Apollo Investment Management
What's new archive - 2003

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2 Dec 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund fell slightly in the second half of the month, to US$403.27: this is up 1.6% for November as a whole, and 128% year-to-date. Charts.

14 Nov 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund rose slightly further in the first half of November, to an estimated US$404.17. After taking some profits and reinvesting more slowly, we temporarily have 23% cash. I am spending next week in Sri Lanka, and will be back in the office on 24th. Albert Edwards of Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein has commented that "the pigeons are now coming home to roost on Alan Greenspan's shoulder", which is memorable in any case and particularly if he is right.

4 Nov 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund rose 18.5% in Oct, to US$396.90. It is now up 124% for the year to date and has risen for seven months in a row; charts.

Read: Bill Fleckenstein on the tech-spending myth, Stephen Roach on China-dependence & complacency, and most importantly Marc Faber on current market exuberance (this will later be archived; article dated 3 Nov). The latest of Jim Puplava's excellent summaries of US markets is entitled 'Last Bears Standing'.

30 Oct 03:
Essential reading for Asian investors: David Webb's summary of 'the ongoing battle over the regulation of listed companies in Hong Kong'. Do also read Peter Clarke's June submission to Legco.

22 Oct 03:
Two haiku on the US stockmarket added to the financial doggerel page. Thanks to Mike Gibbs-Harris of MGH Asset Management for relaying.

21 Oct 03:
Andy Xie's 'China: Sharp Slowdown Ahead' also provides some perspective on the magnitude of the current boom. In the same report, see Stephen Roach's 'Inflation Phobia', discussing current strength in commodity and shipping prices and warning that China' "growth surge could well be followed by an air-pocket in early 2004". Meanwhile, John Mulcahy has summarised the liquidity-driven state of Asian markets with the able ambivalence of the old hand.

20 Oct 03:
At the Hong Kong close today, NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund was approximately US$383: up 14% so far this month and 116% for the year to date.

17 Oct 03:
Interesting analysis of Sino-Indian relations: 'India's Dragon Delusions'.

8 Oct 03:
Jim Puplava's summary of US companies 'playing the earnings game' points out that 'The real story is in the company’s 10-Q report filed with the SEC. However, that information won’t be available for weeks and months, long after the company’s press release. By then everyone will have forgotten this quarter's press release...' The new Hong Kong system, in which a shortened report is trumpeted and the balance sheet data quietly filed later with the stock exchange, is similarly deficient - and the abbreviated balance sheet and cashflow information are in any case unsatisfactory. Thai companies file full accounts, complete with notes, once a quarter, and this does not appear unduly onerous even for the smallest. Other exchanges should improve disclosure requirements and timetables to at least the same standard; Hong Kong and Singapore should be ashamed to lag in this regard.

Junkmail seems to be an increasing burden for many friends and investors, so here is a solution which has eliminated it for us. Lyn and I have been using Mailwasher Pro for all of this year (longer actually, but I cannot remember exactly). It enables us to screen all of the mail on multiple accounts (personal, business, etc), showing headlines, sender, the first few lines, and if necessary all text, while on the server, and to delete it from there (without the delays or dangers of downloading to our own PCs) or leave it for downloading in regular e-mail software. It pre-sorts, making good guesses from the outset by checking various blacklists of spam, possible spam, etc, and its guesses improve quickly if you tell it to recognise particular addresses as 'friend' or 'blacklist' - but the user retains control; no e-mail is eliminated by mistaken programming. The result is that an inbox of 200 e-mails offering the usual unwanted services - and files which one might sometimes want but chooses occasionally to delete - can be reduced to the 10 genuine messages within seconds. The quality of my mornings is greatly improved, and the quantity of coffee required to cope with the e-mail greatly reduced. The software costs U$29.95: information here; or just download the 30-day free trial. If you use these links and buy eventually, we will receive a percentage of the proceeds; any such commissions will go to WWF Malaysia, since the splendid Art for Nature exhibition is starting this weekend. Visit if you can, or Kill Spam for Nature. If inspired to relay this recommendation, please click here to join the affiliate programme as our introduction would continue to benefit WWF.

4 Oct 03:
Third-quarter report posted.

3 Oct 03:
Given the creative accounting in US economic statistics, carefully recorded over the years by Dr. Kurt Richebacher, one shouldn't be surprised at Robert Fisk's report on bogus statistics in occupied Iraq. This one is about oil. The casualty figures are also questionable.

NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund rose 11.5% in September, to US$334.88; charts.

1 Oct 03:
Read Stephen Roach on US protectionism, and in the same webpage Andy Xie on gathering clouds over China's growth prospects (probable slowdown).

18 Sep 03:
Following up on Singapore disclosure, Gerry Ambrose of Kim Eng:

"Called up Masnet helpdesk on the number given on website (tel Sing 6229 9688). Call was diverted to someone who couldn't help me with the following qs:
a) What is the difference between masnet/sgx.com?
b) to which website must SGX-listed cos make announcements first?
c) How long does masnet store data from SGX-listed cos for?
He directed me to the other number shown on the website (Sing 1800 225 8247). This person was also unable to provide an answer to any of these qs & redirected me to the SGX helpdesk (tel: Sing 6535 7372).
The lady at this number said that:
a) masnet was established before sgx.com (in 91) & provides data provided by sgx.com as part of a wider range of information
b) SGX-listed cos have to issue their statements to sgx.com.sg & masnet.mas.gov simultaneously
c) as you had gathered, ordinary announcements were archived for 3 months & reports & accounts for 12 months before being dropped.
Those needing details of routine announcements more than 3 months old or results announcements/reports & accounts more than 12 months old can find them in hardcopy in the SGX's archives at the SGX's (five star) offices in Shing Kwan house, Shenton Way.
In short, I wasn't able to get any proper answers or any explanation as to why company info is archived on the website for such a short time. The SGX lady who at least answered some of my qs had no idea how long masnet.mas.gov archived company data for, but a cursory surf through the site's 'Company announcements' page doesn't provide you with a seach engine to set a date to be displayed. Any specific company selected only goes back to a maximum of 12 months, as far as I can see."

So much for information technology and the globalisation of markets. 20 years ago, if a company mailed you their interim report, one could at least assume that it was the version of record, and that one had the same official information as other market participants.

Some other Singapore institutions fall short on IT capability. The Asian Civilisations Museum at Empress Place lists 'current exhibitions' which finished between April & June, and apparently cannot be updated to list the recommended Spirit of Wood exhibition of Malay woodcarving, which is there until 30 Nov, and in London Jan-Mar: for information, therefore, see www.kakiseni.com/events/msians_abroad/NTAzOA.html and www.soas.ac.uk/gallery/spiritofwood/.

16 Sep 03:
Most-irritating stock exchange of the moment as regards disclosure is - Singapore. For the first time in many weeks I can access sgx.com: the last 'upgrade' which rendered it dysfunctional on my two desktop PCs (running Linux and a non-current version of Windows) has been corrected. So far so good, although the frequency with which this has happened over the last few years is unimpressive, and feedback is rarely acknowledged. There is no longer any evident link to listed-company announcements, apparently considered less important than SGX-itself-news, careers, flashing tickers etc, but there is a site map (look for the smallest print) and announcements are still given space. Limited space: pick a company, 'all-in-one announcements' (a misnomer, it is not all-in-one, if you want an annual report or circular you have to click back up several levels and down again), and one is told that the results are "current but in no way representative of all company announcements". (Why not? Who chooses which ones to feature?) "Results based announcements are kept for a maximum of 1 year and the rest of the announcements are available for 3 months." Which of course means that every market participant has to maintain a separate library, or subscribe to a service which does. This is idiotic. The cost of ongoing storage is minimal, and stock exchanges should facilitate free flow of information in order to promote an efficient market.

Discussing the deficiencies of the SGX website with some listed companies recently, a number had realised the desirability of maintaining copies on their own corporate sites, where they can control the formats, ensure inclusion and printability of tables, etc. This is commendable, but there should be a copy of public record. (Maybe there is, in some other location? in which case it should at least be highlighted on the exchange site.)

Moreover, when querying the absence of balance sheet info in one Singapore-listed company's interim report, I was surprised to be told that disclosure regulations affect only the information filed with the exchange, and that the company may pick and choose what information to present in any printed version, if it chooses to prepare one at all. This is also a nuisance, for those of us who regularly ask companies to mail printed documents since we find 232-page image-heavy blockbusters hard to read and navigate onscreen.

The efficiency of markets is of great public interest, much greater than the operating costs of the exchange or the number of companies listed. The point is only partially related, but the fashion for flotation of stock exchanges seems to me retrogressive.

NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund has risen 5.5% month-to-date, to an estimated US$316.74 at today's Asian close.

6 Sep 03:
An excellent primer on the US economy and financial markets, and why some of us are so nervous about them, is Jim Puplava's 5 Sept Storm Watch Update.

4 Sep 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund rose 17% in August, to US$300.34, which is up 70% over the last five months and the year to date. This is clearly unsustainable.

15 Aug 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund has risen a further 9% in the first half of the month, to an estimated US$280.32 at the close of Asian business today. We are now up 58% year-to-date. I am off to Turkey, and will be back in the office on 1 Sept.

13 Aug 03:
Land & General's restructuring, agreed a year ago today, was finally implemented last week. The shares and new paper were distributed directly to the local banks, and through two intermediaries and after several more days' delay to the bondholders. Local rules were said to require this and to preclude escrow arrangements to ensure simultaneous receipt; and so the playing board was tilted yet again. As it happens, selling has been well absorbed as rumours swirl (the company is now said to be 'in play'), but this is clearly not the sort of experience to encourage long-term investment in Malaysia.

4 Aug 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund at the end of July was US$256.57, up 14% for the month and 45% over the last four months; charts.

15 Jul 03:
As at the close of Asian business today, NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund was approximately US$252.28. This is up 12% in the half-month, and 43% since the end of March. Our own shares are still on valuations which we can justify, which is not to say that they should necessarily be expected to persist, but overall market conditions and psychology are scary.

9 Jul 03:
I agree with most of Marshall Auerback's 'Winning the War, but losing the Peace?', although I would have put the question mark earlier in the title... the US financial condition is encapsulated as 'hock and awe'.

4 Jul 03:
Second quarter report posted here.

3 Jul 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund rose 7.7% in June, to US$224.66; charts & valuation comments.

13 Jun 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund has risen another 6% in the first half of the month, to approximately US$222.09 at today's close. Markets feel frothy, but I remain more comfortable with Asian equities than with stockmarkets elsewhere.

The extent of creative accounting in the US economic statistics, along with the accompanying 'spin', are discussed by Richard Benson at http://www.321gold.com/editorials/benson/benson061203.html. This is a jaw-dropper, even for the jaded; must read.

12 Jun 03:
PrudentBear has an interesting article by Rob Parenteau on US households' willingness to increase both mortgage liabilities and lower-yielding financial assets: convenient for today's bankers, central & commercial, but hardly stable.

9 Jun 03:
Anyone under the illusion that American states were confined to fiscal prudence by the budget-balancing requirement should be aware of the recent Illinois bond issue, highlighted by Fred Hickey in his very useful High-Tech Strategist. $2bn will plug the deficit and $8bn will go into the stockmarket. Repayment is not for 30 years and equities always go up in the long run - or so the theory goes. CNBC reported that other states may do likewise, and recommended viewers to buy US stocks ahead of the wave. Earlier bubbles pale: http://www.suntimes.com/output/savage/cst-fin-terry052.html.

8 Jun 03:
While in London recently I discovered the splendid library and bookshop at the Guildhall, which specialise in the City of London and to a lesser extent in its activities. There I found David Kynaston's 'The City of London', and in it three more verses of Thomas Love Peacock's 1825 lament on emerging markets (vol I, p.72), with an excellent account of the speculative background: 'a host of generally baseless schemes coming forward to rapturous response'. Many of these related to South America. I have added one of the additional verses to the extract on the poetry page; the poet speaks of mining prospectuses and corporate governance.

I have also added Jonathan Swift's grumbles about boardroom pay, in the aftermath of an earlier bursting bubble, and just discovered the Bubble Project website.

3 Jun 03:
Asian markets surged in May and the Apollo Asia Fund participated: NAV rose 13% to a new high of US$208.66. Charts etc.

5 May 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund rose 4% in April to a new high of US$183.87; charts etc.

4 May 03:
The chronology of Asian trade posted today on the Maritime Asia website may be of interest, although a work-in-progress. Economic historians will be familiar with the monetary decline of the Roman empire. Less familiar, perhaps, are the Asian sides of the story and the archaeological supporting evidence. East-west trade surged under the sound-money emperors Augustus (27BC-14AD) and Tiberius (14-37AD): China and India were happy to accept Roman coins in exchange for silk, spices, pearls etc. China amassed huge reserves of gold. After Nero debased the currency, the acceptability of Roman coins plummeted. Asian traders redeployed their efforts, and coincidentally or otherwise, intra-Asian trade took off... Anyone for dollars? More Microsoft software?

1 May 03:
Holiday reading: Peter Spufford's 'Power and profit: the merchant in medieval Europe' (Thames & Hudson UK, 2002) is great economic history, but has splendid illustrations and maps and should delight a much wider audience.

Hong Kong cigarette sales: apparently there was a rumour that smoking wards off SARS. There is also an alcohol theory...

29 Apr 03:
CRA reports that SARS has reduced sales of drinks & ice creams at its HK convenience stores but increased sales of cigarettes. I assume this reflects low feel-good and high stress rather than the relative ease of consumption through a mask. I imagine that the negative health impact of people (a) worrying about health, (b) worrying about cashflow, (c) driving each other insane in confined premises, (d) breathing in their own exhaust fumes, (e) refusing to go to the gym and (f) smoking more, may outweigh the probability of dying from SARS by a large multiple. Anyone involuntarily quarantined, or waiting for a cancelled flight, who wishes to amuse us by working on some numbers?

28 Apr 03:
Good article: 'Where is the "money" in your "money market" fund?' For one clue, see the latest Credit Bubble Bulletin, which notes that BMW's $1.6bn securitization of retail auto receivables was 2-3x oversubscribed at levels 'believed to be the tightest ever for an auto-backed issue' - although we hear that second-hand cars in the US can be sold only at low fractions of the new price, since the new car involves no upfront payment. And yet there are still buyers choosing money market funds from the yield tables - including listed companies, unfortunately.

25 Apr 03:
An opinion in the WSJ yesterday took to yet greater lengths the ACCP arguments on Iraqi 'retentionism' (the desire of a country to keep its own cultural artefacts), claiming that 'higher morality, as so often, is best served by the free market', and that Americans, being mostly immigrants, 'surely have a claim to reasonable access to the buried treasures of our common ancestors... American scholarship has more than repaid any debt connected with such acquisitions'. How timely to make a belated discovery: Chris Mann's apposite poem Money and the new millennium.

Meanwhile, Stewart Paterson suggests that Thomas Love Peacock, who bemoaned the dangers of emerging market investment in 1825, may have referred to Gregor MacGregor and the promotion of Poyais, which is plausible, and fascinating reading. It also evokes the plight of many Javanese and Chinese relocated over the years under official transmigration schemes, who often find that the attractions of their destination are not quite as advertised. For more cheerful reading about Java, I recommend 'A day at the races'.

Speculation about the economic impact of SARS is interesting, but in excess supply and inconclusive so I will refrain from adding too much - but how The Economist can think (19 April) that technology companies are most vulnerable, on the grounds that most chips and PCs come from Asia, is beyond me. Maybe they have mistaken it for a computer virus?

Meanwhile, markets are emotional, and inefficient (in financial markets, inefficiency = opportunity). Yesterday some stocks plummeted on rumours that all factories in Dongguan (ie a lot) had been closed down. Was this likely? The migrant workers at such factories live in virtual quarantine in any case (Texwinca has reportedly confined its workers to their factories since January!); manufacturing lines can be relatively easily segregated as an extra precaution, should it be considered necessary; and most listed manufacturing companies have multiple factories and multiple competitors. Certainly there is disruption - such as buyers refusing to travel - but there are winners and losers, and economic life goes on.

22 Apr 03:
The following link is of debatable relevance to investment, but I justify its inclusion by reference to Warren Buffett's aphorism, 'price is what you pay; value is what you get' - as well as to a conviction that national targets should be framed in terms other than GDP, and that economic accounting is in more urgent need of a fundamental rethink than its corporate counterpart.

Professor John Merryman of Stanford Law School and a member of the ACCP [American Council for Cultural Policy] has called for a 'selective international enforcement of export controls' in US courts. In other words, it should be perfectly legitimate to import the objects looted from Baghdad if a US court chooses not to recognise Iraqi legislation... [In a 1998 paper he claimed that] 'the existence of a market preserves cultural objects that might otherwise be destroyed or neglected by providing them with a market value. In an open, legitimate trade cultural objects can move to the people and institutions that value them most and are therefore most likely to care for them'... This is a self-justifying argument that reeks of hypocrisy. Wealthy collectors can now point to the chaos on the streets of Baghdad, the looting of the museum and the burning of the library as evidence that the Iraqis are unable or unwilling - too poor or too ignorant - to look after their treasures, which would be better housed in American museums or private collections. The ACCP’s ideas represent the interests of particularly rapacious sections of the US ruling class, who operate on the principle that everything - even an object of priceless artistic or scientific value - is defined by its 'market value'. What they mean is price, since the real value of the objects stolen from the Museum of Baghdad and the Iraqi National Library is incalculable. These are quite literally people who understand the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Full article at www.wsws.org/articles/2003/apr2003/loot-a19_prn.shtml

15 Apr 03:
I am delighted to confirm that good news does sometimes emanate from Hong Kong, and that Apollo has secured the part-time services of Mary Paterson, a distinguished investment analyst who is based there. I now expect all my views and prejudices to be robustly challenged. Welcome, Mary.

It may not qualify for the financial pages, but any investment analyst will recognise the frustration encapsulated in the poem 'Abort, Retry, Ignore'.

11 Apr 03:
Cancel my polite comments about the Hong Kong government, now back on form. HKEx is to keep its regulatory role for at least 12-18 months pending further consultation, following the intervention of Tung Chee-hwa, who according to an official spokesman considers market reform a low priority and stability of the exchange's board to be paramount. The SCMP, with classic understatement, describes this as an 'embarrassing climbdown'.

Meanwhile must-be-seen-to-do-something-ism is an infectious disease spreading rapidly amongst politicians, and is now worrying me much more than the SARS virus itself. Thailand ordered all visitors from certain countries to wear masks at all times, which cannot do much for their suntans or for their enjoyment of the beaches or bars - assuming any effective enforcement, which I doubt. Malaysia reportedly ordered educational establishments to freeze recruitment from China (for entry in 2004?) and then topped this by freezing all visas for Hong Kong and China, a rule change discovered when members of a mainland package tour were refused entry on arrival at KL airport. Great idea: irritate your most important customers and nobble your best-performing economic sectors. Cathay Pacific has cancelled all flights to Malaysia. Would-be travellers are now beginning to wonder not only about safety and hassle but the risk of becoming stranded. The short-term economic impact is clear, and will be unimportant to a long-term investor if normal life resumes soon - at least personal, corporate and national balance sheets in our area are generally strong - but I think of the butterfly-wings story from chaos theory and wonder about unpredictable implications for already-fragile global financial markets. In practical investment terms, no change for now - my concerns remain centred on the US - but feedback is welcome.

9 Apr 03:
'Pandemic of precaution' - an excellent article by a doctor on the dangerous worldwide outbreak of panic. He earlier reported his bizarrely futile trip to Korea in 'Viral scares'.

Splendid number-crunching on the world's greatest emerging market by Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein is entitled 'An update from the emperor's wardrobe'. Through non-expensing of options alone, reported earnings for the S&P500 stocks in 2002 overstated the GAAP figures by 46% - and the overstatement for the tech sector was 94%. This is before taking account of pension accounting or any other deficiencies. Prefer Hong Kong...

- at least as regards accounting, although disclosure could certainly be improved. There is also now a critical battle over the governance of the exchange, as well as over regulatory reform. Despite the arcane subject matter, and competing newsflow, all investors should read David Webb on the HKEx AGM.

So should Malaysian regulators, apparently unaware how international custody deadlines may be used to pressurise or disadvantage institutional investors. For the record, since many of us thought Malaysia had years ago adopted delivery-against-payment settlement procedures, the time from Bumi Armada offer acceptance to receipt of usable proceeds is close to four weeks - so the gap between payout to the Malaysian banks and to outsiders was not six months, as we originally grumbled, but seven.

6 Apr 03:
First quarter report posted here.

3 Apr 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund at end-March was US$176.45 - ie we have made very limited headway over the last ten months (charts). I remain extremely nervous about global financial markets, and about the repercussions of the war in Iraq, but relatively comfortable with our Asian businesses. First quarter report to follow in a few days when I have recovered from the latest battle with Microsoft software. Two days ago I read that the Dalai Lama announces the release of Yellow Hat Linux. Would that it were true.

CSFB's Hong Kong conference was excellent, and it was a delight to be in Hong Kong. For once I can compliment the Hong Kong authorities, at which brickbats have been hurled from all sides, on what seems to me reasonably competent handling of the atypical pneumonia epidemic. Also on the proposed transfer of regulatory responsibilities from the stock exchange to the at-least-less-conflicted SFC, which will (one hopes) be rather more important to the long term prosperity of the fund. Cafe de Coral's market capitalisation fell over two days by approximately one year's earnings. This seems likely to be an over-reaction, and we topped up our holding.

22 Mar 03:
Malaysian update. First, Bumi Armada. The pirates won. The local regulators took some notice of minorities' plight, but too little and too late. The SC, for example, noting that the offer was well on its way to closing before the appearance of the 'independent advice', ordered that the offer should be extended. The extension was for four days - over a weekend. Prior acceptances were not invalidated. Following the expiry of original custody deadlines, the KLSE clarified that it had some discretion and would not automatically delist the company, but failed to make this public. Most shareholders had to decide on the basis of the threats in the offer document, and the threats worked: the controlling shareholders have over 90%, and can now proceed to compulsory purchase.

Second, Land & General, unsettled after a deal seven months ago... the company announced this week that the restructuring in August has lapsed, and it would work out another in consultation with the local financial institutions. We complained to the Securities Commission. The trustee tells us that the original bonds, handed in for the exchange, will be unfrozen.

Third, I was invited to join a number of meetings this week with small and medium sized Malaysian companies. Several were waiting on government decisions, in which transparency appears lacking. Several were grumbling about well-connected competitors (as good an excuse as any, perhaps). Few are prepared to rely on banks for finance, or to pay out full dividends and have a rights issue later if required - the latter is thought unrealistic due to the rising bureaucratic hurdles - so companies hoard their cash and drive down returns. Some diversify excessively; some spend cash on stock or bond funds. If they bought bonds directly, they would have greater certainty of getting the capital back intact, but interest is apparently tax-exempt only for a bond fund: a distortion, detrimental to good capital allocation and to bond market development. There were two companies we'll keep on the radar screen, but the percentage of promise seems small, and I'm off for next week to Hong Kong.

10 Mar 03:
Our Malaysian investments are, yet again, proving troublesome. Pirates attempt to seize whole Armada...

5 Mar 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund rose 1.5% in February, to a marginal new high of US$179.77.

10 Feb 03:
The Nation in Thailand has a major series of articles evaluating '2 YEARS OF THAKSIN'. A mixed report card. Recommended reading.

The latest Credit Bubble Bulletin mentions a Moody's warning "that it may downgrade a number of asset-backed and residential mortgage-backed transactions because some trustees are falling short... conversations with major trustees over the last couple of months have turned up a difference of opinion over the trustee's role as a watchdog... In the NCFE case, funds meant to protect bondholders were diverted without drawing interference from the transaction's trustees, J.P. Morgan and Bank One... that failure to intervene caused Moody's to undertake a review... Moody's found some trustees see their role as purely administrative, which may leave the originator of a transaction policing its own compliance".

Two things worry me about this: the global systemic risk, and that I had assumed our tribulations on Asian bonds were unusual - bonds such as Land & General, handed in six months ago for the agreed exchange. (Let's not talk now about the three years before that.) Half of the bargain is unsettled. The replacement paper has not been issued, and the original bonds are frozen. To be fair, the problem in this case appears to relate more to Malaysian bureaucracy, and I don't know whether the trustee - J.P. Morgan - has any ability to force the pace, but certainly the delinquent company has too much leeway to procrastinate, and nobody bothers to report to the bondholders.

Brokers all over Asia are racing to draw up lists of China-concept stocks. (There are a few stockbrokers still employed in Asia, after all.) A tidal wave of money, including flight capital from the Banana Republic of North America, is apparently interested. This has been encouraged by Barton Biggs, who as a parting shot before retirement suggested China Telecom and China Mobile as ideal concepts to play the enticing theme. I would agree that they are probably of higher quality than the average large-cap idea in the US - but did nobody tell him of the consequences of his 'maximum bullish' stance in 1993? Or doesn't he care?

To sum up for newcomers: the macro story is all very well, and we are as bullish as anyone on the long term growth in GDP, per-capita income, and political stature of China - and of Asia in general - but...  Etc...  Caveat emptor.

Also for newcomers, to give a geographically rounded idea of the odds stacked against the minority shareholder: consider Hong Kong, which has been by far the best market of the last few decades. It has a stock exchange; it has regulators; it has highly paid 'government servants'. Now read David Webb's latest article, 'Global Tech's Wreck'. Do not assume from the title that it has much to do with Tech. It has a great deal to do with the caveats.

And to end today's roundup, Caveat Preemptor. There are risks beyond Asia's boundaries. Watch the simulation of Gulf War 2.

6 Feb 03:
Jim Puplava's website financialsense.com is likely to become part of my regular reading, if the current content is typical. There is a 'State of the Credit Bubble' interview with Doug Noland, a very readable summary of the problem for those who are not already avid readers of the weekly Credit Bubble Bulletin on prudentbear.com; the latest market commentary (5 Feb) is superb; and there are excellent gold commentaries dated 4 Feb and 28 Jan.

5 Feb 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund fell slightly in January, to US$177.06; charts.

2 Feb 03:
Little over two months after noting the advent of hedge fund indices, and hedge-fund-index-tracker funds, I have received an unsolicited e-mail advertising the 'Alternative Asset Center FoHF Benchmark... an equally-weighted average of 940 fund of hedge funds' - complete with month-by-month analysis of the deciles and quartiles of their remarkably puny 2002 returns. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I notice that Al-Jazeerah's website, http://aljazeerah.info, is signing off, after the headlines and appropriately following the gallows humour of the cartoons, with the latest figure for the US national debt ($6,408,411,138,494 on 1 Feb, they say - a figure apparently taken from the 'US National Debt Clock' website at http://www.brillig.com/debt_clock/. The last figure I can find on the US treasury site (at http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/opdpdodt.htm) is for 30 Jan, when it had been hovering suspiciously close to the $6,400bn ceiling all month - that ceiling which was raised by $450bn seven months ago - although the higher end-December figure was apparently OK because only part is subject to limit (http://www.publicdebt.treas.gov/opd/opds122002.htm). The US Treasury's FAQ on the national debt switches to remarkably out of date estimates after the end of 1999 (http://www.ustreas.gov/education/faq/markets/national-debt.html) - one would have thought, under the circumstances, that questions were indeed being asked quite frequently and might deserve a more timely answer, but perhaps the compiler had a heart attack. Good luck to Americans for the Year of the Sheep. The only Chinese astrology guide which I have on hand in print form (published 1987) says that, in a sheep year, 'fine art, precious stones, and objets de vertu will be regarded as healthy investments... an opportune year to extend and strengthen diplomatic relations, and to reduce confrontation... rest and tranquillity will pay dividends'.

3 Jan 03:
NAV of the Apollo Asia Fund at end-Dec was US$177.19; the quarterly report is now here. Five year charts are on the usual performance page, and look quite respectable. (In fact they look better than they should, since I do not have software to put them on a semi-log scale of sensible proportions, and despite internet searches I cannot find a solution. If anyone has one, please let me know.) Tomorrow I am departing for a few days in Vietnam, and late next week I shall be visiting Singapore companies with Masya. I'll be back in the office on Mon 13th.

1 Jan 03:
For New Year's Day: a 'pop quiz on the history of Korean-American relations' - good reading for those who know their Korean history, and essential reading for those who don't. While on politics, here is the poster for Gulf Wars II.

Claire Barnes

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