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This is home – truly

Chew Sutat
Chew Sutat • 9 min read
This is home – truly
The miracle of the Little Red Dot should give us pause to reflect and be grateful. No one owes Singapore and Singaporeans a living in this complex world. Photo: Shutterstock
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Whenever I am feeling low
I look around me and I know
There’s a place that will stay within me
Wherever I may choose to go

This Aug 9, I will be in Shanghai. My first trip to China since BC (Before Covid). It is a coincidence that visa-free access for two weeks to Singaporeans has just been released, sending the high prices of flight tickets skyrocketing. Fortunately, my trip was planned well in advance and I have an Apec Travel Card, which means I could skip the one-month booking for a queue number and one-week visa processing time at the Chinese Embassy.

For Singaporeans who have the most visa-free access globally, let us take pride in this landmark achievement in 2023 and be grateful for the luxury of our red passport, for being citizens of this implausible little red dot, whose success in this increasingly bifurcated multipolar world should never be taken for granted.

Perhaps, this special visa-free access was the going-away gift from the Chinese ambassador to Singapore Sun Hai Yen, who only arrived last year but will be returning to a deputy ministerial role in Beijing. I guess after ex-foreign minister Qin Gang, a supposed protege of President Xi Jinping disappeared and was removed for unspecified reasons, there were spaces to fill up in the foreign ministry. Hopefully, her return will also herald a continuation of the temporary uptick in Chinese equity markets in late July until October’s Golden Week.

In my 25-year corporate career past, I have found myself many times on Aug 9 in a far-flung country either pitching a deal, negotiating with a partner or signing an MOU to bring business and investments into Singapore. For me, business travel is not quite all that glamorous as it is made out to be. It is normally a rush and blur between the airport, traffic jams, and offices. This time, I will be in China for a board meeting for YZJ Financial Holdings (YZFH), which was listed last year after being spun out from YZJ Shipbuilding. YZFH’s stated purpose was to diversify and invest through Singapore and has since partnered with other global funds including Heliconia and EDBI.

As I am semi-retired, I look forward to meeting up with old colleagues and friends, and learning first-hand how severe the economic issues we hear about are. However, I am most looking forward to celebrating with fellow Singaporeans at Shanghai Counsulate’s NDP23 event on Aug 8. Perhaps, I may even have the chance to taste a bit of chwee kueh, chicken rice and kopi-o even though I am away from home.

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I will always recall the city
Know every street and shore
Sail down that river which brings us life
Winding through my Singapore

Having grown up on a diet of National Day songs including Stand up for Singapore, Count on me Singapore and One people, one nation, one Singapore, I was not prepared for Dick Lee’s Home (whose lyrics I display here), first released in 1998 and sung by Kit Chan, which moved us from patriotic jingoism to heartfelt emotional expression.

However, I was very lucky to spend the evening of July 29 with my 10-year-old nephew at the NDP 2023 full-dress rehearsal with fellow Singaporeans belting out these and other tunes of different languages, including Shine your light upon the world which is the NDP 2023 theme song. Such is the diversity that makes us proud to be Singaporeans. Without giving much else away, I must say this year’s parade and NDP show is the best I have seen in years, and one to be enjoyed with family and friends in front of the television screen even if you are not part of the crowd this week.

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The segments around Community Chest’s 40th and Singapore Armed Forces’ 55th anniversary were heartfelt as we emotively SHARE with fellow Singaporeans (look out for the QR code) and physically felt the sonic boom as the F15 Strike Eagles streaked overhead. Among the 34 contingents on parade were the smartly turned-out Guard-of-Honour contingents, the youth groups and the paragons of Singapore corporates. This included DBS, Singtel, Keppel and Seatrium which featured prominently alongside stalwarts like PUB and NTUC. But I did wonder whether the Grab contingent was made up of its HQ staff or its gig community.

As many of us in the audience roused in song and tear-filled eyes with Iman Fandi’s beautiful rendition of Lee’s Bunga Sayang and took our phones out in unison to capture the fireworks over Marina Bay after Majullah Singapura, I couldn’t help but wonder what the results would be if we could channel part of that passion, belief and unity into our local stock market. Perhaps, SGX Group could send a marching contingent and sponsor an NDP song to lift the animal spirits. If this happens, I would recommend our own Papa Rock, Ramli Sarip.

When there are troubles to go through
I look around and start anew
For there’s comfort in the knowledge
That home’s about its people too

Ten years ago, in what was a landmark product that encouraged inclusion and long-term equity saving for retail investors, OCBC Bank launched the BCIP (Blue Chip Investment Plan) that allowed dollar-cost averaging. Investors could sign up to allocate a fixed monthly sum to be invested in their favourite blue chip. POSB followed suit with a product that linked to a whole basket via the STI ETF — a less risky proposition than buying a single stock. Regular savings plans for mutual funds are not an unusual concept but many investors — sometimes encouraged by their “advisors” or brokers — like to make bigger bets and time the market, often to their detriment.

More often than not, many investors have no time or cannot afford blue chips. Instead, they invest in risky penny stocks, cryptos or foreign stocks and then get burned. For an investor who can set aside, say, $100 for stocks, a regular savings plan was an opportunity to build long-term equity safely while channelling savings capital into our stock market although I am not sure of the take-up rates or how the schemes have grown since.

So we’ll build our dreams together
Just like we’ve done before
Just like that river which brings us life
There’ll always be Singapore

Since I was subjected to compliance constraints in my previous role at SGX, I too signed up for the BCIP using my Supplementary Retirement Savings Account at OCBC. I signed up in August 2013 to purchase $1,500 of the STI ETF monthly, deploying the maximum capital, which is currently set at $15,000. The Straits Times Index (STI) at first went up 9% but fell to –11% in 2015. It then peaked at 18% in 2017 before falling to –10% in 2018 and again in 2020 during the initial phase of Covid. In 2021, it was up 10% and again this year. The STI has recovered from its mid-July lows of 3,100 to end at 3,380 and could try to break out once again above 3,400.

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The figures may not look exciting for those who like big returns. But the results of my dollar-cost averaging look right long-term for an equity market with very low volatility. I continued to collect 4%–4.5% dividends per annum from the ETF and have a 1% p.a. (per annum) extra equity index return. Should the STI eventually reach 3,800–4,000 when interest rates start to ease in 2024, this will take the +5% to 6.5%–7% p.a. This is pretty decent for a passive investment plan and still higher than current peak interest rates for FDs (fixed deposit) or T-Bills at around 4% (which only featured for over six months since 4Q2022. An FD (with bank risk but no volatility) would have returned about 1% p.a. in the nine-plus years.

Those who were savvy enough to pick the bank stocks, which are currently the outperformers, would have had dollar-cost average returns including dividends of over 8%–10% p.a. without the volatility of an index like the Hang Seng or the Nasdaq’s fantastic performance this year although it has yet recovered from its correction in last year. In addition, one would not have captured Sembcorp’s eight-fold rise since 2020 and even if carried down from 2013 starting at a higher price, the fixed amount invested would have bought a whole lot more extra shares in the recovery after 2020, ensuring profitability. Investors who timed the market imperfectly and gave up on Sembcorp Industries as the stock slid from more than $5 to below $1 instead of automatically buying more and compounding up now to double-digit returns p.a.

This is home, truly
Where I know I must be
Where my dreams wait for me
Where that river always flows

Many have asked why I am so personally “vested” in the local market since investment capital knows no boundaries and there is a vast ocean of investment opportunity out there, according to banks, asset managers, stockbrokers and wealth advisors. Is it, as some imagine, an occupational hazard left over from having a 25-year career in the financial markets until 2021 or the emotional hangover I suffer because my dad was a remisier during my youth?

Perhaps, there are elements. Certainly, the miracle of the Little Red Dot and the luck of the draw that I was born in Chinatown Singapore — not 50km north or 50km south — provided a wealth of opportunity for me for which I am grateful and I now try to give back through the Community Chest. That it is 100 years after our founding father Lee Kuan Yew was born should give us pause to reflect and be grateful. No one owes Singapore and Singaporeans a living in this complex world where geopolitical hegemony, friend-shoring and the consequential inflation, energy and climate crises continue to plague many nations elsewhere.

Although many Singaporeans complain about our stock market and invest elsewhere, on this National Day, it is worth noting that our stock market is recognised by international investors but that we ourselves have a role in helping “achieve, happiness, prosperity and progress for our people” by investing at home. I know I am right when I board SQ825 for my return flight on Aug 12 that SIA is flying high after investors including Temasek pulled together during Covid and saw the flag carrier through the turbulence. For me …

This is home, surely
As my senses tell me
This is where I won’t be alone
For this is where I know it’s home

Chew Sutat retired from Singapore Exchange after 14 years as a member of its executive management team. During his watch, the exchange transformed from an Asian gateway into a global multi-asset exchange, and he was awarded FOW’s lifetime achievement award. He serves as chairman of the Community Chest Singapore

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