France's scandal-tainted Fillon accuses Hollande of media leaks
[PARIS] French right-wing presidential candidate Francois Fillon on Thursday accused President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, of orchestrating media leaks that have dented his image as a scandal free leader a month ahead of the key vote.
Tokyo: Stocks open flat
[TOKYO] Tokyo stocks opened flat on Friday after Wall Street declined ahead of a postponed vote on US President Donald Trump's replacement healthcare plan.
Twitter explores premium version after 11 years as a free service
[SAN FRANCISCO] Twitter Inc is considering whether to build a premium version of its network aimed at professionals, the company said on Thursday, raising the possibility that it could collect subscription fees from some users for the first time.
Saudi in \'serious discussions\' with NYSE for Aramco IPO listing: foreign minister
Today - WASHINGTON - Saudi Arabia is having "serious discussions" with the New York Stock Exchange about having the NYSE as one of the exchanges for state oil giant Saudi Aramco's IPO, the Saudi foreign minister told Fox News on Thursday.
Amazon.com wins $1.5 billion tax dispute over IRS
Today - Amazon.com Inc on Thursday won a more than $1.5 billion tax dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over transactions involving a Luxembourg unit more than a decade ago.
Judge Albert Lauber of the U.S. Tax Court rejected a variety of IRS...
Cannabis stocks soar more than 130% in Australia
Bloomberg - LONDON (March 24): There’s a buzz in Australia’s stock market. Shares of companies involved in the cultivation, production and research of medicinal marijuana have on average soared more than 130% in Sydney this year. That’s six times higher than their peers in the US and Canada.
The surge was sparked by Australia easing restrictions on imports of cannabis to treat illnesses from epilepsy to cancer.
Australia’s nascent cannabis sector is a sliver compared to the US, where more than half of states have legalized medical uses of the plant. While that allows plenty of room for growth, companies with unproven business models and patchy cash flows remain at the mercy of regulators, according to Peak Asset Management LLC. Only Queensland allows specialist medical workers to prescribe pot-related products to people who don’t respond to conventional medicine.
“The market is excited by the potential upside it could bring,” said Niv Dagan, Melbourne-based executive director at Peak Asset Management. Dagan has a very small chunk of his more than A$100 million ($76 million) fund exposed to Australian pot stocks. “The key risk we see is obviously regulatory risk,” he said by phone.
Investor enthusiasm isn’t abating. The Hydroponics Co. Ltd., which makes lighting rigs and glasshouses that help grow cannabis plants, is raising money for an initial public offering next month. The A$8 million share sale is almost three times oversubscribed, according to the company’s chairman Alan Beasley. The stock will list with the ticker THC, shorthand for Tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive ingredient that gets cannabis users high.
Initial demand for medicinal marijuana in Australia could top A$100 million a year, a University of Sydney report estimated. If cannabis-derived pharmaceuticals become more mainstream within the decade, demand could grow to A$300 million, the report’s author Michael Katz said. That’s still a tiny fraction of the US market, which could be worth nearly US$21 billion by 2020, Morgans Financial Ltd. said, citing ArcView Market Research.
The Australian industry players are small, with an average market capitalization of less than A$80 million, even after a 136% increase this year, according to a Bloomberg index based on a similar gauge from Red Leaf Securities of 10 firms. The return smashes the 21% advance on the Bloomberg Intelligence Global Cannabis Competitive Peers Index this year, as well as the less than 1% gain by the S&P/ASX 200 Index.
Stemcell United Ltd., which is involved in extracting traditional Chinese medicine from plants, briefly boosted its market capitalization to about A$150 million this month from less than A$5 million, and is now around A$92 million. The company said it will move its focus to medicinal cannabis and appointed Nevil Schoenmakers, known for his work in cannabis genetics, as an adviser.
(See also: ASX-listed Singapore company gets high on announcement of interest in medical cannabis)
Shares of MMJ PhytoTech Ltd. are up 191% this year. In addition to Australia, the company operates in markets including the US and Israel that have regulated medicinal cannabis laws. Auscann Group Holdings Ltd. is up 207% since its IPO and counts Toronto-listed Canopy Growth Corp.as its largest shareholder. Canopy became Canada’s first marijuana unicorn when its market capitalization surpassed US$1 billion last year.
John Athanasiou, chief executive officer at Red Leaf Securities, a Sydney-based brokerage and advisory firm that’s managing the Hydroponics Co. share sale, is betting the rules surrounding medicinal cannabis will be relaxed further.
“The tea-leaves are definitely there,” Athanasiou said by phone, suggesting that cannabis may become as common as getting prescription medicine in the next five years.
UK retail sales rebound in February, pound spikes
[LONDON] British retail sales rebounded strongly last month despite Brexit jitters, official data showed Thursday, sparking a spike in the pound.
Jho Low family allowed to fight US forfeiture lawsuits
[LOS ANGELES] Family members of Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho were allowed to challenge US attempts to confiscate hundreds of millions in real estate and other investments allegedly acquired with money siphoned from a state investment fund.
WikiLeaks releases CIA hacks of Apple Mac computers
[WASHINGTON] The Central Intelligence Agency is able to permanently infect an Apple Mac computer so that even reinstalling the operating system will not erase the bug, according to documents published Thursday by WikiLeaks.
Judge orders trial for Argentina ex-president Kirchner
[BUENOS AIRES] A judge on Thursday ordered Argentina's former president Cristina Kirchner to stand trial on charges of financial mismanagement.
US tariffs couldn't come at a worse time for India's largest paper maker
Bloomberg - MUMBAI/HONG KONG (March 24): Creditors of India’s largest paper maker Ballarpur Industries Ltd. may face costly unintended consequences from punitive US duties on some of the company’s Asian competitors.
Ballarpur invested heavily in recent years to modernize its production facilities, and now may not be able to avoid defaulting on its debts, Fitch Ratings Ltd. said Monday. The imposition by the US of duties on Chinese and Indonesian paper in mid-2015 couldn’t have come at worse time for Ballarpur, as it prompted companies from those nations to seek more sales in India. India itself is reducing paper import tariffs.
The result is a toxic mix for Ballarpur, founded in 1945, and now in an industry under siege from overcapacity and increased digitization, as people turn to e-readers instead of books and newspapers. It is also a reminder of the far-reaching consequences that protectionist measures can have at a time when President Donald Trump is just putting shape to his America First policies.
Fitch said Monday that a default on the Ballarpur’s obligations “appears inevitable” and it lowered the company’s long-term issuer rating to C, one level above default grades. The group’s 9.64% perpetual bonds were worth 38.375 US cents to the dollar on Wednesday, their lowest in seven months.
Shravani Dang, a company’s spokeswoman in New Delhi, declined to comment on Ballarpur’s plans to meet its obligations including commercial paper payments. The company in February deferred coupon on US$200 million perpetual bonds sold in 2011.
“Given the severe liquidity constraints, existing lenders are unlikely to grant further credit,” Akash Gupta, an associate director at Fitch, said in an interview. “If that is the case, they will struggle to get operations back on track as well as in addressing maturities.”
The 60 listed Indian paper makers generated a total loss of US$99.4 million in the last 12 months, widening from a loss of US$18.7 million in the previous year, according to Bloomberg-compiled data. Paper imports into India have doubled since 2010 and Chinese and Indonesian producers are diverting excess inventory into the nation after the US tariffs, the Indian Paper Manufacturers Association said in a statement to government last November, requesting relief.
Ballarpur has a 500 million rupee bond due June 21 and a 600 million rupee bond due Sept. 29, according to Bloomberg-compiled data. Ballarpur is part of the Avantha Group, an engineering, foods to paper conglomerate, run by multi-millionaire Gautam Thapar.
Declining demand for traditional paper in mature markets is being offset by growth in Asia, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. India consumes over 16 million tons of paper and paper products a year, with over 2 million being imported, according to India’s paper manufacturing lobby.
“The company hasn’t been able to operate at optimal capacity due to inadequate working capital,” said Fitch’s Gupta. Free cash flows will be inadequate to meet Ballarpur’s debt obligation needs over the next three years and “asset sales or significant refinancing would be required to meet its repayment obligations,” he said.
USP Group calls EGM but skips requisitioning members' concerns
Michelle Teo - SINGAPORE (March 24): USP Group, which has been facing a minority revolt, has finally called an extraordinary general meeting. But it is not quite for the reasons listed in the shareholders' requisition.
In a statement filed with the stock exchange late on Thursday night, USP said it will hold an EGM on April 7, for shareholders to vote on the appointment of RSM Chio Lim as the company's auditors.
The EGM will be held at the address of Supratechnic, a distributor of marine equipment that USP acquired from three vendors last year.
One vendor was Joshua Huang, now one of two requisitioning shareholders who are taking USP to task on a number of issues.
Among those raised in a letter accompanying the EGM requisition dated Feb 10, were that USP's board did not act soundly in relation to the company's investment in loss-making contract manufacturer Huan Hsin Holdings, and privately-held company SG Support Services.
The two shareholders also questioned the divestment of two Chinese subsidiaries at less than their book value, and queried the independence of one of USP's two independent directors.
At the time of the requisition, Huang and his fellow shareholder Teng Choon Fong collectively held more than 11% of the company.
In yet another development, however, it seems that Huang's stake in the company has now been diluted somewhat.
In another filing late last night, USP announced that it is issuing 1,228,011 new shares at 8.6 cents each to Eu-Nic Builders as downpayment for the construction of a project contracted in September last year.
The statement explained that Eu-Nic had "subsequently agreed" to have the 15% downpayment of $105,609 in the form of shares, "as they believe the value of the company’s shares would appreciate over time and worth more than the money they would receive if the down payment is made in cash."
These shares are to be issued along with another 4.9 million shares to Precious Stream Holdings, at 19.5 cents each. This lot is repayment for the shares that were loaned to USP for payment to Huang in the acquisition of Supratechnic.
Precious Stream, a British Virgin Islands-incorporated vehicle, is USP's largest shareholder. Its sole director and shareholder is one Weng Huixin.
Huang, in a March 15 letter to the company, had queried Weng's relationship to Li, noting that the two are listed as current or former directors or shareholders of other Singapore entities, including Sunmax Global Capital Fund I.
Following the issuance of these shares, USP's share capital has been enlarged from 83,768,352 to 89,896,363.
USP was formerly a metals trader known as Unionmet (Singapore). In July 2013, Li Hua was appointed as its chairman and CEO. The company then acquired a range of new businesses, including oil blending and property development.
Li and Sunmax made headlines last year when the courts awarded them nearly $17.5 million in damages, in a lawsuit that was brought against them by eight parties led by Quah Su-Ling.
Quah and John Soh Chee Wen were charged last November for "orchestrating a massive fraud" to manipulate the market for shares in Blumont Group, LionGold Corp and Asiasons Capital (now known as Attilan Group) between August 2012 and October 2013.
Man held for driving car at crowd in Belgium's Antwerp
[ANTWERP] Belgian security forces arrested a man on Thursday after he drove into a shopping area at high speed in the port city of Antwerp, officials said.
Saudi in 'serious discussions' with NYSE for Aramco IPO listing: foreign minister
Saudi Arabia is having "serious discussions" with the New York Stock Exchange about having the NYSE as one of the exchanges for state oil giant Saudi Aramco's IPO, the Saudi foreign minister told Fox News on Thursday.
New Zealand in free-trade push ahead of China Premier Li visit
[WELLINGTON] New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English on Friday announced a renewed push to promote free trade in his first major trade policy announcement since taking over as leader last December.
Europe: Shares gain as investors grow more bullish, retailers shine
[LONDON] European shares climbed higher on Thursday, led by travel and retail stocks, as investors grew more bullish about risks to Donald Trump's stimulus plans, just before a vote in Congress on the US president's healthcare bill.
US military chiefs defend diplomacy in face of Trump cuts
[WASHINGTON] President Donald Trump's proposed gutting of the State Department budget and other "soft power" agencies could hamper long-term security goals and make the military's job tougher, US generals are warning.
US: Stocks dip as health vote delayed
[NEW YORK] US stocks declined modestly on Thursday after Republicans postponed a vote on President Donald Trump's replacement health care plan, which has been seen as a barometer of support for the president's broader agenda.
Trump defends bold claims, says he 'predicted a lot of things'
[WASHINGTON] US President Donald Trump has defended making unsubstantiated claims about wiretapping and election fraud that have damaged his credibility, saying in a new interview he "predicted a lot of things."
'Worst is over' for Brazil's meat scandal: Minister
Just under a week since police announced they had discovered meatpacking companies bribing corrupt inspectors to certify tainted meat, Brazil's huge meat industry is reeling as China and other big clients suspend or impose extra checks on imports.
A creative way of selling homes that is testing tax boundaries?
Lynette Khoo -
THE enhanced deferred payment scheme at The Peak @ Cairnhill I and II (Peak I and Peak II) offers an intriguing way for the developers to move their inventory, but it is worth asking if it goes against the spirit of stamp duties on residential transactions.
Amid warming sentiment towards emerging markets, caution is needed
LAST year, emerging-market (EM) equities reversed a multi-year streak of underperformance that has dogged the asset class since 2011.
It takes a village to build a Smart City
CHARLES REED ANDERSON -
THE rise of Smart Cities was a silent one, yet its impact is profound. According to the United Nations, 66 per cent of the world's population will be living in urban areas by 2050. With more and more people moving to metropolitan areas for greater employment opportunities and higher quality of life, city infrastructures struggle to cope with a growing population. To address the challenges of urbanisation, government officials are quickly harnessing technology to efficiently deliver public services and enable new applications - from intelligent water systems to smart metering - in its efforts to make cities more liveable and sustainable.
How Industrial IoT can close Asean's talent gap
Tommy Leong -
AS China's growth slows, the world is watching Asean countries to gain a greater share of global economy. However, many say that one obstacle between Asean and its new economic scale is the increasing scarcity of available talent in the region, simply due to the fact that business growth in this region is outpacing talent availability.
Why trade facilitation deal is the model for multilateralism
Ji Xianbai -
THE year 2016 was full of setbacks for multilateralists with Brexit and Trumpism making global headlines. Yet, 2017 could mark a turning point, starting with the entry into force of the Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) championed by the World Trade Organization (WTO). As the organisation's first successful pluri/multilateral agreement, the TFA is a remarkable achievement - not least because it offers economic benefits while charting a course forward for the beleaguered multilateralism.
US should forgive its 45-year-old loan to Cambodia
HARISH MEHTA -
THE American ambassador to Cambodia made a fresh demand last month for Phnom Penh to repay a 45-year-old loan worth US$500 million - extended ironically to help the country buy American food because its farmlands were destroyed by US bombardment in the first place.
The motorbike can be the average family's ticket out of poverty
Nirgunan Tiruchelvam -
IN 1952, a 23-year-old Argentinian medical student named Che Guevara explored his country on a motorcycle. He travelled some 4,500km through the vast countryside. Guevara was appalled by the poverty and disease. The motorcycle trip convinced him that a Marxist revolution was the only path for a poor country's salvation. Guevara went on to spearhead the Cuban revolution in 1959 and is an iconic figure in the Marxist movement.
Luxe properties in Myanmar hit by confusion and flux
CONFUSION over a law allowing foreigners to buy condominiums in Myanmar is prolonging a slowdown in its residential property sector, highlighting the challenges of regulatory flux in the frontier market.
HK home price rebound will continue: Li Ka-shing
HONG Kong's richest man signalled that the property rebound that's been pushing up prices in the world's most expensive housing market could persist for as long as two years as growing demand outweighs government curbs.
Sembcorp unit eyeing an 8th industrial park in Vietnam
Lee U-Wen -
WITH seven industrial parks successfully up and running across Vietnam, the senior management at Sembcorp Development believes that the time is right to consider building an eighth.
Warburg 'eyeing bigger Asia logistics IPO' amid bid for GLP
WARBURG Pincus, one of several bidders pursuing Global Logistic Properties Ltd, is weighing a merger of the Singapore warehouse owner with its own logistics business E-Shang Redwood Ltd before a planned initial public offering, people with knowledge of the matter said.
US$ steadies as eyes shift to US healthcare vote
THE US dollar held under US$1.08 per euro for a second day on Thursday ahead of a vote on Republican healthcare plans seen as a litmus test of President Donald Trump's ability to legislate in Congress and deliver on tax and spending promises.
New grant to boost green bond issuance in Singapore
Jamie Lee -
SINGAPORE is keen to develop a green bond market that is globally valued at about US$200 billion, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) will offer a grant to bond issuers to cover expenses, said a top minister on Thursday.
Singapore to attract more global funds
Jamie Lee -
IN a move aimed at attracting more global funds to set up their legal entities here, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) on Thursday proposed introducing a corporate structure for investments.
Banks trim compliance staff as penalties abate
GLOBAL banks are paring back staff tasked with detecting wrongdoing for the first time since the financial crisis, ending a hiring boom that accompanied US$321 billion in fines, as technology replaces employees and penalties wane.
Private placement curbs set to raise corporate China's debt risks
NEW rules to rein in a surge in private share sales by Chinese companies are pushing more cash-strapped firms to borrow instead, bankers and analysts say, adding to a corporate debt burden already at its highest since the global financial crisis.