Reassessing Indonesia (Part 1)


Malaysia and Singapore have a unique relationship. We are like squabbling in-laws, but we know we cannot and will never divorce each other.

You live with the tension and exchange of barbs. The ties between Malaysia and Indonesia are quite different. The animosity at times can boil over. Grudges are harboured and allowed to fester. There is a genuine fear of, and sometimes loathing for, each other.

Most of that is at the political and policy levels. Many Malaysians and Indonesians love to visit each other’s country. Indonesia to Malaysians in general, is a bit of an underachiever. Naturally, Malaysia to Singaporeans, is also a bit of an underachiever.

It’s time to reassess Indonesia. In many ways, the country is moving in the right direction business-wise.

Recently, Qatar and Indonesia set up a US$1bil fund to invest in energy and infrastructure. Qatar is the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG), while Indonesia is third. Both countries are also members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), though Indonesia has just opted out.

Qatar will contribute 85% of the funds for the new fund and Indonesia the remainder. Qatar’s state investment fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), has teamed up with Abu Dhabi state enterprise International Petroleum Investment Co in March to launch a US$2bil fund.

The QIA has also set up joint funds with Oman and Dubai.

Indonesia is pro-Western, much like Malaysia, and could be a model for a modern Muslim nation, provided nationalist Islam (not radical Islam) doesn’t become too powerful a force in Indonesian society.

Following the aftermath of the Sept 11 attacks, many were outspoken on the various failings of Muslim nations. Indonesia is a dominantly Muslim nation, with the largest Muslim population in the world, but it also has small but strong Hindu, Christian and Buddhist communities.

Malaysia has generally enjoyed a better perception in the eyes of international travellers and global investors.

Indonesia has had to contend with thorny events such as the Bali bombings and the East Timor massacre. If investors are to be influenced just by these events, they would be doing Indonesia and themselves a disservice.

There is still pockets of “nationalistic fervour” among the political voices in Indonesia.

Health Minister Siti Fadilah Supari commented in April that regional governments in Indonesia should be on their guard whenever they dealt with international investment proposals.

She said the following should be considered by provincial governors and regents in respect of foreign investment plans:

· Would the international investors take control of Indonesian resources?

· Would the foreigners be prepared to be on an equal footing with Indonesian partners, or would they adopt a lordly, colonialist stance?

· Would a particular foreign investment benefit Indonesians or harm them?

· To what extent would Indonesians gain from the investment? Foreign investors often lie about this matter.

For example, South Kalimantan’s coal needs were less than 1 million tons per year and there was an electricity shortage crisis. Yet, at the same time, 70 million tons of coal was taken out of the province and sold internationally.

Indonesia has been beset by an autocratic regime for a long time. We need to reassess the country now as the country is certainly moving away from the authoritarian system to a more democratic one.

It is still taking baby steps but press freedom and the media’s brutal honesty and bravery has paved the way for a more civil society. This is an important aspect of a decentralised power system, which accords more voice to a wider spectrum of leaders and the disenfranchised.

Meanwhile, according to an AT Kearney study of the top 25 most attractive investment destinations in the world, Indonesia ranks 21st. The rankings for 2007 are based on a survey of 1,000 CEOs around the world. In 2006, Indonesia did not make the top 25. Thanks to a well-respected Finance Minister in Sri Mulyani Indrawati, there has been significant economic liberalisation.

Quasi-monopolies have not been protected and are expected to compete with new foreign companies.

The boom in commodities over the last five years has helped the country infuse more strength into its underlying economy. Indonesia is at or near the top in palm oil, rubber, base metals, coffee and cocoa.

Sustainability of global investments

Corporate investors across all regions are concerned about the sustainability of the global economic order. Is Indonesia the flavour of the month only because of the commodities boom? I think not, as most experts can see a sea of change enveloping the country.

The commodities boom only hastens the benefits of such changes.

The country is confident enough to implement several years of mandated increases in minimum wages. While some industries may have shifted or closed operations because of these new rules, these measures have also forced investors and businesses to move up the value-add curve.

There has also been a decentralisation of budgetary systems, which has allowed local leaders to better manage resources and spending to their localities.

Over the last three years, Indonesia has managed to enjoy more stability politically, in its currency and in economic viability. This lessens the discount on businesses in valuation models, thus resulting in better confidence among foreign investors going forward.

Corruption is still a problem but one can easily see a more transparent era for Indonesia. More bigwigs have been hauled up and tainted politicians have lost their seats with greater frequency.

Major business entities

Since beginning of 2007, there has been more than US$20bil in mergers and acquisitions and capital raising, which drove the corporate sector to new levels.

The corporate sector is no longer dominated by seasoned players from the Suharto era. If you put the top business groups next to Malaysia, the latter pales in comparison.

The Salim group tops the ladder with US$7.3bil (RM24.8bil) in revenues annually and is in agriculture, distribution, property management, financial services and telecommunications in Indonesia, Hong Kong, China and Singapore.

Next is the Sinar Mas group with revenues of US$4.77bil (RM16.2bil), which was forced to sell Bank Internasional Indonesia (BII) following the 1997 financial crisis but has since rebuilt itself in banking with the acquisition of Bank Shinta.

The Sinar Mas group can be said to have been most affected by the 1997 financial implosion as their Asia Pulp & Paper had a staggering debt load of US$14bil. Following years of negotiations and restructuring, the company has thrived. It is also the biggest national player in palm oil, with land bank of more than 1 million hectares.

I could go on and on, but a summary of local companies with annual revenue of at least US$1bil each would be better for now (major assets/annual revenues):

Salim: consumer goods, agriculture/US$7.3bil

Sinar Mas: pulp and paper, agriculture/US$4.7bil

Djarum: cigarette, Bank Central Asia, Cipta Karya Bumi Indah/US$3.7bil

Gudang Garam: cigarette, plantations, paper packaging/US$3.5bil

Bakrie: coal, Bakrie Brothers/US$3.1bil

Lippo: regional property developer, healthcare, financial services/US$2.7bil

Raja Garuda Mas: pulp & paper, plantations, energy/US$2.4bil

Triputra: coal, agro-industry, manufacturing/US$2.3bil

ABC: consumer goods, battery/US$2.1bil

Saratoga Capital: coal, Adaro, palm oil, infrastructure/US$1.9bil

Para: consumer goods, property, mining, financial services/US$1.6bil

Sampoerna: agro-industry, telecommunications, forestry and property/US$1.4bil

Ometraco: animal feed/US$1.2bil

Khazanah Nasional Bhd has a hefty profile in Indonesia. The businesses under Khazanah has an annual revenue of US$1.8bil. Its stakes include those in Bank Lippo, Bank Niaga, Excelmindo Pratama and infrastructure joint ventures (JVs).

Surprisingly, Temasek’s holdings in Indonesia has only a total annual revenue of US$1.5bil. It has stakes in Bank Danamon, BII, and various property and energy JVs.

Still, the key point here is the number of business entities that have substantial revenues. How many Malaysian businesses have combined revenue of more than RM3.4bil annually? Size matters, especially when they are headed in the right direction with the proper masterplan.

State-owned enterprises (SOEs)

The government has also planned to privatise a number of SOEs, which in itself is a grand plan to better manage resources, inject competition and promote efficiency in government. All in, 37 SOEs have been identified for privatisation and/or restructuring. There has been some delay in that certain factions of the government have been delaying the process.

Last year, 10 SOEs were scheduled for privatisation. However, only five are now ready to go to IPO this year: Krakatau Steel, Bank Tabungan Negara, and National Plantation Enterprises III, IV and VII. Needless to say, intense lobbying by the affected SOEs and maybe even “vested interests” must have been a large part of the delay.

Still, it’s hard to deny that the country is moving in the right direction.

p/s photo: Son Ye Jin


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