More Disaster for Singapore's Sovereign Wealth Funds
|Our Correspondent||Jan 14, 2010|
A monkey throwing darts at the share pages of the Financial Times could have made bucket loads of cash over the last year. But Singapore's super-smart sovereign wealth funds, which lost billions of dollars by investing in Western banks at the height of the bubble, seem to be having renewed difficulties even while every other Joe is lining their pockets.
The estimated $675 million that the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) appears to have lost on a bad property investment in New York is arguably the least of Singapore's overseas investment problems.
Any investor can make a bad individual call and you have to take the rough with the smooth.
What's more worrying is the emerging governance crisis at Malaysia's Alliance Bank, in which Temasek is a key shareholder, having bought a 29 percent stake in 2005 and parachuted in a new chief executive and several directors. (Temasek is an "Asia investment house headquartered in Singapore" - a Singapore government euphemism for a sovereign wealth fund.)
The exact details of the problems at Alliance Bank remain unclear but the company has confirmed that it is conducting an internal investigation into a corporate governance related issue.
Chief executive Bridget Lai, who was headhunted by Temasek from her previous job Standard Chartered Bank, is currently on leave (and will be for another two weeks) while this investigation is carried out. Chief operating officer Shim Kon Tek is also on leave.
But Lai remains chief executive and stated earlier this month that rumors that she had resigned were "wholly untrue" and "highly defamatory".
An analyst who attended an investor briefing by the company on Friday hinted that the investigation "was purely a disciplinary one related to branch refurbishment contracts whereby due procedures were not followed in relation to filing of paperwork and checks over external renovators' qualifications," according to a Malaysian press report.
While the details are sketchy, companies do not normally send their chief executive and number two on leave pending an internal investigation for no reason. Unsurprisingly given the lack of information, investment banks have rushed to downgrade their recommendations on Alliance.
For other stories about the Singaporean sovereign wealth funds' troubles, read