iCar Asia country manager joins Frontier Digital

KUALA LUMPUR — Frontier Digital Ventures appointed Jason Thoe as director of Growth & Operations-Auto Verticals. Thoe’s appointment underpins the company’s expansion plans, with his role in accelerating the growth of Frontier’s automotive partners in their respective markets.

Thoe joins Frontier Digital from iCar Asia, where he has held various roles across its seven brands in three markets. His last position at iCar was country manager for Malaysia where he was instrumental in establishing Carlist.my as the number one automotive site in the country. He lead iCar to profitability last year with an impressive year-on-year revenue growth of 66%, contributing towards 60% of overall revenue.

Prior to iCar Asia, Thoe held a range of leadership roles at various digital, technology and consulting entities.

Frontier Digital Ventures founder and CEO Shaun Di Gregorio said Theo’s proven expertise and outstanding track record will be invaluable.

Maybank appoints second female board director

KUALA LUMPUR — Maybank has appointment two new independent directors to its board, Nor Hizam bin Hashim and Hasnita binti Hashim.

Nor Hizam, 67, has 30 years working experience, including in finance, marketing and general management in three multinational companies, namely ESSO Malaysia Bhd, Mamor Sdn Bhd — a subsidiary of Unilever Group, and Raleigh Bhd.

Hasnita, 54, who is the second female director on the Maybank Board, brings 25 years of global financial management experience in the field of asset management, structured finance and asset securitisation. She is known to be a pioneer and innovator in Islamic finance and has extensive relationships with large investors and key business players from Gulf countries.

Mohamad Zabibi is the new Agrobank board chairman

KUALA LUMPUR — Agrobank said Tan Sri Mohamad Zabidi Zainal has been appointed as chairman of the board of directors effective on 29 July, after receiving approval from Bank Negara Malaysia and the Ministry of Finance.

Mohamed Zabidi has more than 37 years of experience in the public sector, and is currently the director-general of Public Service of Malaysia.

In his three decades of service, Mohamad Zabidi has had held several high-level positions such as Deputy Secretary-General (Finance), Ministry of Health; State Secretary of Perlis; and Director-General of Mampu, at the Prime Minister’s Department. Mohamad Zabidi is one of the key drivers of Malaysia’s public sector transformation.

Agrobank also welcomes the appointment of 3 new Independent Non-Executive Directors; Datuk Seri Ismail Bakar, the Secretary General of Ministry of Agriculture and Agro-based Industry, Datin Setia Shahariah Hashim and Puan Azizah Abdul Rahman.

AmBank is new distributor for Amanah fund

KUALA LUMPUR — AmBank (M) Bhd has been appointed as the new distributor for Malaysia’s first fixed price Shariah-compliant real estate backed unit trust fund, Amanah Hartanah Bumiputera Fund. The fund seeks to provide unit holders with a regular and consistent income stream while preserving the unit holder’s investment capital.

The sponsor of the fund is Pelaburan Hartanah Bumiputera (PHB) while it is managed by Maybank Asset Management (MAM) and the fund distributors are AmBank (M) Bhd and Maybank. AmBank has officially launched the fund to the public on August 3.

Amanah Hartanah Bumiputera Fund’s investment strategy seeks to achieve its investment objective by investing primarily in the ownership of real estate in Malaysia, from commercial properties to shopping complexes, commercial centres, logistics and industrial complexes.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce Bloomberg

Qantas pays dividend as turnaround yields record profit

SYDNEY — Qantas Airways Ltd announced its first dividend since 2009 and handed bonuses to 25,000 workers as chief executive officer Alan Joyce’s turnaround programme delivered a record annual profit.

Australia’s biggest carrier will pay a final dividend of 7 Australian cents a share and buy back as much as A$366 million (RM1.1 billion) of stock, according to a filing yesterday. Earnings before tax and one-time items surged 57% to A$1.53 billion in the 12 months ended June 30.

Joyce, who has cut thousands of jobs, deferred aircraft orders and dropped unprofitable routes as part of a A$2 billion transformation programme, said the three-year plan is now on course to exceed its target. The regular dividend has returned earlier than some analysts had expected.

“Qantas is in a really sweet spot,’’ said Angus Nicholson, a market analyst at IG Ltd. “A regular dividend in this global environment is going to be a real positive. It shows you how consistently the company can hold these gains going forward.’’

The airline’s shares rose 4.1% to A$3.54 at 10.10am in Sydney. Qantas stock has almost tripled since Joyce announced his turnaround programme on Feb 27, 2014.

Before today, Sydney-based Qantas had made two one-off capital returns totaling more than A$1 billion in the past year. Singapore Airlines Ltd and Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd have already restarted paying dividends after the global financial crisis.

Future surplus capital will be distributed first to shareholders in the form of a dividend, combined with share buybacks and one-off payments, Qantas said yesterday.

“We do see the strong performance of the company continuing,’’ Joyce said on a call with reporters. “Thanks to our transformation programme, we’re making money.’’ The cash bonus for workers, including pilots, cabin crew and ground staff, will total A$75 million.

Underlying operating profit at Qantas’s domestic business rose 20% to A$578 million, and soared 92% to A$512 million at its international unit. The measure at the Qantas loyalty frequent-flier unit rose 10% to A$346 million and almost doubled to A$452 million at budget carrier Jetstar.

Rather than throw capital on its own international routes, Joyce has favored alliances with Emirates, China Eastern Airlines and American Airlines to generate profitable revenue. The weaker Australian dollar has also drawn more overseas visitors to Australia.

Group net income jumped 84% to A$1.03 billion in the year to June. The transformation program has now wrung out A$1.66 billion in benefits — a figure that is now expected to reach A$2.1 billion by June 2017 — Joyce said.

Qantas this financial year is due to receive the first of eight fuel-efficient Boeing Dreamliners, after deferring its eight remaining A380 Airbus superjumbos.

Joyce is considering deploying the Dreamliner on a direct Perth-to-London route that would rank among the world’s longest flights. On Australia’s eastern seaboard, other possible routes for the aircraft include Brisbane to the United States, Melbourne to Dallas or Sydney to Chicago. — Bloomberg (A$1 = RM3.07)

Stocks ease as US dollar holds ground

LONDON — Stocks slipped on Wednesday while the dollar continued to claw back last week’s losses as investors grappled with the prospect of a US interest rate increase in the months ahead coming amid continued uncertainty about the strength of the global economy.

This uneasy balance helped push the US yield curve, the difference between 10-year and two-year yields, to its flattest in a month. A flattening yield curve is often seen as a harbinger of low growth, inflation and rates over the long term.

Asian and world stock indices succumbed to profit-taking after reaching one-year highs earlier this month, while US futures pointed to a lower open on Wall Street. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq came within a whisker of all-time highs on Tuesday.

European shares were dragged down by British mining giant Glencore, which fell 2.8% after reporting a fall in underlying profit and lowering its debt target.

“Miners and energy stocks are again under selling pressure. Glencore’s meager first half results are a fresh reminder of how vulnerable the mining sector still is,” said pek Ozkardeskaya, senior market analyst at London Capital Group.

In early European trade, the FTSEuroFirst index of leading 300 shares on the continent was down 0.3% at 1,347 points. Britain’s FTSE 100 and Germany’s DAX were also down 0.3%.

Europe’s Basic Resources index fell 1.6%, hit by copper prices languishing near six-week lows.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.4%, having risen more than 14% since late June. Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.6%, supported by a slightly weaker yen.

MSCI’’s main global stock index was down 0.2%.

In currency markets, the dollar consolidated ahead of the gathering of global central bankers later this week in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where the focus will lie squarely on a speech by United States Federal Reserve (Fed) chair Janet Yellen on Friday.

Investors will be hoping for further clues on when the Fed will follow up last December’s rate hike with another increase. Futures markets assign a roughly one-in-five chance it will be September, and 50-50 odds by the end of the year.

The dollar was last up slightly against the yen at ¥100.25, holding above the psychologically important 100 level, and the euro was hovering just below US$1.13.

The dollar index of its value against a trade-weighted basket of currencies edged up to 94.604, after falling more than 1% last week.

“Seemingly in anticipation of a relatively hawkish message from Fed chair Yellen at the forthcoming Jackson Hole Symposium, the dollar is making modest gains,” RBC Capital Markets analysts wrote in a client note on Wednesday.

“But other markets are more circumspect about the prospect of Yellen signaling a tougher stance on monetary policy,” they added.

One is the bond market. The 2-10 US yield curve flattened to 78 basis points earlier yesterday, the flattest in a month, suggesting investors are lukewarm on what higher borrowing costs will do for the US and world economy.

Last month the curve traded as low as 73 basis points, the flattest since 2007.

Oil prices fell, reversing earlier gains, after the American Petroleum Institute (API) reported on Tuesday that US crude inventories rose by a surprising 4.5 million barrels last week.

Brent crude fell 1.3% to US$49.33 a barrel, while US West Texas Intermediate crude slipped 1.6% to US$47.33. — Reuters

Hillary Clinton Reuters

Clinton plans to boost small businesses

LOS ANGELES — Democrat Hillary Clinton on Tuesday vowed to make starting a small business in the United States as easy as opening a lemonade stand if elected president, targeting a large economic sector and a significant voting bloc.

Her flagship proposal is to establish a standard tax deduction for small businesses, previously only available to individuals, allowing owners to get tax relief without filing additional forms.

Clinton would also expand healthcare tax credits in the Affordable Care Act for small businesses that employ up to 50 workers and create new federal incentives for local and state governments to streamline the business licensing process, according to background provided by her campaign.

Since launching her campaign in April 2015, Clinton has said she wants to be the “small business president” if she wins the Nov 8 election against businessman Donald Trump, the Republican nominee.

Trump has offered lower tax rates for small businesses and cuts to federal regulations to help “jump-start America”.

Clinton’s campaign held a conference call with small business owners on Tuesday to discuss her proposals and offer ways they could help with the former secretary of state’s campaign.

“You will always have a seat at the table,” Clinton told business owners on the call, taking questions from entrepreneurs in Virginia and Michigan.

Small businesses play a vital economic role in the United States, making up 99.7% of US employer firms and providing 49.2% of US private sector jobs, according to the Small Business Administration.

The proposals announced by Clinton’s campaign on Tuesday fill in details on how the Democratic nominee would fulfil promises to improve access to financing and minimise regulatory burdens that make it difficult to start small businesses.

“They tell me more dreams die in the parking lots of banks than anywhere in America,” Clinton said of the feedback she has received from small business owners.

“I’d like to get rid of the unnecessary red tape,” Clinton said of regulations on credit unions and small banks that make it difficult to lend to would-be entrepreneurs.

Clinton’s campaign said she also wants to guarantee that small businesses with questions about US government regulations receive an answer within 24 hours.

Clinton’s running mate, US Senator Tim Kaine, discussed the new proposals during a Tuesday roundtable with small business owners in Colorado, a battleground state. — Reuters

China global chip ambition like to fail, says analyst

SINGAPORE — China’s ambitions of spending more than US$100 billion (RM403 billion) to become the global leader in computer chips is likely to fail because of a lack of technological know-how and talent, according to an analysis by Bain & Co.

China is one of the world’s largest consumers of semiconductor devices thanks to its manufacturing might. The global consultancy estimates that by 2020, almost 55% of the world’s memory, logic and analog chips will flow to or through the country. But the vast majority of the microchips that act as the brains of products like Apple Inc’s iPhone are largely imported from companies like Intel Corp and Samsung Electronics Co.

The government in 2014 moved to change this with plans to invest more than US$100 billion and become a leading global player by 2020. It’s also driven consolidation among domestic suppliers to maximise its investments, including the US$2.8 billion merger of Tsinghua Unigroup Ltd and Wuhan Xinxin Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp announced last month.

But financial investment will not be enough to buy leadership of the semiconductor sector, which is worth around US$1 trillion according to Singapore-based Bain partner Kevin Meehan. It currently makes just 15% of the world’s semiconductors, he said.

“China is coming at it in a pretty smart and intelligent way,” he said. “But I don’t see a path for them to own leading-edge processor technology and that is the foundation of Intel, the foundation of Samsung’s success.”

Efforts by Chinese companies to buy rivals with intellectual property in the processor and memory markets have run afoul of regulators around the world. Plans for a US$3.8 billion investment in Western Digital Corp were scrapped amid a US security review and investments in Taiwanese chip companies face regulatory obstacles and have stoked political tension.

“Assuming they can spend it all, the biggest risk is that they end up with a whole bunch of fragmented and weak follower positions,” Meehan said. “There’s ways for them to have influence over greater than 10% if they’re partnering well, but otherwise I think you’re essentially capped there.”

Meehan said China’s semiconductor makers could eventually learn from partnerships with global giants and become one of the larger suppliers of key components like computer memory. Both Intel and Qualcomm Inc have agreed to build semiconductor fabrication plants there in partnership with local providers.

“If you take a long view — not five years but decades — then certainly you’d have to believe there’s some absorption,” he said. “But people are careful not to put their leading edge IP in China.” — Bloomberg (US$1 = RM4.03)

Galaxy Note 7 demand tests Samsung supply chain

SEOUL — Better-than-expected demand for Samsung Electronics Co Ltd’s new Galaxy Note 7 is causing supply constraints globally, the South Korean tech giant said yesterday, suggesting strong initial sales for the new premium smartphone.

While robust demand could help deliver another solid quarter of earnings, Samsung also risks missing out on potential sales if it cannot boost supply quickly. Rivals such as Apple Inc are poised to launch new phones which could pull customers away from Samsung if a shortage persists.

Production problems for the curved displays for the Galaxy S6 edge phone resulted in disappointing sales last year, and some investors fear a repeat if the world’s top smartphone maker does not move quickly to meet Note 7 demand.

Samsung shares were down 2% as of 0339 GMT yesterday after hitting a record high on Tuesday, while the broader market was down 0.3%.

Samsung said it was trying to boost production at the secret locations where the Notes are made, and aimed to meet demand “as early as possible”.

A person familiar with the matter told Reuters there was no production issue for the curved screens used on the Galaxy Note 7 and that the shortage would not be a long-term problem.

“The party got more visitors than Samsung expected, so they just need to put more food out,” said Nomura analyst C.W. Chung, who said the supply situation was not a major risk given that Samsung made key parts such as displays and chips in-house.

Samsung could sell as many as 15 million Galaxy Note 7 phones this year, Chung said, compared with an estimated 9 million Galaxy Note 5 phones sold last year.

Samsung hopes it helps maintain sales and earnings momentum in the second half. Some analysts raised their profit forecasts for Samsung after the phone received favourable reviews. — Reuters

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Vivacious

Meet Vanizha Vasanthanathan, rising model, accomplished dancer and parttime cook who is the only Malaysian to walk at India’s prestigious Lakme Fashion Week.

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