Oct 11, 2017

Crystal balls and smoke

It's that time of year again, where we put everything down and engage in that archaic ritual of crystal ball gazing.

Simply put, it's what most people describing as setting the sales budget for next year. In my case, our business nature is really unpredictable and it makes the reading of tea leaves highly difficult.

It is akin to being in several marriages all at once. You may be blissful this year and then sour the next. You also get into special arrangements; OK you can fool around outside, but I also can, ok?

Now, where was I again.

The crystal ball. Funny and ironic, one recent forecasting initiative had adopted this as the project name.

At the proverbial end of the day, numbers need to be created and presented to the powers that be. They set the course for the next year, and dispense expense budgets or headcount expansion.

No two ways about it. How we get from one point to the next.

What happens in between are in shades of grey. 

Recall the hunters from the field. Tie up the horses. Turn in all guns.

And then they start spinning tales. 

Next week, I will bring back two ducks. No? How about three.

OK, I'll be back with bears. Happy? The entire lot, heck, I'll even add in Goldilocks. But you better double my hunting allowance.

You get the picture?

Mar 10, 2016

What keeps you going



The feeling whenever my competitor's name pops up at my customers. Especially when we share the same name.

Jan 31, 2016

Can Financial Freedom turn a retriever into a german shepherd dog?

He was tall, like basketball-tall and like how people describe in Chinese; skinny and dry. He took to the stage and begun his opening speech. Big words, dramatic pauses and full of enthusiasm.

The man was new but not really; he replaced an outgoing gentleman on the board, an Angmoh transferred in from another division. 

The audience was a raucous gathering of successful cowboys, swashbucklers and fishmongers. You could not find one here who could not tell a tale or two of their gallant exploits out in the field. They were seated in comfy chairs and smiling lazily, the effects of lunch were beginning to set in on most of them. 

Speaking slowly and simply, the man softened up these tough locals who were renowned to appear passive and indifferent.
A simple joke here, a remark there, he succeeded in teasing out obligatory smiles from the crowd. And then he dropped it.


"We actually should have been growing 10%, if not even 15, it's not impossible..."

"But we wouldn't have actually grown, if not for acquisitions..."

"So without that, what do I think about this?"

"Its crap. Really." 




What an audacious statement! Did a magical fairy whisper numbers in his ear? Can we finally turn this speech into a two way dialogue?
The youngest of them was indignant. A fishmonger by trade, the boy was still yet a juvenile in the eyes of these elders. He glanced slightly to observe the crowd. These veterans, seasoned by the elements and fearless after years of plying their trade out in the field. 

Blank stares, tight-lips and stony gazes. They were just... there, quietly taking it.

Where is all their fire now? The boy wondered.

Jan 4, 2016

The first working day of 2016

Today began for me just like any other. I got up past seven, did stuff, then left after packing breakfast. Traffic was heavy like it used to be before Christmas, and I arrived early at half past eight. I was pleased to see the carpark still relatively empty, and my favorite single lot available. I cruised smoothly towards the lot and lined parallel ahead. Slowly I angled in, stopped to adjust, then pulled out and re-did it again because I wanted to park 'swee swee'. Is there an impatient driver waiting to pass? No, it does not matter, nobody is around yet.

Said the usual good morning to the early birds, and I am at my desk. I have planned a minimalist theme to start the year. My table is a shaped somewhat like an L, and I positioned my chair in the 'armpit' of the table. I just have my laptop in the middle, spanking new calendar on the left, by the phone, and a name card holder on my right. I plan to place a pot of something on the right. Maybe I shall visit Far East Flora at the Queensway Macdonald's drive-through place.

It was the first working day of 2016, yet it felt like any other. It is not a fresh start or gung ho shouting of ambitious resolutions to undertake. There is simply no need. I am merely continuing where I left off. I realized I had been busy, real busy and hyperactive from the beginning right till the last day of 2015. Today just symbolizes the striking of the gong where my boss and I climb back onto the hamster wheel that had its steps-count reset.



Twelve months ago, I had enough of my job at what resembled a modern-day 'Flea Bottom', and did what any reckless young man would do. I quit, tossed my anxiety aside and took on a role I had wanted to do but had always dismissed myself as not ready. Somehow I did not fall off the roller-coaster and here I am again for the next ride.

One good method of coping was something I learnt at basic sales training. Sometimes I encounter a stubborn human roadblock and find myself going nowhere. Maybe we do not click, or we are of conflicting zodiac signs, and then I felt helpless because I thought that was it.

What I learnt was this Stakeholder Plan below. You take a step back, then assign your counterpart to the right description. This blockhead really has no interest in working with me, but then his influence in the company is low. Aha! Perhaps I'll talk instead to his colleague who is my supporter, and help him in becoming my champion?

The market today is really red. Just so happens I wore an ang-teh-kor for my first day at work too. Some of the blue chips are getting hit back to the early October levels. As bad as the SGX stocks did in 2015, the SET was no better over the same period. Notably, AIS had fallen off the cliff after some brinksmanship that resulted in the most expensive 4G license bidding in the world. The hospital trio - BDMS, BH and VIBHA have been holding up pretty well amid the turmoil. Meanwhile Amazing Thailand lives up to its reputation as tourist arrivals continue to climb.

Aug 23, 2015

YTD Healthcare

Google Finance

Bloomberg

For the only 2 markets I am interested in; Thai and Singapore, above is how the healthcare players fared YTD. Off the top of my head I recall the largest player in the region by market value to be IHH and annual sales to be Ramsay from Australia. For the SET, foreign investors net sold THB 72 bn while local institutions and retail made up about THB 82 bn in net buys.

BH is an absolute juggernaut and prices reflect that statement clearly. Justified or not, BH grinds out solid numbers predictably and if we recall past events of crises such as the last coup in 2014, BH actually had their highest ever numbers for international patient volumes (619K in 2014, 526K in 2013). You can thus infer the importance of medical tourism to the combined tourism industry for Thailand.

Traditionally, 60% of BH's revenue comes from international patients, with the top 3 being Myanmar, UAE and Oman.

Here are more nuggets courtesy of BH;



Feb 6, 2015

The new Bloomberg Business website



I noticed the new web design some time ago when I loaded the Bloomberg site and thought I had clicked on a phishing link and landed in some fake site. It looks so... neon, cluttered and messy. 


''The redesigned site was a reinvention of how we bring our news to the world. It’s faster, smarter, and frankly bigger than anything we’ve done before – and it’s uniquely digital, built for a global web audience, and designed to deliver the right news at the right time,” 
- Joshua Topolsky, chief digital content officer at Bloomberg Media






I was reading this article today about Temasek's response to S&P lumping Singapore with Greece and Jamaica and realized that the comments feature had been removed. Usually I just skim through the article for the main points and then I check out the comments section because sometimes there are nuggets of insightful comments among the trash.

The page also don't end; you can keep scrolling down and random articles are pushed in like news feed from a social media site. 

To me, this whole design revamp is someone's art experiment and has ruined a perfectly working, good thing. I used to like Bloomberg's clean and simple interface, and you've ruined it.

Feb 4, 2015

Getting my teeth done, and being done with it: A Journey with Braces, as told by CP

Finally, I am done with my braces. It feels like a huge, tremendously long project has been completed. I have summarized the whole journey for anyone who might be contemplating putting on braces.


It started during the final few months of NS, and almost everyone gets time off by plucking their wisdom teeth. I wanted to pluck first then put on braces. 

 I had 4, and I decided on the National Dental Centre because I did not want to get them done in-camp. (outside maybe better mah!)

I was asked to let my teeth be photographed to be used for their students' training. Imagine a lecture hall full of bright young minds staring at my carnivore-looking teeth. 


I agreed to be the model. It was nothing glamorous. I just lay on the dentist chair, wearing the grotesque mouth opener, spreading wide (my mouth). 

For the wisdom teeth removal, I chose local anaesthetic because I wanted to be awake to see what was going on. It was performed by a male dentist and I was wrapped in several layers of blankets because I was cold. 


I remember hearing the drill and the cracking sound as a stubborn tooth had to be broken in pieces to remove. The dentist was leaning onto me so heavily while trying to crack my teeth, I wondered if my jaws were going to be enlarged. 


After my ordeal, I was presented with my wisdom teeth, all 4 of them. I had been really worried about swallowing them during the operation so I was really happy to see them. 

I now had 4 gaping holes in my mouth and they really curbed my appetite. This is where my braces journey with NDC really began. 

My dentist was a very pleasant lady, and her room had children's artwork pasted on the ceiling so patients can look at them while lying on the chair. I assume they were from her patients. The room was bright and airy.


I got my teeth photographed and sized up, and had another tooth removed. No biggie, because I took out 4 at one go before. 

Wires were put in, my speech became slightly altered, and I was drooling like a dog.

You should get the idea, so I'll spare you the gums.
Every appointment I was asked to choose the colour of rubber bands. There were boxes stacked up, with all sorts of colour and names. Me? It was grey, every time. I cannot imagine putting on green, because it might be mistaken for a mouthful of trapped spinach. 

I learned to put on another set of rubber bands myself. They were attached top to bottom, 1 of each side. I remember my finger slipping, and the band was shot down my throat. 


I also learned to keep my big mouth shut, really, because opening my mouth too wide would snap the bands. 

Finally the wires were removed, after slightly more than 2 years. That was hell, because braces were cemented to the surface of the teeth, so now imagine removing them. 

Internal braces were put in my upper and lower rows of teeth. It was a wire bonded to the inside of my teeth at both ends.

Right after, I did a round of scaling and polishing. It was painful because my teeth were still sensitive. The dentist was a young and attractive lady and I could only shed one manly tear.


Now free of my braces, my teeth looked like a cleanly-wiped slate. I just had to sleep with my retainers forever.

I postponed a checkup as I went to the UK. I did not visit any dentists there, but I had become a NHS-registered blood donor! 

Just within my first month in the UK, I bit on an apple and broke one end of the lower internal braces. It was now skewed and my first reaction was to snap the other end off. 

I was lucky because it broke off cleanly.

I lived on happily until I came home. My dentist said my teeth looked fine. I could either put in a new set of braces, put in a replacement internal braces, or leave it as it is. That was a no-brainer for me.


Today is my final appointment with my dentist. I was shown the original pictures of my teeth, and boy, did that look horrible! 

I have 2 dental appointments this morning, with an hour of time in between, and I was starving.




I visited the cafeteria at the Health Promotion Board building, just beside the NDC building, and it is where I wrote this article. The cafe serves local fare, sandwiches and fruit. The food have kcal values labelled beside the price. 


It is open-air but today's weather is very nice. I have stopped work two days ago, and will start at my new job next Monday. I feel semi-retired today, with my life at a slower pace. The last time I ever felt this way was more than a year ago.


The wonton noodles are not soggy or oily. The charsiew was healthier than the usual as it was not the glazed and charred version. The iced kopi had too much condensed milk though. For $4.90, this was pretty reasonable.

Jan 27, 2015

Thai market in January

January was pretty eventful. With a few days left till February, the SET is up 6% YTD with a P/E of 19x. Local institutions and proprietary trading are net buyers, and I expect foreign investors soon, as well. I also have not bought or sold anything this year, and am sitting on autopilot for ADVANC and TTW only. I am also considering TT more funds to my Thai account, which takes about 3 days using DBS.


In no particular order... Rumors that Bank of Toyko-Mitsubishi UFJ had plans to delist Bank of Ayudhya (BAY) were refuted by BAY, and BAY plunged 13.8% yesterday, and another 7.4% today. BAY, which accounts for about 5% of the SET's market cap, jumped almost 30% last Friday due to this rumor. I wonder who these guys really are. The SET is really lively, and also the land of opportunity if you know where to look.

CP and Itochu to invest US$10.4 bn in CITIC. CP and Itochu will invest via CT Bright, a 50:50 (CP and Itochu) joint investment vehicle, in two transactions. The first will be CT Bright buying 10% of CITIC shares worth US$4.5 bn, from CITIC Group. The second will be paying US$5.9 bn in cash to CITIC Limited for convertible preferred shares. Upon the completion and full conversion, CT Bright will own about 20% of CITIC Limited. Dhanin really has a huge appetite, but I suspect Tesco would end up in someone else's hands, maybe Central or Charoen.



1 million tons of rice set to be auctioned this Thursday, I wonder who the buyers turn out to be, China maybe? While rice prices are down, the floor prices are set even lower, lower than market prices. Recall from the junta's audit, that only 10% of the 18 million-ton stockpile was considered good quality. I think the rice-pledging scheme really screwed Thailand up. Does anyone have any idea what can you do with substandard, yellowed rice? Feed them to the pigs? There might be a possibility for ethanol production but then this is unconventional, and would probably incur costs to be viable.



Thai Airways to reduce workforce by 20%, not through layoffs, but by retirement programmes. THAI report a loss of B9.2 bn for 9M14 with adjusted debt to capitalization of about 82%. THAI also has 6 consecutive quarters of loss from operations. I hope the restructuring pays off because personally, I really like flying with THAI.

The Board of Investment approved 3469 investment projects worth B2.19 trn in 2014, surging 117% in value, from 2013. The number of investments projects are a 50-year high, with a majority coming in from December 2014. This was likely due to the new BOI investment policy taking effect since the start of the year, which no longer supports activities that have low added value, labor-intensive, low technology and simple production processes. A B150 bn investment budget will be launched for fast-track projects, with B110 bn for water management projects and B40 bn for road maintenance and construction.


About 3000 fish at the abandoned Bangkok mall will be netted out and relocated, before the mall is demolished! Finally something is being done about this wreck, but its a pity, I had seriously considered the thought of tracking down the entrance and getting in to take a look-see. I am happy that at least the authorities are clearing them out by relocation to rivers and reservoirs.


Thailand is also expecting 72 million mobile broadband users this year, a growth of about 44% from last year. Processed seafood will be subject to sharp increases in import duties to the EU, as Thailand loses GSP privileges this year. Thailand also has no FTA with the EU. 


Jan 15, 2015

Wrapping my head around this "buying electricity from Laos" thing

I did not see any indications of the potential size of electricity orders in future, but to put things in perspective, Singapore’s total licensed electricity generation capacity was 12,521 MW in 2014, while Laos’ hydropower plants have a capacity of about 3230 MW with the potential to increase to 28,000 MW.

In 2013, total electricity generation in Singapore was 4124 ktoe (48 TWh), while Singapore’s total electricity consumption was 45 TWh in 2013. Electricity tariff from Jan-Mar2015 is 23.29 cents/kWh.
I know some of the numbers are outdated but I think they shouldn’t be too far from +/- 2% in Singapore’s context.

I have a really weak understanding of all these energy stuff, not to mention power transformers or transmission. If anyone has a sense of all these, please share them with me!

What I am trying to wrap my head around is really this; are we really going to source for electricity from Laos? It is unlike commodities where you can just ship them over. I am really sceptical about how the power lines are going to be taken care of.

Also, using the 2013 figures, it does not seem like Singapore might face a power shortage. Laos is also charging a fair price so there should not be an argument for cost. My guess is Singapore will purchase only a small/bite-sized amount of electricity just for an "ASEAN display" to kick the ball rolling for the ASEAN power grid.

Here are the news articles:

Four Asean nations - Laos, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand - held talks yesterday in Vientiane to consider a plan that would see Laos export electricity to Singapore via transmission lines in Malaysia and Thailand

Malaysia has pledged to take responsibility for technical affairs relating to the envisioned project.
Laos' electricity transmission line is connected with Thailand's, while the Thai network is connected with Malaysia's and the Malaysian transmission line is connected to Singapore.
Deputy Minister of Energy and Mines Mr Viraphonh Viravong said previously that Singapore agreed in principle to purchase 100MW of electricity from Laos as a pilot scheme, while Thailand and Malaysia offered their support for the envisioned project.
Laos sells electricity at a unit price of just over 7 US cents per kwh to Thailand and just over 6 US cents per kwh to Vietnam and Cambodia, while the unit price in Singapore is about 20 US cents per kwh, according to Mr Viraphonh.
In recent years, electricity has been the main revenue generator for Laos. Total income generated from electricity sales in fiscal year 2013-14 hit more than US$880.9 million (more than 7.100 trillion kip), a remarkable increase compared to the year before, according to a recent report.
Of the total, income generated from electricity exports amounting to more than 11,332 million kwh reached US$535.47 million (more than 4.316 trillion kip), an increase of 6.62 percent compared to the year before.
As of October last year, Laos had 25 operational hydropower plants with a total installed capacity of about 3,230MW, exceeding domestic consumption needs of about 1,000MW.
Laos has strong potential to build hydroelectric plants with a combined installed capacity of about 28,000MW, including the existing dams.

Nation, 25 Sep 2014

Building a transmission line to carry electricity from Lao hydropower plants to Singapore can save as much as US$26 billion over 10 years for the four countries involved, according to a new study.

Laos envisaged itself as "Battery of Asia", with plans to generate hydropower for sale to Asean countries aside from Thailand.

Through the transmission grid that will link the four countries, ERIA estimates that the four countries could save between US$23 billion and US$26 billion over 10 years of operation.

Dr Li said they had studied ten years of power trading among the four countries, especially Lao and Singapore.

"But Thailand and Malaysia would also benefit from this because the power goes through their territories and they can carry out some sort of relay power trade in between," he said.

Dr Li said, "Based on the current level of power demand in all four countries, we also projected the future power demand growth over the next ten years and this level of demand is already enough to justify power interconnection between Laos and Singapore."

He said Laos, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore had determined that the transmission line was technically feasible but had yet to work out a business model for the cross-border trade. He estimated that construction could begin in one or two years’ time.



Jan 5, 2015

IHH Healthcare and BGH, McDonalds and CPF



IHH Healthcare and Bangkok Hospital (BGH), McDonalds and CPF. These were 2 news items that caught my attention today.

IHH Healthcare is reportedly targeting a 11.5% stake in Bangkok Hospital, the Thai, acquisition-machine, behemoth otherwise known as Bangkok Dusit Medical Services. The Star broke the news about IHH possibly funding the stake with a mix of cash and issuance of new shares. The Straits Times reported the same news a few hours later (as usual!). And the latest from Reuters is BGH themselves refuting the news.

''BGH has not been contacted by IHH... BGH has no plan to issue new shares to IHH'', rest of article here.

To put things in perspective, the 11.5% stake in BGH is worth slightly over S$1.2 billion when the first article was written, based on 17.20 baht per share. Today, BGH closed at 18 baht per share, up 4.65%. That is almost S$60 million more expensive, if IHH is really going to pursue the stake.

It is not uncommon for both the target and acquirer to both come out and publicly deny this kind of news, and then a few weeks later, the acquirer makes the offer in a supposed about turn. Perhaps in this case, someone really spilled the beans too early. This could be a minor example of the ''rumor theme'' I pointed out in a previous post. Regardless of whether the offer is going to turn out real or just smoke, the +4.65% number today is real.


The second news, a piece of vinyl was found in a chicken nugget sold in an outlet in Aomori, and the offending nugget is being sent to Tokyo for investigation.

Vinyl? What the hell is that supposed to mean? A gramophone record? Or a piece of PVC?

Why are you so surprised? What did you think your chicken nugget is made of anyway? Hah!

Well, Mcdonalds Japan had been relying on three plants in Thailand for Chicken McNuggets ever since the saga of Shanghai Husi Food Co. last year. Now, did the vinyl come from McKey or Cargill?

That is not determined for now, and well, Cargill is Cargill, and McKey... GFPT owns 49% of McKey Food Services, who also distribute to McDonalds Thailand. 

GFPT is a competitor of CP Foods. If not GFPT, then who? Well, CPF will be more than happy to step up to fill the orders. Just like how they are going to feed the Russians!

Crystal balls and smoke

It's that time of year again, where we put everything down and engage in that archaic ritual of crystal ball gazing. Simply put, it...