Taking stock and looking ahead

IN HIS youth, Lance Gokongwei may not have had a specific conversation with his father, tycoon and billionaire John Gokongwei Jr, about taking over the family conglomerate.

Despite that, he has barely skipped a beat as he takes on the reins of the sprawling business empire over the past few years, with increasing oversight of the units under the family holding company, Philippine-based JG Summit. Last year, he became the group's chief executive, and is expected to become chairman when his uncle James Go eventually steps down.

With characteristic modesty, he says: "I'm just a steward here. I hope the business remains in family hands ... But I'm not playing safe. I hope I can be a bold, courageous and entrepreneurial steward."

In his career which spans over 30 years by now, he has made his mark, spearheading the regionalisation of the food business, Universal Robina, for instance. But his most remarkable achievement appears to be the phenomenal growth of Cebu Pacific against the odds, astutely tapping into pent-up appetite among Filipinos for budget travel. Cebu Pacific, the Philippines' pioneer budget carrier, is today the country's largest airline.

He sees technology as a vital enabler. To this end, JG Summit has partnered Hong Kong's Oriente, for instance, to offer on-demand loans via a mobile application to the country's largely unbanked population. We hope you enjoy our At the Helm profile of Mr Gokongwei.

In this first edition for 2019, we offer some cogent views of asset markets, at a time when volatility threatens to keep investors on the sidelines. 2018 was extremely challenging with virtually all asset classes closing out the year in the red.

To date as at press time in mid-January, the challenges show no sign of abating even as markets appear to be buoyed - for now - by a measure of confidence, thanks partly to indications by the Federal Reserve that the pace of rate hikes would slow. There is also hope that the US/China trade talks would not be disastrous; if they are, all bets are off.

In our Roundtable, experts agree on a number of things - one, that a recession is not imminent for the global economy, and that investors should continue to brace for continued volatility as markets' tug of war between the bulls and the bears is ongoing.

Deepak Khanna, HSBC head of wealth development, says equities remain the best way to access global growth. "Based on current valuations (as at mid-January), we prefer Asian, eurozone and emerging market equities where prospective returns look attractive."

Over the medium term, Aberdeen Standard Investments head of diversified multi-asset Mike Brooks believes returns from traditional equity and bond markets are unlikely to match those of the past. He is keen on a number of alternative assets with limited correlation to the economic cycle, such as infrastructure, aircraft leasing and litigation finance. These can be accessed through listed investment companies.

Elsewhere in this edition, Dr Lee Nai Jia of Knight Frank gives us insight into real estate, an asset class that is a staple in many Singaporeans' overall portfolios. The eighth round of cooling measures imposed last year has started to bite.

He believes, however, that even with the cooling measures there is still much pent-up demand in the market. One source of demand is owners who have sold their homes en-bloc and are looking for replacement homes. A second source is those looking to invest in residences, and these buyers are likely to focus on properties at prime locations.

On a lighter note, discover the intricacies and value of single malt whisky, the amber elixir that a select group of connoisseurs have long cherished both for consumption and investment. According to Whisky Invest Direct, the cash price for eight-year old Scotch whisky bought new, and sold each year of the decade 2008-2017, shows average historical returns of 15.2 per cent per annum.

But as our lifestyle writer Rahita Elias says, whisky makers believe the single malts they produce are to be savoured rather than just simply hoarded. Every cask is different, and just when the whisky reaches its pinnacle is a combination of science, guts and magic.

We hope you enjoy this edition and wish you a prosperous 2019.

Genevieve Cua
Wealth, Editor

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