Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) is near a deal to sell its Malaysian banking stake to a pension fund and exit the Southeast Asian nation, sources familiar with the matter said, in a transaction that could be worth around US$900 million (S$1.24 billion).
ANZ has been pursuing a sale of its 24 per cent stake in its affiliate AMMB Holdings (AmBank) since early last year as part of a strategy to divest minority stakes in Asia and as AmBank was dragged into a corruption scandal at state fund 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB).
In June, RHB Bank and AmBank said they were starting merger talks, in Malaysia's biggest banking deal. As part of the all-share deal, valued at about US$9 billion, RHB is looking to acquire AmBank and the two banks are in exclusive talks until end-August. ANZ's stake is expected to be roughly 10 per cent in the merged entity.
ALMOND exports boomed in the first quarter of this year, according to a report released last week by Euromonitor International.
The report, compiled for Horticulture Innovation Australia, found almond export volumes increased 74 per cent from January to March this year in comparison with the corresponding period last year.
India was the dominant market in the period, taking more than 31 per cent of export volumes.
“India remained the largest export destination for Australian almonds with 1888 tonnes,” the report said.
“Australia exported 1309 tonnes of almond kernels to Spain, the second-largest export market in quarter one.”
Italy and Sweden, which did not import Australian almonds in the first quarter of last year, imported 233 tonnes and 137 tonnes respectively. in the first quarter of this year.
The report also found avocado exports had performed well in the first quarter of this year, increasing 10 per cent on last year.
Malaysia and Singapore remained the key export destinations for Australian avocados, representing 82 per cent of export volumes in this quarter.
“Only 5 per cent of domestic Australian avocado production is exported, predominantly destined for Asian markets,” the report said. “In 2016 Australia represented 50 per cent of Malaysia’s 2076 tonnes of imports, growing by 67 per cent from 2015.
“Imports have steadily grown year-on-year, because the hass variety of avocados supplied from Australia are preferred by customers.”
And Thailand and Japan will become export markets for avocados with Australia close to establishing export agreements with both countries.
Dried grape exports also lifted in the first quarter of this year, increasing 29 per cent.
Dried-grape export volumes to China and the US saw the most substantial growth at 2100 per cent and 1800 per cent during the quarter, increasing from a low base the previous year.
Horticulture Innovation Australia chief executive John Lloyd said the export data, which would continue to be released quarterly, was a useful tool for Australian exporters and those who aspired to trade.
“This trade performance data will give Australian growers the tools they need to gauge what is happening in markets around the world to identify potential market opportunities and, where necessary, adjust their farm operations and marketing accordingly,” Mr Lloyd said.
The new fleet of buses that will service Sydney's Northern Beaches has started to arrive in Australia.
The bright yellow double-decker buses are being test driven and assembled Malaysia, with two of them already on our shores.
The new Northern Beaches B-Line is due to open at the end of the year and will run from Newport to the CBD.
There are 11 stops, with services every five minutes in the morning and evening peaks.
"You won't have to worry about a timetable. Just get to the bus stop and get on a B-Line," NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance said.
"B-Line will be up and running by the end of this year. It's a half-billion dollar transport investment for the people of the Northern Beaches."
Designed by bus company Gemilang Australia, the MAN A95 chassis is manufactured in Germany and assembled in Malaysia.
The NSW government has ordered 38 of the buses, which they say will help reduce the 78,000 vehicles travelling on Military Road each day.
The buses will cater for 100 passengers, with 85 seated and 15 standing. A standard bus has room for 44 seated passengers, while a "bendy bus" has 64 seats.
There is also significant infrastructure being built along the B-Line route, with new bus lanes, turning bays and six new commuter car parks with about 900 spaces.
Carparks are under construction at Brookvale, Warriewood, Manly Vale and Dee Why.
PETALING JAYA: Over a third of Malaysian companies expect the current challenging business conditions to continue over the next 12 months, according to the latest survey by Australia’s QBE Insurance Group Ltd.
In a report titled “The Risks of Regret”, the insurer noted about 37% of the respondents predict a slowdown in their business, and 36% of them also foresee higher input costs and low profitability.
Meanwhile, over a quarter, about 28%, of Malaysian firms surveyed expect to see increased advancement investment in technology and innovation to impact their business.
The survey was conducted between April and May this year with some 300 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and large corporations across various industries in Malaysia.
QBE Insurance (M) Bhd chief executive officer Leo Zanolini (pic) said amid the current economic challenges and increasing pressure to invest in new technologies, companies need to ensure they are safeguarding their business adequately.
“Many Malaysian companies only take action to address business liability risks after experiencing an incident,” he told a media briefing yesterday.
“We were surprised to see a pattern which shows that companies are likely to take out business liability insurance only after a crisis hits,” Zanolini added.
In the past 12 months, the most frequent risks faced by Malaysian companies included legal and regulatory compliance issues (28%), loss of income due to business interruption (27%), staff injuries while working (24%), damaged or loss of inventory (22%), equipment breakdown (21%) and public or third-party liability due to issues with products or services (18%).
Based on the report, some of the reasons on why the Malaysian companies do not own business liability insurance, include their businesses are too small and the costs are bigger than the risks (45%), budget issues (41%) and some even cited that they have other business priorities (29%).
Zanolini also noted that while awareness of general business insurance is high, that of business liability and professional indemnity insurance is still low.
Nearly all Malaysian respondents (96%) have some form of business insurance, including general accident and employees’ compensation cover.
“However, the awareness and take-up of business liability insurance protection is far lower,” he said.
The report found that less than half (45%) of Malaysian SMEs and large companies currently have business liability cover and 64% of businesses are aware of it.
Zanolini explained that both awareness and usage of professional indemnity insurance stood at 27% and 19% respectively. While public and product liability insurance stood at 31% and 21% respectively.
“This is a concern as it potentially puts their businesses, clients and the public at risk — and they are missing out on compensation opportunities,” he said.
Opportunities to scour wool in Malaysia have changed the landscape for local exporters and, importantly, increased wool competition for WA growers.
Since the closure of the last WA wool scourer in 2009, scoured wool sales by WA exporters have had to be sent to Victoria for scouring before shipment, making it difficult for them to compete with exporters in the Eastern States.
However, a relationship between Westcoast in WA and Compass Wool Processors near Singapore is showing benefits for the industry and growers.
Westcoast is strongly focused on exploring industry opportunities for growers and wool export representative Gavin O’Dwyer said the relationship with Compass Wool Processors now presented a viable option for scouring and topmaking from WA and was increasing competition for local wool.
“Previously, we have had to ship wool to Geelong for scouring at a cost of about $26 a bale and then ship it on to Asia and Europe,’’ Mr O’Dwyer said.
“All wool out of WA is trans-shipped through Singapore anyway, and Compass is only one hour out of Singapore, so it’s a strategic location.
“With the freight savings compared with shipment to the Eastern States, and the fact scouring tariffs are more favourable in Malaysia than Australia, it puts us on par or in an even better position than other exporters.
“With the cheaper tariffs, it actually gives us an advantage over anyone else.’’
Westcoast is working with Compass Wool Processors chief executive Tony Brann and has been increasing its greasy wool volumes through the facility. Most of the scoured wool then heads to India, China, Thailand, Japan and Europe.
“Compass has a large scouring capacity of around 100 tonnes a day, while its combing capacity is about 10t a day,’’ Mr O’Dwyer said. “They scour all wool types and we have achieved good results with a wide range of wool, including locks, stains, crossbred fleece and, of course, good WA Merino fleece wool.’’
The not-so fun park operator, Ardent Leisure, is a long way from the retirement home market – unless you're a restless Malaysian billionaire like Seng Huang Lee.
Lee is Aveo's chairman and largest shareholder via his family's Malaysian flagship group, Mulpha.
We can assume one arm of the family corporate tree was talking to the other given that the former Ardent boss, Greg Shaw, heads Mulpha's operations in Australia. He is also Lee's alternate director at Aveo.
The two entities are so close they have even been known to do deals with each other in Australia. This includes the sale of Mulpha's entire stake in PBD Developments to a Sun Hung Kai entity in 2015.
CBD is betting we might see Sun Hung Kai return the favour given Mulpha's Queensland assets include Sanctuary Cove, and Hayman Island. Didn't Ardent's board mention the potential of property development at its fun parks like Dreamworld?
But the really interesting bit is the future of veteran spinner, Tim Allerton, who just got back in the door as Ardent's external PR guy having missed the mess that unfolded after the Dreamworld tragedy.
Allerton may find himself in a sticky situation of his own making given he was the poster boy for Adele Ferguson and Sarah Danckert's expose on the business practices at Aveo.
He told CBD's colleagues about the difficulties of sorting out the sale of his aunt Joan's retirement village unit. In the end, he and his family had to swallow $150,000 worth of exit fees and capital losses.
"I think one of the most galling aspects of the exercise was the fact that my auntie had passed away, the apartment remained in our hands and yet the monthly bills kept coming in …," Allerton told them.
How safe does Allerton feel now that Aveo's chairman is a substantial shareholder at Ardent?
The word is that Ardent's new shareholder had a friendly meeting with the George Venardos-chaired board, which obviously means former Ardent boss Shaw – who was unceremoniously dumped as CEO – has no beef with the current directors.
The question is whether Lee's Sun Hung Kai is friendly enough to help repel the boardroom raid of Gary Weiss and Queensland developer, Kevin Seymour.
Spiro v ASIC
Spiro Paule, the founder of KKR-backed financial group Findex, has found himself in another tussle with Greg Medcraft's corporate cops at ASIC.
In October last year, ASIC pinged Findex with a $21,600 fine for potentially misleading advertising. This includes claims it was Australia's largest independent financial advice company.
On the latest occasion it appears to have been Paule, and Findex, who have picked the fight with ASIC.
Paule and other senior execs at Findex went to the NSW Supreme Court last year seeking the discovery of documents to obtain the "true identity of the publisher of certain allegedly disparaging and defamatory publications".
According to a recent court judgment, suspicions settled on a "former disgruntled employee" – and it named David Keith McKay as the alleged transgressor.
This is where ASIC comes in.
It is not party to the proceedings, but the regulator made an application in April this year claiming "public interest immunity" in relation to documents seized from, or produced by McKay, which the Findex crew were obviously trying to get their hands on.
The counsel for the plaintiffs told the court, "We say that it is almost certain that these documents will disclose further causes of action, deceptive and misleading conduct causes of action, defamation causes of action and separate causes of action that we have against Mr McKay", arising out of the disclosure or publication by Mr McKay of material to ASIC.
ASIC argued that disclosure of the "confidential affidavit" would be "prejudicial to the effective policing and investigation functions performed by ASIC in its capacity as a regulatory authority".
Which means we should really keep an eye on any developments here.
In any case, Justice Julie Ward decided that the Findex team could have access to the documents once ASIC had redacted anything it deemed necessary to "preserve the immunity".
Company officials speak on latest developments
RECENT news allegations in Australia have put Mulpha International Bhd in the spotlight.
Once a darling of investors, Mulpha is now hardly followed by investors although it remains an asset-rich company with its prized assets mostly Down Under.
Among these assets are a few five-star hotels such as the InterContinental Sydney, a resort-styled property development called Sanctuary Cove in northern Gold Coast, and Hayman, a five-star private island destination in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
However, it is Mulpha’s 22.6% strategic stake in Aveo Group Ltd – Australia’s largest owner-operator and manager of retirement communities – that has thrust the diversified company onto the radar screen, albeit for the wrong reasons.
What happened early this week was this: ABC News’ Four Corners and Fairfax Media wrote an expose that claimed, among others, that Aveo was prone to exploiting its residents when running its retirement villages.
The report stated that the company was slipping through regulatory loopholes, noting that a series of recommendations and reforms that came out of an inquiry into the sector about 10 years ago were not implemented.
Mulpha’s controlling shareholder Lee Seng Huang, who is also the chairman of Aveo, has denied the allegations.
He says the issue has been blown out of proportion and that “we do not exploit our residents”.
Successively, it has found itself in another spot when a buyback of Aveo shares by Mulpha and an Aveo director ahead of the company’s A$145mil share buyback plan raised eyebrows. The Australian corporate watchdog has been called on to investigate the recent trading of Aveo’s shares, it was reported there.
Aveo shares on the Australian stock exchange plunged 11.5% on Monday following the expose. On Tuesday, Aveo announced a buyback of 9% of its stock after an emergency weekend board meeting, news reports stated.
On a larger scale, there have since been calls for a federal inquiry into the Australian retirement village sector.
Commenting on the share buyback move, Lee tells StarBizWeek that it was done in observation of trading windows and rights.
He retorts that there was no board meeting held on the weekend as alleged by some reports.
“The first that the directors heard about a potential buyback was in the afternoon (after the close of trading) on Monday, when the management suggested putting in place a buyback programme in case the stock should keep falling.
“That was voted on by circular in the evening and announced on Tuesday,” he says, pointing out that the stock continued to fall after the announcement before recovering later in the day.
“So, I am not sure how price-sensitive that news even was.
“It is in the public domain and common knowledge that companies will buy back shares if they become grossly undervalued, and the panic-selling caused by the irresponsible reporting obviously led to the company doing something about it,” the 42-year-old executive chairman of Mulpha says.
Going back to the Aveo model, he says it has been in operation for several decades in both Australia and New Zealand, and that its returns are consistent with the vast majority of listed and unlisted operators across the Australian retirement industry.
“So, Aveo is not unique on this front and Mulpha is surprised to have been singled out as a shareholder in Aveo, where 77% of the shareholders (many of whom are Aveo residents) and the majority of the Aveo board are independent.
“Furthermore, all of Mulpha’s board nominees are non-executives and not actively running the business. So, why pick on Mulpha?”
Mulpha had bought into Aveo and the other assets in Australia between 2002 and 2004.
Aveo’s return on its retirement assets last year was 6.3%. It operates over 11,000 retirement units there.
He points out that the complaints raised in the expose were related to the old contracts and not the new ones.
“Can Aveo do things better? Of course they can and everyday the management is tasked with trying to improve our service levels as we do at all of Mulpha’s investment properties.
“That is why they have come up with a simpler and better contract under the Aveo Way.”
JP Morgan notes that Aveo has made changes to simplify its contracts and provide a guaranteed outcome for its residents under its Aveo Way contract, which it has been rolling out as its standard contract over the past two years.
“Whilst the fees Aveo is charging under the Aveo Way contract are at the upper end of the market, they are not materially ‘out of whack’ with the market,” the research firm notes in a report released on Tuesday.
It says the complexity of retirement contracts and questions about whether the fees are appropriate is an industry-wide issue, of which Aveo has been singled out.
“If the retirement industry was such a profitable industry, there would be more players pushing into the sector – this is not happening.
“In fact, the returns for ownership of retirement villages are lower than most other property asset classes due to it being a very management-intensive asset class.”
Mulpha’s 22.6% stake in Aveo is valued at A$374.43mil (RM1.23bil), higher than its own RM719.14mil market capitalisation on Bursa Malaysia.
Unlike Mulpha, Aveo appears to have a better following too.
Six research houses covering the stock on the Australian Securities Exchange or ASX have “buy” calls, Bloomberg data shows.
On the other hand, market observers say that Mulpha has not attracted much institutional interest mainly due to a lack of analyst coverage and low corporate visibility, coupled with volatile earnings.
Lee, through the family’s privately held vehicles, controls a 44.96% stake in Mulpha – an investment holding company engaged in the property development and investment, hospitality, retirement and healthcare sectors in Malaysia, Singapore, China, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom, besides Australia.
In Malaysia, the company is the developer of the 1,765-acre Leisure Farm in Iskandar Malaysia, Johor.
Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, it has a strategic investment in the London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square, which is located in London’s Mayfair district.
Elsewhere, Mulpha also has a 19.84% stake in power, infrastructure and construction company Mudajaya Group Bhd.
As at March 31, Mulpha’s net tangible assets stood at RM9.60, while its share price was RM2.19 at the close yesterday.
The company was loss-making in financial year 2012 (FY12) and FY13, before turning around with a net profit of RM124.15mil in FY14.
For FY16 ended Dec 31, the company made a net profit of RM16.8mil as compared to RM165.12mil in the previous year.
Its profits were mainly because of a higher share of associates/joint-venture profits, including a better performance by Aveo.
Total borrowings stood at about RM2.75bil, while its total cash and cash equivalents were at RM355.5mil as at year-end.
Notably, Mulpha is one company which believes in rewarding shareholders through share buybacks rather than dividend payments.
The company’s chief executive officer Gregory David Shaw says that there are no concrete plans to implement a dividend policy or pay any dividends now, as the board is of the view that the share buyback scheme is a more efficient form of returning excess capital to shareholders instead of paying a dividend, given the current undervalued share price.
“Over the last few years, Mulpha has implemented a share buyback scheme, as the market did not fully reflect the value of its shares, and will continue to do so.
“However, the board will continue to assess the payment of dividends as part of its capital management strategy, and will do so when it feels that there are no other more accretive uses of capital across our businesses,” says the Australian head honcho, who was appointed in December last year.
The stock’s depressed valuation has linked it to talk that the company may be privatised.
But this, according to Shaw, is a shareholder matter, which the management and board of Mulpha are not privy to.
To improve its capital structure, the company recently proposed a share consolidation involving the consolidation of every 10 existing shares into one.
The exercise is expected to increase its earnings per share and net asset per share due to a reduction in the number of Mulpha shares, but without affecting the shareholders’ stake in the company.
Prior to this corporate exercise, Mulpha shares were trading in wide-ranging prices from RM0.195 per share to RM0.550 per share over the past three years.
This, according to Shaw, represented a 64.5% change in Mulpha’s transacted price from the highest to the lowest price. Consolidating the shares would lead to a reduction in the number of shares available in the public market and could potentially reduce the volatility of the trading market for Mulpha shares.
Operationally, to deliver profit growth, Shaw says the focus is on three strategic pillars.
One is to optimise value in the group’s strategic assets with a medium to long-term view on value creation. Second is to improve the performance of its resort hotels and operating businesses, and thirdly, to introduce new investments that will benefit from Mulpha’s management expertise.
“With a strong balance sheet and a strategically located and geographically diversified asset portfolio, the group has been able to steer through the current global economic uncertainties.
“The solid performance of our Australian assets in 2016 has compensated for the difficult trading conditions experienced in the Malaysian property sector in the same period,” he says.
While it has sizeable assets overseas, Mulpha will continue to explore investment opportunities in Malaysia and will make an investment if the right opportunity, timing and return targets are met, he adds.
Would the group unlock some of its assets? To this, Shaw says that the group’s investment strategy is built around leveraging on its strengths and making investments where it believes it has a strategic advantage.
“Our strong balance sheet has left us well placed to continue to explore and take advantage of any attractive investment opportunities that may arise.
“On the flip side, once we believe any of our assets has reached its optimum value, we may realise the asset when an appropriate offer is received and we will then recycle our capital and reinvest the sale proceeds into another investment opportunity.”
As for Leisure Farm, he says the focus in 2016 was to reach out to overseas markets via roadshows, notably in China and Indonesia in addition to its ongoing focus on Singapore.
These roadshows have been successful in increasing Leisure Farm’s sales with purchasers from China, and he anticipates that the roadshows will generate further sales in 2017.
KUALA LUMPUR: The small and medium enterprise (SME) sector in Malaysia has been urged to grab opportunities to create new sales channels, capture new markets and expand their client base through the ‘Now! In Season’ (NIS) campaign.
NIS, a global campaign by the Victorian State Government and Horticulture Innovation Australia, aims to promote various Australian fresh fruits and vegetables at their peak quality and availability.
Commissioner to South-East Asia, Government of Victoria, Australia, Brett Stevens, said Malaysia imported A$5.3million (RM71.3 million), or 871 tonnes of Australian fruits, in 2015.
He said between 2011 and 2015, the value and quantity of imported Australian fruits grew by approximately 30 per cent per annum respectively.
“This is a clear demonstration of the high demand for top quality Australian produce in a very competitive market. We expect the growth to further increase due to this campaign,” he told Bernama in an email interview recently.
Stevens said throughout the year, the Now! In Season campaign will educate consumers on the seasonality of the commodities, health and nutritional benefits of Australian produce as well as how to select and store the seasonal commodities.
The campaign involves four seasons — summer fruits and cherries (December-March), grapes (April-June), citrus (July-September) and veggies (year-long).
He said Malaysians can look forward to more premium quality, healthy and safe Australian produce this year as a new campaign takes off at leading retail outlets.
“In the first year of the campaign in Malaysia, we are investing resources to really create this awareness and among participating retailers, including AEON, Isetan KL, Jaya Grocer and Village Grocer.
“We will be expanding this list and our reach as the programme gains momentum, both on the supply side (sourcing/growers) and demand side (retail),” said Stevens.
He said Malaysian SMEs are also able to take advantage of the NIS campaign by leveraging on the education and promotional campaigns that are being delivered within the country.
“Malaysian consumers are sophisticated buyers, with a desire to learn more about the provenance of their food. People want to know where it is from and how it is grown.
“Consumers are increasingly health conscious and looking for nutritious, quality and safe products to feed their families and Australian produce is able to offer this,” he said. – Bernama
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Sapura Energy Australia has successfully completed plug removal activity for Shell’s Prelude light well intervention (LWI) campaign in the offshore Browse basin, north of Broome, Western Australia.
The campaign, awarded in June 2016, was part of the Prelude floating liquefied natural gas (FLNG) project.
The intervention vessel Sapura Constructor retrieved eight suspension plugs from seven wells on the Prelude field, using a riser-less LWI system and a recently upgraded subsea intervention device and intervention compensation system, was deployed for the project.
Sapura Energy executed the work in collaboration with another of the company’s Australian subsidiaries, Total Marine Technology, which was responsible for managing the equipment used and upgrading it to comply with Shell’s specifications.
Under the same five-year call-off agreement, Sapura Energy Australia is currently working another Shell LWI campaign that involves severance and retrieval of seven wellheads. This involves use of the AXE severance system, a high-pressure water jet cutting tool designed for environmentally friendly removal of subsea wellheads that dispenses with explosives or rig-based mechanical cutting tools. Work is expected to be completed in July.
Earlier this month, Sapura Offshore won a subcontract from PT. Gunanusa Utama Fabricators on behalf of PTTEP International for the Zawtika field development in the Gulf of Moattama, 290 km (180 mi) west of Tavoy on the Myanmar coast, in water depths of 120-160 m (394-525 ft).
The work scope covers EPCI of pipelines, transportation, and installation of new offshore wellhead platforms, brownfield modifications to existing platforms, and installation of a telecommunication and control system integrated to existing facilities.
Subcontract works should be completed next March.
Securities Commission Malaysia (SC) yesterday entered into an Innovation Cooperation Agreement with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) to further promote innovation in financial services in their respective markets. Under the agreement, SC and ASIC will work closely to share information on emerging trends and regulatory issues in digital finance. Both regulators will also facilitate referrals of innovative businesses seeking to operate in each other’s jurisdictions, as well as explore potential joint innovation projects relating to the application of new technologies.
SC Chairman Tan Sri Ranjit Ajit Singh signed the agreement with the ASIC Chairman Greg Medcraft on the sidelines of the Salzburg Global Seminar on Finance that was co-chaired by the SC Chairman.
Ranjit said that the cooperation agreement is an important milestone for Malaysia’s digital finance sector and was a positive development for innovative fintech businesses seeking to expand and reach greater scale.
“Even as we continue to enable new forms of innovation in capital markets, we must not lose sight of the need to manage digital risks, by taking a strategic approach to risk management, recruiting digital talent and improving IT architectures.
This collaboration between SC and ASIC in the realm of digital finance will further strengthen the cooperative arrangements between Malaysia and Australia in capital market development and regulation,” said Ranjit.
Medcraft said:” International cooperation on fintech is essential. This agreement will help local businesses grow beyond our borders, and improve our understanding of fintech in the region. We look forward to working more closely with our colleagues at the Malaysian Securities Commission”.
As part of SC’s digital agenda, the regulator has in recent years introduced regulations and initiatives such as equity crowdfunding (ECF), peer-to-peer (P2P) financing, digital investment management (DIM) services, and launched the alliance of FINtech community (aFINity) to engage with the growing financial technology community in Malaysia.
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