Bagging another award

G HOTEL GURNEY received the Brand Laureate Best Brands Signature award 2015/2016 at The Majestic Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

It also received the Best Lifestyle in Business & Leisure Hotel Award, its second from Brand Laureate.

Hotel general manager Michael Hanratty received the award from Brand Laureate president Dr K.K. Johan.

“We are honoured to receive the No 1 branding award in the nation, once again, as it is an internationally recognised accolade.

“The award is dedicated to our staff who provide the best service to our guests as we will continue to provide exceptional service to make each guest’s stay a satisfying one.”

Organised by the Asia Pacific Brands Foundation, the night saw some 1,000 guests comprising corporate leaders, brand owners and leading personalities.

The evening’s entertainment was by Malaysian singer Jaclyn Victor with a Michael Jackson tribute by Reizo Zen and magic show by Aaron Crow form Belgium

Since inception, G Hotel Gurney and G Hotel Kelawai, bagged over 70 awards from both local and international organisations.

Teaching kids to cook

G Hotel’s management team and staff brought festive cheer when they visited the Children’s Protection Society in Jalan Scotland.

Led by general manager Micheal Hanratty, some 24 people spent time mingling and playing games with the children

The non-profit home houses 36 children aged between five and 19.

Upon arrival, home executive administrator Rajam Ramasamy gave the team a brief background and tour of the premises.

The children shared how they live and responsibilities they had such as cleaning their rooms, toilets and dish washing.

The volunteers also prepared activities for children including a cooking class.

The aim was to equip children with five-star hotel cooking knowledge and survival skills.

G Hotel Gurney executive sous chef Ketut Gede Dodi taught children simple culinary skills and how to make egg mayo sandwiches and potato salad.

He also introduced to them ingredients and functionalities of each utensil used in cooking and food preparation.

Four awards for Best Cook, Best Performance, Best Little Chef and Best Tasting were given to children as a reward. The prizes were laser pens, Aigner lotion and slippers.

Hanratty, executive assistant manager of sales and marketing Kevin Cheah and director of food and beverage M. Balasubramani were judges.

G. Vithusha and G. Janaartthanan won Best Little Chef while the Best Performance award went to N. Thaneswari and K. Durgashini.

The Best Cooks were Muhammad Hassan Ibrahim Mridha and Muhammad Hussain Ibrahim Mridha while Chow Huey Ling and G. Rishibasani won Best Tasting.

The hotel also donated RM1,000 to the home for its daily upkeep.

“We care for children and their smiles are priceless, that’s why we take a personal interest in these programmes,” said Hanratty.

He said the event was only a small part of hotel’s effort in giving something back to community.

S&P cuts Australia’s outlook to negative, may cut triple-A rating

SYDNEY — Standard & Poor’s (S&P) warned yesterday of a downgrade to Australia’s coveted triple-A credit rating within two years, saying the knife-edge July 2 election may have weakened the government’s ability to tackle its budget deficits.

It cut its outlook on Australia to negative from stable and said there is a one-in-three chance of a ratings downgrade should the government fail to materially improve its balance sheet.

The warning will come as a major blow to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who is scrambling to gain support from a small handful of independent lawmakers he will likely need to form a workable government and end a political vacuum after an unexpectedly close election.

The Australian dollar initially shed half a cent to a session low of US$0.7467 after the stable outlook was downgraded by S&P, but has since recovered to be back above 75 cents.

“We will continue to monitor, over the next six to 12 months, the success or otherwise of the new government’s ability to pass revenue and expenditure measures through both houses of parliament,” S&P said.

Treasurer Scott Morrison said the warning has strengthened his resolve to improve the government’s budget position.

“I have no intention of postponing the pace of fiscal consolidation and so therefore I remain very determined to ensure that the warnings that are in this report are not realised,” he told reporters.

Analysts expect no lasting market impact from the warning for now. Australia’s 10-year bond yields at 1.88% also make the country’s debt highly attractive compared to the negative yields of some of its peers.

Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy and chief economist at AMP Capital, said the negative credit watch should come as no surprise.

“Australia has now seen years of slippage in returning the budget to surplus and the messy election outcome threatens more slippage whichever way it goes,” he said.

Indeed, S&P said the government’s current projection date for a balanced budget by fiscal year 2021, if achieved, would come more than 10 years after the global financial crisis initially pushed the budget into deficit.

S&P last downgraded Australia’s credit rating in October 1989. In May 1999, the agency upgraded the rating to AA+ and in February 2003, it restored the nation’s top notch AAA rating where it has stayed since.

On the positive side, S&P said it considered Australia’s banking system to be one of the strongest globally and described the country as a “wealthy, diversified and resilient economy”.

“The economy’s resilience and flexibility, we believe, ultimately help cushion government finances from economic shocks and are a major support to Australia’s creditworthiness,” it said.

S&P noted economic growth was picking up pace after a period of below-trend performance and estimated headline gross domestic product growth to be around 3% this fiscal year, handily beating most of its rich world peers.

Australia boasts an enviable growth track record and hasn’t seen a recession in over 25 years.

Earlier in the week, Moody’s Investors Service said short-lived political uncertainty in Australia would have limited implications for the country’s triple-A rating.

Fitch said Australia’s debt profile was still consistent with a triple-A rating but cautioned that political gridlock after an indecisive national election could endanger the top rating over time. — Reuters

Temasek assets fall first time since 2008

KUALA LUMPUR — Singaporean state-owned investment company, Temasek Holdings (Pte) Ltd, saw net portfolio drop value drop for the first time in seven years reported a net portfolio value of S$242 billion (RM972.8 billion) for the financial year ended March 31, 2016 (FY15), down 9% from S$266 billion recorded in the previous corresponding period.

The group’s net profit also dropped to S$8 billion in the same period from S$14 billion reported last year, said Temasek in a review of its operations.

Despite seeing a volatile market with a more challenging environment, the company would continue to be an active investor, chief executive officer (CEO) of Temasek International (the management arm of the investment firm), Lee Theng Kiat said in a statement yesterday.

“We invested S$30 billion and divested a record S$28 billion of our portfolio last year which reflected, in part, our plan to reshape our portfolio,” he said.

The United States (US) accounted for the largest share of their new investments during the year followed by China. “We increased our position in the US logistics sector via a US$450 million investment in a US-based distributor of commodity and specialty chemicals and would continue to invest in the biotechnology space,” he said.

On China, which accounted for the largest share of their investments in Asia, Lee said the investments were spread in a domestic tyre manufacturer, a data and technology-based logistics platform focused on e-commerce and the financial services sector.

An earlier Bloomberg report citing CIMB Private Banking estimates expected Temasek’s assets to decline more, down 13% to S$231 billion.

Though smaller than expected, the decline in assets shows how exposed Temasek’s portfolio is to the harsh realities of the stock markets,” CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun said.

The investment firm had more than half of its assets in China and Singapore as of March last year, leaving it particularly exposed to a 21% slump in China’s CSI 300 Index and an 18% decline in Singapore’s Straits Times Index in the 12 months that followed.

The state investor made fewer deals in the past year, completing 44 deals in the year ended March 31, down from 55 in the previous period, according to data compiled by the London-based Sovereign Wealth Center.

“They didn’t follow through on the big-ticket transactions they had in the year before,” Enrico Soddu, head of data at the Sovereign Wealth Center, said.

The value of Temasek’s 51% stake in Singapore Telecommunications Ltd, its biggest holding by market value, declined S$4.5 billion as the shares fell 13% during the fiscal year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Its 30% stake in lender DBS Group Holdings Ltd fell S$3.7 billion and its stake in rig builder Sembcorp Industries Ltd shed S$1.1 billion. Temasek is the biggest shareholder in about a third of the 30 members in the Straits Times Index.

Overseas, London-listed shares of Standard Chartered Plc, of which Temasek is the biggest shareholder, more than halved during the reporting period, shaving S$6.2 billion off the holding.

Temasek made S$30 billion in new investments in the 12 months ended March 2015, the highest in seven years. Among its biggest investments was US$5.7 billion (RM22.9 billion) for a 25% stake in Hong Kong retailer A S Watson & Co, completed in April 2014. It also increased its stake in US pharmaceuticals maker Gilead Sciences Inc by US$800 million.

Among Temasek’s biggest divestments was the sale of its 67% stake in Singapore’s Neptune Orient Lines Ltd, resulting in S$2.3 billion in receipts. It also sold its 83.8% stake in Singapore chip tester Stats ChipPac Ltd, a stake that had a value of S$920 million as of June 2015.

An early investor in Alibaba in 2011, Temasek reduced its US-listed holdings in China’s biggest e-commerce company during its last fiscal year, cutting the value of its stake by US$667 million to US$3.8 billion.

Unlike GIC Pte, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek almost exclusively invests in equities and has few restrictions on how much it can hold. — Bloomberg

(US$1 = RM4.20, S$1 = RM2.99)

Royal Caribbean and
their Asian journey

SINGAPORE — As the sun shines through the Mass Rapid Transit heading towards the Marina Bay Cruise Centre, the half-empty train’s few passengers with their bags and sunglasses were engrossed in their conversation over the cruise they were about to embark on.

The Royal Caribbean’s latest addition to their cruise fleet, Ovation of the Seas, was the focus of the cruise goers on the train. They have only one question on their minds — What can I expect from the cruise?

Following strict check-in and immigration procedures at the cruise centre, passengers were ushered in by the well-trained, friendly and accommodating crew members, who easily handled the embarking guests.

Walking to the entrance of the ship was an adventure on its own, with guests staring in awe at the 18 vertical decks, and upon entering the ship, one can only let the eyes gaze in wonder.

Checking into the room, guests would expect a small cabin with minimal necessities and that was the biggest mistake anyone can make because Royal Caribbean puts passenger needs foremost while looking to gain new ones in the thriving Asian cruise market.

Cruising in Asia

Cruising in Asia is still underrated despite almost 20 years of the service being available to the region’s travellers.

In the late 1990s, Star Cruises started building an Asia cruise holiday market from its base in Hong Kong, slowly creeping in to unlock the Chinese market.

Carnival, owner of Costa Cruises, then deployed their first vessel into the Chinese market and international rivals like Royal Caribbean followed suit.

The heavyweight contenders in the luxury cruise lines are now in a neck-and-neck race, deploying their latest and finest ships to further capture the growing middle-class market.

Earlier this year, Maritime Executive reported mainland cruise passengers from mainland China grew 79% annually between 2012 and 2014.

Executive vice president of China Cruise and Yacht Industry Association Zheng Weihang expects the number of cruise goers to spike up to a million last year and forecasts the number to soar to 2.5 million in 2020 and 4.5 million by 2025.

Ovation of The Seas cruise director Gordon Whatman said it takes 10 weeks to reposition the ship for the Southeast Asia market and they are eyeing four China cruises for the rest of the year.

He said tailoring the cruise to the China market is a whole new ball game as it requires detailed changes to the cater to specific market needs. Entertainment needs to be set up for guests throughout the day for duration of the cruise.

Whatman, with over two decades of experience at sea, said he was very much looking forward to China’s cruise season. Ovation of the Seas will reposition to Australia after the end of the Chinese cruise season towards the end of the year.

Bait to many hearts

Food and beverage outlets onboard Ovation of the Seas are among the many highlights of the ship. Among the outlets are Jamie Oliver’s “Jamie’s Italian” specialty restaurant, only available on two Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas and Ovation of the Seas.

With other signature restaurants like American Icon, Chops Grille and Izumi Japanese Kitchen, cruise goers have many choices to fill their palates.

On top of that, complimentary restaurants — Wonderland, Windjammers Marketplace, Sorento’s, Cafe@Two70, Chic and Coastal Kitchen — are open to passengers at no charge.

Executive sous chef Alfredo Alberto, from the Philippines, said kitchen operations are a bustling hive of activity daily.

“We have many stations in the Deck 3 galley to cater to all the restaurants and it is the main production galley.”

Alberto said the kitchen crew, consisting of 198 cooks, 20 management staff, six executive sous chefs and 64 utilities staff, face many challenges in their daily operations.

“You can imagine having 6,000 cookies baked fresh daily. We have a strict five-minute preparation time for each dish and anything that takes longer than that, will be disposed of,” Alfredo said.

With longer voyages, Alfredo said the team replenishes their provisions four times and with shorter trips, twice is more than enough.

“For United Kingdom voyages, we use up to 1,900 potatoes daily and up to 19,800 eggs and 1,100 flour, so managing the replenishment of the provisions has to be done weeks in advance to ensure that we do not run short of any items during the voyage. We are not able to just dock anywhere and pick up goods along the way.”

A standing ovation

The 348 metre long and 50 metre tall Ovation of the Seas, bigger than three football fields in length, was constructed at the Meyer Werft shipyard in northwestern Germany.

The ship’s first journey was through the River Ems to the North Sea, where the 167,800-tonne ship was one of the largest to have come out of the shipyard and transported down the river.

With 2,094 passenger cabins, the ship was built to not only ferry passengers but also to leave cruise goers in awe upon boarding the ship.

With a US$1 billion (RM4.02 billion) price tag, Ovation of the Seas is equipped with 18 decks and is able to ferry 4,905 guest and 1,500 international crew members.

The giant will be repositioned to Australia, to be based at the Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal in Circular Quay, for its maiden 2016/2017 summer season.

Its leviathan size however means it will not be able to pass under the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The four-day cruise, from Singapore to Port Klang and back, was more than enough for a familiarisation trip minus the downsides of many food establishments being closed when the ship was docked in Singapore and Malaysia.

Over the weekend between June 9 and 12, 4,500 passengers — of which 900 were children — embarked on the short voyage.

Whatman said it takes a people person, organiser and an entertainer all-in-one to be able to fit in the cruise director profile.

“You cannot compare a cruise to a hotel as you get penny-for-penny worth upon embarking on the ship because many a times, people return for the crew members and not the ship itself,” Whatman said.

India’s Ballarpur calls off RM2b sale of Malaysian unit

KUALA LUMPUR — Ballarpur Industries Ltd (BILT), the largest pulp and paper mill in India, has cancelled its proposed sale of its loss-making Malaysian unit, Sabah Forest Industries Sdn Bhd (SFI), to Pandawa Sakti Sdn Bhd for US$500 million (RM2.01 billion).

Ballarpur, which owns a 98.08% stake through its Netherland-based investment firm Ballarpur Paper Holdings BV in SFI, called off the deal after the buyer was unable to meet the deadline after several extensions.

“Since the transaction has not been consummated within the above long stop date up to June 30 and based on the request by Pandawa Sakti (Sabah) Sdn Bhd, Ballarpur Paper Holdings BV terminated the share sale agreement,” it said in a filing to the Bombay Stock Exchange today.

Following the termination, the company is also invoking the performance guarantee of US$50 million furnished by the buyer, it said.

Ballarpur signed the agreement to sell its entire stake in SFI last September and was originally expected to seal the deal within three months.

However, from thereafter, the deadline was first extended to February, then April and May before the parties decided on a final deadline of June 30.

Ballarpur had intended to use the proceeds from the proposed sale to reduce its debt.

According to reports, the company had acquired SFI, the largest Malaysian paper firm, for US$261 million in 2007. — Bernama (US$1 = RM4.02)

Philips eyeing Asean digital healthcare startups

In the final part of Malay Mail’s three-part interview with Philips Healthcare, Singapore-based Asean Pacific senior vice president and general manager Diederik Zeven talks about how the 125-year old company sees Asean as the laboratory for the global healthcare solutions and its investments in the region.

The region’s diverse mix of nations represent the two most-pressing issues that may debilitate existing healthcare systems if not addressed quickly — large aging populations and weak maternal care support.

Countries like Malaysia, Singapore, and Brunei will be seeing large swathes of its residents aged over 65 by 2030, while younger, more populous countries like Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam face high maternal mortality rates.

Building on its home healthcare acquisitions and partnerships to bolster support for aging populations in the US and Netherlands, Philips Healthcare is now making strides towards the Asean region.

In January, Philips and EDBI, a corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board, agreed to jointly invest in high-potential digital health companies from around the world seeking to break into the Asian market via Singapore, replicating a similar model it has with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

“We are focusing on companies that we can invest together in — companies that are active in population health management and digital health. We are currently scanning the market, so to say,” Zeven said.

In May, Philips announced that its new Asean Pacific headquarters will act as a co-creation environment with healthcare innovators in the region, building on existing partnerships made in the last few years,.

Monitoring heart failure patients

Its Toa Payoh campus in Singapore boasts a continuous care monitoring room, where healthcare professionals remotely monitor the health of home-based patients with cloud-based equipment.

“We need to team up with other private sector companies like insurance companies, but also with governments, to jointly find long-term sustainable business, technology and social models that would allow care to take place at home.

“So we collaborated with insurance providers to monitor multiple chronic disease patients in their homes. Bottomline, in layman terms, trying to keep them out of emergency rooms,” Zeven illustrated.

This comes about from watching trends, tweaking patient medications or calling them in early to prevent an escalation like a heart attack.

Philips has taken this partnership model with governments to Sumatra and several Australian states, as well as with the Eastern Health Alliance and Changi General Hospital in Singapore.

“In the latter, we have been monitoring close to 160 heart disease patients on a day-to-day basis for over a year now. In the morning, patients take their weight, temperature and blood pressure and they fill in a self-evident relatively easy questionnaire on how they feel.

“Those datasets are fed into a system of algorithms that Philips developed, through which nurses can make an assessment about the actual status of the patient.

“The system gives prioritisation to those nurses to start calling patients and setting up video-conference (which can be done on mobile tablets) to follow up on whether they have been sticking to their medication regime,” Zeven said.

Prior to the pilot — Singapore’s first telehealth programme for heart failure patients — 40% of Changi General’s heart failure patients were readmitted within 12 months.

A year later, 51 of the then 120 participants showed an average 84% compliance to monitoring their own vital signs — blood pressure, pulse rate and weight — at home, reducing the need for re-admittance.

Findings from pilots like these could help lift the pressure of such patients on resource-strapped countries like Myanmar, which only have 14 cardiologists for a 54-million population.

(This number was previously incorrectly ascribed to Malaysia in the second part of the interview published June 23.)

Co-creating new solutions

Philip’s co-creation centre also boasts a 1,028 square metre “Health Continuum Space” which simulates multiple health-medical scenarios at the same time, enabling prototyping of new solutions.

On top of that, its “Learning Centre” is fully equipped with MRI and X-ray machines, laboratories and classrooms, where healthcare practitioners can have first-hand experience handling and operating equipment.

“What makes Asia Pacific truly interesting is that it is the world in a nutshell. When we encounter challenges in healthcare systems in Australia due to budgetary pressures — those are challenges that we encounter across the world.

“At the same time, if you look at countries like Myanmar and Indonesia — though they may differ on key performance indicators (KPI) such as income per capita, employment rates, participation of women in the workforce — one key KPI is maternal mortality.

“It shows you where a country is in how well they take care of their mothers-to-be, and so our mobile obstetrics monitoring (MOM) investment in Indonesia is very relevant towards making available solutions that can help drive down
maternal mortality.

“It is a very diverse set of investments as both maternal mortality and aging populations are both in play in the Asia Pacific region,” Zeven noted.

In January, Philips announced the full-scale commercial implementation of a new telehealth service in the Sijunjung Regency in West Sumatra to reduce maternal mortality, in collaboration with Indonesia’s largest telco PT Telkom.

Reducing maternal mortality

The scalable smartphone-based MOM digital health service is designed to help mothers-to-be who are at high risk of pregnancy-related complications. The first of MOM’s two apps allows midwives to collect weight, blood pressure and temperature data and sync it to the MOM web portal, while the second lets doctors track this data and review an expectant mother’s progress.

Indonesia, with 255 million people living on over 900 islands, still struggles with one of the highest rates of maternal death in the world partly due to the lack of access to healthcare services, and where primary care clinics are ill-equipped to detect risky pregnancies early.

But a one-year pilot in collaboration with Bunda Medical Centre in Padang last year has increased early detection of at-risk pregnancies three-fold, providing medical monitoring and treatment for a safe delivery. Of the 650 pregnancies, not a single woman died from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth.

MOM not just enables midwives in remote locations to share mobile ultrasound images with obstetricians and gynecologists in larger hospitals to get women the care they need, but also provides training and education to healthcare workers as part of the service.

Zeven, who started as a trainee in 1994 in Philips Medical Systems’ office in Hong Kong selling medical equipment, is now overseeing its role as a digital healthcare player in the region — mirroring Philips own pivot to the sector.

“Comparing then and now, we have a much better understanding how large the challenge actually is — what we need to do to develop sustainable health systems at a primary level (like in Indonesia), secondary level (making sure regional hospitals and well-equipped and well-staffed) and at the tertiary level or apex of healthcare systems.

“I see a much broader interest in that perspective and our generation has that true opportunity to make the world a
better place.”

He remarked, “I’m optimistic because of the momentum that I see, the willingness to work together and execute — particularly in this region which is going to be one of the future continued growth regions in
the world.

“There are numerous opportunities for us to collaborate here, which in the end will become examples for the world.”

SSM pushes for online 
business growth

KUALA LUMPUR — The Companies’ Commission of Malaysia (SSM) is betting on online business growth, as it expects more local businesses to move away from traditional methods to online.

Technology utilising consumers and companies alike are increasing — a recent survey conducted by the Department of Statistics found that 15.3% of Malaysian households or approximately 4.8 million Malaysians use e-commerce to purchase or order goods and services as of last December.

“Our observation shows how the business communities in Malaysia are transitioning from brick and mortar towards online methods as it gains traction among mass consumers and we expect the trend to continue,” said SSM chief executive officer Datuk Zahrah Abd Wahab.

Speaking to Malay Mail exclusively, she said the rise of the internet and the proliferation of online trading by individuals and businesses has been positive.

As at the end of last year, a total of 1,072 companies and 28,909 businesses were involved in online retail trading and auctioning.

“This does not include the numerous individuals who conduct their trading through portals such as ebay, mudah.my and lelong.com.my either on a full time or part time basis, many of which have yet to register their businesses with SSM,” she said.

Zahrah said sectors such as wholesale and retail have heralded the advent of online trading, where many entrepreneurs who started home-based part time businesses have today transformed into established full-fledged companies.

“They sourced their products wisely at the lowest cost and due to the lack of overheads, are able to price them very competitively, even while adhering to goods and services tax.

“The online media has opened new and seemingly infinite methods and means to market ones products and generate business activities,” she said.

Other sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fishing, wholesale retail trade, manufacturing, accommodation as well as food service activities have generally driven the bulk of new business registrations, Zahrah noted.

She attributes the popularity of these sectors to them having smaller barriers of entry such as lower operational costs: “With regards to agriculture, many individuals have participated in it as a part-time venture especially those living in the rural areas.”

Accommodation and food service sectors have also seen small-scale operations, coupled with attractive and competitive pricing, in the budget hotel or homestay sector thrive — racking up more and more free-and-easy tourists, both foreign and domestic.

Zahrah added that the food sector has undergone changes as the food truck concept can trace its origins to the humble cycle and motorcycle hawker. The concept has since been modified and adapted to make it more attractive.

“Some even accept online orders and (the orders) are being delivered right to the consumer’s doorstep at attractive prices.

“These businesses adopt the standardisation practiced by the fast food industry but with the flexibility of offering a larger array of choices to cater for local tastes,” she said.

Registration of new businesses saw an upsurge last year by 16.5%, with a total of 363,933 businesses registered compared to 312,373 in 2014, SSM figures show.

A recent Visa-commissioned study, conducted by Moody’s Analytics to analyse the impact of electronic payments, found that the increased use of electronic payments, including credit, debit and prepaid cards, added RM1.9 billion to the gross domestic product of Malaysia.

Visa said this amount is equivalent to 24,000 jobs in Malaysia that were added from 2012 to last year due to the increase in card usage for payments.

The global study analysed the impact of electronic payments on economic growth across 70 countries, including Malaysia.

Asia’s investors at risk from London property price slide

KUALA LUMPUR — From Hong Kong’s central bank to China’s largest property developer, Asian investors have a lot riding on London’s real estate market.

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union has clouded the outlook for property, prompting asset managers to freeze withdrawals from real estate funds as investors rushed to redeem their money. Commercial property values could fall about 10% over the next year, led by declines in oversupplied central London, BlackRock Inc said after the vote.

Investors from Asia accounted for 12% of the £10.7 billion pound (RM55.7 billion) of direct real estate investment in the United Kingdom (UK) in the first quarter, making them the largest international group, according to Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. The country has been among the top five global real estate investment destinations for decades, especially for buyers from Singapore, China and Hong Kong.

“It’s a confidence crisis,” said Reid Mackay, Singapore-based managing director of EastGate Asia Pte, a real estate brokerage and advisory firm. “It will very much affect transactions that are pending.”

Deals that are pending “are virtually put on hold. The transactions volume will probably fall,” said Mackay, who previously was executive director of Asia Capital Markets at CBRE Group Inc for 15 years.

Still, some developers see Brexit as an opportunity. Guo Guangchang, the Chinese billionaire chairman of conglomerate Fosun Group, said his company is increasingly eyeing development opportunities in Europe and particularly in the UK amid the current volatility. Singapore’s second-largest developer City Developments Ltd is also looking for bargains in the London property market and is ready to pounce in a fire sale, chairman Kwek Leng Beng said.

Shares of Dalian Wanda Commercial Properties Company Ltd., which is building homes in London’s Nine Elms district, have fallen 7.2% in Hong Kong since June 23, while those of Malaysian company SP Setia Bhd have lost 9.5%. China’s largest developer China Vanke Co, whose shares started trading in Shenzhen on July 4 after being halted for more than six months, plunged almost 20% this week amid a tussle for control with shareholders.
— Bloomberg

Education exchange plans cool over hardliners’ spy charges

JUST before last year’s nuclear deal with Iran, five United States universities visited the country to explore renewing educational ties that flourished before the Islamic Revolution.

The group, which included representatives from Rutgers and the University of Southern California (USC), found a desire on both sides for more exchanges and concluded that US students and scholars would be warmly welcomed in Iran.

But there was a hitch — the head of the delegation, Allan Goodman, was a former US intelligence analyst. In March this year, he was attacked in hardline Iranian media reports which have painted the June 2015 visit as a US attempt to build an espionage network and undermine the Iranian state.

US officials and Goodman’s employer, the Institute of International Education (IIE), say that’s not the case and that there was no US government involvement in the trip.

Nevertheless, the negative press reports have cooled efforts to rebuild educational ties in the wake of the landmark nuclear deal, two US officials said. They said the US government is now cautioning American universities against moving too fast and that the schools themselves are treading warily.

“People looked at that backlash and said ‘Let’s go slow’,’’ said one of the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Goodman, who lists his intelligence background in his online biography, did not respond to repeated interview requests.

Earlier in his career, he coordinated the daily intelligence briefing president Jimmy Carter received in 1979 and 1980, a period when the Islamic Revolution toppled the Shah and dozens of US diplomats were held hostage in Tehran.

The CIA declined comment on Goodman’s intelligence past, saying it does not discuss personnel matters. The State Department and Iranian foreign ministry also declined comment.

The episode highlights the political struggle between Iranians who want to work with the US and hardliners who often raise espionage accusations and fear opening up will undermine their rule.

US officials say it also illustrates the challenge of establishing even seemingly innocuous exchanges given Iranian mistrust of foreign involvement in its affairs.

That mistrust dates to Britain’s exploitation of its oil, the CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew its prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953 and Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi’s subsequent brutal reign.

The official said he had expected at least one memorandum of understanding between a US and an Iranian university to have been signed by now. A senior Iranian official said it appeared that the foreign ministry had “suspended the issue”.

The IIE’s mission is to advance educational exchanges and access to education worldwide. It administers the Fulbright program that sends US students and scholars abroad and brings foreign ones here.

‘Topple the iranian

establishment’

In March, Mashregh, a Persian language online news service allied with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, cast the delegation’s visit as a way for Washington to create a network of students to spy for the US after retuning to Iran.

It also said Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif invited the group, which included Ball State University, Pitzer College and Wayne State University.

A second senior Iranian official said Zarif “had invited the group”. The Iranian foreign ministry declined to comment.

Zarif, who received his doctorate from the University of Denver and served as Iran’s United Nations ambassador, was Iran’s chief negotiator in the nuclear deal, under which Tehran agreed to restrict its nuclear programme in return for relief from US, European Union and United Nations sanctions. He was regularly lambasted during and after the nuclear talks by hardliners who accused him of crossing Iran’s “red lines” over the deal.

“It seems that the government … by welcoming the American delegation’s visit, has welcomed the American government’s plans to topple the Iranian establishment,” Mashregh said.

Iran’s Ministry of Science, Research, and Technology invited the delegation, according to IIE spokeswoman Sharon Witherell.

“The visit was not part of any US government programme, and was not funded by the government,” she said in an emailed statement, adding that the group does not regard the criticism of Goodman as a setback to its efforts.

“There is interest on both sides in reestablishing mutually beneficial academic ties.”

For current and former US officials, the criticism is an unjustified attempt to discredit Goodman, who has devoted nearly two decades to educational exchanges and, in any case, was an intelligence analyst rather than an agent.

Former US officials said Goodman was at the CIA at a time when there was little movement of analysts into operations.

Given his past professional ties to the CIA, Goodman would be “effectively disqualified from current intelligence operations” because he would be unable to establish the “cover” or pretext that would be needed, said analyst Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists.

“Raising alarms about spying is a convenient way for Iranian opponents of US-Iran rapprochement to derail and undermine all contacts with Americans,” added Aftergood, an expert on secrecy, national security and classification policy.

US-Iranian educational exchanges have largely been a one-way street of Iranian students who pay their own way and provide steady revenue to universities coming to the US.

At their peak in the 1979-1980 academic year, 51,310 Iranian students studied in the USs according to an IIE report. The number then plunged, but has risen steadily for the last nine years to 10,194 in the 2013-14 year.

The US, which stresses the risk of American citizens being arrested or detained in Iran, does not have reliable data on US students pursuing studies there, US officials said.

Ball State University, Pitzer College and Wayne State University declined comment on their participation in the visit while Rutgers and USC officials said they remained interested in exchanges with Iran.

USC vice-president Anthony Bailey, who went on the June 2015 trip, said his college would be “very cautious” and hoped ties would improve, allowing for deeper engagement.

He also said USC will host an Iranian professor of international relations, Mahmood Sariolghalam of Shahid Beheshti University, this year. — Reuters

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