Singapore Budget 2009 – My budget chats

Dear Friends,

Happy ‘Niu’ Year to you.

The Singapore Budget 2009 has been touted as bold. I do agree with this labelling to a big extent.

I have placed my comment at AccountingWithEdgar blog. My latest entry is my views on Dr Basant Kapur’s idea to roll back GST to stimulate Consumption.

So please have a read through and share with me your views and comment too.

Gongxi to you!

Is your business a Going Concern?

Are your bankers, suppliers, customers, employees… asking questions or passing remarks about your company’s health ie. going concern (GC) status?

Given the current economic situation, may businesses may display certain symptoms that they may have caught the GC disease.

There is one more key person whom you may have to contend with in due course.. the auditor!

Auditors will increasingly question the viability of business. Helen Brand, head of ACCA reinterated this point in yesterday’s BT article entitled “Going concern dilemma for auditors”.

A CFO of a public listed company that I “accidentally” had lunch with recently, made this remark about their auditor. The company has some investment in China. To check for impairment, auditor requested that his company to do a 5-year cashflow projection and to be followed by computing for its NPV using the higher Weighted Average Cost of Capital (WACC) as the discount rate. He said the end result of that exercise is obvious. There will definitely be a write down on the investment. The write down may wipe off whatever profit and resulting in a loss. A loss ==> any going concern problem?

While a loss may not lead to a going concern problem, nevertheless the loss would activate another series of tests to confirm whether a company has the ability to meet its obligations within 12 months from its balance sheet date.

A quick and simple test would be whether Current Assets > or < Current Liabilities.

A loss in the P&L and CA Qualified Audit Report => investors/bankers withdrawing their support. Unthinkable?

Business owners, you may wish to get ready the following for the GC test.

  • a realistic business plan
  • a realistic plan to liquidate non-current assets
  • a financial support package secured
  • capital injection from shareholders
  • or any other info that will help the auditor to appreciate that your business can go on for another 12 months

Both auditors and business owners do understand the gravity of GC.

Budget Chat 2 – Dr Basant K. Kapur

With reference to today’s ST “Making the case for GST roll-back” editorial by Dr Kapur, his principle position is:-

Singapore’s fiscal policy is too supply oriented.

I disagree with Dr Kapur in the following areas. Whether the budget measures are too supply-sided or demand-sided could be a matter of perception.

Keynes gave us fiscal policy measures to manage Aggregate Demand.

Aggregate Demand = Consumption (C) + Investment (I) + Government Spending (G)

My position – When I analyse the headline measures of the Budget, they are as much demand-sided as supply-sided.

  • For the Job Credits Scheme, it is primarily aimed at maintaining the job/income for many and hopefully translate to Consumption. This is a more indirect but maybe sustainable) approach to Consumption as compare to Government just crediting your accounts with some monies. This simple-putting-money-into-your-pockets idea is also done in the form of GST credits.
  • Unfreezing Credit by provding loan guarantees – While this is a way to keep the cash flow going to pay wages, it could be viewed as a means to encourage domestic Investment demand.
  • Double GST rebates – Dr Kapur called for GST roll-back ie. reverse the 2% GST increase to stimulate domestic demand. He argued that negative “real-balance effect” of higher prices due to higher GST would curb Consumption. My views – Would the Double GST rebates achieve the same? Or as GST rebates (and Job Credits schemes) are only given to Singaporeans, does it imply that the postive impact on demand (if any) would be more muted as compared to a GST roll-back to all residents? I hesitate to agree with Dr Kapur until I am given some info on the cost to businesses in changing GST/CPF rates up and down.
  • $20billion on Construction project – Is this not a direct prescription of Keynes where we would count the intended expenditure as Government Spending (G) and/or Investment (I)? Dr Kapur is asking for 2%/$1.8billion GST roll-back. May I have your view on $20billion thingy too? While the Contractors will be happy first, I am sure when they spend the money they earn, the rest of Singapore will be happy too.
  • The longer term spending on Education, Healthcare, Marriage, Parenthood and Green theme – I would agree with Dr Kapur that these would be more supply-sided initiatives.

Other Dr Kapur’s key views to share:-
The biggest thing that is weighing down on Consumption is Housing. Given the high owner occupied properties and “high” property prices, a lot of purchasing power is directed at maintaining our place of residence.

Budget Chat 1 – Just like after 2nd World War

pic from Business Times

Before the release of the Budget, many were wondering what can the government do to help the economy in the absence of external demand?

On Thursday 22 Jan 2009, the Budget presented looks like a modified version of the efforts to revive a war-ravaged economy of a country immediately after the world war.

At that time, there was obviously no external demand and many of the surviving population were unemployed and living in poverty. The government then used borrowed money (from World Bank I think) to pay labour and materials to build roads, bridges and our now famous HDB flats!!

In today‘s Singapore, we are planning to use part of our reserves to partially pay for all our salaries (Jobs Credit Scheme) and another $20billion for construction projects.

For the Jobs Credit Scheme, the government will give cash grants of 12% for the first $2,500 salary of a Singaporean employee. So if your gross salary is $1,800, your boss will get a refund of $216 per month from the government.

My immediate off-the-cuff response would be that all of us will be partially working for the Government ie. part-time civil servants!!

Based on YA 2007 figures, there were about 825,000 residents who reported income tax. Assuming 300,000 are non-Singaporeans, at $200 cash grant per person per month for about 500,000 Singaporeans, it is certainly no small sum.

Definitely a bold budget indeed.

P/S – Singapore Budget 2009 May I know the person who came up with “Jobs Credit Scheme” idea?

Suggestion to IRAS

where was i?

There is a significant difference in value placed on a gardener and a household servant in the computation of taxable benefits granted to an employee.

Current laws

  • For a gardener, it is $35 per month or actual wages paid by employer, whichever is lower.
  • Whereas for a household servant, it is based on the actual wages paid by employer.

Refer –

Perhaps the “discrepancy” could be due to:-

  • the gardener’s thingy has been around since the British colonial days where expatriates stayed in bungalows with gardens groomed by gardeners getting $35 salary
  • the household servant is a more recent phenomenon
  • or is it that gardeners are part-timers who come around once a while to touch up on your garden

Whatever it is, I am just trying to cheekily explain the “discrepancy” in IRAS’ valuation of a gardener as compared to a household servant.

So can I advise expatriate employees (if there is any left) to ask their employers to hire “gardeners” who can do household chores to effectively lower your taxable employment income? 🙂

s207 (9a) Companies Act and NEL Group

What is that about?
Under the Act, the external auditor of a public company has a legal duty to report (ie. whistle blow) to Minister of Finance if potential fraud may have been uncovered during the annual audit exercise.

What if it turned out to be misunderstanding? No breach of legal duty if it is done in good faith.

s207 (9a) was seldom invoked. The last time it was used was about 12 years ago on CAM International Holdings Ltd. Recently it was invoked for NEL Group. KPMG has submitted a report to the Minister.

So what do KPMG think has happened in NEL Group?
Apparently there is this new game in town called “round tripping”. It was played by NEL Group and Advance Module, another listed company back in 2005.

How to play? First I sell to you. Maybe after my financial year end, you sell back to me at about the same price. Of course, nothing was really purchased or sold except maybe some people just do and exchange some paperwork on the “transaction”.

The pressure to perform financially has encouraged creativity!