Ahad, 1 Disember 2013

The Star Online: Business

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The Star Online: Business

Country Heights to unveil RM11bil wellness project


SERI KEMBANGAN: Country Heights Holdings Bhd's flagship Mines development is getting a new lease of life as Mines Wellness City, an RM11bil mixed use project anchored on a health and wellness theme.

The 120-acre development, to be built around the existing infrastructure in Mines, is an entry point project under the Economic Transformation Programme which aims to position Malaysia as a wellness landmark for the region.

This means it will enjoy tax breaks over a 10-year development period, according to group CEO Dianna LeeChengWen(inset).SheisCountryHeights founder Tan Sri Lee Kim Yew's second daughter.

The launch of MinesWellness City, expected either this month or in January, is the culmination of several years of work to rebrand the 1,000-acre Mines Resort City as Mines Wellness City, in what Lee calls the "second wave" for Mines.

"The first two products to be rolled out will be a retirement home and business suites," she told StarBiz.

Two-thirds of Mines Wellness City's 36million sq ft is earmarked for residences.While the development order and building plans have been approved, Lee did not reveal the planned number of homes as the amount could change depending on market demand, she said.

Most of the land for Mines WellnessCity is owned byCountry Heights, although some parcels belong to Lee's father.

A joint-venture agreementis in place between the elder Lee and Country Heights, with the tycoon  as land owner and Country Heights as developer, for land that the listed firm does not hold directly.

Across Malaysia, Country Heights owns 6,000 acres of land in the Klang Valley, Jitra in Kedah, Pajam and Port Dickson in Negri Sembilan and Kuching, Sarawak.

Lee said the group has projects worth a gross development value of RM6bil in the pipeline between 2014 and 2019, involving 200 acres of its landbank.

The niche developer chalked up total property sales of RM220mil in the nine months to September, and is on track to meet its full-year target of RM336mil, Lee noted.

Its unbilled sales stood at RM170mil. For next year, Country Heights is looking to make RM400mil in sales.

Meanwhile, market talk has it that Country Heights' Taiwanese shareholder, Chunghwa Picture Tubes Ltd, is close to disposing of its13.93% stake, sparking rumours of a possible privatisation of Country Heights.

Taiwan-listed Chunghwa Picture Tubes manufactures cathode ray tubes for monitors and televisions. Its major shareholders are believed to be cashing out of their investments in Malaysia.

In June 2011, Chunghwa Picture Tubes' Malaysian unit sold 88.5 acres of land in Subang Hi-Tech Industrial Park for RM385.5mil to the then Dijaya Corp Bhd, on top of 12.9 acres in Kampar, Perak for RM5.6mil.

Chunghwa Picture Tubes was the first Taiwanese firm to set up shop in Subang Hi-Tech Industrial
Park, which was developed by Country Heights, Lee said. She declined to comment on the takeover rumours.

Country Heights is often cited as a privatisation target because of its perceived undervaluation.

Industry executives point out that the elder Lee may be keen to buyout Chunghwa Picture Tubes should it decide to exit, a move that would boost his holdings to 67.43% from 53.5% currently.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations show that a full takeover by the Country Heights founder would cost no less than RM128mil based on the firm's last transacted share price of RM1 and market capitalisation of RM275.7mil.

Its book value per share of RM2.82 as at end-September is almost three times the value of its shares.  

Much of the company's landbank was acquired in the 1980s or1990s and have not been revalued since, which means they could be worth a lot more.

In recent times, CountryHeights has also enjoyed relatively high margins for its core property development arm due to inventory sales of bungalow land at Country Heights Damansara and previously completed projects.

The firm's nine-month gross margins for property development stood at 43% versus 29% in the same period last year.

But Lee said those margins should normalise as inventory sales taper off, and given CountryHeights' anticipated ramp up in new sales.

The group is aiming for a 70:30 split between sales from its new launches and inmventory compared with 50:50 in the past.

split between sales from new
launches andinventory com

Two more start-ups qualify for The Star Accelerator Fund


PETALING JAYA: Two more applicants – H&H Connection Sdn Bhd and Voxy Labs Sdn Bhd – have qualified for The Star Accelerator Fund. Both companies are planning to stream the funds into advertising and marketing campaigns, as well as recruiting new talents to help them expand.

"Sales have been very encouraging since we launched in June," H&H Connection's co-founder and strategy/assets chief Lim Hui Ru (pic) told StarBiz. "We want to ride on that and get our brand out there quickly. That was The Star's advice to us."

The e-commerce shopping website, Off The Rack Asia, features curated fashion labels from Asia, a boost for regional fashion designers, a "Create-A-Look" function, where users can match apparel and accessories, and social shopping, where users can share their created "looks" with friends.

"The fund has been very helpful in allowing us to explore different forms of advertising. We tried some methods that didn't work, like e-mail marketing. This fund and its advisors taught us how to allocate and prioritise our resources," said Off The Rack Asia director Haslina Ali.

Currently, the online shopping company has enlisted 12 brands from Malaysia, three from the United States (Danielle Nicole Handbags, House of Harlow 1960 Jewelery and Gorjana & Griffin Jewelery) and another from Indonesia (Alleira Batik).

Upcoming collaborations include Frollic Shoes from Singapore, and Monstore Clothing and Greedy Sassy Accessories from Indonesia.

"Things are getting very exciting for us and we will allocating the bulk of our funds into advertising," Lim said.

As Off The Rack Asia is working comfortably in a team of six, they will not be hiring anytime soon. Instead, they will be focusing on branding.

For Voxy Labs, qualifying for The Star Accelerator Fund means receiving valuable advice on streamlining its efforts and approach after a year of its product, Kasi (a mobile application), for launch next month.

"We began in January and quickly learned that without funds, overheads can burn us fast and ultimately affect the outcome of our product. With developers and hardware expenses running, we were faced with the question of compromising on quality," said Xu-Zonne Ho, co-founder of the information technology outfit.

Voxy Labs is an information technology company with a mobile application that has yet to be launched.

"We had several investors that approached us but we only had lukewarm sentiments towards their participation because they didn't understand us fully. The Star, on the other hand, being a media company, truly got us," Ho added. "They taught us how to approach this differently, and that was crucial for us."

Prior to this, Voxy Labs had one hire. Now, with the financial boost, the team of three can expand to six.

The funds will not justify increased wages, but it will be comforting for the founders to know that while they screen new applicants, there are resources for other areas in the business.

"We encourage founders to build their business for the long term rather than a mere quick gain. We prefer to fund founders that believe in this course," Star Publications (M) Bhd corporate services group general manager George Chan said.

"We encourage applicants to have done sufficient market validation before submitting their application to us. This tends to be overlooked by applicants because of their eagerness to introduce their products and services into the market. This process is crucial to ensure that their solution is sustainable, and that the market itself can accommodate their plans."

Ringgit mixed fortune, M'sian travellers hit by volatile currencies


PETALING JAYA: The recent big swing in the value of the ringgit will burn a bigger hole in the consumers' pockets if they are heading off to Europe this Christmas.

Spending the winter in Seoul, South Korea too would cost more, compared with last year due to the
more expensive won.

While the exodus by hedge fund managers since May, spooked by the US Federal Reserve tapering talks,
has pulled the rug from under most Asian currencies, the ringgitis holding up relatively well against the US dollar year-to-date.

At 3.224 to the US dollar last Friday, the ringgit was down 6% from its peak in May, or 2.9% since
the start of the year.

Other regional currencies were hit harder.

A quick check on the foreign exchange rates revealed that holiday makers can get better value for the 
ringgit if they are going for a vacation Down Under, as the Australian dollar had fallen 7.7% against the
ringgit since January.

With Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia X still slugging it out in an all-out price war to fill their expanding seat
capacity, a trip to Perth or Melbourne is worth considering.

For a bargain vacation closer to home, a shopping trip to Bandung, Indonesia offers the best value following the12.9% slump in the rupiah against the ringgit this year.

India, too, is an interesting travel destination given the sharp decline in the rupee.

Most families make their travel arrangements months ahead to take advantage of cheaper airfares and
hotel room rates.

But predicting foreign exchange(forex) rates in a volatile currency market can be a daunting task.

According to the forex research team at Maybank Singapore, the key risk for the ringgit and other 
Asian currencies next year, is the anticipated reduction of the US Federal Reserve bond-buying programme.

This could happen in the first quarter of 2014.

The forex team at Maybank expects the ringgit to fall to a low of 3.27 against the US dollar early next
year, but sees the currency climbing to 3.12 by the end of the year.

"Barring no policy slippages and little deterioration, we are bullish on the currency for next year," head of
forex research at Maybank in Singapore Saktiandi Supaat said in his note to clients,

Maybank said the volatility in the currency market in 2014 would continue to be driven by the developed
markets. Stronger growth in the United States and the United Kingdom will lead to steeper and
tightening by their respective central bank.

"The impact of reduced monetary accommodation is likely to be a bigger theme in 2015," Supaat said.

The bank continues to be bearish on the rupiah, given the twin deficit concerns and the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in Indonesia in 2014.

The rupiah last week fell below the 12,000-level against the US dollar for the first time since March

Supaat and his team believed there could be downside risk for the rupiah in the short-term, but expected the currency to recover to 11,900 by the end of next year.

Supaat and his team also expected the Australian dollar to remain weak, at least in the early part of 
2014, with the Reserve Bank of Australia sending out clear messages in recent months that it preferred the Australian dollar to remain soft.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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