Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Meritocracy is under siege. Here are three ways Singapore can overcome its limitations

By Ong Ye Kung

29 July, 2019

While meritocracy is under siege and faith in it is weakening across the globe, it has not failed and will remain a key principle for recognising individuals, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung at the 2019 Raffles Institution (RI) Founder’s Day on Saturday (July 27). Below is an excerpt of his speech, in which Mr Ong also offered three suggestions on how Singapore can overcome the limitations of meritocracy.

Most Singaporeans want a 'good death', but majority don't get their wish: Study

By Navene Elangovan

13 July, 2019

SINGAPORE — When Singaporeans think about a “good death”, an overwhelming majority imagine dying at home surrounded by loved ones.

But a new report released on Friday (July 12) notes that this ideal scenario is rarely the reality — and argues that much needs to be done to change the way end-of-life care is administered.

The report, titled “Leaving Well: End-of-Life Care Policies in Singapore”, published by the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS), calls for an urgent look at this reality gap.

“With over 200,000 Singapore residents currently aged 75 and above and hundreds of thousands of family members having to soon contend with the complex issue that is the end of life, this gap between preferences and reality must be addressed,” the authors stated.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Rap video criticising ‘brownface’ ad crossed the line by attacking Singaporean Chinese: Shanmugam

By Faris Mokhtar

In response to a video by rapper Subhas Nair and YouTuber Preeti Nair, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said that it is not acceptable to use four-letter words and vulgar language to attack another race and put it out in public.


30 July, 2019

SINGAPORE — A rap video, which called out a racially offensive advertisement, crossed the line because it contained vulgarities directed at Singaporean Chinese and could turn minorities against the majority community, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Climate Change - Hot Stories

[Stories about the heat. But it's probably a dry heat.]

Think the heatwave was bad? Climate already hitting key tipping points

28 July, 2019

LONDON — "Shall we all just kill ourselves?"

It was an odd title for a comedy night, but British stand-up Carl Donnelly turned out to have chosen an environmental theme with impeccable timing.

With temperature records tumbling daily in last week's European heatwave, a crowd in an east London bar seemed uniquely primed to appreciate his darkly humorous riffs on the existential threat posed by climate change.

That foretaste of a radically hotter world underscored what is at stake in a decisive phase of talks to implement the 2015 Paris Agreement, a collective shot at avoiding climate breakdown.

With study-after-study showing climate impacts from extreme weather to polar melt and sea level rise outstripping initial forecasts, negotiators have a fast-closing window to try to turn the aspirations agreed in Paris into meaningful outcomes.

"There's so much on the line in the next 18 months or so," said Ms Sue Reid, vice-president of climate and energy at Ceres, a US non-profit group that works to steer companies and investors onto a more sustainable path.

"This is a crucial period of time both for public officials and the private sector to really reverse the curve on emissions," Ms Reid told Reuters.

In October, the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned emissions must start falling next year at the latest to stand a chance of achieving the deal's goal of holding the global temperature rise to 1.5 °C.

[Start falling next year? 2020? That's nice. How're China's and the US plans for cutting emissions so far?]

With emissions currently on track to push temperatures more than three degrees higher, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is working to wrest bigger commitments from governments ahead of a summit in New York in September.

Telling world leaders that failing to cut emissions would be "suicidal," the Portuguese diplomat wants to build momentum ahead of a fresh round of climate talks in Chile in December.

By the time Britain convenes a major follow-up summit in late 2020, plans are supposed to be underway — in theory at least — to almost halve global emissions over the next decade.
"In the next year-and-a-half we will witness an intensity of climate diplomacy not seen since the Paris Agreement was signed," said Ms Tessa Khan, an international climate change lawyer and co-director of the Climate Litigation Network.

[What is the strategy or gambit in a "tragedy of the commons" situation? Hope that everyone cooperates and don't defect? Sure. The world has always been that principled; that noble.]

As the diplomatic offensive intensifies, the latest scientific studies have offered negotiators scant comfort.

US climatologist Michael Mann believes emissions need to fall even more drastically than the IPCC assumes since the panel may be underestimating how far temperatures have already risen since pre-industrial times.
"Our work on this indicates that we might have as much as 40 per cent less carbon left to burn than IPCC implies, if we are to avert the 1.5 Celsius warming limit," said Mr Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University.

Mr Mann has urged governments to treat the transition to renewable energy with the equivalent urgency that drove the US industrial mobilisation in World War Two.

So far, no major economy has taken heed.

Although Britain boosted the Paris Agreement in June by committing to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, the country, preoccupied by Brexit, is far from on a climate war footing.

Likewise, a push led by France and Germany for the European Union to adopt a similar target was relegated to a footnote at a summit in Brussels after opposition from Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.

US President Donald Trump remains committed to pulling the world's second biggest emitter out of the Paris deal altogether.

Given the uncertain prospects for international cooperation to stabilise the climate on which life on earth depends, some are starting to steel themselves for the unravelling of the world they once knew.
"Either we radically transform human collective life by abandoning the use of fossil fuels or, more likely, climate change will bring about the end of global fossil-fuelled capitalist civilisation," wrote US author Roy Scranton, in an April essay in MIT Technology Review.

"Revolution or collapse — in either case, the good life as we know it is no longer viable." 


People cool off in the Trocadéro fountains near the Eiffel Tower in Paris
on Thursday, July 25, 2019. The temperature soared to 42.6 degrees Celsius,
breaking a record set in 1947, in the French capital on Thursday.

Record 42.6°C in Paris as heat wave scorches Europe

New York Times

26 July, 2019

LONDON — Never in recorded history has Paris been hotter than it was Thursday (July 25).

The same was true of Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, as temperatures rose and records tumbled one by one across Western Europe, scorching the continent and sending residents scrambling to seek relief from a dangerous heat wave.

In Paris, the temperature soared to 42.6 degrees Celsius (108.6 Fahrenheit), breaking a record set in 1947, 40.4 degrees Celsius, according to the French national weather service, which said the temperatures could rise further. Some 20 million people in northern France were expected to be affected by the heat.

In the Netherlands, temperatures topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), shattering the record high set only a day earlier, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute said. In Germany, the northwestern town of Lingen hit 41.5 Celsius (106.7 Fahrenheit).

And for the second time this week, Belgium measured its hottest day, with a temperature of 40.6 Celsius in Kleine Brogel (105 Fahrenheit) on Thursday, passing the mark set a day earlier, 40.2 Celsius. Authorities issued a code red alert for the first time since the weather warning system was put in place 20 years ago.

“It’s really shocking to have this heat in Brussels,” said Ms Francesca Van Daele, a student of political science at the Free University of Brussels-VUB. “Our urban planning is not really made for heat waves like this.”

The hottest summers in Europe in the past 500 years have all come in the past 17 years, scientists say. Several heat waves have been linked to human-caused climate change. In the years ahead, they say, many more are likely to scorch temperate zones like northern Europe.

Early Thursday, the No. 1 trending term on Twitter in Britain was #hottestdayoftheyear. The national weather service, the Met Office, had warned that temperatures were expected to break the national record, 38.5 degrees Celsius (101.3 Fahrenheit). By 4pm (11pm Singapore) , Cambridge, England, had measured 38.1 degrees Celsius (100.5 Fahrenheit), the hottest day recorded in July in Britain and the second hottest in general, according to the weather service.

“This is only the second time temperatures over 100 Fahrenheit have been recorded in the UK,” the Met Office tweeted.

Ms Nicky Maxey, a spokeswoman for the weather service, said in an email, “Heat waves are extreme weather events, but research shows that with climate change, they are likely to become more common, perhaps occurring as regularly as every other year.”

She said that a Met Office study into the heat wave that Britain experienced last summer showed it was 30 times more likely for a heat wave to occur now than in 1750 “because of the higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

The Met Office placed five of England’s nine regions, including London, on a rare Level 3 heat health watch — one short of a national emergency. In a Twitter post Thursday, London’s ambulance service advised Britons to stay hydrated, avoid prolonged exposure to the sun, wear sunscreen and avoid travelling by train if they feel unwell.

Mr Owen Landeg, chief environmental public health scientist at Public Health England, warned that extremely high temperatures were most likely to affect older people, those with underlying health conditions and very young children.

“The extreme heat means that our bodies, especially our hearts and lungs, have to work harder to maintain a normal temperature,” he said Wednesday in a statement. “This is why our advice focuses on reminding people to keep an eye on those who are most at risk.”

In Germany, officials expected higher temperatures in the west Thursday, and all but the northeastern coastal region was under a heat warning, with officials urging people to drink enough fluids and avoid going outdoors in the afternoon hours.

The famed Wagner opera festival was set to open as scheduled Thursday in the southern city of Bayreuth, where temperatures were expected to reach 34 degrees Celsius (93.2). But it will be even hotter inside the 19th-century opera house, where air conditioning was rejected over fears that it would negatively alter the acoustics and endanger the singers’ voices. Chancellor Angela Merkel was expected to be in the crowd for the opening performance of “Tannhäuser,” which is more than four hours long.

In Spain, the forecast was for temperatures to fall across the country Thursday night, with rain in the northwest. The same was expected in Portugal, where no major fires were burning.

In Austria, the national railway service began painting stretches of track in white, in hopes of preventing them from getting so hot that they bend. Similar projects were taking place in parts of Germany and Switzerland.
A Eurostar train broke down Wednesday morning in Tubize, Belgium, en route to London from Brussels. Despite the heat, passengers were not allowed to open windows or leave the train for three hours because of safety concerns.

“Everything was suddenly down. No air conditioning, no electricity,” said Mr Paul De Grauwe, a Belgian economist who was on the train. “I have never been so hot in my life.”

Such high temperatures are rare in Belgium but are becoming more typical, experts say. In the 1990s and 2000s, heat waves of this magnitude occurred once every three or four years, but Belgium has experienced two heat waves in the past two months alone.

On Thursday in France, when the mercury rose to 41 degrees Celsius (105.8 degrees Fahrenheit) at 1.42 pm (7.42pm Singapore time) local time , Mr Olivier Proust, a forecaster for the French national weather service, said, “Such a situation is historic because all over France heat records are broken.”

By noon in Paris, the Trocadero fountains near the Eiffel Tower had morphed into public swimming pools as people were jumping under the water jets, seeking relief from a heatwave that started Monday.

“It’s too hot in my apartment; I can’t take it anymore,” said Ms Nadia Zouaoui, a 23-year-old woman who was bathing with her two children in the fountains. “My kids really need to freshen, otherwise it’s unbearable for them.”

French authorities had issued hundreds of warnings to avoid the devastating death toll the country suffered during the 2003 heat wave, which contributed to almost 15,000 deaths.

“Everyone is at risk with these kinds of temperature,” Health Minister Aghes Buzyn told reporters Wednesday.

Volunteers could be seen on the streets of Paris on Thursday handing out water bottles, and City Hall introduced restrictions on car use because of the high levels of air pollution.

The weather has led to some odd sights in London.

After a sweating man in a half-unbuttoned, pink-striped shirt opened a window in a crowded subway car on Wednesday, sweltering commuters made rare eye contact, trading looks of approval and relief.

And on the outskirts of Hampstead Heath, a vast park in northwestern London, hundreds of people flocked to a greenish pond to seek relief Thursday, sunbathing, picnicking, reading or listening to music. Dozens insisted on splashing in the pond, even after an announcement that broken bottles posed a danger to swimmers.

“On days like today, I can almost excuse climate change,” Mr Hylston Chambers, 52, said with a smile.

Mr Charlie Edmonds, a 22-year-old freelance choreographer who was spending the day at the pond on the edge of Hampstead Heath, said, “I’m sweating like crazy, but I’m pleased it’s hot in England,” he said.

The Met Office predicted a break in the heat wave: Temperatures are expected to cool Friday, said Mr Frank Saunders, chief meteorologist at the Met Office.

“Conditions will feel much more comfortable for western parts of the UK by the time we get to Friday,” he said.

The forecast even called for thunderstorms Friday. And about 6.30 pm Thursday local time, rain began falling in London. 


Sunday, July 28, 2019

A peculiarly Dutch summer rite: Children abandoned in the night woods


Children sit blindfolded in a car before participating in a Dutch tradition known as "dropping," where groups of children are deposited in a forest and have to find their way back to base, near Eindhoven, Netherlands.

27 July, 2019

AUSTERLITZ (Netherlands) — Shortly after 10pm on a recent night, a car came to a stop at the edge of the woods. The door opened to release three children: towheaded boys of 12 and 15, and a 12-year-old girl with dark pigtails and an emoji-covered backpack. Then the driver threw the car into gear and sped away, gravel crunching under its tires.

They were tiny figures at the foot of the forest, miles from the summer camp they were attending, with only a primitive GPS to indicate the right direction. Darkness was falling. And they were alone.

Electron-absorbing Bacteria from China

Could a Chinese supercharged bacterium spark a superhuman revolution?

27 July, 2019


TIANJIN (China) — Scientists at a government laboratory in northern China say they have edited the DNA of a germ, creating a super bacterium that can use electrons as an energy source, perhaps opening the door to superpowers in humans.

["Superhumans"? Really? That seems like quite a jump to conclusion.]
The gene-edited germ uses electricity as “food”, increasing its physical performance by as much as 70 per cent, according to a team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology.

In theory, that would be like a human athlete running 100 metres in five seconds or jumping over a bar more than four metres off the ground.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Protesters calling for 'free Hong Kong' converge on airport

26 July, 2019

HONG KONG — Several hundred protesters calling for democracy and some chanting "free Hong Kong" converged on the Chinese-ruled city's airport on Friday (July 26) as neighbouring Singapore advised its citizens to avoid parts of the territory.

Airport authorities said operations would not be affected, but advised passengers to arrive early given the risk of disruption.

The former British colony of Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, is embroiled in its worst political crisis for decades after two months of increasingly violent protests that have posed one of the gravest populist challenges to China's leader Xi Jinping since he took office.

The demonstrations, mushrooming up almost daily, saw the defacement of China's main representative office last weekend, triggering warnings from Beijing this was an attack on China's sovereignty.

What started as an angry response to a now-suspended extradition bill, which would have allowed defendants to be sent to the mainland for trial, now includes demands for greater democracy, the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and even keeping mainland Chinese tourists out of Hong Kong.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Don’t be quick to blame your doctor if he does not get the diagnosis right

By Desmond Wai

25 July, 2019

I recently saw a patient with severe left-sided abdominal pain that was so bad, he said that he wanted to “kill himself to stop the pain”.

He had seen doctors in two hospitals for two weeks before his pain became unbearable and his parents brought him to the Emergency Department in the middle of the night to consult me.

It would take me another four days before I diagnosed him as having a rare condition involving inflammation of the blood vessels.

The patient’s family was upset with what they thought was misdiagnosis at the two previous hospitals. But as I will explain, there was not the case.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

HK Protest 2019 - Reverberations

[Hong Kongers have been protesting a proposed Extradition Bill, that when passed (into law) would allow HKers to be extradited to China. Here is a perspective of the earlier protests (link), the future of HK, and the long-term reality.

It was an exercise in futility except for (IMHO) growing frustration, panicked realisation, and hopelessness. 

Although the HK government has backed down, and suspended the passage of the bill, people with knowledge of the legislative process have pointed out that it is NOT legislatively dead. Merely postponed. The bill has simply been retracted the request for the Legislative Council to resume the second reading.

A bill needs to have 3 readings before passage into law. The bill as it is now has only had the first reading. But if things were as in Singapore, the Second and Third Reading can usually be passed within the same day. As such, the Extradition Bill can be passed easily. All it needs is for 12 days notice for the resumption of the second reading.

Unless it is legislatively "killed" - voted down in the second and third reading, formally withdrawn, or the term of the council expires before the bill is passed. 

The frustration and hopelessness may be engendered by the realisation that it is all futile. From the previous link
The reality is that HK has been handed over to China in 1997, and even if the Chinese Govt keeps to the promise of not interfering in HK for 50 years, 2047 is only 28 years away, and the Chinese government plays the long game.
HK has no leverage. Beijing can simply wait 28 years. They are in no hurry. Meanwhile, panicked realisation.

Also, the HK Police has been sorely stressed and pressured. Even as protests continued (because, bill not "dead".) And then, gangsters attacked protesters returning from a march. How do we know these are gangsters? The police said so.

And comments that the protesters battled police in the past weeks only to call on the police for help when they are set upon by thugs, and so are hypocrites who want their cake and eat it too. Anyway, these are the... reverberations from the protests.] 

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Young and not so upwardly mobile

Why it’s increasingly challenging to sustain inter-generational mobility in Singapore.

Sat, Jul 20, 2019

Marissa Lee

IN 2015, the last time any study of its kind was published, the Finance Ministry looked at incomes of those born from 1978-1982 (aged 37-41 this year) and concluded that inter-generational income mobility in Singapore had remained high.

But even as these findings affirmed the national belief that everyone has a fair chance of success regardless of who their parents are, the study's authors could already see that upward mobility for new cohorts of Singaporeans wouldn't be as easily achieved. Anyone who came of age during the 1980s and 1990s, when Singapore's rapid transformation was accompanied by a significant expansion in education and jobs, would have enjoyed opportunities that their parents never got, the study noted.

Conditions have since changed, the study said: "As the pace of Singapore's development slows, it will be an increasing challenge to sustain such mobility in the future."

The U.S. Should Defend Hong Kong

America’s recently departed envoy warns that Beijing poses a dire threat to the city’s cherished freedoms. 

By Kurt W. Tong

22 July 2019

Kurt W. Tong was formerly U.S. consul general for Hong Kong and Macau.

When I left my post as U.S. Consul General in Hong Kong recently, news organizations reported that the White House had effectively censored my valedictory remarks, as President Donald Trump apparently did not want to disrupt trade negotiations with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The Washington Post went so far as to say I’d been “neutered.”

Put the short-term politics aside. What matters is figuring out what’s really driving Hong Kong’s current unrest, and what the governments of Hong Kong, China and the U.S. should do about it.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Young homeowners who bought ageing flats: What’s the deal?

By Janice Lim

21 July, 2019

SINGAPORE — During the National Day Rallylast year, Mr Leroy Yew, 31, watched Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announce several new schemes to address the issue of the depleting leases of Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.

Mr Yew, who recently joined the real estate industry, admitted that it was only then that he began to worry about the resale value of his own flat, which has less than 60 years of lease left.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Can Singapore and rest of South-east Asia rise to the challenge of surging seas?

If all the ice in Greenland melts, it would raise sea levels by 7m.
Antarctica has enough water to raise sea levels by 65m.
By Benjamin Horton

18 July, 2019

The Government announced in March that it will start a National Sea Level Programmethis year to bring together research expertise and better understand how rising sea levels will impact Singapore.

On Wednesday (July 17), Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said that the Government will set aside S$10 million in funding for the programme over the next five years and set up a new office to strengthen Singapore’s capabilities in climate science.

Why are sea levels rising and how will it affect the region and Singapore? And what can we do about it?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Despite high hopes, self-driving cars are ‘way in the future’

20 July, 2019

NEW YORK — A year ago, Detroit and Silicon Valley had visions of putting thousands of self-driving taxis on the road in 2019, ushering in an age of driverless cars.

Most of those cars have yet to arrive — and it is likely to be years before they do. Several carmakers and technology companies have concluded that making autonomous vehicles is going to be harder, slower and costlier than they thought.

“We overestimated the arrival of autonomous vehicles,” Ford’s chief executive, Jim Hackett, said at the Detroit Economic Club in April.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Restoring forests could help put a brake on global warming, study finds

13 July, 2019

ZURICH — What if we stopped cutting down forests to produce palm oil and cattle? What if we grew new forests on vacant city lots, old industrial buildings — even golf courses?

For the first time, scientists have sought to quantify this thought experiment. How many trees could be planted on every available parcel of land on Earth, where they could go, and what impact could that have on our survival?

They concluded that the planet could support nearly 2.5 billion additional acres of forest without shrinking our cities and farms, and that those additional trees, when they mature, could store a whole lot of the extra carbon — 200 gigatons of carbon, to be precise — generated by industrial activity over the last 150 years.

Time is running out. Singapore sets up Climate Science Unit. And improves drains.

[Three news articles about Climate Change and what it means for Singapore.]

‘Time is running out’: Tackling climate change a priority for Singapore, says Masagos

By Matthew Mohan

17 Jul 2019 01:00PM

SINGAPORE: Facing the “loud and unmistakable” warning of climate change, Singapore needs to act, said Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli on Wednesday (Jul 17).

Speaking at the 2019 Partners for the Environment forum, Mr Masagos stressed that tackling climate change is a “pressing priority” and an “existential challenge” for Singapore.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Report proposes MOE and MOM be merged to tackle skills gap among Singapore's workforce

By Janice Lim

12 July, 2019

SINGAPORE — A report by a think-tank has proposed that the Ministry of Manpower and the Ministry of Education be combined to ensure that Singaporean workers have the skills the economy needs.

This is because work and study are phases that are increasingly converging, with education no longer a linear process but a continuous cyclical process that follows industry cycles, Institute of Policy Studies' research fellow Faizal Yahya wrote in the report.

A single ministry that oversees the supply and demand for labour would mean, therefore, that there is better coordination and timely government intervention.

“The links between industry and institutes of higher learning should be strengthened further,” Dr Faizal said in the report, which aimed to examine strategies to reskill the workforce as Singapore undergoes an economic transformation.

Hikikomori in Singapore: Recluses hidden from view and at a loss

Illustration: Raymond Limantara

By Faris Mokhtar

In Singapore, private psychologists and psychiatrists say they see up to five cases a year of hikikomori, although there are no official statistics.

12 July, 2019

SINGAPORE — She was 27 and suffering from depression in 2015. Instead of seeking help, Jane (not her real name) decided to shut herself off from the outside world, spending most of her time alone at home.

For more than two years she lived like a hermit. On some days, she would listen to music, watch videos, play the guitar or read. But there were days when her mind slipped into an abyss.

“I couldn’t do anything other than compulsively overthink and self-harm,” she said, declining to elaborate.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Singapore, KL among major cities to face 'unprecedented' climate shifts by 2050

11 Jul 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are among cities that will face “unprecedented” climate shifts by 2050, researchers warned on Wednesday (Jul 10).

Such shifts could include changes in rainfall patterns, leading to more severe flooding and droughts, according to climate scientists from Crowther Lab, a research group based at ETH Zurich, a science and technology university.

[Well, we can forget about extending the water agreement then.]
The scientists had analysed 520 cities across the world, including all capitals and most urban centres with a population of more than 1 million.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

GIC, Temasek reports lower returns, cautiously optimistic

GIC’s returns hold steady at 3.4%, maintains cautious investment stance amid uncertainties

GIC says future returns could be “low and volatile”given the uncertainties in the global environment ahead.

By Tang See Kit

SINGAPORE: Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC saw steady returns for its last financial year, but reiterated a cautious stance amid an uncertain investment climate marked by challenges including a protracted trade row.

For the year that ended Mar 31 this year, GIC’s key metric of investment performance, the 20-year annualised real rate of return, came in at 3.4 per cent, according to the latest annual report released on Wednesday (Jul 3).

This was unchanged from the return rate in FY2017/18, but lower compared to the years prior. That number was 3.7 per cent for FY2016/17, 4 per cent for FY2015/16 and 4.9 per cent for FY2014/15.

When asked whether a return rate below four per cent is becoming the new normal or a drop below three per cent could happen in the years ahead, CEO Lim Chow Kiat said he “can’t really predict exactly what percentages”, but is cautious about investment prospects amid high valuations and a range of uncertainties that might “be around for quite a while”.

Another factor contributing to the decline in GIC’s benchmark return rate is the way it is calculated.

The 20-year annualised rate of return is a “rolling” return, where years are dropped and added as the computation window moves. For instance, the figure for FY2018/19 represented the average return of GIC’s portfolio between April 2000 and March 2019. Next year’s will measure the average return from 2001 to 2020.

Explaining why the return rate fell below four per cent for the last three years, GIC said that can be attributed to the “exceptionally high returns” from the tech-bubble period of the late 1990s being dropped out of the 20-year window, while the post-bubble declines remained.

This one-off effect is set to persist and weigh on the 20-year return figure over the medium term, said Mr Lim at a media briefing held a day earlier.

In US dollar nominal terms, GIC’s portfolio returns were 5.5 per cent per annum over the last 20 years, slightly above the 5.2 per cent annualised return from its reference portfolio. The latter, made up of 65 per cent global equities and 35 per cent global bonds, refers to the risk that GIC can take to generate good long-term investment returns.

As at the end of the last financial year, developed market equities accounted for 19 per cent of GIC’s portfolio, down from 23 per cent a year ago.

This corresponded with a two-percentage-point increase in the allocation to nominal bonds and cash to 39 per cent - the highest level since GIC began issuing annual reports in 2008.

It also slightly increased its allocation to emerging market equities from 17 per cent to 18 per cent, as well as private equity from 11 per cent to 12 per cent.

Inflation-linked bonds and real estate form the other asset classes in GIC’s portfolio - both of which remained unchanged in terms of their compositions.

Lowering its exposure to developed market equities and in turn increasing its hold in nominal bonds and cash, is reflective of how GIC has turned “a bit more defensive”, explained Mr Lim.


This cautious stance comes as the investment climate ahead is likely to be one marked by challenges pointing to low and volatile returns, noted GIC which acts as the fund manager of Singapore Government assets.

Apart from high asset valuations and slowing global growth, heightened political and policy uncertainties remain amid an ongoing trade conflict between the United States and China, continuing fragmentation in Europe and the long-drawn Brexit process.

“We see a future (with) quite a number of outcomes that are skewed to the downside,” said Mr Lim. These include a disorderly unwind of high debt, “constrained” space for policymakers to counter downturns and a possible de-globalisation given the protracted trade tensions, he added.

On the lingering trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies, Mr Lim noted that there is already some impact on trade and investments given the uncertainty of a resolution.

While there is a possibility of a compromise in some areas on the back of a restart in US-China trade talks, there is also the real risk of a breakdown in trust that can result in a less-cooperative relationship and a “very long-lasting negative impact”.

“We are concerned … that if it’s a prolonged period of trade tensions, you can lose a lot of the benefits of globalisation – whether it’s supply chains or free movement of capital and investments,” said Mr Lim.

As a global investor, GIC would “still very much prefer a globalised world where we continue to benefit from productivity gains, innovation and knowledge sharing”, he added.


Regardless, GIC said it continues to look out for opportunities and stands ready to take advantage of potential market dislocations.

This could include domestic measures that countries like China might implement in the medium term to counter the effects of the trade row, and how there has been a renewed push in free trade, via bilateral or regional initiatives, among some nations, said group chief investment officer Jeffrey Jaensubhakij.

The US-China trade conflict has also resulted in the “pushing and pulling of different industries”, he added.

This means that while some industries could be impacted, there are some that may grow as a result and still see long-term potential.

Mr Jaensubhakij stressed that this remains early days yet, but there are parallels in the deals announced this week.

GIC on Monday announced that it had entered into an 80:20 joint venture with data centre company Equinix to acquire and develop six hyperscale data centres in Europe for more than US$1 billion.

The proliferation of data gathering and processing of data “will not be affected” by the trade tensions, said Mr Jaensubhakij, adding that this is an area with “quite significant growth” in the next five to 10 years.

Same goes for its US$8.4 billion deal to buy US freight railroad owner Genesee & Wyoming (G&W), also announced on Monday.

G&W’s portfolio of 120 short line railroads, largely in North America, can tap the US domestic demand, which is unlikely to see large disruptions as a result of the trade war, explained Mr Jaensubhakij.

Other areas that remain on its radar include the technology sector, as well as the Asian region where it continues to take a “constructive view” in the long term on the back of high growth potential and attractive investment opportunities.
READ: ‘We have to be positioned for change’: GIC bets on deeper investments in tech

Asked if this means that GIC could invest more in the region, Mr Lim said: “If Asia continues to grow strongly as it has in the last 30 to 40 years, I think the chances of Asia taking up more of our exposure are good.”

Currently, GIC holds 12 per cent of its portfolio in Japan and 20 per cent in Asia excluding Japan. The rest of its portfolio is distributed among markets such as the United States (32 per cent), United Kingdom (6 per cent), Eurozone (12 per cent), Latin America (3 per cent), Middle East, Africa and the rest of Europe (7 per cent), as well as rest of the world (8 per cent).

Overall, the Singapore sovereign wealth fund said its diversified portfolio, disciplined investment approach and flexible capabilities will help it withstand the challenging investment environment.

It will continue to invest prudently, said Mr Lim in response to a question about the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s recent announcement of a S$45 billion transfer from the official foreign reserves (OFR) to GIC.
READ: MAS to disclose more information on monetary policy operations

“It’s more responsibility with more capital that we have to deploy for higher returns,” he told reporters.

Source: CNA

[GIC invests SG Govt's funds including the funds from Spl Singapore Govt Securities (SSGS) which is bought by CPFB. With the returns on GIC investment falling, the Govt's guarantee of 4% and 2.5% returns on the CPF/SSGS will be strained/unsustainable.


1) the CPF interests rates may have to be allowed to fall to LESS than the 4%/2.5%, or 
2) the NIRC available for the Govt's budget will be affected significantly if the govt bites the bullet, continues to provide 4%/2.5% for CPF/SSGS returns.

Moreover the 3.4% returns reported is the annualised 20 year rolling return. So the high returns of the early 2000 is buoying the rate. Which means current rates may be a lot lower.]


‘Good’ chance of increased Asia investments as GIC takes constructive view on region’s long-term future

GIC says there are attractive opportunities in Asia’s consumption-based goods and services sectors, such as financial services, healthcare, education and technology.

By Tang See Kit

SINGAPORE: High economic growth potential and the availability of “attractive” investment opportunities are the reasons why GIC continues to take a constructive view on Asia in the long run.

“Asia presents attractive opportunities that can be found across consumption-based goods and services sectors, including financial services, healthcare, education and technology,” Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund said in its annual report released on Wednesday (Jul 3).

“Its global value proposition will increase further, fuelled by the continued rise of its middle class, infrastructure investments, and regional integration, backed by steady technological progress.”

While there are challenges, such as uneven structural reforms and uncertainties resulting from a protracted trade spat between the United States and China, GIC said it is “confident” that these can be addressed.

As long as Asia continues to chalk up strong growth, which translates into good investment opportunities, GIC could invest more into the region, said CEO Lim Chow Kiat.

“If Asia continues to grow strongly as it has in the last 30 to 40 years, I think the chances of Asia taking up more of our exposure are good.”

Currently, GIC holds 12 per cent of its portfolio in Japan and 20 per cent in Asia excluding Japan. The rest of its portfolio is distributed among markets such as the United States (32 per cent), United Kingdom (6 per cent), Eurozone (12 per cent), Latin America (3 per cent), Middle East, Africa and the rest of Europe (7 per cent), as well as rest of the world (8 per cent).

Mr Lim was speaking to reporters at a briefing ahead of the release of GIC’s investment report for FY2018/19. The annual report card showed GIC logging a steady return rate for the last financial year, but reiterating a cautious stance amid uncertainties including a lingering trade row.

The annual report also included a feature article on the growth drivers and challenges of Asia - a region where it said it was an “early and significant investor” since the 1980s.

“GIC has been committed to Asia’s growth story for several decades. We continue to take a constructive view on Asia’s long-term future,” it wrote.

Over the years, Asia’s share of the global economy has more than doubled over the past 40 years and its financial markets have developed significantly.

While the region is made up of economies at varying stages of development, GIC noted three growth drivers that will likely persist.

These include the region’s attitude to globalisation and openness which has allowed countries to benefit from technological catch-ups; progressive reforms in its institutions; and the adaptability of its people, improvements in educational levels and a “demographic dividend” in some Asian countries.

To be sure, challenges remain in the form of uneven structural reforms, disruption from new technologies for businesses and jobs, as well as existing labour, natural resource and environmental constraints.

The region is also vulnerable to geopolitical tensions, including North Korea and territorial challenges in the South China Sea. “These are tail-risks that could disrupt Asia’s growth story and security situation,” said GIC in its report.

One manifestation of these tensions is the growing trade and business restrictions between the US and China, it added.

While some economies may benefit from trade diversion and the reconfiguration of supply chains, such tensions are harmful to Asia overall due to its high trade dependency and regional supply chain integration.

“If the US and China impose 25 per cent tariffs on all traded goods, the peak GDP (gross domestic product) loss in the near term will be sizeable for Asia as a whole, aggravated by negative sentiments and tighter financial conditions,” it wrote.

Already, the tensions are causing a slowdown in regional trade, GIC noted.

When asked how the trade row could further impact Asian economies, particularly China, Mr Lim said China will likely still be able to grow and develop its industries and economy. However, prolonged trade tensions that could lead to a loss of globalisation’s benefits is “certainly not ideal”.

As a global investor, GIC would “still very much prefer a globalised world where we continue to benefit from productivity gains, innovation and knowledge sharing”, Mr Lim added.

Beyond trade, the country’s sovereign wealth fund is also viewing the situation in Hong Kong “with some concern”.

“Hong Kong is a very important financial and business centre so it’ll be really good if they can find a way forward. That will be good for everybody,” said the GIC chief.

However, Mr Lim added that the political uncertainties - marked by massive protests over the past few weeks against a now-suspended controversial extradition Bill – do not affect how it views the prospects of Greater China.

Source: CNA


[So GIC's returns which would have an impact on CPF interest rates is already low. If Temasek returns is still high, it could make up for GIC's lower returns. And still provide Net Investment Returns Contributions to the Budget. But Temasek Holdings is also not doing as well as it used to...]

Temasek’s portfolio value at new record high, but growth rate and investment returns slow


09 July, 2019

SINGAPORE — Singapore investment company Temasek Holdings’ portfolio value has kept growing to a record high, though total shareholder returns have declined sharply in the last financial year, its latest annual review showed.

The Singapore Government is the sole shareholder of Temasek Holdings, and the returns constitute the largest revenue component of Singapore’s annual Budget, in a category officially known as “Net Investment Returns Contribution”.

In the annual review, which was published on Tuesday (July 9), Temasek also underscored the importance of investing sustainably — describing climate change as “the most urgent challenge confronting humanity”.

In the financial year ending on March 2019, Temasek’s net portfolio value grew for the third straight year to S$313 billion, up by about 1.6 per cent from S$308 billion in 2018. However, the pace of growth was still markedly slower than the 12 per cent increase from 2017 to 2018.

The result comes amid a gloomy economic outlook and rising global uncertainties, fuelled by trade tensions between America and China, a possible hard Brexit hurting European economies, and rising risks of a technology war that could affect Temasek’s technology investments.

In a media statement, Temasek said it had “moderated its investment pace” since July last year as it “anticipated an increasingly challenging environment”.

Total shareholder return (TSR) came in at 1.49 per cent in Singapore dollar terms over the year in review, a sharp fall from the 12.2 per cent posted in the previous year. TSR measures the performance of the fund’s holdings by adding capital gains as well as dividends.

At a question and answer session on Tuesday, Temasek executives stressed that TSR was high when viewed over the longer term. Over a decade, TSR was 9 per cent. Since the inception of Temasek Holdings 45 years ago, the firm has recorded a compounded annualised return of 15 per cent.

Mr Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara, chief executive officer of Temasek International, said that the shareholder — the Singapore Government — looks for long-term sustainable returns. This means there could be some years that overperform, and other years that underperform, he said.

Temasek International is the wholly owned management and investment arm of parent company Temasek Holdings.

Mr Sandrasegara said: “What we have been doing systematically over the last 10 years or so is to shift the portfolio in a way that resilience comes across… It is very important that we focus on that sort of strategy going forward, and that is really what our shareholder expects us to do.”

Temasek’s dividend income in the past financial year was at S$9 billion.

[Trying to reconcile $9b dividend income with $313 billion in portfolio over $308 billion, which is a $5b growth...]

As risks have increased, divestments outpaced investments in the past year as the firm is taking “a more cautious approach”, said Ms Png Chin Yee, senior managing director of portfolio strategy and risk group. In the 2019 financial year, Temasek divested itself of S$28 billion and invested S$24 billion.

[And then there is this, which is a net decrease of $4 billion in portfolio... ]
Ms Png said: “While the increasingly challenging global environment may dampen business confidence and investment, we expect policymakers to be primed for dovish policies that could cushion any substantive pressure on growth.”

If the low interest rate environment persists, this could lower expectations for returns in the longer term, she added.

Temasek International president and chief operating officer Chia Song Hwee said Temasek had deliberately tempered its investment pace over concerns of economic headwinds.

Mr Chia said: “In general, we manage our portfolio and liquidity for resilience, especially in anticipation of a more challenging outlook.”


Meanwhile, Temasek International will continue its journey of investing sustainably, as envisioned by former chairman Ho Ching, said Mr Sandrasegara. Ms Ho stepped down as Temasek International chairman in April. Ms Ho, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong continues as Temasek Holdings’ chief executive officer.

Temasek Holdings chairman Mr Lim Boon Heng said: “We are committed to do well, do right and do good, as an investor, institution and steward.”

He added: “Climate change is the most urgent challenge confronting humanity today. Let’s look at what’s happening around us, and think what it means for people, lives and livelihoods.”

This year's annual review featured heavily Temasek's recent investments that promote this thinking, such as Impossible Foods, a company that has developed plant-based substitutes for meat. This comes after Temasek set out its environmental, social and governance framework for the first time last month.

Among its divestments in the past year, Temasek had dropped Cargill Tropical Palm, a palm oil company, and Klabin, which is the largest paper producer, exporter and recycler in Brazil.

Mr John Vaske, Temasek head of Americas, said the framework set out how environmental, social and governance considerations weigh on Temasek’s investment decisions.

“This is very much aligned to our purpose of creating sustainable value over the long term,” he said.

Monday, July 8, 2019

10 medical myths we should stop believing. Doctors, too.

OREGON — You might assume that standard medical advice was supported by mounds of scientific research. But researchers recently discovered that nearly 400 routine practices were flatly contradicted by studies published in leading journals.

Of more than 3,000 studies published from 2003 through 2017 in JAMA and the Lancet, and from 2011 through 2017 in the New England Journal of Medicine, more than 1 in 10 amounted to a “medical reversal”: a conclusion opposite of what had been conventional wisdom among doctors.

“You come away with a sense of humility,” said Dr Vinay Prasad of Oregon Health and Science University, who conceived of the study. “Very smart and well-intentioned people came to practice these things for many, many years. But they were wrong.”

Some of those ideas have been firmly dislodged, but not all. Now Dr Prasad and his colleagues are trying to learn how widespread are discredited practices and ideas.

Here are 10 findings that contradict what were once widely held theories.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Temperatures in Singapore could hit 40°C as early as 2045: Scientists

By Low Youjin

05 July, 2019

SINGAPORE — By 2045, Singaporeans could face some days of the year when temperatures soar as high as a scorching 40°C.

At best, this sweltering scenario could be delayed to as late as 2065 onwards, based on simulations conducted by a team of scientists at the Centre for Climate Research Singapore, which is part of the Meteorological Service Singapore.

Dr Muhammad Eeqmal Hassim, a senior research scientist at the centre, told TODAY on Thursday (July 4) that this is the worst case scenario if the world continues to emit greenhouse gases at a rate that is “business as usual”.

“It (days of 40°C) won’t be a one-off event. There'll be some days starting from as early as 2045. And that's what we saw in the results. Some models are later. And so that's why we tend to give a range (that is) as early as 2045, possibly, or as late as 2065 onwards,’’ he said.