Let’s get the language right this time

  • Economy
  • Saturday, 30 Aug 2014

PROFICIENCY in the English language in Malaysia has fallen to abysmal levels in the past two decades. That is a fact that we have to live with, and employers have to cope with, for years to come.

Any push to make the language more prominent is still “a very touchy subject. A good example is the withdrawal of the policy to teach mathematics and science in English a few years ago.

Despite the efforts of the past few years to stem the decline of English language quality in this country, it will be years and the implementation of far-sighted policies before a positive impact will be seen.

Therefore, whether private education providers such as SMRT, Prestariang and E-Graduate, who have been shortlisted to undertake an RM5mil English Language Proficiency Teaching blended learning pilot project, can make a difference is still anybody’s guess.

The pilot project involves e-learning and face-to-face learning for both teachers and students. This is a prelude to a full-fledged RM100mil contract to train 10,000 teachers but can these providers do what the Government has failed to do?

After all, some 70% of the 70,000 English-language teachers were deemed unfit to teach the subject after they did poorly in the English Language Cambridge Placement Test last year. Can the RM100mil be used more wisely?

Why are these three shortlisted? In the case of SMRT and Prestariang, share-price performance is no indication of competence in the teaching of the language. What are the key performance indicator inputs used to evaluate these providers?

Until the penny drops 

Penny stocks have continued their intensive rally this week. And new stocks like IFCA MSC Bhd and Sanichi Bhd have joined the fray, rising by about 41% and 36% respectively during the week. Both those stocks also have one common element: big name investors have surfaced in those companies, Pelaburan Mara Bhd in the case of Sanichi and Brahmal Vasudevan in IFCA’s case.

While these names do bring some endorsement to these penny stocks, it is surprising that such big investors would buy into ACE-Market listed penny stocks, which are perceived as companies whose earnings are small or erratic. Perhaps these investors see some value in these penny stocks. But investors shouldn’t blindly chase these companies, just because the big names have appeared on their shareholder list.

In Sanichi’s case, there is also the complication of a rights issue that comes with free warrants. The exercise had already gone “ex” on Wednesday Aug 27, meaning that those who bought the shares last Thursday and Friday would no longer be entitled to the rights and free warrants. This means that their cost would not be averaged down (compared with those who will take up the rights and free warrants) and thereby suffer the impact of the adjustment of the share price when the new issue comes into the market.

Another constant worry about penny stocks is that due to their sometime heavy volume and price fluctutations, these stocks can sometimes cause either the exchange or broking houses themselves to impose trading limits on them. If and then that happens, the happy ride would come to an abrupt end without a warning.

Property buyer beware

It is often said that one can never go wrong when investing in property on the basis that there’s always demand as people need a room over their head or that property is very tangible unlike some other asset classes. But clearly, that isn’t the case. True, the country has a whole generation of investors today who have never seen any significant collapse of property prices, but that does not mean it has not happened in the past or can never happen again.

In past economic crises large corporations and their tycoons have seen their empires crumble because of a property market that had crashed. That’s not to say that anything like this is happening today or in the near future. But developments taking place in Iskandar, Johor do point at least to some kind of “prolonged period of uncertainty”.

This week, UEM Sunrise Bhd, which is largely viewed as the bellwether to Iskandar, slashed its sales target for 2014 to RM2bil from RM3.2bil, citing weakness in the market for homes in the economic corridor south of Johor. The next is likely to be China-based Country Garden Holdings Co, which last year rolled out a record 9,000 high-rise units in Danga Bay. Brokers are believed to be dangling commissions of up to 8% versus the typical 2%-3% to unload the properties into the market.

The Financial Times this week reported that China’s biggest developer, China Vanke Co, is offering up to US$325,000 or RM1.02bil in discounts via e-commerce site Taobao, to entice homebuyers amid slackening demand there. It appears that China’s property market is showing signs of strain. Hence investors who had rushed to invest in properties in the Iskandar region might be learning the hardway that property investments have their fair share of risks.

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