M’sia pins hope for RCEP deal success with good progress made

BANGKOK: Malaysia sees a positive progress towards concluding the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), the world’s largest trade pact, by year-end even though there are still some outstanding issues that needed to be resolved.

International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Darell Leiking (pix) said the 27th round of the RCEP negotiations in China last month made a good progress where a lot of issues were ironed out.

“We still have some outstanding issues. Instructions to the trade negotiators are to complete and settle the issues by the next meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam from Sept 19 to 27.

“All countries involve (in the negotiations) will look at a bigger picture for the future direction of the 3.4 billion market economy that we have,” he told Bernama here.

Darell and his counterparts from ASEAN member countries and its six dialogue partners gathered here on Sunday for the 7th RCEP Ministerial Meeting to review developments in the RCEP negotiations since the ministers last met in China on Aug 2-3.

The RCEP is a multilateral trade agreement between the 10 member states of ASEAN — Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — and its six FTA partners, namely China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.

A source close to Malaysia’s trade negotiator said the marathon-like RCEP talks in Zhengzhou, China last month made a good progress as it solved a number of issues, including to ease Investor-State Dispute Settlement clauses on Business Standard.

“The negotiations progressed better than the past seven years,” the source said.

As pressures mount to conclude the deal this year, Darell assured that Malaysia’s interest and sovereignty are the top priority in concluding the agreement.

“When we create a new economic bloc, we have to listen to the people and our interest… We have to make sure we avoid all the pitfalls,” he said.

Citing an example, he said the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was signed before Pakatan Harapan (PH) took over the government in May last year, does not fit it into the current policy.

Darell disclosed that some of the chapters and clauses closed before the change of government could never be reopened.

“Unfortunately, good or bad, we have to accept those chapters as they were negotiated before the PH government took over. However, we will use our policy on the outstanding chapters. We will not compromise the sovereignty of the country to conclude the trade deal,” he said.

Meanwhile, in a joint statement after the 7th RCEP Ministerial Meeting yesterday, the ministers reaffirmed their collective resolve to bring negotiations to a conclusion.

“The ministers are committed to avail negotiators with the necessary resources and mandate to bring negotiations to a close. The ministers made the collective call to negotiators at all levels to translate this commitment into constructive actions and positive outcomes,” it said.

The ministers also recognised that the negotiations have reached a critical milestone as the deadline for their conclusion draws near.

Notwithstanding the remaining challenges in the negotiations, RCEP participating countries are working on addressing outstanding issues that are fundamental to conclude the agreement this year as mandated by the leaders.

“Ministers agreed that participating countries should not lose the long-term vision of deepening and expanding the values chains in the RCEP.

“The Ministers underscored that, successfully concluded, the RCEP will provide the much-needed stability and certainty to the market, which will in turn boost trade and investment in the region.

The RCEP negotiations were launched during the 21st ASEAN Summit in November 2012 in Phnom Penh.

The trade pact comprises a population of 3.4 billion with a total gross domestic product (GDP) of US$49.5 trillion, or about 39 per cent of the world’s GDP.

The deal is likely to be signed next year if the negotiations could be finalised in the meeting in November in Bangkok.

It was reported that about 80 per cent of the agreement is completed with negotiations on content in financial, telecommunication and professional services.

After seven years, the trade deal remains unsigned. India is widely viewed as the biggest barrier in concluding the RCEP as New Delhi allegedly opposed opening its markets to tariff-free goods and services.

However, New Delhi is hesitant about opting out of the RCEP pact.

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Axiata returns to black in Q2 with RM204m profit

PETALING JAYA: Axiata Group Bhd swung to the black registering a net profit of RM204.09 million for the second quarter ended June 30, 2019 against a net loss of RM3.36 billion reported in the previous corresponding period, underpinned by strong operational performance across most of its markets and discontinuation of losses related to the group’s investment in India.

The group reported RM6.15 billion in revenue, a 4.9% increase from RM5.87 billion previously.

The telco has proposed to declare a dividend of 5 sen per share for the quarter under review.

According to the group’s filing with the stock exchange, earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) for the Malaysian operation increased 39.1% to RM218.2 million as a result of lower operating cost.

Net profit for its infrastructure business in Malaysia fell 34.8% to RM47.8 million due to higher depreciation and amortisation as well as forex losses.

In Indonesia, it recorded a net profit of RM43.0 million in Q2 as opposed to net loss of RM28.7 million in Q2 18 on the back of higher revenue.

Axiata’s operations in Sri Lanka was affected by higher depreciation and amortisation as well as finance cost, hence resulting in a 32.6% drop in net profit to RM47.9 million.

In Bangladesh, it registered a net loss of RM15.8 million for the quarter due to higher tax recorded as a result of changes in tax law for minimum tax rate from 0.75% to 2.0% on revenue effective January 1, 2018.

Subsequently, its Nepal operation’s net profit sank 18.4% to RM154.0 million due to changes in telecommunication services charge in Nepal introduced in July 2018.

In Cambodia, group reported a 13.3% increase in net profit to RM73.9 million increase, attributed to higher top line despite being partly offset by higher depreciation and amortisation and tax expense.

For the first half of the year, Axiata’s net profit stood at RM913.15 million against a net loss of RM3.5 billion in the same period last year.

Its revenue came in at RM12.1 billion, a 4.2% improvement from RM11.62 billion.

Barring any unforeseen circumstances, regulatory and external disruptions, Axiata said the group is likely to exceed its headline key performance indicators (KPIs) for ebitda growth and return on invested capital, which were initially targeted to range between 5% to 8% and 5.2% to 5.6% respectively for its financial year ending December 31, 2019.

“The year’s headline KPI for revenue growth is expected to remain in line with the targeted range of 3% to 4%, whilst capex for 2019 is likely to be below guidance of RM6.8 billion on the back of ongoing capex rationalisation.”

At the midday break, Axiata’s share price gained 2 sen to RM5.02 on 610,700 shares done.

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Public Bank posts lower Q2 earnings on higher expenses

PETALING JAYA: Public Bank Bhd’s net profit for the second quarter ended June 30, 2019 fell 4.5% to RM1.33 billion from RM1.40 billion a year ago mainly due to higher interest and operating expenses.

Its revenue, however increased 3% to RM5.60 billion from RM5.44 billion previously.

The bank has declared a first interim dividend of 33 sen per share, translating into a total dividend payout of RM1.28 billion.

For the six-month period, its net profit was 2.1% lower at RM2.74 billion as compared with RM2.80 billion in the previous corresponding period due the negative effect of Overnight Policy Rate (OPR) reduction of 0.25% in May 2019 versus an OPR hike in January 2018 of the previous year corresponding period.

Its revenue however jumped 3.5% to RM11.17 billion from RM10.79 billion a year ago.

Public Bank founder and chairman emeritus Tan Sri Dr Teh Hong Piow said arising from the reduction of the OPR in May 2019, domestic banks were faced with a decline in net interest margins which affected the profit for the half year ended June 30, 2019.

“However, excluding the negative effect of the OPR reduction, Public Bank was able to sustain stable profitability underpinned by its healthy loans and deposits growth, stable asset quality and prudent cost management,” he said in a statement.

During the period, Public Bank’s total loans grew by an annualised rate of 4.0% to RM323.7 billion, mainly attributed to the healthy growth in its core financing business in residential and commercial properties. Its gross impaired loans ratio stood at 0.5% as at end-June, 2019, well below the banking industry’s gross impaired loan ratio of 1.6%.

On funding side, the group’s deposits saw an annualised growth rate of 5.9% to RM349.1 billion.

In the first half of 2019, the group achieved 8.1% growth in non-interest income, mainly arising from higher investment income and higher banking fee income.

“The group’s unit trust management business through its wholly-owned subsidiary, Public Mutual, continued to be the largest contributor, making up 35% of the group’s total non-interest income.”

Public Bank’s cost-to-income ratio came in at 34.2%, as compared with the banking industry’s 44.6%.

“The group’s effective management of cost efficiency has helped to cushion the impact of interest margin pressure. The group’s long term track record of prudent cost management will also continue to be its competitive advantage when rising cost pressure is expected to persist,” said Teh.

As at the end of June 2019, the group’s common equity Tier 1 capital ratio, Tier 1 capital ratio and total capital ratio were at 13.2%, 13.6% and 16.0% respectively.

Its loan loss coverage stood at 116.0%, well above the banking industry’s 91.1%. Including additional regulatory reserves set aside of RM1.9 billion, it would be higher at 226.5%.

Overseas operations contributed 10.5% to the group’s pre-tax profit, mainly contributed by Public Financial Holdings Limited Group in Hong Kong and Cambodia Public Bank Plc.

Going forward, Teh said Public Bank will remain on a cautious stance in growing its business and closely monitor the changes in the operating environment and undertake appropriate measure to fine-tune its operational strategies for continued business growth.

“In addition, as the group continues to sustain its fundamental strength, it will proactively seek to develop new initiatives, such as banking digitalisation as well as innovative and distinctive financial products for long term business growth.”

‘Do more to harness potential in tourism’

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has not done enough to tap the vast potential of tourism related business opportunities, according to ACCCIM’s Malaysia’s Business and Economic Conditions Survey.

This was concurred by 78.2% of respondents, while 81% also acknowledged that Malaysia’s tourism is lagging behind its neighbours.

Throughout 2001-2008, tourist arrivals in Malaysia had grown by 4.2% per annum to 25.8 million persons, which was lower compared with Cambodia (14.7% per annum), Vietnam (11.8%), Laos (11.3%), Phillippines (8.4%), Thailand (8.2%), Indonesia (6.8%) and Singapore (5.4%).

The survey found that simplified visa rules, the rollout of e-visas or visa-exemption are crucial to facilitate and ease the entry of travellers and tourists as indicated by 52.7% of respondents. Front-services counters at airports must also be enhanced.

The preferred tourism products indicated by respondents are eco-tourism (78%), followed by culinary tourism (73.4%), cultural tourism (55.6%), recreational tourism (49.5%), agro-tourism (48.8%) and medical tourism (37.7%).

It is proposed that Malaysia organise an annual mega food fiesta in major states, as well as nationwide food hunting tours to drive Malaysia as a food haven.

Niche markets such as medical tourism, education tourism as well as meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions industry should be promoted as these are high quality tourism products.

To improve the country’s competitiveness in recapturing higher contribution from tourism, 68.3% of respondents opined that the government should further enhance the effectiveness of tourism promotion, marketing and branding.

It also proposed that a short and simplified course for part-time tour guides be conducted to handle tourists from China as there is a lack of tour guides, particularly Chinese speaking.

Respondents also opined that the Budget 2020 should roll out more tourism-related measures and provide more allocations to support tourism-related activities and development, in facilitating preparations for Visit Malaysia Year 2020.