Tuesday 6 August 2013

Weekly roundup

Several interesting articles in Singaporean newspapers:

[1] Article about Claire Barnes and the Apollo fund managed by her, one of the best performing funds in Asia. Warren Buffett often warned investors in Berkshire Hathaway that the performance of the previous years would not be able to sustain. This humility is typical of good fund managers and Claire Barnes is no exception, she explains the stellar performance of her fund for a good part on the initial years which coincided with  the Asian crisis, when some unbelievable bargains were available. Peter Lynch was a successful fund manager for Fidelity, but he was very much disappointed once he found out that investors on average had actually lost money in his fund. The reason was that much more money was invested when the index had gone up a lot, and money was withdrawn when the index had gone down a lot. The Apollo Fund has closed on occasions, when Claire Barnes had problems finding value. This seems to make perfect sense.

[2] Article about AirAsia X CEO Azran Osman Rani and his entrepreneurial background. Great story, also touching on his twitter against racism. I have issues with Corporate Governance in both AirAsia and AirAsia X and have written several times about them, but I do admire the people who run these businesses.

[3] Article about BFM 89.9 founder and CEO Malek Ali and his entrepreneurial journey, another great story. However, also a less great paragraph, Malek was summoned to Malaysia's Communications & Multimedia Commission (MCMC) where he had to explain why his radiostation invited someone from the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) to discuss its Global Democracy Index. More about this index can be found here and here. Malaysia was classified as a "flawed democracy", which is less bad than it sounds, it means Malaysia is in the 2nd category out of 4, and ranked 71st out of 167 countries. Apparently the results from the EIU were deemed to be not favourable enough for the powers that be, hence the need to call Malek, a very worrisome development.

[4] Article in The Business Times about the important role that short sellers play in governance, highlighting the case of China Metals Recycling (CMR), which is the latest China company to come under official scrutiny amid allegations involving inflated accounts:

"What's interesting from a markets and governance perspective is that the allegations about CMR's finances first surfaced in January when US short-selling firm Glaucus Research Group published a report recommending a "strong sell" because, among various reasons, CMR's claim (on its website) that it is China's largest scrap metal recycler was a "lie" and that "many of the company's key financial and operational metrics deviate so significantly from other scrap metal recyclers that its reported performance defies credibility".

"Those which act responsibly like Glaucus by providing full disclosure can complement regulatory efforts and should be viewed as an important component of the governance framework."

[5] Everything was going nicely with MISC, minority investors rejected the low offer from PETRONAS (a nice and rather rare victory for shareholder activism in Malaysia) and the share recovered to a price that was higher than the offer price (again, indicating that the offer was really not sufficient). But things have changed quickly, PETRONAS wants to ship the liquid gas themselves. With PETRONAS controlling MISC (whose main source of input is the transport of liquid gas), a clear conflict of interest situation will be created. I hope that PETRONAS will reconsider their plans, this new development doesn't sound like a good idea at all. KiniBiz's "Tiger" asked the following pertinent questions:

• Is it Petronas’ intention to deliberately undermine MISC’s prospects so that the price can be depressed for another future takeover offer by Petronas?

• If it is, is it the right way for Petronas to behave as a national oil corporation which has or should have high standards of corporate governance?

• Is this what we can expect from Petronas in terms of its other listed subsidiaries — go to the market, get investors, try and privatise for a low price and if that fails, deliberately sabotage that listed company so as to mount another takeover on it?

• Is this an act of vengeance that the misguided management is trying to impose on minority shareholders for rejecting the offer, even if the move will ultimately undermine and perhaps even destroy its very own subsidiary?

[6] My article "Maemode: accurate predictions by Ze Moola, but why did nobody notice?" received quite a lot of web traffic. I uncovered some more issues and hope to revisit this subject in the future in more detail.

[7] There has been speculation in the press of an IPO of POSH Semco, a subsidiary of POSH in which Maybulk has invested close to RM 1 Billion. I don't like to react on speculation (which has been proven so often to be wrong), I just like to point out that POSH itself (the mother company of POSH Semco) was supposed to be listed within 5 years, a term that will expire before the end of this year. Also, there is still a put option by Maybulk to sell back their stake in POSH at a premium of 25% to their purchase price. I have written many times about the extremely pricey purchase of POSH by Maybulk during the depth of the global crisis, especially regarding the questionable valuation report and the biased independent report. I hope that the minority investors are given the right to decide if the put option will be exercised or not, and that the majority investors will abstain from voting, although I doubt this will actually happen.

[8] And lastly some good news reports KiniBiz, which can be seen as another victory for shareholder activism in Malaysia:

"Final ‘voluntary termination’ payments were issued today in a media conference called by the management company of the beleaguered Country Heights Grower Scheme.....

Today’s payment by the management company of the scheme, Plentiful Gold-Class to CIMB Commerce Trustee comprised a 90% capital refund of RM182.9 million, unclaimed monies with regard to the first 10% capital refund and a goodwill payment of RM25 million by Lee Kim Yew, the founder and head of the Country Heights Grower Scheme."

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