Discover more from The Coffee Break
☕️ EPF's 9-month 2023 total investment income of RM47.9 bil, up +33% y-o-y
BN vs PAS - Kemaman parliamentary by-election. Weekend tech drama: OpenAI CEO fired, but might make a return. Rohingya refugees’ boat rejected in Aceh, pushed back to sea.
1. MARKET SUMMARY 📈
2. NUMBERS AT A GLANCE 🔢
Bank Negara Malaysia (BNM) reported that Malaysia’s economy grew by 3.3% in the third quarter of 2023 compared to a year earlier. The robust growth was primarily driven by resilient domestic demand. On a quarter-on-quarter seasonally adjusted basis, the Malaysian economy exhibited growth of 2.6%, a notable increase from the previous quarter's 1.5% in the second quarter of 2023. Summing up the performance, the Malaysian economy expanded by 3.9% over the initial three quarters of 2023. Bank Negara governor Abdul Rasheed Ghaffour said the central expects the country’s economy to expand by about 4% in 2023.
RM47.86 bil — the Employees Provident Fund’s (EPF) total investment income for the first nine months ended September 30, 2023. This amount is 33% higher than the income recorded in the same period in 2022. EPF’s investment assets stood at RM1,092.32 bil as of September 2023. Should there be no shock to the markets, we might expect a good EPF dividend payout for 2023 and higher than 2022’s of 5.35%/4.75% (conventional/Islamic).
View chart: EPF historical dividend rates 2008-2022
RM63.02 bil of foreign direct investment (FDI) — the fruit of the Unity Government’s effort at the 2023 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), as a total of 14 firms have proposed to invest in Malaysia. Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim announced the proposed investments were mainly from technology giants. RM8.33 bil investments were from the trade and investment mission to the US organised before APEC, while the remaining were from one-on-one meetings held by Anwar in the US. Big numbers are sexy - but details are important. What’s the timeline for this FDI to materialise?
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3. IN MALAYSIA 🇲🇾
BN vs PAS in the Kemaman parliamentary by-election
The by-election is a straight fight between Gen (Rtd) Raja Mohamed Affandi Raja Mohamed Noor of Barisan Nasional (BN) and Terengganu Menteri Besar Dr Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar, representing PAS. The by-election was called following the decision by the Terengganu Elections Court on Sept 26 to nullify PAS candidate Che Alias Hamid’s victory in the 15th general election (GE15). Judge Anselm Charles Fernandis ruled that there had been elements of inducement of voters during the campaigning period.
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) activated its operation room for the Kemaman parliamentary by-election in Terengganu to allow the people to channel information and complaints related to acts of corruption and abuse of power during the by-election. The Election Commission (EC) has set up five campaign enforcement teams to monitor the campaigning activities to ensure candidates do not violate the election laws.
Scandalous drama over the weekend
Ex-Community Communications Department (J-Kom) director-general Dr Mohammad Agus Yusoff and Abdul Wahab, an assistant officer in the department, were implicated in a controversial video posted on X last Thursday (which has since been removed). In a press conference, Agus and Wahab (A&W, how uncanny) admitted they appeared in the video, but Wahab said the original video was without sound, and the (intimate) audio was added later on. Agus denied the video’s authenticity, saying it was doctored (got AI-ed? As in artificial intelligence) to frame him.
Agus claimed he met someone on Nov 13 who showed him the video and gave him two choices — resign or go on leave until his service term expires. He chose the latter.
CelcomDigi Bhd reported a significant 32.66% quarter-on-quarter (q-o-q) increase in net profit for the quarter ending on September 30, 2023 (3QFY2023). The net profit rose to RM455.72 mil, up from RM343.52 mil in 2QFY2023. This improvement was attributed to lower regulatory and network-related costs, as well as reduced marketing expenditures. As a result, the group declared a third interim dividend of 3.3 sen per share. The group now has a base of 20.6 mil as of September 2023.
Communications and Digital Minister Fahmi Fadzil expects the Digital Nasional Bhd’s (DNB) share subscription agreement (SSA) on 5G to be signed within the week. Five mobile network operators — CelcomDigi Bhd, Maxis Bhd, Telekom Malaysia Bhd, U Mobile Sdn Bhd, and YTL Communications Sdn Bhd — have agreed to acquire equity stakes in DNB. As for the dual 5G model rollout, the minister reiterated that it would only be done after DNB has hit 80% coverage of populated areas. The coverage stood at 73% as of October 2023.
At the APEC Economics Leaders Meeting last Friday, PM Anwar Ibrahim said he is glad that both Brunei and Indonesia are aligned with Malaysia and adopted a firm and common stand on the Gaza issue. While the APEC was not meant to be a forum to discuss geopolitical issues, the stance of the three nations was meant to appeal to stop the atrocities happening in Gaza.
After all the hoo-ha last week on the Control of Smoking Products for Public Health Bill 2023, aka the Generational Endgame (GEG) bill, the Health Ministry is hoping to table the bill before the current Parliament session ends this month. Former health minister Khairy Jamaluddin slammed current Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s silence over Tourism, Arts, and Culture Minister Tiong King Sing’s remarks, which questioned the link between smoking and cancer.
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) denied claims that it is planning to use the Sedition Act to prosecute individuals who have been allegedly slandering McDonald’s. MCMC acknowledged a complaint from Gerbang Alaf Restaurants Sdn Bhd (McDonald’s Malaysia), but there have been no discussions to invoke the Sedition Act. Furthermore, MCMC clarified it has no jurisdiction to do so.
Malaysia Rail Link Sdn Bhd (MRL) debunked a recent news report citing a Chinese expert suggesting that East Coast Rail Link (ECRL) can increase its speed to 351km/h. MRL said the railway is designed primarily for transporting cargo, so its passenger service is largely constrained by the design requirements of freight trains. In practice, passenger trains operated by ECRL will run at speeds of up to 160km/h, while freight trains will be limited to a maximum speed of 80km/h.
4. AROUND THE WORLD 🌎
Rohingya refugees’ boat rejected in Aceh, pushed back to sea
A decrepit wooden boat overcrowded with 250-260 Rohingya refugees was prevented from landing in Aceh, Indonesia, last Thursday. However, 2 other boats carrying about 350 refugees landed in the Aceh region too earlier in the week. The third boat, mostly women and children on board, unfortunately, faced resistance from locals. Although the boat was pushed back to the sea, some locals handed the refugees packets of food and bottles of water. A refugee said the boat had left Coz’s Bazar in Bangladesh — the world’s largest refugee camp and home to nearly a million Rohingya refugees — and had travelled for 20 days. Watch the heartbreaking moment of their attempted landing here.
Read: Inside the world’s five largest refugee camps.
Before criticising the locals of Aceh as cruel, the refugee crisis is a complex matter. Aceh previously welcomed Rohingya refugees. But there’s only so much one can do, in the absence of a proper, strategic plan to manage this crisis. Firstly, the Indonesian government had no comprehensive plans to deal with refugees — where to place them, the costs of supporting them, the refugees’ longer-term future, etc. Secondly, some Indonesians were prosecuted and imprisoned after being accused of human trafficking after helping these refugees onto dry land.
Weekend tech drama: OpenAI CEO ousted, but might make a return
Out of nowhere, ChatGPT maker OpenAI’s board of directors announced (read statement here) its stunning decision to fire its CEO and co-founder Sam Altman. However, the cause wasn’t disclosed and it had nothing to do with any wrongdoing in any from, as confirmed by OpenAI COO Brad Lightcap. The market speculated that the firing was orchestrated by OpenAI’s chief scientist Ilya Sutskever (who is also a board member), fearing that Altman is pushing the development too far, too fast, with little concern for safety.
Altman’s sacking came as a shock as OpenAI has been on a tear of late and is seeking a USD90 bil valuation in its latest funding round. In support of Altman, another co-founder and chairman of the board, Greg Brockman, said he would leave the company too. Not all is over yet for Altman as OpenAI’s biggest investors, including Microsoft, is pushing the board to reinstate Altman. The investors are not stopping there as they also seek to replace the entire board. If this materialises — Altman probably would be the fastest co-founder and CEO to make a comeback to his own company after being fired.
An interesting thread (updates as new info emerges) here summarising the whole saga. We doubt even ChatGPT could come up with such a plot.
Meituan eyes Delivery Hero’s foodpanda
Chinese food delivery giant Meituan is said to be exploring an acquisition of Delivery Hero SE’s business in Southeast Asia, which includes the Foodpanda brand, as it attempts to expand beyond its domestic market. It was speculated earlier that Grab could be a potential acquirer for a price tag of a little more than EUR1 bil (RM5.1 bil), though this would be challenging to get clearance from competition regulators given concern over the potential monopoly of the food delivery market.
Delivery Hero CEO Niklas Oestberg last week said that its Asia business is holding back growth, although Asia is the group’s largest and most profitable segment (a financially peculiar comment as to why wouldn’t they want to keep a stable, cash cow to support the other parts of the business that isn’t profitable?). Meituan, operating just in China, has a market cap of USD89 bil, nearly 7x bigger than Grab. Tencent, prior to its divestment a year ago, was a significant shareholder of Meituan with a 17% stake.
How much ransom to pay? Guidelines by infamous ransomware hackers
Prolific ransomware gang LockBit recently made the news after disrupting the operations of the world’s largest bank, China’s ICBC (TLDR: ICBC paid the ransom). LockBit’s roster of victims includes Boeing, the UK’s Royal Mail and Japan’s biggest maritime port. Despite targeting corporates, LockBit’s leadership is disappointed with the group’s ‘revenue’ (i.e. ransom payouts), according to a report published by cybersecurity firm Analyst1. The group is made up of more than 100 affiliates, many whom are young and inexperienced in negotiations. The gang’s main leaders implemented new rules effective Oct 1, laying out new tactics when negotiating and recommended payouts based on revenue:
Below USD100 mil - 3%-10%
Up to USD1 bil - 0.5% to 5%
More than USD1 bil - 0.1% to 3%
View report: Negotiating with LockBit: Uncovering the evolution of operations and newly established rules
A group of 15 Palestinians, including 8 children and their families, have been evacuated from Gaza and have arrived in Abu Dhabi, UAE, for treatment. This group is the first to arrive after President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed pledged to treat 1,000 in UAE hospitals with daily flights to bring more in.
Coffee chain Tim Hortons is opening its first outlet in Singapore in VivoCity Mall, marking its third Southeast Asian country after the Philippines and Thailand. The expansion is led by Japanese conglomerate Marubeni Corporation (Warren Buffett has an indirect stake of at least 8.5%) and will also see the coffee chain’s entry into Malaysia and Indonesia in the next year. Tim Hortons is aggressively expanding in China, where it now has 700 stores and targets 2,750 outlets by 2026 (that’s an average of 3 new outlets opening a day)- the China venture is backed by Tencent and Sequoia China.
Rapper Snoop Dogg, who is synonymous with weed, made a surprise announcement on his Instagram — he’s quitting smoking, though he didn’t specify exactly what kind of smoking. Some fans speculated it’s marketing for his cannabis company, Leafs by Snoop. What’s Snoop D-o-double g without the weed?
5. FOR YOUR EYES 📺
Watch Mother Earth giving birth to land — a new island measuring about 100 meters in diameter was born last week following an underwater volcanic eruption in Iwoto, Japan. The eruption released so much magma that it managed to break the water’s surface on Oct 31.
This is what caning looks like in prison (warning - disturbing). Muar MP Syed Saddiq was convicted last week and sentenced to caning, making him the first Malaysian politician to be caned. Following the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty, NGOs have called on the government to abolish the sentence of whipping or caning.