Thursday, June 07, 2018

TOTD: Mis-selling of Dangerous High Risk Financial Bonds to Retail Investors

Thought of the Day - Mis-selling of Dangerous High Risk Financial Bonds to Retail Investors

Just a couple of weeks ago, news broke out on Hyflux defaulting on its interest payment to the perpetual bonds it had sold to investors, which include retail investors.

Most Singaporeans do not understand what is a perpetual bond. For normal bonds, be it government or private company's bonds, they will have an expiry date. It basically means that when you buy these bonds, it promises to pay you an interest every year and at the end of 10 or 20 years, or any number of years dictated on the bond as a contract, it promises to pay you back the amount stated on the bond.

For example, there could be a $100K coupon bond which promises to pay you 5% of $100K each year for 20 years and at the end of the 20 years, it will repay you the 100K stated on bond. You may not pay $100K for the bond because it depends on the interest rates of the market. You may pay higher than $100K if the current interest rate is lower than 5%. Or you may pay lower than $100K for this bond if the current interest rate is higher than 5%. i.e. the price of this bond is inversely related to current interest rate.

Technically speaking, you can trade on these bonds. You can buy or sell these bonds before the maturity of the bonds.

What is perpetual bond then? It basically means that the company will be selling you these bonds and it promises to pay you the coupon rate, eg 5% every year but it will go on forever and it will not repay the principal amount of these bonds. i.e. it will be borrowing these money from you or other investors perpetually... FOREVER.

You can only "cash out" from these bonds by selling to other people who are willing to buy it.

The pricing of such bonds are more complex as the longer the bond maturity is, the higher risk it involves. And now, when technically speaking the maturity is infinity, aka no maturity, then the risk is extremely high.

This is why Perpetual Bonds are NOT MEANT for retail investors but more for institutional or professional investors. MAS, as the regulator of the financial market, should not even allow such perpetual bonds to be sold to retail investors!

But we now know, MAS has actually closed both eyes on such issue. Now that Hyflux has defaulted on the interest payment on its perpetual bonds, these bonds have basically become JUNK bonds in the market with little value left. The retail investors would suffer huge losses in such situation.

Ironically, Termasek Holdings under Ho Ching, has planned to sell perpetual bonds to retail investors, putting up such slogan on "supplementing CPF" earnings!

First of all, it is totally inappropriate to sell perpetual bonds to retail investors.

Secondly, how could a Sovereign Wealth Fund issue such a bond?

Last but not least, 4.5% may look comparatively attractive to the 2.5% or 4% given by CPF, but the amount of risk in perpetual bonds are very much higher! Normally, such bonds are sold at a discount to institution investors but it seems that it is more lucrative to sell to inexperience retail investors at higher price or at its principal value because they do not understand the risks they are taking!

Considering the Prime Lending Rate is at 5% now, the interest for Perpetual Bond should be higher than this rate because, it is basically a loan for forever which will involve greater risk!

Termasek Holdings, as our Sovereign Wealth Fund, is actually taking advantage of Singaporeans, by borrowing from them below Prime Rate with indefinite maturity! Try asking any banks to lend to you $100K FOREVER at prime rate and see what you get from them!

Truly, I must warn all Singaporeans not to be taken advantage by our very own Sovereign Wealth Fund. I do not know why they need to raise funds through perpetual bonds when they are already handling so much funds up to the hundreds of billions but with the opaque manner in which they run their business, the risk is even higher than one could imagine.

Risk arises when there is uncertainty with lack of transparency and information. Please do not be fooled by such "good investment opportunity" sales talk. Else, you may end up like those Minibonds victims, die liao also don't know why and MAS will just brush you aside.

Goh Meng Seng

Tuesday, June 05, 2018

Comprehensive Set of Policy Options for HDB-CPF Mess

The HDB-CPF time bomb will blow up in 10-15 years time with a sudden surge of HDB flats passing their 40 year-lease mark. My estimate is that about 50% or more of HDB flats would have less than 60 years to their expiry by 2035.

As I have mentioned, the HDB problem cannot be tackled without tackling the CPF policies. They are like twin babies right now and the problem is magnified with such linkage between these two entities.

The following are the gist of the time bomb:

1) Inadequacy of Retirement financing due to over-consumption of Housing effected by the devious link between HDB and CPF.

2) PAP has misled a few generations of Singaporeans into believing that they could use their HDB flats for retirement by "monetizing it" and treating it as "pure asset" instead of consumption item. Nothing with an expiry date could be considered as a long term perpetual asset which one could depend on decades later in life.  Due to ageing population, there will be higher supply of old HDB flats than demand of these flats which are above 30, 40 or 50 years old. The financial regulations and illogical HDB rules restrictions have aggravated the situation.

3) Ageing population will result in potential oversupply of HDB flats in the long term if it is not kept in check. This is especially so when young couples are "forced" to buy BTO or HDB flats with longer lease while the HDB restrictions basically prevent them from buying old HDB flats with shorter lease left.

4) HDB rules also restrict Singaporeans from buying smaller and cheaper BTOs if their income level is high. These artificial rules will implicitly create over consumption of housing. 

5) The valuation system that HDB used has an inherent upward bias when it doesn't include the balance of lease as key consideration. This will create a market with pricing but without demand.

6) The massive problem of having huge number of HDB flats expiring their 99 year lease all within 5 to 10 years time will have to be dealt with careful planning decades in advance. PAP's refusal of initiating Enbloc for old flats will create an even bigger problem later.

The set of solutions are as follow:

A) De-link CPF from HDB or property purchase and Lowering of Employee's CPF contribution

CPF should be kept strictly as a fund catering for retirement. For a good financial planning, 20% of income should be saved for retirement. It means that while CPF could be de-linked from HDB purchases, Singaporeans could lower their Employee's CPF contribution from 20% to 3% while the Employer's CPF contribution shall remain at 17%.

Singaporeans should decide what to do with the excess cash as a result in the lower CPF contribution. They could use it for renting a flat, save it up, invest it in business or other financial products or use it to buy a property (HDB or otherwise) and pay the mortgage.

Such radical policy change will correct the past PAP's mistake in deliberately and artificially channeling Singaporeans' money into buying HDB flats, using more than what they should use of CPF money in paying the down payment and mortgage, resulting in over consumption of housing at the expense of retirement funding. Such problem will only surface decades later as more and more Singaporeans in my generations will realize.

Such social engineering to create an illusion of wealth and property ownership is extremely harmful to the Nation as a whole.

B) Dismantling of Restrictive HDB Rules of Social Engineering Manipulations. 

There are many HDB rules which are the results of social engineering attempts, should be removed. Rules that dictates high income level cannot buy smaller flats should be totally abolished. Housing consumption should depend on needs, not on income level. Whatever subsidies the government wanted to give should depend on income level and not HDB flat size. Thus, there is absolutely no reason why Singaporeans should be prevented from buying flats according to their needs.

Rules that dictate singles could only buy HDB flats after they are 35 year old should also be abolished. Such rules are based on "family-centric" reasoning but these rules are too restrictive and not helpful for singles to seek independence in living before they look for their lifetime partners. It also excludes people from other segments of the society to seek independence and privacy for their housing needs. As far as the government is concerned, each and every citizen will only enjoy grants or subsidies once, regardless of their age or whether they bought their flat before or after their marriage.

Rules that dictate young couples cannot buy HDB flats with short lease left should be abolished as well. If HDB flats are treated as a consumption goods, there is absolutely no reason for such rules to exist. Shorter lease, old HDB flats may cost much lesser and with the grants given by the government, young people could well afford to buy their first CHEAP old HDB flat to start their marriage life earlier. This will also encourage them to have children earlier with lower expenditures on housing.

Liberalization of the HDB rules will enhance market efficiency and liquidity, especially for the resale market of old HDB flats which have less than 60 years lease.

C) Re-configuration of Financial Rules and Valuation Methodology

At the moment, there is really an abnormality in the financial rules. For car purchase financing, although the COE restrict the car life span to 10 years, banks and financial institutes are still allowed to finance buyers for up to 7 years of mortgage. However, for some strange reasons, HDB flats with 60 years lease left will face a drastic drop in financial options and the purchase of flats with 20 years left, could not be financed at all!

If we just treat HDB flats simply as a consumption goods, there is no reason why there is a discrepancy in financial treatments by the banks and finance companies.

For owners of HDB flats with less than 60 years lease, they could not "monetize" or sell their flats mainly because of mismatch valuations of their HDB flats as well as liquidity problem due to such financial rules.

Re-configuration of the financing rules of old HDB flats based on the fact that it is just a consumption good like car, washing machine or any hire purchase items would allow adequate liquidity to flow into the resale market of these old flats. Of course, this must be accompanied by a revamped property valuation system which will give a more realistic valuation of old HDB flats based on the leasehold factor. It is just an old car. The older a car is, the lesser its valuation is.

Sellers of HDB flats should not be asked to repay back all the "lost CPF interests" due to their use of CPF funds to finance their HDB flats when they were young. Else, those elderly people who decided to sell their HDB flats to supplement their retirement financing will find it totally meaningless in their attempt to "monetize" their old HDB flats.

D) Kick Start a Redevelopment Plan for old HDB estates 

In anticipation of the impact of an ageing population with ageing HDB flats and estates, the government should start planning for the Redevelopment of these old HDB estates in stages. Instead of limiting SERS to 4% of total HDB stock of flats, there is an urgent need to kick start a Total Redevelopment Plan for ageing HDB estates.

This will of course involve enbloc of HDB flats in phases.

Although it is going to be an expensive ever-lasting process but it is a necessity to pre-empt a total chaos and collapse of the whole HDB resale market.

As the ageing population would mean that some land acquired via enbloc can be released for private development use while the resulting higher pricing of the redeveloped flats would make older flats with less than 60 or 50 years lease more attractive. This will create a new equilibrium which will effect a more efficient use of land and housing stock.

Redevelopment of old HDB estates will have to be carried out in phases, most probably stretching over 20 to 30 years time frame for one estate. Such staggered redevelopment plan will prevent a sudden chaotic situation whereby the whole old HDB estates with lots of HDB flats expiring within a short span of time resulting in a sudden shock shortage of housing stock to provide for those who are going to give back their HDB flats to the government.

It is totally irresponsible for PAP government to say that they will only redevelop 4% of HDB flats via SERS while just waiting to take back all other HDB flats from Singaporeans when their lease expired. Such method may save the government lots of money but it will create a great turbulence to the whole resale market for HDB.


The above outline of the combined policies needed to address the HDB-CPF Axis of Evil Problems will not prevent some Singaporeans from losing great amount of money from their misguided belief in PAP's Asset Enhancement Scam, especially so when they use lots of money to buy from the HDB resale market.

However, at the very least, we could achieve the objective to create a viable resale market demand for their old HDB flats which have less than 60 years lease left. This is done through liberalizing rules on HDB flats purchase, expanding the potential pool of buyers of these old HDB flats to singles and young couples with viable financing plan achieved by re-configuring of financial rules and valuation system based on rational reasoning.

While some Singaporeans will have to suffer a huge and painful cost  of greatly depreciated old HDB flats, the government should also bear the big bulk of the cost in creating this whole mess via a rational staggered enbloc redevelopment of those old HDB estates.

This is a very painful lesson for all Singaporeans that property transactions and speculations on your only residential home are simply a Zero Sum Game eventually.  Anyone's gain will be somebody's loss.

Goh Meng Seng

Monday, June 04, 2018

Solutions to HDB-CPF Mess MUST Address These Issues

Solutions to HDB-CPF Mess must address the following few issues:

1) Provide stability to the HDB resale market, preventing big crash or huge hike in prices.

2) Solve the inadequacy problem of CPF for retirement due to HDB purchase

3) Solve the insolvency problem of old HDB flats above 40 or 50 years old.

4) Guard against oversupply of HDB flats in the long run

5) Tackle the potential problems of massive expiry of 99 year lease in less than 60 years time.

6) The system of Valuation of HDB Flats has to have realistic reflection of leasehold terms of flats.

7) Cater to the needs of an ageing population with changing social-housing reconfiguration.

8) Choice and options for Singaporeans should be widen.

9) Re-calibrating social mindset and financial system to treat HDB as public housing, a consumption good instead of investment good.

This list may not be exhaustive but the Core of problems which need immediate solutions to address the short-mid-long term needs of the Nation.

Goh Meng Seng

TOTD: Lessons for Civil Servants from Malaysia GE14

Thought of the Day - Lessons for Civil Servants from Malaysia GE14

Many top and middle management civil servants in Malaysia as well as Singapore are pro the ruling parties in their respective countries and they think that by doing so, they could get promotion faster or at least keep their iron rice bowls fortified.

Some will go the extra mile to side the ruling parties or even risk breaking the law to demonstrate their boot licking skills.

They have forgotten that as civil servants, regardless of their political stance or preferences, they are required to maintain neutrality in their capacity as public servants. Tax payers paid their salaries, not ruling parties.

We have witnessed in Malaysia, a lot of upright civil servants were forced to leave or even persecuted for carrying out their duties diligently and they could finally cleared their names. On the other hand, those civil servants who are too biased in their ways are getting sacked or even face potential lawsuits against their bad deeds.

Singapore civil servants, especially those top civil servants should bear in mind that they should maintain neutrality at all times else the karmic results we are witnessing in Malaysia now may fall upon them one day if PAP lose its power.

Just today, I heard another case that a man was warned that he should not write any anti-PAP government postings on social media else they, the police, will prosecute him! That’s outright unconstitutional and against the right of freedom of expression! It really makes Singapore sound more like a total communist dictatorship!

This is not the first time I heard about such threats imposed by the police or ISD agents in disguise. They have forgotten that their duties are to the country, not to the ruling party.

Time has changed and it is regrettable that such old tactic of intimidation is still used by these people.

They will have to pray hard that PAP will stay in power forever.

Goh Meng Seng

TOTD: The High Speed Rail

Thought of the Day - The High Speed Rail

Some people ask me what do I think of Tun Mahathir cancelling the High Speed Rail project

Well first of all, we must understand that with such high price tag, it is bound to lose money for a long time to come if it was to be built, especially when it needs to compete with the current air flights between KL and Singapore.

Secondly, although most of the rail and stations were situated in Malaysia, Singapore will benefit most from its construction. This is basically why PAP Government is willing to foot half of the cost of constructing the HSR.

PAP will benefit from the shot up in land prices around Jurong area and it will make it easier for Singapore to attract Talents from Malaysia to come and work in Singapore.

However, it is obvious that PAP Government is facing grave cash flow problem despite of its boast of having huge reserves. Huge mega projects like HSR, Tuas Mega port, T5 @ Changi Airport, New Thomson MRT line etc... are creating an obvious pressure on the government finances, so much so that PAP is planning to raise taxes as well as borrowing to fund all these.

Why would all these multi billion dollars projects come all at once, at the expense of Singaporeans in terms of higher taxes?

Thus in my view, Tun Mahathir had made a timely wise decision to call off the HSR. Of course he did it for the consideration of his country's financial position but indirectly, he will also help Singapore to pause and think whether such mega project is really necessary for the time being.

Going for an expensive HSR which is destined to lose money will only serve the ego of PAP but will bleed us in the long run.

A medium speed rail may be more practical, cost effective and sustainable in the long run.

As for penalty, I would say that in consideration of Malaysia being our closest neighbor and it is struggling with the financial situation in the aftermath of GE14, its current financial and overall stability will also be our Core interests as well. Apart from being a gesture to rebuild our relationship with the new administration, it is also in our interest to see a stable and smooth transition of Powers in Malaysia. We will not be spared if Malaysia face a financial crisis.

Thus, in the spirit of maintaining the legality of contract and rule of law, I would suggest Singapore to impose only a token of fees for the breaking of contractual obligations by the new Malaysian administration.

Goh Meng Seng