Jumaat, 23 Disember 2011

The Star Online: World Updates

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Cuba to free 2,900 in sweeping amnesty

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 07:32 PM PST

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will release 2,900 prisoners in the coming days for humanitarian reasons in a sweeping amnesty ahead of a visit next spring by Pope Benedict XVI, the Cuban government said on Friday.

Those to be pardoned do not include American Alan Gross, serving 15 years in prison for setting up Internet equipment on the island under a secretive U.S. program in a case that stalled progress in U.S.-Cuba relations, a government spokesman said.

The ruling Council of State granted the amnesty in a decision that President Raul Castro, in a separate speech to the National Assembly, said had "taken into account" the upcoming papal visit and requests by, among others, top Roman Catholic Church officials in Cuba and family members of the prisoners.

President Raul Castro said the ruling Council of State that granted the amnesty had "taken into account" the upcoming papal visit and requests by, among others, top Roman Catholic Church officials in Cuba and family members of the prisoners.

The action showed the "generosity and strength" of the Cuban revolution, he said in a speech to the National Assembly.

Those to be released included some who had been convicted for crimes against "the security of the state," but the government spokesman said they were not jailed for political reasons.

Cuba freed more than a 100 political prisoners in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church in 2010. Cuban dissidents have said there are still at least 60 people behind bars for political reasons.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights, downplayed the importance of the prisoner release. "It's a shallow measure by the government, a gesture to improve its international image," he said.

The freed prisoners will include persons more than 60 years of age, prisoners who are ill, women and some young prisoners who had no previous criminal history, the government said.

Castro said 86 of the prisoners are foreigners from 25 countries who committed crimes in Cuba, but they would be released only if their countries agreed to repatriate them.

The U.S. State Department declined to comment on the amnesty and its failure to include Gross, but has repeatedly said in the past that he was only providing Internet access for Jewish groups in Cuba and should be released immediately.

Gross was working as a subcontractor in a U.S.-funded program promoting political change in Cuba. The Cuban government considered it subversive. His arrest halted a brief warming in U.S.-Cuba relations that have been hostile since Fidel Castro embraced Soviet Communism after his 1959 revolution.

Pope Benedict said recently he would visit Cuba before Easter, which falls on April 8. It would be the second papal visit to Cuba since Pope John Paul II's historic trip in 1998.

After that visit, in which the pontiff criticized the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the Cuban government freed about 300 prisoners, including 101 political prisoners. The others were in jail for common crimes.

Minor prisoner releases have taken place over the years, usually as a goodwill gesture accompanying the visit of a dignitary such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter or other foreign representatives.

Cuba freed 3,600 political prisoners after then Cuban leader Fidel Castro met with exiles in 1978 during Carter's presidency.

Many Cubans had expected President Castro to announce a liberalization of immigration rules that would make it easier for them to travel abroad, but he said only that it was being worked on and changes would be made gradually.

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Cuba to release 2,900 prisoners

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 06:10 PM PST

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba will release 2,900 prisoners in the coming days for humanitarian reasons in a sweeping amnesty ahead of a visit next spring by Pope Benedict XVI, the Cuban government said on Friday.

Those to be pardoned do not include American Alan Gross, serving 15 years in prison for setting up Internet equipment on the island under a secretive U.S. program in a case that stalled progress in U.S.-Cuba relations, a government spokesman said.

The government said the ruling Council of State had granted the amnesty in a decision that President Raul Castro, in a separate speech to the National Assembly, said had "taken into account" the upcoming papal visit and requests by, among others, top Roman Catholic Church officials in Cuba and family members of the prisoners.

The action showed the "generosity and strength" of the Cuban revolution, he said.

Those to be released included some who had been convicted for crimes against "the security of the state," but the government spokesman said they were not jailed for political reasons.

Cuba released more than a 100 political prisoners in a deal brokered by the Catholic Church in 2010. Cuban dissidents have said there are still at least 60 people behind bars for political reasons.

Elizardo Sanchez, head of the independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights, downplayed the importance of the prisoner release and criticized the government for not saying anything about "depenalizing the exercise of human rights."

Those to be released include prisoners more than 60 years of age, prisoners who are ill, women and some young prisoners who had no previous criminal history, the government said.

Castro said 86 of the prisoners are foreigners from 25 countries.

Pope Benedict said recently he would visit Cuba and Mexico before Easter, which falls on April 8. It would be the second papal visit to the Communist-run island since Pope John Paul II's historic visit in 1998.

After that visit, in which the pontiff criticized the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, the Cuban government freed about 300 prisoners, including 101 political prisoners. The others were in jail for common crimes.

Minor prisoner releases have taken place over the years, usually as a goodwill gesture accompanying the visit of a dignitary such as former U.S. President Jimmy Carter or other foreign representatives.

Cuba freed 3,600 political prisoners after then Cuban leader Fidel Castro met with exiles in 1978 during Carter's presidency.

Many Cubans had expected President Castro to announce a liberalization of immigration rules that would make it easier for them to travel abroad, but he said only that it was being worked on and changes would be made gradually.

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Fuel pipeline blast kills 11 in Colombia

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 05:56 PM PST

DOSQUEBRADAS, Colombia (Reuters) - A huge explosion at a gasoline and diesel pipeline in Colombia killed 11 people, injured nearly 100, and destroyed dozens of homes on Friday, in an accident described by President Juan Manuel Santos as a "great tragedy."

The explosion at a pipeline controlled by Colombia's state-owned Ecopetrol was caused by a landslide following heavy rains, the company said, retracting an earlier statement that fuel thieves were probably to blame.

"This really is a great tragedy ... For the time being there are 11 people dead, 78 injured, of which about nine or ten are in critical condition," Santos said during a visit to the village of Dosquebradas in the western region of Risaralda.

Many children were among the injured, he added, speaking amid blackened houses while firefighters searched for survivors among the debris.

Ecopetrol said there were several explosions and a fire. "As a result of severe winter weather in the country there was a landslide, which put pressure on the pipeline and it broke ... leading to a spill of fuel in the river," the company said.

In its statement late on Friday, Ecopetrol said the number of injured had increased to 99 people.

The pipeline is about 140 miles (230 kms) long and links Salgar, in the centre of the country, to western regions. Ecopetrol said the supply of fuel should not suffer because there are two other pipelines pumping fuel to western provinces.

Locals told Reuters that they were awakened by a strong gasoline odour in the wee hours of Friday and could not breathe properly, which prompted many to go outdoors.

"We were gasping for air, and were able to come out, but there were other people who could not leave before the flames and the explosions started," said Hugo Nelson Sanchez, 36, whose house was destroyed.

Colombia has endured months of heavy rains, triggered by the La Nina weather phenomena, in which dozens of people were killed and bridges, roads and other key infrastructure were destroyed, causing billions of dollars in damage.

(Additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing By Eduardo Garcia; Editing by Gary Hill)

Copyright © 2011 Reuters

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Subdued market in holiday season

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 06:48 PM PST

REVIEW: Over the week, the FBM KLCI gained 30 points to end Friday at 1,496.15 points as global markets were boosted by data suggesting that the world's largest economy is seeing some recovery in growth.

On the external front, nascent signs of a recovery in the United States and eurozone triggered a rebound in markets on Wednesday, with the local bourse soaring nearly 20 points to breach the 1,480 level and reversing Tuesday's 13-point loss.

Also, world equities traded higher after the United States beat expectations on housing starts in November, which was up 24.3% year-on-year to 685,000, and data from the Labour Department showed that unemployment rates dropped in almost all US states.

A report from OSK-DMG said the United States' "less tight" financial conditions through December to date, coupled with a recent improvement in activity-related indicators, suggest a reduction in recession risk in the near term.

OSK-DMG had revised its fourth-quarter real gross domestic product (GDP) growth forecast for the United States to 3.3%, from under 3% previously.

The research unit expects full-year 2011 GDP growth to average 1.8% for the United States.

AmBank's foreign exchange (FX) Research unit points out that while markets remain fixated on Europe, the significant improvement in United States' jobless claims data could be the most significant event in 2011, particularly given the lift in housing lead indicators.

"It is reasonable to expect that the US economy is stabilising with only fiscal policy the headwind into 2012, with both corporate and household balance sheets restored."

US treasuries were relatively flat, while equities traded broadly higher, with weekly jobless claims falling along with increasing consumer confidence supported by a University of Michigan survey that points to an ongoing recovery in the US.

Meanwhile, problems in the eurozone bond markets and deteriorating confidence in European banks are coupled with worsening prospects for growth as banks seek to meet the core tier-1 capital ratio requirements and governments implement austerity measures.

On Thursday, the European System Risk Board warned that risks for Europe's financial system had intensified.

Ambank FX Research also noted that, despite the eurozone's sovereign debt woes, European equities rallied on Friday thanks to positive data in the United States and business investment results in Britain.

Also, yields on two-year Italian and Spanish bonds fell to their lowest levels since October, a sign of investors' confidence.

On the regional front, most benchmark indices shrugged off geopolitical concerns about the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to post gains.

Areca Capital Sdn Bhd chief executive officer Danny Wong tells StarBizWeek that fund managers hungry for returns have purchased select blue chips after a sell-down earlier in the year when markets receded.

Outlook: Next week, the local bourse is likely be quiet and low in terms of volume, according to Jupiter Securities Sdn Bhd head of research Pong Teng Siew.

"It is a shorter working week, with the Christmas holiday season. Most investors are on holiday. Nothing much will happen," said Pong.

He also points out that the recent rally in penny stocks has taken a "breather" for the time being.

For the coming week, overhead resistance is at 1,506 points for the local bourse's benchmark index while the support level is at 1,471.

"From technical indicators, the outlook for the FBM KLCI is neutral in the medium term. It is likely to be quite flat for the next two months."

Pong added that traditionally, the local bourse should see a rally after the Chinese New Year festive season.

"After that, speculation regarding a general election should keep the interest up."

However, he points out that the market might see another bout of volatility in another three to six months, due to the eurozone's uncertain economic outlook.

Meanwhile, OSK Research noted in a 2012 Outlook report that global equity markets should continue to be very volatile due to the European crisis, with Malaysia unlikely to escape this volatility, moving into the first half of next year.

"Swings of 1% in the KLCI will be common. Nonetheless, we do not see a looming recession for Malaysia nor the market returning to recession-level valuations," says OSK Research.

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Roadmap to stronger banks

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 06:46 PM PST

BANK Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz was in high spirits when she briefed the media ahead of the unveiling the Financial Sector Blueprint.

She has grounds for feeling cheery in the holiday season. The first Financial Sector Masterplan (FSMP) had met most of its targets set for the 10-year period when it was introduced in 2001.

And the new blueprint, although containing fewer proposals than its predecessor, aims to put the financial sector on a stronger footing to compete globally and withstand any financial headwinds.

Themed "Strengthening Our Future", the new blueprint will be a 10-year strategic plan that charts the future direction of the financial system as Malaysia transitions towards becoming a high value-added and high income economy.

Looking back, although the banking sector had its ups and downs, it has nonetheless over the years become stronger and better capitalised to ride out the financial challenges constantly taking place in the global arena.

That strength, which was the priority of the central bank after the Asian Financial Crisis in the late 1990s, saw the local banking sector escape relatively unscathed during the 2008-2009 financial turmoil when its counterparts were sinking in the west.

The FSMP ensured that the domestic financial system had sufficient buffers in place and a sound risk management system as well as adequate level of capital for it to undertake organic and expansion activities.

Whether by devise or through the natural evolution of the local banks, the financial sector expanded by an annual growth of 7.3% during the tenure of the FSMP and transformed the financial landscape to one where the banks were more competitive and diversified, possess better financial infrastructure development, regulatory reforms, greater usage of technology and efficient delivery channels.

Progressive liberalisation in the banking sector also saw more foreign participation in the domestic banking scene, and that fuelled greater competition in the sector.

As all roadmaps, there were some areas that did not meet the FSMP targets, especially in the consolidation of the insurance sector and Internet banking.

But this has changed and more mergers and acquisitions have taken place and some are in the pipeline. Internet banking has been growing dramatically in recent years, and will see continued take-up as broadband becomes more pervasive and more effort spent to promote its growth.

Unlike its predecessor, the Financial Sector Blueprint's recommendations are based on shared outcomes applicable to various sub-sectors within the financial sector instead of being sector-based. This is due to the increasing linkages, greater connectivity and regional integration in the financial sector.

Another area of difference is that the blueprint envisions greater participation of Malaysian banks beyond domestic borders in facilitating regional trade and investment, regional financial integration as well as the internationalisation of Islamic finance.

Illustrating the impact banking has had on the economy, the sector grew from 1.3 times gross domestic product (GDP) in 2001 to 2.4 times GDP when the FSMP ended. The deepening of the banking sector with the real economy has multiplied its importance to the economy and under the new blueprint, Bank Negara envisages the banking sector to grow to three times GDP by 2020.

Financial sector growth

On the growth of the financial sector, Zeti says that by the end of 2020, it is expected to expand to six times of GDP from the current 4.3 times. Correspondingly, she says, the financial sector contribution to GDP is projected to rise to between 10% and 12% for the period from the current 8.6%.

More than half of total financing in 2020 will be raised through the financial markets, while Islamic finance will continue to increase in prominence, growing at a faster pace to account for 40% of total financing by the end of this decade, she says.

With growth of the financial service sector prjected to rise, so will risks inextricably.

RAM Holdings Group chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng feels the financial sector contribution to GDP of 10% to 12% was rather high currently and there should be more balanced growth.

Over imbalance expansion of the financial services sector could create credit bubbles and over-leveraging, he says, adding that the projected growth of 10% to 12% should be supported by the effective channelling of Malaysia's high savings into productive investments leading to sustained growth of the real economy.

Nine areas of focus have been identified under the blueprint. They are the effective intermediation for a high value-added and high income economy; development of deep and dynamic financial markets; greater shared prosperity through financial inclusion; strengthening regional and international financial integration; internationalisation of Islamic finance; safeguarding the stability of the financial system; achieving greater economic efficiency through electronic payments; empowered consumers and talent development for the financial sector.

Of the nine, Zeti says, three will be critical ones although all the others will also be given strong priority. The three she made reference to are from the intermediation aspect, strengthening the regional and international financial integration including internationalisation of Islamic finance and the stability of the financial system.

Bank Negara says effective intermediation entails the mobilisation of diverse savings to productive investments to meet the needs of both businesses and households. In this regard, vibrant risk-capital ecosystem to support innovation-driven economic activities and start-up ventures will be developed. The initiatives will include enhancing the provision of large and long-term project financing for infrastructure development.

As Malaysia deepens its trade and investment linkages, the financial sector is envisaged to have a larger role in supporting the internationalisation of Malaysian businesses.

To cater to Malaysia's growing affluent segment and maturing population, emphasis will be placed on enhancing the provision of financial services for wealth management, retirement and long-term healthcare.

The development of a vibrant private pension industry is expected to enhance the role of pension funds as a key source of funding for the longer-term and risk-based financing needs of the economy.

A banking analyst says forging regional integration with Asia and other emerging markets is the right direction to take, judging from the encouraging economic growth and high savings rate in the region. The savings, he adds, can be invested in productive activities in other Asian countries rather than using the funds to invest in volatile market like in Europe and the United States.

The blueprint appears to also favour stronger banks with scale and reach and there is a fear smaller banks with an introverted view on banking could see the gap with its larger peers expanding as a result of the push in the blueprint.

Yeah feels that forging greater linkages will result in higher cost, especially for smaller banks. "Banking services are driven by scale and technology. Smaller banks will find it difficult to compete unless they have a niche, for example in small and medium enterprises or technology financing," he adds.

Regional integration

One of the big successes of Malaysian banking under the last plan has been the expansion of reach beyond the shore of the country. Large banking groups have stakes in a number of Asean countries and the focus on growing such linkages wiill benefit them.

On way that will happen is through the recycling of Asian savings to invest in the region. By 2030, Zeti says, emerging economies are projected to account for 60% of total world output, from the current 40%, and greater regional integration will benefit banks.

On the financial sector liberalisation aspect, which is also given prominence in the blueprint, foreign financial institutions intending to set up operations in Malaysia will be guided by two key considerations. They are the prudential criteria and the best interest of Malaysia criteria.

The latter will take into account whether the foreign investment, among others, will contribute to the Malaysian economy and its impact on the financial stability. Banking licences will be issued to those with expertise and in niche areas to ensure it can value-add to the banking industry.

That stance does not mean licences will be given freely as the central bank does not want the country to be over-banked despite protestations from parties wanting a slice of the Malaysian market.

A banking analyst with a foreign brokerage opine that the conditions for issuing of licenses to foreign banks under the blueprint was relevant. "Its quite fair that any banks intending to operate in Malaysia should adhere to the prudential aspect in terms of having sound risk management, strong capital base and good governance.

"It should be in the interest of country to ensure local banks are protected and there is no over competition in terms of products and services. We need foreign banks with specific expertise to add dept and breadth to the domestic financial sector," he explains.

RAM Ratings head of financial institution ratings Wong Yin Ching says the blueprint which advocates further liberalisation is envisaged to lift the financial sector to new heights as doors are now opened to foreign institutional shareholders.

"We think that Bank Negara may consider more flexibility with respect to foreign shareholdings in banks beyond the current cap of 20% on a case by case basis as long as it is within the best interests of Malaysia. Liberalisation could be viewed as beneficial if the foreign shareholder is an international banking group given the potential for transfer of knowledge and best practices. Additionally, the central bank is receptive of issuing new licences to foreign financial institutions with specialised expertise," Wong says.

With liberalisation, she says local banking groups can expect stiffer competition which may exert pressure on their margins, adding that this may also spur local banks to innovate and provide better services to customers. As competition in the Malaysian banking scene intensifies, she says local banking groups will continue to seek opportunities offshore.

Islamic financial centre

While Malaysia has made significant inroads in becoming an international Islamic financial centre, Zeti says efforts under the blueprint will continue to be undertaken to enhance the Islamic financial ecosystem.

This will entail developing a more conducive environment for the mobilisation of higher volumes of international Islamic financial flows from a diverse range of players to be channelled through innovative Islamic financial instruments.

"We want to be an international Islamic financial hub. We have an edge over other Islamic financial jurisdictions as we have a comprehensive Islamic financial infrastructure and strong Islamic legislation in place," she says.

But that does not mean its an open revolving door for any new players into Malaysia. They too have to adhere to stringent requirements and that explains why the conditional licences for two mega Islamic banks have yet to be fulfilled.

In strengthening the legal and syariah frameworks and further advancing Malaysia's thought leadership in Islamic finance, a single legislated body to be the apex authority on shariah matters in Islamic finance will be established.

Malaysian Rating Corp Bhd (MARC) CEO Mohd Razlan Mohamed says the focus on internationalisation of Islamic finance would benefit MARC as a domestic credit rating agency.

"As the largest global market for sukuk issuance, we believe we will benefit from the attraction of more global issuers to raise rated sukuk in Malaysia. The domestic credit rating industry would benefit from the availability of a wider international rating universe and foreign issuers against which our local issuers may be benchmarked to build our capability and experience to rate foreign credits," he explains.

Malaysia is the largest sukuk market in the world with 65% valued at US$96bil in 2010. In the global takaful sector, Malaysia was the second largest takaful market with 26% share of the global takaful assets in 2009.

In fostering a sound and stable financial system, efforts will also be intensified towards ensuring a robust surveillance, regulatory and supervisory framework.

Efforts will be directed towards improving the liquidity, depth and participation in the money, foreign exchange (forex) and government securities markets in Malaysia, in enabling more effective intermediation, transfer of risks and management of liquidity.

The forex administration rules will be progressively liberalised to further raise efficiency in financial market transactions. On the internationalisation of the ringgit, Zeti says Malaysia is in no hurry to do so. She adds, this will only be done when there is a developed forex market in the country, which she hopes will be established over the decade, to handle manage activity on the ringgit.

An important agenda under the blueprint will be to accelerate the migration from paper-based payments to electronic-payments. In the next 10 years, electronic payment transactions is targeted to increase the number of e-payments per capita from 44 transactions to 200 transactions, and reduce cheques by more than half from 207 million to 100 million per year. Consumer protection is also not disregarded. To this end, the infrastructure to support greater consumer empowerment will be strengthened through establishing a single consumer credit legislation, integrated dispute resolution system and an enhanced credit information framework.

In talent development, a Financial Services Talent Council will be established to drive, oversee and coordinate talent development efforts in the financial sector. Other initiatives include developing talent for entry level, promoting continuous learning for the existing workforce, and attracting talent from abroad.

Ensuring an adequate supply of skilled talent to meet the challenges in the new financial landscape will require greater collaboration and coordination among various agencies beyond the financial sector.

An industry observer says talent has always been one of the pressing issues in the banking sector and local bankers need to be upskilled at a higher pace in order to meet the blue print's target of 10% to 12% contribution to GDP from the financial sector at the expiry of the blueprint.

"There is need for further upgrading of skills and talent in the private banking and wealth management side as banks have to compete with countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai. Although Malaysia has an established Islamic financial infrastructure, it is still facing shortage skill as talent is being poached by other countries," he notes.

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Kelington to bank on overseas ops

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 06:38 PM PST

Turnkey contractor sees offshore contributions increase to 70% of revenue

KELINGTON Group Bhd, which is migrating to the Main Market of Bursa Malaysia from the ACE Market in January next year, will continue to do what has built the company and aims to ride on its revenue and profit growth trajectory experienced thus far since its listing in 2009.

The company, which is presently a turnkey contractor to build and install "ultra high purity" pipes for use in industries, sees contribution from its overseas operations in China, Taiwan and Singapore increasing to 70% of revenue in its 2011 financial year from 50% previously.

"We see an increase in contribution from our overseas units moving forward. We had just established a full-fledged office in Singapore which explains why our costs had increased in the third quarter of our 2011 financial year. The office there has its own human resource and technical support divisions to support operations in Singapore," says chief financial officer Jong Yu Huat in an interview.

Kelington reported an increase in revenue in its third quarter to RM38.17mil from RM24.54mil from the same quarter a year ago while net profit dropped to RM1.97mil from RM2.1mil a year ago.

Chairman Raymond Gan says net profit margins are about 9% for its projects but that depends on the nature of each project.

The company, which currently has a net cash backing of 34 sen per share, says it is looking at the possibility of a horizontal integration to acquire other companies which are similar but servicing different industries.

"We are in a good position to expand but we will also have to keep in mind the economic situation which is expected to deteriorate next year especially with the situation in the United States and European Union. Our strong balance sheet mean that we are well positioned to face the bleak economic scenario," says president and chief operating officer Ong Weng Leong.

Acquisitions may be on its radar but Kelington will not spend frivolously on just any company.

"Our intention to list back in 2009 was not due to the need for cash as we were in a net cash position since our listing. Even before our listing, we were in a net cash position. Unless a very good opportunity comes by in future which requires us to act, we want to keep it this way," Gan says.

"We wanted a listing on Bursa Malaysia as this will raise our company profile and this will help us when going regional. Thus, this transfer to the Main Market will also help us even further to increase the knowledge of our presence to both our present and potential customers," he adds.

Ong says the future of the business Kelington is in is still bright. It maintains a business relationship with its clients for five years before its piping infrasture needs updating or replacing to cater for changes in manufacturing design processes or newer technologies.

Kelington is not capital intensive company per se but it still invests in machinery from time to time to expand its project capacity as these machines are portable and can be moved around to its customer's manufacturing sites. Kelington had also seen its total asset base grow from RM18.76mil in 2006 to RM90.84mil in Sept 30, 2011. Most of its assets are current assets, while the property, plant and equipment comprise a minor portion of only RM7.82mil of its total asset base.

The company says the turnaround time of each project is relatively fast, ranging from three to six months before a new one kicks in.

Its workforce of about 200 people can handle six projects at a single time, depending on the size of each one.

"We bill our customers as we progress, just like your house payment progress today or when you undertake any renovation for your home. We bill progressively as the project completes while we also pay our suppliers and subcontractors progressively when they finish our jobs once we receive these payments from our customers," Gan explains.

As such, the risk of default by its subcontractors are relatively low and the company has an unbilled order book of about RM35.7mil to carry forward into the financial year 2012. It expects to realise and deliver RM26mil of orders in the fourth quarter of 2011 in addition to RM94.3mil already billed for the first three quarters of this year.

The company, which initially started off with a RM10,000 paid-up capital, has a market capitalisation of RM67mil today.

"The company started off as a small outfit as we were former employees from a multinational firm supplying clean gases to industries in Malaysia," says Ong, who joined forces with Gan in 2004.

Kelington had five original shareholders. Gan, who was a passive investor, Lim Hock San and three others back in the year 2000 formed the company. Three had cashed out early on while Ong joined the fray in 2004 to head the overseas operations.

Today the three Gan, Ong and Lim, owns Kelington though a company named Palace Star Sdn Bhd, which is 46% owned by Lim, 27% by Gan and 27% by Ong.

Relating his experiences in starting the company, Gan says they started off with a single customer, which was his previous employer, a multinational company.

"The management had wanted to start this outfit as a division under the previous employer but the management then did not find it feasible and they decided to outsource the job of fixing these infrastructure. I then resigned and that was how this company started off," Gan recalls.

Today, Gan heads the overall team and the Malaysian operations while Ong, who is well versed with the Chinese language, leads the overseas operations.

"The shareholding structure of Palace Star had remained the same until today. Palace Star owns an effective interest of 46.43% in Kellington presently while the rest of our shareholders include Lembaga Tabung Angkatan Tentera (LTAT), Allied Moral Investments Ltd who are passive investors from Taiwan," Ong says.

"Some semiconductor companies from Taiwan such as Vanguard and Winbond also own stakes in our company through Sky Walker Group Ltd which holds a 12.17% stake in Kelington while the rest of the shares of 26.3% belongs to the public.

"Venture capitalists such as Hantech Venture Capital and Malaysia Venture Capital Management Bhd (Mavcap) are currently and have had been shareholders of our company before," Ong adds.

Mavcap was a shareholder in Kelington since its initial public offering and recently sold their 12.63% stake in the company to LTAT to fulfil the bumiputra shareholding requirements of Bursa Malaysia for companies on the Main Market.

The company shares are thinly traded on the local bourse due to its small market capitalisation and the company expects its move to the Main Market will lead to greater liquidity as more investors have the mandate to invest in Main Market shares as opposed to ACE market companies.

The company is also expanding to serve related industries even on its own where it recently secured an order from a customer in Singapore which processes and makes food additives and Vietnam where its customer manufactures touch screen and solar glass panels which requires working labs which are pure and free of contaminants. It is also currently working on another project in Indonesia.

"This is the beauty of our expertise where we can cater to a wide array of value added high technology industries," Gan says.

Kelington aims to focus on geographical expansion in the region and an acquisition will be able to do fulfil that aspirations. It is evaluating these opportunities as they come by but the management maintains that it needs to study any opportunity closely before it acts.

Whether or not these expansion opportunities are likely to come by either through acquisitions or organically, one thing is certain and that is Kelington is well positioned to take advantage of these opportunities to thrust itself into a regional player as a provider of pipe infrastructure for transporting clean gases.

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The Star Online: Sports

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Swedish player Renard hit with corruption ban

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 05:05 PM PST

LONDON, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Swedish tennis player Lucas Renard has been suspended for six months and fined $5,000 for a corruption offense, the Tennis Integrity Unit said on Friday.

Renard had breached an article of the anti-corruption program that states: "No Covered Person shall, directly or indirectly, contrive or attempt to contrive the outcome or any other aspect of any Event," the unit said in a statement.

The 19-year-old, ranked 882nd in the world, admitted the offense. Four of the six months of his ban will be suspended, providing he commits no future violation of the code.

The Tennis Integrity Unit is an initiative of the Grand Slam Committee, the International Tennis Federation, the ATP World Tour and the WTA as part of the Uniform Tennis Anti-Corruption Program.

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Cricket-South Africa seek ruthless approach

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 05:04 PM PST

DURBAN, Dec 23 (Reuters) - South Africa have to become more ruthless in their approach as they seek to secure a series-winning victory in the second test against Sri Lanka, captain Graeme Smith said on Friday.

South Africa have not won a home series since beating Bangladesh in 2008. They have lost and drawn two series against Australia and drawn series against England and India.

The hosts are coming off a comprehensive innings and 81-run win over Sri Lanka in the first test in Centurion and have the chance to win the three-test series when the second test starts at Kingsmead in Durban on Dec. 26.

"We are in the process of improving certain facets of our game. Being more ruthless, being able to string three sessions together in a day is something that we are really trying to do. We haven't been able to do that consistently and that is where we have been costing ourselves so we want to improve on that," Smith told a news conference.

South Africa's skipper went on to say that it was important that his team did not lose their focus during the Christmas break.

"The preparation is going to be important. Making the most of our time at this time of year is crucial. During Christmas it is important that you maintain your focus. Our preparation is a key factor to that," he explained.

South Africa have had a mixed start to their home international season this year drawing a two-test series against Australia before the heavy win over Sri Lanka.

Smith said that he felt that his team had shown improvement, partly down to the fact that the same XI had taken to the field in three consecutive tests.

"We have got better as the season has gone on. There was a more settled nature within the squad during the Centurion test against Sri Lanka because of the confidence shown in players," he said.

"That stability around the team, having not played a test match since January, is crucial and it's good to see that the players have taken that on board and performed."

Smith's opposite number, Tillakaratne Dilshan, has a completely different set of problems as he tries to lift his players after a run of 15 tests without a win.

"We have had a lot of meetings over the last two days about what areas we need to improve on. I feel everybody is mentally strong at the moment. They know what their roles are and they will give 100 percent," said Dilshan.

"One thing that we can do is that our batting unit has to stand up and get some runs on the board because then we can try and put some pressure on them (South Africa).

"We have an experienced batting line-up in Mahela (Jayawardene), Kumar (Sangakkara), Thilan Samaraweera and myself. We need to apply ourselves out in the middle. We are preparing well but we have not clicked at as a unit and that is the main reason we have not done well."

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Casey targets 2012 Ryder Cup and PGA Tour success

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 04:31 PM PST

NEW YORK Dec 23 (Reuters) - Frustrated for much of this year by a lingering foot injury, Britain's Paul Casey has set his sights on a healthy 2012 campaign, another victory on the U.S. PGA Tour and a long coveted return to the European Ryder Cup team.

Though the Englishman won two tournaments worldwide during 2011, his form and consistency were adversely affected after he was hampered by a sore right toe in May, a condition which was never accurately diagnosed until months later.

"It's been incredibly frustrating," Casey told. "The trouble with the toe injury was that I didn't really know what was going on until it was too late.

"I picked it up in late May, battled through it and I didn't really get a full diagnosis until August. By then, it was too late to take a medical (exemption) so I tried to play through it and got into a lot of bad habits."

An 11-times winner on the European Tour whose only PGA Tour victory came at the 2009 Houston Open, Casey played with a plate in his right shoe and his toes taped up over the last six months.

"It was a joint in my foot which wasn't allowing my foot to move correctly and that put pressure on my toe," the world number 21 said.

"What's interesting is that if I swing the club the way I should swing it, correctly and the way I used to swing it, the toe is fine.

"But those bad habits led to erratic golf. My weight got back on the heels and the club started to go up rather than around, very simply it was too steep."

Casey, who climbed to a career-high third in the world rankings in 2009, has worked hard in recent months to shift his weight back on to his toes, and on to the balls of the feet.

"That's where it should be," he said. "I need to do a better job of turning because I ended up hitting the ball with the hands and the arms this year a lot. I just need to put those things right."


Asked to assess his 2011 campaign, Casey replied: "Well I've managed to win twice around the world, but not on the PGA Tour, and I've sort of clung on to a world ranking.

"I have dropped a bit but I am still ranked twenty-something and that's with playing very average golf for me. Touch wood, I can stay healthy and 2012 can be a great season for me."

An inveterate goal setter whose most recent victory came at the Korean tour's Shinhan Donghae Open in October, Casey has established clear-cut targets for next year.

"My very lofty goals I haven't yet achieved so they're going to be the same in 2012, and those will be the majors and World Golf (Championships) events," he said.

"But I have other goals ... winning tournaments, winning a certain number of world ranking points, making the Ryder Cup team, being back in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour."

Casey is especially motivated to represent Europe at the 2012 Ryder Cup in Medinah, Illinois, having failed to qualify for the 2010 team that regained the trophy at Celtic Manor in Wales.

"I am really hungry to get back on that team," said the 34-year-old, a Cup player in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

"With the depth of talent that we've got in Europe, it's probably going to be the most difficult team to make since I've been on tour.

"But first things first, I need to win golf tournaments and get back on that team. And stay healthy."

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Abdul Hamid Othman dies of stroke

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 05:42 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: Former Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Othman (pic) died of a stroke Friday. He was 72.

The adviser of Maju Holdings Sdn Bhd died at about 4.45pm while at work in his office at Maju Junction here.

His personal aide, Nor Azhar Yusof, said Abdul Hamid, who had heart disease and diabetes, was his normal self when he came in to work, but later complained of breathing difficulties.

He said Abdul Hamid's body had been brought back to his house at Taman Tenaga, Batu 9, Jalan Puchong.

Abdul Hamid, who was also adviser of the Women and Family Welfare Centre (Kewaja), leaves behind wife, Puan Seri Jamilah Mohd Said, 68, son Wafi Nazrin and five grandchildren.

Abdul Hamid, born on July 21, 1939 at Kampung Kemelong, Mukim Sik, Kedah, was appointed a deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department in 1990 and was Minister in the Prime Minister's Department from 1995 to 1999.

In 2001, he was appointed the religious adviser to the then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and then as religious adviser to Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi from 2005 to 2009.

Abdul Hamid was among the first batch of students to receive the Malaysian government scholarship to pursue Islamic law studies at the Al-Azhar University in 1961. BERNAMA

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6P foreign workers' amnesty centre to be opened in Penang

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 05:37 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: A one-stop centre to deal with problems arising from the 6P foreign workers' amnesty programme will be opened in Penang on Tuesday, said Home Ministry secretary-general Tan Sri Mahmood Adam.

He said the centre, located at the state Immigration Office in Jalan Kelasah, Seberang Jaya, would be opened daily from 8am to 5pm.

To smoothen the 6P programme, which will end on Jan 10, the ministry has text a reminder to 30,724 employers and foreign worker agencies and 10% of them have replied, he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Mahmood said four people including a woman aged between 21 and 50 years were arrested under Section 12 (1) (F) of the Passports Act 1966 for allegedly holding genuine, altered or fake passports without lawful authority.

He said a Biometric NERS machine without a serial number but had the 'Jata Negara' logo and the word 'Malaysia' on it, a printer and 50 illegal immigrant registration slips with serial numbers, two Bangladeshi passports and two fake Indonesian passports were seized from them. BERNAMA

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N Korea embassy opens condolence book for leader's death

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 05:06 AM PST

KUALA LUMPUR: The North Korean embassy has opened a condolence book for the country's leader, Kim Jong-il, who died on Dec 17.

In a statement Friday, the embassy said visitors could offer their condolences until Dec 27, from 10am to 6pm, except on Dec 24.

During the mourning period the embassy will also hoist the flag at half-mast from Dec 19 until Dec 29.

Kim, general-secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK), which is the ruling political party, chairman of North Korea's National Defence Commission and supreme commander of Korean People's Army died of a sudden illness at the age of 69.

His sudden demise is a great loss to the WPK, the country and the people of North Korea at home and abroad, the embassy said. BERNAMA

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Malaysian Batik: A tradition comes of age

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 04:43 AM PST

Can Malaysian batik acquire a 'national identity'? Rather than in any particular style or design, perhaps such an identity lies in its popularity as the fabric of choice in national attire, with Malaysians from all walks of life turning out in batik on informal and formal occasions, at home and abroad.

THIS book offers a comprehensive narration of the growth of the Malaysian batik industry from its early beginnings as a scattered group of small personal holdings in the East Coast states of Malaya in the 1930s to the well-supported national hub that it is today.

Under the auspices of Yayasan Budi Penyayang, the writer, Noor Azlina Yunus, has produced a well-illustrated account of the journey of Malaysian batik and the myriad phases and faces it represents – from its initial borrowings of the sober hues and repetitive patterns of the Indonesian batik Lasem, Pekalongan and Cirebon prototypes to the brilliant metamorphosis of colours and designs now crafted for high fashion.

In every chapter the writer's batik story is accompanied by an impressive collection of photographs and sketches to illustrate each design, pattern, colour and technique described. The expert layout of the text and illustrations enhances the coffee table appeal of the book and facilitates the reading and comprehension of what are some rather complex descriptions of design and batik-making techniques.

In Chapters 1 and 2, the writer points to an outstanding difference in the development of batik in Malaysia and Indonesia, where batik making is a centuries-old tradition. It was the customary use of the sarong in Javanese court wear and among men and women of the upper class that helped to preserve the identity of Indonesian batik. The skilled batik artisans consistently used the stiffer designs, schematic patterns and more staid colour schemes established in traditional Javanese batik. In Malaysia, batik sarongs were worn by the common folk, many of whom were farmers and fishermen. The self-taught batik makers of Kelantan and Terengganu were thus more free to develop bolder new designs and colour combinations reflecting the fauna and flora in the natural environment.

The less restrictive cultural environment in Malaysia also allowed for innovations in the techniques and mechanics of batik production. Quite significantly, the transition from the use of the canting (a traditional hand-held tool) in Indonesia for the precise but slow release of the wax in batik tulis, to the use in Malaysia of metal-block wax stamping over broader areas of fabric to produce yardage batik cap, followed by the more versatile use of the canting technique to produce stylus batik has resulted in a more varied choice of batik fabrics and designs in Malaysia.

In Chapter 3 Noor Azlina discusses in some depth the emergence of the Malaysian identity in stylus batik from the 1970s right through to the 1980s and 1990s, led by the younger graduates of art and design trained in foreign institutions as well as local ones such as the Mara Institute of Technology. The reader is led to conclude that what can be considered a pioneering venture in Malaysian batik is not so much the creation of a unique Malaysian design identity but rather, the innovations and experimentations in batik production.

Interestingly, the tradition of designing individually styled yardage batik pieces for different designs in women's dress, scarves and stoles, men's shirts and even lifestyle products was born and nurtured during this phase of the batik story. The riot of patterns and colour combinations in traditional Malay women's dress, such as the baju kurung, baju kebaya and baju Kedah, and men' shirts typically reflected the Malay preference for stronger designs in their attire.

The writer also identifies the individual batik designers and producers who were outstanding during this era and contributed their artistic skills as well as marketing talents to popularise Malaysian batik. Through their combined endeavours, the country saw a proliferation of batik silk produced by a combination of waxing and hand-drawn design using the canting and brushes. To this day, batik silk remains the most popular fabric choice for batik, taking over from the cottons and lawns of the early period and the voiles, rayons and viscose later.

While individual designers in Kuala Lumpur were able to sustain their businesses, it was the organised efforts of government agencies like Rida (Rural Industrial Development Authority) and Mara (Majlis Amanah Rakyat) in the 1960s and 1970s that provided financial and technical assistance to the small-scale batik industry which started in the East Coast states of Kelantan and Terengganu and spread to the West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia. The growth of local and international tourism, the government-encouraged use of batik for formal use, and individual initiatives developed a more stable market for Malaysian batik and the industry was to gain a stronger foothold in the nation's economy.

However, as Noor Azlina rightly points out, while batik manufacturing was on its way to becoming a viable local industry in the 1990s, product development, if there was any, was less impressive. The new government agency Kraftangan needed to coordinate the batik industry players better and inspire them to develop newer and better designs to meet the demands of a more discerning twenty-first century consumer market.

The highlights of Malaysian Batik: Reinventing A Tradition in terms of both its exposition and illustration are Chapters 4 and 5 where the writer describes in great detail the role played by the late Tun Endon Mahmood (wife of former Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi) and the organisation she spearheaded, the Yayasan Budi Penyayang (Penyayang), to inject new life into the Malaysian batik industry.

From the inception of Penyayang in 2000, Endon was to consider it her personal mission to revitalise the industry with a new creativity, promotional scheme and business strategy to take it to loftier levels, locally and internationally. Under the untiring efforts of the foundation's CEO, Datuk Leela Mohd Ali, and its subsidiary Batik Guild Sdn Bhd, Penyayang embarked on the "Malaysia Batik – Crafted for the World" movement launched in 2003.

Through the well-chronicled text and assortment of photographs in Chapter 4, the writer takes us through the colourful series of events – batik extravaganzas and fashion shows, street carnivals and fun walks, batik and craft exhibitions, batik demonstrations and workshops, seminars and conferences – organised by the movement that connected the Malaysian public with the best players in the batik industry. The batik industry players have been, in turn, given an organised platform and opportunity to showcase their talents and products and reach out to a much larger public.

The concerted and sustained efforts to promote the Malaysian batik industry and encourage the creation of Malaysian batik with a clear national identity has brought together the batik makers, designers, production houses, fashion moguls, fashionistas, retailers and distributors, writers and media communicators and academicians, all poised to witness the modern rejuvenation and reinvention of Malaysian batik.

The culmination of each year's activities lie in the Piala Seri Endon, a batik design competition held annually to showcase the best in batik design, highlighting the knowledge and experience of the designers but more importantly their "creativity, originality and professional execution of the batik in the designs as well as their commercial viability" (page 78).

Admittedly, while the annual competition has injected new inspiration and artistic insight into the nation's many talented batik fashion designers, there has been no discernable design identity that Malaysian batik can boast of. Apart from highlighting the tropical flora and fauna and the many ethnic symbols and patterns, and translating them into the most outstanding or subtle hues, one cannot say that the designers have created a truly Malaysian identity in their batik designs.

What we see in the wonderful display of contemporary Malaysian batik designs on the pages in Chapter 5 is a new confidence and boldness in combining the strokes of canting and brush through a heightened colour sense. The works of the most outstanding designers are represented in the collection of Galeri Seri Endon, set up in 2008 for the purpose of serving as an incubator to breed the best.

As Noor Azlina subtly suggests, the national identity of Malaysian batik lies perhaps in its popularity as the fabric of choice in national attire. Malaysians from all walks of life and background gladly wear Malaysian batik on informal and formal occasions at home and abroad. As the final chapters in her story show, Malaysian batik has indeed come of age.

Penyayang's efforts under the stewardship of its chairman, Nori Abdullah (Endon's daughter), will see Malaysian batik making further inroads and reaching greater heights to ensure Endon's dream of crafting Malaysian batik for the world will be perpetuated for posterity.

Malaysian Batik: Reinventing A Tradition is available at major bookstores nationwide.

Datin Halimah Mohd Said is a writer, citizen journalist, and long-serving educationist and academician specialising in English and linguistics; among the books she has written are Language And Empowerment (2003), Images Of The Jawi Peranakan Of Penang (2004) and the revised edition of Dr Mohamed Said: My Early Life (2011). She blogs at ninitalk.wordpress.com.

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Buried by comics

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 01:04 AM PST

Sticking to the traditional "alphabetical formation," let's recap the year's hummers and bummers in the world of comic books!

A – Action Comics

It was milestones galore for Action Comics! The beloved title became the first comic book to officially hit the 900th issue landmark, while the first issue (from June, 1938) breached the US$2mil mark in a record breaking online auction last month. The title was also relaunched, featuring the Man of Steel without his signature red trunks exposed.

B – Bat expansion

Bruce Wayne @ Batman was a very busy man in 2011. Firstly, Wayne launched his Dark Knight franchise (see Batman Incorporated) globally. This was followed by a David Finch-inspired new Dark Knight title. However, what made Batman a must-read was writer Scott Snyder, with his thought-provoking scripts in Detective Comics. That has seen him move up to scribing the flagship Batman title with Greg Capullo.

C – Comic book movies

The build up towards next year's Avengers movie dominated the hype, with Captain America: The First Avenger and Thor, starting the countdown. However, what made it a year to remember was X-Men: First Class ... and the sleeper hit in Cowboys vs Aliens. DC's sole-offering in Green Lantern reaffirmed the gulf between the Emerald Knight and the Dark Knight.

D – DC 52

Relaunches are common in the comics industry. But what made this event extremely significant was the magnitude and scale involved. DC went with the Big Bang approach – unleashing 52 new titles. On the radar was the Jim Lee-inspired Justice League, while Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Aquaman and Suicide Squad made heads turn.

E – Editorial changes

Goodbye Joe Quesada. After a decade as Marvel's editor-in-chief, Quesada quit but stayed on at Marvel as its chief creative officer. His replacement, Axel Alonso, has a long track record at Marvel, having been involved in several high profile projects such as Marvel MAX and recruitment of new talents.

F – Flashpoint

The DC Universe sinks into an age of apocalypse courtesy of the Reverse Flash's fetish in destroying his arch nemesis Barry Allen @ The Flash. The Scarlet Speedster's team up with Thomas Wayne stole the show and paved the way for the launch of a new (52) universe.

G – Green Lantern

While the box-office takings and fan reviews were not strong enough to entice everyone to Go Green, there was still plenty of reasons to follow the Emerald Knight's exploits, especially with Sinestro at the helm in the 52 relaunch.

H – Hundredth issue … and pages!

DC-Vertigo's Fables # 100 gave you 100 reasons why it is the highest quality mainstream comic in town. Apart from concluding the Mister Dark saga, this fantastic 100-page issue came equipped with a puppet theatre, a board game and painted sequential stories.

I – Inevitable

Change is inevitable as both DC and Marvel (finally) revealed their statement of intent on the digital frontier. Out came the redemption codes in selected comics, enabling customers to have the option of digital downloads.

J – Jim Lee

The man still has the Midas touch as evident by Justice League # 1 (now going into fourth printing!). Now, if only Mr Lee draws on a more regular basis.

K – Knight Of Vengeance

Flashpoint's best offering tinkers with the idea of Thomas Wayne being the Dark Knight, resulting from his son's (Bruce) death. What's even more surprising is the Joker's identity and newfound ruthlessness. Despite this being Elseworld-ish in nature, it does generate an impact that rocks the Bat mythos.

L – Lost the plot

Legendary comic book writer and artist, Frank Miller, has clearly lost the plot after his rant on the Occupy movement. In a posting on his personal blog, Miller accused the movement of being an unruly mob of "louts, thieves and rapists" that can "do nothing but harm America." His recent tirade after a long list of outbursts has seen Miller alienated by other fellow comics creators (with Alan Moore's views the harshest, to date).

M – Malaysia Boleh!

Four notable local comic book events held this year was a big deal. In May, the National Library hosted "Bulan Komik," which was accompanied by the annual Anugerah Pekomik. Before the year ended, two independently organised events – Comics Fiesta and Comics Are Cool – generated positive response.

N – New Blood/Ultimate Spidey

When Miguel O'Hara was revealed as the new Spidey, it wasn't hard to accept him – since he was based in the 22nd century. However, Miles Morales faces a more challenging time as his sudden entry in the Ultimate Universe requires a lot more getting used to. All said, Ultimate Spider-Man has given us exciting tales as we learn about Miles. Credit to new artist Sara Pichelli for the stunning illustrations.

O – One Man Show

In the past, he was a mercenary, a cab driver, a millionaire and a Khonshu devotee. However, the post-effects of Shadowland have left Marc Spector @ Moon Knight with split personalities. Now he assumes that he's Spidey, Cap and Wolverine in addition to being the Moon Knight. Wait until you see how he crams all three costumes into his white suit. Crazy but unique!

P – Part timers

After a long hiatus from drawing comics, you would expect once fan-favourites like Joe Madureira and Marc Silvestri to possess a higher level of commitment and enthusiasm. Unfortunately, their homecoming is only three-issues long on the Avenging Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk titles respectively.

Q – Quick fixes

Complementing this year's comic-based movies were the animated wonders – All Star Superman, Emerald Knights, Batman Year One and Thor: Tales of Asgard. These animated "quick fixes" were a joy to watch. Batman Year One is my pick for 2011.

R – RIP (Joe Simon, Eduardo Barreto and Dwayne Mc Duffie)

There's always a resurrection possibility for Ultimate Peter Parker and Johnny Storm, but we sadly had to say good night to three creators. Joe Simon (98) was the co-creator of Captain America, Eduardo Barreto (57) contributed to the New Teen Titans and DC Comics Presents, while Dwayne McDuffie (49) stamped his mark on the Justice League Unlimited and Static Shock animated series.

S – Schism

The Cyclops-Wolverine "bromance" ended here as they went their separate ways – but with their own X-Men team in tow. Cyclops' Utopia-based team got the Uncanny X-Men slot, while Wolverine's team rebuilt Xavier's School in Wolverine and the X-Men.

T – Thor-ture (Fear Itself finale)

Despite having a successful movie outing, Thor's comic book adventures have been ruined – mainly by Fear Itself. The repackaging of his final battle with the Serpent lacked oomph. To rub salt into the wound was the "resurrection" barely a month later.

U – Ultimate Fallout

This five-parter laid out the foundation for life post-Peter Parker. Peter and the Goblin died during a duel to the death, and the House of Ideas "capitalised" on the event by showcasing the different characters' reactions to Peter's passing.

V – Venom-ous

You can't go wrong with a concept like Venom, as his symbiote makes every "Eddie, Mac Gargan or Flash" an instant villain ... or a hero. Former high school bully and war veteran, Flash Thompson, becomes the latest recipient of the symbiote and gets his shot at the limelight by becoming a government agent.

W – What The Hell(boy)

Hellboy's creator (Mike Mignola) pulls the plug (Hellboy The Fury # 3) on Dark Horse's poster boy. While the timing of this development contradicts Mignola's earlier announced plans, life goes on for BPRD and Abe Sapien.

X – X-Men First Class

If there's only one comic book movie you will ever watch, this one is it! For once, I am willing to make an exception on the "true to label" pre-requisite and even excuse James McAvoy's lame acting in Wanted. This "Episode 1" storyline of the Children of the Atom is simply marvellous and Wolverine's cameo is worth a second watch.

Y – Yuckiest Fight Scene

While most Punisher-Bullseye confrontations are great to watch, this year's encounter (PunisherMax # 11) offered a new gut-wrenching dimension. In a no-holds-barred showdown between the duo, Bullseye actually puked into Frank Castle's mouth! Yeech!


Having (then) heard how bad the Spirit movie was, I decided to save some moolah by catching it on Astro instead. I could only "digest" 10 minutes of the movie before sleeping off.

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Books for the season

Posted: 23 Dec 2011 12:54 AM PST

The Puppy That Came For Christmas
Author: Megan Rix
Publisher: Plume, 246 pages

MEGAN Rix (a pseudonym of children's book author Ruth Symes) wanted a baby. But despite fertility treatments, her dream remains a dream. Then she and husband Ian finds surprising fulfilment by becoming foster parents to puppies slated to become service dogs for people with disabilities. They open their hearts and lives to Emma, and then Freddy – but face heart break each time the fur balls "graduate" in six months to go to service dog training school. Then, one Christmas, little Traffy came ... and stayed.

Every Day A Friday: How To Be Happier 7 Days A Week
Author: Joel Osteen
Publisher: Faith Words, 287 pages

ACCORDING to recent research, happiness increases by 10% every Friday. But why not make every day a Friday? asks popular Christian preacher Joel Osteen. In this uplifting and encouraging book, Osteen helps readers see every day as a blessing and to live life with faith and positivity. He also encourages the reader to be a source of happiness and encouragement for others and to tune out negativity.

God Is Red: The Secret Story Of How Christianity Survived And Flourished In Communist China
Author: Liao Yiwu
Publisher: HarperCollins, 256 pages

LIAO Yiwu documents the trials of Chinese Christians in communist China. A journalist and writer whose work has been banned in China and who has also been jailed, Liao felt compelled to investigate this community of believers who hung on to their faith despite draconian laws and the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

In this book, Liao documents the stories of some of these determined believers, such as the 100-year-old nun who fought to get back the church that was wrested from her order despite decades of famine and "re-education" through labour camps. Then there's the cultured, well-to-do woman who is defying China's tough laws by setting up churches around the country. Their tales will inspire you to live life with faith and courage.

God Is Not A Christian And Other Provocations
Author: Desmond Tutu
Publisher: HarperCollins, 256 pages

THE former South African Anglican bishop and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Desmond Tutu has never been afraid of speaking up. Noted for his courageous opposition of South Africa's apartheid system, Bishop Tutu has always made a stand for his beliefs despite disapproval and violent opposition. This book is a collection of some of his most impactful and controversial speeches and essays. Some of the topics covered are apartheid in South Africa, his work on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee that was set up after the overthrow of apartheid, genocide in Rwanda, gays and lesbians in the church, and the plight of the Palestinians.

Spontaneous Happiness
Author: Andrew Weil
Publisher: Little Brown, 281 pages

ALTHOUGH Dr Andrew Weil, the guru of "alternative medicine", never had a major depressive episode, he knows what it is like to feel "blue". In this book, he draws from the East and West to offer advice on achieving good emotional health. He suggests that we take a fresh look at the notion of happiness and change mental habits that keep us stuck in negative thinking. Having taken antidepressants before and suffered their sometimes serious side effects, Weil also talks about the limitations of using biomedicals in treating depression and discusses how the transformation of the mind is vital in the elevation of depression.

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