Asian Insider July 10: Dyson in the sky with Deirdre

Asian Insider brings you insights into a fast-changing region from our network of correspondents.

TEMASEK RESULTS WEAKEN

Singapore's state investment funds are closely tracked around the world for both the strategic directions they set, and their performance. Now, investment company Temasek Holdings has revealed that its net portfolio was valued at a new high of S$313 billion (US$230 billion) as of March 31, up from S$308 billion a year earlier. However, it appears, shareholders took a hit.

Business Correspondent Seow Bei Yi reports that their one-year return came in at 1.49 percent, compared with 12.19 in the previous year. The low return prompted a question at its annual review yesterday on whether the company had underperformed. Temasek International chief executive Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara said shareholders look to the company for sustainable returns over a long period. He also noted that Temasek has been recalibrating the portfolio over the past decade to make it more resilient. With most of its assets out of Singapore and Asia, the shareholder return in part reflects the market selldowns that were seen across regional indices over the period.

DIG IN, SAYS SOUTH KOREA'S MOON

Faced with unexpectedly stiff Japanese reaction to a series of adverse court judgments from his nation's courts, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has warned top business leaders of an extended battle with Japan over its export controls on vital manufacturing materials, raising concerns their latest fight could disrupt global supply chains.

Meeting executives from companies including Samsung Electronics Co, SK Group, Hyundai Motor Co and Lotte Group on Wednesday, Mr Moon said he saw Japan targeting South Korea's economy for political gains, Bloomberg News reported. Japan last week imposed curbs on highly specialised products needed to make semiconductors and computer displays, and could also remove its neighbour from a list of trusted buyers. "Our government is forming a response system demanding Japan to withdraw its unfair export limit measures with a sense of urgency," Mr Moon said in Seoul, calling the current situation an "unprecedented emergency".

Japan has said it made the move to ensure proper security and questioned its trust of South Korea after courts there last year ruled that Japanese companies needed to pay compensation to Koreans conscripted to work at mines and factories during Japan's 1910-45 colonial rule over the Korean peninsula. Tokyo said all claims were settled by a 1965 treaty and that it didn't see the court decisions as valid.

DYSON BUYS A PIECE OF SINGAPORE SKY

The news on the Singapore property front has been less than invigorating since the government three years ago imposed stiff curbs to control speculation that was driving up prices. At the high end though, some rich investors have been snapping up assets, sometimes buying sight unseen. Now, according to Business Correspondent Grace Leong, billionaire inventor Sir James Dyson has quietly acquired the biggest, highest, and possibly the most expensive super penthouse on the Singapore market at the ultra-luxe Wallich Residence.

The price tag is not revealed in documents obtained by The Straits Times, but industry sources valued the Wallich uber penthouse at more than S$100 million. The 72-year-old tycoon's purchase of Singapore's most rarefied piece of non-landed real estate comes just six months after announcing that his technology company, known for its pricey vacuum cleaners, hair dryers and air purifiers, will be moving its headquarters from Britain to Singapore. Our sister publication, Business Times, says Sir James bought the triplex residence with his wife as co-owner and the two are Singapore Permanent Residents.

HONG KONG: TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

On Tuesday, Hong Kong's Beijing-approved Chief Executive, Ms Carrie Lam, announced that the controversial extradition bill that had roused widespread resentment in the territory was being killed, a nod to the protesters who have kept up trenchant opposition to the legislation.

However, East Asia Editor Goh Sui Noi says Ms Lam's latest attempt to pacify protesters is a case of "too little, too late" and is unlikely to improve the situation. This is because Ms Lam did not say what protesters wanted to hear, which is a formal announcement that the Bill was being withdrawn from the LegCo, where it went through a first reading. The extradition Bill, if passed, would have allowed the city to send criminal suspects to mainland China, where Hong Kongers do not think they will have a fair trial or that their rights will be protected.

BEHIND THE TIMES IMF

Just hours after the announcement that IMF managing director Christine Lagarde of France would be departing the institution to become president of the European Central Bank (ECB), names of European candidates to replace her started appearing. These included Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who has joint Canadian, Irish and British nationality and thus qualifies as "European"; George Osborne, Britain's former chancellor of the Exchequer; Olli Rehn of the Bank of Finland; and Jens Weidmann of the German Bundesbank.  

All of them have the credentials to head the International Monetary Fund, but that is not the point says Associate Editor Vikram Khanna, a former IMF official himself. The post should cease to be a European monopoly, which is what it has been since the IMF was founded in 1945. To succeed Ms Lagarde as IMF head, there are several highly qualified candidates from outside Europe, who have already served in senior capacities at the fund. These include Singapore's Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who served as chairman of the IMF's International Monetary and Financial Committee; India's former central bank governor Raghuram Rajan, who has been the IMF's chief economist; and Mexico's Augustin Carstens, the head of the Bank for International Settlements, who was the IMF's deputy managing director. 

IN OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Ride-hailing company Gojek, Indonesia’s first unicorn, has secured an investment from Siam Commercial Bank, the Thai lender that counts King Maha Vajiralongkorn as its biggest shareholder, according to people familiar with the matter cited by Bloomberg News. It's unclear how much Thailand's biggest bank is investing in Gojek, the people said, who asked not to be identified because the matter is private. South-east Asia's banks are increasingly teaming up with technology firms that are getting onto their turf, offering financial services from digital payments to consumer loans. Thailand's Kasikornbank has invested US$50 million in Gojek's rival, Grab.

The founder of a global restaurant chain of Indian restaurants has surrendered to a court in Chennai, southern India, after losing a last-ditch bid to avoid a life sentence for murdering a love rival. P. Rajagopal rose from rags to riches to create the Saravana Bhavan chain which has more than 80 outlets in India and around the world, from Leicester Square to Lexington Avenue via Singapore, Sydney and Stockholm. He had been battling for 15 years to avoid prison since being convicted over the killing of the husband of a woman he wanted to make his third wife, reportedly on the advice of his astrologer.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad of Malaysia, the world's oldest serving leader of a government, is celebrating his 94th birthday today. Social media is awash with users sending him birthday wishes. "My birthday wish is very simple; that I can finish my work setting Malaysia on the road of recovery," he wrote on his Facebook page. Last year, Dr Mahathir stunned the world by riding a wave of anti corruption sentiment to oust the scandal ridden head of his former party and seize power. His government is poised to lower the voting age from 21 to 18.

Canandian national Peter John Dalglish, a former UN official, has been jailed for sexually abusing children in Nepal, officials said, following a trial underscoring the country's growing appeal for foreign paedophiles. The former high-profile humanitarian worker was sentenced on Monday to terms of nine and seven years in two cases after being convicted last month. Dalglish, who has denied the charges, was in 2016 awarded the Order of Canada - the country's second-highest civilian honour. He co-founded Street Kids International in the 1980s which merged with Save the Children.

That’s it for today, folks. Follow us on www.straitstimes.com for the latest on Asia, and the world. 

Meanwhile, seize the day!

Ravi