Thursday, 23 January 2020

(The Star) Air France-KLM not involved in MAS sale talks

DUBLIN: Air France-KLM said it had previously held talks with the owners of Malaysia Airlines Bhd (MAS), but was not engaged in current efforts to find new investors for the carrier.

“Air France-KLM continues to study global investment opportunities per its strategic goal to be an active yet pragmatic participant in industry consolidation, as presented at its Investors Day in November 2019, ” the Franco-Dutch airline group said.

“Air France-KLM had previously been in contact with Malaysia Airlines’ shareholders, but at this stage Air France-KLM is not a current party to the sales process of Malaysia Airlines.” — Reuters

(The Star) Inflation up 1% in Dec, within forecast

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s inflation rose by 1% in December last year, in line with a Bloomberg forecast, underpinned by higher food prices, with Kuala Lumpur exceeding the national average.

According to the Statistics Department, the consumer price index (CPI) increased by 1% in December to 122.3 compared with 121.1 a year ago.

Chief statistician Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin said that of the 552 items covered in the CPI, 360 items showed an increase in December 2019 from a year ago.

He added that 137 items declined while 55 items were unchanged.

“The increase in the overall index was driven by the index of miscellaneous goods and services (2.4%); food and non-alcoholic beverages (1.7%); housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels (1.7%); education (1.7%); communication (1.5%); furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance (1.4%) and health (1.4%), ” he said in a statement.

On a monthly basis, the CPI rose 0.2% from November 2019, mainly due to food and non-alcoholic beverages (0.5%) as well as restaurants and hotels (0.2%).

CPI in the fourth quarter of 2019 increased by 1% to 122.1 as compared to 120.9 a year ago. On a quarterly basis, the CPI rose by 0.3% from the third quarter.

The CPI for 2019 rose by 0.7% from 2018.

The department also said Kuala Lumpur recorded a 1.5% increase in the CPI in December, with Selangor and Putrajaya at 1.4% and Johor 1.1%.

All states registered an increase in the index of food and non-alcoholic beverages.

The highest increase was recorded by Johor (2.5%) followed by Kuala Lumpur (2.1%) and Selangor and Putrajaya (2.1%), surpassing the national index of 1.7% in December 2019.

(The Star) Comintel signs MoU to explore railway jobs

PETALING JAYA: Practice Note 17 status company, Comintel Corp Bhd, has entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with two parties to explore railway construction-related communications, system integration and support services jobs worth no less than RM115mil.

The MoU, which is between Comintel, Dhaya Maju Infrastructure (Asia) Sdn Bhd and the latter’s executive director, Datuk Seri Subramaniam Pillai Sankaran Pillai, is intended to form part of Comintel’s regularisation plan that needs to be submitted to the regulatory authorities by tomorrow.

After taking cognisance of the expertise and experience of Comintel in providing communication, system integration and maintenance services to the rail industry, the parties are desirous to explore the proposed award by Dhaya Maju and other third parties, Comintel said in a filing with Bursa Malaysia.

Comintel said the proposed regularisation plan would also consist of a proposed private placement to raise funding for its operations at a fixed issue price of 7.5 sen per subscription share, which has been arrived at based on the 30 days volume weighted average price of the existing ordinary shares of Comintel.

It said the proposed regularisation plan would also comprise the repayment by Comintel of the existing debts owed by its wholly-owned subsidiary, Comintel Green Technologies Sdn Bhd.

The company added that the regularisation plan would also involve the proposed disposal of Comintel’s entire shareholdings in three of its loss-making subsidiaries for no less than RM1mil, namely Comintel Sdn Bhd, Comintel System Technologies Sdn Bhd and Comintel Green Technologies.

Comintel also said its regularisation plan may include such additional or other proposals as may be mutually agreed upon in writing by the company or Subramaniam from time to time.

Comintel said it would be submitting an application to Bursa Securities to seek an extension of time for no less than six months for the submission of its regularisation plan.

Comintel is a system integrator providing IT and communication solutions. For its third quarter ended Oct 31,2019, the company reported a net loss of RM1.05mil compared with a net loss of RM2.46mil in the previous corresponding period.

Revenue during the quarter dropped to RM339,000 compared with RM1.39mil a year earlier.

In its notes accompanying its financial results, the company said the losses during the quarter was due to no contracts being secured by the subsidiary replacing Comintel Sdn Bhd (CSB) as operations had just commenced in mid-April 2019 following the winding up order on CSB in April 2019.

On its prospects, Comintel said it would continue its efforts to develop new opportunities to strengthen its business segments.

(The Star) Bank Negara surprises dropping interest rate to lowest in 9 years

PETALING JAYA: The surprise move by Bank Negara to reduce the overnight policy rate (OPR) to 2.75% – the lowest level in nearly nine years – has rattled banking stocks as margin compression fears kick in.

Major banking counters such as PUBLIC BANK BHD (-2.36%), HONG LEONG BANK BHD (-3.56%), CIMB GROUP HOLDINGS BHD (-1.95%) and MALAYAN BANKING BHD (-0.58%) yesterday saw selldowns, which as a result dragged down the FBM KLCI by 9.35 points or 0.59% to 1,577.98 points.

The Financial Services Index was the worst performing indice among other indices as it dropped by 1.37%, particularly after 3pm when the decision by Bank Negara’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on the OPR was announced.

The investor jitters post-rate cut is not surprising.

While a cut in OPR lowers loan repayment costs for borrowers such as households and businesses, lenders or financial institutions generally take a hit on their profitability as they make less interest income on loans.

For context, banks make a profit through the difference between the interest income generated by banks and the interest paid out to depositors.

This is referred to as net interest margin (NIM).

MIDF Research analyst Imran Yassin Yusof believes that the latest round of OPR cut could likely have a muted impact on the Malaysian banking sector.

Imran told StarBiz that banks were largely prepared for rate cuts as they expected two OPR cuts last year.

However, the central bank only slashed the benchmark interest rate once by 25 basis points (bps) to 3% in May 2019, down from 3.25%.

He pointed out that the competition for fixed deposits towards the end of 2019 was not as intense as compared to before, likely due to expectations of further OPR cuts.

“Fixed deposits mean higher costs for the banks. The fact that they have not loaded a lot of fixed deposits last year indicates that they are looking at further rate cuts and to lower costs, ” he said.

Imran said banks would see a NIM compression in the first quarter of 2020, although the situation would recover in the following quarter as banks adjusted the rates for loans and deposits.

“Banks with regional exposure such as Maybank and to a certain extent, CIMB, as well as those with lower variable rate loans as a portion of their loan books will be least affected by the OPR cut.

“However, Alliance Bank Malaysia Bhd would likely be mostly affected as about 90% of its loans are at variable rates, ” he said.

The move by the MPC yesterday to lower the OPR by 25 bps was against market consensus, which predicted the rate to remain at 3%.

An earlier poll by Bloomberg showed that 24 out of 26 economists expected the OPR to remain unchanged. Only MIDF Research’s Muhammad Zafri Zulkeffeli and Nomura Singapore Ltd’s Euben Paracuelles had forecast a rate of 2.75%.

The central bank remains cautious on the economic outlook, as evident in its MPC statement yesterday, and said the OPR adjustment “is a pre-emptive measure to secure the improving growth trajectory amid price stability”.

“At this current level of the OPR, the MPC considers the stance of monetary policy to be appropriate in sustaining economic growth with price stability.

“For 2019, growth will be within the projected range. For 2020, growth is expected to gradually improve, with continued support from household spending and better export performance, ” it said.

“Overall investment activity is expected to record a modest recovery, underpinned by ongoing and new projects, both in the public and private sectors. However, downside risks to growth remain.

“These include uncertainty from various trade negotiations, geopolitical risks, weaker-than-expected growth of major trade partners, heightened volatility in the financial markets, and domestic factors that include weakness in commodity-related sectors and delays in the implementation of projects, ” it added.

The central bank expects headline inflation this year to remain modest but average higher than last year’s 0.7%. This is subject to global oil and commodity price developments and the timing of the lifting of the domestic retail fuel price ceilings.

Socio-Economic Research Centre executive director Lee Heng Guie said the think-tank had expected a rate cut in the MPC’s March meeting, but not as soon as the Jan 21-22 meeting.

“I see the drop in OPR as a move by Bank Negara to address the weakness in the gross domestic product figures for the fourth quarter of 2020, which has been signalled in the export and industrial production index data.

“The lower OPR will provide monetary policy support to the economy but this must also be complemented by the government’s more efficient fiscal spending to stimulate the economy.

“I don’t see the need for more OPR cuts this year, ” he said.

On the other hand, AmBank Group chief economist Anthony Dass said there is room for another 50 bps cuts in 2020.

This, if executed, will lower OPR to 2.25%.

“Room for more rate cuts cannot be ruled out. Much will depend on the performance of business activities, non-performing loan direction, external environment as well as the ringgit outlook, ” he said.

When asked whether the OPR cut will increase loan growth in Malaysia, he said he expected loan growth to be around 4% to 5% on the basis that the GDP grew around 4.6%.

“It will depend on whether corporate loans will pick up, as household loans are likely to remain soft. The approval for household loans still depends on credit record quality, ” he added.

In a statement yesterday, CIMB Group chief executive officer Tengku Datuk Seri Zafrul Aziz described the OPR cut as “timely”, in view of benign inflation and other modest key economic indicators.

“We hope the 0.25% reduction in applicable rates will not only ease the burden of borrowers but also spur further lending, investments and consumption to support the country’s economic growth, ” he said.

The bank will reduce its base rate and other rates for fixed deposit and loans by 25 bps, beginning Jan 30.

Bank Negara reduced the benchmark OPR on May 7,2019 by 25 bps to 3%, the first downward revision since July 2016.

The MPC had then avoided a rate cut at its subsequent meetings in July, September and November. However, on Nov 8, Bank Negara lowered the Statutory Reserve Requirement ratio to 3% from 3.5% effective Nov 16.

The last time OPR ranged below 3% was in 2011 at 2.75% before it was raised to 3% in May 2011.

(The Star) M’sia ‘14th most photogenic place’

PETALING JAYA: Malaysia ranked among the top 20 global cities when it comes to shining on Instagram, declared a travel channel.

The country came in with a respectable 14th placing when compared to 50 other travel hotspots, declared Big Seven Travel, which claims an audience of 1.5 million.

Icons of Malaysia that were most commonly photographed or put on video were Petronas’ Twin Towers and Putrajaya’s Putra Mosque.

“KL is home to the Petronas Towers, also known as the Petronas Twin Towers, which is currently the tallest twin tower in the world.

“Other iconic photo spots include the pink-domed Putra Mosque in Putrajaya, and the Jalan Alor market for food shots, ” said the site in its description of Kuala Lumpur.

Batu Caves’ colourful temples also drew mention on the channel, which showcased pictures and videos of the most exciting places globally shared on social media platforms.

Other neighbouring places that made the list include Indonesia’s Bali, with Indonesia at eighth place, while Singapore came in fifth.

Sydney was ranked number one, followed by Hong Kong and Dubai.

Other cities which made it to the top 20 include Croatia’s Dubrovnik, and Paris, according to Big Seven Travel.

At the same time, a survey by the portal found that 67% of people visited a new destination while 61% of people booked a hotel after seeing them on Instagram.

It also said that 33% of the respondents said that they do research about their upcoming holiday destinations on Instagram.

(The Star) Perak looking to boost people’s income to resolve housing issue

BATU GAJAH: The Perak government is trying to bring in more investments to boost the income of the people so that they can afford to buy homes, says Paul Yong.

The state local government and housing committee chairman said low household income was one of the reasons why some could not afford the average price for residential units in Perak, leading to an overhang.

“We are trying to bring in more investors with hopes that it could lead to more job opportunities, ” he told reporters after a Chinese New Year celebration at SJKC Yit Chee in Pusing here yesterday.

Yong was asked to comment on a news report saying that Perak had the second highest unsold residential units in the nation at 5,126 units.

The first was Johor with 5,470 units, followed by Selangor in third place with 4,872 units.

Yong said many of the unsold properties were high-rise units and expensive landed homes.

“In Perak, properties like bungalows or semi-detached houses could go from RM600,000 to RM700,000 and above, but the average income for Perakians is estimated to be around RM3,000 per household.

“There is also the mentality of getting landed properties instead of high-rise units, ” he said.

“This is why we have the Perak Housing and Property Board to control the prices and build more affordable homes.” he added.

Separately, Yong said the state had found new locations for landfills in the Matang and Kerian districts.

“Work on the piping has already started at both sites, ” he said.

It was reported on Nov 26 last year that the state was looking for two new landfills due to the growing amount of daily waste.

(The Star) Perak to build jetty complex in Pangkor

IPOH: Perak plans to build a jetty complex at Pangkor to resolve the congestion issue at the current main jetty.

State Tourism Committee chairman Tan Kar Hing said there were proposals from the private sector to build such a complex and the state government wants to bring the plan forward.

“There is a lack of space at the current jetty. We are also planning to upgrade it through a private partnership, ” he told reporters here yesterday.

Tan was asked about the demand by the island folk to reopen the smaller Sungai Pinang jetty after it was closed earlier this year in conjunction with the start of the Pangkor Duty Free initiative.

The closure of the smaller jetty has forced locals to put up with tourists at the congested main jetty.

Tan said the Sungai Pinang jetty was closed as there needed to be control over the entry and exit point for tourists.

“It is a standard operation procedure for the Customs Department. It’s the same elsewhere and it needs to be done.

“We have predicted these issues to arise in the next two to three months, ” he said.

On the islanders’ demand for the Sungai Pinang jetty to be reopened, Tan said it was not at the sole discretion of the state as the Federal Government’s input was needed.

“We are constantly meeting with the Federal Government and will bring up the issues as brought up by the islanders.

“There is a lack of manpower at the Customs checkpoint, with parking issues too. We also need to consider the traffic flow from Sungai Pinang to the main town area, ” he said.

Earlier, a group of islanders called the “Pangkor Local Chinese Duty Free Issues Negotiation Committee” submitted a memorandum to Perak Mentri Besar’s special adviser Datuk Zainol Fadzi Paharuddin, demanding for the Sungai Pinang jetty to be reopened.

Its representative Tan Chin Kee said the smaller jetty has been their preferred point of entry and exit to travel between Pangkor and the mainland.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

(The Star) Move to have e-ticketing system for express boats

SIBU: The public welcome the introduction of the e-ticketing system to buy tickets for express boats.

Sarawak Transport Minister Datuk Lee Kim Shin said the system would be implemented by the second half of this year after getting approval from the Sarawak Multimedia Board (SMA).

Lee said that in the first phase, e-tickets would cover express boat routes in the central regions of Sibu, Kapit, Song and Kuching.

The initiative, he said was part of the ministry’s programme to upgrade public services in line with Sarawak’s march towards digital economy.

A regular express boat commuter, Michael Joseph said: “With this e-ticket system, we can buy tickets online similar to buying air tickets.

People no longer have to rush to the ticket counters at the express boat terminal, ” he said.

UiTM Sabah student Dayan Liyana said the e-system was more convenient.

“Those who are busy can buy the tickets easily with the new system, especially during festive seasons where demand for tickets is high, ” she said.

Sarawak Central Region Hotel Association chairman Johnny Wong is also all for the new system.

“But those in rural areas who do not own a computer or smartphone will still have to buy tickets at the counter, ” he said. – By ANDY CHUA

(The Star) Boost for arts and culture

JOHOR BARU: The Permaisuri Zarith Sofiah Opera House, officially opened to the public, is the city’s newest attraction. It is especially a boon to arts and culture enthusiasts.

Designed with a unique architecture inspired by the diamond shape, the theatre, tagged as the “Jewel Of South”, is 114,430 sqf and can accommodate more than 500 people.

Johor Ruler Sultan Ibrahim ibni Almarhum Sultan Iskandar opened the theatre.

Permaisuri Johor Raja Zarith Sofiah Almarhum Sultan Idris Shah, Tunku Temenggong Johor Tunku Idris Iskandar Sultan Ibrahim; Tunku Panglima Johor Tunku Abdul Rahman Sultan Ibrahim and Tunku Putera Johor Tunku Abu Bakar Sultan Ibrahim also graced the event.

Other guests present were Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Dr Sahruddin Jamal, state secretary Datuk Azmi Rohani and state executive council members.

The opening was a grand affair with dazzling fireworks, electrifying light shows, mesmerising live performances as well as a royal reception.

There were also traditional Chinese dances with a Malaysian twist, acrobatic ballet, Chinese folk singing and Peking opera.

Several local acts were showcased during the night, such as a concert by Yayasan Warisan Johor Band which performed zapin accompanied by live music.

Muar-born piano virtuoso Claudia Yang performed a piece titled Getaran Jiwa which received thunderous applause from the audience.

Singer Datuk Yusni Hamid belted out songs such as Kisah Cinta and Frank Sinatra’s The way you look tonight.

Notable foreign acts included Cantopop legend Hacken Lee as well as Ding Yi, a world renowned opera singer from China.

The opera house plans to host a wide variety of shows in the near future, such as dances, plays, musicals and concerts.

(The Star) Double cheer for developer

Eco World Development Group Berhad (EcoWorld Malaysia) hosted an early Chinese New Year open house together with the opening of the Brydon collection show houses.

At the event held at EcoWorld Gallery @ Eco Horizon in Lebuhraya Bandar Cassia, Batu Kawan, guests enjoyed tasty food and activities like clown acts, lion and dragon dances, live band performances, face-painting, fortune-telling and a God of Prosperity walkabout.

The highlight of the event was a lucky draw session which saw happy guests walking away with a Dyson hairdryer, Samsung sound bar, Sharp microwave oven, Samsung vacuum cleaner, Nescafe Dolce Gusto coffee machine and Tupperware festive gift sets.

The guests also witnessed the opening of the Brydon collection show houses which kicked off with an insightful feng shui talk by Master Tham Kuen Wei.

The show houses comprise two semi-detached houses and two bungalows.

Brydon, the second phase of the 300-acre Eco Horizon, offers four types of semi-detached houses sized 34ft x 75ft and priced from RM1.25mil.

The phase also has bungalow houses of 50ft x 80ft and 56ft x 85ft, priced from RM1.94mil.

The units enjoy close proximity to Eco Horizon’s twin Flamingo Lakes, a 13.6-acre flamingo-shaped water body and landscaped park located at the centre of the township.

Another unique feature of the development is a centralised clubhouse built on three acres. It offers various amenities including an Olympic-sized swimming pool, community hall, lounge and a dedicated BBQ area.

Eco Horizon has a gross development value of RM7bil and is strategically situated just off the primary interchange linking the second Penang bridge to the North-South Highway with landmarks in the immediate vicinity such as Ikea, the Batu Kawan Stadium, Batu Kawan Industrial Park and several educational institutions.

Also present at the event were EcoWorld divisional general manager (northern region) Chan Soo How, its divisional general manager (central and northern region) Ho Kwee Hong, head of sales and marketing (northern region) Eunice Lee Lay Wah, senior manager of project, planning and development (northern region) Albert Wu and senior manager of health, safety, security and environment (northern region) S. Paranitharan.