Can PNB Sustain Returns?

Since April this year, Permodalan Nasional Bhd (PNB) has raised more than RM15 billion to add to its funds under management which are estimated to be RM80 billion to RM120 billion.

The recent launch of the RM10 billion Amanah Saham 1Malaysia was by far the biggest by the government- backed PNB. In April this year, PNB reopened Amanah Saham Wawasan 2020 and Amanah Saham Malaysia to investors, which saw the sale of 5.3 million units at RM1 each.

All of PNB’s sales have received warm response from investors, particularly those who do not invest directly in the equlties market.

This is largely due to the fact that funds managed by PNB have on average returned yields of 5.5% to 7% in recent years, which are higher than the risk-free fixed deposit rate. At the same time, investors have the comfort of knowing the funds are backed by the government.

Although not all the 10 funds that PNB manages are capital guaranteed, no investor who has put money in them can claim he is worst off.

The returns on PNB’s funds are higher than those the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) has given out to its contributors. Since 2002, the highest dividend the EPF has declared is 5.8% in 2007. Last year, when the equities market was badly hit, the EPF’s return was 4.5 % .

While nobody complains about the returns on PNB’s funds, the question is, how does PNB do it? Every year, regardless of how the equities market is performing, the funds declared dividends.

PNB is not known to invest outside Malaysia. Neither is it known to put large amounts of money in fixed-income instruments unlike the EPF. On average, each of its funds invests about 70% of its money in equities.

PNB does not invest in high dividend paying sin stocks. It is the biggest shareholder in Malayan Banking Bhd, Sime Darby Bhd and UMW Bhd. It has, in recent months, taken up stakes in property companies such as S P Setia Bhd and Mah Sing Bhd.

Most of these companies pay high dividends. Apart from dividends, there is a fair amount of activity by PNB’s funds in the market at any one time, whether sentiments are good or bad.

Although dividend income forms a substantial portion of the income distributed, a lot of its returns is also derived from realised gains from the disposal of equities.

For instance, Skim Amanah Saham Bumiputera, which is said to be its biggest fund, paidout RM3.49 billion in 2006. Of the amount, almost 50% came from gains realised from the disposal of equities.

In 2006 alone, the funds managed by PNB distributed RM4.2 billion to investors. Based on a fund size of RM70 billion, this works out to a return of 6%, which is higher than the EPF’s 5.15% for that year.

How the funds managed by PNB realise huge gains from the disposal of shares and dividend income is something that has continued to amaze industry players.

One theory that often crops up is that PNB’s original cost of investment in some of its large portfolios, such as Sime Darby Bhd, UMW Holdings Bhd, Malayan Banking Bhd, Telekom Malaysia Bhd and Tenaga Nasional Bhd, was low. Which is why it is always able to realise hefty profits from the sale of these equities.

Also, when initial public offerings (IPOs) were a craze until the Asian financial crisis in 1997, PNB was allocated shares in listed companies at the listing price. But the IPO era has long fizzled out.

A more likely reason PNB has been able to consistently pay out dividends of at least 5.5% is that its funds do not distribute all their profit. Unlike the EPF, PNB is able to retain some of the returns. This is possibly why it is able to pay out above-average returns even when the bears overrun the stock market.

But going forward, with a fund size that continues to grow, can PNB keep paying 6% dividends? With an investment strategy where about 70% of its money is put in the domestic equities market, can PNB gperate sufficient returns to maintain its average payouts?

Investing is not an easy task. It is an art and every serious investor will agree that most lose more money than they make Identifying good investments is one thing, getting in and out at the right time is another.

The investments of sovereign wealth funds (SWFs), managed by well-paid investment bankers, are still under water despite the stock market having improved and fears of a recession having abated.

In a nutshell, investing in the stock market is an art. It is a tough business hut PNB has been doing it well with consistent returns so far. But how long can it invest and declare consistent returns of more than 5.5% by just putting its money in local stocks?

PNB already has sizeable stakes in some of the big caps. Unless there is new money in the form of foreign portfolio investors buying up shares sold by PNB, it will be a tough challenge for the ever-growing fund.

Source : The Edge

Leave a Comment

  • Kris 3rd September, 2010, 9:39 pm is curious that PNB can sustain itself with such high dividends for along time

  • Matt 30th October, 2010, 9:31 pm

    It’s a legal ponzi scheme…..