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Monday, October 31, 2011

Resorts World's New York casino draws big crowds

Published October 31, 2011


(SINGAPORE) Malaysia's Genting Group threw open the doors to its Resorts World New York (RWNY) casino on Friday (Saturday morning Singapore time) as thousands of eager gamblers thronged the US$830 million facility and continued to arrive in droves throughout the weekend.

Located in the borough of Queens, the sprawling casino - the first-ever in New York and one that marks Genting's first expansion into the lucrative US gaming market - is expected to generate at least US$500 million each year in tax revenue for the state, said RWNY president Michael Speller.

'This is an opportunity for New Yorkers to have a Las Vegas-like experience without having to leave the city,' he said, adding that New York loses about US$5 billion in gaming revenue to casinos located in the three neighbouring states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

A team of high-level Genting executives, led by group chairman Lim Kok Thay, were on hand to join several New York elected officials for the ribbon-cutting ceremony at RWNY, a 700,000 square foot property built at the historic Aqueduct Racetrack. RWNY is located about an hour's train ride from downtown Manhattan.

Inside, wide-eyed residents and tourists - some of whom had queued for over two hours to get in - made a beeline for the more than 2,480 jackpot machines and electronic table games at the aptly-named Times Square Casino, the first of RWNY's three casino areas.

The second phase of construction is expected to be finished by the end of December with the opening of the Fifth Avenue and Crockfords Casinos, adding a further 2,515 machines.

'The opening of RWNY is a historic moment,' said New York senator Joe Addabbo. 'To witness a dilapidated area become vibrant, to become an economic engine is just incredible. This is a new era for the community and a win for all.'

Mr Speller added that he was proud of the fact that RWNY would give permanent jobs to 1,350 New Yorkers, of which 89 per cent were either minorities or women.

With over 41,000 people applying for the vacancies over the past few months, he said that RWNY would work with the state's officials to find more ways to create additional employment as soon as possible. The current unemployment rate in New York is 9.7 per cent, higher than the national average of 9.1 per cent.

One of the unique features about RWNY is that the table games such as baccarat or poker are not manned by actual people, but by robot dealers.

This is due to New York's state laws and regulations that allow electronic gaming but not human dealers. The baccarat tables, for instance, feature real cards that are shuffled and dealt out to patrons by robot-like mechanical arms.

Mr Speller said that he was looking to state legislators to expand commercial gambling after the 2012 elections to include conventional gambling. He added that if this was legalised across New York's nine racetracks, the move could result in at least US$1 billion extra in tax revenues going into the state's coffers.

And despite the heavy criticism that comes along with any new casino opening, it seems that many New Yorkers are looking forward to finally having a legalised facility in their backyard for their gambling fix.

'We just really want to have fun,' Queens resident Reggie Haughton was quoted as telling the Queens Courier, the borough's largest weekly news publication. 'Times are tough, yes, but that doesn't mean we can't come out and enjoy ourselves. We deserve it.'

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Singapore's success: an observer's concerns

Published October 25, 2011

I'VE been coming to Singapore for the last 48 years, which makes me feel ancient. Mind you, the first visit in 1963 was merely a one-day stopover on a ship back to the UK.

We berthed at what is now the container terminal and I bought my first transistor radio at what is now Raffles Place, from a small shop which was near Change Alley. We could not afford Robinsons on the other side of the park.

Immediately, I can hear young Singaporeans saying, 'Huh?'

Singapore has changed dramatically. I came to live here in 1979 and stayed until 1997. Since then, I have worked here on and off every year and have had the opportunity to see the place change and grow.

The modern Singapore is a success story. From a swampy island, beset with mosquitoes, whose only claim to success was its geographical location and its huge harbour, it has become one of the world's leading cities.

You all know the statistics, because you are brought up on them. Shipping, oil refining, transport hub, banking centre, high-tech R&D, regional centre in every way. Singapore is a success.

Yet this is fragile. The world is truly global economically and Singapore exists only because of economics. The current outlook for the global economy is scary, to say the least, so Singapore must take stock.

You have had the same governing party since independence and if I have learnt one thing from them, it is that the nation requires stability. Without it, you are lost. I'll avoid the arguments about democracy because I'd like you to let me in next time I come to Changi.

But the message is very clear - do not throw away what your forefathers fought so hard to establish.

The modern Singapore shocks - in the nicest sense. Our first home was in Upper Thomson, with kampongs on three sides. The night-soil tanker visited every morning and woke me up, to get to work in a non-aircon bus. Being an ang moh and not used to the weather, I used to leave wet marks under my shoes by the time we got to Ocean Building. Now you have the most modern of buildings, an advanced transport system (okay, it gets crowded, but the aircon works) and fairly full employment.

You are also known as a place of enjoyment for the well-heeled, and some of them now live here. You have casinos, Formula One racing, the best zoo in the world, arguably the world's best food and an amazing number of foreigners.

Which is where this starts to get serious. Singapore started and sustained itself through the incredible efforts of its people. The government was tough and restrictive, but for a good reason - to establish and prosper as a nation.

Discipline was key to this and I know - I had my hair cut in 1979, but I didn't really mind. I had the privilege of working with several of the 'Old Guard' and admired their ethic. Singapore prospered and built so much of its current infrastructure because of it.

The HDB estates are the best public housing in the world. Don't believe it? Try another country. Jurong has just gone unbelievable for its size. The CBD has to be close to the best in the world for businesses.

But there is a problem. Years ago, if a taxi driver even mentioned political dissent, we would both look around to see who was listening.

Today, I hear dissent from many Singaporeans. The last general election is testament to a growing sense of unease among the population. The haves and the have-nots are getting further apart and the discipline is fading.

There is much dissent about the apparent unchecked immigration from Asian sources, despite the agreed need for it on macro-economic grounds.

What worries me as a sympathetic observer is not the development and the immigration - I can only applaud it. It is the lack of knowledge and sensitivity of the younger generation of Singaporeans.

Singapore was fought for and won as a globally important nation by the mid-1980s. Its younger management have been born since then and display two general problems. The first is that 'it has always been like this, so it will continue' - an awful sense of birthright and complacency. The second is a lack of understanding of how the country was born in the first place.

Asians have a tradition of respect for their elders. Singaporeans are in danger of losing it. If you do so, you put your nation at risk.

The writer was a partner with Price Waterhouse Singapore for 18 years. He now runs his own consultancy in business communications in the UK. He spends several months a year with clients in Singapore.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Living a life with no regrets

Published on Oct 23, 2011
By Lee Wei Ling


When all is said and done, my father has led a rich, meaningful and purposeful life.

About 20 years ago, when I was still of marriageable age, my father Lee Kuan Yew had a serious conversation with me one day. He told me that he and my mother would benefit if I remained single and took care of them in their old age. But I would be lonely if I remained unmarried.

I replied: 'Better lonely than be trapped in a loveless marriage.'

I have never regretted my decision.

Twenty years later, I am still single. I still live with my father in my family home. But my priorities in life have changed somewhat.

Instead of frequent trips overseas by myself, to attend medical conferences or to goon hikes, I only travel with my father nowadays.

Like my mother did when she was alive, I accompany him so that I can keep an eyeon him and also keep him company. After my mother became too ill to travel, he missed having a family member with whom he could speak frankly after a long tiring day of meetings.

At the age of 88, and recently widowed, he is less vigorous now than he was before May 2008 when my mother suffered a stroke. Since then I have watched him getting more frail as he watched my mother suffer. After my mother passed away, his health deteriorated further before recovering about three months ago.

He is aware that he can no longer function at the pace he could just four years ago. But he still insists on travelling to all corners of the Earth if he thinks his trips might benefit Singapore.

We are at present on a 16-day trip around the world. The first stop was Istanbul forthe JPMorgan International Advisory Council meeting. We then spent two days in thecountryside near Paris to relax. Then it was on to Washington DC, where, in addition to meetings at the White House, he received the Ford's Theatre Lincoln Medal.

As I am writing this on Thursday, we are in New York City where he has a dinner and a dialogue session with the Capital Group tonight, and Government of Singapore Investment Corporation meetings tomorrow. After that, we will spend the weekend at former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger's country home in Connecticut. Influential Americans will be driving or flying in to meet my father over dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday.

Even for a healthy and fit man of 88, the above would be a formidable programme.For a recently widowed man who is still adjusting to the loss of his wife, and whose level of energy has been lowered, it is even more challenging.

But my father believes that we must carry on with life despite whatever personal setbacks we might suffer. If he can do something that might benefit Singapore, he will do so no matter what his age or the state of his health. For my part, I keep him company when he is not preoccupied with work, and I make sure he has enough rest.

Though I encourage him to exercise, I also dissuade him from over exerting himself.I remind him how he felt in May last year when, after returning from Tokyo, he delivered the eulogy at Dr Goh Keng Swee's funeral the next day.

He had exercised too much in the two days preceding the funeral, against my advice. So naturally, he felt tired, and certainly looked tired on stage, as he delivered his tribute to an old and treasured comrade-in-arms. A few of my friends were worried by how he looked and messaged me to ask if my father was OK. Now when I advise him not to push himself too hard, he listens.

The irony is I did not take my own advice at one time and it was he who stopped me from over-exercising. Once, in 2001, while I was recovering from a fracture of my femur, he limited my swimming. He went as far as to ask a security officer to time how long I swam. If I exceeded the time my physician had prescribed, even if it was just by a minute, he would give me a ticking off that evening.

Now the situation is reversed. But rather than finding it humorous, I feel sad about it.

Whether or not I am in the pink of health is of no consequence. I have no dependants, and Singapore will not suffer if I am gone. Perhaps my patients may miss me, but my fellow doctors at the National Neuroscience Institute can take over their care. But no one can fill my father's role for Singapore.

We have an extremely competent Cabinet headed by an exceptionally intelligent and able prime minister who also happens to be my brother. But the life experience that my father has accumulated enables him to analyse and offer solutions to Singapore's problems that no one else can.

But I am getting maudlin. Both my father and I have had our fair share of luck, and fate has not been unfair to us. My father found a life long partner who was his best friend and his wife. Together with a small group of like-minded comrades, he created a Singapore that by any standards would be considered a miracle. He has led a rich, meaningful and purposeful life.

Growing old and dying occurs to all mortals, even those who once seemed like titanium. When all is said and done, my father - and I too, despite my bouts of ill health - have lived lives that we can look back on with no regrets.

As he faces whatever remains of his life, my father's attitude can be summed up by these lines in Robert Frost's poem Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.

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More Jobs Predicted for Machines, Not People

Published: October 23, 2011

A faltering economy explains much of the job shortage in America, but advancing technology has sharply magnified the effect, more so than is generally understood, according to two researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The automation of more and more work once done by humans is the central theme of “Race Against the Machine,” an e-book to be published on Monday.

“Many workers, in short, are losing the race against the machine,” the authors write.

Erik Brynjolfsson, an economist and director of the M.I.T. Center for Digital Business, and Andrew P. McAfee, associate director and principal research scientist at the center, are two of the nation’s leading experts on technology and productivity. The tone of alarm in their book is a departure for the pair, whose previous research has focused mainly on the benefits of advancing technology.

Indeed, they were originally going to write a book titled, “The Digital Frontier,” about the “cornucopia of innovation that is going on,” Mr. McAfee said. Yet as the employment picture failed to brighten in the last two years, the two changed course to examine technology’s role in the jobless recovery.

The authors are not the only ones recently to point to the job fallout from technology. In the current issue of the McKinsey Quarterly, W. Brian Arthur, an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute, warns that technology is quickly taking over service jobs, following the waves of automation of farm and factory work. “This last repository of jobs is shrinking — fewer of us in the future may have white-collar business process jobs — and we have a problem,” Mr. Arthur writes.

The M.I.T. authors’ claim that automation is accelerating is not shared by some economists. Prominent among them are Robert J. Gordon of Northwestern and Tyler Cowen of George Mason University, who contend that productivity improvement owing to technological innovation rose from 1995 to 2004, but has trailed off since. Mr. Cowen emphasized that point in an e-book, “The Great Stagnation,” published this year.

Technology has always displaced some work and jobs. Over the years, many experts have warned — mistakenly — that machines were gaining the upper hand. In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes warned of a “new disease” that he termed “technological unemployment,” the inability of the economy to create new jobs faster than jobs were lost to automation.

But Mr. Brynjolfsson and Mr. McAfee argue that the pace of automation has picked up in recent years because of a combination of technologies including robotics, numerically controlled machines, computerized inventory control, voice recognition and online commerce.

Faster, cheaper computers and increasingly clever software, the authors say, are giving machines capabilities that were once thought to be distinctively human, like understanding speech, translating from one language to another and recognizing patterns. So automation is rapidly moving beyond factories to jobs in call centers, marketing and sales — parts of the services sector, which provides most jobs in the economy.

During the last recession, the authors write, one in 12 people in sales lost their jobs, for example. And the downturn prompted many businesses to look harder at substituting technology for people, if possible. Since the end of the recession in June 2009, they note, corporate spending on equipment and software has increased by 26 percent, while payrolls have been flat.

Corporations are doing fine. The companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index are expected to report record profits this year, a total $927 billion, estimates FactSet Research. And the authors point out that corporate profit as a share of the economy is at a 50-year high.

Productivity growth in the last decade, at more than 2.5 percent, they observe, is higher than the 1970s, 1980s and even edges out the 1990s. Still the economy, they write, did not add to its total job count, the first time that has happened over a decade since the Depression.

The skills of machines, the authors write, will only improve. In 2004, two leading economists, Frank Levy and Richard J. Murnane, published “The New Division of Labor,” which analyzed the capabilities of computers and human workers. Truck driving was cited as an example of the kind of work computers could not handle, recognizing and reacting to moving objects in real time.

But last fall, Google announced that its robot-driven cars had logged thousands of miles on American roads with only an occasional assist from human back-seat drivers. The Google cars, Mr. Brynjolfsson said, are but one sign of the times.

As others have, he pointed to I.B.M.’s “Jeopardy”-playing computer, Watson, which in February beat a pair of human “Jeopardy” champions; and Apple’s new personal assistant software, Siri, which responds to voice commands.

“This technology can do things now that only a few years ago were thought to be beyond the reach of computers,” Mr. Brynjolfsson said.

Yet computers, the authors say, tend to be narrow and literal-minded, good at assigned tasks but at a loss when a solution requires intuition and creativity — human traits. A partnership, they assert, is the path to job creation in the future.

“In medicine, law, finance, retailing, manufacturing and even scientific discovery,” they write, “the key to winning the race is not to compete against machines but to compete with machines.”

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Dizzy new world of S'pore high rollers

Published October 22, 2011

They show up with US$30m in hand, play for stakes never seen before

WHEN whales come to Singapore, they make a big splash.

Arriving mostly from the Asian region, they are surfacing at Marina Bay Sands with up to US$30 million in hand, ready to roll. That's the kind of action even Las Vegas - the byword for gambling up until recent years - has rarely seen. Small wonder that bets are on Singapore's gaming duopoly, barely 20 months old, to surpass gaming revenues from the Las Vegas Strip as early as this year.

'There are people who show up with US$10 million, US$20 million, US$30 million, and no one knows who they are until they say: 'I have US$20 million. Can you help me get started on gambling?' ' said Rob Goldstein, LVS's president of global gaming operations at a recent gaming investment forum in Las Vegas. 'That's the market in Singapore. We're unearthing opportunities that hitherto we never saw.'

Even with the absence of licensed junket operators, the size and volume of direct VIP play in Singapore has far exceeded industry expectations - including Mr Goldstein's, a gaming business veteran with experience in the Caribbean, Atlantic City and Las Vegas.

'On credit issuance, it's a whole new world out there,' he said. 'I don't have that much experience with direct credit (funds from VIP players to the casino) of US$10 million to US$20 million a day. It's new to all of us.'

Under existing gaming laws, there are no restrictions on how much funds gamblers can bring into the casinos in Singapore and how they bring it into the casinos.

Typically, many VIP high rollers don't physically bring in such massive sums to the casino, preferring instead to wire a smaller amount to their account at the casino, and getting casino credit.

'We have days on our numbers in Singapore where we have 10-20 people winning or losing US$1 million a day. It's a pretty extraordinary business,' Mr Goldstein said.

Compared with Singapore, Las Vegas doesn't see that level of frequency and size of direct VIP play as there just aren't many people gambling US$1 million a day in Las Vegas.

In Macau, the volume of direct play is dwarfed by the scale of funding brought by junket operators.

Analysts cite Singapore's low gaming tax rate compared with Macau's, which enables Singapore casinos to pay higher commissions to attract direct VIP players.

'The tax structure is designed to bring in foreign money. The tax on VIP business is about 11.5 per cent compared with a 22 per cent tax on mass gaming,' HSBC analyst Sean Monaghan said.

Singapore is also unique in that it has the ability to attract a broader array of high net worth people, many of whom are permanent residents (PRs) with means and who help fuel a good chunk of the local VIP business growth, he said.

'A disproportionate number of high net worth people like visiting Singapore because it's a safe place, family-friendly and business-friendly. In Macau, over 90 per cent of the wealth comes from China and North Asia. But in Singapore, most of the wealth comes from Southeast Asia, and some from North and South Asia. It's far more diversified,' Mr Monaghan said.

Case in point, Mr Goldstein said he recently met a 'very, very big businessman' from Vietnam who attracted attention at the MBS casino because he was betting house limits. 'I asked him: 'How did you find us?' He said he has a vacation home in Singapore and wants to try out gambling here. I asked him why he doesn't go to Macau. He said he feels comfortable in Singapore.'

Cannibalisation of business between the Macau and Singapore gaming markets hasn't been an issue so far, Mr Goldstein said.

'Singapore is a spectacular market at all levels. The mainland Chinese, Japanese, Singaporeans, Indonesians and Malaysians are all our customers here . . .One reason credit here has been a good experience for us is that we're dealing with people who are very wealthy, and very liquid, and money is available to them in terms of the banks here,' he said.

'The private wealth business is wildly positive for us as is the desirability of this property (MBS). There are people who just won't go to Macau. They prefer Singapore because of the easy access, great airport, retail, tourism market. It's a privileged place to do business,' he said.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Important to do the necessary homework

Published October 17, 2011

MINDY TAN highlights various methods that will help you in making better investment decisions

PLAYWRIGHT and writer Kin Hubbarb once said: 'The safest way to double your money is to fold it over and put it in your pocket.' Wise words in today's stock market? When markets tumble due to external factors, investors may get cold feet and decide to divest their investments to cut losses. Is this necessarily the best strategy to take?

While the strategy an investor decides to employ depends on a number of factors, rule No 1, in the wise words of author Douglas Adams, remains: 'Don't panic.'

Company's fundamentals

Before buying any stock, it is important to do the necessary homework to assess the stock's fundamentals, notes associate professor Fong Wai Mun, department of finance, NUS Business School, citing the profile of the company, the company's strengths and weaknesses, and studying industry trends as examples.

'For a more formal approach, discount the firm's projected profits or cash flows using a suitable discount rate that reflects the stock's risk,' he adds. This should not be a one-off process, he notes.

'One should revisit and perhaps rework this process every now and then, to keep up with changes in the economy, industry, and the firm,' he says. In the event that an investor thinks the fundamentals have changed, it may be necessary to sell the stock and cut losses.

Time horizon

The general rule of thumb states that property and shares are growth investments that are best suited to those with time on their side - at least five years.

Having a longer time horizon is useful, in that it allows investors to wait for markets to recover, given that stock markets are exposed to fluctuations and are sensitive to global shocks.

Assuming that a long-term investor has done his/her due diligence, dips in the stock market 'may present an excellent opportunity to add to the portfolio if the stock's fundamentals remain good', notes Prof Fong.

He adds: 'I generally do not subscribe to the view that one should time the market by buying or selling when sentiments are good or poor, as such sentiments can easily change and lead to surprises. It is far better to adopt a buy-and-hold strategy for quality stocks.'

Risks vs returns

Investments that yield higher rates of returns are also ones that carry greater risk, which means you face a higher chance of losing money or bearing greater losses along the way.

While there is a fine line between being too risk-averse and missing out on good investment opportunities and making overly risky investments, the question of how much risk you feel comfortable with is something that only you can answer.

This may be a good time to relook your priorities and ask yourself - what do you want to achieve by investing? Are you trying to build up wealth in the short term, or are you looking to grow your retirement fund in the long term? After that, assess your risk appetite. These two factors will figure prominently into the shaping of your investment plan.

Rebalancing your portfolio

When constructing your investment portfolio, it is important to allocate your assets wisely to ensure they support your risk appetite. Despite the best intentions, portfolios often go out of balance in the course of investing. It is thus important to rebalance it from time to time, to bring the proportions back to its previous weight.

If your portfolio has veered off-kilter and you find yourself exposed to a higher level of risk than you are willing and able to accept, it might be time to consider 'safer' alternatives like government bonds or term deposits.

While these investment instruments give relatively low returns, they produce fixed incomes and can go toward balancing other high-risk investments.

Do note though, that while bonds are stable and give regular returns, they are not designed to keep pace with inflation. In times of high inflation, you may see your investment shrink in value.

Index-linked instruments such as exchange traded funds (ETFs) are also a good alternative. Given that ETFs allow investors to buy a basket of stocks that mimic the performance of the entire stock market, they may be a useful tool to diversify risk.

Dollar cost averaging

'Don't try to guess if the stock market has bottomed' is perhaps the golden rule in equity investments. The modern-day equivalent of crystal-balling, even when stocks seem to be at their cheapest, there is no guarantee that the market will recover in the immediate future.

In order to minimise potential losses, investors may consider investing continuously through all the market cycles - a strategy called 'dollar cost averaging'.

Instead of investing all their money in a lump sum, investors gradually build up a position by purchasing smaller amounts over a period of time. This process spreads the average cost over the period, hence providing a buffer against market volatility.

While it is impossible to constantly beat the market, thoroughly understanding the investment vehicle, industry, and company fundamentals of a stock/fund you are purchasing will go a long way in helping you make better decisions.

Was last week's market exuberance rational?

Published October 17, 2011


The Dow surged to within 9% of its 2011 peak last week


THE stock market swung back to exuberant territory from panic mode last week, and now details of the euro rescue plan and its effect on banks will determine whether the exuberance was rational.

This is, by any measure, the most volatile market since the 1930s. Less than two weeks after coming to the brink of a bear market, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surged last week to within about 9 per cent of its 2011 peak.

After Google's earnings suggested that the slowdown in global growth had thus far spared the technology sector, the Nasdaq Composite garnered its biggest weekly percentage gain since 2009.

'We used to move 10 per cent, 12 per cent in a year; now we're moving 10 per cent or 12 per cent in a day (sometimes),' said Anthony Conroy, head trader at brokerage BNY ConvergEx in New York. 'The volatility is tremendous, and that tells me there's not a lot of commitment to positions . . . there's a lot of trading but not much investing.'

Since July, the market has had two gears: 'risk on' and 'risk off'.

In 'risk on' gear, economically sensitive commodities such as oil, compromised currencies such as the euro, and risky stocks such as micro caps and banks shoot up.

Whenever there's a scare about the creditworthiness of a European nation or bank, everything goes into reverse - the 'risk off' gear. Treasuries, the US dollar and, until recently, gold futures rally, while commodities, stocks and just about every other asset plunge.

Now, the two missing elements that reportedly caused this extreme volatility are on the horizon: a clear plan to save the euro, and clear signs of life from the economic recovery in the US.

On the euro front, the International Monetary Fund and its partners have agreed to save Greece from default, while French and German leaders have reportedly hammered out a broad agreement on a bank recapitalisation plan, likely to be detailed following the meeting of G-20 finance ministers this weekend. The euro has rallied against the dollar.

'It looks like Europe at the moment has a handle on things and at least they've managed to put off anything disastrous until next year,' said Frank Lesh, analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading in Chicago.

'One of the reasons we've seen a rally (last) week is because of 'no bad news out of Europe'.'

Don't pop the champagne just yet, however.

The rescue plan must be enacted swiftly to avoid a 'deep' recession in the eurozone, warned Credit Suisse. European banks are under such stress that they will likely drastically reduce lending to businesses soon, unless the cavalry arrives.

'Euro area governments need to avoid another long gap between announcement and implementation,' Credit Suisse analysts wrote in a research note.

In the US, the ripple effects from the European crisis have not yet materialised to the extent feared.

'The recovery is still here, folks,' JPMorgan chief executive Jamie Dimon reportedly said at a press conference following the quarterly earnings release from the second largest bank in the US.

Indeed, retail sales growth in September was the strongest since April. Plus, several of the companies most sensitive to changes in discretionary spending, such as pet-supply store PetSmart, motor-home maker Winnebago and trucker JB Hunt Transportation Services, reported that demand for their goods and services is increasing.

Still, veterans say chances of a bear market and a second global recession have not vanished with the summer sun. Despite Mr Dimon's optimism, JPMorgan's third-quarter profit declined and executives refused to predict whether there would be improvement in 2012.

Aluminium maker Alcoa also saw its profits fall and its business in Europe soften.

Where odds of a double- dip recession were about 50/50 a week ago, they are about 30/70 after the improvements in Europe and retail sales, said Mr Conroy of BNY ConvergEx.

The US economy's heartbeat is still weak, and readings of housing and joblessness remain critically close to recessionary levels.

Economic indicators this week will allow further diagnosis of the US economy's health, including several reports on the beaten- down housing market and regional factory data.

Apple and Microsoft will reveal whether Google's fortunes are indicative of broader trends when they report tomorrow and on Thursday, respectively.

On Friday, General Electric, a company with a bird's eye view of both global manufacturing trends and credit conditions, will weigh in with its quarterly report and outlook.

Crucially, more of the largest US banks, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America, will reveal the state of their earnings, and of consumer and business borrowing.

Many analysts expect Goldman to report tomorrow what would be its second quarterly loss since going public. Goldman, BofA and Citi will all face questions about the extent of possible losses from their holdings of European bonds, and their entanglement with European banks.

'It's about banks,' said Mr Lesh of FuturePath Trading. 'That's why we sold off (in the first place).'

Protests all over the US reflect the nation's conflicted feelings about the 2008 bank rescue; now European regulators must choose between the ire of the markets and that of their citizens.

The Qigong Walking Exercise

28 September 2011
by Miss Cheah

Dear Friends,

The Qigong Walking Exercise that I am teaching at
different venues is good but needs at least 1 hour a day
to practice for good results.

Since many of you are still working, here is one exercise
I believe can help you solve the “time” problem. Just 15
minutes a day and good results can be expected if you do
it diligently everyday for a period of 2-3 months.

It also depends on the individual’s health condition and
diligence in completing 15 minutes of holding up the legs
each time.

This is a really simple exercise to help you increase your

The English text is my translation from the Chinese text.

Lie down on your back, raise your legs as shown in the

Maintain 90 degrees at thighs with body, 90 degrees
at knee joints and 90 degrees at ankles.
Keep this posture for 15 minutes or longer.
Start with as long as you can manage and add on the
That’s it!

1) Drink before and after the exercise 300cc of warm
water. Breathe normally. Don’t hold back your breath.
Using the energy from your waist and “Dan tian” to hold
your legs in that posture as long as you can manage.

2) When you are lying down in this posture, blood will
flow back to your liver and kidneys ensuring fast detoxing
and increasing your metabolism. You will feel very
“soared” with your legs and your pituitary gland will be
activated to hasten the detox process and the toxins in
your body will be excreted via sweating.

3) When you are lying in this posture, your body is
getting rid of the “toxin” in your body. They your good
body cells will be stronger and has definitely a good
control of any bad cells (including cancer cells) inside
your body.

4) Since you are using your waist’s energy to support the
legs, your Shenqu (CV 8)and Ming Men (GV4) of the main
acupressure points) were used to do the breathing, your
Front and Back main Meridians will be cleared and
connected. Thus your minute skin pores will be opened to
help with the “detox” process. With breathing through the
Dan Tian, it helps to lessen the burden of breath on your
lungs. Therefore, you heart functions will be stronger
with the result that your blood pressure will also be

5) When you sweat, the acidic toxins will be excreted,
your blood lipid (fatty deposits) will be burnt. Spleen is
in charge of our 4 limbs. Therefore, your blood sugar
level will also be stabilized with the result your spleen
function is being improved. End result is that you will
feel more calm and gentle.

6) When your legs are up, your small intestine’s movement
will be activated and your bladder’s muscles will be
stronger. Therefore, constipation, abnormal menstruation,
prostate problems can all be avoided. Also, once your
digestion and excretion systems are in order, you will
have good appetite and can maintain your normal body

7) When your legs are up, your spine is straight. That
means your whole body’s muscles will be strengthened. Qi
and blood will flow smoothly throughout your body. Your
joints can easiy have more bone marrows and the nerves
alongside your spine are well connected with all parts of
the body. Thus degeneration of joints and growth of bone
spurs can be avoided.

8) When your legs are up,all your inner organs are
working in harmony. Your brain burden will be less and
thus can function better, resulting in clear heads, better
memory and no more insomnia. Also you will have better
tolerance and stronger will power.
Therefore, the longer you can hold up your legs in that
posture, the better and long living you will be.


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Profiting from volatile markets

Published October 15, 2011

Derivative trading platforms report robust growth as more people seem to have taken to trading currencies and other derivative contracts. By Genevieve Cua

ELEVATED market volatility is a source of anxiety for many, but for others it's a chance to take a stab at some outsized profits - or losses.

Whichever way it plays out for clients, derivative trading platforms such as IG Markets report robust growth as more individuals appear to have taken to trading currencies and other derivative contracts such as equity indices and commodities.

IG Markets, for instance, reports a record month globally in August when volatility shot up on the US downgrade and on concerns over Greece. Says Tim Howkins, IG Group chief executive: 'It's the rate of change of volatility that affects client behaviour . . . The client base reacts immediately to an uplift in volatility, but progressively they get used to the new levels. We had by far the best August we've ever had; it was 82 per cent higher than August last year.'

In August, the VIX index (which reflects the volatility of the S&P 500) spiked to a high of 48 from a level of around 17 in July. The S&P 500 fell more than 15 per cent between July and mid-August and gyrated sharply within a trading band that month. August saw four straight days of 400-point swings in the Dow Jones index.

Grace Chan, Phillip Futures' director of marketing and sales channel, says trading volume between July and September 'definitely increased'. She points to a record high volume in the Loco London spot gold contracts. Gold prices posted a record 18.9 per cent rise from a US$1,607 per ounce low in August to US$1,912.

In its first-quarter results (June 1 to Sept 12), IG Group Holdings reported a 20 per cent increase in active clients and 8 per cent rise in revenue per client. In terms of revenue, Asia Pacific (lumped into the 'rest of the world' segment) jumped 79 per cent, albeit off a low base. Revenues rose from £4 million to £7.2 million (S$14.5 million). The main contributor was Singapore, which saw a 61 per cent rise in revenue per client, with active client numbers up 3 per cent.

That growth was achieved in spite of a clampdown on the use of 'introducers' or referrals as a source of new clients. In the aftermath of the Lehman notes debacle, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) restricted the use of introducers to 'induce' clients to invest. Under the guideline, introducers who try to persuade clients to subscribe for securities will be subject to licensing. Introducers who earn commissions based on the volume of transactions of clients may be deemed to be dealing in securities.

Peter McDermott, IG Singapore managing director, said the restrictions which took effect last year caused new account openings to fall 55 per cent. 'That's quite a big blow, but we still managed to grow revenues 38 per cent.' The firm strives to target its services at the high net worth market.

'A year-and-a-half before the rule change, we changed strategy to aim for wealthier clients. We do not want inappropriate clients - it's not good for us or for clients.'

There are a number of derivative broker dealers here licensed by MAS. Those that have a retail business include IG Asia, Saxo Capital Markets, Phillip Futures and optionsXpress. Market share is understood to be fragmented. The platforms offer educational seminars, many of which are free.

The largest provider may well be Phillip, which claims to have pioneered the offering of an online FX (foreign exchange) and CFD (contract for difference) trading platform. Says Ms Chow: 'In 2010 we commissioned an independent external survey company to do a study of our market share in the local market . . . we have the largest share in terms of clients holding an account with us to trade FX and CFDs.'

There are also online platforms that are offshore, but clients will have to bear in mind that there will be little or no recourse to MAS should there be disputes or lapses in service.

Typically the amount needed to start an account is modest at less than $5,000, but it will depend on the initial margins required for a particular contract.

Derivative contracts are a form of leveraged trading. The initial margin may be set at 10 or 20 per cent. There are other costs involved such as commissions and financing charges. Leverage magnifies profits, but can also cause substantial losses on the downside. Apart from the risk of leverage, there are also counterparty risks. Clients should ascertain that the broker they use is well capitalised.

Do clients actually make money? Mr McDermott says yes. 'There is definitely a learning curve. The longer established clients tend to be successful, and newer clients less so. It takes a while to get your risk management right . . .

'We hedge the vast majority of client trades, and it's in our interest for our clients to make money. We make money from dealing commissions, spreads and overnight financing. The more clients deal, the better for us. It's not good for us if they lose their money.'

IG does not run any proprietary trading desk. Phillip does have a 'small' prop desk. Says Ms Chan: 'The prop positions we run are more for hedging or to test out certain strategies. We take very small positions.'

So what makes a successful trader? Money and risk management discipline is key.

Mr Howkins says: 'The thing is not to put too much capital into your first trade, or into any trade . . . Go slowly, use stops, risk management and guaranteed stops.' The latter means the broker guarantees to close your position at a pre-specified price, for a one-off charge. This enables a trader to know his maximum possible loss at the outset.

You will also have to set your objectives and follow your plan. This minimises the chance that you are swayed by emotion. Ms Chan says: 'Good traders often set an appropriate risk-reward ratio for each trade they enter. No one can be right in every trade, but good risk management and discipline can help ensure that losses are controlled and profits are consistent.'

She adds that successful traders also have a good understanding of their own risk appetite, trading style and personality. 'What works for one may not work for another. So to be consistently profitable, one needs to find one's own trading edge or technique . . . '

Friday, October 14, 2011

Warming to stocks and shares

Published October 14, 2011


Outlook for property challenging in 2012 and 2013: Merrill


(SINGAPORE) Wealthy individuals in the Asia-Pacific region are expected to trim their exposures to real estate and invest more in equities next year.

A surge in property prices in 2010 helped to boost the wealth of high net worth individuals in Asia, led by Singapore and Hong Kong, according to the Asia Pacific Wealth Report by Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and Capgemini.

The outlook for 2012 is not as robust, however. 'We expect an oversupply of private housing between now and 2015 (in Singapore),' said Melvyn Boey, managing director and head of Asean equity research at Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management.

The firm is expecting a 'challenging' outlook for 2012 and 2013, and has forecast a 7.5 per cent decline in Singapore home prices in 2012 and another 10 per cent fall in 2013.

In 2010, the wealthy in the Asia-Pacific area invested some 26 per cent of their portfolios in equities and 27 per cent in property. Allocations to real estate are expected to fall to 20 per cent, and equities' share of investments to rise to 31 per cent.

For now, clients have turned cautious on equities, said Mr Boey.

'As we move to end-October, things may slow. The question is whether we're in (a situation similar to) April 2009, or is there another leg down. Our base case is it will be difficult for Europe to come to a conclusion (to its debt problems) - not impossible, but difficult.

'At this point people will be more cautious as they think about their equity allocations.'

Merrill's base case for global growth is 'a slowdown, not a hard landing', said Mr Boey. 'We expect the US to slow to 1.8 per cent, and Europe to 0.8 per cent, but not the financial turmoil of 2008.'

Asia Pacific's GDP growth is forecast to slow to 6.9 per cent in 2011 and 6.8 per cent in 2012.

Meanwhile, when it comes to passion investments, the wealthy in the region had marginally the highest allocation to luxury collectibles at 30 per cent, compared to the global average of 29 per cent in 2010.

This segment includes luxury cars, jets and yachts. They also had the largest allocation to jewellery, gems and watches at 24 per cent compared to the global average of 22 per cent.

In the segment of passion investments, Singaporeans' appetite for jewellery, gems and watches was the highest in the region with an allocation of 41 per cent. Allocations elsewhere into this segment ranged between 15 per cent in Australia and 37 per cent in India.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Exercise method by a 102 years old - 趕快看 102歲了,不用眼鏡,長壽健康法

Dear friends,

This is an introduction to 19 exercises + a meditation method for maintaining good health by a 102 years old, Mr Chui who still has a real set of teeth, excellent eye sights and keen sense of hearing.
His flexibility and energy level puts me who is half his age to shame.

崔介忱的健康情況,他今年102歲了, 不用眼鏡,長壽健康法


飯勿吃太飽,覺要睡得好,運動每天做,營養不可少,盡量找快樂,切莫尋煩惱,赤子心常在,百年也不老,不作虧心事,人格比天高,為人不貪墨, 子孫也逍遙。


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Leveraged ETFs ratchet up market volatility

Published October 12, 2011

ETFs, which allow investors to bet on a certain basket of stocks, commodities or an index, are perhaps the hottest item now in investing with some US$1t invested

(NEW YORK) Did you watch the markets on Monday? In the last 18 minutes of trading, the Standard & Poor's 500- stock index jumped more than 10 points with no news to account for the rally. If you were left scratching your head, you were not alone.

Ouch: Almost every day there is a story in the papers trying to explain the stock market's wild swings and often they are inconclusive as everything from Europe's banking problems to new fears of recessions are raised
Almost every day there is a story in the newspaper trying to explain the stock market's wild swings, or 'volatility' and often they are inconclusive as everything from Europe's banking problems to new fears of recessions are raised. Through the summer and into autumn, I too have been pondering the gyrations in trading, especially the late-day sell-offs and rallies that seem to always be timed perfectly to coincide with the closing bell. Rarely do the rallies or sell-offs, which invariably start after 3pm, justify three- and four-percentage point moves.

The swings have a deleterious effect on the markets because they undermine confidence and investors start sitting on the sidelines. And then I started talking with investors like Douglas A Kass, a long-time Wall Street denizen who is the founder and president of Seabreeze Partners Management. He says he knows the culprit for the late day market swings: leveraged exchange traded funds or ETFs.

These funds, which allow investors to bet on a certain basket of stocks, commodities or an index, are perhaps the hottest rage in investing with some US$1 trillion invested. ETFs are particularly attractive to some investors because you can bet long or short - and you can leverage your bet. And you can hop in and out within the trading day to lock in gains, just as with stocks.

If you bet US$100 that the ProShares Ultra S&P 500 would rise by one per cent on a given day, and it did so, say by 3pm, you could settle the bet and receive double the return - in this case 2 per cent (excluding fees). Of course, if the market goes in the opposite direction, you could lose 2 per cent. There are also what are called 'inverse' leveraged ETFs that go up when the basket of goods goes down, and vice versa.

To Mr Kass, these ETFs are the 'new weapons of mass destruction'. (His description is an homage to Warren Buffett's famous line that derivatives are 'weapons of mass destruction.') 'They've turned the market into a casino on steroids,' Mr Kass said. 'They accentuate the moves in every direction - the upside and the downside.'

Mr Kass, who has written about this topic for The may be right: At the end of every day, leveraged ETFs have to rebalance themselves by buying and selling millions of shares within minutes to remain properly weighted. If the ETF made money that day, to remain balanced it has to reinvest the proceeds and leverage them again. In many cases, leveraged ETFs use options, swaps, and index futures to keep itself in balance.

Consider the ETF the new derivative. 'It is these derivatives and not the phenomenon known as high-frequency trading (HFT) - commonly critiqued as contributing to the 'flash crash' of May 6, 2010 - that pose serious threats to market stability in the future,' Harold Bradley and Robert E Litan of the Kauffman Foundation wrote in a controversial paper last year.

'The SEC, the Fed, and other members of the new Financial Stability Oversight Council, other policymakers, investors, and the media should pay far more attention to the proliferation of ETFs and derivatives of ETFs.' Mr Bradley and Mr Litan contend that it is the 'rebalancing risk' of ETFs that makes them particularly dangerous.

In 2009, Barclays Global's research department studied the growing leveraged ETF market - before the flash crash - and concluded that the funds created systemic risk because they 'amplify the market impact of all flows, irrespective of source'. That's not to suggest that the view that leveraged ETFs are responsible for the market's volatility has not gone unchallenged.

William J Trainor Jr, a professor at East Tennessee State University, conducted an extensive study of market volatility at the beginning and the end of the market day and concluded that ETF rebalancing had nothing to do with it. 'Intra-daily volatility in time periods not associated with rebalancing saw the same spikes in volatility as the last 30 minutes did,' he said in his report. Mr Kass, who has been trading since the 1970s, scoffs at this notion.

'Ask any hedge fund manager what their gut says,' he protested. I took an informal poll of a half dozen brand- name fund managers and virtually all of them agreed with Mr Kass. Exacerbating the problem, some of them said, was the high-frequency traders, which themselves trade ETFs, which some suggested may be magnifying the problem even more.

'We know ETFs are the dominant factor in the marketplace,' Mr Kass said with certainty. 'In the '70s and '80s it was the mutual funds, in early 2000s it was the hedge funds. Now it's the algorithms running the ETFs.' - NYT

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Hiding gold in all the unusual places

Published October 8, 2011

Many US investors are storing precious metals in, under or near their homes, despite the most immediate danger of theft


IF you're looking for a safe place to put your investments, Chad Venzke has a suggestion: Dig a hole in the ground four feet deep, pack gold and silver in a piece of plastic PVC pipe, seal it and bury it.

The 30-year-old central Wisconsin resident trusts no one but himself to store and protect his gold and silver - not banks, not investment funds, and certainly not the government. It's precisely because of this suspicion of institutions that he invests in those metals to begin with. In case of emergency, 'you always want to have your precious metals within arms reach', he says.

Mr Venzke is hardly the only investor who wants his precious metals nearby at all times. A pound of gold worth about US$24,000 can easily fit in a pocket; how to protect it is a decision that carries expensive consequences. Do-it-yourself investors who don't trust banks must find creative storage options, whether burying gold in the yard, submerging it in a koi pond, stashing it behind air-conditioning ducts, or placing it under carpets.

All these options are debated in online gold and silver investor forums. They're also debated and demonstrated in YouTube videos, including one by Mr Venzke that has been viewed more than 7,000 times.

Mounting hoards

Of course, whether gold is buried, put in a safe, or hidden under your bed, there's nothing to stop a determined person with a gun from making you show them where you put it. That's why it's important no one ever know you have gold in the first place.

While there's no way of knowing how many investors take Mr Venzke's advice, there are growing piles of precious metals in, under or near American homes. From mid-2010 to mid-2011, US investors bought up more than 100 tonnes of physical gold coins and bars, up from 15.2 tonnes in 2007, according to the World Gold Council.

Worldwide bar and coin demand rose 37 per cent during the mid-2010 to mid-2011 period, according to the Council, even as demand from exchange-traded funds backed by physical gold, and similar products, fell 84 per cent.

The notion of keeping one's gold in a safety deposit box - inside the banks many gold aficionados find so untrustworthy - is anathema to many gold bugs. Mr Venzke, who predicts 'runaway inflation' and a crisis leading to a 'new form of currency within this decade', worries that the boxes won't be accessible if banks shut down in a crisis. 'How are you supposed to get your stuff out of there?' he asks.

For those storing gold and silver in or around their home, the most immediate danger isn't a crisis or a dip in metal prices. It's theft. The FBI, which tallies the theft of precious metals and jewellery in one category, says US$1.6 billion was stolen in 2010, up 51 per cent from 2005. Just 4.2 per cent of the lost loot was recovered last year.

Metal detectors are a big worry. Basic detectors can find metal on the surface or in the first 12 inches to 14 inches below ground, depending on soil conditions, says Louis Mahnken, a sales representative for Kellyco Metal Detectors in Winter Springs, Florida. That's why Mr Venzke advises burying it at least four feet deep. There are online debates about the best way to frustrate such thieves, including using scrap metal as decoys or hiding metal by covering it underground with asbestos or mirrors.

Doorstops, boat anchors

Metal owners also use the 'hiding in plain sight' manoeuvre. According to dealers, some customers buy 100-oz silver bars, paint them black, and use them as doorstops. That's foolish, says Steven Ellsworth, a coin dealer in Clifton, Virginia, who teaches security classes for the American Numismatic Assn.

Mr Ellsworth is a believer in keeping precious metals in bank safety deposit boxes, as well as having high security at home. 'My wife sometimes thinks we're over-secured and calls our residence 'the compound',' says Mr Ellsworth, a retired army colonel. His security measures include fences, alarms, cameras and dogs.

Safes can certainly deter thieves. Yet an inexpensive fire safe may be exactly the wrong place to put your valuables.

Richard Krasilovsky, president of Empire Safe, calls such safes 'handy carrying cases for burglars'. A fire safe is designed to protect papers from fire, not from intruders, says Ryan Smith, a senior product manager at SentrySafe. 'It wouldn't be wise to put any more than US$20,000 of valuables in our products,' he says.

Mr Krasilovsky, whose company makes high-end safes, says safes must be very strong and very heavy - a recent sale was of a US$10,000 safe that weighed 1.8 tonnes. A proper safe starts at US$2,000 and could cost as much as US$40,000, he says. If the safe isn't certified to resist burglars with tools for 30 minutes, a so-called 'TL-30' rating, 'you're buying an expensive boat anchor', says Mr Ellsworth.

Of course, whether gold is buried, put in a safe, or hidden under your bed, there's nothing to stop a determined person with a gun from making you show them where you put it. That's why it's important no one ever know you have gold in the first place. Mr Krasilovsky's company will deliver safes in the middle of the night, installing them where no one, including a contractor, is likely to stumble across them.

'People have to be extraordinarily secretive,' Mr Krasilovsky says. This secrecy keeps away not only thieves but also prying relatives and the tax man. 'One of the benefits of owning precious metals is nobody knows you own it,' Mr Venzke says. 'It's the most private investment you can make.'

Unless, of course, you feel compelled to post YouTube videos sharing insights about where to stash your gold. -- Bloomberg

Finding comfort in volatile market

Published October 8, 2011

One of the great comforts to average investors is dollar-cost averaging, but new research raises questions about that investing philosophy. By Paul Sullivan

SINCE mid-August, world markets have repeatedly moved with stomach-churning ups and downs. And in response, many investors feel they must take some action for fear that doing nothing will cost more than doing something.

The sheer magnitude of the world's problems - high unemployment and legislative gridlock in the United States, debt problems in Europe, signs of a slowdown in China - makes this a scary time for investors.

But what about the urge to take some sort of action? The better strategy is almost always to focus on a long-term plan and not abandon it the moment it gets tested. After the past three years, this is tougher to do than ever.

'It's very hard to do nothing when everybody is trying to talk you into doing something, even when it's wrong,' said Susan Fulton, founder and president of FBB Capital Partners.

Wild swings

Michael Martin, a trader and the author of the new book The Inner Voice of Trading (FT Press), put it a different way. The big risk for average investors now is confusing volatility with opportunity.

He said professional traders become more wary when prices are changing rapidly for no fundamental reason. And he equated the market, with its wild swings, to a drunken uncle at a holiday dinner.

'When someone's behaviour becomes more volatile, you don't want to warm up to that person,' he said. 'You want to get away.'

But ignoring those swings can be difficult. Below are some bad ideas as well as some slightly contrarian thoughts that may offer comfort:

Fear causes investors to do all sorts of things that could hurt them in the long run.

The recent drop in gold prices to about US$1,600 an ounce from just under US$1,900 in August has damped down some of the enthusiasm for gold. But the gyrations in stocks have led some investors to think they can find something there that will soar as gold did.

'People want to swing for the fences,' Ms Fulton said. 'We're not going to have stocks that multiply by 10 in the near future.'

She said she advised clients to look instead at companies that had a lot of cash and were paying steady dividends. There is a predictability to those stocks that will help battered portfolios.

A variation on the stock-picking strategy involves using tax losses accumulated over the years to bet heavily on a risky company. The hope is that any gains will get an investor back to even and also be tax-free.

The problem is that unless the investor picks the next Google, his losses could be substantial. And even if he's lucky enough to pick a stock that appreciates greatly, it could be years before he sells the stocks and is able to use the tax losses to offset the gains.

'You should use your tax losses on things that can benefit you today,' said Lewis Altfest, chief investment officer of Altfest Personal Wealth Management.

Mr Altfest said a client recently wanted him to put money into some risky stocks because he was down so much. Instead of agreeing, Mr Altfest suggested the client reallocate his portfolio back to 65 per cent stocks and 35 per cent bonds and then go back to that allocation whenever the stock position dropped below 63 per cent.

'He's got a human problem now - he's behind,' Mr Altfest said. 'I could explain to him that this is the worst recession we've had in 80 years. It might help him intellectually, but he hurts, and he wants an answer.'

One of the great comforts to average investors in a volatile market is dollar-cost averaging. This is a fancy way of saying you should invest your money over a period of time as opposed to investing it all at once, which is known as lump-sum investing.

Proponents of dollar-cost averaging offer two arguments. By putting money into, say, a stock over time, you will be buying shares at varying prices, which will benefit you in the end. This seems particularly appealing when stock prices are rising and falling so much.

The second advantage is psychological: If you put all your money into an investment and it is worth 10 per cent less the next day, you're going to feel horrible about it. Worse, you may also be less inclined to make further investments or pull your money out.

But new research from Gerstein Fisher, a money manager in New York, raises questions about that investing philosophy. It found that from January 1926 to December 2010, investing your money on one day yielded better results over a 20-year period than investing the same amount of money in equal chunks over 12 months.

In the 70 per cent of the time that investing everything all at once did better, it did better by 94 percentage points. When dollar-cost averaging did better, it did so only by 77 percentage points. Over a 20-year period, lump-sum investing added about 2 per cent to annual returns, the study found. This ratio continued to hold true over the past decade.

Betting on bonds

'The conclusion is the faster you invest the money, the better you do,' said Gregg Fisher, president and chief investment officer of Gerstein Fisher. 'Dollar-cost averaging's greatest value is to get people comfortable investing. The rational investor would not do it because it doesn't make any sense, but we're not rational.'

Normally, most investors don't have large sums of money to invest at once. But right now, many are sitting on large cash positions.

Mr Fisher did note that the person who put money in slowly was still better off than the person who tried to guess the direction of the market.

Another bit of consolation is that government bonds may be better bets than many advisers have been saying.

But Bob Andres, chief investment officer and strategist at Merion Wealth Partners, said investors had been too optimistic. There are few signs that the global economy is getting any better.

'If you're at 2.5 per cent on a 10-year Treasury or lower, people have a tendency to say they can't go any lower,' Mr Andres said. 'That's a mistake. That's underestimating the problems the global economy has. Do I think we can go back down to 1.5? Yes, I do.'

However depressing his analysis, it has some merit. At the beginning of the year, the yield on the 10-year Treasury was 3.36 per cent, which did not seem like such a great return then. But last week, when the yield on the same bond hit a low of 1.72 per cent, it looked a lot better.

So while inflation would still be bad for bond returns, there is enough bleak news coming from the US and Europe to make a rush out of Treasury bonds premature.

'Not losing money is much more important than making money in this environment,' Mr Andres said. 'Intuitive feel is a dangerous thing in a market like this.'

Under pressure, the best advice may be to stay the course. -- NYT

3 Unique Exercises to Shape Up

By Dr. Maoshing Ni
Mar 19, 2010

America’s rapidly expanding waistline has become a huge concern in the past decade. Today, eight out of ten adults are overweight and some 40 million people are considered obese. It’s not hard to see why: We eat foods that contain tightly-packed calories in smaller packaged and don’t engage in enough physical activity. Here are 3 unique and easy exercises that will get you in shape this spring!

You have to move to lose weight
The number one cause of being overweight is inactivity. The human body is designed for physical activity. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who spent most of their lives on the move; their metabolic functions matched their physical lifestyle. Nowadays, we live in opposition to our nature. The reason most diets fail is because our bodies are not designed to subsist on meager foods. We are designed to consume a good amount of energy -- and then to burn that energy. Physical activity is the key to a healthy metabolism.

Physical activity does not necessarily mean abrupt, fast-paced and forceful exercise. What if I told you that gentle, slower, and deliberate movements are just as beneficial for your health? Unique to China are the gentler kind of movement arts that promote energy, balance of function, and a calm mind. I call them mind-body exercises, and they include tai chi, qigong, and Dao In yoga. Many recent studies have confirmed that these mind-body exercises help balance blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol, equilibrium, and other organ functions. Mind-body exercise works through a system of energy communication within the body. By deliberately activating the flow of energy and removing blockages, communication is restored and organ functions return to their optimal level. You can learn these mind-body exercises with a teacher or from instructional DVDs.

Taken from a tradition that is thousands of years old, here are three qigong exercises that target your weight and get you in shape. The qigong exercises from this article are adapted from my book Secrets of Self-Healing, where you can find many more exercises to benefit a variety of health conditions.

Exercise 1: Swimming Dragon speeds up your metabolism
This simple qigong exercise can help speed up your metabolism and reduce your appetite. Not unlike a belly dance, Swimming Dragon is a wriggling rhythmic dance of the torso, which burns energy and promotes fat burning in the abdomen.

1. In a comfortable, quiet place stand with your feet together and ankles touching, or as close together as you can get them. Bring hands over your head, with palms together and fingers pointing up. Keep your palms together during this entire exercise.

2. Inhaling, push your waist out to the right side while keeping your head and upper torso straight. Simultaneously move your right elbow to the right, so that it rests at shoulder height.

3. Exhaling, push your waist out to the left side while keeping your head and upper torso straight. Simultaneously move your left elbow fully to the left at shoulder height.

4. Repeat this movement several times. Every time you move your waist to the right, bend your knees slightly more, lowering your entire body as you squat. Be sure to keep your upper torso and head straight.

5. With each right movement, move your hands lower, keeping your palms together and fingers pointing up. When your arms reach your chest, turn your fingers toward the ground and continue the movement.

6. When your arms reach your knees, you should be squatting.

7. Continue the movements, now rising with each right movement until you reach the standing position. When your arms reach your chest, switch the direction of your fingers so that they’re pointing up again.

Throughout this exercise, your hands should produce an S-shaped movement and your body should do a rhythmic belly dance. Remember to inhale on the rightward movement and exhale to the left. Only do this exercise on an empty stomach. Begin slowly and increase speed, warming up the whole body, but not to the point of perspiration.

For another way to promote weight loss, look to Chinese herbs. B-Slim is blended from specially selected Chinese herbs whose qualities are said to control appetite and craving, eliminate bloating, improve digestion, increase fat metabolism, regulate blood sugar, gently relieve constipation and balance the body.

Exercise 2: Arm Swing
Energy exercises like tai chi and Eight Treasures Qigong have been found to improve cardiovascular health. Here is the Arm Swing, a warm-up movement to tai chi that will invigorate your daily workout.

1. Start with your feet should-width apart. Freely swing your arms from front to back until you reach a point of natural resistance. Now let your arms swing to the front again.

2. After a couple of minutes of arm swinging, increase the work out by bending your knees and lifting your heels as your arms swing back and forth.

3. Increase your work out further by jumping off the ground as your arms swing back as though the momentum of your arms carries your body upward. Jump progressively higher each time. Swing your arms for 15 minutes. Gradually slow down and stop. Perform this exercise twice each day.

Exercise 3: Merry-Go-Around
With a daily practice of Qi Gong exercises like the Eight Treasures you can strengthen your hormonal system, help balance your blood sugar levels, and maintain your proper weight. Below I describe a simple walking exercise called “Merry-Go-Around”.

1. In a quiet outdoor setting find a thick-trunked tree (10 - 12” diameter) with at least 5 feet of clear space around the trunk in all directions. Perform the following walking exercise for 15 minutes.

2. Walk with a relaxed but steady gait, with hands raised to your trunk. With each completed circle change the position of your arms by slightly raising or lowering your hands in front or on the sides of your trunk.

3. For the first half of the exercise walk clockwise around the tree. For the second half, walk counterclockwise.

Do the Merry-Go-Around twice each day.

How often should you exercise?
From my clinical experience and research, I am convinced that it is best for all-around health to exercise 4 or more times per week, for 30 minutes each time. Even a brisk walk around your neighborhood, or the merry-go-round circle walking described above can have a wonderful effect on your energy metabolism and help you get back into shape.

For a supplement that supports sustainable energy for an active lifestyle, I suggest High Performance, a combination of unique Chinese food herbs, exotic seeds and wholesome grains, providing a rich source of complex carbohydrates.

I hope this article helps you get active! I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

—Dr. Mao


Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Emerging-market equities beckon

Published October 5, 2011

Institutional investors are taking to emerging markets after a long losing streak in the segment


THE longest losing streak for developing-market equities in more than a decade is turning investors who shunned the stocks a year ago into buyers, after valuations fell to the lowest levels since March 2009.

China calling: China Mobile's dividend yield has climbed to 4.2 per cent since 2003
TCW Group Inc's Komal Sri-Kumar, who advised purchasing options as insurance against emerging-market declines in October 2010, now recommends shares of consumer companies after inflation slowed in China and central banks in Brazil and Turkey cut interest rates. HSBC Private Bank's Arjuna Mahendran is adding Chinese stocks with dividend yields of more than 4 per cent. Harris Private Bank's Jack Ablin said he may boost emerging-nation shares to 10 per cent of holdings from 3 per cent.

Index slumps

MSCI Inc's emerging-market gauge sank 30 per cent from its May 2 high and slumped 23 per cent in the three months to Sept 30, trailing the advanced-nation index for four straight quarters for the first time since Russia's 1998 default, as Europe's debt crisis and concern the US economy may contract led investors to flee riskier securities. The drop sent shares in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index to 1.5 times net assets, the lowest level versus the MSCI World Index in 30 months.

'It may be time to start getting your toes wet,' Mr Sri-Kumar, who helps oversee about US$120 billion as chief global strategist at TCW in Los Angeles, said in a phone interview last week. 'The emerging markets are not going to have the recession of the kind I anticipate for the US and Europe.'

MSCI's developing-stock gauge trailed the MSCI World index by 6.1 percentage points last quarter, the most since the third quarter of 2008. Brazil's Bovespa index fell 16 per cent, Russia's Micex Index lost 18 per cent, the BSE India Sensitive Index slid 13 per cent, and China's Shanghai Composite Index retreated 15 per cent.

Emerging-market equity funds have posted nine straight weeks of outflows, with investors withdrawing US$2.6 billion in the seven days ended Sept 28, according to data compiled by Cambridge, Massachusetts-based research firm EPFR Global. Industrial companies and raw-materials producers led declines during the past three months on concern falling demand from advanced countries will erode profits.

The drop in energy and food prices that dragged the S&P GSCI Spot Index of commodities down 12 per cent last quarter has given central banks room to reverse interest-rate increases that had turned emerging-market stocks into laggards the previous three quarters. Brazil's central bank cut its benchmark interest rate for the first time in two years in August, while Turkey reduced borrowing costs to a record low. China has kept its lending rate unchanged since July after three increases this year.

'Maybe all of this mess is going to help them because it will bring the peak in inflation earlier than it otherwise would have been,' Jim O'Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management in London, said in a Sept 23 interview on Bloomberg Television. Mr O'Neill coined the term BRIC in 2001 to describe Brazil, Russia, India and China.

Emerging-market stocks began the fourth quarter with losses. MSCI's gauge of developing equities slid 1.3 per cent to 841.38 as of 1:32pm in Hong Kong, extending Monday's 3.2 per cent slump. The MSCI World Index has declined 3 per cent in the past two days.

Barton Biggs, the founder of hedge fund Traxis Partners LP in New York, says it's too early to invest in emerging markets because government leaders haven't found solutions for Europe's sovereign-debt crisis or the faltering US economic recovery.

Seventy-four per cent of global investors surveyed by Bloomberg last month said the euro-area economy will fall into recession in the next 12 months. US Federal Reserve chairman Ben S Bernanke said on Sept 29 that the US is facing a 'national crisis' with a jobless rate at or above 9 per cent since April 2009. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble opposed moves on Monday to increase the scale of a euro rescue fund, dampening speculation of a breakthrough in talks to quell the debt crisis.

'When there is clarity, when the authorities move and do something, emerging markets will be a fabulous place to invest,' Mr Biggs, the former chairman of Morgan Stanley Asset Management, said in a recent interview on Bloomberg Television. 'I am not ready to make that bet yet.'

Valuations fall

Emerging-market stocks trailed advanced-nation shares during times of financial stress that sparked global losses in the past two decades, including Latin America's so-called Tequila Crisis in 1994 after a devaluation of the Mexican peso, Russia's 1998 default on US$40 billion of debt, and the 2008 crisis sparked by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. The peak-to-trough drop in the emerging-market index was 12 percentage points bigger on average during the six retreats, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

'The likelihood that people continue to take money out of risky asset classes continues to be there,' said Lee King Fuei, a fund manager at London-based Schroders plc, which oversaw about US$330 billion as of June 30. 'In the shorter term, I don't see any particular catalyst that will reverse this.'

A year ago, Harris Private Bank's Mr Ablin told Bloomberg News that emerging-market shares were 'stretched'. Now the Chicago-based chief investment officer says valuations have fallen 'back in line with reality' and investors should consider adding to holdings.

TCW's Mr Sri-Kumar advises buying in the consumer industries of India and Brazil, where the unemployment rate was 6 per cent in August, a record low for the month. Mr Mahendran, who helps oversee about US$499 billion as the Singapore-based Asian head of investment strategy at HSBC Private Bank, favours Jiangsu Expressway Co, a Chinese toll-road operator, and China Mobile Ltd, the world's largest mobile-phone company by users.

Faster growth in emerging markets means investment returns will be higher, said Takahiro Mitani, president of Japan's Government Pension Investment Fund. The world's largest public pension fund, which oversees 114 trillion yen (S$1.95 trillion), will start investing in emerging-market stocks by the end of the year, Mr Mitani said in an interview in Tokyo last week.

Emerging economies may expand 6.4 per cent in 2011, four times quicker than the 1.6 per cent rate for developed nations, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund forecast in September.

Developing-nation government debt will probably amount to 35 per cent of emerging-market gross domestic product this year and budget deficits will be 2.7 per cent, compared with levels of 102 per cent and 6.8 per cent in advanced nations, according to the fund's Fiscal Monitor in June.

The MSCI emerging-market index's price-to-book ratio is 25 per cent lower than its average of 2 during the past five years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The gauge trades at a 2.5 per cent discount to the MSCI World Index, compared with a 17 per cent premium a year ago.

Profits at companies in the emerging gauge jumped 23 per cent on average in the second quarter, about three times faster than the 7.8 per cent growth in MSCI World index earnings, the data show.

Rising yields

The MSCI Brazil Consumer Staples Index trades at 2.5 times book value, or assets minus liabilities, 19 per cent less than its five-year average. Hypermarcas SA, the Sao Paulo-based maker of consumer products and medicines, tumbled 40 per cent last quarter to the lowest level since April 2009.

The benchmark gauge for Indian makers of discretionary consumer products has retreated to 3.8 times book value from 6.4 times a year ago, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Tata Motors Ltd, the Mumbai-based maker of the world's cheapest car, tumbled 22 per cent in the three months through September.

Brazil's central bank cut its benchmark Selic interest rate by 0.5 percentage point to 12 per cent on Aug 31 after raising borrowing costs eight times since April 2010. While the Reserve Bank of India increased interest rates on Sept 16, traders of interest-rate swaps are pricing in the possibility of cuts in the next year.

One-year interest-rate swaps in India, which reflect the cost of receiving the overnight money-market rate, traded at 7.91 per cent on Monday, below the 8.25 per cent repurchase rate, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

China Mobile's dividend yield has climbed to 4.2 per cent from an average 2.6 per cent since 2003, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The Hong Kong-based company has about US$50 billion of cash available to invest or return to shareholders, more than Apple Inc, the world's biggest technology company by market value, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

How did the robot end up with my job?

by Thomas L Friedman 04:46 AM Oct 05, 2011

I have done a lot of television book interviews lately, and I continue to be struck at what a difference there is in the technology in just a few years' time.

Here is a typical evening at a major cable television network: Arrive at Washington studio and be asked to sign in by a contract security guard. Be met by either a young employee who appears to still be in college or an older person who seems to have hung on with tenure. Have your nose powdered by that person. Have your microphone attached by that person. Be positioned in the studio chair by that person, and then look directly into a robotic camera being manipulated by someone in a control room in New York and speak to whoever the host is, wherever he or she is. That is it: One employee, a robot and you.

Think of how many jobs - make-up artist, receptionist, camera person, producer-director - have been collapsed into one. I raise this point because there is no doubt that the main reason for our 9.1 per cent unemployment rate is the steep drop in aggregate demand in the Great Recession. But it is not the only reason. "The Great Recession" is also coinciding with - and driving - "The Great Inflection".

In the last decade, we have gone from a connected world (thanks to the end of the Cold War, globalisation and the Internet) to a hyper-connected world (thanks to those same forces expanding even faster). And it matters. The connected world was a challenge to blue-collar workers in the industrialised West. They had to compete with a bigger pool of cheap labour. The hyper-connected world is now a challenge to white-collar workers. They have to compete with a bigger pool of cheap geniuses - some of whom are people and some are now robots, microchips and software-guided machines.

I wrote about the connected world in 2004, arguing that the world had gotten "flat". When I made that argument, though, Facebook barely existed - and Twitter, cloud computing, iPhones, LinkedIn, iPads, the "applications" industry and Skype had either not been invented or were in their infancy. Now they are exploding, taking us from connected to hyper-connected. It is a huge inflection point masked by the Great Recession.

It is also both a huge challenge and opportunity. It has never been harder to find a job and never been easier - for those prepared for this world - to invent a job or find a customer. Anyone with the spark of an idea can start a company overnight, using a credit card, while accessing brains, brawn and customers anywhere. It is why Mr Pascal Lamy, chief of the World Trade Organization, argues that terms like "made in America" or "made in China" are phasing out. The proper term, says Mr Lamy, is "made in the world". More products are designed everywhere, made everywhere and sold everywhere.

The term "outsourcing" is also out of date. There is no more "out" anymore. Firms can and will seek the best leaders and talent to achieve their goals anywhere in the world. Mr Dov Seidman, is the chief executive officer of LRN, a firm that helps businesses develop principled corporate cultures, and the author of How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything. He describes the mind-set of many CEOs he works with: "I run a global company with a global mission and one set of shared values in pursuit of global objectives. My employees are all over the world - more than half outside the United States - and more than half of my revenues and my plans for growth are out there, too. So you tell me: What is out and what is in anymore?"

Mr Matt Barrie, is the founder of, which today lists 2.8 million freelancers offering every service you can imagine. "The whole world is connecting up now at an incredibly rapid pace," says Mr Barrie, and many of these people are coming to to offer their talents. Mr Barrie says he describes this rising global army of freelancers the way he describes his own team: "They all have PhDs. They are poor, hungry and driven: P.H.D."

Mr Barrie offered me a few examples on his site right now: Someone is looking for a designer to design "a fully functioning dune buggy". Forty people are now bidding on the job at an average price of US$268 (S$352). Someone is looking for an architect to design "a car-washing cafe". Thirty-seven people are bidding on that job at an average price of US$168. Someone is looking to produce "six formulations of chewing gum" suitable for the Australian market. Two people are bidding at an average price of US$375. When Mr Barrie needed a five-word speech to accept a Webby Award, he offered US$1,000 for the best idea. He got 2,730 entries and accepted "The Tech Boom Is Back". Someone looking for "a rap song to help Chinese students learn English" has three bids averaging US$157.

Indeed, there is no "in" or "out" anymore. In the hyper-connected world, there is only "good", "better" and "best", and managers and entrepreneurs everywhere now have greater access than ever to the better and best people, robots and software everywhere.

Obviously, this makes it more vital than ever that we have schools elevating and inspiring more of our young people into that better and best category, because even good might not cut it anymore and average is definitely over. THE NEW YORK TIMES

Thomas L Friedman is a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Making a case for investing in land

Published October 1, 2011

Land-banking firm Walton says it's not like scam-tainted firms and has never lost clients' money. By Felda Chay

IT'S been a year since landbanking firms in Singapore were brought to their knees following a widely publicised scandal where one company lost its clients' money, and land investment firm Walton International Group Inc was no exception. The company, which received a flurry of calls from worried investors seeking reassurance in the immediate aftermath of the industry fiasco, has had to deal with the suspicion shrouding investments in raw land since. Type 'Walton International' into the Google search engine, for instance, and phrases such as 'Walton International scam' and 'Walton International complaints' appear.

But Walton is not like them, said the group's chief executive Bill Doherty to Singapore media, in reference to the company that had gone under with its investors' money. 'We have never lost our clients' money.' This is a point that he, and Walton's top management, reiterated numerous times during a three-day visit made in early September to the company's headquarters in Calgary, Canada, which was paid for by the company.

Lands that Walton has bought with its investors, for instance, have been sold to developers who see potential in the plots. Its investors have also been duly rewarded with returns on their investments.

According to Walton, the annualised total return for projects it exited from late 1998 to end 2010 amounted to between 5.2 per cent and as high as over 50 per cent. These numbers were audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers according to generally accepted standards in Canada.

Walton markets land in Canada and the United States, and has been in Singapore since 1996. Some 18,000 of its 74,000 investors are located here. The group is owned by Mr Doherty's family, and was established under the Walton name in 1986.

Mr Doherty said that scandals involving raw land investment firms have popped up not just in Singapore, but also in Canada. The company now has to grapple with the belief that anything which sounds too good to be true, is too good to be true; if such investments were so lucrative, companies would be better served by keeping these deals to themselves.

Not true, said Mr Doherty. Land investment firms partner investors to buy land because it allows them to free up capital and purchase more and bigger plots, widening their reach. So it makes sense to bring in investors who are willing to plough their money into land.

'We have a strong cash position,' said Mr Doherty. Walton said that it has seen a 196 per cent jump in the amount of cash held in 2010 from 2008, though it did not give figures on the actual amount of cash it is sitting on.

Unlike some of its now-defunct peers, Walton does not promise investors a handsome yearly dividend on their land investments. Instead, returns are paid out when its investors exit a project. 'The system of paying a yearly dividend doesn't make sense because holding land doesn't pay you an income. It doesn't,' said Mr Doherty. 'It is not a cash-flowing, income-producing asset, so it makes no sense.'

Scandals aside, critics of raw land investment have pointed out that it is an unlicensed product in Singapore and therefore does not fall under the purview of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). This means that investors may have few avenues through which to seek recourse, raising the risk factor of raw land investment.

Raw land investment is also an illiquid venture. Walton's investors have had to sit on their investments for as long as 19 years - the longest they had to wait to see returns from the pre-development projects they put money in. Even the shortest wait took about two years. On average, Walton's investors have had to wait about seven years before their investments bore fruit. There is also the worry that key assumptions of the land investment firm do not hold: In other words, the purchased land may never undergo development.

Mr Doherty acknowledged that the investment is illiquid, but believes that the firm's value proposition is its track record in delivering returns. 'Our track record is this: No one has ever lost money when investing with Walton if they had stuck with our programme. Our returns, on average, are 15 per cent compound after fees,' said Mr Doherty.

On raw land investment being an unlicensed product, Leslie Fryers, Walton's executive vice-president of law, said: 'There is no legal requirement for us to be licensed in Singapore.'

Also, investing in land 'is like buying a house, a piece of property', she said.

'We've certainly had legal opinions delivered to us that there is no requirement from MAS for a regulation on our product.

'It's our land that we are selling and we control it and we have very, very disciplined, very focused procedures to ensure that the purchase and sale agreements are properly registered and titled back to investors.' She added that the group gives client regular updates on their investments. Still, Walton would consider licensing its product 'if that is the way Singapore would like the product to be sold', said Ms Fryers. 'We already have the necessary processes in place both in Canada and the United States. It wouldn't worry us but from our perspective, it is certainly cleaner for the purchaser to have a direct ownership of the land as opposed to having an interest in an entity which has registration ownership of the land'.

The group also tries to minimise the risk of its land investments never undergoing development. Key to its investment strategy is strong research into the development potential of the ground it is eyeing, which takes years to complete. This involves looking into 'anything related to urbanisation', said Walton's executive vice-president of land research and acquisitions, Sean Cooney.

'Market statistics, political analysis, environment analysis, financial analysis. You name it, we are researching it. It is a very comprehensive view. The job is done on the ground in the truck. You can read any spreadsheet, you can read any headline, but if you're not in your truck looking at how the market is growing on a day-to-day measurement, you are completely oblivious to that market,' said Mr Cooney.

Thorough research

People and groups that Walton talks to as part of its research include landowners, bankers, real estate brokers, engineering companies and law firms, basically 'any group that is an active participant in development', said Mr Cooney. 'If you talk to enough people over a period of time, usually two years, you then get a sense of the long-term vision of growth in that area'.

Walton has spent between two-four years researching each piece of land it purchased, a process that has cost the company up to US$2 million annually, said Mr Cooney. It is such a lengthy process because the firm tries to talk to every single individual living around the area it is keen to own, to ensure that everyone's plans are in sync. 'If you buy one piece of dirt you need to understand what all the neighbours want to do over the long term with their lands,' said Mr Cooney. 'You buy land in a community context you need to understand everyone in the community.'

Once the research team gives its nod of approval, the decision on whether to plough money into a plot falls on the shoulders of Walton's executive buying committee, which has the final say on a purchase. The additional check and balance is meant to ensure that the land can be planned and will be developed eventually.

There were times - and more often than Mr Cooney likes - when the committee decides not to go ahead with a purchase despite the research team's endorsement. According to him, 20 per cent of the pieces of land brought to the buying committee do not get the green light for purchase. He believes that these land parcels ultimately failed to gain approval because of Walton's very stringent standards.

'And that in itself reduces the risk of our investment,' said Mr Cooney. 'It protects Walton, it protects the investors, it protects the various entitles through which we hold these investments under.'