Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Crime Watcher shot, banker killed; are Malaysia sliding to a state of lawlessness?

ANOTHER day, another shooting. It seems as if we are becoming as dangerous as some South American nations where gun violence seems to be the norm.

It’s just not confined to one or two areas but is happening across the nation.

Three shootings in two days. A 25-year-old man, Jasrafveendeerjeet Singh, was shot in front of a restaurant in Ipoh at 10.15pm. Another man, G. Santhana Samy, 30, was wounded in the thigh when he stopped at a traffic light in Butterworth at 8.30pm.

And in Kuala Lumpur, Arab-Malaysian Development Bank founder Hussain Ahmad Najadi died from multiple bullet wounds. He was shot in Lorong Ceylon while walking with his wife to his car in broad daylight.

These incidents followed the murder attempt of MyWatch chairman R. Sri Sanjeevan in Seremban on Saturday who was shot when his car stopped at the traffic lights.

The police response: the setting-up of yet another “high-powered” task force to investigate the crime. Actually, we have lost count of how many high-owered or high-level committees and task forces have been set up to investigate the various shooting crimes.

In fact, we are still waiting for some indication of the progress made by the task force set up in May to hunt down those responsible for the spate of shooting cases then, including the murder of Customs deputy director-general Datuk Shaharuddin Ibrahim.

Federal CID director Comm Datuk Seri Mohd Bakri Zinin had announced that the special CID task force, headed by Federal principal assistant director of Serious Crime (D9) Senior Asst Comm Datuk Huzir Mohamed would identify and arrest the criminals.

At the same time, Penang police have also set up a separate task force to probe a series of shootings, which left at least four people dead over the past five months.

From seemingly ordinary Joes to prominent people being gunned down, the public can’t help but wonder whether we are on a rapid slide to a state of lawlessness. The sense of insecurity and nervousness is definitely growing.

Apart from gun-toting criminals, robbers are crashing restaurants to rob the patrons en masse.

Eateries that used to operate till the wee hours are now closing early; there are way fewer people who want to risk being robbed while having supper.

Even snatch thieves have grown more vicious and brazen. They do not just grab but often slash their victims to incapacitate them, making their getaway easier.

In such a state of affairs, we are almost relieved to read of cases where the “victim” is an ATM. The thieves who hack away and drag out these cash-vending machines seem almost harmless and preferable to those who prey on people.

Undoubtedly, the police have their hands full. Theirs is no easy task with no easy solutions. So far, they are focusing on identifying weapons smugglers to try to root out the source of gun-related crimes.

But more action and arrests are what is desperately needed because the ferocity and the increasing number of assassinations are striking fear in all of us.

Our top cops may continue to try to assure us that our nation is still very safe but unfortunately, that’s just not good enough.

- The Star Says

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Protect your investment in smartphones; How to handle a phone virus

Keep your Galaxy S4 well protected with this Otterbox.


High-end smartphones have become must-have items that are drooled over and lusted after whenever a new model is released. With so much marketing going on, many can’t resist the latest and trendiest smartphones.

However, in pursuit of designs which are sleeker and more ­lightweight to entice the crowd, manufacturers have compromised on the durability of smartphones.

Take for example Samsung’s latest flagship, the Galaxy S4. It’s a great lightweight smartphone with an amazing 5in screen squeezed into a sleek body.

This makes the bezel (the area between the edge of the phone and the screen) extremely small, making me worry that the ­slightest drop is going to ruin the screen. As smartphones today consist predominantly of the ­display, even the slightest damage to the screen will cost a significant amount to replace or repair.

As such, it is best to invest in a good casing for peace of mind. For me, a good casing is one that provides full protection around all edges of the phone, rather than one that looks fancy but leaves the corners of the phone exposed.

Enter the Commuter

Otterbox is a company well known for producing hard travel cases for all kinds of sensitive electronic equipment.

They have been producing a few different lines of full protective cases for most smartphone brands in the market. The Commuter series is one of their popular product lines, and here we have the Galaxy S4 version of the case for review.

More than just good looks

The casing itself is a two piece set up (three if you count the screen protector that’s included). It has a polycarbonate outer layer and a silicone inner layer which fits the S4 perfectly.

Unlike the more rugged Defender series, the Commuter is simple enough to assemble that you don’t have to read through a user manual or watch a video tutorial.

The review unit we received was an ocean blue colour. It’s a vibrant, striking colour but I’d have to say that it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I for one, didn’t fancy this colour.

The Commuter has flaps to cover both the audio port as well as the charging port. This is to protect the ports from dust and any other unwanted debris from entering and damaging the innards of the phone.

Build and feel

I appreciated the fact that the flap left enough room for my thick MHL adapter to be plugged in, something which was not possible with the Defender casing for another phone that I have tested.

However, at times it did feel bothersome to have to keep opening and closing the flaps, as I frequently needed access to the micro USB port to charge my phone.

I personally don’t fancy my devices being too thin, so the added bulk around the device actually made it feel better in my hand. I sometimes freak out when my pocket feels too light, only to find that my device is still in there, just that it isn’t heavy enough to be noticeable. The additional pounds that the S4 puts on with the Commuter makes its presence better felt in my pocket.

If there’s one other thing I don’t like about the review unit that I received, it is the material used for the casing. Having used other Otterbox products before, I was left a little disappointed with the texture of this Commuter casing, as it felt too cheap for its class. It gave me an impression that it wasn’t worth the price tag attached to it.

I didn’t have the heart to do any major drop tests with the device. I tried dropping the S4 from the most likely heights that a phone will be dropped from, such as when getting up from a seat as well as from a table top. As expected, the device was well protected by the casing.

Conclusion

The Otterbox Commuter is a protective case that provides full protection around the edges for your precious Galaxy S4. While it may not be the best looking casing in the market, it gives you peace of mind if you are a careless person by nature or someone who leads an active lifestyle.

However, we weren’t too fond of the way that the polycarbonate outer layer was designed as it felt a little too cheap.

While the flaps for the ports were appreciated, it did seem a little obtrusive at times.

Pros: Gives the S4 a more secure feel; protects all edges; screen protector.

Cons: Polycarbonate outer layer feels cheap; flaps for the port can be obtrusive.

Commuter:
(Otterbox)
Samsung Galaxy S4 protective case
Specifications: Silicone inner layer, polycarbonate outer layer
Other Features: Screen protector included
Dimensions (|W x D x H): 143.25 x 78.92 x 14.58mm
Weight: 45.35g
Rating: ***
Review unit courtesy of KWS
Distribution SdnBhd, www.kwsdis.com or eamil info@kwsdis.com 
- By Donovan Quek The Star

How to handle a phone virus 


Stay safe: Your phone is like your PC - only install apps that you trust

If you get a virus on your mobile phone, the best action to take is a factory reset. Most phones have this option, which returns your phone’s operating system (OS) to the state it was in when it left the factory.

With some phones, a factory reset will allow you to keep your personal data like pictures and music when resetting the OS. If not, you can also sync your phone with your PC after resetting to return your applications and data to your phone.

In the future, protect yourself against viruses by treating it like a PC — never install something you do not trust or recognise, and do not open suspicious text messages or e-mail messages.

It is also helpful to install antivirus software on to your phone, which can help prevent malware and alert you if you have been infected.

Recent data shows that Android malware has grown 580% between September 2011 and September 2012. Apple iOS malware is rarer, but it still important to protect yourself and use safe practices when connected online with your mobile device. — McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

28 Jun 2013
05 Jun 2013

Monday, July 29, 2013

Don't burn money, use it wisely


It is time to learn from our past and put our skills and resources into positive value creation.



NEXT month will be 68 years since the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings in Japan.

To some, it is just another month at work. Some may celebrate their birthday, some become parents and for some, it may coincide with festive celebrations. Certainly few of us are old enough to remember the impact of the devastating events.

Being an avid reader, this date reminds me that the real tragedy of war is that it uses man’s best skills to do man’s worst work.

The creativity and perseverance that led to the discovery of the power of atoms, which could light up the world and potentially solve our energy issue, was used to create hell on earth.

The discovery of neutron by James Chadwick in February 1932, Niels Bohr’s discovery of fission and ultimately, Leo Szilard’s method of producing a nuclear chain reaction or a nuclear explosion, of which he even filed a patent, would lead to the creation of what was euphemistically called Little Boy.

Hardly little at all, for the bomb had the power of more than 20,000 tonnes of TNT, which destroyed most of Hiroshima, killing an estimated 130,000 people on Aug 6, 1945. Three days later, a second bomb, nicknamed Fat Man, was dropped on Nagasaki, killing between 60,000 and 70,000 people.

Looking at the incident as a case of creative discoveries being used for war efforts, one can’t help but reflect on how much of these resources could be used if such a detonation did not take place.

Going beyond the obvious tragedy of the loss of human life, there is the immense economic cost of cleaning up contaminated areas, reconstruction of buildings, productivity lost due to the physical injuries and sickness of the casualties, loss of national income, psychological damage, etc. How does one quantify that?

To me, it’s very clear that we need to divert our military resources to build more educational and medical institutions, research facilities, provide housing or even venture capital funds for start-ups that could create a world that is different, not destructive.

The 34th US President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said in a speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors that “every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those whose hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed”.

And he was a military man, the former supreme commander of the Allied Forces during World War II.

We may not be sure of how much Eisenhower’s grasp of value is, but it makes sense.

He said that the cost of a modern heavy bomber could finance a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It could even contribute to two electric power plants, with each serving a town of 60,000 in population. It could even construct two fully equipped hospitals.

As headlines blaring financial uncertainties continue today, it is a good time to wonder where all the money is going, and where are all the innovators and entrepreneurs to lift the standard of living and to fulfil the needs of society?

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, nearly RM6 trillion is spent annually on military, defence and armaments.

In economics, the idea of opportunity cost always arises in business. An entrepreneur will always need to consider the cost of giving up something in order to achieve a business objective.

So what is humanity giving up by laying down arms?

- Open Season by LIM WING HOOI The Star
Business writer Lim Wing Hooi believes that the human race needs to invest wisely in its own future.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Love your liver! World Hepatitis Day today

A look at one of the most insidious infectious in the world 

Many people are unaware that being diagnosed with hepatitis B and C is a lifelong sentence.


Dr Syed ... Patients diagnosed with hepatitis B and C need to come for their annual check-ups to catch signs of liver damage in the early stages. – LOW LAY PHON/The Star
Dr Syed ... Patients diagnosed with hepatitis B and C need to come for their annual check-ups to catch signs of liver damage in the early stages. – LOW LAY PHON/The Star

MANY ancient civilisations rightfully believed that the liver is one of the most crucial organs in our body.

Although their understanding was not based in scientific fact – for example, the Babylonians, Estrucans, Romans and Greeks believed that the liver was the seat of all emotions and the organ closest to divinity, while in traditional Chinese medicine, it purportedly helps to regulate the flow of qi and blood in the body, and governs anger – the liver is indeed vital to our existence.

Like the heart, we cannot function without our liver.

It is one of the most hardworking organs in our body, performing over 500 different functions, including processing and storing nutrients, manufacturing proteins and hormones, neutralising toxins, breaking down drugs and removing waste from our body.

It is the second largest organ in the body after the skin, and the only one that has significant regenerative capabilities, being able to grow back to full size from as little as a quarter of its cells.

However, even this ability cannot overcome the insidious presence of the two hepatitis viruses that cause chronic infection in the liver.

These viruses work silently – often residing in the infected person’s body quietly, slowly damaging the liver without causing any outward signs of illness, until it is too late.

Passed on through bodily fluids, they can be contracted through sex, the sharing or reuse of unsterilised sharp objects like needles, razors, and even earrings, from mother to child in the womb, and basically, any activity that can result in the transference of blood, semen, vaginal fluid and saliva directly from the infected person to someone else.

The virus usually gains access into the body via the bloodstream through minor wounds, like nicks or cuts, that one may not even notice.

But because these viruses rarely cause any specific symptoms during the acute stage, people are unaware that they have been infected, and may go on to infect other people unknowingly.

This is why, according to consultant hepatologist Dr Syed Mohd Redha Syed Nasir, the most important form of transmission is perinatal or early childhood transmission.

He explains: “If someone in the family has hepatitis B, it is likely that someone else will have it too; that’s why we have to screen everyone in the house.”

This is especially in the case of children whose immune systems have not completely matured yet.

As a rule, hepatitis is usually only picked up upon screening, or when patients have already developed complications from the disease.

A chronic problem

Despite being considered a major global health threat – it is one of only four diseases that the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers crucial enough to mark with an international World Day, the awareness of hepatitis is still disturbingly low among the general population.

This infectious disease, which causes inflammation of the liver, is caused by five viruses: hepatitis A, B, C, D and E.

Of these, hepatitis B and C are the most worrisome as they can become chronic infections, which may result in liver cirrhosis (also known in layman’s terms as scarring or hardening) and liver cancer. (See Acute infections for more information on the three other viruses.)

These two viruses are also the main focus of the World Hepatitis Day campaign.

According to the World Hepatitis Alliance website, “The long-term objective of the campaign is to prevent new infections and to deliver real improvements in health outcomes for people living with hepatitis B and C.”

In Malaysia, hepatitis B is an important enough health concern that the vaccine is part of the compulsory national immunisation programme for all babies.

Despite that, Dr Syed says that around 5% of the population still has hepatitis B.

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C; neither is there any local data on the spread of hepatitis C or the three other hepatitis viruses in the country, according to him.

“In our setting, from my experience, we often encounter patients, who are diagnosed to have hepatitis B in particular, many years ago.

“Little do they realise that hepatitis B is a chronic infection that has the potential to cause long-term damage to the liver,” he says.

The doctor, who was previously with the national referral centre for liver diseases at Hospital Selayang and is now in private practice, adds that this often results in the patient being unaware of the importance of long-term follow-up, and creates the tendency for them to skip their annual check-ups.

“For these patients, you can’t be sure whether their infection will become active again, or develop into liver cancer.

“A few years down the road, they will come and you discover they have liver cirrhosis, and it is already a lost battle.”

He says that most patients tend to come in when they already have decompensated liver cirrhosis, which presents with abdominal swelling, with or without accompanying leg swelling, and either vomiting or passing motion with blood.

Some may also come in with a yellowish complexion (jaundice), episodes of losing awareness of their surroundings (hepatic encephalopathy), and other bacterial infections, as the liver is part of the immune system.

Too late to treat

While treatment is available for both hepatitis B and C, Dr Syed cautions that patients need to be carefully evaluated before the decision to start treatment is made.

This evaluation is to determine the degree of viral activity, as well as the level of liver damage. Both these factors need to be carefully balanced in order for treatment to be fully effective.

“When we give treatment, we must make sure it is indicated, because it is for life. For example, if a patient is 25 years old, he has to take it for the next 40 to 50 years (until he dies),” he says.

The development of resistance to the antiviral medication given for the disease is also another reason why doctors need to make the decision to treat judiciously.

Aside from oral antiviral drugs, patients may also be treated with interferon injections, which are typically given for the period of one year.

Dr Syed explains: “Interferon modulates your immune system, as well as clears the virus, so there is an added effect. After one year, your immune system will be able to clear the virus on its own.”

According to studies, the percentage of patients on interferon in which the virus can no longer be detected increases from 3-5% in the first year to 12% five years after completing their treatment.

However, he adds that this treatment is often not an option for most Malaysian patients, as the damage to the liver is already too advanced by the time they go see the doctor.

Unfortunately, the reality of the situation in Malaysia is that most patients with chronic hepatitis only see the doctor when their condition is so advanced that they are already well on the way to requiring a liver transplant.

- By TAN SHIOW CHIN The Star

Related Notes:

Hepatitis A
Transmitted through the oral-faecal route, usually through water or food that has been contaminated with the faeces of an infected person. Prevalent in places with poor hygiene and sanitation. There are an estimated 1.4 million cases of hepatitis A every year worldwide. Symptoms include fever, malaise, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, nausea, abdomi -nal discomfort, dark-coloured urine and jaundice. There is no treatment, but the immune system is usually able to get rid of the infection by itself. There are a number of vaccines available.

Hepatitis D
Transmitted through bodily fluids, usually through sex, contact with the blood of an infected person, sharing of sharp objects like needles, razors or syringes, and from mother to child in the womb. Requires the presence of the hepatitis B virus to replicate, and as such, is usually found together with hepatitis B as a co-infection or a superinfection. Not usually tested for in a clinical setting. Treatment and vaccination for hepatitis B is equally effective for hepatitis D.

Hepatitis E
Transmitted through the oral-faecal route, usually through contaminated drinking water and eating products from an infected animal. Every year, there are 20 million infections, over three million acute cases, and 57,000 deaths. Over 60% of infections occur in East and South Asia. Symptoms include jaundice, anorexia, an enlarged, tender liver (hepatomega -ly), abdominal pain and tenderness, nausea, vomiting and fever. There is no treatment, but the immune system is usually able to get rid of the infection by itself. However, complica -tions may arise in pregnant women. The first vaccine was registered in 2011 in China, but is not currently available globally.

Sources: WHO, the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and consultant hepatologist Dr Syed Mohd Redha Syed Nasir.

 
There are vaccines available for hepatitis A, B and E, but the vaccine for hepatitis E is only available in China. – AFP

Facts an figures -by the Numbers:
  • There are over 400 million cases of  HEPATITIS every year, compared to 34 million cases of  HIV/AIDS cases (IN 2011) and almost 29 million cases of CANCER  (in 2008).
  • HEPATITIS B & C infections cause an estismated  57% of liver cirrhosis cases and 78% primary liver cancer. Liver cancer is the SIXTH most common cancer worldwide.
  • Around 240 million people have chronic Hepatitis B, with 600,000 dying every year due to complications from the infection.
  • The percentage of  those who develop chronic Hepatitis B infections are: 80-90% of infants infected before he age of one, 30-50% of children infected before six and <5% of otherwise healthy adults.
  • The Hepatitis B vaccine is administered at ZERO (at birth), one and six months of age in Malaysia. It is 95% effective at preventing infection.
  • About 150 million people have chronic Hepatitis C, with over 350,000 dying every year due to complications from the infection.
  • Around 80% of peopole do not exhibit any symptoms follwoing initial Hepatitis C infection.
  • Around 75-85% of Hepatitis C patients develop chronic infection, of which 60-70% develop chronic liver disease. 2-20% will develop cirrhosis, with 1-5% dying from cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis C causes 25% of liver cancer cases.
  • July 28 was chosen for World Hepatitis Day in honur of the birthday of Nobel Laureate Prof Baruch Samuel Blumberg, who discovered the Hepatitis B virus.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

If China sneezes…

The world catches the flu, with Asian economies expected to be the hardest hit


GROWING fears of a slowdown in China may have, for the time being, been allayed by the country’s recently announced new slew of measures to stimulate its economy. But concerns of deep-seated structural problems coming back to haunt the world’s second-largest economy at a later stage remain.

A recent report by China’s Development Research Centre points that the country’s economy has become “unstable and uncertain like never before”.

State researcher Yu Bin was quoted by the foreign media as saying that the “downward pressure” faced by the Chinese economy had been larger than expected.

“Market expectations are unstable, downward pressure has increased, and existing and new structural mismatches exist,” Yu notes.

“Growth inertia should not be underestimated as new growth engines and patterns have not been formed,” he adds.

Major indicators have confirmed that China is bound for slower growth.

For instance, a preliminary survey of purchasing managers released over the week by HSBC Holdings Plc and Markit Economics show that China’s manufacturing sector in July has contracted further, with readings for the purchasing managers index (PMI) remaining below 50, the demarcation line between expansion and contraction.

Preliminary reading shows that China’s PMI for July has fallen to an 11-month low at 47.7. This is below the consensus forecast of 48.5, and has been taken as an indication that the worst of China’s slowdown has yet to be reached.

A slowing Chinese economy has a wide implication on the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The sheer size of China’s economy – with its GDP expected to reach US$9 trillion (RM28.8 trillion) by year-end – speaks of its significance. It is the second-largest and currently accounts for about 10% of global economy.

The past few years have also seen China’s trade and connectivity with the rest of the world, especially Asia, growing substantially. Hence, the state of China’s economy could affect the rest through various transmission channels, such as exports, commodity prices and financial markets.

In a simulation exercise to assess the effects of China’s economic slowdown on global growth, Japanese investment bank Nomura Research found that a one percentage point drop in China’s GDP would lower global growth outside the country by 0.3 percentage point, but with a wide variation among economies.

The hardest hit economies, Nomura argues in its report, would be in Asia, with growth falling by one percentage point or more in Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

The impact, it adds, is also large on commodity-producing countries, such as Australia, Malaysia and those in Latin America. Despite being located much further away from China, the impact on GDP in Latin America is as large as that of Asia, it says.

In general, emerging-market economies will be among those hardest hit, Rob Subbaraman, Nomura’s chief economist and head of global markets research for Asia ex-Japan, says in a media conference call.

He points out that the slowing down of emerging-market economies as a result of China’s slowdown will pose a second-round effect global growth.

“If you think arithmetically what is driving global growth now, it is not Europe… the US to an extent (and) Japan to an extent, but by far, the biggest driver of global growth is emerging-market economies. This would have an effect on global growth,” Subbaraman says.

Malaysia is one of the countries highly vulnerable to a China slowdown.

For one thing, China is Malaysia’s major export destination, accounting for about 13% of the latter’s total exports last year. Malaysia’s trade balances will also be affected negatively from falling global commodity prices and lower external demand given the knock-on impact globally of slower Chinese growth.

Slower growth

China’s economy, or GDP, grew 7.5% during the second quarter of this year, after growing 7.7% in the first quarter. It was the slowest growth in three quarters.

The country’s target is for its economy to grow 7.5% in 2013. That would be the lowest growth rate since 1990.

China’s government has recently stated it would not tolerate any GDP growth of below 7% as that is viewed as the minimum rate for it to achieve “a moderately prosperous society by 2020”.
In a move seen widely to protect its growth target for 2013, China unveiled a “mini stimulus” over the week to boost its sluggish economy.

The measures include a plan to eliminate taxes on small businesses, cut costs for exporters and speed up construction of railway plans. It remains to be seen whether there will be more measures in the pipeline to boost the country’s slowing growth.

Several investment banks have already downgraded their outlook for China, with many expecting the country to miss its growth target of 7.5% this year.

Among these are Citigroup, which has cut its estimate to 7.4% from 7.6% for 2013, and to 7.1% from 7.3% in 2014; as well as HSBC, which has cut its 2013 forecast to 7.4% from 8.2%; and to 7.4% from 8.4% for 2014.

According to French investment bank Societe Generale, a hard landing in China, while an extreme view, is no longer a “non-negligible” risk.

It argues that there are two major events that could trigger a hard landing in China, which it classifies as GDP growth falling below 6%, the minimum level required to keep the country’s job market stable and avoid systemic financial risk.

These events include trade shocks, which could lead to a sharp deterioration in exports and loss of jobs; and insufficient public investment or an intended deleveraging going out of control.

Nomura, which has recently cut its forecast for China’s 2014 GDP to 6.9% from 7.5%, believes there is now a 10%-20% chance for China’s economic growth to fall below 6% next year, as the country faces stress from many dimensions, including financial leverage, pollution and social tensions.

Nomura argues that there are both cyclical and structural factors contributing to China’s slowdown.

According to Nomura, China’s potential growth structurally is on a downtrend due to a dwindling labour force and a lack of reform, while cyclically, the monetary policy stance has changed from its loose bias in the second half of 2012 to a tightening bias since the second quarter of this year.

“Given the high level of leverage in the economy, policy tightening may lead to a faster deleveraging process, higher interest rates and a credit crunch, all of which would combine to cause a sharp slowdown in economic growth,” it says.

By CECILIA KOK The Star/Asia News Network


When China Sneezes, Everyone Gets Sick

Not too long ago, the story was that when Chinese buy an ounce more of rice and eat more chicken, commodities prices would rise. And indeed they did. But now the story is, if China sneezes, we all get the flu.
The Chinese economy is sick. Not deadly sick, but in a funk.

It’s not that the funk will put the U.S. or Brazil in negative growth, but it will in Europe. Indeed, if China does see growth in the hard landing territory of under 6%, every economy in the world will see their GDP fall. Asia will be hardest hit. The Eurozone, already flat, will go downhill.

“The likelihood of China experiencing this risk scenario is a non-trivial 10-20%,” said Rob Subbaraman, Nomura’s Chief Economist and Head of Global Markets Research, Asia ex-Japan.

In Nomura’s baseline scenario, China’s GDP growth slows to 6.7% in the first half of 2014 and recovers slightly in the second half, bringing next year’s GDP forecast to 6.9%, China’s slowest since 2008. Both cyclical and structural factors contribute to this slowdown. Structurally, China’s potential growth is on a downtrend due to a dwindling and aging labor force and a lack of reform. The government still runs the national and local economies, making China slow and not very dynamic.

The current deleveraging process in China, which follows such a profound period of credit growth, is likely to last well into 2014. There will be less money to go around in the world’s No. 2 economy. In a higher risk scenario, GDP growth slows to 5.9% for full-year 2014 and to 5% in the first half of next year. If that doesn’t make the hard landing callers seem prescient, then I don’t know what does other than a bankruptcy of a major Chinese lender.

Not that bankruptcies are out of the question.

Earlier this year, China faced its first ever default on a $531 million loan by Suntech Power Holdings, one of the largest solar power companies in the world. Suntech power shares are now trading under $2, down 95.6% in five years.

There area few key sectors of the economy that need to downsize. After building up so much in the past as states looked to create their own industries and help with full employment, companies in the automotive and solar power space will be particularly hard hit.

And while some will be absorbed by larger players, it is probable that many will just fold due to lack of demand. Workers will be unemployed. China doesn’t have the safety net we have in the United States. If this gets out of hand, there is a chance for social unrest.

“We have considered a range of stresses which the economy faces from many dimensions, including financial leverage, pollution and social tensions,” said Subbaraman.

The Side Effects

“We find that stocks in the mining and energy-intensive U.K., Latin America and emerging Europe, Middle East and Africa exhibit the MSCI World’s highest — and in this scenario, adverse — correlations with China H-shares,” said Michael Kurtz, Nomura’s Global Head of Equity Strategy and Chief Asia ex-Japan Strategist. H-shares are priced in Hong Kong dollars.

Kurtz said that from a top down approach, Japan offers the world’s lowest equity correlation with China H-shares, along with key fundamental firebreaks that make Japan an attractive “defensive” equity market in a China slowdown scenario.

For global currencies, a sharp slowdown in China’s economy would have both direct and indirect negative impacts on commodity producers and countries with relatively large China trade links, mainly Australia, Canada, Brazil and Korea.

The hard landing scenario of less than 6% growth is not Nomura’s baseline case because they think the government can take action to smooth out the deleveraging process and growth slowdown to avoid a financial sector meltdown.  The banking sector is totally under the government’s control.

In a 58 page report to clients released by Nomura this week, analysts said they did not think Beijing will allow banks to fail. So the transmission of corporate default may not be amplified through bank failure. This is the key difference between financial risks in China and those we have seen unwind in market economies.

The indirect impact of a sharp investment-led China downturn, via a slump in commodity prices, stands to be substantial for some countries like Brazil.  China is Brazil’s biggest trading partner.  Brazil’s primary exports there are soy and iron ore, so any slowdown will be particularly bad for miners like Vale VALE -0.42%.

Vale shares this year are down 31.7%, worse than the Bovespa Index’s other major large cap, Petrobras PBR -0.41%, which is down by 26.03%.

China’s per capita imports for metals now rivals that of advanced economies, according to the International Monetary Fund. It accounts for some 30% of the world’s total imports of metals and a full 65% of total iron ore imports globally. In energy, China’s share of world imports is in the high single digits, while for food it is low single digits, with the substantial exception of soybeans, which is over 50%.

The IMF has estimated that a one percentage point fall in China’s GDP growth can result in price declines of 6% for oil and base metals.

Here’s what a decline will do for countries around the world. For areas already struggling, it means recession.

Achoooo!!!

Real GDP growth in 2014 under Nomura’s base case and China risk scenario.
China                              Base Case 6.9%             China Risk 5.9%        Difference (pp) -1%
Global Ex-China                  2.5%                               2.2%                            -0.3%
Asia                                          4.1%                               3.6%                            -0.5%
United States                        2.6%                               2.4%                            -0.2%
Eurozone                               0.0%                             -0.3%                            -0.3%
Japan                                       2.5%                              2.0%                             -0.5%
Brazil                                        1.8%                              1.3%                              -0.5%
India                                        5.5%                              5.2%                              -0.3%
Aggregates are calculated using purchasing power parity (PPP) adjusted shares of world GDP.
Source: Nomura Global Economics.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Huawei develops 5G technology

SHANGHAI: As people across the world get used to the fourth generation (4G) mobile technology, Chinese equipment maker Huawei Technologies has said it is working on the fifth generation (5G), which is likely to be available for use by 2020.

The company said presently 200 people are working on the project and it has earmarked a specified amount for the research and development of the technology. It, however, refused to share details about the amount to be spent for the development of the technology.

Huawei Technologies official Wen Tong said that by 2020, there will be billions of connections and 5G can provide massive connectivity. The technology will enable people to have a fibre network like user experience on a wireless connection.

It can provide speed of 10 GBps, which is 100 times faster than the mobile technology used these days, Tong added.

South Korean giant Samsung has also announced that it has successfully tested 5G technology and it will be ready for commercial roll-out by 2020.

Mobile operators across the world have started moving towards the high-speed long term evolution (LTE) or 4G networks and Huawei provides equipment to 85 such networks.

The company is also undertaking a trial run to test the speed on its 4G technology on high speed MagLev train in Shanghai.

Huawei has deployed an LTE network to support wireless connectivity on the train, which runs between the centre of the Shanghai district to the International Airport. The total length of the track is 31 km and the train achieves a speed of up to 431 km per hour.

The company said on that speed, its 4G technology can provide a download speed of up to 50 MBps.



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The Future that never was



No fuss, no muss: A 1950 edition of 'Popular Mechanics' predicted that housewives will be cleaning house with water hose in the year 2000 - AP



Flying cars. Waterproof living rooms that you clean with a hose. A pool on every rooftop.

Many of the old dreams and schemes about daily life in the 21st century didn't come true — at least not yet. Author Gregory Benford has gathered them — along with more successful predictions — in a book, "The Wonderful Future that Never Was" (Hearst, 2012). Some of the imaginative ideas just weren't imaginative enough, he says.

"Failures usually assumed that bigger would always be better — vast domed cities, floating airports, personal helicopters, tunnels across continents," Benford says.

Forecasters didn't realize that being able to invent something wasn't enough.

"Just because high-tech change is possible doesn't mean we always want it," says James B. Meigs, editor-in-chief of Popular Mechanics magazine, noting the slow-food and handmade-crafts movements as high-tech counterpoints. "Sometimes affluence gives us the options to choose more traditional things. We choose clothing out of wool rather than synthetics."

Two well-known failures: flying cars and jet packs. George Jetson kissed his wife then flew his car to work in the TV cartoon series launched in the 1960s, while TV's Buck Rogers thrilled kids of the 1950s by fighting evil invaders wearing a jet pack.

Such depictions created a hunger for personal flying devices, but that wasn't enough to make them a reality.

"People have produced (both) those," says Benford. "It's just that neither is particularly good at being a plane or a car."

A physics professor at the University of California at Irvine and a science fiction writer, Benford culled scientists' predictions from the early 1900s through the late 1960s from Popular Mechanics for this and another book, "The Amazing Weapons that Never Were" (Hearst, 2012).

"In the year 1900, everyone knew that technology drove their world and would drive the future even harder," Benford writes. "That was the single most prescient 'prediction' of the 20th century."

At mid-century, plastics seemed to offer all kinds of possibilities: Take the magazine's 1950 prediction that housewives in the year 2000 would clean house with a hose. Everything — rugs, drapes, furniture — would be waterproof, and the water would run down a drain in the floor.

Among the idea's many drawbacks, which include how uncomfortable such decor would be, forecasters forgot one vital detail: Electricity powers our homes, and it doesn't mix well with water.

Remember how we used to think we'd have robots cleaning clean our homes, cooking our food, tending to our children? Sadly, that one doesn't look promising, Meigs contends.

Robots do fine on an automated factory line with one, simple task, but the home environment requires an adaptability that robots can't muster.

"Getting someone to do the dishes, butter toast, organize the shoes in your closet. Those are doable but really tricky for a robot," says Meigs. "They have to improvise, and you know if humans are involved, you'll open the refrigerator and the butter won't be in the same place."

Yet 50 percent of the predictions that Benford unearthed in the magazine have come true, at least in part.

The "picture phone" was predicted in 1956, for example; see today's Skype calls on the Internet.

And those rooftop pools? They were proposed in 1928 as a way to cool homes. Air-conditioning later proved them unnecessary, but Meigs says the theory behind them exists in practice: as evaporative coolers on home and office rooftops.

What are these experts' own predictions?

Benford says smart homes and self-driving cars are in the future; the technology exists for both. Smart homes, for instance, will respond to human presence in a room by turning on lights and adjusting the temperature, making them energy-efficient, he says. With Internet access, homeowners also will be able to lock and unlock their homes and turn on or check appliances remotely, says Meigs. (We won't worry about whether we left the coffee pot on.)

"That stuff will seem pretty routine, at least in new houses in the next 10 to 15 years," he predicts.

He also thinks we'll have three-dimensional, hologram TVs in 20 or more years.

Benford says human relations could be transformed by Google glass — a computer worn like eyeglasses that thousands of early adapters were trying out this summer; future models will have facial recognition software, he predicts. "It means you can walk around a cocktail party and know who everyone is, never mind those nametags," Benford says. "Two people will be wired so they can exchange information — phone numbers, email . You will have a digital record of who you talked to at the party."

Meigs says it'll go farther: We'll have the functions of Google glass without the device — they'll be imbedded in our heads.

"It sounds like crazy science fiction but the neural interfacing is coming along," he says.- AP

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Politically mixed education Malaysia

I REFER to the editorial “We can’t move forward with suspicious minds” (Sunday Star, July 21- appended below) and feel that our political masters must take heed of the issues raised for they can become a racial time bomb.

It is sad that after 56 years of independence, we are caught in Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds.

This has a lot to do with the education system and politics of the day.

Righteous, progressive and open-minded citizens are the result of a balanced education system where they are given all the opportunities to develop themselves and to understand others.

The knowledge society from such a system can stand the test of time against typecasting, stereotyping and any form of suspicious minds.

The GE13 results is indicative of what lies ahead. The popular vote reflects that all is not well on the ground.

For example, the proliferation of international schools using English as a medium of instruction shows that parents with money prefer not to send their children to national schools.

English as a universal language cannot be denied as the best vehicle to bridge racial polarisation and reduce any “suspicious minds”.

English language citizens have a greater tendency to read books, any kind of books, thereby opening up their minds to prejudices.

Another factor that contributes to “suspicious minds” is the heavy dose of politicking along racial lines.

Every issue that crops up is seen from a racial perspective. It gets worse by the day, going by the media coverage.

We have not reached the stage where we can proudly call ourselves Malaysians.

Ironically, we are becoming less Malaysian by the day if we care to analyse the situation carefully.

This was even pointed out by former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Has our education system failed? What happenned to the various initiatives like “Rukunegara”, “Rukun Tetangga” and “1Malaysia”.

Are we only Malaysians when we conquer Mount Everest or win the Thomas Cup?

After the euphoria is over, we withdraw into our own shell and return to our selfish ways.

Maybe, instead of learning from the Japanese or Koreans, why not learn from the Americans on how their “melting pot” is able to make a Korean, Japanese, Iranian, Mexican, Polish, German and others feel proud they are American first and foremost.

Maybe the American education system has the answer that we have been searching for. Still, we have to accept the fact that where inter-ethnic relations is concerned, a little bit of racial bias does exist.

It is the degree of biasness that is of concern to everyone.

In this respect, the various community leaders must show the way forward.

HASSAN TALIB Gombak, Selangor

We can’t move forward with suspicious minds

SUSPICIOUS minds. That seems to be the state of thinking in our country in these disquieting times. Any action, any utterance is quickly judged on whether it’s racial, religious and even gender “unfriendly”.

Granted, in a multiracial society, there is the expectation that people should know how to speak and behave so as not to cause offence.

But we know in reality, there is a tendency to typecast or stereotype ourselves and people from other communities. This is an age-old mindset but for the most part, it’s harmless. And if anything, it was and still is fodder for jokes and teasing.

In the past, we took it in our stride and rarely let off-colour jokes and remarks get to us. But of late, no thanks to social media and the Internet, any action or remark spreads like wildfire and gets mangled, misinterpreted and embellished along the way.

There seems to be a wilful desire to think the worst of “others”. It doesn’t matter the source: it can be the Government trying to introduce a compulsory subject in private colleges, or people from one community trying to scale Everest, or high scorers not getting places in their chosen courses, or two foolish young people trying to be funny in their tasteless and ill-conceived joke.

The reaction to all of the above is there is a hidden agenda, an ulterior motive to all such actions. Because of the suspicion, it leads to the desire to hit back, to accuse, to hurt, to mock or even to punish beyond the actual “crime”.

More worrisome is the almost- automatic way to look for racial and religious undertones in just about everything, which inevitably leads to people thinking along the lines of Us Against Them.

Sadly, there is a strong belief that the results of the general election on May 5 has worsened race relations. The hearts of the people have hardened against each other.

One group feels betrayed by another, that there is no sense of gratitude for or appreciation of what has been done for them nor the generous accommodation of their demands.

The other group’s response is that they have been pushed to the wall and the decades of accepting what they perceive to be biased policies and implementation has gone unacknow­ledged and finally, enough is enough.

Interestingly enough, the lyrics of Elvis Presley’s song Suspicious Minds encapsulates this Malaysian dilemma: “We’re caught in a trap, we can’t walk out ... Why can’t you see what you’re doing to me when you don’t believe a word I say? We can’t go on together with suspicious minds, and we can’t build our dreams on suspicious minds.”

When Malaysia celebrated its 50th year of Merdeka, The Economist commented about the “increasingly separate lives that Malay, Chinese and Indian Malaysians are leading”.

The British magazine added: “More so than at independence, it is lamented, the different races learn in separate schools, eat separately, work separately and socialise separately. Some are asking: is there really such a thing as a Malaysian?”

That was six years ago. How do we answer that now?
-
- The Star Says

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Malaysia's property market still growing strongly


Malaysia's property market still has much room to grow and will benefit from the high property prices in Singapore, said founder and principal trainer of Singapore-based School of Infinite Potential, Kenny Tan (pix).

"Malaysia('s property market) still has much growth. The market here is exciting and there is a lot of potential and resources. Malaysia can become a really solid country with its hardworking people," he told SunBiz in an interview.

Tan, who is also ERA Realty Network Pte Ltd group division director and a practising real estate agent, said property prices in Singapore have driven buyers to Malaysia due to its closeness in terms of proximity and culture.

"A lot of Singaporeans buy their second home or investment properties here. There is a lot of interest here, especially in Iskandar Malaysia (Johor). There is a lot of interest from Singaporeans, but we always advise them to do research prior to investing," he said.

Tan said while Singapore's property market has gone through a few rounds of corrections, property prices in Kuala Lumpur have been constantly rising since 2004.

Although the issues in Europe and the US have resulted in expatriates pulling out and weakening the rental market, there has been a good influx of foreign interest from South Korea and Japan.

"There is still a lot of opportunities for real estate agents in this segment," he added.

Meanwhile, the cooling measures introduced by the Singapore government has also helped attract interest to Malaysia, with Malaysian property developers taking the opportunity to ramp up their marketing efforts in Singapore.

However, there is still strong demand in Singapore's properties despite the cooling measures, especially from Chinese investors, said Tan.

"(It's just that Singaporean) investors are now taking their time to buy instead of rushing in and chasing prices. There are still transactions (in Singapore properties)," he added.

On property buying trends in Malaysia, Tan said it is moving towards online buying, selling and marketing.

"Technology provides convenience and productivity, one can search for properties online at any time and anywhere. This is already happening in Singapore and we foresee that happening in Kuala Lumpur over the next two to three years.

"There is an evident trend that Malaysia is moving towards that direction with the various online forums and property portals," he said.

Tan said going online means buyers can do research before viewing properties or meeting up with agents, saving time and money. At the same time, real estate agents know the calls they get are more likely to be hot leads rather than cold calls.

"However, there is still a segment of buyers who still use newspapers to search for properties. For example, the older generation and those who are less internet-savvy.

"In Singapore, buyers who want to buy landed properties do not search online. There is still a certain type of buyer who like traditional media thus it is important to have both (mediums)," he added.

 By Eva Yeong  sunbiz@thesundaily.com

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Worries over systemic risks of shadow banking and mid-tier banks


Analysts have been warning on the risks of China’s “shadow banking” system – a sector estimated to have as much as RM4.15tril in assets. 

RAMADAN is always a good time for reflection.

This year, I’ve been researching a new TV documentary series, Ceritalah Indonesia, that I’m hoping to shoot by September.

I want to tell the story of how Indonesia, having endured the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997/1998, ousted President Suharto and then launched into the tumultuous “Reformasi Era” before finding some degree of stability under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

As a result, I’ve been going over recent history – including the roots of the crisis itself.

Now even though I’m not an economist, it’s been a very interesting journey, especially reading about the various bank failures that sparked off and then deepened the crisis.

Back then, banks seemed to be falling like dominoes: Thailand’s Finance One collapsed spectacularly.

This was followed only a few months later by Bank Indonesia’s surprise decision to close sixteen banks.

As the momentum gathered in intensity, one of Japan’s most important brokerage houses – Sanyo Securities was also shuttered.

Just over a decade later, a similar sequence of events was to take place in Europe and North America as Northern Rock, Iceland’s Landsbanki (better known by its British brand-name Icesave) and Lehman Brothers also failed, leaving in their wake a massive dislocation across the developed world.

Now, as I reflect on the events of 1998 and 2008, I can’t help but sense a similar trend emerging to our north – in China.

Indeed, the next global economic crisis could very well start there. Why?

Well, have you visited the many ghostly, almost totally-empty high-rise communities that have sprung up across the Middle Kingdom?

I can still recall wandering through vast and deserted business quarters in Dalian, Tianjin and Beijing.

At the time, everyone told me that China was different ... well that’s what they said about Thailand, Iceland and Spain.

But now after years of over-building: roads, bridges and railway lines, expanding capacity to the highest degree, people are beginning to question China’s growth model.

For many months now, analysts have been warning on the risks of China’s “shadow banking” system – a sector which some estimate to have as much as US$1.3tril (RM4.15tril) in assets.

“Shadow banking”– is simply non-bank lending and borrowing. Investing in hedge funds, venture capital and private equity are all forms of “shadow banking”.

There’s nothing wrong with this: shadow banking often helps individuals or businesses that would otherwise not qualify for conventional bank loans or get credit.

Also, some shadow banking wealth management products offer lucrative returns.

Shadow banking thrived in China with the liquidity that flooded the market in 2008, when its government pumped in a US$586bil (RM1,828bil) stimulus package in response to the subprime crisis.

All this excess liquidity has, however, causing a housing bubble and also saved a number of underperforming Chinese state-owned enterprises from having to reform.

At the same time, Chinese policymakers were debating long-standing calls for them to cool down their economy – a fateful decision as we will see later.

As the astute Henny Sender wrote in the Financial Times on July 11, the investment products which form the backbone of Chinese “shadow banking” have the potential to create yet another subprime crisis.

Why? Well, many of China’s hedge funds are shorting the shares of China’s weaker banks. Does that sound familiar?

According to Sender: “… second-tier banks listed in Hong Kong or in mainland China, including China Merchants, China Minsheng Banking and tiny Huaxia, are vulnerable” as they “… have less ability to absorb losses and more of their balance sheets are tied up with shadow-like activities.”

Minsheng, founded in 1996, is China’s ninth-largest bank by assets and the only private bank amongst its top 10 commercial lenders.

It also, according to JP Morgan, has the fastest growth in inter-bank assets and the highest weighting of interbank liabilities to total interest bearing liabilities.

As mentioned, China’s government was initially determined to “cool” its economy.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) hence refused to intervene when the Shanghai interbank offered rate (“Shibor”, China’s LIBOR) spiked to an all-time high, to almost 14% from 3% previously.

This led to fears that the sudden “credit crunch” would leave banks like Minsheng at risk of default, the very thing that caused the collapse of Western banks like Lehman in 2008 due to a sudden lack of liquidity.

Indeed, in late June worried investors sent Minsheng’s shares down by 16.7%, wiping out US$6bil (RM18.7bil) of its market value.

Talk of a crisis forced the PBOC to promise to end the credit crunch.

Still, worries over China’s shadow banking system persist.

As Fitch Ratings has stressed, systemic risk over China’s mid-tier banks is rising due to their credit exposure and weakness in absorbing losses.

It remains to be seen whether banks like Minsheng will indeed become China’s Lehman.

But this much is clear: those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Ceritalah  By KARIM RASLAN

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Property investments: good Infrastructure a way to huge profits and success

Buy property with good connectivity, investors advised - The road to huge profits

Packed room: Lee giving his talk on ‘Infrastructure goes a long way when picking the best property’ during The Star Property Fair 2013 at G Hotel, Penang. http://www.zeon.com.my/index.html





PROPERTY investors should look out for the connectivity of road infrastructure when it comes to securing ideal property, said Zeon Properties chief executive officer Leon Lee in Penang.

He said infrastructure such as transportation hubs and bridges were vital elements that ensured property prices in their surrounding areas would soar.

Citing an example, Lee said the completion of a bridge connecting Shenzhen, China, and the New Territories of Hong Kong, had seen property prices in the surrounding areas escalating by about 155% over a period of 10 years.

He singled out another example in the form of the Malaysia-Singapore second link connecting Tanjung Kupang, Johor and Tuas in Singapore.

“In 2002, the property price in New Territories of Hong Kong was about HKD$29,522 (RM12,154) per sq m.

“It shot up to HKD$75,416 (RM31,049) in 2013, which took only about 10 years.

“My logic is simple, just watch out for those infrastructure. If there is connectivity or the distance between one place and another is shortened, property prices in that area will surely shoot up,” he told the participants during his talk titled ‘Infrastructure Goes a Long Way When Picking the Best Property’ at G Hotel on Saturday.

On a local perspective, Lee said the prices of property in Batu Maung had increased significantly as the second Penang bridge is scheduled to open to traffic soon.

“In 2007, a terrace house in Batu Maung was worth about RM700,000. But now, a similar unit is priced at RM1.4mil. This is evident to my point earlier,” he said.

He added that Penangites should take notice of the recent announcement by the state government, including the 6.5km undersea tunnel project linking Gurney Drive and Bagan Ajam.

The projects also comprise a 4.6km bypass linking Air Itam to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, 12km Tanjung Bungah-Teluk Bahang paired road and a 4.2km stretch between Gurney Drive and Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway, bypassing the city centre.

“Chances are high that property prices will boom in the surrounding areas,” Lee said.

The talk was sponsored by Hong Leong Bank.

 Penang Property Fair a huge success

Upwards: Potential buyers looking at the MRCB project during the final day of the Property Fair at Gurney Plaza in Penang.

GEORGE TOWN: The Star Property Fair 2013 concluded with Penang and Kuala Lumpur-based developers locking in some RM227.6mil from the sales of residential and commercial properties showcased in G Hotel and Gurney Plaza.

Seven of the property development companies exclusively marketed by Zeon Properties Sdn Bhd generated RM136mil in sales over the past four days from Thursday.

Masmeyer Holdings Sdn Bhd generated RM50mil in sales from some 50 units of its Marinox condominium in Tanjung Tokong.

Zeon chief executive officer Leon Lee said Singapore-based UOA Group and Magna Putih respectively sold about RM25mil and RM20mil worth of property in Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

“UOA sold about 25 units of its Scenaria@North Kiara Hills condominium project in Mont Kiara while Magna Putih sold 20 units of its Mansion One serviced suites in Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah, Penang.

“Other developers such as Mayland Universal Sdn Bhd (RM15mil), Mammoth Empire Holdings Sdn Bhd (RM10mil), Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd (RM15mil), and Venn Properties Sdn Bhd (RM6mil) registered RM46mil in sales,” he said.

Lee said the achievement was higher than anticipated in view of the increasing difficulty for buyers to obtain bank financing nowadays, adding that partial payments were received for the sales.

“Among the projects that attracted much attention and enquiries included Venn Signature, a gated terraced project by Venn Properties in Jalan Raja Uda, Butterworth.

“Penang investors were also attracted to the Scenaria@North Kiara Hills by UOA Group, as the units are priced competitively,” he said.

UEM Sunrise Berhad, SP Setia Bhd, Bukit Kiara Properties Sdn Bhd, TPPT Sdn Bhd, and Lone Pine Group achieved RM68.6mil in sales during the event which ended yesterday.

SP Setia sales and marketing manager Susie Loh said they secured RM18.6mil in sales despite many people not being able to make up their mind on the spot.

 Visitors having a look at a property model at the SP Setia Berhad Group booth during the fair in Gurney Plaza.
Visitors having a look at a property model at the SP Setia Berhad Group booth during the fair in Gurney Plaza

“But we are hopeful of converting a large number office reservations into sales. Many wanted to check out our project sites before signing.”

UEM sales and marketing senior manager Shamsul Bahari Aini said they managed to hit RM20mil.

“We sold about 15 units and this is one of our best results in The Star Property Fair.

“In fact, I believe we can even surpass our target as there are at least five buyers who looked really interested in our projects,” he said.

BHL Waterfront Sdn Bhd and Bandar Utama Development Sdn Bhd secured RM20mil and RM3mil in sales respectively.

The Star advertising sales and business development manager (north) Simone Liong said about 40,000 people visited the fair.

The official event partner is Zeon Properties and Hong Leong Bank is the sponsor.

By DAVID TAN and TAN SIN CHOW newsdesk@thestar.com.my


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Sunday, July 21, 2013

Malaysia's public universities: study hard and be let down again: top scorer, no offer; low point for high achievers!



It’s a perennial problem – more top scorers than places at public universities for medicine, dentistry and pharmacy. The cheapest route to these degrees is fraught with uncertainties and heartache.

IT costs the government about RM70,000 a year to train a medical student at a public university. That works out to RM350,000 for a five-year course.

But a student who gains a place at one of the dozen public institutions offering medicine forks out less than RM20,000 in total tuition fees; the rest is subsidised by the Government.

Does it not then make sense for any brilliant student whose family cannot afford the RM350,000 to RM1mil for a private or foreign degree to spend two years doing Form Six and sitting for the STPM?

Everyone knows that the STPM or Malaysian Higher School Certificate is seriously tough, more difficult to excel in than the internally examined Matriculation offered mainly at matriculation colleges where 90% of the students are bumiputra.

That is why every student who slogs away and scores the maximum CGPA of 4.0 feels “cheated” of the cheapest route to a medical degree when they fail to secure a place at a public university.

This applies to other critical courses like dentistry, pharmacy and certain branches of engineering too. When even those with a CGPA (Cumulative Grade Point Average) of 4.0 don’t make the grade for medicine, they will be “dumbed down” to take up their second and third choices of the critical courses; and in the process, raise the cut-off point for these courses.

The spillover effect will be felt by those with lower CGPA scores who had hedged their bets by applying for dentistry and pharmacy.

This translates to more applicants crying foul because they didn’t get their course of choice despite having almost perfect scores.

There is also a perceived lack of transparency in the information made available for “strategic” application on the part of STPM students.

For one, while STPM results are made public, matriculation results are not. (Last year, there were 83,000 Form Six and 26,000 matriculation students.)

As an STPM candidate, you don’t know where you stand against the others competing for the limited places. In 2004, for example, when “Medic blues” (same issue of top scorers not getting into medicine) made headlines, there were 527 STPM students with CGPA 4.0 but more than double (1,247) with the same grade via matriculation.

For STPM students who may take up to five subjects, their CGPA scores are calculated based on the best four subjects, including General Studies.

The results of students from both “streams” are merged into a master list for allocation of places in universities.

Perfect score students failing to get their preferred course – this year, some were offered nothing – is a perennial problem.

But it is more acute in a year when the STPM yields better results while the number of places remain static. A total of 442 who sat the exam last year scored 4.0 compared with 300 the year before.

Last week, Higher Education Department director-general Prof Datuk Dr Morshidi Sirat said in a statement that 41,573 of STPM, matriculation and Asasi (Centre for Foundation Studies) students were successful in gaining admission to 20 public institutions of higher learning.

According to UPU, the coordinating body for intake into public universities, on its Facebook page, there are more than 2,500 (including the 442 from STPM) applicants with a CGPA of 4.0, most of whom applied for competitive courses like medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.

But the number of places allocated for the three courses in all public universities is just 1,078 or less than half the number of perfect top scorers! Imagine the competition, what more for the 699 medical places. It’s 699, 119 and 260 respectively.

If this is an annual predicament, can’t more places be opened up at public and private institutions?

In terms of physical infrastructure, it is possible, although the intake is strictly guided by criteria set by the Malaysian Medical Council. Student-lecturer ratio must match the facilities provided.

But the problem lies in academic staffing and the limited places for clinical training at teaching hospitals.

If public universities are bursting at the seams, the same may not be the case at private universities.

If the Government subsidises a student’s tuition fees at a private university like it does in public universities, more places can definitely be made available.

What the country needs is “good financial modelling”, says Taylor’s University vice-chancellor and president Prof Datuk Dr Hassan Said.

Private institutions too would like to have top scorers enrolled in their medical courses and raise the competition among their students, making it a win-win situation.

Should supply meet demand?

That is a question the Health Ministry has to grapple with. Are there more students who want to be doctors than the country needs?

Currently, doctor-patient ratio in Malaysia is 1:800. We are expected to achieve the 1:600 ratio recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) by 2015.

With the 3,500 doctors (via public and private institutions) that the country is producing annually, the Health Ministry expects to hit doctor patient ratio of 1:400 by 2020, which will exceed WHO’s recommendation.

Doctor wannabes should bear in mind that getting a job may not be as easy in future although the country still lacks specialists.

For medicine, scoring 4.0 may be the main hurdle but it is only the first hurdle. Participation in co-curricular activities also contributes 10% to the total points for entry into public universities.

Universities today want some say on who should join their most competitive course and put candidates through aptitude tests and interviews.

While there are calls for universities to do away with the “subjective” interviews, those in the medical faculties feel strongly that this is the most effective way to gain a snapshot of a candidate. Does he really want to be a doctor or is there parental pressure?

In private institutions like Monash University Sunway campus, an applicant has to go through four “mini” interviews – 10 minutes each with four interviewers separately.

Its head of the Jeffrey Cheah School of Medicines and Health Sciences Prof Datuk Dr Anuar Zaini Md Zain shares that the interviews are designed to be as objective and reliable as possible.

He says they are looking for the ability to communicate, empathise, work in a team, and have real expectations of the job.

“You need to be able to communicate and listen or you won’t be able to know your patient’s problem. In fact, the biggest complaint against doctors is that they don’t talk and can’t communicate.

“English proficiency is really important as teaching is mainly in that language, whether in clinical years or post-graduate training anywhere in the world,” says the former medical dean of Universiti Malaya.

Basically, interviews are not designed to fail an applicant but to help weed out the wrong candidates and reduce the attrition rate among medical students.

While it is costly for universities to conduct interviews for every applicant, it will be even costlier for them – and society in the long run – to train the wrong person. 

Common Sen-se By Leanne Go
> Twelve years ago, I wrote a comment on the problem of top STPM scorers not getting their course of choice and titled it “Study hard, come out on top and be let down”. Looks like little has changed. Feedback is welcome at leanne@thestar.com.m

 Top scorers appeal cases after not being offered any courses

KUALA LUMPUR: They are among the brightest students in the country and yet were deemed not good enough for local public universities.

Eight students who scored cumulative grade point average of 4.0 were not offered any courses at the public universities despite successfully submitting their forms to enter the universities.

They are among the 108 appeal cases that MCA has received from students who sat for the STPM and matriculation programme since the issue was highlighted last week. Of the total, 55 have 4.0 CGPA.

MCA education bureau chairman Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong said he could not accept the Education Ministry’s excuse that technical error was among the reasons why many top scorers either failed to obtain places at public universities or did not get courses of their choice.

“They obtained 4.0 CGPA. Don’t tell me they do not know how to fill a form.

“I cannot accept this silly explanation. It is grossly unfair to the students,” he said after meeting 22 students and their families at Wisma MCA yesterday.

Low point for top scorers Dejected lot: MCA education bureau chairman Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong looking at the top scorers’ results. — AZLINA ABDULLAH / The Star
Dejected lot: MCA education bureau chairman Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong looking at the top scorers’ results. — AZLINA ABDULLAH / The Star
His remarks at the press conference were greeted by applause from those present.

Further substantiating his point over the issue of technical error, Dr Wee pointed out that 16 of the 22 students were called for an interview with Universiti Sains Malay­sia.

“If it was a technical error, how could USM call them for an interview?” he asked.

He said the party would seek the help of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak and Education Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin to resolve the issue.

Najib, in a tweet, said he knew some were disappointed at not getting places in universities.

“But don’t give up. (I) will discuss at Cabinet this week how best to help these students,” he said.

MIC national youth council member G. Kalaicelvan said the MIC received many complaints of top Indian students not getting courses of their choice.

“Most want to do medicine and their STPM results meet the requirement but somehow they do not get a place in the public universities,” said Kalaicelvan.

He said many Indian students end up disappointed after the STPM results are out every year.
“It’s a never-ending problem,” he said.

- The Star/Asia News Network

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