor industry in the last 30 years came from those fabless companies. That’s probably my biggest pride, to have caused a lot of innovations in the industry.”

Liu and Wei inherit a company that is about 30 times larger than local rival United Microelectronics Corp. and commands 59 percent of the $50 billion global foundry market.

Growing chipset demand from China spells another opportunity for TSMC: the country spent $227 billion importing integrated circuits in 2016, according to data from Chinese customs authorities, the fourth consecutive year that chip imports have exceeded $200 billion.


Nvidia, Intel, Marvell: Look how they’ve slimmed down! Says Stifel

“The end markets of semiconductors have changed dramatically over the past 10 years,” he observes, given how much automotive and industrial, two industries with longer product cycles, and therefore more predictable revenue, have taken from more volatile industries.

Another reason for rising valuations is simply scarcity: “In 2007 there were roughly 118 publicly traded semiconductor companies. Today there are roughly 55.”


Shopify S-1 analysis – Smiling all the way to $10B

How are they able to sustain more efficient growth as they scale? The first reason is Shopify has been able to grow their contract value by 14% annually. The average subscription payment by merchant has remained flat over the past four years. Instead of growing subscription revenue on a per customer basis, Shopify is capturing more share of GMV. The chart above shows the merchant services revenue generated per billion dollars of gross merchandise value by Shopify. You can see that figure has quite nearly doubled in four years. In other words, as Shopify merchants sell more, Shopify benefits Proportionately from the growth in GMV, but also at an increasing slope because they capture almost twice as much in fees as they have been historically.

Consequently, merchant services now account for greater than 50% of revenue up from just above 20% four years ago. The gross margin on the software business has remained 78% over the past four years, while merchant services gross margin has fallen from 50% to 30%. Overall gross margin has fallen from 80% to 54%. But that is an advantageous trade considering the massive revenue growth.

Citron exposes the dark side of Shopify the FTC will take notice

Out of the claimed 500,000 websites, Shopify has about 2,500 “Plus” clients and maybe another 20,000 “Advanced”. So where are the other 450,000 + websites?

The majority of Shopify’s customers are not SMB merchants; rather, they are people who are buying a system and Shopify goes as far as to supply them a theme and inventory.


Ikea puts Latin America, Southeast Asian markets in its sights

Ikea has more than 400 stores in 49 markets across Europe, North America, the Middle East, Asia and Australia.

According to Ikea’s plans, it will have opened its first store in South America within the next five years, which is the same timeframe it has set for its expansion into Vietnam and the Philippines. As South America is a new region, it’s likely to enter two or three markets there around the same time in order to secure supply and production, Loof said.

Ikea plans to add 22 new stores this year, up from 14 new stores in 2017. In the future, Ikea will probably open some 25 new stores annually, Loof said. Ikea’s website attracted 2.3 billion visitors last year, while its stores got 936 million visits.


Singapore home-sharing quietly grows despite the rules

Airbnb said its travelers to Singapore typically stay 4.1 nights compared with 3.6 for the average tourist, and three-quarters of listings are outside of traditional hotel districts, allowing tourism spending to accrue in areas that don’t usually host outside visitors.

In a February debate in Parliament, Louis Ng Kok Kwang, a lawmaker for the ruling People’s Action Party, urged the government to regulate rather than ban home-sharing services, noting that the approach so far is inconsistent with how Singapore treated car-sharing businesses, such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Grab.


How we’re solving the LIDAR problem

Strobe’s new chip-scale LIDAR technology will significantly enhance the capabilities of our self-driving cars. But perhaps more importantly, by collapsing the entire sensor down to a single chip, we’ll reduce the cost of each LIDAR on our self-driving cars by 99%.

Strobe’s LIDAR sensors provide both accurate distance and velocity information, which can be checked against similar information from a RADAR sensor for redundancy. RADARs typically also provide distance and velocity information and operate under more challenging weather conditions, but they lack the angular resolution needed to make certain critical maneuvers at speed. When used together, cameras, LIDARs, and RADARs can complement each other to create a robust and fault-tolerant sensing suite that operates in a wide range of environmental and lighting conditions.

 


India stock market could triple in a decade

” … The sectors poised to benefit the most are consumer-oriented and financials. Total online shoppers in India are set to skyrocket from 60 million to 475 million in 2027, while online retail as a percentage of total retail will grow even faster, from 2.2% today to 12.1% in a decade. Unsurprisingly, Amazon.com, China’s Alibaba Group Holding and South Africa’s Naspers have been aggressively investing billions of dollars in India. Morgan Stanley figures Softbank alone has invested some $46 billion in local e-commerce and on-line payments, ride-hailing, and real estate platforms.

As for the financials, Morgan Stanley sees total loans increasing 11 percentage points to 78% of GDP by 2027; total mutual fund assets under management jumping more than ten-fold over the same period; and collected life and general insurance premiums spiking, as well. Fin-tech companies should see exponential growth …”


Bitcoin’s academic pedigree

Nakamoto’s genius, then, wasn’t any of the individual components of bitcoin, but rather the intricate way in which they fit together to breathe life into the system. The timestamping and Byzantine agreement researchers didn’t hit upon the idea of incentivizing nodes to be honest, nor, until 2005, of using proof of work to do away with identities. Conversely, the authors of hashcash, b-money, and bit gold didn’t incorporate the idea of a consensus algorithm to prevent double spending. In bitcoin, a secure ledger is necessary to prevent double spending and thus ensure that the currency has value. A valuable currency is necessary to reward miners. In turn, strength of mining power is necessary to secure the ledger. Without it, an adversary could amass more than 50 percent of the global mining power and thereby be able to generate blocks faster than the rest of the network, double-spend transactions, and effectively rewrite history, overrunning the system. Thus, bitcoin is bootstrapped, with a circular dependence among these three components. Nakamoto’s challenge was not just the design, but also convincing the initial community of users and miners to take a leap together into the unknown—back when a pizza cost 10,000 bitcoins and the network’s mining power was less than a trillionth of what it is today.

The history described here offers rich (and complementary) lessons for practitioners and academics. Practitioners should be skeptical of claims of revolutionary technology. As shown here, most of the ideas in bitcoin that have generated excitement in the enterprise, such as distributed ledgers and Byzantine agreement, actually date back 20 years or more. Recognize that your problem may not require any breakthroughs—there may be long-forgotten solutions in research papers.

Academia seems to have the opposite problem, at least in this instance: a resistance to radical, extrinsic ideas. The bitcoin white paper, despite the pedigree of many of its ideas, was more novel than most academic research. Moreover, Nakamoto didn’t care for academic peer review and didn’t fully connect it to its history. As a result, academics essentially ignored bitcoin for several years. Many academic communities informally argued that Bitcoin couldn’t work, based on theoretical models or experiences with past systems, despite the fact that it was working in practice.

The lessons of Leonardo: How to be a creative genius

Be curious about everything. Leonardo’s most distinctive trait was his passionate, playful and occasionally obsessive curiosity. He made lists in his notebooks of hundreds of subjects, both marvelous and mundane, that he wanted to explore…Some of his curiosity involved phenomena so commonplace that we rarely pause to wonder about them. “Why is the fish in the water swifter than the bird in the air when it ought to be the contrary, since the water is heavier and thicker than the air?”

Observe attentively. His curiosity was aided by the sharpness of his eye, which focused on things that the rest of us barely notice. One night he saw lightning flash behind some buildings and for that instant they looked smaller, so he launched a series of experiments to verify that objects look smaller when surrounded by light.

The best reason to learn from Leonardo, however, is not to get a better job but to live a better life. Having immersed myself in his world for several years, I have resolved to be more observant of phenomena that I used to ignore.

Company Notes 2017.10.13

LPI Capital Q3 FY2017 Results

“With its diversified distribution channels especially its strong agency network, Lonpac has continued to build its market share in the newly liberalised environment. Its gross premium income for the third quarter grew by 34.6% to RM416.6 million from RM309.6 million registered in the previous corresponding quarter. Lonpac’s profit before tax for the quarter under review similarly registered an impressive 20.3% jump to RM102.4 million from RM85.1 million previously. With its prudent underwriting policy and costs control measures, Lonpac managed to improve its combined ratio to a new record low of 63.9% for the third quarter of 2017, reduced from 65.0% reported in previous corresponding quarter. As a result, its underwriting profit registered a strong improvement by 19.9% to RM83.6 million from RM69.7 million previously, despite its claim incurred ratio having increased marginally to 40.3% from 38.9% previously.”

Lonpac has established a Digital Strategy Department to leverage on technology to distribute its products and to further enhance its services to our customers. We believe that investment in technology will enable us to further expand our business segment and strengthen our market position.


Zhulian Q3 FY2017 Results

We also look forward to improving the contribution from the MLM segments especially from our Thailand and Myanmar markets in order to drive growth momentum for overall Indochina market once we materialise our plan to enter Cambodia and Laos market. The Group will continue to adopt rationalisation in our business operations.


Atlan Holdings Q2 FY2018 Results

Duty free segment reported lower profit in current quarter and cumulative quarter as compared to the corresponding quarter and cumulative quarter in the previous year mainly due to lower revenue as lower demand from customers following the imposition of Goods and Services Tax at the border outlets and duty free zones with effect from 1 January 2017, coupled with higher management fee incurred. However, the decrease was partially offset by savings in transportation costs.


Top Glove Q4 FY2017 Results

The uptrend in sales revenue also came on the back of an increase in average selling prices (ASP) arising from a surge in raw material prices, as well as a strengthening of the USD over the course of FY2017. Additionally, more sales of nitrile gloves, which command a higher ASP, coupled with new capacity, also helped move sales revenue figures higher.

…the signing of a letter of intent to acquire the entire ordinary shares of Eastern Press Sdn Bhd, a printing and packaging material manufacturer for RM47.25mil. The proposed transaction is expected to provide the Group with synergistic benefits, enabling it to improve its supply chain coordination, thereby allowing for flexible planning and better delivery time in relation to the supply of packaging material for its glove products, as well as better cost and quality control.

Vitrox investing RM130mil to expand ops

According to Chu, the important growth segments are the automotive and telecommunication infrastructure industries.

“The report expects China to continue to be the world’s largest car market for the foreseeable future, and has upgraded its 2017 China forecast to 28 million units.”

“The total spending on endpoints and services will hit almost US$2 trillion in 2017.”

“We shipped out 106 units of advanced optical inspection and advanced x-ray inspection equipment for used in the electronic assembly industry. Only 1% of our shipment goes to the smart device segment. We are, therefore, not subjected to the volatility of sales in the smart device market. The second half of 2017 should see double-digit growth for all the four sectors over the same period last year and also the first half of this year.”


Choo Bee upbeat about steel price rally

“We have seen the price [of steel] really move up since July. It has hit [a five-year] high at the moment. At RM3,000 per tonne, it’s an extremely good price. It’s really a positive development for us. We’re seeing demand rising now. The construction industry is getting more active in the second half of the year. Since the third quarter, we have seen more orders coming in, and we expect the momentum to continue in the fourth quarter.”

Presently, its manufacturing segment makes up 40% of the group’s revenue, while its trading segment contributes the remaining 60%. The domestic market makes up the lion’s share or 95% of the group’s sales. Its only export market now is Singapore. Tan said Choo Bee intends to re-enter the US and the Middle East in the long run, but gave no timeline.

In the mean time, Choo Bee is looking to set up another new factory as part of its 10-year expansion plan. “Everything is still in planning stage … it will be in the Klang Valley. It will be near our existing warehouse in Kampar because we want to centralise everything. It makes more logistical sense,” Tan said. Choo Bee’s sole factory in Pengkalan, Perak, which produces about 110,000 tonnes per annum, is now running at about 75% capacity.


George Kent partners Siemens for HSR bid

Under the deal, George Kent and Siemens will form an engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) pre-consortium to prepare a joint offer on the EPC level to the special purpose company which shall bid for the development, financing, construction and technical operation and maintenance of the Kuala Lumpur-Singapore HSR.


Petronas Dagangan in joint venture to install EV charging stations

Through this tripartite partnership, Petronas Dagangan commits to install 100 ChargEV stations by 2018 and will explore strategic partnerships to increase the number of ChargEV stations gradually, in tandem with market demand. Petronas Dagangan will also look into installing solar PV panels at 100 selected stations. With this, the energy used to power the ChargEV stations will be fully renewable and completely carbon-free, making it truly green.


Rubber glove exports to hit all-time high

The Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association (Margma), in a statement yesterday, said it had increased this year’s export sales target to RM16.2bil amid strong demand from overseas. The figure is almost RM3bil higher than what was achieved in 2016.

“As of the present situation, all glove manufacturers are oversold and selling beyond their capacity to produce by over three or four months behind due to demand and labour shortage issues,” Margma president Denis Low Jau Foo told StarBiz when contacted yesterday.

Despite the challenges, Low said rubber glove exports from Malaysia are expected to reach close to 150 billion pieces this year. It is estimated that exports from Malaysia accounted for two-thirds of global consumption.

“This is the more recent factor apart from the continued increase in hygiene awareness among the population worldwide. In China, the government has been actively closing vinyl glove factories which do not comply with environmental regulations. Due to this, there has been a vacuum over the past few months from the reduction of producers in China today. And I expect China’s actions to continue further in the near future. Over there, it is the vinyl gloves while over here, we have the nitrile and latex rubber gloves.”

Charting Naza’s direction

The focus of the second generation was to put a framework of corporate governance and professional managers in place at the key business divisions of the group. Nasarudin says his late father had about 100 active companies when he passed away and the group had no holding company. The problem they faced was the need to consolidate everything over the past seven years and put the right structure in place.

Apart from the auto business, which accounts for 60% of group revenue, the group’s other large business interest is in property development. That division, headed by Faliq, has seen sales rise from RM200mil to about RM1bil and is said to be valued at RM3.5bil – ripe for a listing on the stock exchange. It has 400 acres of land for mixed integrated development in the Klang Valley, but the weak sentiment in the domestic market has forced it to look abroad for opportunities. “We are sitting on very strategic land bank and with Platinum Park, we are the second-largest land owner at KLCC. At KL Metropolis, we are sitting on over 70 acres. When it comes to prime land, we are taking our time in realising that value,” says Faliq.


Malaysia Airlines mulls stake sale to another carrier

“It’s the trend these days; that’s what’s happening. Other airlines, they take a portion of somebody else, get really close [working] together … what it does is it generally lifts overall value, and you have other commercial operation opportunities, maybe you can have joint purchasing, maybe you cooperate on aircraft, you have the same product line, that’s the trend where the industry is going, and it makes a lot of sense. It allows for balanced growth. If you look around the world, a lot don’t have partners in Southeast Asia.”

Bellew acknowledged that Malaysia Airlines will remain loss-making in FY17 which is within expectations. “I think we are on track to be profitable in the second half of next year.”

Malaysia addressing inaccurate claims in EU draft palm oil report

The European Parliament had also endorsed the certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) plan for Europe-bound vegetable oil exports to ensure that they are produced in an environmentally sustainable way.

Describing the draft report as the “wish list” of MEPs, Kalyana stressed that the EU Parliament has no rule-making authority. “It’s not a EU policy; it’s just recommendation from the parliament,” Mossenlechner told reporters.

The resolution calls for the EU to discontinue the usage of vegetable oils in biodiesel by 2020 on the grounds that they were allegedly produced in an unsustainable manner leading to deforestation.


Digital banking penetration to exceed 60% by 2018

This was well below the more than 90% penetration seen in South Korea, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan, but above the rates of Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

“Phase one of fintech disruption involved fintech start-ups disrupting the banking industry by offering their services directly to consumers, completely independent of banking industry players. However, now fintechs have realised how costly it is to acquire customers on their own, so there is a shift seen in these start-ups to providing business-to-business solutions, so they are looking for partnerships with bigger and more established banking players to offer customers a joint value proposition.”


Here’s why Malaysians can’t afford a house

Just 20 percent of new Malaysian housing launches in the first quarter were priced below 250,000 ringgit ($59,000), down from 33 percent between 2010 and 2014, according to the central bank’s “Housing Watch” website. The bulk of new homes cost between 250,000 ringgit and 500,000 ringgit. The median annual household income is estimated at around 63,000 ringgit.

Only about half of people living in Kuala Lumpur own a home, while nationwide the number was 72.5 percent at the last census in 2010. Demand is set to rise: the median age of Malaysia’s 31.7 million people is 28 years and the nation’s urban population is growing at an average 4 percent a year, among the fastest pace in East Asia, according to the World Bank.

“The focus should be on building houses which people can afford, not building expensive houses and then trying to push them, and then complaining that the banks are not giving loans,” he said. “The reason people are having problems getting loans is because the houses are not affordable. It’s beyond their repayment” ability, he said.


ABM ‘strongly refutes’ recent REHDA claim on difficulty to secure housing loans

The overall housing loan approval rates remains high at 73% of the applications in the second quarter of 2017. Furthermore, ABM said 72% of the housing loan borrowers are first-time house owners under the affordable home category.

ABM said its 27 member banks take an average of two to nine working days to process a housing loan application with complete documentation submitted by the applicant. “Therefore, the 60 to 90 days taken for loans approval as stated by Rehda is not reflective of the speedy approval process of housing loans by banks.”


Malaysians’ median monthly household income rises to RM5,228 in 2016

Seven states surpassed the national median monthly household income of RM5,228, namely, the Federal Territory (FT) Kuala Lumpur (RM9,073) FT Putrajaya (RM8,275), Selangor (RM7,225), FT Labuan (RM5,928), Johor (RM5,652), Melaka (RM5,588) and Penang (RM5,409).

On consumption expenditure, he said Malaysians spent an average RM4,033 a month, an increase of 6% from 2014. “Almost 70% was spent on four main groups, namely, housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (24%), food and non-alcoholic beverages (18%), transport (13.7%) and restaurants and hotels (13.4%). The scenario is in line with the composition of a developed country’s spending pattern.”


Malaysia should ease migration policy

“In receiving countries, foreign workers can fill labour shortages and promote sustained economic growth, if migration policies are aligned with their economic needs. Inappropriate policies and ineffective institutions mean that the region is missing opportunities to gain fully from migration. These restrictive policies are partly influenced by the perception that an influx of migrants would have negative impacts on receiving economies. However, there is evidence to the contrary.”

All said, Malaysia and Singapore have the lowest international labour mobility costs in Asean, which reflect their openess to globalisation, their efforts to develop migration system that meet labour market needs and their geogrphic centrality in the region.


Minimum wage to go up

This would be the second time in three years that minimum wage levels in the country have been revised. In July 2016, The minimum salary was raised to RM1,000 from RM900 in Peninsular Malaysia, and to RM920 from RM800 in Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan.

“We know that the minimum wages order must be reviewed at least once in two years. The review will look at the ability of the employer to pay the minimum wage which is a responsibility that is very challenging to ensure that the minimum wage policy meets all objectives”, Riot was quoted by Bernama as saying.

Curated Insights 2017.10.08

Alibaba’s Cainiao fee potential huge, loss ‘negligible’?

Most investors know Cainiao for its data and software business. This has been a critical element behind the success of BABA and eCommerce adoption in China, addressing several friction points in the logistics supply chain. Key issues include China not having a reliable postal code system and the systems dependence on paper weigh bills. Data is scattered, non-standardized and assets are highly fragmented (over 90% of logistics vehicles in China are owned by individuals). Cainiao’s Data Intelligent Network was built to utilize data and technology to coordinate resources across a vast supply chain. In just a three year time frame, adoption of eShipping labels has grown from single digits to +70% and is approaching ubiquity. This is enabling real-time data and tracking across the entire delivery chain…”

“… While Cainiao is seeing tremendous growth providing fulfillment services to merchants, we see potential for an Fulfillment By Amazon (FBA)/Prime-like flywheel with closer alignment of Cainiao and Tmall. We estimate that Amazon.com charges merchants 16% of GMV [gross merchandise value] on average for FBA services, compared to Tmall commissions at 2.2% of reported GMV last year…”


Amazon’s war to the door

Even without mass purchases of jets, trucks and couriers, the package preparation and delivery process is growing more expensive for the company. Amazon’s fulfillment costs — the company’s spending on packaging-and-distribution centers and related expenses – were $8.87 billion in the nine months ended Sept. 30, or 12.4 percent of the company’s net sales in the period. In 2012, they were 10.5 percent of net sales. Amazon’s costs for shipping are also creeping up, from 8.4 percent of revenue in 2012 to 11.7 percent in the three months ended Sept. 30.


Why restaurants hate GrubHub Seamless

Seamless takes a percentage, not a flat fee, of the total food and beverage amount, even though its involvement is the same whether an order is for $10 or $250. When you search for restaurants on Seamless, you may have noticed that, in the default view, the results appear to be random, but they’re actually arranged by who paid what. The more results there are, the harder it is for a restaurant to stand out—which makes restaurants likelier to pay more to increase their exposure.

“Their sales rep makes it perfectly clear that you need to pay a minimum of 20% to exist, and the more you pay, the more you appear in the first pages. Even by paying over 30%, we’re only on the second or third page. So some restaurants pay even more than that! But we could feel the difference when we jumped from 15% to over 30%: We multiplied by 10 our orders from day 1. We don’t make money on Seamless, however. Thirty percent is our break-even point. But it’s helpful for marketing—maybe a customer will try us and then come back in person. I don’t know why anyone would pay anything other than the minimum, because what’s the point of paying 17% to get on the seventh page of results?”

Tech giants play the Game of Thrones

Facebook has pulled off this incredible hat trick with what is arguably the best acquisition in technology in the past 20 years, and that’s Instagram. At the time, people were saying that the child-CEO has really screwed up here and paid $1 billion for a company with only 19 people. By most standards, if you try to value Instagram now, it’s probably worth somewhere between $60 billion and $150 billion. So it has put an afterburner effect on the company, as has likely WhatsApp. They keep finding growth.

If we were to look at everything you have ever put in that search query box, we would probably come to the conclusion that you trust Google more than any priest, rabbi, boss, mentor, coach, professor. If something goes wrong with your kid, your whole world stops. You start praying and you look for some sort of divine intervention that sees everything and then sends you back an answer. Will my kid be all right? So you type “symptoms and treatment of croup” into Google. We trust Google more than any other entity. It is our god.

The way you identify an industry ripe for disruption is you look at whether the price increases are greater than inflation and justified with underlying innovation. The one industry that is most ripe for disruption is education. I think Apple’s roots in education give it unbelievable license to go into that business. I mean, my class generates $160,000 in tuition for each night I teach. They don’t pay me that much. My agent, NYU, takes a 97% commission on that. But when you think about that, it’s ridiculous, and it has some very negative outcomes for our society in the form of debt on young people. So what could Apple do to really change their role and to think different? Start the largest creatively driven low-cost university in the world.

Margrethe Vestager, the commissioner on competition in the European Union, seems to be the only regulator in the world who is levying real fines against these people. You are going to see the first $10 billion-plus fine against one of these four companies in the next 12 months, and it is going to come out of Europe. The real estate isn’t going up in Hamburg. It’s going up in Palo Alto. America gets a lot of the benefits of these four companies, with some of the downside. Europe gets all of the downside and not much upside. The war is going to start, as it has throughout history, on the continent of Europe.

 

Bulldozers can show you where the economy’s going before the official data do

It’s released around the tenth of each month, faster than almost any other economic data. For Japan, the figures have a good correlation with industrial production data, which shows the output and sales of the nation’s industrial giants like Toyota Motor Corp., Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., and Komatsu itself.

The company collects data from about 140,000 machines in operation in Japan, 110,000 in China, 50,000 in Europe and 70,000 in North America. Rival Caterpillar Inc collects the same kind of data but doesn’t disclose it due to its customer contracts, according to a company spokesperson in Japan.

“It does work as a reference point,” said Yoshikazu Shimada, an analyst at Tachibana Securities Co. in Tokyo who covers Komatsu. “It shows data on public sector works, and data on China especially affects the global economic overview. Komtrax is part of the data that shows you what state the world economy is in.”


Warren Buffett and truck stops are a perfect match

It was No. 15 on the Forbes list of America’s largest private companies, and the chain’s 750 locations across North America generate more than $20 billion of annual revenue.

In fact, gas-station chains are known to have the kind of stable, predictable earnings and business longevity (perhaps even in a self-driving-truck world) that Buffett seeks in takeover targets. Their margins on gas sales go up when oil prices drop. And as fuel margins became more volatile over the past year, the major chains have turned to acquisitions to gain scale and reduce that volatility, as well as spending to upgrade locations.

This is why it makes sense for Pilot Flying J to have the financial backing of Berkshire amid the competitive pressure. Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., the owner of Circle K, has been scooping up convenience-store businesses in Europe and North America, such as CST Brands for $4.4 billion in a deal that closed in June. Earlier this year, Seven & i Holdings Co., owner of 7-Eleven, bought about 1,100 Sunoco shops and gas retailers to expand its U.S. footprint.

Will new tariffs dim the solar-power boom?

Solar power generates only a pittance of U.S. electricity—about 1%. But it’s growing at a furious rate, accounting for 39% of new electricity generation in the U.S. last year, more than any other source. From 2010 to mid-2017, the total installed solar capacity in the U.S. leaped from 2.3 gigawatts to 47.1 gigawatts, enough to power 9.1 million homes, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, or SEIA, a trade group. That boom was fueled by government subsidies and a decline in the price of solar cells, which have dropped 40% since the start of 2015.

Petri says tariffs would do more harm than good because they will drive up cell prices. “Will that add jobs? Not likely,” he wrote. “High tariffs will just raise the prices of imported panels and kill installation jobs.” While the industry employs about 260,000 people, 65% of those are in installation or sales, according to a 2016 report issued by the nonprofit Solar Foundation. Only 38,000 work in manufacturing. Because of that imbalance, tariff opponents say it’s much more likely that tariffs will hurt overall U.S. employment than help it.

But couldn’t tariffs persuade Chinese manufacturers to shift production to the U.S., thus boosting employment? Petri is skeptical, particularly because the tariffs are temporary. Foreign manufacturers won’t spend money on building U.S. factories that will become obsolete so fast, he argues.

First Solar’s thin-film technology has always been cheaper than silicon, and the company is launching a new series of panels that will be even more cost-effective. If tariffs raise the price umbrella of competing silicon modules, First Solar can raise its own prices and still go to utility-scale developers and offer to rescue their stranded projects with its thin-film panels. Every penny of these price boosts would fall to its bottom line, and it could demand equity in those projects.


Europe hits Ireland over $15B in unpaid Apple taxes; Luxembourg liable for $294M in Amazon taxes

“Ireland has to recover up to 13 billion euros in illegal State aid from Apple,” she said, referring to this 2016 ruling on the tax issue for the most valuable tech company in the world, which Ireland had appealed. “However, more than one year after the Commission adopted this decision, Ireland has still not recovered the money, also not in part. We of course understand that recovery in certain cases may be more complex than in others, and we are always ready to assist. But Member States need to make sufficient progress to restore competition. That is why we have today decided to refer Ireland to the EU Court for failing to implement our decision.”

“Luxembourg gave illegal tax benefits to Amazon. As a result, almost three-quarters of Amazon’s profits were not taxed. In other words, Amazon was allowed to pay four times less tax than other local companies subject to the same national tax rules,” she said in a statement. “This is illegal under EU State aid rules. Member States cannot give selective tax benefits to multinational groups that are not available to others.”

Yes, You get wiser with age

Empirical studies have shown that older people are better than younger ones in terms of control over emotion, knowing themselves better, making better decisions that require experience, and having more compassion and empathy towards others.

There are quite a few strategies, and again, these are for successful physical aging, cognitive aging, psychosocial aging. There is strong evidence in favor of them. One is calorie restriction. Second is physical activity, exercise. Very important. Even people in wheelchairs can have some physical activity. Then there is keeping your brain active, do something that is somewhat challenging. Not too stressful, but somewhat challenging. There is socialization, an appropriate degree of socializing. Then comes attitude and behavior, resilience, optimism, compassion, doing things for others, volunteering activities. What they do is they give a purpose to life, and that makes you happier. And there are other strategies like meditation for reducing stress.

Company Notes 2017.10.06

iCapital.biz Q1 FY2018 Results

For top-down/market-timing investors, while Malaysia’s economic growth prospects for the next 12-18 months look bright, there are potential headwinds in the form of an elevated inflation rate, an uncertain political landscape and further US monetary tightening.

Bison ventures into food production

“There is increasing demand for convenient access to retail stores that offer a variety of quality products and services. Therefore, these JVs are in line with Bison’s growth and expansion strategy.”

Dang said some RM50 million worth of investment will be going into building the five-level food processing factory in Rawang, which is targeted to start operations in the first quarter of 2019. “[A selection] of products will be available on a trial and research basis, but the full scale of [offerings] will be rolled out in the first quarter of 2019, which is when the food processing facility will be fully operational.”

“This FY, we have grown our ready-to-eat food business from 8% to 11% of our revenue contribution. Upon the commencement of the first year of production, we expect it to grow to about 15% of our revenue.”


Bison ups the ante

A five-level factory with a built-up area of more than 130,000 sq ft will now be constructed. It is located 500 metres from Bison’s current distribution centre, which augurs well for management and logistics efficiencies. The 100% halal manufacturing facility is targeted to supply 150 stores in 2019, and will have a full supply capacity of up to 600 stores.

GK, a Tokyo Stock Exchange-listed company, is one of the largest in-flight meal caterers in Japan, supplying to 38 airlines, and also owns a restaurant chain operation with more than 400 stores in and out of Japan. On the other hand, Ryoyupan is one of the top-five players in the Japanese bakery industry and the biggest on Kyushu Island.


The rise and rise of JF Technology

“Demand for microchips is not only dependent on consumer spending, which drives the smartphones and computer sales. Now there is emerging demand from the automotive and IoT (internet of things) sectors.”

JF Technology is involved in the design and manufacture of test probes and test sockets for the semiconductor industry. For one, testing equipment such as test probes and sockets are wear-and-tear products that need to be changed frequently. For another, semiconductor giants such as Texas Instruments that designs chips would constantly develop new products regardless of market conditions. As a test socket design and manufacturer, JF Tech provides customised solutions for the chips developer to test their products. Once the chip prototype is acceptable, it will then goes into high volume manufacturing (HVM).

“We believe Zigma product would be a game changer for the company, as well as the testing industry. This is because Zigma product has a different approach, which it avoids wear on the board and make the testing process more efficient.” He says that the law suit has affected the company’s sales in the US and profitability. JF Tech generates about 65% of its sales from the overseas market. Foong says that the company is currently operating at 40% of its capacity, as such JF Tech is unlikely to pump any new capital expenditure for few years.


SunCon, WCT, Gabungan AQRS bag LRT3 contracts

SunCon announced to Bursa Malaysia yesterday that it had been awarded a RM2.18 billion contract, boosting its outstanding order book to RM6.5 billion — the highest ever since its inception. The contract is SunCon’s fourth elevated rail project, its largest single project in 36 years. The scope of work includes 9.2km of viaduct works, construction of six stations, and the design and building of an iconic cable-stayed bridge over the Klang River.


United Malacca confident of finalising Sulawesi land buy

“The first priority is to plant stevia and coconut, followed by cocoa and coffee, which are subject to the land topography and soil type.”

At the same time, Tan also said the development of the Central Sulawesi land is expected to incur higher capital expenditure, which could result in lower dividend payments compared with the previous years.


MAHB: Five new airlines coming to KLIA

“I just come back from the World Routes Forum 2017 in Barcelona, Spain where multiple discussion were had and I am hopeful that at least five more new airlines will join us next year. As you know, we are always actively looking for partners and new airlines to come join us, for 2017 we already saw eight new airlines joining us and since everything in aviation is seasonal, we are not expecting any more new airlines for the rest of the year.”

“Our original (growth) forecast (for passenger volume) was at six per cent this year but we have revised that to eight per cent, and I believe we may end up at some 90 million this year for Malaysia as a whole. For airports, we have the volume but we need more capacity (upgrading) for airports infrastructure and that’s something that the government has to look into.”


KLIA Aeropolis to see RM500m investment in next two years

The 60-acre (24.28ha) Aeropolis, which is part of the Digital Free Trade Zone (DFTZ) launched by the government in March this year, will also house Alibaba Group’s e-commerce hub for Southeast Asia. Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd and Alibaba’s logistics arm, Cainiao Network, will be jointly establishing the trans-shipment hub there.

Liow said 20 of the world’s top 25 freight forwarders will have operations in the Aeropolis.

“It is estimated that a 20% increase in ICT investment will result in around 1.4% GDP growth for Malaysia,” Liow added.

Fitch expects Malaysian banks to offer higher rates on longer-term FDs

The NSFR metric focuses on a 12-month timeframe and is likely to encourage banks to compete more aggressively for even longer-tenor deposits, and shift towards long-term wholesale debt funding.

The ratings agency noted that Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) has said that more than three-quarters of Malaysian banks have an NSFR that meets the minimum requirement, which will be set at 100%.

The banking sector’s loan/deposit ratio of 89% and liquidity coverage ratio (LCR) of 133% at end-August 2017 indicate that the system’s aggregate funding and liquidity are reasonably healthy.


KWAP mulls investment in Alibaba Group

“We have an asset allocation and, at the moment, investment in the tech space is still well below the asset allocation limit. We are trying to limit it to no more than 1% of our asset allocation in the tech space. At the moment, it’s just US$70 million (RM296.1 million). Our fund size is over RM100 billion.”

“KWAP has only ventured into the tech space recently. Two years ago, we invested in Uber. We have another two more tech funds that we have invested in. This is part of our familiarisation with the industry. So far, to date, we have put in about US$70 million: US$30 million with Uber and another US$40 million with two tech funds … we can do a bit more and we would like to have more involvement in this space. We have learnt a lot along the way and, with that, I think we can step up and make more productive investments moving forward.”


Property lending rule from 1997 is still relevant

“IBs, in demanding for this guideline to be ‘scrapped’, are taking a short-term view and should consider the long-term systemic implications of an over-exposure to the property sector and not narrowly focus on their own commercial gains. We should not be oblivious to the many lessons learnt from the Asian and global financial crises,” Bank Negara said in the statement.

The guideline, introduced on April 1, 1997, is for all commercial, Islamic and investment banks. In short, it stipulates that a bank’s credit facilities — meaning all forms of lending, including the issue of guarantees, private debt securities and commercial papers — to the BPS should not exceed 20% of its total outstanding loan base. Compliance to this requirement is calculated on a quarterly basis.


World Bank warns M’sia of pockets of risks

The World Bank in its semi-annual review of the region’s developing economies pointed out that the ongoing adjustments to the rising costs of living amid continued fiscal consolidation and elevated household indebtedness could weigh on the strength of private consumption in Malaysia. These deficits are especially worrying in cases where public debt is also high or rising. It is a combination of the two that poses risks to fiscal sustainability as the combination narrows governments’ policy space for responding to shocks.


World Bank sees currency risk in Malaysia

Monetary authorities need to be prepared to tighten their policy stance if capital outflows prompt currency weakness. In the case of depreciation pressures in China, authorities should allow greater adjustment through relative prices and closely monitor financial sector vulnerabilities as monetary policy further tightens.

Curated Insights 2017.10.01

Alibaba takes control of delivery business at center of U.S. probe

China’s largest web marketplace agreed to increase its stake in Cainiao Smart Logistics Network Ltd. to 51 percent. Under the deal, Alibaba plans to consolidate Cainiao’s financials into its own books, eroding Alibaba’s bottom line, and will get an additional seat on Cainiao’s board, taking its representation to four out of seven seats.

It oversees a coterie of more than a dozen shipping partners, orchestrating deliveries carried out by about 2 million people across more than 600 cities. Cainiao’s operation had enabled Alibaba to maintain what it called an asset-light model that eschewed expensive warehouse construction.

“They’re realizing that it’s much more capital-intensive than they expected to build this out. Right now they are essentially obligating themselves to report profit and loss on the income statement every quarter, which they probably should have been doing.”


A small-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone

This comparison is apt: the Watch is effectively stealing usage from the iPhone. At first it took alerts, timekeeping, and basic messaging away. Now it’s taking basic phone calls and music and maybe maps.

It’s fitting therefore to remember how the iPhone was launched; as a tentpole troika: A wide-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone. Today the new Watch is a small-screen iPod, an Internet Communicator and a Phone.

So not only is the Series 3 Watch more powerful than the original iPhone but it is also poetically capable of the same tentpole jobs. But it’s not just a miniature iPhone. It has a new, completely orthogonal attack on non-consumption and market creation: fitness and health. This is a key point. The iPhone was born a phone but grew up to be something completely unprecedented, unforeseen by its creators and, frankly, undescribable in the language of 2007.


Forget the Swiss, it’s Fossil that Apple is threatening

In the watch world, the Fossil Group is a giant. It has 17 brands: six of its own (Fossil, Skagen, etc.) and 11 licensed brands (Michael Kors, Emporio Armani, Tory Burch, etc.) In 2014, it was on a roll, achieving a fifth consecutive year of record revenues, at $3.51 billion. Watches accounted for 78% of that.

Then along came Apple. Suddenly, Fossil was competing with a monster 67 times bigger than it was (measured by revenues). “Prior to that, we were clearly positioned as the competitively advantaged leader in a growing category,” Fossil CEO Kosta Kartsotis told financial analysts in February. “However, with the introduction of technology into wrist devices, traditional watches came under pressure and we were disadvantaged. We didn’t have the technology capabilities to compete with smartwatches, leading to a decline in our market.”

“I haven’t met with anybody [in Switzerland] yet who sees this [downturn] as anything other than a slump,” he told me in March. “They don’t see the threat from the smartwatch.” Apple will continue to perfect the smartwatch, he says. “By version 3 or 4, everyone will be thinking this is a good thing to have. Forty to 80 million people will want this.”


Siemens to merge rail operations with French rival Alstom

Siemens will transfer its business making train and transit cars and signaling equipment to Alstom in exchange for a 50 percent stake in the enlarged company.

The combination will give the German company control of an icon of French industry that developed the high-speed TGV trains that zip across the countryside at upwards of 300 kilometers an hour (186 miles per hour)…Capping years of speculation in the industry about the need for consolidation, the tie up could mirror the emergence of European planemaker Airbus in the 1970s that went on to become the biggest competitor to Boeing Co.

Now, the companies’ tie up comes after Chinese dominance of the train market has solidified. CRRC controls about half of the rail car and locomotive market, while Siemens and Bombardier each have about 12 percent and Alstom around 11 percent, according to Desjardins Capital Markets. The Chinese company was formed in 2015 in a merger of the country’s two main regional train manufacturers and it has won rail orders in U.S. cities such as Boston, Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

China gives automakers more time in world’s biggest EV plan

Under the so-called cap-and-trade policy, automakers must obtain a new-energy vehicle score — which is linked to the production of various types of zero- and low-emission vehicles — of at least 10 percent starting in 2019, rising to 12 percent in 2020, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said on its website. The rule applies to carmakers that manufacture or import more than 30,000 traditional vehicles annually, and those who fail to comply must buy credits or face fines.

The targets look achievable for the industry as a whole, McKerracher said. Considering the credit structure, 12 percent in 2020 would translate to about 4 percent to 5 percent of actual vehicle sales.


Why India will tell us when self-driving cars will hit the US

When will self-driving cars arrive? Depends on who you ask. The VCs believe what they’re told by their portfolio companies. Automakers will say anything to inflate their stock price relative to Tesla. Self-driving evangelists and “keynote speakers” on LinkedIn? Broken clocks not yet right even once. The media? There are still less than ten people writing intelligently on a market expected to hit $7 trillion.

Population density is so high that no current Automatic Emergency Braking system could possibly work in traffic, because no car equipped with it would ever move. What about Blind Spot Monitoring systems? They’d be lighting up and chiming so much, you’d have to disable them.

That Indian roads are more dangerous than America’s is obvious, and beside the point. No government ever eases traffic safety laws. Indian traffic fatalities in 2013 approached 240,000, in a country of 1.3 billion. That’s 16.6 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year. For those numbers to go down, people have to have choices that lead to them to safety. In a country where the majority have never owned a car, where two wheelers dominate and road conditions are terrible, getting people into any car will improve overall safety.


Learning effects, network effects, and runaway leaders

Learning effects have the potential to generate enormous economic value, as network effects do, if companies are able to close this loop and make it self-reinforcing: that is, if their products learn more because they have become more valuable.

In order for learning effects to produce runaway leaders, a company must secure a definitive advantage over its competitors in one of the component areas of learning effects – data, intelligence, product innovation or user/customer growth – and leverage this into advantages in the others, such that the company can acquire data, learn, innovate and grow not only more rapidly than its competitors do, but more rapidly than they can.

Certain products – particularly those built on highly dynamic datasets – may have perpetual learning curves such that in a rapidly changing world, they can always be meaningfully improved. It’s around these kinds of products that the most valuable runaway leaders will likely develop. Potential examples include search, semantic engines, adaptive autonomous systems and applications requiring a comprehensive real-time understanding of the world.

How Europe’s changes to copyright law will affect America

The goal of these copyright changes is to adopt new protections for publishers and artists. But if they are put in place, the burdens they would place on internet platforms would curtail the kind of quick uploading, sharing, commenting and responding that makes the Web so useful. Additionally, we have no reason to believe that these new plans would actually benefit the journalists and artists in whose name the measures are being proposed.

Yet a lot more is at stake than the fate of Google or Facebook. Those companies at least can afford the cost of complying with (or avoiding) Europe’s copyright proposals. Smaller businesses can’t. For example, medium-sized internet platforms pay between $10,000 and $25,000 a month in licensing fees for a common tool that conducts a copyright scan of uploaded audio files, an impost that could wipe out a new startup.


India: A $6T GDP By 2027?

The government and the Central Bank are on a mission to rapidly formalize and financialize the Indian economy. India has introduced a universal biometric identification system (Aadhaar), initiated measures to boost financial inclusion, moved to a new fully online value-added goods and services tax system and implemented real-time payment systems. Coupled with rising smartphone penetration, likely doubling from 300 million to nearly 700 million by 2020, these changes are driving India’s digitization. We expect a step change in India’s per capita income, banking system and stock market performance over the coming years. The channels of change include more financial penetration, greater tax compliance and increased credit to micro enterprises and consumers.

The result could be a multi-trillion dollar investment opportunity. Aside from the near-term teething issues involved in execution of such big changes and other cyclical problems faced by the economy, there is scope for visible shifts in economic activity starting in 2018.


We’re going to need more lithium

By 2030, Tianqi Lithium, SQM, Albemarle, and FMC, the companies that dominate the business, will have to supply enough lithium to feed the equivalent of 35 plants the size of the Tesla Gigafactory now being built in Nevada, according to BNEF. The total investment in new mines, including some for other elements used in lithium ion batteries, will likely range from $350 billion to $750 billion, according to analysts at researcher Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.


 

Our hankering for meat is a boon for global antibiotic producers

Food animals will consume 200,235 tons of antimicrobial medicines by 2030, 53 percent more than they were getting in 2013, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science. China, already the world’s largest consumer of veterinary antimicrobials, is forecast to lead the charge, with a 59 percent jump.

Limiting daily meat intake worldwide to the equivalent of one standard fast-food burger per person could reduce global consumption of antimicrobials in food animals by 66 percent, the researchers said.

37 quotes from big corporate execs who laughed off disruption when it hit

“Amazon.com is a very interesting retail concept, but wait till you see what Wal-Mart is gearing up to do,” he said [IBM Chairman, Louis V. Gerstner Jr.]. Mr. Gerstner noted that last year IBM’s Internet sales were five times greater than Amazon’s. Mr. Gerstner boasted that IBM “is already generating more revenue, and certainly more profit, than all of the top Internet companies combined.”

The Apple watch is an interesting toy, but not a revolution,” said Swatch executive Nick Hayek Jr., speaking to a Swiss newspaper. “I personally don’t want my blood pressure and blood sugar values stored in the cloud, or on servers in Silicon Valley … I cannot accept the responsibility of whether my device warns a customer in time before a heart attack.”

“Apple is like a mutant virus, escaping from the traditional structure of the PC industry, but the industry will still eventually build up immunity, thus further blocking this trend, and we believe the size of the non-Apple camp will exceed Apple’s, because this is how the industry normally evolves.”

“Television won’t be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.”


So few market winners, so much dead weight

Only 4 percent of all publicly traded stocks account for all of the net wealth earned by investors in the stock market since 1926, he has found. A mere 30 stocks account for 30 percent of the net wealth generated by stocks in that long period, and 50 stocks account for 40 percent of the net wealth.

Once you actually find these rare companies, you have to hold on to them. This too is much more challenging than most realize. The stellar stocks tend to have regular, gut-wrenching price slumps; the big winners above have all suffered retreats of 50, 60 even 90 percent on the way to becoming the biggest winners. Most investors lack the fortitude and discipline to manage the pain of these severe price fluctuations.

Once you get through those two challenges, you have to decide when to jettison these winners since nothing continues forever. As Sommer points out, General Motors Co. was a star from 1926 on — that is, until it went bankrupt in June 2009 and basically wiped out equity investors. AT&T Inc., meanwhile, was broken into many smaller parts, some of which have done very well (Verizon Communications Inc.), while others not so much (Lucent).

As we have observed repeatedly, finding the very best companies to own is very difficult to do.


Some market myths hurt investors

Margin debt at all-time highs mean euphoria in the markets. Margin debt reflects the amount of borrowed money used to purchase securities in the markets. It sounds scary when people point to margin debt at an all-time high because that means investors are borrowing more money than ever to buy stocks. But this indicator doesn’t really tell us anything. As markets rise, margin debt will rise. As markets fall, margin debt will fall. All historical margin debt peaks tell you is that margin debt fell when stocks fell. The following chart is more useful, as it shows margin debt as a percentage of the overall market cap of the stock market. Margin debt is a backward-looking indicator that tells you nothing else beyond how the stock market has performed in the past.

Something’s gotta give between stocks and bonds. Investors often assume stocks or bonds are telling them something. So when both rise at the same time, the assumption is that either the equity or fixed-income market must be wrong. The problem with this line of thinking is that stocks and bonds both go up over time, and most of the time they go up at the same time.

Bonds always lose money when interest rates rise. Out of those 36 rising rate years, 27 had positive returns on five-year Treasuries. So three-quarters of the time when rates rose on a calendar-year basis, bonds still earned positive returns. Rising rates will lead to lower bond prices, but you have to think in terms of total returns to understand the relationship between bond performance and interest rates.