Thursday, July 29, 2010


Just remembered the time when I was a little confused in my CA class... we were discussing about trade unions, when the word "unionised" came up in the notes. At first I kept reading it as "un-ion-ised" (as in ions - atoms/molecules with more/less electrons than protons) and was wondering why the sentence didn't make any sense. Only after hearing the lecturer say it a couple of times did it dawn on me that it was supposed to be "union-ised"!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Credit Cards - Evil?

As a follow up from Paper or Plastic?, I'm sorry to say that I've caved in to the double-Cs. Yes, I got one, as a contingency measure for my month-long trip (but I didn't use it abroad at all!). Having this plastic in my wallet is quite tempting, but as a compensation, I think I'm more alert at checking myself on whether I really need to buy something (whenever the urge arises). Anyway, so far it's been working out good - as next month the bank will be giving me around RM28 cashback (I'm not too sure for what exactly - perhaps since I'm a new user and I've been using my card weekly for petrol and misc. and the fact that I pay up before they bill me?). :)

This is a cute way of putting things into perspective!

Anyway, the purpose of this post (and me revealing that I have succumbed to the banks) is this Reuters article. The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston released a study on how credit card fees and rewards programs are acting as a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. You may ask, how can this be when I don't actually ask the poor to pay my credit card bills? Well, if you've noticed, most merchants usually do not charge extra if you opt to pay via credit card. Of course, (in Malaysia) with the exception of smaller shops, some Chinese restaurants and certain cellphone dealers - where they will charge you a higher price (about 2% more) if you want to pay by card or they set a minimum limit of RM50 for credit card purchases. For the majority of the merchants out there, they are willing to absorb that small percentage of credit card fees in order to secure more sales. So at the end of the day, customers paying by cash are actually paying more to the merchant for their goods, while credit card users are paying less and the rest of the dough goes to the bank. And when the merchant 'absorbs' the credit card fees, it means that they're taking that extra money earned from their cash-paying customers to pay the bank. According to the said article, people who pay by cash are also more likely to belong to the lower income group. Therefore, in essence, credit card users are robbing cash-paying customers (through the very subtle middlemen - the merchant and the bank).

So, this doesn't really encourage consumers to pay cash for their merchandise, as you end up paying more than what the actual price should be (i.e. minus credit card fees) and you're poorer immediately (as opposed to buying on credit and paying up at the end of the month). On top of that, if you rack up more on your credit card bill (and maintain a good credit history), you'll get more points for gift redemption or cashback (like my credit card plan!).

The banking system and all these credit card schemes aren't perfect - somehow, somewhere, sometime, someone has to become the scapegoat at the end of the day. I don't think there's a win-win situation or solution to this matter. After all, it is business and people do what they do to get more money. In other words, it's a dog-eat-dog world. So for those who have credit cards, use them! You're actually getting more for your money spent! (Disclaimer: The author is not liable for any overspending done via credit cards on the part of all readers of this post. You should have enough brain to know your spending limits when you sign up for a credit card!)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Labeling Posts

I just started labeling my blog posts today. I'm sure it'll take a few days to label all my posts appropriately...

As for now, you can listen to this Hillsong song (I like!)
Hillsong - Show Me Your Ways (performed by Grace Presbyterian Church)

Grace Presbyterian Church - Show Me Your Ways .mp3
Found at bee mp3 search engine
The lyrics to this song is as below. Speaks to me volumes at this point in my life.

Show me Your ways
That I may walk with You
Show me Your ways
I put my hope in You

The cry of my heart
Is to love You more
To live with the touch of Your hand
Stronger each day
Show me Your ways

Friday, July 23, 2010

Of Conglomerates...

A few weeks ago, while studying for my CFM and CA examinations, I remember watching a CNBC special about the Walmart empire, which was directly followed by the story of the Coca-Cola company. The feature programmes showcased a brief history of how these companies started out and where they were, currently are and also where they are heading towards. It's amazing how these companies started out as small startups and in the span of a couple of decades mature into conglomerates with diversified business interests in markets all over the globe!

The thing that stuck in my mind about Walmart was how the management motivated their thousands of staff through team cheers (although a little lame sounding, but even the senior management take part in these cheers!) and annual rallies where they treat their dedicated staff to celebrity performances as well as reports on the company's performance in the past year. I can't remember whether shareholders could also attend these rallies. Well, (forgive me for being ignorant, but) I never knew companies could create this sense of somewhat 'cult' following among their staff as a means of motivation exercises. It was an eye-opener as to how strategic management could be so innovative and 'fun' (as in playing with people's minds).

The above are the conclusions I derived from the TV programme. As for my personal visit to Walmart stores in the US last month, I found the shopping experience to be overwhelming (like a food wonderland) - there were just too many choices for you to make! If you wanted to buy bread, you'd have to choose from a whole isle-full of breads of different brands (and these were not the store brand choices - those were placed somewhere nearer the entrance). It is no wonder with so much food varieties and brands available on the shelves, that it is easy for our eyes to become greedy - buying more than we need and thus consuming (eating) more than we are supposed to! In a way, I'm thankful for the lesser choices we have in our hypermarkets here - I don't get tempted and overspend whenever buying groceries.

However, I'm sure Malaysia isn't completely safe from the Walmart invasion - it's probably just a matter of time before we would have one on our very own shores. They could be driving around in their unlabelled vans conducting market surveys of potential locations (as seen in the TV special). After all, the next conglomerate I'll be addressing below has already made themselves quite comfortable 5 minutes drive from my office (and is apparently quite a favourite with the local homemakers!)

What I noticed when I reached the UK was Tesco here, Tesco there and Tesco everywhere!
The Tesco I knew was a hypermarket with increasing number of stores around the prime areas in Klang Valley. Yes, I knew it was a UK company and that they have a pretty good selection of store brand products, which were reasonably priced and (the best part) "Made in the UK." I remember my first time walking into a local Tesco store and not being Wow-ed. This was because at that time, we'd already had exposure to hypermarkets such as the early-comer (and now, I think, defunct) Makro cash & carry wholesaler and Carrefour. Later on, local retailers Giant and Mydin adopted the hypermarket concept too.

Back to the Tesco I saw in UK. In Liverpool alone, I was able to see many Tesco stores of different sizes (Extra, Express etc.), Tesco petrol stations, hear about Tesco's 1-year contract mobile phone plans (which you can buy the phone bundled with the mobile plan off their shelves), Tesco insurance (which you can also buy from their shelves in their stores) and apparently there is a Tesco bank (I can't remember whether I saw this). With the 5-letter word bombarding me at every corner, it forced me to gasp in amazement at how diversified this conglomerate is! Amazing! Another name which I encountered quite often is Sainsbury (Tesco's competitor). I know for sure that they offer financial loan services because we parked right in front of their postered wall while waiting for aunty to hop in and grab some groceries.

All this got me thinking... do we have such widely diversified local companies here in Malaysia? Apparently we do - but their diversification isn't so "in your face" (I think, probably due to some government restrictions on certain industries like banking & finance and telco). Zhulian is one of such companies. I've seen numerous billboards along interstate highways with simple messages like "Zhulian thanks you" and had always wondered what did they deal in (or sell). After some time, I found out that it was a multilevel marketing company. It started out with costume jewellery and then diversified into nutraceuticals. The group has their own manufacturing and R&D facilities and has a wholly-owned subsidiary handling its printing needs, and another for its logistics, and another to handle the Group's in-house cafeteria. Seems like they are pretty much self-sufficient (I don't know about their sourcing of raw materials though).

There are many other local conglomerates with a well-diversified portfolio of business interests - such as UMW, Sime Darby etc. but I don't have all the time in the world to read up on every one of these companies. So here ends this post!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Boeing in KL

When reading local business news, I've always wondered why statements from Boeing were always reported from Kuala Lumpur. Usually the business news were connected with ordering and delivery of aircraft by airline companies in Asia. I've tried Googling for "Boeing office Kuala Lumpur" before but the search results were always unsatisfactory - electronics business and other non-aircraft businesses. However today's search was fruitful - Boeing opened an office in Malaysia to handle its Southeast Asia customers back in 2002. And this I read from 1-2 measly news reports from 2002! Their presence on Bernama news is quite frequent, with statements from them at least once a week... but I couldn't even find their office address online!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

When 'Catty' is not about a cat...

On several occasions, I have had transient pets in my home - mainly stray cats and dogs. Most of these animal must have had owners before because they were not scared or intimidated by contact with humans. Every time a stray animal returns to our gates, I'll give it a name - so that it'll be easier to call him/her. Therefore many cats have been named "Catty" - the generic name for all cats who stop by No.1.

Today, as I was searching for the mud method of making salted eggs, I came across a scientific paper written by someone in the People's Republic of China. The paper explained what happens during this process of egg preservation and is an interesting read if you want to attempt making century eggs and salted eggs. As I was reading it, the term 'catty' and 'catties' came up. And then I remembered seeing mum scribble down recipes using measurements in 'kati' units. So I Googled 'catty' and this Wiki page came up!

I was amused to discover that 'catty' originated from the Malay word 'kati' (which we, Malaysians, are so used to hearing but never really knew how much it represented - well, at least I didn't know how much it represented in metric terms... hehe) and is actually a traditional Chinese unit of mass! Well, for the record,
1 catty = 604.79 grams

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Interesting read on Banknotes

During my recent trip, I came into contact with five different currencies (six, if Ringgit Malaysia is included). It's interesting when you actually sit down and scrutinise the banknotes and coins of different countries. The fine prints, watermarks, illustrations and symbols used all carry some sort of significance. I was particularly fascinated by the English and Scottish pounds sterling - Why use two different banknotes when both are of equal value and both are from the same country? The reason is because the issue of banknotes are not handled exclusively by the central bank, such as in Malaysia. Instead, in the UK, there are seven other retail banks which are allowed to print their own banknotes besides the central bank - Bank of England. From my observation, two of the seven retail banks are Royal Bank of Scotland and Clydesdale Bank.

Another silly thing that kept turning in my mind after reading/seeing everything there was to read/see on the Scottish pounds sterling banknotes was this statement:

The Royal Bank of Scotland plc 

Doesn't it mean that the banknote is just a note or a piece of paper representing a debt value that is collectible or redeemable from the bank? Next question: In what form is this debt value redeemable? Gold - since it is seen as a rare precious metal with a high stable value? Well, after reading more about 'legal tender' on the Wiki page, the answer is "bank notes are no longer redeemable in gold and the Bank of England will only redeem sterling banknotes for more sterling banknotes or coins." Which means, that once upon a time, banknotes actually carried a tangible value that we could get our hands on by exchanging the notes for gold from the bank. Now, it's just a piece of paper where we can only get more papers (in smaller denomination) and no gold! It is backed by 'securities' - and isn't that just another broad term for a bunch of papers/IOUs representing something intangible - that you can't get your hands on physically?

Anyway, the world keeps going round and you and I have bank account books with printed amounts of paper money we own in them. As long as these paper notes are good to buy me lunch, I'm happy!

Paying the cashier with foreign coins has always been a challenge for me. Some countries have coins sizes which don't match the value (at least in my mind's rationale - based on being too used to Malaysian coin sizes). What I mean is... like why is the US one dime coin (10 cents) smaller than the five cent coin? Or why is a British two pence coin bigger than a five pence or even a one penny coin? Well, after a week or so (in each country), I made a point of memorising the coins so that I don't look like a fool emptying her purse at the cashier!

One of the nights in CL's, I went through my British coins and noticed that the picture on the back of the one and two pound coins varied. That spurred me to check the other smaller denomination coins and I noticed the newer coins had a 'cut-off' design of some sort of emblem. I didn't think too much of it, just thought that perhaps it's some modern artistic interpretation of a coat of arms or something. Well, lookie here.... look what I found on Google Image search!

Interesting eh? I took a couple of photos of the different one pound coins I kept, but upon reviewing them, they kind of look dirty - so I won't upload them here. Haha

In one of our purchases, mum was refunded in £10 notes and one of them had a tear at its corner. Later on we had a little trouble trying to spend it, but in the end we managed to get rid of it. This situation reminded me of the many times at home when we went grocery shopping in the Giant hypermarkets. The cashiers were very careful not to accept torn (even slightly) notes and would advice their customers to change it at a bank (like we have nothing else better to do than line up at a bank!). I've always wondered on what conditions would the bank accept a damaged banknote and would a commercial bank actually be willing to render the service of that exchange for free? After all, the banknotes were distributed by the central bank (Bank Negara). This article helped clear some questions I had on my mind about this issue.

To sum it up:
If your banknotes appear to be accidentally damaged, you can return them to Bank Negara in replacement for new notes, but, if the damaged notes are less than 2/3 its original size, you will not be able to get a replacement in its full value (i.e. replacement value will depend on the size of the remnant of the damaged note). If the banknotes have been drawn/written on on purpose, don't even plan on getting back your money!

On a different topic altogether, I was quite thrilled to see lone and even clusters of wind turbines on fields when we were travelling in the UK. Honestly I've never actually seen one with my very own eyes and this was the first time I've set my eyes on wind turbines! They look so (modern, nice, stylish) and they're green technology! Anyway, I digress. The point is, I was wondering why they were scattered all over the farmland in the country (or at least at the places we visited - Liverpool, Manchester, Scotland) and I found the answer in the newspaper - Britain is the world leader in developing renewable wind energy!