Discover more from The Coffee Break
☕️ 1MDB hole could have been RM4.9 bil bigger if BNM had approved its offshore debt fundraising
Serba Dinamik at the brink of delisting. AI tool can decipher passwords by listening to keyboard strokes over Zoom with a 93% hit rate. German cabinet okays cannabis recreational use, cultivation.
1. NUMBERS AT A GLANCE 🔢
RM33.19 bil — the total investment income recorded by EPF in the first half of the year ended 30 June 2023 (H1 FY2023), an increase of RM9.44 bil or an impressive 39.7% from RM23.75 bil recorded in the same corresponding period in 2022. EPF investment assets stood at RM1.082 trillion, of which 61.4% were invested in domestic investments. In Q2 FY2023, EPF received total contributions of RM24.65 bil — the highest recorded for Q2 in the past five years. View EPF’s statement here.
In the USA’s 247-year history, 45 men have been elected president of the United States. Before Donald Trump, the average number of felonies charged per president was a beautiful zero. Enters Trump, and he singlehandedly pulled the average to just over 2 (that’s why in statistics, it’s important to compare both median and average to factor for extremes and outliers). Trump is charged with a whopping 91 felonies. Despite this, Trump is miles ahead in the Republican’s presidential primary polling, drawing in an average of 52.7% of support, nearly 38% ahead of second-place Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Actress Margot Robbie is getting a big payday, roughly USD50 mil (RM231.5 mil), for her role in the recent blockbuster “Barbie”, Variety reported. Opened a month ago, the movie has already grossed USD1.184 bil globally (USD526.3 mil in the US + USD657.6 mil in the international box office). In percentage terms, 4.22% of global box office receipts went into Barbie’s bank.
It’s how you stay informed. Get the daily newsletter of many Malaysians for free.
Indeed, a lot of it is down to luck and privilege, being born in the right country (not Afghanistan, read further below), to the right parents (mom, dad, we love you, if you are reading this), at precisely the right moment. In the words of Warren Buffett, we are glad to be a ‘member of the lucky sperm club.’
3. IN MALAYSIA 🇲🇾
1MDB-Tanore trial continues
Former BNM governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz continues to take the witness stand. The financial damage caused by 1MDB could be RM4.9 bil bigger as the central bank did not allow the already heavily indebted 1MDB to borrow more from foreign sources in 2014. Zeti revealed. 1MDB then tried its luck with Securities Commission to help with fundraising, but Zeti did not have the details.
As of Mar 2023, Deputy Finance Minister Ahmad Maslan said the government has paid debts totalling RM43.8 bil, with an unpaid balance of RM9.7 bil (RM5 bil principal + RM4.7 bil interest). 1MDB’s principal loan totalled RM33.6 bil and the interest amount to RM14.9 bil. The numbers didn’t add up if you care to calculate. In any case, these tens of billions of debt incurred had nothing to show for. Better off investing in Hermes shares, the favourite brand of a former First Lady of Malaysia. Since 2 Jan 2009, the share price of luxury brand Hermes has gone up 19.32x from EUR99.75 to EUR1,972 per share. The company today is worth EUR203 bil (can buy 9 Maybanks + 1 Hong Leong Bank).
Zeti told the court that it took seven years to find out that USD700 mil of a USD1 bil government-back 1MDB bonds have been transferred to Good Star Ltd in 2009, an offshore account linked to fugitive Jho Low. It isn’t unusual to take this long, according to Zeti, as it’s quite common to take this long for financial regulators across the world to uncover wrongdoings. Zeti claimed 1MDB’s management was not forthcoming with the funds — then 1MDB CEO Shahrol Azral Ibrahim Halmi had written to BNM to inform the central bank that Good Star was linked to the originally intended JV with PetroSaud International Ltd, but with the funds to be remitted to different accounts.
On 1MDB matters out of court, IGP Razarudin Husain said that former 1MDB general counsel Jasmine Loo is still being detained, and the police are seeking to seize assets owned by her.
Series of unfortunate events: flash floods, crashing beam, rape
This is the scene of a flash flood after a heavy downpour in the afternoon. This is not Kelantan, but Section 13, Shah Alam. Floodwaters in some parts subsided soon after. This a timely opportunity for the newly elected Kota Anggerik assemblyman Najwan Halimi (PKR) to get to work to prove his worth. Or risk getting washed out by a green wave in the next state election — time flies.
A beam of a 5-storey commercial building at Kuchai Entrepreneurs Park crashed and destroyed 10 cars parked below. DBKL said a preliminary investigation showed possible construction flaws affecting the building’s integrity. No one was harmed. Watch the situation at the scene here.
A 12-year-old girl in Batu Pahat was allegedly raped by three youths, aged 18 to 20, whom she befriended through social media. Parents, monitor your children’s social media consumption closely.
Forced labour practices at First Solar’s Malaysian plant
The largest US solar photovoltaics (PV) manufacturer revealed incidents of forced labour practices at its Malaysian plant in Kulim, Kedah, in its newly released sustainability report for 2023. The report found that four onsite service providers in Malaysia employed foreign migrant workers who subjected them to unethical treatment, including the payment of recruitment fees in their home countries, passport retention and unlawful retention of wages. Corrective actions have been taken to include current and former employees and site service agreements have been updated to prevent any recurrence. No mention of how many workers were affected and the amount of compensation made. First Solar Malaysia started operations in 2008 — the question is, how long did this practice go unnoticed?
Read: First Solar Sustainability Report 2023
Embattled Serba Dinamik Holdings Bhd might be delisted after Bursa Malaysia Securities denied the company’s request for a further extension to submit its regularisation plan. The company announced that trading in its securities will be suspended from 24 Aug 2023, and if no appeal against the impending listing is submitted to Bursa, its shares will be removed on 28 Aug 2023. Serba Dinamik’s market cap stands at RM74.5 mil. Its revenue collapsed to just RM6.2 mil in the quarter ended 31 Mar 2023 from RM205.5 mil in the same corresponding period and loans and borrowings stood at RM3.72 bil (see financials here). It will take a cosmic miracle to turn around this company.
Malaysia Airports Holdings Bhd has terminated the RM742.95 mil contract awarded to Pestech International Bhd to supply aerotrains to KL as the company has been found in material breach of its obligations under the contract, including non-performance and compromising significant project milestones. Pestech was awarded the project in Dec 2021 through an open tender process. 2023 has been quite brutal for the company - MACC investigation, a RM399 mil contract termination by YTL, massive dilution following IJM’s investment and now this. Jatuh ditimpa tangga, berturut-turut. Despite all this, its market cap is RM287.7 mil - at least it’s worth more than Serba Dinamik.
Now we know why we are taking buses instead of aerotrains in KLIA.
4. AROUND THE WORLD 🌎
It’s an EV world: Vinfast's SPAC, a new battery, and India's infrastructure plan
Vietnamese EV maker Vinfast debuted on Nasdaq via a SPAC merger, adding USD39 bil or 8x the net worth of founder and chairman Pham Nhat Vuong, USD44.3 bil, when its shares surged 255% during the debut. After the day’s trading, Vinfast shares were valued at over USD37 each, giving the automaker a valuation of USD85 bil, compared to Ford’s USD48 bil and General Motors’ USD46 bil. Of note is that 99% of Vinfast’s outstanding shares are controlled either directly or indirectly by Vuong, leaving the remainder to be traded on the open market. With just 1% free float available to the market, it’s easy to ‘influence’ the share price. Word of caution - EV companies that are listed via SPACs have seen their shares collapse massively (see table here). Pham’s newfound wealth could evaporate just as fast as he earned it.
Meanwhile, Chinese battery giant CATL, a major supplier to Tesla, unveiled its new “Shenxing” battery, which will be able to provide an EV with a 400km range in a single 10-minute charge. Mass production of the battery is expected to start by the end of 2023, with shipping to begin in 2024. The battery uses lithium iron phosphate (LFP), a technology spearheaded by CATL that Tesla adopted in 2021 for its shorter-range vehicles.
Learn: Lithium iron phosphate vs lithium-ion: differences and advantages.
India will also be expanding EV adoption with its approval of a plan to deploy 10,000 electric buses in 169 cities over the next decade, inclusive of charging facilities and other associated infrastructure. The plan costs nearly 580 bil rupees (USD7 bil), of which the government will front 200 bil rupees (USD2.4 bil) as part of a public-private partnership model. The plan ultimately aims for 50,000 electric buses nationwide at an estimated cost of USD12 bil. This is in line with the Indian government’s plan to green the country’s public transport system in a bid to cut emissions and reduce fuel imports.
3,329 claims of human rights infringements in Afghanistan since Taliban takeover, living hell for women
The study, conducted by the human rights group Afghan Witness, noted hundreds of reports of women being violently killed by the Taliban, with 188 such cases between January 2022 to July 2023. The reports include cases of women being beheaded, shot at, or stabbed, with their bodies frequently discarded in rivers or streets, with the numbers indicating femicide cases gradually rising. The group also documented public punishment announcements to over 350 people since the first such public punishment in October 2022. The Taliban has blocked women from education, the workplace, sports participation, and even public spaces since it took power in 2021, going back on earlier promises regarding human rights, particularly for girls and women.
AI: hacking passwords just by listening to keystrokes, reviving the tech industry
A study has shown that an AI tool utilising deep learning can decipher text from keystroke sounds recorded over Zoom with a success rate of 93%, and this includes passwords. The researchers pointed to “acoustic side-channel attacks” as a growing threat to keyboards. Side-channel attacks extract information using information leakages from a computer, such as power consumption, electromagnetic emissions, or even the sound of keystrokes on a keyboard. The researchers noted that passwords containing full words may be at greater risk of attack and that touch typing or adding background noise seemed to lower the accuracy rate of the AI tool.
AI, as an industry, managed to limit the damage to the tech job market. Bernstein analysts declared the tech job recession is over, with the generative AI boom leading to AI startups raising billions of dollars, some of which has gone towards hiring engineers and other AI specialists. Other big tech firms have also halted layoffs, and some, such as Meta and Amazon, have even begun rehiring staff that were previously laid off.
Thai lawmakers to vote on PM next week
The house speaker announced the vote for the third time after a court rejected a bid by the Move Forward party, which won the elections, to challenge the parliament’s blocking of its candidate on a technicality. 3 months since its election and Thailand has yet to elect its PM.
England beats Australia to move on to Women's World Cup finals
England beats Australia 3 to 1 in the Women’s World Cup semi-finals and will face Spain in the finals over the weekend. Meanwhile, Australia will be facing off against Sweden for third place. This marks the first time England has reached a World Cup final since 1966. Australia and New Zealand are both co-hosting the event.
German cabinet okays cannabis use
Germany’s cabinet passed the contentious bill to legalise recreational marijuana use and cultivation, making it one of the most liberal cannabis laws in Europe. However, the legislation will still have to pass through Parliament. If passed, adults will be allowed to possess up to 25 grams of the drug, grow a maximum of three plants, or purchase it at cannabis clubs. The government hopes the law will curb the black market, protect consumers against contaminated marijuana, and reduce drug-related crime. Meanwhile, Malaysia is still contemplating approving medical marijuana, with no news since August 2022.
5. FOR YOUR EYES 📺
Spirit of Merdeka. Nice comic by themokumentary — a master of puns. Check out his collection here.
A Proboscis monkey took a boat ride in Sarawak to cross the river back to its island. Pity the abang — gave a free ride to the monkey, yet the monkey didn’t even want to give him a hi-5.