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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Give thanks with a grateful heart




Appreciate the good and bad in your life and be optimistic about the future

WITH two days left for this year, it is time to reflect and make fresh resolutions for 2016.

I have learnt to give thanks for all things – good or bad – that came my way.

But why be thankful even for the bad?

Truth be told, it took me a long time to be willing to accept misfortune and longer still to give thanks for them.

Now I appreciate there are far too many factors that I cannot control despite my best efforts.

So I just learn from the sad experiences to avoid repeating them and hold on to the hope that something good will come out of them later.

2015 has been a victorious year for me with more blessings than woes.

With a grateful heart, I choose to remember the former with rejoicing and overlook or forget the latter.

Wonderful blessings

Firstly, I am thankful that everyone in my family is in good health.

My biggest blessing is my baby, Cat.

My life has completely changed since her arrival in mid-year and everything I do now revolves around this little bundle of joy.

Healthy, joyful and growing well, she sits, crawls and listens whenever we speak to her.

On her second swimming class, she was submerged briefly in water and has been doing this with ease ever since.

In a couple of months she will start her nursery and music appreciation classes.

Meanwhile, she is learning to recognise words being pronounced and images with the aid of picture cards.

Being an inexperienced mother, the help and support from my husband, his parents and my parents has been invaluable.

My mother is a great help in tending to baby Cat and teaching me many valuable lessons about caring for my baby.

Everyone knows how difficult it is to hire a maid these days.

The timely arrival of our maid who is well-mannered and an experienced mother to take care of the many household chores lifted a heavy load of me.

It spite of the current weak economy, our architectural firm has been successful in securing several commercial and residential projects in addition to our appointment to design automotive facilities throughout the Asia-Pacific region for an upmarket marque.

We are continuously developing talented architects and designers while fostering in them a passion and enthusiasm for their work.

My 95-year old grandmother fell very ill in September but has since recovered almost fully.

She has good health except for occasional bouts of sleeplessness for a couple of days after which she will be groggy for two or three days and regale us with funny tales.

I am thankful to have clean air to breathe for the next few months before the haze sets in again, and that our economy is not too bad and personal safety here is much better than most other countries.

Looking forward

Our family has a saying that “next year will be a better year”.

Thankfully, it has been so all these years.

I eagerly await the time when baby Cat begins to talk and walk.

I am certain my heart will melt at the sweet sound of her voice when she calls me “mummy” and the sight of her staggering towards me for a hug.

After several months’ hiatus, I am getting ready to return to work which I miss very much.

Meantime, I have to trim off at least 6kg to get back in shape.

With determination, it will take three to four months.

I am yearning for the opening of our new automotive facility which specialises in the restoration and maintenance of classic and exotic cars.

Renovation work on the premises is in their final stages and business should commence in the first quarter of 2016.

Everything seems bright

Ever since my father told me about the downfall of his arrogant business principal, I have always reminded myself to be more careful when everything seems bright.

After a conference in a five-star hotel in Madrid, he asked the latter why he was wearing dark sunglasses in the coffee house.

Puffing a cigar, the principal replied that his future was too bright.

He lost his job soon after and his fortune has dwindled further ever since.

While I receive blessings, I remember there are many poverty-stricken people.

I shall rekindle my passion for charity and do my part for orphans and old folks.

We cannot do much about the burning national issues but I hope that they will be settled expeditiously so that the government can begin to organise itself to take care of wage-earners who are hard-pressed due to the rising cost of living.

On balance, I am optimistic about the future because the scriptures teaches me to always have hope and that the righteousness of God will bring peace and joy to anyone who puts it into practice.

May you be blessed with peace, joy, love, excellent health and prosperity in 2016 and beyond.

By Chermaine Poo Slice of life

Chermaine Poo is a chartered accountant turned actress, TV host, emcee and columnist. Follow her on www.chermainepoo.com, Facebook.com/ChermainePoo, and Instagram.com/Chermaine Poo or drop her an email at info@chermainepoo.com

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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Developers shift focus to higher-priced residential properties in Penang; Busy in construction sector 2016

Projects worth RM41bil in Penang next year

 
Chan: ‘We still foresee the volume and value transactions of properties to contract in 2016. However, the contraction this time won’t be so sharp." (Default Alternate Text: "Chan: ‘We still foresee the volume and value transactions of properties to contract in 2016. However, the contraction this time won’t be so sharp.

GEORGE TOWN: Five developers will undertake RM4.33bil in property projects in Penang next year despite a challenging year for the property market.

The developers planned to price their mostly residential properties from between RM480,000 and RM3.3mil.

The price range came on the heels of this year’s launches of between RM200,000 and RM400,000 in strategic locations.

The developers would be shifting their focus to higher-priced residential properties.The condominium units in Bayan Lepas will be from 1,000 sq ft and priced from RM480,000 while three-storey houses with built-up of 5,300 sq ft will be priced at RM3.3mil in Seri Tanjung Pinang.

The developers are IJM Land Bhd with gross development value (GDV) of RM415mil, Ideal Property Group (RM1.46bil GDV), Hunza Properties Bhd (RM600mil GDV), Eastern & Oriental Bhd (RM650mil GDV) and Mah Sing Group Bhd (RM1.2bil GDV).

Real Estate & Housing Developers’ Association (Penang) chairman Datuk Jerry Chan told StarBiz that developers could be shifting their focus to properties priced from RM400,000 as there was a large supply of housing priced between RM200,000 and RM400,000 targeting first-time buyers.

This did not mean that buyers have lost interest in affordable housing with built-up of 900 sq ft and priced from RM500 to RM600 per sq ft.

Chan pointed out that developers would continue to build housing in the affordable range to leverage on the higher density for plots of land but there would be a gradual shift to the “non-affordable” range.

He added that there would be fewer launches in 2016, due to the difficulties in obtaining bridging and end-financing loans from banks.

Referring to the incoming supply of housing that were currently under construction, Chan said this would be spread over a five- to 10-year period, depending on market demand and the size of the schemes.

The National Information Property Centre (Napic) report revealed that the state would see an incoming supply of 72,114 units into the market.

According to the Napic report, the existing stock of houses in the state stood at 393,303, compared with 383,484 in the first half of 2014.

“We still foresee the volume and value transactions of properties to contract in 2016. However, the contraction this time won’t be so sharp,” Chan said.

Ideal executive chairman Datuk Alex Ooi said the group had developed 4,840 units of affordable projects on the island for the last two years.

“We have sold about 60% of these properties. Moving ahead, the strategy is to move into the non-affordable range priced between RM400,000 and RM600,000.

“Ideal Property still has around 300 acres of land bank on the island. We have some 25,000 units of properties planned for the land bank.

“There are still 8,000 units of properties with more than RM4bil in GDV to be implemented over the next 10 years, priced between RM400,000 and RM600,000,” Ooi said.

‘Moderate to flat’ outlook

Ooi expected property market conditions to be “moderate” to “flat” in the coming year.

Mah Sing (North) senior general manager Law Wei Keong said the company had recently completed a survey on the preference of housing products in the country.

“The study revealed that a majority of the 6,000 surveyed favoured houses priced in the range of RM500,000 to RM700,000,” he said.

Of the RM2bil worth of housing projects launched in the country this year, about 16% were priced from RM1mil, while the remaining 84% are below RM1mil, according to Law.

IJM Land senior general manager (north) Datuk Toh Chin Leong said despite the weak market sentiment, the company would continue to launch properties priced below RM800,000.

“It will be a slow year for the property market in 2016,” Toh said.

 TrehausIJM Land’s pipeline of projects for next year in Penang included the RM232mil Waterside Residence in The Light Waterfront project next to Penang Bridge, the RM64.7mil Trehaus Condo Villa scheme in Bukit Jambul, and the RM118.4mil Senjayu Terrace project in Jawi, South Seberang Prai.

The Trehaus and the Waterside Residences scheme would be launched in the second quarter of 2016, while the Senjayu Terrace would be introduced in late 2016.

“The price of the three property schemes ranged between RM730,000 and RM1.3mil,” he said.

Meanwhile, Ideal would be launching the RM460mil Forestville, RM600mil Queens Waterfront Residences, and RM400mil Camerlina, located in Bayan Lepas, priced between RM480,000 and RM800,000.

“There is still growing need for mid-range houses that is reasonably priced, located within mature township, surrounded and supported by amenities such as schools with good accessibility, lower density with lifestyle concept,” he said.

Eastern & Oriental will develop the recently launched RM482mil Tamarind and 50 units of terraced houses with a RM168mil GDV in Seri Tanjung Pinang.

The Tamarind units, ranging between 1,000 sq ft and 1,770 sq ft, are priced around RM691,000 and RM1.16mil, while the terraced units, with built-up areas of 5,300 sq ft, are priced from RM3.3mil.

Its general manager (marketing and sales) Christina Lau said the Tamarind was scheduled for completion in 2019.

No date has been set for the completion of the 50-terraced properties.

Mah Sing to unveil Ferringhi Residence 2

Mah Sing will launch the RM735mil Ferringhi Residence 2, the RM350mil Icon Residence and an unnamed RM150mil project in Southbay City, Batu Maung.

“We are targeting the Ferringhi Residence 2 launch in the first quarter,” Law said.

The Ferringhi Residence 2 consists of three blocks offering 632 units with built-up areas from 1,208 sq ft to 2,910 sq ft, priced from RM775,265.

Law said the pricing for the unnamed project would be below RM680 per sq ft.

“The units have built-up areas of 750 sq ft to 1,000 sq ft,” he said.

Meanwhile, Hunza will develop the RM600mil Alila 2 project in Tanjung Bungah, 270 units which have built up of between 1,900 sq ft and 3,300 sq ft, priced from RM775 per sq ft.

“We will promote the 9.8acre project in Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore early next year.

“The key attractions are the size of the units, which are extremely scarce on the island nowadays,” group managing director Khor Siang Gin said.

By David Tan The Star

Construction sector to be busy in 2016 with projects worth RM83bil 


KUALA LUMPUR: WITH over RM83bil worth of infrastructure jobs to be awarded next year, it is going to be a busy year for the construction sector in 2016.

“The 11th Malaysia Plan unveiled in May 2015 has reaffirmed the strong pipeline of construction jobs till 2020. The record awards of project delivery partners (PDPs) for four major infrastructure projects with total value of RM80bil have further reiterated the potential works,” said Maybank IB Research in a recent strategy report. This flow of contracts if they are rolled out according to plan, is a new record, outpacing the high of RM28bil dished out in 2012.

The strong job flows are expected to be driven from new tenders in public transport, oil & gas downstream infrastructure and water-related jobs.

New award phase for the Klang Valley Mass Rapid Transit Line 2, is set to take off from the first half of next year while the other rail project coming on strean is the Klang Valley Light Railway Transit (KVLRT) 3. The Gemas-JB double track, which is being reviewed, is another potential.

The total value of rail-related construction jobs was estimated at RM39bil in the medium term, said CIMB Research. “These could be broken into 17-20 chunky packages worth between RM800mil and RM1.5bil each, excluding underground portions,” the research firm said in its recent outlook report.

As for highways, there are the RM4.2bil Damansara-Shah Alam Highway (DASH), the Sungai Besi-Ulu Kelang Elevated Expressway (SUKE), and the remaining West Coast Expressway (WCE) packages to be awarded. In East Malaysia, eleven more packages of the 1,090km Pan-Borneo Highway is expected to be tendered out in phases next year.

As for oil and gas infrastructure, Petronas’ Refinery and Petrochemicals Integrated Development (Rapid) project in Pengerang, Johor, is expected to see investments worth RM18bil based on Budget 2016.

On water-type contracts, CIMB Research reckoned that over RM2bil worth of jobs could be dished out and this excludes potential jobs from the private sector side.

The country’s strengthened ties with China have also injected further optimism into the construction sector.

“Chinese contractors have expressed interest in the rail projects, specifically, the Gemas-JB double track rail and Kuala Lumpur-Singapore high speed rail. Local contractors could partner them in bidding for the projects. With the Chinese companies’ ability to offer attractive financing packages, this would raise their chances of winning the projects, while allaying concerns on project funding issue,” said Maybank Research.

One other key project to watch for is the Penang Transportation Master Plan (PTMP) that is said to have contract value of RM27bil.

As for stock picks, Maybank IB Research has Gamuda Bhd at its top pick. The stock was a likely beneficiary of the PTMP and could also clinch additional jobs from the mega rail projects including KVLRT 3 and Gemas-JB double track rail, the research firm said.

CIMB Research also has Gamuda as its big-cap pick for the largest exposure to MRT 2. Among small/mid-cap it has Muhibbah Engineering Bhd as the preferred stock for the company’s US-dollar theme and exposure to Petronas’ Rapid.

“In the water segment, Salcon Bhd could emerge with a bigger share of wins. The company’s tender book currently stood at RM1bil to RM2bil,” said CIMB Research.

On the other hand, Public Invest Research has a neutral “call” on the sector as “most of the counters under our coverage were already fairly valued.”

“Currently, the construction index is priced at 13 times one-year forward earnings, which is also equal to its long-term mean. Hence, we believe the sector is fully valued for now, with most positives already priced in.”

As for stock picks, the research firm favours WCT Holdings Bhd as its job replenishment was better than expected with RM2.7bil clinched to-date, bumping up its unbilled orderbook to more than RM5bil. “Hock Seng Lee Bhd is expected to benefit from the Pan Borneo project, while Gamuda also looks attractive after the stock dipped below our fair value.”

By Gurmeet Kaur The Star

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Venture scheme accelerates growth of start-ups

KUALA LUMPUR: The New Entrepreneurs Foundation's (myNEF) unit Rave Ventures Sdn Bhd is looking to raise RM50 million to RM100 million in the next five to 10 years for its business coaching and mentoring programme, called Rave Accelerator.

The 12-week accelerator programme, which consists of a network of experienced entrepreneurs and industry members, hopes to provide promising start-ups with venture building and funding.

Speaking to SunBiz after organising a Rave Mentor Pitch Night a few months ago, Rave Ventures' CEO Rizal Alwani said that the accelerator had previously signed on RM800,000 and RM1 million sized funds for its first and second batch programmes respectively.

Rizal said the accelerator would connect the founders of start-ups with its wide connection of investors and venture capitals, to ensure the start-ups get the right funding for their business.

Apart from that, he said it also makes sure that the founders get proper information and knowledge on how to conduct vesting agreements by providing advice and consultation.

"Working on a 90-day venture building methodology, we engage the selected start-ups to further refine their product, presentation and execution of their business. Our goal is not only to get start-ups to the next phase of funding, but also to ensure sustainability and growth," Rizal noted.

Meanwhile, on the objective of the Mentor Pitch Night, Rizal said it is to introduce the new third batch start-ups to the experienced entrepreneurs and industry members.

"Our goal is to find the right mentors for all the eight participating start-ups, where their mentors will help to guide and accelerate their businesses further."

The start-ups consist of social matchmaking service, known as "Halal Speed Dating", sports clothing e-commerce Summersault.my, home decorations e-commerce Jiham.my, Above and Beyond Concierge Services, JomJamban Bathroom Services, Laundry on the Go Services, MyMakBidan Services and Toy Library Club (TLC) Services.

The eight start-ups were short-listed from 400 young companies, and started their acceleration programme on Sept 28, 2015.

As part of their business coaching and mentoring programme, Rave Ventures also organises what is called as Demo Days for start-ups to be showcased to local and regional investors.

Demo Days are attended by key start-up ecosystem players including big IT companies, early stage funders, influencer and government agencies.

"We are basically backed by myNEF. For the last two batches, myNEF foundation has invested about RM400,000 into the programmes. Starting this July, myNEF allocated another RM500,000 for the operation costs," Rizal said, noting that the accelerator programme is wholly funded by myNEF since it began its first batch programme in July, 2014.

MyNEF, which was formed in 1997, is a non-profit organisation established by ICT and creative industry players in partnership with the government.

By Wan Ilaika Mohd Zakaria sunbiz@thesundaily.com

Startups put through paces 
 
The programme gives startups the right pressure and motivation to succeed, says Rizal.

SPEED and focus are vital in starting a business, particularly at the start-up phase, budding entrepreneurs heard at the “RAVe Mentor Pitch Night” at the New Entrepreneurs Foundation (myNEF) headquarters in Empire Damansara, Damansara Perdana on Oct 9.

“In focused programmes such as our accelerator plan, we make them do things in three months for things which companies use a year to achieve,” said RAVe Ventures Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Rizal Alwani. RAVe is a subsidiary of myNEF.

During the event, the third batch of eight start-ups were given an opportunity to pitch their ideas to mentors and investors.

“Our entrepreneurs are not exposed to the serious level of competitiveness in the tech eco-system and are also less hungry, so in our programme we give them the right pressure and motivation to succeed,” Rizal said.

The eight start-ups, shortlisted from over 400, had to work up to 4am in the morning to achieve their respective deliverables.

“They were all given deliverables, including their three-month revenue target, and they had to find ways to achieve it, including applying guerilla marketing campaigns,” he added.

The accelerator had been running the programme since 2014.

“By the end of the three-month period, we hope they will become investible companies, be it by grants or by venture capitalists,” Rizal said.

Some of the ideas that the start-ups pitched on that night included being a tech platform for helper services including things like cleaning residential and office spaces, laundry service, post-natal care, purchase of wall furnishings. There was even an idea for a halal speed dating service.

The start-ups were given an opportunity to do a short presentation on their business model, their motivation for doing it and what had been achieved so far.

Subsequently, they were asked by mentors and investors on how they would acquire customers and the acquisition cost. Some mentors also recommended contacts to help the start-ups.

Rizal concluded that the event was to prepare the start-ups of what was to follow.

That would be Demo Day for local investors in December and subsequently in Singapore for investors from the South-East Asian region.

By Lim Wing Hooi The Star/Asia News Network

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Friday, December 25, 2015

Let there be a better year ahead


It's not been a year to shout about with a litany of woes plaguing the country and much of the world. But as 2015 comes to an end, it's time to count of blessings and hope for better times ahead.

IT feels like only days ago that we were wishing everyone a Happy New Year and suddenly it’s time for Merry Christmas. But between Happy and Merry, there has been little joy, has there?

It’s not been a year to look back upon with much fondness.

The ringgit is down, oil prices are down, the economy is down, and many of the people are feeling down, too. And it’s not just in Malaysia. Throughout much of Asia and many countries around the world, it has not been good news.

For us, there was the GST, an all-encompassing tax that has had many people grumbling.

But it brought a hitherto little-known Customs officer to fame. Datuk Subromaniam Tholasy was the face of the tax as the GST director and the man truly believes that this value-added tax is the way to go for the country.

Thus, he worked very hard for it despite the many brickbats. But it was not without its problems. There was the on-off-and-on again prepaid phone card tax problems.

The latest to make the rounds is the supposed GST on tolls. It has been clarified that GST will be charged on the 50sen service charge on Touch ‘N Go top-ups. So, it’s now 53 sen.

Tolls rates may go up soon. And the electricity tariff, too. It’s not going to get lighter on the pocket anytime soon.

Politically, it’s been a problematic year. Almost all parties are in turmoil. The 1MDB controversy and a RM2.6bil donation haunted Umno and saw the Deputy Prime Minister being ousted, only the second time that this has happened in the country. The first deputy prime minister to be ousted was also in the news – he has been sent to jail.

The man who first ousted a deputy, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, is also in the news. He wants to oust the current Prime Minister who ousted his deputy. It’s a merry-go-round that’s not so merry. This intense bickering is something that will go down in history.

Talking of history, Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee has been left out of the history books. This man was a true leader. I remember meeting him as a boy when he was the first Chief Minister of Penang. He came over to where the children were, patted them on their heads and told them all to study hard – and he spoke in Tamil! The man was a linguist and one who truly cared for all.
Great man: Wong was the first chief minister of Penang.

The first chief minister of Penang and a member of the Cobbold Commission that first drew up a working Constitution has been ignored in our history books. The reason? They didn’t want too many figures from the peninsula in the books, and wanted to balance the numbers with those in Sabah and Sarawak.

It makes no sense to me. History is history, it’s not a Maths lesson on the law of probabilities. MCA and MIC leaders were there at the birth of the nation and deserve to be recognised. The MCA is now fighting hard to have Wong, who made the declaration of Independence in Penang, recognised as one of the leaders involved in the early years of the nation.

The MIC is also, well ... fighting. Why they are fighting is hard to figure out as there are two factions, each claiming to be the rightful leadership.

It’s not just the Barisan Nasional. Things are even stranger on the other side. PKR is working with PAS to ensure the Selangor government is not rocked although PAS leaders are getting friendlier and friendlier with PKR’s arch-enemy Umno. DAP is at loggerheaders with PAS but works with PKR, again to ensure the Selangor government is not shaken.

In Penang, DAP has no time for PAS and PKR leaders are not happy with DAP. It’s a bit confusing. The ongoing rapid development is not helping things either.

Penangites love the island as it is, with as little change as possible. After all, the people are the living heritage of the place. I should know – I am a Penangite myself.

Elsewhere, too, there has been much misery. The two great Penangite sporting Datuks – Nicol David and Lee Chong Wei – have had a forgettable year.

Nicol is no longer the invincible girl she once was and has dropped out of the world No 1 ranking while Chong Wei was embroiled in a doping scandal, and spent the early half of the year serving out a suspension.

His return wasn’t remarkable and after some spectacular flops, he is finally picking himself up and could bring us all good news next year.

And never rule Nicol out. That lass has it in her to come back fighting every time she falls.

So, while much of the major news has been bad, it is the little people who have delivered the good news – those who continued feeding the poor even when the authorities wanted to ban them and throw the homeless into “reservations”, those who continue to teach the needy in the streets and in their homes and those who reach out to help regardless of age, race and religion.

And the year also saw the advent of G25, a moderate movement to stem the tide of extremism. Racial ties have not been at their best with some loud-mouthed leaders but the common folk are the ones rallying together.

The education system has again been called into question with several flip-flop decisions on English and the deaths of five orang asli children in Pos Tohoi. But even out of that came heroes who cared for the rural folk, the poor and the indigenous.

These are the people who we can depend on to keep the country intact - the way it was intended to be by our founding fathers.

Let’s hope the new year brings up better tidings, even if it is the common man who has to deliver them.

Why not?  By Dorairaj Nadason  - The writer, who can be reached at raj@thestar.com.my, wishes all readers Salam Maulidur Rasul, Merry Christmas and, yes, a Happy New Year once again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Malaysian public research universities using short-cut measures to achieve world-class recognition


Other ways to achieve world-class recognition

I WAS bewildered by the news that some public research universities intend to increase their intake of foreign students so that they can achieve the so-called world-class university status.

This is a misguided strategy that, if followed through, will be done at the expense of local, especially non-bumiputra, students whose places would be taken up by the foreigners.

Take a look at the National University of Singapore, a top-10 university in Asia and top-50 in the world. It has only 8% to 10% foreign students whereas Universiti Teknologi Malaysia has 20%.

My point is increasing the intake of foreign students in our public universities to 10% and above is not a compulsory requirement to attain world-class university status.

I do not deny that a developing nation like Malaysia still needs to import foreign talents but they must be brilliant people and not just the average Joe.

Reduce the intake and tighten the screening process to accept smart foreign students only.

Efforts to attain world-class status should be focused on research and development, rate of journal citation, efficiency of teaching staff and facilities, academic freedom, etc.

Let’s stop using short-cut measures to score full marks in the foreign student category.

I strongly urge public universities and the Education Ministry to fix the foreign student quota to no more than 10% and re-allocate precious tertiary education resour­ces to local people who are paying tax to the Government.

By doing this, we can also reduce the chronic problem of brain drain.

NKKHOO Cheras

Stop using short-cut measures

WE share NK Khoo’s sentiments regarding some public research universities intentionally increasing the intake of foreign students to achieve “world-class university” status in, “Other ways to achieve world-class recognition”.

It is good that over the past few years the Government has been serious and determined in improving the global university ranking and upgrading tertiary education of our public universities.

It is however unfortunate that in their eagerness to satisfy the ranking companies, we have seen some of the public universities sacrificing the quality of education as a whole and using their limited resources to earn “easy” points on certain measures, such as the QS World University Ranking’s “International faculty ratio” and “Student-to-faculty ratio”.

For instance, University of Malaya (UM) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) have shown a significant improvement in ranking in the “Student-to-faculty ratio” and “International faculty ratio” measurements. In the former criteria, UM and UTM had respectively climbed to 58th and 143rd in 2015, from 86th and 203rd in 2013 respectively.

There are also good signs of improvement in the latter criteria with UM and UTM ranked at 167th and 193rd in 2015, respectively.

The irony is that with these improvements in “ratio”, it still falls short in claiming graduates who are “good quality graduates” in our public universities in the last three years.

The QS surveys’ have seen declining “Employer reputation” (employers were asked to identify universities that they consider best for recruiting graduates) and “Academic reputation” (academics were asked to identify the institutions where they believe the best workplace is) of these universities in the last three years.

For UM, these “reputation” measurements have been declining from 200th (2013) to 246th (2015) for “Employer reputation”, and 184th (2013) to 175th (2015) for “Academic reputation”.

Given that the above “reputation” indicators are measured using QS global surveys, that drew responses from thousands of experienced stakeholders worldwide, it indicates the dire need for the leading public universities in Malaysia to catch up to earn their reputation professionally and internationally.

Further, one possible explanation for such a negative correlation between “reputation” and “faculty ratio” measurements is that these rankings by “ratio” do not reflect the actual quality of some of the academic staff hired by the universities.

The counter argument would be that investing taxpayers money into upgrading rankings is good in improving higher education, but should not be done at the expense of the teaching quality.

For comparison, the leading Singaporean university, the National University of Singapore (NUS) has shown positive correlation between “reputation” and “ratio” measurements. With “Employer reputation” ranked at world No. 9, its “Student-to-faculty ratio” is ranked even lower than UM, at 67th.

As compared to UM, with a relatively higher number of students per academic staff, NUS still managed to produce much better quality graduates who earned a high reputation from employers globally.

To emulate NUS’ experience, more autonomy to the administration and management of our public universities could possibly address the underlying problems.

For instance, a better and fairer reward scheme for high performance faculties, strict replacement system for under-performing staff, as well as ensuring that only truly qualified candidates enter public universities, would potentially help to improve accountability, effective work culture and reputation of tertiary education in Malaysian public universities.

As these universities are highly subsidised by the Government, it must be worthy of the money paid by the taxpayers. To this effect, the Government plays an important role in providing necessary support such as academic freedom and autonomy to public universities, and eradicating hurdles and constraints that restrain public universities’ improvements, particularly in teaching and research.

On the other hand, despite the shortcomings and flaws of all existing university ranking systems, results of comparisons between universities can still serve, to a certain extent, as indicators to gauge the international reputation of a university.

Some of these ranking measurements are useful for policy makers and academics to collectively improve the standard of tertiary education in Malaysia.

BK SONG and TINA NEIK Subang Jaya

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Building the startup ecosystem


To build a successful ecosystem, you need to first identify the end goal. Then, piece together all the components and players that will play a fundamental role in making that goal happen.

AS my tenure at MaGIC draws to a close, I wanted to reflect on my thought process for building the startup ecosystem in Malaysia and the region.

When I was asked to be the founding CEO of MaGIC, I came up with a comprehensive gameplan to build the startup ecosystem within the country and Southeast Asia and presented it to an interview panel in February 2014. One interviewer asked: “Sounds like you want to do a lot. It’s a very ambitious plan. But if there’s only one thing you want to accomplish at MaGIC, what would that be?”

I answered without hesitation: “I will put Malaysia on the global map. Because Malaysia has so much untapped potential and my job is to show what’s possible.”

When I was appointed and shortly after President Obama and our Prime Minister launched MaGIC on April 27, 2014, I sketched the ecosystem map above.

You can’t build an ecosystem without first understanding what the end goal is – to help startups succeed at a regional and global level. Only then can you piece together all the components and players that will play a fundamental role in making that happen. As a healthy ecosystem requires various parties to play different roles towards a common objective, this charted a clear path for me to fill in the gaps in the current ecosystem.

One of the reasons why MaGIC has been able to make such an impact so quickly is because I’m a returning Malaysian with an international perspective; no historical baggage, no hidden agenda and nothing to lose.

MaGIC’s initial focus on education, exposure and acceleration charted an agnostic platform and foundation for all parties to genuinely come together and create a critical mass much needed to take this ecosystem to the next level.

To create this, we strived to equip entrepreneurs with the right startup skills via our education portal, MaGIC Academy, expose entrepreneurs to other ecosystems like Silicon Valley and big markets within Asean, and accelerate startups via a global platform such as our MaGIC Accelerator Program (MAP) and 500 Startups’ Distro Dojo.

This critical mass, complemented with our media strategy of exposing and highlighting successful entrepreneurs, generated visibility that did two things: inspired the masses, private corporations and GLCs towards understanding and adopting startups, and generated massive regional and global mentor/investor interest in Malaysian startups.

For example, before MaGIC existed, there was only one accelerator called 1337. Now, there are seven more on top of MAP: Tune Labs, Game Founders, Maybank Fintech, Infinity Ventures, WatchTowerFriends, DistroDojo, 1337. Before MaGIC existed, investors would usually skip Malaysia and fly to other countries such as Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia to seek investment deals. At the MAP Investor Demo Day in November 2015, over 150 investors from all over the region and world came to hear 50 MAP startups pitch. Before MaGIC existed, there was a dearth of interest in startups. Now corporations like Axiata, Khazanah, Maxis, Accenture, Sime Darby, Sunway Group, YTL Group, all the way down to family businesses are trying to set up programmes and funds for entrepreneurs.

On the social enterpreneurship (SE) side, we’ve published a National Social Enterprise Blueprint, a Social Enterprise 101 guide, and the team has been traveling all around Malaysia, doing workshops via SEHATI in Kedah, Kelantan, Terengganu, Johor, Sabah and Sarawak to create more awareness on SE. There’s a big opportunity for MaGIC to be a thought leader in SE because it’s a relatively new concept to the country.

These forces come together to make up the so-called magic recipe (pun intended) for a successful ecosystem. This ecosystem will only be self-sustainable if all parties can work together in a neutral, agenda-free environment.

Looking into the future beyond our initial core focus, MaGIC’s leadership should continue to focus on the exits and acquisitions of startups, which most other fledgling ecosystems in the world don’t pay enough attention to. There is also a need remove roadblocks via government and regulatory policies to make it easier for startups in Malaysia to flourish, regardless of race, gender, age or nationality.

In my opinion, MaGIC’s mandate and goals should be flexible to change every two to three years to adapt to rapidly evolving market and ecosystem needs, to ensure the agency remains relevant in continuing to fill in the gaps. At the same time, because MaGIC utilises public funds, we should continue to spend very wisely to ensure that it commensurates with the impact and effectiveness of our programmes. This should be the mantra of any government-funded ecosystem builder in any country.

I believe in the past two years, my team and I have laid the groundwork for MaGIC and the larger community while showing real impact for what’s achievable within a short amount of time. As with startups, if you put the right team of people together with a vision for common good, anything is possible.

Ultimately, it’s the software (people) that matter more than hardware (infrastructure, capital or assets). A good ecosystem’s foundation is built on good people coming together, and even the most expensive buildings or funding can’t replace that.

Our playbook and strategy has been shared across other countries. We’ve had multiple interest and hosted delegations from Czech Republic, Hungary, South Korea, Thailand, Kazakhstan, India, Japan, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand and many more. Most of these countries are keen to have their startups join MAP next year or collaborate with MaGIC in some ways.

As I approach the end of my contract and time at MaGIC, I can say with confidence and pride that the MaGIC team will continue to deliver as MaGIC moves on to its next phase under new leadership. Despite the initial challenges we faced as a new agency, we have gained the trust and respect of the community and entrepreneurs, and achieved regional and global recognition through our initiatives.

I hope you will visit impact.mymagic.my to view all the programmes we’ve set up and the accomplishments we’ve achieved in the past two years. This is a testament to my team’s absolute focus and commitment to deliver on our mandate.

I am truly proud of the MaGIC team and the empowering and transparent culture we’ve established. While I’m sad to leave my MaGIC family behind, I am privileged to have worked with each individual who will continue to give their all so passionately because they believe in elevating their beloved country and pushing boundaries for positive change in Malaysia.

And for true change to happen, we should have the courage to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and be familiar with the unfamiliar.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank my chairman Tan Sri Dr Mohd Irwan for convincing me to return to Malaysia to be the founding CEO of MaGIC, to all our ecosystem partners who’ve collaborated with us, to the mentors, instructors and investors who’ve generously stepped forth to give back to the community, to the entrepreneurs who believed in MaGIC, and last but not least, the MaGIC family who’ve worked so hard to make sure we create a sustainable and impactful ecosystem for entrepreneurs to thrive in, especially my first 10 hires who believed in me and my vision back when I had nothing.

I am ever so grateful to the Ministry of Finance for entrusting me to set up MaGIC and steer it in the right direction where it will benefit entrepreneurs not only within Malaysia but the larger Southeast Asia, and to truly put Malaysia on the map.

By Cheryl Yeoh

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Monday, December 21, 2015

How property prices are determined?

Factors affecting prices - It is not easy to predict trend as the property market involves all kinds of players

THE year 2015 will always be considered one of the more challenging years for the property sector, with several factors coming into play and leaving potential buyers and investors cautious.

Looking back, Jordan Lee & Jaafar executive director Yap Kian Ann says there were many factors – be it microeconomic or macroeconomic, political, social, among others, that affected the property market performance and its pricing either directly, indirectly and/or jointly.


Click for actual size:  http://clips.thestar.com.my.s3.amazonaws.com/clips/business/property-prices-chart-1912.pdf

“These factors are inter-related and influence each other. Individually, they give direct and indirect impact to the property market, property transaction volume and property prices at a different direction and degree.

“As the property market involves players (buyers and sellers) with all kinds of behaviour and is subject to a combination of factors that affect its performance at a given point in time, it is not an easy task to predict its trend and degree accurately.”

Looking ahead, property consultancy VPC Alliance (KL) Sdn Bhd managing director James Wong expects 2016 to be more subdued than this year.

Wong says most developers have launched their products aggressively in 2014.

“They knew the market this year would be soft and this softening would be carried forward to 2016. The full impact of the expiry of the developers’ interest bearing schemes (DIBS) will be felt next year.

Under DIBS, property buyers need not service the loan until the property is completed. Introduced in 2009 as an incentive, speculators purchased multiple units under DIBS because of the initial low outlay.

He expects to see softening demand in the high-rise high-end residential sector in the central region of the Klang Valley in 2016. Landed residential property demand is still resilient, especially with the gated and guarded community concept. House prices are expected to “self-correct”, he says.

Wong says foreign investors are actively monitoring residential properties in Kuala Lumpur due to weak ringgit but they remain cautious.

The increase in interest rates by the Federal Reserve after nearly a decade is also keenly watched. Already, reports are filtering out that Federal Reserve’s sway on global interest rates is causing a sharp jump in Singapore’s benchmark borrowing cost, squeezing growth in the small Asian city-state.

On a state by state basis, MIDF Research said earlier this month that Johor’s house price index showed the slowest growth year-on-year at 3%, Penang (3.5%) while Selangor fared better at 6.2%, followed by Kuala Lumpur’s 5.3%.

“We believe that the outlook for property price is better in Greater KL (Selangor and KL) due to support from the urbanisation factor.”

Citing Bank Negara statistics, the research house also noted that demand for property loans declined 13% year-on-year in October 2015 to RM25.19bil.

“This was weaker than September 2015, which declined 9% year-on-year. On a monthly sequential basis, the data was 1% lower. We are negative on the data as the number was showing nine consecutive year-on-year declines since February 2015.

“Year-to-date October 2015, loans were lower by 7% year-on-year to RM253.88bil. In our view, consumer appetite for big ticket items such as property remains low due to the rising cost of living and the weakening ringgit.”

By Eugene Mahalingam The Star/Asia News Network

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Sunday, December 20, 2015

State of the Internet in Malaysia is too slow for video streaming

Average Connection Speed by APAC Country/Region

Global Rank, Country/Region Q3 2015 Avg. Mbps, QoQ Change, YoY Change:

1   South Korea 20.5 -11% -19%
5   Hong Kong 15.8 -6.9% -2.7%
7   Japan 15.0 -8.1% 0.2%
17 Singapore 12.5 -1.8% 2.4%
33 Taiwan 10.1 -4.9% 5.5%
42 New Zealand 8.7 2.4% 23%
43 Thailand 8.2 -4.1% 25%
46 Australia 7.8 0.6% 13%
71 Sri Lanka 5.1 -3.6% 50%
73 Malaysia 4.9 -3.2% 20%
91 Vietnam 3.4 3.1% 33%
104 Indonesia 3.0 24% -20%
108 Philippines 2.8 -10% 14%
116 India 2.5 5.3% 26%

Malaysian net too slow for video streaming

KUALA LUMPUR: A report on “State of the Internet” showed that the current connection speed may not be able to meet the demand for video streaming in Malaysia, where about 87% of Internet users would stream videos on a regular basis.

In comparison, the average connection speed in Malaysia is slower than Thailand and Sri Lanka. It is also barely ahead of Vietnam, said Akamai Technologies in its Q3 2015 “State of the Internet” report released yesterday.

At a speed which is almost two times slower than Thailand, Malaysia, at 4.9 Megabits per second (Mbps) was ranked No. 73 in a Global survey from July to September.

South Korea had the highest average connection speed in the Asia-Pacific region at 20.5 Mbps. India registered the lowest at 2.5 Mbps.

Singapore remained in the top spot with average peak connection speed at 135.4 Mbps while India had the lowest average peak connection speed at 18.7 Mbps.

However, the report also noted that broadband connectivity had increased steadily in the third quarter of 2015.

Based on data gathered from the Akamai Intelligent Platform, the report provides insight into key global statistics such as connection speed, broadband adoption metrics, notable Internet disruptions, IPv4 ex­h­aust­ion and IPv6 implementation.

According to the report, Malaysians may be one of the most globally-connected people but it was not necessarily at a speed they want.

Based on traffic data in recent reports from Ericsson, the worldwide volume of data traffic among mobile broadband consumers alone grew by 14% between the second and third quarters of 2015 and is expected to grow 10-fold by 2021.

The study also showed that almost 70% of current users are expected to be primary consumers of video consumption by 2021. — Bernama

State of the Internet Report | Akamai


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Saturday, December 19, 2015

To fellow US interest rate hike or to cut rates?





Emerging economies in a dilemma on whether to follow suit or cut rates

“Specifically, we expect rate cuts in India, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand in 2016. We also project a further 75bps of rate cuts and a 200bps reduction in RRR in China'. - Credit Suisse

THE big question is what happens next?

The much anticipated hike in US interest rates on Thursday meant that for the first time in almost a decade, US interest rates are on the way up. The 25 basis point (bps) rise in US interest rates by The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to between 0.25% and 0.5% was made as the US economy showed tangible signs of improvement.

Such gains in the US economy through lower unemployment and higher forecast inflation has meant that the target for interest rates by the end of 2016 has been pegged at 1.5%, meaning that rates are expected to rise by 25 basis points every quarter until the end of next year.

The implications of what the US FOMC does reverberates throughout the world. Conventional thinking of the past is that higher rates in the US does put pressure on central banks elsewhere to follow suit.

But times have changed. Countries today have their own domestic economies and issues to manage and that has taken precedence over what the US does with its monetary policy.

It is clear that the de-coupling has taken place a long time ago. The European Union and Japan are still engaged in quantitative easing and are keeping rates near zero or in the case of the EU, in negative territory.

For Malaysia, the thinking is that with the difference between domestic and US interest rates still having a nice cushion, the focus of Bank Negara will be on the Malaysian economy.

Rate pressure: Should the path of the US rate cycle starts to steepen, economists say it will put pressure on Bank Negara as the ringgit may be pressured by inaction. – Reuters Countries such as China cut its interest rates in October to 4.35% as it grapples with a slowing economy. Different priorities call for different action.

But analysts feel the move by the US does create a bit of a dilemma for policy makers. Raising rates does cool an economy, which is already shifting to a lower gear given the tangible cooling of major economic indicators.

Trimming interest rates further, while will help the economy, will put more pressure on the flow of capital. Analysts feel that might not be what the central bank will want to do at the moment considering the weakness of the ringgit not only against the US dollar this year but also against the currencies of its major trading partners.

“Our rate is accommodative for economic growth and Bank Negara can raise rates when the economy is slowing down,” says an economist with a local brokerage.

To each its own

The United States has been the traditional locomotive of growth for the world for much of recent history. But the emergence of China has changed that equation. Trade of the emerging world increases with China as the second largest economy of the world grows, its influence on Malaysia and the rest of Asia has become more affixed.

It is for that reason that some are speculating that emerging economies, such as Malaysia, will keep its eyes focused on what the People’s Bank of China does while having the US action in its periphery vision.

“We argue that Asian central banks’ monetary policy stance next year will be more influenced by economic and monetary policy cycles in China than in the past, and will diverge from the US. Unlike the previous US Fed hiking cycle when virtually all Asian central banks tightened their policies, we think this time Asian policy rates will stay lower for longer,” says Credit Suisse in a report.

“Specifically, we expect rate cuts in India, Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand in 2016. We also project a further 75bps of rate cuts and a 200bps reduction in RRR in China.


“Given the challenging environment for exports, we expect growth in trade-dependent economies including Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand to surprise the consensus on the downside. Meanwhile, more domestic-oriented economies with policy catalysts, including Indonesia and the Philippines, could outperform expectations considerably,” it says.

For Malaysia, the FOMC decision was keenly watched. Any time US interest rates move, Bank Negara pays close attention to it.

Is it the key determinant for the direction of domestic interest rates?

No, say economists. “Local conditions override what the US does,” says an economist.

For Malaysia, economists believe that the current overnight policy rate of 3.25% is appropriate to support growth. But they do too acknowledge that Malaysia is in a dicey situation depending on what happens next.

The general view is that the US will continue to push rates upwards. Just how rapidly will be important and as US rates goes up, the differential with Malaysia will narrow.

“If the local economy does as it is predicted, then there is a possibility of a small hike next year but there is no urgency to do that,” says an economist.

The question is what happens after next year should the path of the US rate cycle starts to steepen?

Economists say that will put pressure on Bank Negara as the ringgit might be pressured by inaction. As it is, the drop in crude oil prices is the most pressing issue affecting the value of the ringgit.

The effect on emerging currencies

Emerging markets have had a series of bad press over the past year. With sentiment souring and the outlook in the US getting brighter, it was no coincidence that the US dollar surged, gaining about 40% on average against emerging market currencies since May 2013.

But is it time for things to change?

Schroders thinks that might happen.

“It is difficult to argue that the Fed has been the sole factor in emerging market debt weakness. China hard landing fears, plummeting commodity prices, Brazilian political disarray, Russian policy concerns and general weakening of growth across all regions created a near perfect-storm for emerging market debt investors.

“However, a more predictable and less fraught path going forward for the Fed should help steady investor nerves and risk appetite. If developed market bond yields remain very low – as seems likely with a very slow hiking path, set out with some confidence – emerging market dollar yields may remain one of the few places to look for meaningful income generation for years to come,” it says.

Schroders says the move by the US Federal Reserve comes at a time when emerging market dollar debt seems particularly attractive.

“Yields in the primary sovereign dollar index are at highs not seen since 2010, when Treasury yields were much higher than today. Yield spreads over Treasuries for investment grade sovereign debt are just under 300 basis points, and remain at elevated levels that were last seen consistently during the European crisis of 2011. High yield sovereign debt currently has a yield to maturity of 8.5%.

“The divergence between developed market monetary policies has driven the dollar nearly 20% higher on a trade-weighted basis since July 2014. Emerging market currencies have fallen in lock step.

“With the European Central Bank now charting a path towards a steady dose of quantitative easing as growth in Europe stabilises, Fed predictability should help curb that dollar appreciation. Emerging market currencies should then likely steady at attractive levels, boosting sentiment towards the asset class. Even a modest virtuous cycle led by these factors could make emerging markets one of the strongest global fixed income performers next year, given today’s generous yield levels.”

By Jagdev Singh Sidhu The Star/Asia News Network

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Monday, September 7, 2015

Scientists Finally Discover How the Obesity Gene Works



Scientists have finally figured out how the key gene tied to obesity makes people fat, a major discovery that could open the door to an entirely new approach to the problem beyond diet and exercise.

The work solves a big mystery: Since 2007, researchers have known that a gene called FTO was related to obesity, but they didn’t know how, and could not tie it to appetite or other known factors.

Now experiments reveal that a faulty version of the gene causes energy from food to be stored as fat rather than burned. Genetic tinkering in mice and on human cells in the lab suggests this can be reversed, giving hope that a drug or other treatment might be developed to do the same in people.

The work was led by scientists at MIT and Harvard University and published online Wednesday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The discovery challenges the notion that “when people get obese it was basically their own choice because they choose to eat too much or not exercise,” said study leader Melina Claussnitzer, a genetics specialist at Harvard-affiliated Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “For the first time, genetics has revealed a mechanism in obesity that was not really suspected before” and gives a third explanation or factor that’s involved.

Independent experts praised the discovery.

“It’s a big deal,” said Dr. Clifford Rosen, a scientist at Maine Medical Center Research Institute and an associate editor at the medical journal.

“A lot of people think the obesity epidemic is all about eating too much,” but our fat cells play a role in how food gets used, he said. With this discovery, “you now have a pathway for drugs that can make those fat cells work differently.”

Several obesity drugs are already on the market, but they are generally used for short-term weight loss and are aimed at the brain and appetite; they don’t directly target metabolism.

Researchers can’t guess how long it might take before a drug based on the new findings becomes available. But it’s unlikely it would be a magic pill that would enable people to eat anything they want without packing on the pounds. And targeting this fat pathway could affect other things, so a treatment would need rigorous testing to prove safe and effective.

The gene glitch doesn’t explain all obesity. It was found in 44 percent of Europeans but only 5 percent of blacks, so other genes clearly are at work, and food and exercise still matter.

Having the glitch doesn’t destine you to become obese but may predispose you to it. People with two faulty copies of the gene (one from Mom and one from Dad) weighed an average of 7 pounds more than those without them. But some were obviously a lot heavier than that, and even 7 pounds can be the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy weight, said Manolis Kellis, a professor at MIT.

Related: More U.S. Adults Are Now Obese than Overweight

He and Claussnitzer are seeking a patent related to the work. It was done on people in Europe, Sweden and Norway, and funded by the German Research Center for Environmental Health and others, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Researchers can’t guess how long it might take before a drug based on the new findings becomes available. But it’s unlikely it would be a magic pill that would enable people to eat anything they want without packing on the pounds. And targeting this fat pathway could affect other things, so a treatment would need rigorous testing to prove safe and effective.

The gene glitch doesn’t explain all obesity. It was found in 44 percent of Europeans but only 5 percent of blacks, so other genes clearly are at work, and food and exercise still matter.

Having the glitch doesn’t destine you to become obese but may predispose you to it. People with two faulty copies of the gene (one from Mom and one from Dad) weighed an average of 7 pounds more than those without them. But some were obviously a lot heavier than that, and even 7 pounds can be the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy weight, said Manolis Kellis, a professor at MIT.

Related: ‘Healthy Obesity’ Turns Unhealthy Over Time

He and Claussnitzer are seeking a patent related to the work. It was done on people in Europe, Sweden and Norway, and funded by the German Research Center for Environmental Health and others, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“It’s a potential target” for drug development, said Dr. Sam Klein, an obesity researcher at Washington University in St. Louis. He called the work “an amazing study” and “a scientific tour de force.”

Dr. Rudolph Leibel, an obesity expert at Columbia University in New York, used the same term — “tour de force.” Still, some earlier research suggests the FTO gene may influence other aspects of obesity such as behavior and appetite.

“It’s possible there are several mechanisms being affected,” and that fat-burning is not the whole story, he said.

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- Associated Press