Tuesday, November 20th, 2018


US stocks fall again, Dow goes negative for year

NEW YORK, Nov 20 — Wall Street stocks fell sharply in early trading today, extending their slump on weakness in technology and retailer shares and plunging major indices back into the red for 2018. About 20 minutes into trading, the Dow Jones…

Nissan expands Ghosn probe to include Renault alliance, say sources

PARIS, Nov 20 — Nissan’s investigation into alleged misconduct by Chairman Carlos Ghosn is expanding to include Renault-Nissan finances, sources told Reuters – in a further sign that Nissan may seek to loosen its French parent’s hold on…

EU’s Vestager warns China against unfair competition

BRUSSELS, Nov 20 — EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager today warned China against unfair competition, urging it to offer “the same conditions” to European companies as those enjoyed by Chinese firms in the EU. In an interview with…

Singapore probes embattled Noble Group for ‘false statements’

SINGAPORE, Nov 20 — Singapore said today it is investigating Noble Group for making suspected “false and misleading” financial statements, the latest trouble to hit the embattled commodities trader. Once one of the world’s top commodity…

Retail gloom, tech weakness pin down Wall Street

NEW YORK, Nov 20 — US stocks were set to open sharply lower today as poor forecasts from retailers including Target Corp and Kohls Corp for the holiday quarter fed into a market driven lower this week by concerns about demand for iPhones. Another…

Ghosn arrest shakes fractious Franco-Japanese alliance

TOKYO, Nov 20 — Carlos Ghosn’s spectacular fall from grace is seen by some as a stunning corporate “coup d’etat” stoked by resentment at Japan’s Nissan over a lopsided alliance with French carmaker Renault. The chairman’s shock arrest…

Singapore probing Noble Group for suspected false, misleading statements

SINGAPORE: Singapore authorities are investigating Noble Group Ltd for suspected false and misleading statements, just days before the Singapore-listed company was to complete its US$3.5 billion (RM14.6 billion) debt restructuring deal to prevent its collapse.

Noble, once Asia's top commodity trader, has seen its market value all but wiped out from US$6 billion in February 2015 after its accounting was questioned by Iceberg Research. To rescue itself, Noble has shrunk its business by selling billions of dollars of assets, taking hefty writedowns and cutting hundreds of jobs, while defending its accounting.

The company, whose shares were suspended from trading from Monday due to the restructuring, is seeking to transform into an Asia-focused coal-trading business and list the overhauled business.

In a statement today, the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD) of the Singapore Police, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the city-state's central bank, and the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA) said they were jointly investigating Noble for suspected violations of
securities and company laws.

In addition to the suspected false statements, the probe also covers potential non-compliance with accounting standards by Noble Resources International Pte Ltd (NRI), a fully-owned Singapore-based subsidiary of Noble.

“CAD and MAS have directed Noble Group Ltd and NRI to produce documents relating to the preparation of Noble Group's financial statements,” the authorities said in the statement.

They said this follows a thorough review of other relevant information, including information referred to authorities by the Singapore Exchange's regulatory arm and other third parties.

Noble did not provide a comment to a Reuters query about the Singapore authorities' statement.

The Singapore Exchange's regulatory unit said it will review if the investigations will impact the financial statements already disclosed by Noble Group related to its restructuring, it said a separate statement.

“Trading can only start after restructuring has been completed and this is in turn dependent on our review,” it said.

However, Mak Yuen Teen, an associate professor of accounting at the National University of Singapore, said he did not expect the investigation by authorities to impact the restructuring.

“There's going to be a new entity with a largely new board, and the investigations will be focusing on the previous board and management,” Mak said.

The CAD, the MAS and ACRA also said they were looking into breaches of disclosure requirements by Noble.

ACRA said it had informed NRI's board of directors of the suspected breaches of the Companies Act and that it must provide further information.

“This follows an extensive review of the financial statements of Noble Resources International (NRI) for the financial years ended 31 December 2012 to 31 December 2016,” the statement said.

Last week, Noble reported halving its quarterly net loss from continuing operations to $43.3 million and said its soon-to-be-completed restructuring would enable it to reposition its business in Asia Pacific and the Middle East.

Today's announcement comes just as Noble was looking to appoint a new chairman after current leader Paul Brough brought the company back from one of the biggest near-death corporate experiences in Asia. – Reuters

CompareHero.com to include info on insurance products from next year

KUALA LUMPUR: Comparison site CompareHero.my, which currently focuses on providing information for financial and telecommunication products, is looking to include the insurance industry in its free services.

“We have yet to provide (comparisons for insurance products), but it is something on our list to be done within the first half of 2019,” its country manager Benny Chee (pix) told SunBiz in an interview.

The site, which is part of Compare Asia Group's network of comparison portals, aims to empower Malaysian consumers to make better informed decisions and improve their financial standing.

Currently, it covers financial and telecommunication products and services, including credit cards, broadband plans and personal loans.

Chee said including insurance is definitely a key opportunity as the industry is beginning to open up, and there is a need for greater literacy education in the country, especially among the B40 segment (bottom 40% of household income earners).

“Over the last couple of months, we have seen a focus on driving life insurance penetration across the B40 segment, so I think we need to see more traction going forward,” he said.

Pointing out that the penetration of life and medical insurance in the country is still relatively low, Chee said consumers need to understand a lot of basic information on insurance products before they can make a purchase.

Therefore, he said, there should be more basic insurance products in the market, and insurance companies may start to introduce “tailor-made” products that are easy to understand and can be purchased online.

As a start, Chee said, the online portal will be focusing on providing comparisons and information for travel and general insurance products, given that the products are much more straightforward and not overly expensive.

“Compared to travel and general insurance products, life and medical products need more due diligence. Over the next couple of months we will be focusing more on basic products, which consumers need to understand and start protecting themselves and why it is important,” he added.
Chee said CompareHero.com is in talks with several insurance companies but nothing has materialised yet.

Short-term risks cast shadow over East Asia’s local currency bond markets

MANILA: General risk aversion towards emerging markets, faster-than expected increases in US interest rates and escalating global trade tensions continue to cast a shadow over emerging East Asia's local currency bond markets, according to the latest edition of the Asian Development Bank's (ADB) Asia Bond Monitor.

It opined however that emerging markets should be able to weather the challenges so long as the region's policymakers remain vigilant.

ADB said tightening liquidity conditions has exacerbated the risk from the region's rapid growth of private debt in recent years. Depreciation of regional currencies and capital outflows pose further risks to the region's financial stability.

“Concerns about emerging markets are looming, but ultimately Asia's strong fundamentals should attract investors back to the region's local currency bond markets,” said ADB chief economist Yasuyuki Sawada.

“That said, the region's policymakers must closely monitor developments and keep up their guard against potential shocks.”

The report shows emerging East Asia's bond market expanded 4.3% in the third quarter versus the second quarter to stand at US$12.8 trillion (RM51 trillion) at the end of September. The growth rate was faster than the 3.2% pace seen in the second quarter. The third quarter growth came largely on the back of strong issuance of bonds in China, notably bonds issued by local governments for infrastructure projects.

As of the end of September, China had the largest bond market in emerging East Asia with US$9.2 trillion of bonds outstanding, 72% of the regional total, and 5.7% more than at the end of June.

Foreign holdings of local currency government bonds fell slightly across much of emerging East Asia in the third quarter of 2018, with the exception of the Philippines and China. The share of foreign holdings in China rose due to ongoing bond market liberalisation.

Malaysia continued to be home to the largest sukuk (Islamic bonds) market in emerging East Asia in the third quarter, with total outstanding bonds of US$200 billion at end-September. Sukuk accounted for 60% of the local currency bond market; nearly 76% of the corporate bond market and about 46% of the government bond market.

Malaysia, however, experienced higher bond yields during the period on softening investor demand caused by escalating trade tensions between the US and China, fear over widespread contagion from emerging markets outside of Asia, and monetary policy tightening in the US and Europe.

Overall, the size of the Malaysian local currency bond market was little changed in the third quarter at US$333.0 billion, up 0.7% quarterly and 9.1% yearly. The government bond market size stood at US$175.0 billion, up 0.4% quarter on quarter and 8.1% year on year on lower issuance volume and a sizeable amount of maturing securities. The corporate bond market expanded 1.1% compared to the previous quarter and 10.2% on a year-over-year basis to US$158.0 billion.

The report also highlighted that liquidity conditions across the region are mixed with slightly lower liquidity in Indonesia, South Korea; Malaysia; and the Philippines. Higher liquidity was noted in mainland China; Hong Kong, China; Singapore; Thailand; and Vietnam.

Market participants continue to say that the absence of well-functioning bond hedging mechanisms and the lack of a diverse investor base are the biggest barriers to market development.

UK Plc prepares for messy Brexit as clock ticks down

LONDON, Nov 20 — British companies selling everything from washing machines to flights, food and mortgages plan to spend tens of millions of pounds in case the political brinkmanship gripping the country leads to a disorderly Brexit. With barely…