New Book on Buffett: “The Oracle & Omaha: How Warren Buffett and His Hometown Shaped Each Other”

The Oracle & Omaha: How Warren Buffett and his hometown shaped each other

Warren Buffett, “The Oracle of Omaha,” often speaks fondly of his hometown. The city provided him a comfortable home base, away from Wall Street’s distractions. In return, Omaha benefited from the worldwide attention that came his way and from the generosity of his early investors. It turned out to be a profitable relationship for both The Oracle & Omaha.



Buffett’s decision to hire two investment lieutenants is paying off for Berkshire Hathaway, and it’s paying off for the two younger money managers, too.



Investors earn handsome paychecks by handling Buffett’s business

By Steve Jordon

Warren Buffett’s decision to hire two investment lieutenants is paying off for Berkshire Hathaway, and it’s paying off for the two younger money managers, too. Todd Combs, 42, and Ted Weschler, 51, are expected to receive bonuses exceeding $50 million each based on their investment results in 2012, evidence that they and Buffett made the right choices when they connected. Weschler and Combs had admired Buffett long before meeting him, and both actively sought connections that led to their hiring.  Read more of this post

Obama spends more time playing golf and on holiday (976 hours) than on the economy (474 hours) since his Jan 2009 elections: Government Accountability Institute Report

Obama spends more time playing golf than on the economy: Report

LONDON — In an analysis of the presidential diary and newspaper reports, the Government Accountability Institute found that United States President Barack Obama has spent 976 hours since his January 2009 election on holiday and playing golf.



LONDON — In an analysis of the presidential diary and newspaper reports, the Government Accountability Institute found that United States President Barack Obama has spent 976 hours since his January 2009 election on holiday and playing golf. In contrast, he has only spent 474.4 hours in economic meetings. “As a government watchdog group, we just tabulate the numbers and let others decide how to interpret them,” said Mr Peter Schweizer, president of GAI, which compiled the report. “People understand that presidents have the most stressful job in the world and need a break from time to time. There will be some who will be encouraged by the numbers and some who will wish the president spent more time in economic meetings.” The American news website Breitbart claimed that the survey may have underestimated Mr Obama’s time devoted to recreation. GAI calculated a round of golf as taking four hours, but Breitbart pointed out that Mr Obama said last year that playing golf is “the only time that for six hours, I’m outside”. “Like most people, presidents still do work while on vacation,” said Mr Schweizer. “So we really went out of our way to fairly and accurately reflect how the president spends his time.” Breitbart also said that the analysts had been generous when calculating how much time Mr Obama spent in economic meetings. Anything on the White House calendar even remotely connected to economics, such as “Obama meets with Cabinet Secretaries” or “Obama has lunch with four CEOs” counted as an economic meeting. The president said in 2011 that the economy was his main priority, reported The Daily Telegraph. “You should know that keeping the economy growing and making sure jobs are available is the first thing I think about when I wake up every morning,” he told an audience of UPS workers. “It’s the last thing I think about when I go to bed each night.” But the GAI report showed that the amount of time spent on the economy has fallen significantly in the years since his 2009 election. In 2009, Mr Obama spent 187.2 hours in economic meetings. A year later that number dropped to 127.8 hours. In 2011 the total fell to 73 hours. By the end of 2012, the president had spent 100 fewer hours on finance than in his first year in office, with a total of 80.4 hours devoted to the economy. AGENCIES

Trillion-Dollar Student Loan Bubble Cracks With Pulled Sallie Mae Bond Deal

Student Loan Bubble Cracks With Pulled Sallie Mae Bond Deal

Tyler Durden on 04/29/2013 08:19 -0400


In 2007 a small number of French hedge funds imploded over sudden losses stemming from highly leveraged bets made on the unstoppable subprime mortgage market. At the time, a few saw the writing on the wall; but many simply wrote it off as just another over-levered hedge fund and the subprime mortgage market was ‘fine’. Fast forward six years and as we have discussed numerous times (most recently here and here) there is a bubble, potentially far bigger than subprime, in student loan debt. As one of the last remaining outlets for state-sanction credit creation, this is a big deal; but, of course, the popping of the bubble (or even a slight leak) is eschewed since there is so much ‘reach for yield’ and the Fed’s got your back. That is until this week. As WSJ reportsSallie Mae (SLM), the nation’s largest non-government student lender just cancelled a $225 million debt offering as investors  decided they simply were not getting paid enough for risk – amid rising student loan defaultsSimply put, there’s a limit to what investors will tolerate. SLM was offering a stunningly low 3.5% interest on the deal and investors snubbed it, “There are certain limits that can’t, or shouldn’t, be crossed if you’re an investor,” adding that, “we’re beginning to see what the tolerances are.” This is a significant shift since SLM and other issuers of debt backed by student loans sold $7.8 billion worth of securities this year through last week, up from $5.7 billion in the same period of 2012. With the portion of student borrowers who are late on their debt payments by 90 days or more climbing to 31% in 2012, from 24% in 2008; we wonder if this is the tipping point for the student debt in 2013 that was generally ignored in subprime in 2007, until it was too late.

Updated April 25, 2013, 7:23 p.m. ET

Investors Say No to Sallie Mae Bond Deal

Poor Demand for Security Backed Only by Excess Cash Flows Shows Limits to Appetite for Risk


There’s a limit to how much risk investors will tolerate.

Student-loan company Sallie Mae SLM +0.24% canceled a $225 million bond offering on Thursday after about two weeks on the market, according to people familiar with the deal. The move may mark a line in the sand: Investors whose thirst for yield has revived all manner of riskier asset classes decided they weren’t getting paid enough to buy at the offered price amid rising student-loan defaults. Read more of this post

The Opportunistic Reporting of Material Events and the Apparent Misconception of Investors’ Reaction

The Opportunistic Reporting of Material Events and the Apparent Misconception of Investors’ Reaction

Benjamin Segal INSEAD – Accounting & Control Area

Dan Segal Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) Herzliyah; Singapore Management University – School of Accountancy

April 23, 2013
INSEAD Working Paper No. 2013/54/AC

Using a comprehensive sample of non-earnings 8-K filings from 1996 to 2011, we examine whether firms engage in opportunistic reporting of mandatory and voluntary news. We find strong evidence of opportunistic reporting of negative news, especially among public firms. Public firms are more likely to delay disclosure of negative news, report negative news after trading hours, and report on the last day of the week. We also find evidence of opportunistic bundling of news. Our findings support the notion that managers engage in strategic disclosure by delaying or obfuscating negative news in order to mitigate the potential market reaction. Factors such as the risk of litigation, information asymmetry, and corporate governance influence reporting behavior. Further analysis of the market reaction to opportunistic disclosure uncovers no evidence of investor inattention or under-reaction.

How Entrepreneurs Come Up With Great Ideas: There is no magic formula. But that doesn’t mean there’s no formula at all.

April 29, 2013

How Entrepreneurs Come Up With Great Ideas

There is no magic formula. But that doesn’t mean there’s no formula at all.


At the heart of any successful business is a great idea. Some seem so simple we wonder why nobody thought of them before. Others are so revolutionary we wonder how anybody could’ve thought of them at all. But those great ideas don’t come on command. And that leaves lots of would-be entrepreneurs asking the same question: How did everybody else get inspiration to strike—and how can we work the same magic? To find out, we turned to the experts—investors, advisers and professors who have seen and heard countless success stories, as well as entrepreneurs who have written success stories of their own. They saw inspiration coming from all sorts of sources—everyday puzzles, driving passions and the subconscious mind. Here’s what they had to say. Read more of this post

P&G has a higher PE than Google as investors drive up the shares of dividend-paying companies, fueling a debate over whether these haven stocks are getting dangerously expensive

Updated April 28, 2013, 4:42 p.m. ET

In Stocks, Payouts Trump Potential



Analysts expect paper-towel, toothpaste and soap maker Procter & GamblePG +0.68% to churn out per-share earnings growth of about 6% this year. Google‘sGOOG -0.95% profits will jump 18%, other analysts predict. So which stock is hotter? The answer: P&G, trading at 18 times projected per-share earnings and far above its five-year average of 15.4, according to data provider FactSet. In contrast, Google has a P/E ratio of 16.6, below its five-year average of 17.2. Investors are attracted by P&G’s sturdy dividend yield of 3.1%, assuring them at least a modest return on a stock known for its reliable performance. Google pays no dividend.

Investors searching for higher yields are driving up the shares of dividend-paying companies, fueling a debate over whether these traditional haven stocks are getting dangerously expensive. Some buyers argue that dividend stocks have entered a period where demand for income will keep valuations high, perhaps for years, thanks to Federal Reserve easy-money policies that are expected to remain in place at least into 2015. Skeptics say the “this time is different” thesis will prove wrong, and that investors will discover they have overpaid. Read more of this post

Economies Of Scale As A Service; ARM has 2300 employees, but there are>35 billion ARM-based chips; What happens is that moats dry up, and are bridged, and previously impregnable incumbents start looking very vulnerable

Economies Of Scale As A Service


posted yesterday

Credit where it’s definitely due: this post was inspired by a Twitter conversation with Box CEOAaron Levie.

Don’t look now, but something remarkable is happening. Instagram had twelve employees when it was purchased for $700 million; all of its actual computing power was outsourced to Amazon Web Services. Mighty ARM has only 2300 employees, but there are more than 35 billion ARM-based chips out there. They do no manufacturing; instead they license their designs to companies like Apple, who in turn contract withcompanies like TSMC for the actual fabrication. Nest Labs and Ubiquiti are both 200-employee hardware companies worth circa $1 billion…who subcontract their actual manufacturing out to China. Warren Buffett has long advocated investing in businesses with “moats” around their business model. Often that moat is an economy of scale; the notion that a hundred widgets cost a dollar each but a million widgets only a dime apiece. Read more of this post

Switzerland Shorn of Bankers Proves Industrial Juggernaut; “Switzerland is like a Silicon Valley for the manufacturing industry. It would be a mistake to move to a pure service economy.”

Switzerland Shorn of Bankers Proves Industrial Juggernaut

Behind the headline-grabbing job reductions at Switzerland’s biggest banks is a manufacturing boom that is keeping the economy ahead of the rest of Europe.

Even after 10,000 Swiss job losses at banks led by UBS AG (UBSN) and Credit Suisse Group AG (CSGN) in the past five years, the nation’s unemployment rate has fallen to 3.1 percent, the lowest of Europe’s 10 biggest economies and less than the rate a decade ago. The nation of 8 million is adding workers in factories that make electrical equipment, airline seating, toilets and drugs.

“People think that precision engineering, watchmaking and the medical industry are minor, but collectively added up, they are quite sizeable in Switzerland,” said Hubertus Von Gruenberg, chairman of Zurich-based ABB Ltd. (ABBN), the world’s largest maker of power transformers. Banks are “overemphasized” in the public perception as there’s a big finance industry relative to the size of the country, he said, adding that the industrial base is “powerful and important.”

Banks and insurers had 152,000 full-time employees last year, compared with 588,000 who work for industrial companies. The banking industry’s share of domestic economic output fell to 6.2 percent in 2011 from 8.7 percent in 2007, according to the most recent data from the Swiss Bankers Association.

“Switzerland is like a Silicon Valley for the manufacturing industry,” said Markus Koch, a partner at Deloitte AG in Zurich. Given the higher cost base, no Swiss manufacturer would survive if it’s not world leading or top quality, he said. Read more of this post

GM’s China Bet Mimics Toyota’s Bet on U.S. Last Century

GM’s China Bet Mimics Toyota’s Bet on U.S. Last Century

General Motors Co. (GM), the largest carmaker in the U.S., is shifting its center of gravity to China, where it sells more cars and now invests more money. GM’s announcement at the Shanghai auto show this month that it is spending $11 billion by 2016 on new plants, products and people in China demonstrates a change in priorities. GM is investing $1.5 billion in North America this year, where it has a more modest factory footprint. GM’s focus on China parallels the strategy Toyota Motor Corp. (7203) employed in the last century, when the Japanese automaker poured investment in the U.S. market, where it saw its greatest growth potential. Now, Detroit-based GM is taking the lead in the world’s largest auto market by building four new assembly plants in China to boost its factory capacity to 5 million vehicles annually, twice what it sold in the U.S. last year.

“This is what the Japanese did in the ’70s when the U.S. became their most important market,” said Rebecca Lindland, an automotive consultant with Rebel Three Media & Consultants in Cos Cob, Connecticut. “What GM is doing is really smart because it’s proactively investing in a market that, for the foreseeable future, is going to be the world’s largest.” GM rose to a 52-week high of $30.71 last week. It fell 0.7 percent April 26 to $30.50. It has gained 5.8 percent so far this year compared with an 11 percent increase in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index. The company will announce quarterly results later this week. Read more of this post

China’s Military Says No Plates for Porsches in Corruption Crackdown

China’s Military Says No Plates for Porsches in Crackdown

China will ban the use of military number plates on luxury cars, including Porsche and Bentley, in a crackdown on abuse of vehicle management within the armed forces amid President Xi Jinping’s campaign against corruption.

The change was ordered by the Central Military Commission, headed by Xi, and is part of the military’s effort to reinforce discipline and protect its image, the PLA Daily, the armed forces’ official newspaper, said in a report yesterday.

A new license system will go into force on May 1 to clamp down on the sale and use of legal and counterfeit military plates in order to “maintain social harmony, stability and the reputation of the military,” the paper said. Existing plates for all military vehicles will be canceled, it said.

The use of military license plates on luxury cars “is at odds with our army’s glorious tradition and not conducive to building the military’s morals,” according to a commentary in the newspaper. Vehicle management is “a political task to maintain forever the nature, principle and true color of the armed forces,” it said. Read more of this post

Highest-Paid Workers Driving Shell Off Australian Shores

Highest-Paid Workers Driving Shell Off Australian Shores

Escalating costs to build liquefied natural gas plants on land in Australia, where energy workers earn the highest salaries in the world, are driving developers out to sea in search of billions of dollars in savings.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) plans to use the world’s largest ship to turn gas into liquid at an offshore field, eliminating the need for investment in pipelines and port facilities. Woodside Petroleum Ltd. (WPL) is studying sea-based technology since ditching plans this month for an onshore plant for its Browse project.

After starting work on $180 billion in LNG terminals on land, developers are considering about $85 billion in floating projects to keep Australia competitive with suppliers in North America and East Africa. The floating export terminals will be built in Asian shipyards where labor costs are lower, including South Korea, the world’s biggest shipbuilder after China. Read more of this post

“Indonesia was a hot market about seven to eight years ago. But the time of the low-hanging fruits is over. The whole environment has become too frothy.”

Symphony Shies From Frothy Prices in Indonesia: Southeast Asia

Symphony International Holdings Ltd. (SIHL) said it’s seeking private-equity deals in markets including Malaysia and Thailand as assets in Indonesia, where it has invested for more than two decades, have become overvalued. An increasing number of buyout firms seeking companies that serve the growing middle class in the world’s fourth-most populous nation has pushed prices of privately-owned businesses higher, Anil Thadani, director at Symphony, an Asia-Pacific private-equity firm founded in 1981. “Indonesia was a hot market about seven to eight years ago,” Thadani, who is chairman of Symphony’s investment manager, said in an interview on April 26. “But the time of the low-hanging fruits is over. The whole environment has become too frothy.” Buyout firms are counting on rising domestic consumption in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy to boost returns as a slowdown in global growth has weakened prices of commodities such as coal and palm oil. Private spending accounts for more than 60 percent of the economy, according to government data. “We invested in Indonesia in the ’80s, and we did very well,‘‘ said Thadani, 66. ‘‘So over the last couple of years, we stayed away as we always do when we see herd behavior. Private equity is a lot about buying at the right price. And at the moment, the price isn’t right in that country.’’ Read more of this post

Billionaires Flee Havens as Trillions Pursued Offshore

Billionaires Flee Havens as Trillions Pursued Offshore

Billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, Russia’s 14th-richest person, and his wife, Elena Rybolovleva, have been brawling for almost five years in at least seven countries over his $9.5 billion fortune. In a divorce complaint originated in Geneva in 2008, Rybolovleva accused her husband of using a “multitude of third- parties” to create a network of offshore holding companies and trusts to place assets — including about $500 million in art, $36 million in jewelry and an $80 million yacht — beyond her reach. She has brought legal action against the 48-year-old Rybolovlev in the British Virgin Islands, England, Wales, the U.S., Cyprus, Singapore and Switzerland, and is seeking $6 billion.

The suits provide a window into the offshore structures and secrecy jurisdictions the world’s richest people use to manage, preserve and conceal their assets. According to Tax Justice Network, a U.K.-based organization that campaigns for transparency in the financial system, wealthy individuals were hiding as much as $32 trillion offshore at the end of 2010. Fewer than 100,000 people own $9.8 trillion of offshore assets, according to research compiled by former McKinsey & Co. economist James Henry.

“For a lot of people, it’s not just the objective of not paying taxes,” Philip Marcovici, an independent Hong Kong-based tax lawyer and board member of Vaduz, Liechtenstein-based wealth adviser Kaiser Partner Group, said in a telephone interview. “It’s the objective of obtaining the human right to privacy and seeking confidentiality about their financial affairs.” Read more of this post

Roboticists developed a robot arm that moves and finds objects by touch, a vital ability if robots are ever to begin to undertake tasks in human environments

April 28, 2013

Researchers Put Sense of Touch in Reach for Robots


Finding and recognizing objects by touch in your pocket, in the dark or among items on a cluttered table top are distinctly human skills — ones that have been far beyond the ability of even the most dexterous robotic arms. Rodney Brooks, a well-known roboticist, likes to demonstrate the difficulty of the challenge for modern robots by reaching into his pocket to find a particular coin. Now a group of roboticists in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, led by one of Dr. Brooks’s former students, has developed a robot arm that moves and finds objects by touch. In a paper published this month in the International Journal of Robotics Research, the Georgia Tech group described a robot arm that was able to reach into a cluttered environment and use “touch,” along with computer vision, to complete exacting tasks. This ability is vital if robots are to leave the world of factory automation and begin to undertake tasks in human environments, like patient and elder care or rescue missions during emergencies. Read more of this post

Venture Capitalists Are Making Bigger Bets on Food Start-Ups

April 28, 2013

Venture Capitalists Are Making Bigger Bets on Food Start-Ups


FOOD-articleLarge (1)

Unreal, a candy company based in Boston, says it uses 25 percent less sugar than other candy on the market.

What if the next big thing in tech does not arrive on your smartphone or in the cloud? What if it lands on your plate? That idea is enticing a wide group of venture capitalists in Silicon Valley into making big bets on food. In some cases, the goal is to connect restaurants with food purveyors, or to create on-demand delivery services from local farms, or ready-to-cook dinner kits. In others, the goal is to invent new foods, like creating cheese, meat and egg substitutes from plants. Since this is Silicon Valley money, though, the ultimate goal is often nothing short of grand: transforming the food industry.

“Part of the reason you’re seeing all these V.C.’s get interested in this is the food industry is not only is it massive, but like the energy industry, it is terribly broken in terms of its impact on the environment, health, animals,” said Josh Tetrick, founder and chief executive of Hampton Creek Foods, a start-up making egg alternatives. Some investors say food-related start-ups fit into their sustainability portfolios, alongside solar energy or electric cars, because they aim to reduce the toll on the environment of producing animal products. For others, they fit alongside health investments like fitness devices and heart rate monitoring apps. Still others are eager to tackle a real-world problem, instead of building virtual farming games or figuring out ways to get people to click on ads. Read more of this post

Cleaning Up on Fracking’s Dirty Water; 100 years ago, it took about a barrel of water to get 10 barrels of oil out of the ground. Today, generating the equivalent amount of shale-gas energy requires five times as much water


Cleaning Up on Fracking’s Dirty Water


With two recent acquisitions, Ecolab has become a top provider of water-treatment services used in energy extraction. Why the stock could still gush 20% or more higher.

It’s often said that 100 years ago, it took about a barrel of water to get 10 barrels of oil out of the ground. Today, generating the equivalent amount of shale-gas energy requires five times as much water, which is why hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, “is more of a water issue than it is about gas,” says Deane Dray, the water analyst for Citigroup. That has enhanced the long-term prospects of water-related stocks, including Ecolab (ticker: ECL). “The opportunities we’re seeing in water supply and water treatment are exciting,” says Ian Simm, CEO of Impax Asset Management in London and a fan of St. Paul, Minn.–based Ecolab. Despite a run-up in Ecolab’s stock this past year, Impax believes it can still rise further, citing the company’s strong management, the stock’s steady uptrend in a volatile environment, and its “mission-critical products,” says Simm. As much as 140 billion gallons of water are used in the 35,000 wells fracked annually in the U.S. Most of it simply disappears underground; the rest is rendered so toxic by the process that communities are wary of fracking. Plenty of companies will treat the water, but two specialists are Nalco and Champion, both owned by Ecolab.

Read more of this post

Dog days for hedge funds forced to cut fees

April 28, 2013 5:50 pm

Dog days for hedge funds forced to cut fees

By Sam Jones

The definition of a hedge fund, people used to joke, was a fee structure in search of an investor to fleece. However, four years on from the financial crisis, and with so far little to show for it, hedge funds’ notoriously high fees are looking less and less definable, let alone defensible. Some investors now hope that the industry’s totemic “two and 20” fee structure – 2 per cent of assets and 20 per cent of returns annually; a formula that has made many managers fantastically wealthy – may finally be beginning to crack. Challenging fees is no easy task for investors, however. Thanks to the crisis, they may well have more clout than ever before when it comes to negotiating with managers, but they are also themselves more desperate. In a time of ultra-low bond yields and high equity volatility, hedge funds are proving an irresistible draw. And as such, investing in hedge funds still seems to be a game rigged in the managers’ – and not the investors’ – favour. Read more of this post

Deadly H7N9 avian influenza may have spread to Guangdong as health authorities in Dongguan shut down the city’s live poultry trade on Sunday

Dongguan shuts down poultry trade amid fears H7N9 has hit southern China

Staff Reporter, 2013-04-29

The deadly H7N9 strain of the avian influenza may have spread to southern China as health authorities in Dongguan, Guangdong province shut down the city’s live poultry trade on Sunday, reports the Guangzhou-based Southern Metropolis Daily. The Dongguan agricultural bureau confirmed on Saturday evening that it gave orders for vendors at live poultry markets in Dongcheng district to remove all live poultry from the premises by 6pm Sunday as a precaution after one tested sample revealed “abormalities.” The bureau refused to say if the sample had tested positive for H7N9, the new strain of the bird flu that has so far killed 23 people and infected a total of 120 across the eastern, northern and central parts of the country. Authorities also did not say when the market would reopen. Reporters at the scene found that in the rush to meet official orders, much of the livestock were being removed from the market without undergoing proper disinfecting procedures. Dongguan health authorities have not reported any H7N9 cases as of April 18 and are still awaiting results from latest samples. Tests for two suspected cases earlier in the month have returned negative for the virus.


Watch out for human-to-human H7N9 flu warns top US virologist Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Watch out for human-to-human H7N9 flu warns US expert

POSTED: 29 Apr 2013 4:00 AM

There is no evidence that the deadly H7N9 bird flu has yet spread between humans in China but health authorities must be ready for the virus to mutate at any time, a top US virologist has warned.

WASHINGTON – There is no evidence that the deadly H7N9 bird flu has yet spread between humans in China but health authorities must be ready for the virus to mutate at any time, a top US virologist has warned.  Read more of this post

Hong Kong Steps Up H7N9 Bird Flu Fight as floods of mainland Chinese tourists descend on HK for the Labor Day holiday

Updated April 28, 2013, 3:38 p.m. ET

Hong Kong Steps Up Flu Fight


Hong Kong immigration and hospital officials are stepping up efforts to fend off the spread of H7N9 bird flu, which surfaced outside China for the first time last week, as floods of mainland Chinese tourists descend on Hong Kong for the Labor Day holiday. The government is deploying greater manpower at the border at the mainland Chinese city of Shenzhen, one of the busiest border crossings in the world, to screen travelers for elevated body temperatures, and tour operators are being urged to monitor the condition of individual tourists. Some 4.2 million people are expected to cross Hong Kong’s borders during the holiday, which runs from April 27 to May 1, most crossing via Shenzhen.

Read more of this post

Malaysia Arson, Intimidation Cases Mount as Election Draws Near; “The violence is much more than previous elections”

Malaysia Arson, Intimidation Cases Mount as Election Draws Near

More than 1,400 cases of arson, fighting and other election-related crimes have been recorded by police since Malaysia’s parliament was dissolved for polls which will determine whether Najib Razak’s government can extend its five-decade grip on power.

“The violence is much more than previous elections,” Irene Fernandez, co-chairwoman of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections’ code of conduct committee, said by phone. “The increased tension is being driven by the fear of racial riots” and broader implementation of Islamic law among non-Muslims that’s being created in the media, she said.

At least two more campaign offices were torched by suspected arsonists this weekend as politicians held rallies nationwide, the Star newspaper reported today, citing police. The authorities earlier confirmed they were investigating three similar incidents last week, including a small explosion at an event attended by 3,000 supporters of Prime Minister Najib’s Barisan Nasional coalition ahead of the May 5 vote.

Najib’s government is facing its fiercest challenge to date, after retaining power five years ago by its narrowest margin since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957. The markets have priced in Barisan Nasional retaining power in next month’s vote with a simple majority, though there is a growing risk of a hung parliament or the opposition gaining control, RHB Capital Bhd. (RHBC) said in an April 1 report. Read more of this post

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