Recent corporate restructurings by Sembcorp Industries, CapitaLand, SPH, and Keppel Corp could be indicative of an impending slew of restructurings by local conglomerates.
In 2020, Sembcorp Industries made the decision to distribute its entire stake in Sembcorp Marine, its marine arm, to shareholders. This decision came about after two years of losses and a dim outlook for SembMarine, which was also hit by COVID-19 and its ensuing effects like falling oil prices.
The decision was touted as an opportunity for Sembcorp Industries to reposition itself and focus specifically on urban development and utilities, which could make the company easier to value.
It appears this decision has motivated other Singapore conglomerates to critically evaluate their own businesses, as CapitaLand, Keppel Corporation (Keppel Corp), and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH) have all recently announced large restructuring moves.
One of the major influencing factors may have been declining returns on equity (RoE) to shareholders, which investors often use as a gauge for a company’s productivity. COVID-19 has caused many businesses to reevaluate the three ways to boost low RoE according to the DuPont model, which are increasing the profit margin, increasing the amount of borrowings, and reducing the amount of assets used in the business.
Given that businesses cannot always assume that profits can be increased simply by increasing sales or raising prices, especially if they don’t have adequate pricing power, and that borrowing can be risky if inflationary pressures result in higher rates of interest in the future, many businesses have turned to reducing assets to boost RoE.
Like Sembcorp Industries, the aforementioned companies have restructured in response to recent conditions as well as key external drivers. For example, Keppel Corp had to respond to an increasingly unfavourable consumer attitudes towards fossil fuels, unstable oil prices, and the adverse impacts of COVID-19 on its shipbuilding businesses. CapitaLand had to pivot to an asset-light approach to real estate businesses with more predictable earnings as COVID-19 hit its retail, lodging, and residential business segments. Finally, SPH decided to focus on its property business and turn its media arm into a not for profit, as COVID-19 caused a 31.4% decline in advertising revenue on top of already declining sales and revenues.
Given all these changes amongst Singapore’s conglomerates, it seems likely that other sectors and businesses will also consider using restructuring as a means to adjust to shifting competitive landscapes. CNA suggests that the taxi business is an ideal candidate for restructuring thanks to lower passenger volumes and declining efficiency in use of assets.
Only time will tell how many other businesses will follow the route of Sembcorp Industries, Keppel Corp, CapitaLand, and SPH, and if restructuring will truly reverse the fortunes of these businesses.
NUS announces its 2 new graduate programs in fintech that will commence in the upcoming academic year, and ALTIOS discusses how this will strengthen Singapore’s fintech landscape.
2019 was a banner year for Singapore’s fintech industry, with investments having doubled to more than US$861 million compared to the year before, and more than 40 innovation labs being set up to drive innovation within the traditional financial institutions and facilitate collaborations with fintech firms.
The nascent Singapore fintech industry has expanded to an estimated 1,000 firms, making it the largest hub in South-east Asia in terms of total fintech-investment dollars as well as number of fintech firms.
While Fintech firms have not been spared from the economic drawbacks of Covid-19, Singapore’s Fintech has proven itself to be resilient. It has even thrived because of the acceleration of the adoption of digital finance by consumers across all age groups and businesses of all sizes.
Now, we are seeing even more signs of Singapore’s commitment to fintech and integrating it into society. The National University of Singapore (NUS), ranked the #11 best university in the world by QS Global World Rankings 2021, recently announced that it will begin offering two new graduate programs in fintech in the upcoming academic year. The programs will be jointly funded by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), the National Research Foundation Singapore (NRF), and NUS via the Asian Institute of Digital Finance (AIDF) at NUS.
NUS hopes that these programs will help “build a robust ecosystem of high-quality research talent and capabilities to support the fast-growing financial industry in Singapore.”
As Singapore continues its quest to become the premier destination for fintech, the graduates of these programs will certainly be an asset to the innovative fintech startups and companies that have set up base In Singapore, such as the 4 digital banks that were recently given licenses to operate by MAS.
Having the ability to hire top talent locally will also be a big draw for homegrown fintechs looking to make their mark in the space, which will in turn strengthen the fintech ecosystem in Singapore.
Overall, NUS’ commitment to improving the talent pool in fintech and the progressive regulatory support the government has demonstrated are positive signs for the continued growth of Singapore’s fintech industry.
The recent coup in Myanmar has upended assessments and expectations about Myanmar’s economic potential as well as business opportunities in the region.
ALTIOS shares the expected impacts of the coup on key markets in ASEAN such as Vietnam and Singapore.
Myanmar’s economy and engagement with other countries has long been defined by its current rulers – its military junta, whose ruling of the country has drawn condemnation from others in the form of sanctions and withdrawal of foreign direct investments (FDI).
High expectations were placed on Myanmar after the National League of Democracy (NLD), led by Aung Suu Kyi, won the 2015 elections. However, in recent years, a combination of poor infrastructure, the government’s handing of the Rohingya crisis, and bureaucratic red tape have led to a decline in foreign investment.
Recently, the military coup by the junta has shaken up investor perceptions and Myanmar’s projected economic recovery, which was already fragile considering the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sian Fenner, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics, predicted that the political upheaval would jeopardize the $3.5 billion (€2.9 billion) in foreign investment proposals that were yet to be approved, with “projects likely to be delayed at best, or possible cancelled.”
What does this mean for ASEAN investments in Myanmar?
First of all, certain ASEAN countries like Cambodia and Vietnam could stand to gain new foreign investments. With investors pulling out of Myanmar in droves due to the military coup, Vietnam and Cambodia are attractive options for those looking into alternative Southeast Asian bases.
Field Pickering, the head of venture investing at the Singapore-based Vulpes Investment Management, was one of many with interests in Myanmar who offered insight into the Vietnamese market. According to Pickering, “Once borders open up after the pandemic, and Asian investors return physically to Vietnam, I believe it will be a feeding frenzy and you will see deal activity erupt, pushing Vietnam to the top of the list of emerging markets attracting foreign investment.”
Secondly, the coup poses great risk to the business interests and investments of Singapore, which accounts for 34% of overall approved investment in Myanmar (24 billion USD) and is the largest foreign investor in Myanmar. While the long-term economic effects of the coup are yet to be determined, many Burmese are calling on various Singaporean stakeholders to divest from Myanmar. A few actors have begun this process, such as Lim Kaling, the co-founder of the technology company Razer, but activist groups such as Justice for Myanmar are pushing for more to follow suit. As the clash between the junta and its citizens continues, it remains to be seen how key investors in Myanmar like Singapore choose to prioritise commitments to upholding human rights and democracy, relationships with the current ruling government of Myanmar and its allies, and its vested economic interests in the region.
Finally, the coup threatens the tenuous unity of ASEAN. Long-standing differences in attitudes towards Myanmar and ASEAN’s commitment to non-interference have led to many outsiders condemning ASEAN responses to the coup, with countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Philippines stating that the coup is an internal affair. Additionally, the delicate political situation and differences in opinions prevented ASEAN from producing a joint statement on the situation. Altogether, the lack of consensus on the situation and commitment to a resolution combined with general uncertainty about Myanmar may deter FDIs from coming to Myanmar and ASEAN as a whole.
Overall, businesses should exhibit a high level of caution as they navigate Myanmar’s new normal. Businesses should also be aware that their decisions regarding Myanmar carry an undeniable political message.