Thursday, November 11, 2010

Words of wisdom from a think tank

Once a year I have an opportunity to leave the traffic jams and delights of Bangkok to attend a Think Tank where a pool of top fund managers from companies like Schroder, HSBC, Aberdeen and Morgan Stanley, together responsible for billions of dollars under management, come together and share their thoughts on the global markets. This year it took place in Hong Kong and as usual was thought provoking.

One speaker made reference to the financial meltdown in 2008 and specifically September 15, 2008 when Lehman Brothers failed – ‘the day the music died’! He said the banking and financial industry was like a turkey in the run-up to Christmas. It was fed at the same time every day and lived a comfortable existence. It had no reason to believe anything would ever change. But then came Christmas, and suddenly everything changed!

The turkey didn’t make it beyond Christmas but the world has survived. It is a different world though. Developed countries are saddled with massive debts that have to be unwound, resulting in severe austerity measures, whilst developing countries have been enjoying almost unprecedented growth. So what we are seeing is a global rebalancing and this was the main theme of the Think Tank.

While a relatively brief column does not do justice to the many presentations, the following are some of the main points that may be of interest to readers:
·         Growth will be slow for a number of years in developed countries.
·         But it will be strong in emerging markets.
·         GDP growth in China could be as high as 10% pa.
·         Ten years ago the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) accounted for 15% of global growth. Today it is 45%.
·         The West now matters less to Asia, but it still matters!
·         Asia is predicted to have a middle class of 800 million by 2014

Mortgages account for a very small proportion of property markets in Asia. There is a lot less personal debt compared to the West.
·         Australia: a two-tier market with the West and the East driven high by commodities.
·         Singapore and Hong Kong: a strong rebound with 5% yields on property investments possible in both.
·         China: Much talk about the millions of completed but unoccupied apartments. A potential bubble situation.
·         Japan: very little yield here.
·         Overall risks in Asian property: over-supply and corporate governance.
·         Opportunities: population growth, urbanization in China, growth in consumer spending.

Commodities have frequently been the number one performer over the past ten years. Portfolios with commodities have outperformed.
·         Interest in agriculture has started to rise recently.
·         Strong demand from newly industrialized countries.
·         There is a finite supply and extraction costs are rising.

·         We now live in a two-speed world but developed economies are still dominant.
·         On currencies the GBP looks interesting versus other western currencies.
·         Despite bad news on employment and consumer confidence the corporate sector is in excellent shape and is sitting on a mountain of cash.
·         In Europe Greece is likely to default and Ireland may go the same way.
·         Equities are showing good value versus bonds. Dividend yields are now higher than yields on corporate bonds.
·         A lot of money is going into emerging markets.

We should not be making any drastic changes to the way we allocate assets and build up wealth through diversification. But the trends discussed do mean we should be shifting emphasis a bit more towards the regions of the world that are expanding, namely the emerging markets and Asia in particular. We still need to be cautious however if we see a bandwagon that is getting a trifle overloaded (e.g. the SET’s stellar performance this year). At the same time we cannot keep thinking that the West rules the world.

Bonds may look unattractive now but they still have an important part to play in adding security to a portfolio. The meltdown of 2008 has taught us to preserve a healthy level of liquidity and not to get heavily into debt. Also, the commodity story is ongoing. While governments can print money to their hearts’ content, real assets such as gold and oil are running out. Make sure you have some real assets in your portfolio. 

Written by guest contributor -    

Eric Jordan
Managing Director
Professional Portfolio International Ltd.
209/1 K Tower, Tower B, 19th Fl., Unit 4
Sukhumvit 21 Rd.(Asoke), Klongtoey Nua
Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Tel   +662 664 0968;  +662 664 0145
Fax  +662 260 7769 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ethical Investing - part 2

Each will have his or her opinion here. Religious groups throughout history have periodically condemned alcohol as the drink of the devil. There is no shortage of evidence to support that position. From the drunken brawls of youths in the towns of Britain on a Saturday night to the shattered lives of alcoholics and their families there is no question that drink has an evil side. On the other hand, most will probably argue that responsible drinking can add to the quality of life and indeed the medical industry even states that moderate drinking (equivalent to just one or two glasses of wine a day) is actually beneficial to health. 

Again there is no question that weapons in the wrong hands can cause death and destruction in the world. The American love of guns is the cause of thousands of deaths each year. Yet proponents of the gun lobby will argue that it is the right of every American to own a gun to defend himself and his family. Maybe so, but a colleague of mine spent three years in Houston, Texas, and he says the nightly news was always full of stories of those very guns being used in domestic disputes or being found and used fatally by children.

What about larger weapons that are used to fuel the wars and insurgencies in many parts of the world? Yes, it would be a more peaceful world if the manufacture of arms was abolished. But who is going to be the first to abolish them? What if pacifists had won the day in Britain at the start of World War II? Would Hitler have said let’s be fair lads, let’s not invade because they can’t defend themselves? I think not. A country has to have weapons to defend itself. With luck, they will never be used.

Is it a bad thing to invest in forestry? It is a sad sight flying over West Malaysia where nothing can be seen below for hundreds of miles other than neat rows of palm trees where once there was pristine jungle. No question that thousands of acres of rainforest are being destroyed every year and replaced by relatively sterile plantations.

Yet responsible forestry projects can still meet the needs of expanding populations by proper management and control. Many products such as bamboo are renewable and do not destroy large tracts of jungle. If investment in forestry stopped, the jungles would probably be destroyed at a faster pace. The key is to ensure that money is invested in companies that follow good environmental practices.

This is a very new and lucrative investment opportunity for the smaller investor since demand for funding cannot be currently satisfied by the traditional institutional sources of finance. But already I have heard objections to this relatively new alternative asset class with US citizens in particular concerned. The reason undoubtedly is that litigation in the US is out of control. You probably heard of the case a few years ago when a woman was awarded millions of dollars in damages against McDonalds because her cup of coffee burned her throat. And all expats who take out medical insurance will be aware of the restrictions on claims arising in the US. It’s not because doctors there are overpaid; it has more to do with the cost of insuring against malpractice.

The same situation does not prevail in the UK or other western countries. There, litigation funding is usually helping the small guy with a good cause to take on the big guys who otherwise would overwhelm him with their access to funds to fight him through the courts. So long as this is the case I see nothing unethical about helping to fund the smaller guy. Should the day come when ludicrous damages defy common justice then that is the time to pull the plug.

Clearly there is a good side and a bad side to everything. Sometimes the bad side is so bad that it cannot be defended. Maybe the lady who stood up and ostracized the fund manager for supporting the tobacco industry had the strongest case. As for the others, there is often a good side that would suffer if the bad side is attacked. Oh yes, and there is one other consideration; ethical funds often underperform conventional funds. This factor can often put to the test the level of resolve to support ethical principles!

Written by guest contributor -    

Eric Jordan
Managing Director
Professional Portfolio International Ltd.
209/1 K Tower, Tower B, 19th Fl., Unit 4
Sukhumvit 21 Rd.(Asoke), Klongtoey Nua
Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Tel   +662 664 0968;  +662 664 0145
Fax  +662 260 7769 

Ethical Investing - part 1

A few years ago PPI’s former group was holding an investment seminar for clients in Bali. A fund manager from London was proudly illustrating his choice of stocks for one of the funds he managed. When he told the audience he had chosen a major tobacco company as part of his portfolio a lady stood up and said words to the effect that he should be ashamed of himself. As he stood in a state of semi-shock she explained that her husband had died as a direct result of smoking and now she was being told that she should invest in the industry. The fund manager, normally shielded from the end users of his funds, had come face to face with the issue of ethics in investing.

In fact, socially responsible investing or SRI, dates back to 1798 when the Quakers prohibited members from participating in the slave trade. In more recent decades protesters have campaigned against polluting chemical companies, demonstrated against companies operating in South Africa during apartheid and have had a considerable influence on the activities and even financial standing of many enterprises.As a general rule, socially responsible investors support corporate practices that promote environmental awareness, consumer protection and human rights and avoid any company involved in alcohol, tobacco, gambling or weapons. 

In the UK in 1985 Friends Provident launched the first ethically screened investment fund. It excluded tobacco, arms, alcohol and oppressive regimes. Since then scores of ethical funds have emerged around the world to meet the demands of investors who want to have a say in the ethics of assets in which they are investing. It is estimated that in the UK alone some GBP6.7 billion is now invested in ethical and environmental funds.

BP’s recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico gave rise to a storm of protest against the oil Industry. To demonstrate his decisiveness in controlling the situation President Obama ordered a six month moratorium on all deep sea drilling. Investing in oil had lost its glamour. But as a result of the moratorium thousands of oil workers were put out of work and oil production in the US will suffer as a result. Do the protesters not think things through and realise how much they depend on oil in their daily lives? Perhaps they just want to see the dependence on oil replaced by newer and cleaner forms of energy. But who are the leaders in these fields? You guessed it – the big oil companies!

And what if tobacco companies shut down overnight in countries like Thailand ? The livelihood of millions of people who are employed in the industry would be destroyed. Of course, a counter-argument would be that they could be redeployed to produce more useful crops and help alleviate the inevitable food shortages that lie ahead. A noble thought, but it would take a massive effort on the part of the government and a huge culture shift to achieve this.

Part 2 will take a look at some of the other items targeted.

Written by guest contributor -    

Eric Jordan
Managing Director
Professional Portfolio International Ltd.
209/1 K Tower, Tower B, 19th Fl., Unit 4
Sukhumvit 21 Rd.(Asoke), Klongtoey Nua
Wattana, Bangkok 10110, Thailand
Tel   +662 664 0968;  +662 664 0145
Fax  +662 260 7769 

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Should payroll be outsourced? Yes!

As your business grows and expands in Thailand, the HR function becomes more complicated. Whilst the goal may to simplify work practices, hiring new staff often results in more work - responsibility for paying salary on time, along with accurately deducting social security fund and tax payments, and paying necessary fees to Social Security Office and Revenue Department, calculating commissions, unpaid leave, over-time, bonuses and others - the management of all this on a monthly basis is demanding.

Outsourcing payroll makes sense on many fronts:
a) it is cost effective when considering the time taken
b) it allows you to benefit from payroll software used by the payroll service provider

Additionally, the provision of professional payslips for your staff is a unique selling point when recruiting, as not many organisations actually do this in Thailand. Payslips are useful for staff who wish to obtain loans, mortgages or undertake other financial activities.

Outsource payroll - you'll be glad you did!

Written by Stuart Blott, General Manager, Sutlet Group Co., Ltd.
Sutlet Group manage FCA Thailand who, you may have guessed, offer accounting and payroll services to clients in Thailand!