Thursday, 30 July 2009

What an Elaborate Way to Keep us in the Dark, Temasek

Frankly, it has been super-annoying to make sense of the latest figures from Temasek. A lot of questions and head-scratching has been going on and honestly, I just wanted to ignore all the crap and tried hard to suppress the indignity of being treated a fool by my own government. But thanks to being tagged in a Facebook message (*looks at Seelan*) - the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back - I began making sense of the latest statements from Temasek Holdings (a.k.a. the bermuda triangle of taxpayer money).

What I have gathered is as such:

26 August 2008 - Temasek announces its performance for Financial Year (April 2007 to March 2008) and reports that its portfolio value increased 13% from S$164 billion to S$185 billion (source: Temasek Review 2008 & Temasek Holdings)

August 2008 - Annual Temasek Review defines the VaR as a 'statistical model that estimates the potential loss on a portfolio for a given confidence level ... for a 12-month period at an 84% confidence level (and) is derived using a Monte Carlo simulation based on three years of price data'; and estimates the theorectical figure for 2008 to be S$40 billion - as compared to S$24 billion for 2007 (source: Temasek Review 2008 & Temasek Review 2007)

10 February 2009 - Senior Minister of State for Finance, Lim Hwee Hua reveals in parliament that Temasek's 'net portfolio value at 30 November 2008 was S$127 billion', however AFP's request for confirmation of that figure from Temasek goes unanswered (sources: Singapore Parliament & AFP)

28 May 2009 - Minister for Finance, Tharman Shanmugaratnam corroborates Lim Hwee Hua's version by declaring in parliament that the 'full year accounts to end March 2009 have not been audited, but the picture should not be fundamentally different from what I have described as equity markets globally showed no major change as at end March 2009 compared to end November 2008' (source: Singapore Parliament)

29 July 2009 - CEO of Temasek, Ho Ching shares in a speech at a forum that the estimation of the VaR at S$40 billion 'has turned out to be so, and more' (source: Institute of Policy Studies)

So, essentially, nobody is lying about the figures - but they aren't telling the complete truth either. The 'magical' S$40 billion thrown up yesterday is merely a theoretical figure derived from a (purely) statistical estimation.

My speculation is that if the value of the losses was less than the November 2008 figure of S$58 billion (S$185 bilion - S$127 billion), Temasek would have used this opportunity to trumpet this positivity. Therefore, the very fact that no actual figure was mentioned and a wholly-theoretical number was relied upon instead (when concrete figures would be available to the CEO by now) suggests that the losses might very well be GREATER than the recorded S$58 billion.

Of course, a nice capital injection from Temasek's only shareholder, the Singapore Minsitry of Finance could mitigate that value nicely, just like it happened in 2008 - '(p)art of the increase in portfolio size came from a net fresh capital injection of S$10 billion from our shareholder as part of its asset allocation rebalancing' (source: Temasek Review 2008) - which would mean the portfolio increase was actually S$164 billion to S$175billion (6.7% growth) + S$10 billion.

Well, I'm waiting for Temasek Review 2009 which should be out sometime next month to get the actual figures - and all the creative accounting it will contain. I'll be sure to keep you all informed on what I find then but in the meanwhile, don't make too much of the magic S$40 billion figure - focus on the S$58 billion instead as it's closer to the truth.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Want to be High-Class, Don't Make Silly Spelling Mistakes NUSS

The other day I received an unsolicited mailer from NUSS (National University of Singapore Society) offering a discount on their Graduate Club membership. First of all, I have no idea why they would send unsolicited mail aimlessly when they are an exclusive club and why they would, of all places, choose to target a block that is predominately filled with 3-room flats.

The price to join was indicated as S$4,000 - apparently this is a bargain compared to their tariff rate of S$10,000 - which I am sure that Singaporeans tightening their belts in this recession like me would be heartened to consider. Unfortunately, the fine print looked at me disgustingly - 'only open to graduates from local & recognised foreign universities', so there was no chance for a pariah like me.

But just as I was about to put the mailer onto my 'recyclable' stack, I realised something rather odd. Apparently, when you are high-class there is a different spelling system and "price incresses" instead of "price increases" (see image below).

Or... it could very well be that a society/club that has no issues with mass-mailing gloss-finished postcard mailers to households who are unlikely to qualify and/or afford their memberships couldn't be bothered to hire a professional proofreader.

Ferguson is a Smooth Operator Indeed

Whilst reading the news on ESPN Soccernet today, I realised something interesting. David Beckham was a home-grown Manchester United player who was sold to Real Madrid for US$41 million and, at the time, I thought it was quite a gamble to sell the team's talisman and star performer. However, I realise now that Christiano Ronaldo was bought just as Beckham left and was duly given the no. 7 jersey (i.e. direct replacement?) immediately as well.

Now, Ronaldo who was bought for US$20.29 million has been sold for US$132 million - a tremendously handsome profit by any standards - and again, many feel that it is quite a gamble to sell the team's current talisman and star performer. However, on closer inspection, it seems as though Federico Macheda has been earmarked to be the direct replacement for Ronaldo.

By the looks of it, it seems Macheda can easily fill the void and if he rises to the heights of Beckham and Ronaldo, Ferguson - and more so the board of Machester United - can look forward to another windfall in 5 to 6 years' time.



Thursday, 16 July 2009

Joke of the Day - Asking Sales Staff to Put Heart into Work

MyPaper published an article yesterday by 'uncle' Geoff Tan who must be either disillusioned or has a mischievous streak. 'Uncle' Tan called on sales staff in Singapore to put heart into their work, even if it goes unseen and I actually laughed out loud at the suggestion - bearing in mind that it is almost impossible to get staff to put in a decent enough effort even with monetary incentives in place.

source: MyPaper

Here was someone who was appealing to service staff's intrinsic motivation to do a good job and serve regardless of recognition - well, good luck with that then. The root of the problem is not whether local service staff want to be intrinsically motivated or not but whether they can afford to be. When the average service industry worker has a mountain of debt to repay and little time outside of work to spend with his or her family, can we really be surprised when staff look irritated the moment shoppers enter 5 minutes before closing time? Contrast that with a foreign worker who would be looking forward to just dinner and bed after work, and the implications are obvious.

The Singapore climate breeds (usually immediate) punitive action against mistakes and nonchalance towards average-to-exemplary performance as a rule of thumb, so this in itself will kill any motivation to get one's hands dirty - let alone putting in any heart. Give our foreign talents 10 years' worth of the Singapore treatment and rest assured they'll give the same suspicious look at a Singapore shopper as to whether there is ITB (i.e. intention to buy).

Well, it's easy when you're an eagle sitting atop a tree in the jungle to criticise the rats scurrying below for their lack in appreciating the beauty of the clouds and the sky. After all, 'uncle' Tan is 'a senior vice-president of the SPH marketing division and the general manager of SPH NewMedia for Zapcode' - my, my, what a mouthful.

Besides, you just don't doubt a bald guy who comes complete with pony tail and earring, do you?

Friday, 10 July 2009

Reading Between the Lines of Local News

I know, I know.... I promised to be more regular and frequent in updating my thoughts here, but projects keep falling on my lap - again, this is not a bad thing and I'm grateful to be gainfully-employed. The training industry is definitely picking up and demand is rather strong - which explains why I am mostly training/lecturing these days instead of writing/editing.

Anyway, I did a quick scan of Singapore-related news on Google News this morning and a meddley of interesting articles with equally-interesting implications caught my eye. I simply had to share my take on these reports - if you could call them that, so here's my round-up of the day:

1) NSF arrested for rash act
ST reports that the driver of the Land Rover which killed another soldier has been arrested. Well, it certainly seems to me that the authorities have quickly arranged for a scapegoat to be slaughtered to appease the public - which leads me to wonder what systemic shortcomings are going to be overlooked until the next time something like this happens.

2) NUS undergrads cry foul over internship

A simply useless article that tells me that NUS Law students (well, at least one) are a bunch of whining, spoilt brats who's idea of solving a problem is to bitch about it to the press. So SMU has emerged as a credible spoiler of the monopoly that NUS had - tough.

It really begs the question as to the quality of these students (at least this one) in overcoming adversity. In any case, the difference between a 'standard' law firm and a top-tier one is that at the former, you earn something like $3,000 a month doing real work whilst at the latter, you can rub shoulders with high-brow clients and earn (much) more.

The article also hinted at how clueless and out-of-touch people at the top can be when the dean, Tan Cheng Han, addressed how students are 'fixated on getting internships in the large firms' by revealing that "as a law student, I personally did not spend any time as an intern in a Singapore law firm. I valued my precious vacation time and spent it on student activities and sports." I'm sure you did Prof Tan, but when was this?

1987 Singapore and 2009 Singapore are totally different worlds - in case the recession has not (read: never will) hit you.

3) 7 years jail for $2m theft

I remember being intrigued by this heist - impressive for such an incident to happen in a country predominately full of sheep. Of course, I was relieved to find out that the thief who dared was a Malaysian - which restores my faith in the inactive-by-default Singaporean. It is amazing to me how fast they dealt with the case though - April 12 incident, Jul 9 sentencing - a speed which I have hardly ever seen in our judicial system. In fact, I have personally witnessed the simplest of cases being dragged out for a year instead.

Perhaps the efficiency here has to do with the fact that the guy managed to catch Certis Cisco (which is a 'wholly owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings', by the way) with its stained underwear around its ankles? What makes the prosecution timeline even more impressive is that the guy initially fled to Malaysia before being caught - overseas fugitive cases should typically take longer to settle/investigate.

Well, when David Rasif is still at large with $12 million in stolen wealth, I am bewildered how the '$2 million man' was quickly despatched to prison. Oh wait, Rasif ran away with some dumb sucker's money, not the government's...

Source: Getty Images

4) Lawyer struck off rolls

Speaking of Rasif, one of his (supposed) partners in crime - another lawyer who is in prison right now, was removed as a practising lawyer in a 10-minute 'hearing' presided by the 'Court of Three Judges'. So, in essence, everyone spent probably hours preparing/organising for what seems to be a pre-arranged decision.

Next time, just send a letter and dispense with the wayang lah, thanks.