Malaysia On Track For Further Growth

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

In its latest report, Bank Negara Malaysia noted that the country saw a stronger growth of 8.9% in the second quarter of 2022 compared to 5% in the first quarter.

It attributed this strong showing to an increase in domestic demand, underpinned by the steady recovery in labor market conditions and ongoing policy support. The central bank also said the higher growth was reflective of normalizing economic activity as the country moved towards endemicity and reopened international borders.

The country’s Finance Ministry said foreign direct investment flowing into Malaysia in Q2 2022 remained positive, totaling US$3.63 billion (RM17.3 billion), buoyed by sectors such as manufacturing, financial and insurance, wholesale and retail trade primarily from the United States and Singapore.

Malaysia’s trade performance has also seen an uptrend. The Malaysian External Trade Development Corporation noted that trade surged by 56.7% to US$55.7 billion (RM265.7 billion) compared to August 2021.

Bright Outlook for Local Companies

As recovery gains momentum, Malaysian companies, such as Silverlake Axis, have also done well and experienced marked growth this year despite the impact of the pandemic. The company has a strong reputation in Southeast Asia and counts over 40% of the top 20 banks and three of the five largest financial institutions in ASEAN among its customers.

But despite its success, the Singapore-listed company has recognized the need to diversify its business and adapt to new market demands. The company is developing cloud-based and software-as-a-service solutions to compete more effectively with newer financial technology companies. It has also successfully made inroads into Thailand with these new products, with Indonesia as its next growth target.

Another company that is diversifying into new business is Gentari, a wholly-owned subsidiary of PETRONAS, which has identified the world’s need for clean energy demand within three important areas: renewable energy, hydrogen and green mobility.

The newly-formed company aspires to be a low carbon hydrogen producer that will supply its hydrogen value chain to industrial, power and transportation customers in domestic and export markets. It has plans to build an overall energy capacity of 30 to 40 gigawatt in key markets by 2030 through utility-scale projects across solar, onshore and offshore wind, and battery storage.

Open for Business

Meanwhile, Malaysia’s international financial center, the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX), has opened its doors to three financial institutions—Affin Bank, HSBC and Prudential Assurance.

The 70-acre development has been benchmarked against the most stringent international standards and offers a unique proposition to potential investors and tenants as it employs biophilic designs, which bring in natural light and better air circulation.

These innovative designs support the future of work, where workers want to be agile and mobile and have seamless connection between outdoor and indoor spaces. TRX also emphasizes sustainability, with 23% of the district dedicated to green and open spaces and where the buildings are sustainably-designed and user-oriented.

Looking forward, Malaysia’s future looks bright following the country’s transition to the endemic phase and the opening of international borders. Its economic growth is expected to be supported by more vigorous economic and social activities, as well as strong domestic and foreign demand.

“While external demand could face headwinds from slower global growth, the Malaysian economy will continue to be supported by firm domestic demand. Growth would also benefit from improving labor market conditions and higher tourist arrivals, as well as continued implementation of multi-year investment projects,” says Nor Shamsiah, Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia.

The Philippines: Ready To Soar Anew

Malls, hotels, restaurants, and construction sites light up with renewed activity in the Makati Central Business District.

Prior to the emergence of Covid-19, the Philippines was already one of Asia’s fastest-growing economies. Now, with post-pandemic recovery well underway, and the tempering of global concerns ranging from fuel to supply chain issues, the outlook for the country’s economy is bright as it looks to regain its momentum and rise to even greater heights.

Positive developments have followed the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions, thanks to an expanded vaccination program and adherence to health precautions. This has led to a rebound in investments and household consumption.

“Strong retail growth is a bright spot in the Philippines and in the region,” says Frederic C. DyBuncio, President and CEO of SM Investments Corporation. “Despite rising inflation, SM Retail reported its revenues rising by 18% in the first half of 2022.” 

The pandemic has also spurred the adoption of digital and online transactions in the country, leading to a fintech boom. “Digital innovations have made doing business in the Philippines easier, creating a springboard for economic recovery,” explains Nestor V. Tan, President and CEO of BDO Unibank, the Philippines’ largest bank.

Speaking on the property sector, Vista Land & Lifescapes President and CEO Manuel Paolo A. Villar Jr. shared in their H1 2022 earnings report about how the company saw their income grow by 11% from last year, and will continue to upgrade and develop digital initiatives. Having recently launched VistaREIT, their company’s commercial real estate investment trust, Villar remains optimistic about the prospects of a reinvigorated economy.

Official figures show the Philippines’ GDP posted 8.3% growth in the first quarter of 2022, slowing to 7.4% in Q2 due to inflationary pressures. The government expects full-year growth to be between 6.5-7.5%, still among the highest in the region.

With growth accelerating and financial burdens easing, the new administration is confident about the country achieving upper-middle-income status within the next six years.

In its first few months, the Marcos government has highlighted its continued focus on fiscal management and reviving the underutilized agricultural sector. The current team has stated its commitment to not just sustain, but to also expand the previous administration’s ambitious Build Build Build program, keeping infrastructure spending at 5-6% of GDP. By targeting other promising sectors, such as technology, healthcare and education, the goal is to raise the country’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

The latest official statistics show all economic sectors expanding, with growth mostly driven by the services and industry sectors at 9.1% and 6.3%, respectively. Business process outsourcing remained buoyant even during the pandemic and is expected to continue to play a significant role. However, tourism is the sector predicted to rebound most dramatically over the next two years.

Having weathered great storms, both literal and figurative, the Philippines is showing that, with a bit of wind at its back, its economy is ready to again fly forward and upward.

Hong Kong: Setting New Standards

Following one of the most challenging periods in its history, Hong Kong is once again demonstrating its legendary resilience, adaptability and creativity to emerge from the pandemic stronger and more dynamic than ever.

The city, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule in July, has been reminding the world why it is such a unique and vibrant global hub—not only for finance, but also for culture, technology, science and medicine.

The HK$3.5 billion (US$445 million) Hong Kong Palace Museum opened to widespread acclaim as part of the anniversary celebrations, hot on the heels of the hugely anticipated M+ museum of visual culture. Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation, meanwhile, is driving forward with its ambitious plans to develop the city into a world-leading I&T hub, drawing praise from Chinese President Xi Jinping on his recent visit. And the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology has succeeded in making a major breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease with a groundbreaking blood test for early detection.

Above all, however, the city has reaffirmed its status as both one of the world’s most important international financial centers, and an irreplaceable bridge between China and the rest of the world. Not only is the SAR creating a wealth of new opportunities for investors inside and outside of China through its various Connect schemes—and thus ideally positioning itself to take advantage of what Nicolas Aguzin, CEO of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX), calls “The Big Bang of Finance”—but it is also developing its financial services industry in areas such as fintech, ESG and sustainable investments.

Moreover, as pandemic restrictions and quarantine periods ease, the city has once again placed attracting the world’s best and brightest finance professionals to the city at the top of its agenda. As Christopher Hui, Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury affirms, “Nurturing and attracting talent is always indispensable.”

Hong Kong’s can-do spirit is also exemplified by renowned healthcare insurance firm Cigna, which has been providing bespoke health insurance solutions to corporate and individual clients in the city for almost 90 years. As the company’s CEO, Jonathan Spiers, explains, Cigna views its role within Hong Kong as much more than just offering affordable and high-quality health insurance solutions: “At a very fundamental level, we see our role as being an integral part of the Hong Kong healthcare system.”

Another company working hard to make Hong Kong—and the world—a better place for everyone is leading property developer Sino Group. With a footprint in Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore and Australia, Sino Group has placed sustainability and ESG at the top of its agenda, focusing on projects that are not only better for the environment, but which also meet communities’ cultural and humanitarian needs.

As well as striving to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 through sustainable building practices—as evidenced by the company’s new developments including mixed-use urban oasis Grand Central and the spectacular The Fullerton Ocean Park Hotel Hong Kong—Sino Group has also collaborated with the Hong Kong Government to create Wellness Lodge, a transitional housing project supporting the short-term housing needs of underprivileged families.

With innovation meeting community spirit in companies such as these, Hong Kong’s future looks very bright indeed.

Singapore: Positioned For Long-Term Success

After navigating the turbulence of the past two years, Singapore has set its sights firmly on the future as it seeks to capitalize on the post-pandemic rebound. The government has removed almost all Covid-related restrictions and has since embarked on a strategy to sustain Singapore’s longer-term relevance while supporting businesses as they return to a growth trajectory.

Like other countries around the world, however, Singapore faces challenges on multiple fronts, including heightened inflation that threatens to push economies into recession. Rising food and energy prices worldwide are a result of persistent supply chain issues that have been exacerbated partly by China’s zero-Covid approach and the supply shock from the war in Ukraine.

However, economists are cautiously optimistic that Singapore will avoid a technical recession, which is defined by two consecutive quarters of economic contraction. After the GDP dipped slightly by 0.2% for Q2, 2022, the Ministry of Trade and Industry said that the economy appears set to return to quarter-on-quarter growth for the rest of the year.

Reaping the Benefits of Transformation

Despite the uncertain global landscape, companies based in Singapore will continue to reap the benefits of digital and business model transformation efforts undertaken in recent years. Initiatives aimed at streamlining processes, embracing digitalization and finding new avenues for growth have resulted in more sustainable businesses that are better equipped to navigate volatility and capture new opportunities.

For instance, Singapore-based pharmaceuticals group Zuellig Pharma consistently taps into innovation and technology to more effectively serve its stakeholders as part of its broader mission to make healthcare more accessible to the communities it serves.

In the education sector, Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) has also embraced innovation to help its learners acquire skills and knowledge that are relevant for the rapidly evolving future of work. In July this year, SIM rolled out a rebranded identity to reflect this commitment to an industry-focused and skills-based approach to lifelong learning.

Meanwhile, one of Singapore’s leading entrepreneurs, Sam Goi of Tee Yih Jia Food Manufacturing is leveraging a new, state-of-the-art manufacturing facility to emerge stronger from the pandemic, as he seeks to play a key role in Singapore’s bid for nutritional self-sufficiency. 

Riding the Post-pandemic Rebound

The global hospitality industry is also witnessing a welcome recovery as global travel bounces back strongly, with some Singapore-based players having returned to pre-pandemic levels of activity. 

A case in point is Radisson Hotel Group (RHG), which recently unveiled an Asia Pacific (APAC) Expansion Plan that aims to grow its portfolio from around 400 properties in the region to more than 2,000 hotels and resorts by 2025. The expansion plan focuses on five strategic growth markets—India, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand—and RHG’s strategy will be powered by building local development and operations teams with local language capabilities in these markets.

The healthcare sector is another beneficiary of the post-pandemic rebound. IHH Healthcare—which operates 80 hospitals in ten countries under leading brands such as Fortis, Parkway and Pantai—saw its business plummet by almost 80% during the crisis, pushing the company into a loss for the first time in many years.

Through the uncertainty, IHH, which is listed in Malaysia and Singapore, stayed true to its mission to become the world’s most trusted healthcare services provider. The group’s decision to follow its moral compass has since paid dividends, and it has come out of the pandemic stronger than ever.

Committed to Sustainability

Many of these companies are focused on incorporating sustainability into their operations, even as they chase business expansion. IHH recently introduced its “Care. For Good.” vision, which aims to create sustainable value for all its stakeholders. This involves not only taking care of patients, but also its people, the public and the planet.

Meanwhile, Zuellig Pharma has put in place a sustainability framework that outlines 22 material issues grouped under four themes: Setting the Highest Standards of Integrity, Nurturing Talent, Improving Health Outcomes, and Respecting the Environment. RHG has also developed an APAC Expansion Plan in line with the group’s sustainability targets, reinforcing its commitment to become net zero by 2050.

Other organizations are more directly engaged in promoting sustainability in an effort to address climate change. One such enterprise is Plastic Credit Exchange (PCX), a commercial operation based in Singapore that launched the world’s first non-profit, fully integrated and blockchain-protected plastic offset program. PCX offers brands a way to achieve their sustainability goals by showing them that there is an effective, achievable way to clean up their plastic waste.  

The Singapore Edge

Looking ahead, companies and entrepreneurs from around the world will undoubtedly continue to set up shop in Singapore, attracted by the city-state’s well-known strengths of global connectivity, ease of doing business and good governance. Drawn by these strengths, Sudhir Agarwal came to Singapore in 2016 to build a global business process outsourcing enterprise from scratch. In just six years, his company, Everise, has grown into an industry powerhouse that is expected to register around half a billion U.S. dollars in revenue this year.

Agarwal credits operating out of Singapore as one factor that has given him a competitive edge in the industry. “I chose Singapore because of the ease of setting up the company and doing business here. I was clear that Everise would be built on the important pillar of governance, which we all know is very strong in Singapore.”

Balancing Safety, Convenience And Opportunity Hold Key To Resumption Of Mice Events Post-Pandemic

Jerome Kim, Director General of the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), a Seoul-based non-profit international organization devoted to the research and development of vaccines for delivery to the developing world. © IVI

With the Covid-19 outbreak disrupting travel across the world in the past two years, the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) industry has put in tremendous efforts to survive the pandemic. As vaccination rates increase and governments begin loosening measures aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus, there are growing expectations for a recovery from this year onwards.

An understanding of the disease control protocols and a consensus among different countries will allow MICE events to return to normal, says Jerome Kim, Director General of the Seoul-based International Vaccine Institute (IVI). Kim has also been appointed as Honorary Ambassador of Korea Tourism to promote the country as a MICE tourism destination, now that international travelers are gradually returning. In an interview, Kim—a medical doctor who is among the world’s most influential vaccine experts—shares his insights on the need to put in place simplified health safety protocols as MICE events resume. He also shares plans on how to make South Korea among the world’s safest MICE destinations.

Variants of Covid-19 continue to emerge, which makes it difficult to predict the end of the pandemic. What is your view as an expert?

We need to vaccinate and give booster shots to raise vaccination levels in the general population above 90%. Removing restrictions after achieving high rates of vaccination is not without risks, but it has to be done in a way that we can understand the interaction between variants, vaccines, and people getting sick.

Dr. Kim delivering an oral cholera vaccine to a child in Ethiopia in 2015. © IVI

In Los Angeles, the number of people getting hospitalized and staying in ICUs has been reduced by 26 times after vaccine booster shot drives were conducted. Anyone who becomes infected should also be closely monitored so that, if needed, medicines that prevent the progression to severe disease and death can also be given. These ‘lines of defense’ allow countries to continue to remain open while reducing the burden of diseases and deaths.

What are the most important projects that IVI is carrying out in response to the pandemic?

IVI’s most important decision came in February 2020 when we decided not to make our own vaccine but to help anyone who requested assistance at any stage of vaccine development (as IVI can work across the value chain). We are working with over 30 companies, organizations, and funders. Importantly, the vaccines we are testing in Phase III clinical trials come from companies that have committed over 1.2 billion doses to COVAX, the global distribution mechanism for low- and middle-income countries.

In-person encounters and exchanges are considered most important in the MICE industry. What do we need to do to return to some semblance of normalcy as soon as possible? 

I was just at a MICE event in Singapore, which is currently experiencing a surge. There was a lot of testing—pre-flight, post flight, and a test on the way back plus rapid antigen testing every day with a picture sent to the organizer and these tests were supported by the organizer. Unless restrictions are simplified, conventions of 100 attendees or greater will become even more complex and costly—simply the testing and reporting requirements are substantial, and it is likely that larger conferences will have attendees traveling at their own risk. The other difficulty was understanding the requirements for entry, the multiple forms, redundant information, etc. You have to have the dedicated app to go into the hotel or visit a hotel restaurant or enter the conference.

If we want MICE events to become more commonplace, we need to come to a better understanding of risks, requirements, and costs. Hopefully there can be agreement on these things between countries as well.

Korea International Travel Expo 2021 minimizes the shortcomings of virtual events by combining in-person meetings and virtual conferences using hologram technology. © Korea Tourism Organization

The MICE industry has taken on a hybrid form, with a mixture of online and offline means of communication. Have you had experience with the hybrid form of MICE? 

The MICE event that I just attended was a hybrid event. The two keynote speakers were on the line from the U.S., but 80% of the speakers and panelists were in Singapore.

There were delays due to testing. Our office was very concerned about the complexity of forms required (though on the day after I landed, Singapore switched to a rapid antigen screen).

The opportunity to interact after the sessions, in the halls or at dinner, reminded everyone of what the virtual meeting deprives us of. However, the rule in Singapore was that (people from different) tables at dinner were not allowed to interact; if they saw anyone table hopping, they would actually go and ask the person to return to their designated table.

Korea has been successful until now in hosting different MICE events, but the requirements for quarantine are a major impediment to large conferences and securing exemptions for a large number of international travelers could pose risks to the host country.

Korea is a MICE hub of Asia. In your understanding, what makes the Korean MICE industry so successful? 

First, it is Korea’s graciousness, technology, and support. The care that the conferences take in making Korean culture a part of symposia and providing hospitality with a Korean flair reinforces the impressions that people are getting now from the K-drama and K-pop craze.

Second, when you are traveling to a conference you want it to work seamlessly—problems (especially now) with on-line speakers, or with Q&A, really detract from the science. The technology here and the people supporting it are terrific.

Which place in Korea do you recommend hosting a MICE event?

I have been to several COEX events over the past two years. They continue to be well organized, and the space is large enough that people are not packed together unsafely. I think Gangnam always offers many things to do, and additionally, it has become famous. I have also been to some nice venues outside of Seoul, for example in Busan or in Yeosu. Actually, the latter may be a little too distant. But, Busan, Korea’s second-largest city, could be a good venue as it is wonderfully diverse and has much more of an “ocean” feel.

As a Korean American, how would you describe the allure of Korea? 

As a fourth generation Korean American, my impressions of Korea come from visits that my family members had in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Korea was poor and still struggling. I have only really known the modern and successful Korea, but it has been really fascinating as a history buff to visit places like the DMZ, or the ancient tombs in Gyeongju, or to stay at a hanok (a traditional Korean house) in Andong. I could spend all day walking around the National Museum or the Gyeongbokgung Palace and museum. I really would like to see Mt. Geumgangsan and Mt. Baekdusan in North Korea, and we have Hwaseong Fortress and Buyeo on the list as well. Finally, I’d like to see Okcheon—I think that is where my grandfather was born.


Finally, please share a message of hope with the MICE professionals around the world who are struggling during the pandemic. 

Reopening will be a reality. But as with everything about this pandemic, we are still figuring out the best way to do it. I think we are starting to see glimmers of hope. I hope to be attending meetings all over the world soon.


Japan’s Economy To Gain Traction In 2022

Like most countries, Japan struggled to find its economic footing in 2021, as it continued to deal with pandemic-related restrictions and prevailing supply chain disruptions around the world.

Despite the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, the world’s third-biggest economy is poised to recover, supported by the 56 trillion yen (US$493 billion) economic stimulus unveiled by newly-elected Japa­nese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Novem­ber. The package will offer cash handouts to families with children under 18, support small businesses and implement measures to off­set rising fuel prices. The country’s largest spending reflects the government’s resolve to boost growth and redistribute wealth to households.

“Growth is on course to regain momen­tum, supported by macroeconomic policies and progress in vaccination,” the Organisa­tion of Economic Cooperation and Develop­ment said in a report in December. “Signifi­cant progress in vaccination and falling rates of infection are now supporting the resump­tion of stronger consumption growth and lifting investment, as supply chain disrup­tions are resolved. A new economic policy package will boost activity.”

While the Japanese economy is expected to accelerate its expansion in fiscal 2022 to 3.4%, corporate leaders must remain vigi­lant amid the lingering impact of Covid-19. The nation’s corporate CEOs will have to remain steadfast and be prepared for the unexpected, Yuzaburo Mogi, Chairman and Honorary CEO of Kikkoman Corporation, says. CEOs need to be forward-looking and be able to anticipate what lies ahead and act decisively, he adds.

Guided by this philosophy, Mogi has spearheaded Kikkoman’s overseas expan­sion since the 1970s. Today, the company’s main soy sauce product is enjoyed in over 100 countries, with around 75% of the group’s profits coming from its international business.

As supply chains normalize, Japanese firms are also looking to tap the growing demand for electronics devices and components. One company that’s emerging stronger from the pandemic-induced slump is THK Co., Ltd.—a supplier of industrial machinery, robotics and automation solutions.

THK is benefitting from robust electronics demand driven by advances in automation and robotics, and a boom in the automo­tive industry as the switch towards electric vehicles gains pace. The firm aims to leverage digital technologies, such as artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and robotics, to boost the efficiency of its manufacturing processes over the next three years.

The strong rebound in the electronics and automotive sectors also bodes well for Alps Alpine Co., a Japanese manufacturer of sen­sors, touchpads and switches. With a mission to “perfect the art of electronics,” the group’s global network of 100 companies supply components and devices to the automotive, infotainment, and related logistics services industries.

Japan’s economic resurgence in the com­ing years will be underpinned by its inherent strengths and the resilience and innovation of its dynamic companies. The long-term outlook for the Land of the Rising Sun is look­ing brighter than ever.

Indonesia: Emerging Stronger

Investors are keen to ride on Indonesia’s rebound.

As Indonesia emerges from the pandemic, businesses and investors are looking to ride on the country’s rebound from an unprecedented crisis. According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in a report released late September, the Indonesian economy is expected to grow by 3.5% in 2021, and by 4.8% in 2022, underpinned by robust exports and government spending. Supportive fiscal policy and accommodative monetary policy will also help boost growth.

Meanwhile, private consumption is projected to recover modestly before rising by 5% next year, ADB said. Investment should also strengthen in 2022 as conditions stabilize and the business climate improves.

Indonesia’s economy had a relatively mild downturn in 2020, thanks to the government’s bold, timely policies to provide fiscal stimulus and social assistance to the vulnerable to prevent long-term economic scarring. It continued to recover in the first half of 2021 due to those same policies and strong exports,” said Jiro Tominaga, ADB Country Director for Indonesia.

Keen Investor Interest

The confidence in Southeast Asia’s largest economy is reflected in rising investment in the country’s dynamic tech sector. Indonesia’s digital economy is projected to grow by almost 50% this year on the back of rapid development in the e-commerce segment, a trend that is expected to continue until at least 2025 according to the “e-Conomy SEA 2021” report by Google, Temasek and Bain & Company. The report estimates that Indonesia’s internet economy—measured in gross merchandise value—will grow to US$70 billion this year, up 49% from US$47 billion last year.

Venture capital (VC) firm Alpha JWC Ventures has capitalized on keen investor interest in tech start-ups to continue its winning streak in Indonesia over the past year. With three Indonesia-based unicorns already in its portfolio, the firm’s portfolio of companies managed to raise over a billion dollars so far in 2021 amid the pandemic.

Going forward, Alpha JWC Ventures plans to double down on Indonesia’s tech sector. With the recent close of its latest, and largest fund, the firm will be able to increase its investment ticket size significantly, and partner with its portfolio companies for longer periods. The VC’s Indonesia-focused investment approach has been validated by global organizations such as the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation and Morgan Stanley Alternative Investment Partners, who have invested in the latest fund.

Domestic Leaders Continue to Dominate

Meanwhile, Indonesian companies in more traditional sectors have also prospered during this challenging time. As the largest and most successful bread company in Indonesia, PT Nippon Indosari Corpindo Tbk continued its domestic dominance, commanding a 90% share of the country’s mass-produced bread market.

Indonesian SMEs are leveraging digitalization to find new avenues of growth.

The company’s strategy to focus on developing Indonesia’s bread market has yielded positive results, and the company’s quarterly sales are already returning to pre-pandemic levels, boosted by wider distribution coverage and higher penetration. Profitability margins are also set to expand, underpinned by improved productivity and efficient cost management.

PT Arwana Citramulia Tbk, Indonesia’s ceramic tile industry leader, is another case in point. The company’s early decision to spread out its manufacturing to five locations around the country has kept costs low and its operations efficient, helping it to navigate the turbulence and maintain its leadership position. The company is also expanding into new market segments. Its latest plant, for instance, was set up to produce a new product, glazed porcelain tiles, called ARNA.

Transforming to Fuel Growth

Other companies have also pivoted their businesses to adjust to changing customer and market needs. Indonesian conglomerate Emtek Group, for instance, has managed to stay ahead of the competition by transforming from a conventional free-to-air television broadcaster into a multi-channel, multi-platform digital media company.

Today, the group owns three free-to-air television stations, one direct-to-home satellite television operator, a leading over-the-top streaming platform, an ecosystem of digital publishers, and a series of content and production companies, among other assets.

While Emtek has helped Indonesian businesses by providing them multiple platforms to showcase their products, its associate company Bukalapak is helping small businesses in the country grow. Enterprises that sign up to the Bukalapak app have access to buying millions of different products at the best wholesale prices for resale into their local community, as well as the ability to offer digital services to their customers; including paying utility bills, moving remittance money, buying travel tickets and even investing in digital gold.

Access to innovative financial solutions will play a key role in driving Indonesia’s long term economic expansion. In this regard, Bank Mandiri, the largest financial institution in Indonesia, is committed to delivering relevant financial products and services to its customers around the country. This is part of the bank’s broader mission to seamlessly integrate its financial solutions into its customers’ lives by delivering fast and simple digital banking solutions.

Pertamina is utilising solar panels at its refinery in Central Java.

In the energy sector, Indonesia’s Pertamina is also committed to transforming its operations to contribute to a low-carbon economy as it works towards building a sustainable business by transitioning to greater use of clean energy. In particular, the country’s national energy provider has set its sights on the development of geothermal, hydro- and solar-based power generation. As part of this transition, it has announced plans to support the nation’s effort to decarbonize, starting with reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, mainly carbon dioxide, by 30% before 2030.

These progressive companies have leveraged technology and innovation to grow sustainable businesses, and will lead Indonesia’s recovery as it shakes off the effects of the pandemic in the coming years.

Recovery On The Horizon

Malaysia is on track for a resilient recovery after the disruption caused by the pandemic.

Buoyed by a high vaccination rate that has surpassed 90% among the country’s adult population, and the pledge by the government to boost the economy, Malaysia is on track to recover strongly from the disruption brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

In its latest report on Malaysia’s economy, Bank Negara Malaysia noted that the economy grew by 16.1% in the second quarter compared to a contraction of 0.5% in the first quarter of 2021. It also said that the economic performance was supported mainly by the improvement in domestic demand and continued robust exports performance.

Bank Negara Malaysia says the Malaysian economy is projected to expand by between 3% and 4% in 2021. It believes that the expected reopening of the economy will support a gradual recovery in the fourth quarter this year, with higher global growth and sustained policy support providing a further lift to economic growth.

“Malaysia’s growth recovery is expected to broadly resume in the latter part of the second half of 2021 and improve going into 2022,” says Nor Shamsiah Mohd Yunus, Governor of Bank Negara Malaysia.

Meanwhile, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development says that Malaysia remains a business-friendly country that attracts large flows of foreign direct investment and is well-integrated in global value chains.

According to its Ministry of Finance, Malaysia is registering net foreign capital inflows thanks to the positive progress on the National Recovery Plan. “For the month of August, a total of US$1.8 billion was registered in terms of foreign portfolio flows, marking the highest monthly net inflow since June 2020, and offsetting the declines in the two preceding months,” it said.

Seizing Opportunities

Many businesses had to adapt to changes as a result of the pandemic, and one company that did well was MedTech startup BookDoc. The six-year-old startup pivoted to help Malaysia cope with Covid-19 and at the same time diversified its business.

The company adapted its BookDoc app to become a booking platform that supported 500 government clinics and helped them manage queues and practice social distancing when Malaysia was going through its lockdowns.

Malaysia has gained an international reputation as a safe and trusted healthcare destination.

It also introduced innovative services such as “lab uberization”—conducting real-time PCR tests by going to people’s homes and offices instead of waiting for them to come into test centers. This helped BookDoc to diversify and weather the storm during the tough months.

As the economy continues to open up in 2021 and 2022, Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC), an agency under the Ministry of Health, will continue to move forward with greater industry resilience to enhance the health tourism sector.

There is great potential for Malaysia’s medical tourism market as it has grown from around US$130 million to nearly US$400 million, an average of 16% in annual growth, between 2011 and 2019.

MHTC continues to actively promote medical tourism as it believes Malaysia is not only a safe and trusted healthcare destination but also offers strong value propositions. These include hospital fees being regulated by the government, world-class medical facilities that are easily accessible with a short waiting time, and specialty fields ranging from fertility, cardiology and oncology to orthopedics, neurology and health screenings.

Capitalizing on Technology

Malaysia has always been quick to capitalize on the power of technology, and one company at the forefront of developing smart cities is Cyberview, which is currently building three technology clusters centered on Smart Mobility, Smart Healthcare and Digital Creative spread across four zones in Cyberjaya. The project is estimated to contribute US$60 billion to Malaysia’s GDP and potentially create 87,000 job opportunities by 2045.

An aerial view of Cyberjaya, Malaysia’s premier smart city, where plans are in place to transform it into a global technology hub.

Cyberview believes that it has all the ingredients, from infrastructure to talent and policies, to strengthen Cyberjaya’s position as a global technology hub. After all, the likes of China Mobile International, Dell, Ericsson, HTC Global, Huawei and Modality Systems have made Cyberjaya Malaysia’s premier technology investment destination for decades.

Another company capitalizing on technology is Silverlake Axis, which is taking on newer, nimbler, fast-growing financial technology (fintech) companies at their own game. The company has just won a major digitalization project from a bank in Thailand that involves transforming a traditional operating model for banks into a digital one without affecting its legacy infrastructure.

This will help the Thai bank embark on their digital transformation with peace of mind as Silverlake Axis has the expertise to understand how banks work and is suited to helping them to transform through their digital journey.

Recognized Globally

Internationalizing Malaysia as a brand is one of the key strategies in reviving Malaysia’s economic fortunes for 2022. This is why the Halal Development Corporation (HDC) and the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation are co-hosting the Halal Cluster Week at Dubai’s World Expo in November in a quest to attract US$80 million in potential trade and investment.

HDC plans to take its initiatives global through the introduction of its new Muslim Friendly Guidelines, a set of standards and regulations for the halal industry covering the retail, tourism and medical sectors. It also plans to undertake a halal ecosystem assessment in 22 countries in collaboration with the Islamic Development Bank. The study will help to identify key components of the halal industry in the countries involved, including best practices and gap analysis.

Meanwhile, the world’s largest glove maker, Top Glove, is setting its sights on going further by focusing on Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG) goals.

Top Glove realizes that it cannot just be good at producing gloves but also needs to be the best at producing these products in a sustainable way. With its emphasis on ESG, the company plans to reduce its carbon emissions and water consumption by 25% and 34%, respectively, by 2025, and reduce waste being sent to landfills by 10%. It has also committed to consulting experts on labor issues such as the worker recruitment process, employment terms, training and workplace safety, among others.

Looking Ahead

As Malaysia continues to look to the future, RHB Bank’s quarterly economic outlook report notes that a few key events are likely to support increase in consumption by the end of 2021 into early next year.

With working capacity increasing to 100% and business operating hours normalized as states recover, broader industries that were deemed non-essential and high-risk should gradually be reopened.

Coupled with the opening of international travel, which will support tourism-related segments, mobility should improve, which lends support to the labor market and private consumption recovery.

“Consumer spending is already well positioned to capitalize on the reopening of the economy. Household savings have significantly built up during the pandemic due to mobility restrictions, moratoriums and cash support. The increased savings are arguably involuntary, and mostly in liquid assets, which may likely be drawn upon when consumer confidence improves,” the report noted.

Philippine Economy Comes Back Stronger

The Philippines has always prevailed through major challenges, from natural disasters to political uncertainties. However, the lingering socio-economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could strain the country’s much vaunted resilience now more than ever. Though still rocky, a path to recovery does lie ahead.

GDP growth significantly rebounded in the second quarter of 2021, surging 11.8% compared to the previous year, the highest growth in more than three decades. Among major sectors, manufacturing expanded by 22.3%, construction by 25.7%, and services by 9.6%. These figures have already brightened the economy’s full-year growth outlook despite some expected bumps due to the continuing spread of coronavirus variants. The government’s goal of vaccinating all adults—70% of the population—by the end of the year is crucial for the economy to sustain its growth trajectory. More than 42 million total vaccine doses have been administered so far.

Vaccine distribution may be uneven across the country, but in Metro Manila at least, the rollout seems to be proceeding briskly. The National Capital Region—which accounts for around 36% of the national economy—seems to be moving towards herd immunity. As of late September, almost 70% of the region’s target residents have been fully vaccinated, while almost 90% have already received their first dose.

The efforts of the private sector, such as global port management company International Container Terminal Services, Inc., have been instrumental in procuring and distributing the vaccines. SM Investments, the country’s largest conglomerate, provided free vaccines not only to its workforce, but also stakeholders and business partners, offering its properties as vaccination and testing hubs.

Prudent financial policies and vital reforms are expected to clear the way for further recovery, with growth expected to pick up by the last quarter of 2021 and into next year. With several high-impact infrastructure projects slated for completion in 2022, job opportunities are bound to expand and the country’s competitiveness will improve. These are also supporting the appreciation of real estate values in major cities, providing investors with unprecedented opportunities. Rebounding exports and remittances, and increased spending ahead of next year’s general elections, are also expected to boost domestic consumer demand.

The increasing adoption of digital technology and online transactions has greatly accelerated over the past year, boosting efficiency and the ease of doing business. Growth has now been more decentralized, with the government focusing on decongesting the capital and stepping up digitalization initiatives to sustain economic activity. Indicators point to a Philippines that will bounce back better, with more inclusive and sustainable growth, supported by robust infrastructure, and a resilient population that’s more digitally savvy.

Thailand: Rising To The Challenge

The pandemic has impacted countries all over the world, and each nation has been faced with its own unique challenges across various sectors. In Thailand, the tourism industry, which usually represents approximately 20% of the country’s GDP, has been hit particularly hard.

Goods and services exports, another of the Thai economy’s cornerstones at about 60% of GDP in 2019, was also significantly affected initially. However, the sector has since recovered, spurred by the weakest baht level in three years, to achieve 43.8% year-on-year growth in 2021—the largest increase in 11 years, according to the Kasikorn Bank Research Center.

In terms of direct foreign investment, supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic have encouraged foreign investors to move from China-centric to more regionalized production, and Kasikorn expects inflows to Thailand to increase by 0.7% to 0.8% from 2021 to 2022.

Moreover, in July, the Asian Development Bank estimated that Thailand’s GDP will grow by 3% in 2021 and 4.5% in 2022, so the outlook is improving as the world begins to see light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.

Despite the headwinds of the past two years, some sectors and companies have continued to fulfil their growth ambitions, as this special supplement highlights.

The German digital security company cyan recently chose Thailand as their first step in entering the Asian market, forming a partnership with Thailand’s leading mobile network operator to provide cybersecurity for mobile users.

Thailand’s PTT Global Chemical, meanwhile, has pressed forward with its global expansion, acquiring Germany’s Allnex Holding in a landmark €4 billion (US$4.75 billion) deal that significantly expands the state-owned company’s international reach, as well as its production and product development capabilities.

After a period of global gloom, it seems that a new, and hopefully improved, normal is emerging. Mass vaccination is key to winning the battle against Covid-19, and Thailand is striving to achieve this despite some initial difficulties. As of late August, medical authorities in Thailand had administered more than 28 million doses of the vaccine, and as the supply increases dramatically in the last four months of 2021, the country should be able to reach its goal of vaccinating more than half of its population by the end of the year.

In fact, Thailand’s well developed sense of community served the country well in minimizing the impact of Covid-19 in the first year of the pandemic, bringing the infection rate down to less than 10 per day for more than three months in 2020. Despite the recent uptick in third wave infections, Thailand is ready and able to rise to the challenge, and to step forward confidently into post pandemic prosperity.