Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Must Watch Movies

Amid the tension surrounding the elections and the uncertain market conditions owing because of that, let's look at something else to take our minds to something different. For the last 3 months or so, there have not been any worthy English films to talk about, probably because the Oscar race is over and other blockbusters are awaiting the summer release. However, I have found 3 magnificent Canto/Mando films, highly entertaining to boot. Must watch.

The first is the sleeper hit from China, Lost In Thailand. Its a kind of Planes, Trains and Automobiles (Steve Martin, John Candy) meet The Hangover. It was so successful, it has grossed more than US$200m in China alone. It has also caused the number of Chinese tourists to Thailand to jump manifold. It tells of two executives from a venture capital firm seeking the signature of their boss who has gone for a sabbatical at one of the monastery in Thailand for a critical deal. Its very funny in any language.

Lost in Thailand film poster

The Cold War, brilliant in the same style as Infernal Affairs, only this time the crooks have abducted a police patrol van with the 5 police officers inside and ransoming the entire police force. Although Aaron Kwok looks a bit too young to be cast as a very very senior police officer, it was a mild thing. The story line is captivating but its the personalities in the police force that takes center stage. As the top officer is overseas, the next 2 most senior fought for the right to oversee the "rescue/ransom" - Tony Leung Kar Fai was brilliant, trying to gain control of the operations as his son is one of the 5 kidnapped officers. While Aaron is not really a detective but rose from the ranks of administration and strategy. You feel for all the main characters. Gripping stuff.


The final one has to be the bravest comedy produced from HK. Its called Vulgaria, and the entire movie is filled with profanities in Cantonese, but very funnily done. Top notch actors delivering the crudest lines with a hard to believe story line, but somehow it all works. The profanities are not deliberate because in reality its how normal HK people speak. There are too many laugh out loud scenes, most are too crude to describe here. Must be conversant in Cantonese to watch this one.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Let's All Adopt This - How Car Drivers Say Thank You

There are very few cases of road rage in Japan. See how car drivers say thank you in Japan. If you let another car into your lane, the other driver will press the hazard lights and let it blink a couple of times to say thank you. So cool ... yet I think it will go a long way to de-stress those around us and lets make a step to try and change the Malaysian driving culture bit by bit.

Important To View: Can The Pakatan Manifesto Stands The Math Test

The simplest way to attack the Pakatan Manifesto is to say that it will not work, that there is not enough money to fund all that. Tony Pua, a learned person of business and strategist, explains why the Pakatan Manifesto is not a pipe dream. Excellent presentation and convincing too.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Jon Hamm's Penis Banned From Mad Men

Mad Men is a very good series, but the producers are having a hard time with Jon Hamm's little general, as men during those days wear much tighter trousers, so much so that his cowabunga had to be photoshopped out of posters..etc... What a wonderful positive PR problem to have.

When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole penis with him. A fleshy appendage, no less primitive than the prehensile tail we lost when we evolved, yet no less important than the heart that keeps us pumping. It makes a man feel whole. It drives a man. It’s the stick that chases the carrot. And when it hangs off of Jon Hamm, it causes problems simply because it stands up for itself.
Conflicts between the Mad Men crew and Jon Hamm’s increasingly demanding companion, Little Dick Whitman, have apparently become so prevalent, the show’s producers have “politely” asked the notoriously freewheeling star to stifle his penis with a layer of restrictive underwear, after Hamm’s penis became too distractingly headstrong. “This season takes place in the 1960s, where the pants are very tight and leave little to the imagination,” an insider "source" explains to the New York Daily News. And while, yes, the entire series has so far taken place in the 1960s, either the closer trouser cuts of Carnaby Street have begun to encroach upon Mad Men, or Jon Hamm’s penis has similarly begun to experiment with the styles of the era, and its insistence on copying Bob Dylan’s fly-away hair and Cuban boots have made Hamm’s penis all the more disruptive.
In addition to being banned from the set, Jon Hamm’s penis has also been Photoshopped out of promotional booklets and advertisements, with NYDN’s source laughing, “Imagine how distracting that would be on the side of a bus or building.” Hamm’s representative, however, doesn’t find anything amusing about his client’s enormous, impudent genitals being scrubbed from city buses so as not to cause traffic accidents. “It is ridiculous and not really funny at all. I’d appreciate you taking the high road and not resorting to something childish like this that’s been blogged about 1,000 times,” they said, clearly not familiar with the Internet. 
On a related note, Matthew Weiner is still allowed free rein. "Around here there can only be one Weiner in charge," he said, hopefully.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Where Is Cyprus?

To most of us, we do not even know the locations of Cyprus, maybe even the fact that it was admitted into the European Union as well. How can something so small be so significant? How can it drag markets down so much? In hindsight, the weaker markets gave the lawmakers a big signal. Its not so much that they can whack the depositors in Cypriot banks, they are scared that such tough and unreasonable measures may be employed at other difficult countries such as Spain or Italy.

What is likely to happen: the Cypriot lawmakers will vote down the rule. This will anger the ECB and may pave the way for Cyprus exit. I mean, seriously, in the whole scheme of things, its only $7bn. You may actually see a minor bank run at places such as Italy and Spain as well, which may bring back the ECB, IMF and EU finance ministers to the discussion room. Likelihood, the tax will only apply to deposits above 100,000 euros ... paving the way to tax the rich but not the poorer citizens - that may be acceptable, the shortfall can easily be made up by the trioka.

Global markets were rattled slightly. However as more news on the backlash by so many parties, it is likely that the rule has to be changed significantly to gain acceptance, and more importantly restore confidence in the ECB's recovery and restoration plan. Cyprus ia small issue, no one will risk pushing the silly rule through at the risk of major fallouts in bigger EU nations. Last thing they need in Italy and Spain is a bank run.

(excerpts from Bloomberg & NYT)

A plan to rescue the tiny European country of Cyprus, assembled overnight in Brussels, has left financial regulators, German politicians, panicked Cypriot leaders and a disgruntled Kremlin with a bailout package that has outraged virtually all the parties. Russia was angry it was left out of talks to aid Cyprus, where it has billions in banks. Aha, you see, Cypriot banks was seen as a haven for a lot of riche Russians to stash their millions and billions.

As markets tumbled and the Cypriot Parliament fell into turmoil. It now looks likely that the Cypriot lawmakers will vote down the measures.

Officials scrambled to explain what went wrong and how best to control the damage of completely irrational decision to make bank depositors liable for part of the bailout. The deal flopped so badly that finance ministers who came up with it shortly before dawn on Saturday were on the phone to each other Monday night talking about ways to revise it. Whatever the outcome, the dispute is a vivid demonstration of why Europe, which until recently was congratulating itself on having weathered the worst of the financial storm, has trouble making decisions with so many different interests represented at the table.

Politics, both domestic and international, get in the way of economics and make it difficult for wealthy countries to line up behind a plan to help the smallest ones. The northern European nations have grown so weary of bailouts for their southern neighbors that they were intent on exacting a hefty contribution from their latest supplicant. Germany in particular, with parliamentary elections looming in September, was set on driving a hard bargain.

A wild card in this instance were the Russians, who have deposited billions in Cypriot banks, extended a $3.25 billion line of credit to Nicosia in 2011 and were in negotiations to help out Cyprus once again. Cypriot leaders apparently were so concerned with keeping their wealthy offshore Russian customers happy that they pushed their own citizens to pay even more than some of the lenders were demanding.

The Russians reacted angrily to a so-called stability tax on deposits in Cyprus, and at being left out of the negotiations. On Monday, Russia’s minister of finance, Anton Siluanov, warned that Russia might not extend the existing credit line because the Europeans had not consulted authorities in Moscow about the deposit levy plan. On Sunday, one Russian official was reported by the Interfax news agency as advising Russians to withdraw funds from Cyprus, saying the banking system was untrustworthy.

The all-night discussions began Friday and ran for 10 hours, ending shortly before dawn on Saturday. Cyprus needed to come up with billions of dollars to help cover the costs of the bailout of the country’s financial sector, or its European allies said they would leave it to face the prospect of collapse alone.

Each of the major stakeholders, which included the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and euro zone finance ministers, entered the room with a conflicting goal. Protecting the small-time saver was at the top of no one’s list. The result was a compromise solution everyone is now unhappy with, officials say, one that stands to cost ordinary Cypriot depositors 6.75 percent of their savings.

The Germans and their northern European allies wanted to exact a maximum contribution from Cyprus to ensure the deal could pass their recalcitrant, bailout-weary parliaments at home. A confidential report by the German foreign intelligence agency, known by its German initials as the B.N.D., was making the rounds, one that painted the island as a haven for money-laundering. The stigma attached to helping the Cypriots — and the political cost in an election year — was rising rapidly.

The I.M.F. was dead set on keeping the debt at what its number-crunchers considered a sustainable level. The Cypriots, meanwhile, wanted to spread the pain around.

The European Central Bank also had reservations about levying higher taxes, but the Germans wanted $9.2 billion from depositors, officials said. That was an enormous contribution for a country the size of Cyprus.

Cypriot lawmakers is likely now to shoot down an unprecedented levy on bank deposits, risking the island’s membership in the euro. Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades warned German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a call yesterday that he may not be able to win passage, said a Cypriot government official. 

Finance chiefs from the 17-member euro area late yesterday urged Cyprus to spare small-scale savers, while keeping unchanged the size of their demand on account holders. While Cyprus accounts for less than half a percent of the euro economy, the fight over the bank tax risks triggering new turmoil in the financial crisis that began in 2009 in Greece.

A complete rejection of the measure would forego European assistance and could lead to a sovereign default, or even an exit from the currency union. What we have seen in the last few days is a very serious blunder by European governments that essentially are blackmailing the government of Cyprus to confiscate the money that belongs rightfully to depositors.

Once banks on the island reopen, the country could see more than 7 billion euros in outflows, or about 10 percent of the total, Central Bank Governor Panicos Demetriades told a parliamentary committee.

Anastasiades was rebuffed in a call to German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday. Merkel told him that he can only negotiate a rescue with the so-called troika, which comprises the European Commission, the ECB and the International Monetary Fund, according to a German government official.

The bank levy and additional tax measures reduced the overall rescue package to 10 billion euros from about 17 billion euros to meet the IMF’s demand for debt sustainability and German politicians’ skepticism over financial transfers.
German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said there was no other option if the troika wanted to keep the price tag for the bailout at 10 billion euros. Naturally, the Cypriot president tried to find a way around it, but there was none, and that the levy doesn’t violate deposit guarantees, because such protections are “only as good as a state’s solvency.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called the tax “unfair, unprofessional and dangerous,” according to a statement posted on the Kremlin website. Russian companies and individuals have $31 billion of deposits in Cyprus, according to Moody’s.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

HIV - Important Developments

The report that a 2½-year- old Mississippi baby appears to be cured of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has provoked intense interest, excitement and some skepticism among AIDS researchers and the community at large.
The toddler's case, if confirmed in further research, could have important implications for treatment of more than 300,000 babies born with the virus each year—mostly in the developing world.
The baby is the second person ever documented to be cured of the virus during the 32-year global AIDS epidemic. The first, a man named Timothy Brown and known as the Berlin patient, was cured as an adult as a result of a bone-marrow transplant he received to treat his leukemia.
Here are answers to some questions raised by the report, which was disclosed Sunday and formally presented Monday at the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta.
WSJ's Ron Winslow reports on the unprecedented cure of the HIV virus in a two-year-old girl in Mississippi and its potential impact on broader treatments. Photo: Getty Images.
Q. Beyond the report of the cure itself, what stands out about this case?
A. Two important details are these: The baby was started on a more aggressive regimen than normal—and within 31 hours of birth—well before test results that confirmed the HIV infection were available. Generally, doctors start with a lower dose and wait for confirmation of infection before starting such an intense regimen, something that can take four to six weeks. Researchers believe the rapid, aggressive treatment likely led to curing the child of the virus.
Second, the mother decided to take the baby off therapy, something a doctor would almost never do. When the baby was brought back for care after a hiatus of at least five months, standard tests were unable to detect any virus. "I fully expected to see that the child's viral load had gone up quite high," said Hannah Gay, the doctor at University of Mississippi Medical Center who started the baby on the intense regimen.
Q. This is just one case. Will this treatment strategy cure more babies?
A. Much more research is required to validate the finding before it could become part of standard treatment. Deborah Persaud, the researcher at Johns Hopkins Children's Center who is the lead author of the cure report, said further studies are now being planned to test the intense, very early treatment regimen in more infants. In addition, the baby will continue to be monitored for her HIV status.
If the findings hold up, the approach could significantly alter developing-world treatment of babies born with HIV, perhaps playing a major role in the global health community's goal of halting HIV infection of newborns. "This news gives us great hope that a cure for HIV in children is possible and could bring us one step closer to an AIDS-free generation," UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said in a statement.
Q. What are the implications for people already diagnosed with HIV or who have progressed to developing AIDS?
A. It isn't clear how the new case applies to people with established infections. Such infections are characterized by "viral reservoirs" where HIV lurks in immune-system cells, hidden from treatment and ready to roar back when treatment stops. The latent reservoirs persist for years and are the major barrier to an overall cure of HIV and AIDS.
In the case of the baby, researchers believe the early treatment likely prevented the establishment of the reservoirs, which typically can form very quickly after exposure to HIV.
Q. So was the baby infected or was the infection prevented by the treatment?
A. Some researchers question whether the baby was truly infected. Cells in the baby "may have been infected—there was virus around," said Steven Deeks, an AIDS researcher at University of California at San Francisco. "But the cells being infected weren't the type that become long-lived reservoirs."
The key issue in prevention is reversing the effect of the latent reservoirs, Dr. Deeks said. "What is probably happening [in the Mississippi case] is that latency is being prevented, not reversed."
Q. Why do researchers think the baby was infected with HIV?
A. The baby tested positive for the virus based on five separate tests, including two taken within 31 hours after birth. After treatment began, levels of the virus gradually declined. At one month, the virus couldn't be detected by commonly used tests, an expected result based on the therapy she was given.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said, "They did the right things in their study." The findings are a "proof of concept" that very early treatment—before the viral reservoirs are established and before the immune system is damaged—could cure babies of the infection.
In any event, if the strategy is proven effective in additional studies, it likely wouldn't matter whether the infections were being prevented or just rooted out before they became established in the reservoirs, researchers said. Babies would still become free of infection.
Q. How would the strategy fit into current efforts to prevent infections among newborns?
A. The well-established approach is to treat infected pregnant women with antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy and during birth. That reduces the rate of mother-to-child transmission to under 2% from a range of 15% to 45%, according to the World Health Organization.
That's why WHO, UNAIDS and other public-health organizations have made providing pregnant mothers in the developing world with access to antiretroviral drugs the primary strategy in preventing mother-to-child transmission.
"We still need to focus on prevention," said University of Mississippi's Dr. Gay. "Prevention works and prevention is the best form of cure."

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Asset Class Returns As At End February 2013

As the table is based in USD, a stronger dollar last month clipped returns of foreign stocks and bonds from a U.S. currency perspective. U.S. equities and bonds, by contrast, posted respectable gains in February, although the domestic pop wasn't enough to offset the drag from foreign markets in U.S. dollar terms for a globally diversified portfolio. As a result, the Global Market Index (GMI) slipped 0.1% last month, although GMI is still up a handsome 2.4% for the year so far through February's close.

The big loser last month was commodities, which shed more than 4% overall. Meanwhile, REITs continue to rise, adding 1.2% in the U.S. market and gaining 1.0% on an offshore basis. Over the past year, REITs generally are in the performance lead among the major asset classes. Foreign REITs in particular are higher by a strong 24.6% through the end of February 2013. REITs has been on a tear for most of the past 12 months, a strong indication  of the recovery in commercial properties - the fact that money is leaving the sidelines and venturing into stocks and properties in the US is a strong trend for a buoyant market in 2013.
By comparison, bonds, US and foreign have been muted, again a show of money exiting bonds. You would think that considering a market rally in equities based on liquidity (thanks to all central banks printing press) would have seen an effect in commodities, the reverse is happening. That is not a good thing as it may mean that the current equity rally is largely a bubble as it is not translating into real activity (i.e. pickup in commodities buying for end products or consumption). A better explanation would that there has been so much excess capacity and inventory for commodities that they will only pick up by June July methinks, same for the precious oil.