Economists warn of deep recession for Singapore if euro zone breaks up

Singapore could sink into a deep recession if Greece’s debt crisis leads to a break-up of the euro zone and causes another global downturn.

The warning came from economists on Wednesday who outlined a range of nightmare scenarios that, while appearing unlikely at present, remain possible if events spiral out of control.

The downbeat assessment also dovetailed with a new survey on Wednesday showing that Asia’s top companies are less optimistic about their business outlook.

Credit Suisse economist Robert Prior-Wandesforde painted two gloomy narratives that could result in the European monetary union falling apart in the coming months.

The first is one where Greece leaves the grouping but contagion to other European countries is limited; the second involves Greece leaving and contagion spreading.

If this second scenario transpires, Mr Prior-Wandesforde said Singapore would likely experience a deep recession by the year end with the economy contracting 4.6 per cent in the fourth quarter.

If this happens, the economy would be down 0.6 per cent for the whole year, similar to the 1 per cent fall in gross domestic product experienced in 2009 following the financial crisis.

Singapore is officially expected to grow between 1 per cent and 3 per cent this year, the Trade and Industry Ministry has said, although it too has warned of rising risks over the euro zone crisis.

‘This scenario assumes the most immediate impact, through the trade channels and exports to Europe and the United States,’ said Mr Prior-Wandesforde yesterday.

‘There are likely to be other negative implications as well. These include a drying up of trade finance, as witnessed during the financial crisis, as well as a withdrawal of funds from the Asian region to shore up European balance sheets.’

Bank of America Merrill Lynch economist Chua Hak Bin agreed, saying his model showed that an ‘ugly bear case’ could mean a 1 per cent contraction for Singapore’s economy this year.

‘We are worried about the financial contagion channel, which could see credit freeze up and affect many businesses,’ he added.

Mr Prior-Wandesforde was also less optimistic on the prospect of a quick recovery this time as governments have less financial power for another huge stimulus.

In 2010, Asia saw a quick and remarkable V-shaped recovery from the 2009 recession.

Singapore grew at a rapid 14.8 per cent that year, more than making up for the 1 per cent contraction.

Capital Economics noted that Asian governments are better placed than their Western counterparts to pump prime their economies this time but the region also has less firepower than in 2010.

It noted that both Hong Kong and Singapore have the healthiest fiscal positions in Asia, with large surpluses and reserves.

‘However, as trade-dependent economies with big financial sectors, they are the two places in Asia most vulnerable to a crisis in the euro zone and most exposed to another global downturn,’ it said.

‘As a result, even expansionary fiscal policy is unlikely to prevent these two economies from falling into a deep recession if exports slump.’

Fortunately a Greek exit is unlikely to happen in the next six months. Credit Suisse puts the probability at about 20 per cent while Swiss bank UBS says the chances of Greece leaving the euro zone are less than 10 per cent.

Meanwhile, a recent survey showed that Asia’s top companies are now less upbeat about their business outlook than in the first quarter.

The Thomson Reuters/Insead Asia Business Sentiment Index fell to 69 last month from 74 in March.

A reading above 50 indicates an overall positive outlook.

Of the 177 companies polled, 78 said their business outlook for the next six months was positive, while 87 said it was neutral, and 12 said it was negative, Reuters reported.

The poll was conducted between June 4 and 15.

Asked what the biggest risk factor they faced was, 111 companies said global economic uncertainty, and 28 cited rising costs.

‘Things are looking tougher with what’s happening in the global economy. Asia is not fully insulated but will still do relatively better, given that most governments in the region still have leeway to stimulate domestic economies,’ Aberdeen Asset Management Asia investment manager Kristy Fong told Reuters.

‘Cost pressures are another issue, such as rising inflationary pressures in Singapore (and) infrastructure and logistical bottlenecks in India.’

OCBC Investment Research analyst Carey Wong noted that consumers were turning more cautious in placing orders.

‘As long as customers don’t give them very clear order indications, sentiment won’t be that good. As a business owner, you can’t plan ahead, such as planning capital expenditure.’

Set up rainy-day fund before investing

Given uncertainty and higher costs of living, experts advise saving 6 to 12 months of pay
01 Apr 2012

One of the most basic rules for personal financial planning is to establish a personal emergency fund for a rainy day. The conventional wisdom is that the emergency fund should comprise between three and six months’ worth of one’s salary. So for instance, if a person earns $4,000 a month, his emergency fund should be built to at least $12,000.

But increasingly, this conventional wisdom is being challenged on many fronts.

For one thing, financial advisers say that the uncertain economic outlook and higher costs of living mean that three months of savings may simply not be enough.

Mr Patrick Lim, director of financial advisory firm PromiseLand, advises his clients to save between six and 12 months of salary as an emergency fund.
Continue reading Set up rainy-day fund before investing

Home of HK$33 wontons could fetch HK$180m

An example of why you should never sell a good asset.

Home of HK$33 wontons could fetch HK$180m
Ho Hung Kee’s landlord puts famed noodle shop up for sale amid Causeway Bay retail boom just a year after buying it from family for HK$100m
Sandy Li
SCMP Apr 11, 2012

A 1,000 square foot noodle shop that has survived in Hong Kong’s cutthroat restaurant market for 38 years and boasts a Michelin star is in the news – but not for its lunchboxes.

Just a year after being sold for HK$100 million, the long, narrow shop space that houses Ho Hung Kee is up for sale again and could fetch nearly twice the price. The street-level shop at 2 Sharp Street East in Causeway Bay, the world’s second-most expensive street for retailers, is now valued at around HK$180 million – including its 600 sq ft cockloft.

The Ho family, who have operated Ho Hung Kee since 1946, bought the shop for HK$350,000 in 1974, but decided to cash in on rocketing retail property prices, and last year sold the shop to an investor for HK$100 million on a two-year lease-back.

Property consultants said the wonton noodle restaurant currently pays about HK$125,000 a month in rent, and the lease is due to expire in mid-2013. Not counting utilities, salaries and food costs, that means Ho Hung Kee needs to sell 126 of its HK$33 bowls of wonton noodles a day, seven days a week, to cover the monthly rent payment.

Isaac Wai, a senior marketing manager at Ricacorp Properties said a 400 sq ft shop selling T-shirts at 9 Sharp Street East, opposite Ho Hung Kee, is paying HK$170,000 a month, while another at 7 Sharp Street East is being offered for lease at HK$200,000 a month.

“The shop could definitely pay HK$250,000 in rent a month, and if it changes hands at a higher price, it’s logical for the new owner to raise the rent when its lease is due for renewal,” he said.

It is unclear how the property sale will affect the noodle shop, still run by the Ho family, according to a woman who identified herself as the owner.

“It’s too early to say,” she said. “We’ll continue with business as usual because our lease hasn’t expired yet.”

But she also said it would be tough to survive if the landlord raised the rent significantly.

“We only charge HK$33 for a bowl of wonton noodles. But thanks to our loyal customers, our business is still strong at the moment.”

The family plans to open a new shop in the soon-to-be opened Hysan Place in Causeway Bay, she said.

Yesterday, the property’s owner appointed Colliers International to offer the shop for sale.

Pierre Wong Tsz-wa, chief executive of commercial property agency Midland IC & I, said the owner wanted to cash in on the retail boom.

“Due to tight supply, retail shops in Causeway Bay have fetched jaw-dropping prices,” said Wong, who estimated that the shop, with its proximity to Times Square, could fetch as much as HK$180 million .

Helen Mak, director of retail services at Colliers International Hong Kong, said two recent transactions in nearby Lee Garden Road had generated more than HK$200,000 per square foot.

“Space is scarce, so retail properties in the district are being snapped up the minute they come on the market because investors see the potentially high returns,” she said.

The monthly rent for Ho Hung Kee in the current market could go as high as HK$350,000, she said.

Affluence Intelligence

Money, Happiness, and Sustainability


By Stephen Goldbart , Ph.D.
Created Dec 29 2011 – 3:12am

2012: The great wheel of time is making its inexorable turn, granting us a new beginning and an opportunity to step back, review, and renew.  You can use this moment of transition to start the new year with a fresh attitude and a doable plan about the spending, saving, and sharing of your money—to live your priorities with greater satisfaction and happiness.  Perhaps you are among the many who have suffered from the financial anxiety epidemic—you want to shed your fears, and regain a sense of being in charge of your financial destiny.

But how to get there?  What will make this year different from all the rest?  Yes, you have started many a new year with good intentions, maybe tried a new tack, and then found yourself once again, adrift on the seas of old patterns and habits. How can you get on a positive financial track when we see (and feel the effect of) world economies struggling to accomplish this goal? How can you live a happy and satisfying life making decisions that result in financial sustainability?

We know you can,  And the fact that there is change in the air, and butterflies in your gut, will help motivate you to step outside of old habits and patterns, increase your Affluence Intelligence, and take actions that will give you a life that is aligned with your values, that is fun, and that is sustainable.

Let’s start with an attitude adjustment.  Too many of us make financial decisions based on impulse (“I must have it now”); finding comfort in old ideas and habits; and well worn, obsolete facts.  It is time to wake up to the fact that the economics of today is not the economics of your past, or the economics of your fantasy life.   You can blame it on the internet, globalization, population growth, rising 3rd world economies, expensive wars, too much or too little government, or the Great Recession.  It is all of the above, and more.  Truth be told:   Your psychological and economic operating system is going through a major firmware revision. You need to upgrade your program or find that your software won’t run very well or may not run at all.

So we need to think about our money and our lives with a broader perspective, with a mindset/operating system that can handle the dynamics of economic and systemic change in our lives and in the larger community.  Certainly, we can no longer expect or rely upon any single institution, whether it is a corporate employer, or the government, to be a reliable contributor toward your financial sustainability.  But how do we make decisions that will result in the ongoing sustenance of our personal and financial resources?  Instead of asking the economists, who don’t seem to have any great answers these days, let’s consider some key ideas from Environmental Science.  All living systems are characterized by either regenerative (growing, building, spiraling upward) or degenerative (reducing, depleting, spiraling downward) processes.  Regeneration creates and harnesses energy, degeneration depletes and wastes energy.  In our financial lives, we make financial decisions that are regenerative, such as starting a business that grows and thrives, or saving money to attain long term objectives—purchase of a home, or retirement.  And we make decisions that are degenerative, such as living outside of our actual means, accruing a massive creating credit card debt, or buying gifts that we can’t afford.  Degenerative processes can get progressively worse, in which (for example) your debt becomes the primary driving force of your financial destiny.

In fact each of us has a unique balance of both degenerative and regenerative financial processes.  Few of us will only make only regenerative financial decisions; we live in a culture that continually pushes us to ‘have fun and pay later’; to enjoy immediate gratification and not think of its price.  But if we want money and happiness, if we want sustainability and financial resilience, then we need to make sure that our regenerative actions trump our degenerative actions.

Therefore, sustainability in and of itself is a moving target.  What you really want to aim for is what we call Regenerative Economics, in which you make money and lifestyle decisions that support you, your family, and your community’s capacity to grow and regenerate.  Each of us needs to craft a plan, a personal lifestyle design that is attuned to your unique personal and financial ecology that will guide your financial decision-making so you can reach your unique balance point.  Simply put:  there can be no sustainability without regenerativity!

So it is time to turn up the thermostat on your Affluence Intelligence: Take the test, determine your Affluence Intelligence Quotient, and make a plan to leverage or improve your AIQ.

Here are some tips to inform your new year’s intentions and actions, based on our many years of working with people who have attain both personal and financial success:

1.  Have your values drive your money not your money drive your values.  Money is a tool to live your values, to help provide for your sustenance, care, and satisfactions.  This is the single most important lesion we have learned from our successful clients.  Know that your self worth is not equal to your financial worth.   Don’t let money become your primary value.  It is not a substitute for self esteem, love, connection, real productivity, or personal integrity.

2.  Use a Regenerative Economics mindset:  Review your spending and saving decisions.  Are these decisions regenerative or degenerative?   What do you need to do to shift the balance?

3. Practice conscious consumption:  Ask yourself:  is this purchase a need or a want?

4. If you need to earn or save more money, keep in mind: Spending less is earning more.

5. Nourish your physical and emotional health.  Don’t defy common sense:  if a financially related activity is making you sick, stop doing it….now!  Your health, your time is precious, and not for sale.

6. Take Action:  Create a three month plan for yourself, with doable action steps that you will implement tomorrow.   In our book we describe a step by step method for creating such a plan.

  • No excuses. Walk your talk, implement your plan.

7.  Get support.  Find a person (not your spouse) who is willing to be your Affluence Intelligence Buddy, a source of support and accountability.

8. Buy Local: Purchasing from local business enterprises put money back into your neighbor’s pockets, an activity that is regenerative for you and the community in which you live.

9.  For each discretionary dollar of spending,  put a predetermined percentage of that amount into saving and or charity.

10. Give to a charity or cause that matters to you.  Giving, whether it is in the form of money or your time, will make you feel rich, and is regenerative. We have been amazed by the powerful sense of fulfillment and satisfaction that many of our successful clients experience through their generosity in giving both their money and their time.  Whatever you can afford, no matter how little time you have to give, it will make a difference-for you and for the receiver of your gift.

The Carrian Group

The Carrian Group was a Hong Kong conglomerate founded by George Tan, a Singaporean Civil Engineer working in Hong Kong as a project manager for a land development company. The Group’s principal holding company Carrian Holdings, Ltd. was founded in 1977.

In January 1980, the group, through a 75% owned subsidiary, purchased Gammon House (a commercial Office building, now Bank of America Tower) in Central District, Hong Kong for $998 million. It grabbed the limelight in April 1980 when it announced the sale of Gammon House for a staggering HK$1.68 billion, a price that surprised Hong Kong’s Property and Financial markets and developed public interest in Carrian.

In the same year, Carrian capitalized on its notoriety by acquiring a publicly listed Hong Kong company, renaming it Carrian Investments Ltd., and using it as a vehicle to raise funds from the financial markets.

The group grew rapidly in the early 1980s to include properties in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Japan, and the United States. At its peak, the Carrian Group owned businesses in Real Estate, Finance, Shipping, Insurance (China Insurance Underwriters Ltd), Hotels, Catering and Transportation (A Taxi fleet that was the largest ever in Hong Kong).

Carrian Group became involved in a scandal with Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad of Malaysia and Hong Kong-based Bumiputra Malaysia Finance. Following allegations of accounting fraud, a murder of a bank auditor, and the suicide of the firm’s adviser, the Carrian Group collapsed in 1983, the largest bankruptcy in Hong Kong.

Buying Insurance

This is a post by d.o.g. from the ValueBuddies forum.


There are a few basic types of insurance available to the consumer:

  • Life Insurance
  • Hospitalization & Surgical (H&S) Insurance
  • Disability Income
  • Critical Illness
  • 1. Life insurance

    This pays upon death or total permanent disability (TPD). It can be for a limited term i.e. 5, 10, 20 years etc, or it can be for the insured’s lifetime (whole life).

    Term insurance is very cheap because it only covers the actual risk of death/TPD. Since it is pure insurance, all the premium paid is an expense and cannot be recovered. It is very useful for paying off liabilities that have a reasonably clear expiry date e.g. children graduate from university (age 25), aged parents pass away (age 100) etc.

    Another reason term insurance is so cheap is because it’s a commodity – you are either dead or not dead (produce death certificate) and you are either TPD or not TPD (produce doctor’s certificate). So the insurers cannot try to mislead you with smoke and mirrors or fancy names. Delaying payout will just hurt their own reputation and future business. So they are forced to compete on price, which is a great benefit to consumers.

    Term policies are usually structured so that the payments are level during the life of the policy. However, since the age of the insured will affect the odds of death/TPD, the premiums will be calculated based on the aging of the insured during the policy. A term policy of any given duration will be more expensive for an older person than a younger one.

    Whole life insurance essentially splits the premium paid into 2 portions: a small part actually pays for term life insurance (and is not recovered), while the bulk of the money is invested on your behalf by the insurer. Over time, the invested money grows, while the actual insurance coverage declines. The sum of the invested money and the remaining insurance coverage forms the “sum assured”. This is not seen by the consumer – the internal offset is calculated by the insurer and only the sum assured is shown to the consumer. By the time the consumer is old e.g. age 65 there is actually little or no insurance coverage left, only the investment sum.

    Endowment plans are dressed-up whole life plans where even less of the money pays for insurance. They are basically an investment product masquerading as insurance. Education plans are just endowment plans with a nice name.

    Insurance-linked products (ILPs) are even more blatant investment products where as little as 1% of the money is actually used to buy insurance initially so the insurance cover is laughable, usually only 125% of the invested sum. Since your investment sum is already 100% of this amount you are only buying an additional 25% of insurance cover. More insidiously, as you get older the sum deducted for life insurance (mortality charges) goes up, so less and less of your money is invested. When you are very old the mortality charges increase exponentially and exceed your investment returns, so the total value of your investment will decline rapidly.

    I have discussed term, whole life, endowment and ILP policies together because they offer varying combinations of insurance and investment. Unless you are totally incompetent at investing AND cannot find the discipline to invest in a low-cost index fund, the most sensible ratio is 100% insurance and zero investment i.e. completely separate insurance and investment.

    2. Hospitalization & Surgical (H&S) Insurance

    This pays hospital bills. Qualifying expenses are paid up to the limit specified in the policy. There is usually both an annual limit and a lifetime limit. Beyond these the consumer must pay, first out of Medisave and then out of pocket.

    There are Shield-type plans offered by the local insurers that serve this function. The premiums can be paid out of Medisave. The limitations are that they all set a minimum bill size (excess) before the policy kicks in, and the qualifying amount is only partially reimbursed, usually 85%. So for small bills the consumer pays everything out of Medisave and his/her own pocket. Some insurers offer a rider, payable only by cash, that can pay the 15% co-payment, or cover the excess. Talk to an insurance broker if you are not clear.

    There are also other non-Shield plans that do not require an excess and can pay 100% of the bill, but the premiums must be paid by cash.

    H&S premiums go up as you get older to reflect the increased likelihood of hospitalization as well as the increased bill size. The Shield-type plans have lifetime coverage versions available. IMHO everyone should buy the most coverage they can afford, because (a) it’s paid from Medisave which cannot otherwise be used, and (b) coverage can be reduced in future if premiums go up, but is almost impossible to increase if illnesses strike.

    3. Disability Income

    This pays when you are unable to work for any reason, or when you are disabled and can only earn a fraction of your former wages. The policy kicks in after a set period, usually 60 days, and pays a percentage, often 75%, of the difference between your new wage and your old one. It will pay until you are 65. So if you earn $3,000 at age 30 and are suddenly struck down and become a quadriplegic, after 60 days the policy will kick in and pay $2,250 per month until you are 65.

    This type of policy is very useful because few people finish their working life without any type of extended absence from work. So if you get into a car accident and are out of work for 6 months, you only lose 2 months of income instead of 6. In the worst case when you become a vegetable, your policy will cover your long-term care until you are 65. It is also of the greatest value at the point when you need it most – at the start of your career when your only asset is your ability to work.

    Policies differ by waiting period, percentage of reimbursement and last payment. Obviously the cheapest policies will have longer waiting periods e.g. 90 days, lower reimbursement e.g. 2/3 and earlier last payments e.g. age 50.

    However, it is not easy to find a good disability income policy. Some of the insurers have revised their policies for the worse. So read the fine print carefully.

    Some insurers offer a “hospital income” policy which pays you a set sum for each day you are in hospital. This is basically an inferior version of disability income, since it only pays when you are in hospital and not when you are at home recovering. The sums are typically about $100 per day which will not cover the hospital bill, and there is no payment when you are recovering at home. Use H&S to cover the hospital bill, and use disability income to replace lost income. A hospital income policy is basically a waste of money.

    4. Critical Illness

    This policy pays upon diagnosis of the onset of any one in a set list of 30 “dread diseases”. The local insurers now use a common pool of definitions for the diseases, so it is no longer possible to shop around for the most lenient insurers. However, different insurers have different diseases in their set of 30 e.g. some may have lupus (for women) while others may not. Note that the required diagnosis can be very specific. If it says “2 or more artery blockages” and you get a heart attack involving 1 blocked artery, tough luck, there will be no payment. Once payment is made the policy expires. Some policies allow multiple claims, but this is obviously a marketing trick – you have already paid for the higher coverage in your premiums.

    Since it is rare to get a dread disease without going to hospital, it is debatable whether critical illness coverage is truly useful. It CAN be useful for miscellaneous expenses like a wheelchair or a maid, but these can often be self-insured from savings. It may be OK to not have critical illness coverage. It is not OK to go without H&S coverage.

    Critical illness policies come in both term, rider and whole life versions. The rider is basically an extra premium on top of an existing policy that gives the critical illness coverage. Again, if you decide to buy a critical illness plan, it is probably best to buy term. That way you get the most coverage for your dollar.

    IMHO the order of priority for insurance expenses should be:

    1. H&S
    2. Disability income
    3. Term life (if there are liabilties that need to be paid)
    4. Critical illness (optional)

    It may sound obvious, but people who do not have dependents should not buy ANY life insurance since nobody will be financially worse off if they die. Likewise there is no point buying life insurance on the life of a child, because the death of a child does not result in economic loss (emotional loss yes, but money can’t make up for that).

    Also, VERY IMPORTANT: make sure that whatever H&S and critical illness policies you buy are GUARANTEED RENEWABLE, not just renewable. The reason is that H&S policies that are merely renewable (not guaranteed) will obviously not be renewed once you make a claim i.e. your coverage is one-use only. The insurer may also decline to renew your critical illness coverage if you fall ill, even if you don’t make a claim. Such “renewable” plans are MUCH cheaper and the agent may try to sell you one on the basis of affordability. DO NOT TAKE IT. Only buy GUARANTEED RENEWABLE plans.

    Finally, remember that by law all regulated financial products in Singapore, including insurance, must come with a 14-day “free look” period during which you can cancel the purchase and get all your money back. No questions asked, 100% refund. So you can change your mind – but do it quick!

    mrEngineer wrote:Lastly, I believe all the agents I have met have wasted my time by trying to sell me life policies. Where should I go to look for term policies? Should I go to the insurance company directly? Any recommedations from forumers?

    I personally use an insurance broker. An insurance broker represents many different insurers so you can pick and choose the policy that best fits your needs. Because some insurers e.g. Great Eastern and AIA only use exclusive (tied) agents, you won’t be able to buy their policies from an insurance broker. So you may need to talk to 3 people (one broker and 2 tied agents) if you want to get a complete overview.

    If you are short of time then at least talk to the insurance broker. At the least, even if you can’t get the best policies, you will avoid the worst policies.