Search This Blog

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Philippine House Prices Hit New Peak While Sales Volumes Drop Sharply in the 1st Semester of 2017

In the first half of 2017, the Philippine House Price Index hit a new peak of 232.41. This is 3.09% higher than the previous peak of 225.44 posted in the first quarter of 2017 and 8.05% on a year-on-year basis. From 2004 to the present, the Philippine House Price Index has climbed much faster than inflation. The gap between current house prices and house prices adjusted for inflation stands at its highest ever, 66.52%.  Meaning, had house prices merely tracked inflation since 2004, the Philippine House Price Index would now stand at just 165.89 as of the first half of 2017.

Source: Collier's International Philippines, Makati CBD Prices

Sales volumes, as indicated by the HLURB Licenses to Sell Statistics, have shown a dramatic slowdown in the first half of 2017. Annualized Sales Volumes now stand at 171,172 units for the first half of 2017. This is off by 34.20% since year-end 2016.  This sales volume now stands at slightly higher than the 170,379 level posted at year-end 2011 and below the 172,967 level posted almost ten years ago at year-end 2007.  If sales volumes do not pick up in the second half of 2017, the long-term upward trend in ever increasing sales volumes that has been in place since 2001 would have been broken, indicating a real estate bear market is imminent.

Source: HLURB Licenses to Sell

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista"s PHP 1 Billion in Unexplained Wealth May Just Be the Tip of the Iceberg; Most of the Wealth May Lie Offshore

Much has been made in the media of Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista's Php 1 billion in unexplained wealth. Both the mainstream media and the blogosphere have focused on his humongous deposits with Luzon Development Bank (LDB), spread out through as many as 35 different accounts with the same bank. It is understandable for the general public to latch on to Andy's LDB deposits. It's something that the public can easily grasp and relate to. Ordinary citizens have passbooks of their own. Passbooks are also admissible as prima facie evidence of ill-gotten wealth in a court of law.

Little discussion has revolved around the offshore corporate investment vehicles found in Andy's possession by his estranged wife, Patricia Bautista. Not many people are familiar with tax havens. It is a shadowy world inhabited by the extremely rich and the extremely corrupt. Just ask Andy Bautista. He did, after all, spend almost five years in the PCGG going after Marcos wealth hidden in offshore trusts. But it is here that the real wealth may lie.


Because they are "almost" perfect vehicles for evading taxes and concealing ownership of assets. They are routinely used by gangsters and dictators as well as by spouses seeking to hide wealth from their wives in an impending divorce. Tax havens are secretive, anonymous, and almost downright impenetrable. Half of the world's trade passes through tax havens. Eight percent of the world's wealth resides in tax havens. For developing countries like the Philippines, as much as 20% of the country's wealth resides in tax havens. Tax havens, therefore, are no laughing matter.

Offshore companies are easy to form. Company formation can take as little as three days and can cost as little as US $1,000.00. Companies can be started from scratch or bought off the "shelf" in the form of a dormant ready made company. Bank accounts can be formed in someone else's name, making it almost impossible to trace to the original owner. Company shares of stock can be in the form of bearer shares wherein the name of the owner/holder is not included in a physical stock certificate, concealing the ultimate beneficial owner. For as little as $500.00, company directors/officers can be appointed for you. These very same directors can sign a power of attorney handing control of the company back to you and thus remaining completely ignorant of your company's operations. All this serves to provide a deep level of secrecy that is so effective at hiding wealth, especially ill-gotten wealth.

Secrecy is paramount. Secrecy is often the sole reason that a tax haven exists. The more secretive a tax haven is deemed to be, the more dubious the source of money. The Tax Justice Network, a watchdog group focused on tax havens, has compiled a Financial Secrecy Index that rates the secretiveness of various tax havens. The higher the score on the secrecy index, the more impenetrable and untraceable the money is. The Philippines, for instance, has a secrecy index score of 63. Switzerland, the biggest and most well-known tax haven, scores a high 73.

Andy's Offshore Companies

All three of Andy's offshore companies were formed during Andy's time as PCGG Chairman. Little detail is known about them other than what was declared in Patricia Bautista's affidavit.

The first, called Bauman Enterprises Limited (Bauman), was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands (BVI) on September 29, 2010 - a mere six days after Andy Bautista assumed the office of PCGG Chairman on September 23, 2010. BVI is a well known tax haven. Around 500,000 or 40% of the world's offshore companies are incorporated in BVI. The BVI has a secrecy score of 60, slightly lower than the Philippines. Bauman has a bank account in Singapore, another well-known tax haven. The name Bauman sounds like a contraction of Bautista Management and it is not clear if Andy himself was listed as an incorporator or board member/trustee.

The second vehicle, Mantova International Limited (Mantova), was formed in Brunei Darussalam on April 26, 2011 - a mere seven months after Bauman was born and Andy"s assumption of the PCGG Chairmanship. Brunei is not well known as a tax haven. Instead it is well known for its oil reserves and the riches that oil has brought to its flamboyant King. Brunei's secrecy score is an impenetrable 83, one of the highest in the whole index.

The third vehicle, Mega Achieve Inc., was incorporated in Anguilla, a British Overseas Territory in the Carribbean on July 15, 2014, some three years after the birth of Mantova and towards the waning days of Andy's PCGG Chairmanship. Anguilla's secrecy score is 69, lower than Switzerland's but higher than BVI's.

CompanyLocationDate of IncorporationBank AccountSecrecy IndexGlobal Scale Weight
Bauman Enterprises LimitedBritish Virgin Islands09/29/10Bank of Singapore60.281
Mantova International LimitedBrunei Darussalam04/26/11NA83.000
Mega Achieve IncAnguilla07/15/14NA69.002

Could these be "Shelf" Companies?

Did Andy acquire these companies while he was in PCGG or during his current tenure in the Comelec? Again, we don't know. But a scan of ICIJ's Offshore Leaks Database shows many companies with similar names but formed in other tax havens. Most of them are defunct, having been deactivated long before Andy assumed any government post. Here are some of the closest:

CompanyLocationDate of IncorporationDate of DeactivationIntermediaryOfficer
Mantova Co. Inc.Bahamas11/06/9212/31/93Cititrust (Bahamas) Limited
Bauman LimitedBahamas07/16/9310/31/97Harry B. Sands Lobosky
Mega Achieve Holdings LimitedSamoa10/07/1302/15/15Markland Secretarial Services LimitedYang Hanwan/Mossfon Subscribers Ltd

The similarity of names to the ones in Andy's possession is a strong indication that Andy could have purchased the companies "off the shelf" and in ready made form from a well known purveyor of offshore companies such as Mossack Fonseca, a Panamanian law firm that was subject to a massive information leak in 2016. Quite a few world leaders have already been outed as users of offshore companies. The Prime Minister of Iceland was forced to resign when a previously undisclosed offshore company linked to him popped up in this database.

Should Andy do the same?

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista Placed His Unexplained Wealth in a Failing Bank

Besieged  Comelec Chairman Andy Bautista claimed in an interview with ABS-CBN's Karen Davila (beginning at 21:00 of the above video) that he had been acting as "the designated family treasurer" for his parents and siblings since as late as the 1990s.

“Most of [it] belong[s] to my parents, my brother and my sister,” Bautista told the Inquirer. He was referring to his brother, Martin, and sister, Susan Bautista-Afan. Most of the passbooks were in the name of Bautista and his parents. At least one showed the name of Susan and another was a joint account with Patricia. Martin’s name was not on any of the passbooks in Patricia’s possession
Bautista said Martin was doing well as a doctor in the United States, while Susan also earned substantially when she lived in United States. Susan, a dual citizen, is now with ABS-CBN Foundation.

In a subsequent interview with GMA News, brother Martin Bautista claimed that he had at least US $1.75 million (around Php 87.5 million) with his brother Andy, earned from his successful medical practice in the US.

This information begs several questions:

Why was Andy Bautista continuing to act as a "designated family treasurer" even after he assumed very high profile government posts since 2010?

As an accomplished legal professional, Andy should be very cognizant that any money linked to him, whether from his siblings or parents, must be beyond reproach. As the former head of the PCGG, whose chief job is to go after the hidden wealth of the Marcoses, Andy chased after their money trail (which has long gone cold) and would go after any and possibly all leads that linked onshore and offshore bank accounts to the Marcoses. Was he not aware that these bank accounts could be construed as unexplained wealth? Maybe he did not think that the same standards he applied to the Marcoses could also be applied to him? Or perhaps the lessons of the Corona impeachment, where legitimately obtained assets that remain undeclared in his SALN could be severe grounds for impeachment, did not sink in?

Why didn't Andy Bautista create some form of "blind trust" for his family's money, that would erect a legal barrier between him and his family's money? As a top lawyer, he could have possibly drawn up the trust himself or gotten help from his extensive network in the legal profession.

Why didn't Andy Bautista just hand off the management of his family money to another competent financial professional when he assumed government posts way back in 2010?

As a former head of the Kuok Group Philippines and as a former international lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions and/or project finance, Andy Bautista would have had the network to entrust this matter to another very capable finance professional.

Why did Andy Bautista put a significant chunk of his family money in Luzon Development Bank (LDB), a small development bank?

One of the chief tenets of a treasurer is to manage risk. As designated family treasurer, he was tasked with three things:

  1. Preservation of Capital
  2. Liquidity
  3. Growth
Preservation of Capital

A cursory look at LDB's published statement of financial condition as of March 2017 would reveal that the bank is not very stable.

First of all, it is losing money at an annualized rate of -35.01% as of the first quarter 2017. At Php 620.88 million, its Gross Non-Performing Loans (Gross NPLs) is almost twice its Stockholder's Equity of Php 345.43 million. So any large write-off of these NPLs could severely impair a very large chunk of its equity. As of March 2017, LDB's Total Capital Adequacy Ratio (Total CAR), the BSP's preferred measure of financial strength, stood at 6.74, barely above BSP's minimum of 6.00 and way below BSP's recommended minimum of 10.00.

LDB has routinely been flagged by this author as one of the Top Distressed Banks in the Philippines since March 2014. As of March 2017, the ratio of its Distressed Assets to its Total Capital Cushion is 182.24%, significantly above the threshold of 100% at which a bank is considered risky.

If and when the bank goes bust, the deposits of Andy's family would be insured up to a maximum of Php 500,000.00 per depositor. So, if the bank goes bust, Andy's family deposits are insured for less than 1% of what he is purported to have just in LDB.


With only Php 5.75 billion in Assets and only Php 5.07 billion in deposits, LDB is a small bank. By depositing anwhere from Php 200 million to as much as Php 329 million in just one bank, these deposits would amount to as much as 3.94% to 6.57% of the bank's deposity liabilities. This is a fairly sizeable position in the bank. Moreover, as of March 31, 2017, the bank only had Php 141.83 million in cash. So, any substantial withdrawal (like Php 50 million or more) would cause the bank some cash flow problems. It would take a few days for the bank to withdraw some of its reserves with the Philippine Central Bank (BSP) to fund a substantial withdrawal by the Bautista family.


Since June 2013, LDB's deposits grew from around Php 2.54 billion as of June 2013 to as much as Php 5.22 billion just three years later - June 2016.

As a consequence of this rapid growth in deposits, it's loan portfolio grew very fast too, from just Php 1.79 billion as of June 2013 to as high as Php 3.49 billion in March 2015. 

However, the growth in LDB's loan portfolio was outpaced by the rapid growth in NPLs. As of June 2013, only 11.67% of the bank's Total Loan Portfolio consisted of NPLs. Today, as of March 2017, that figure now stands at its highest ever: 20.35% of Total Loans.

Since March 2015, LDB began to lose money at an alarming rate. Its Return on Equity dropped to a negative 37.77% annualized rate and has had a negative 30% handle since then.

As a result of its massive losses, LDB's Stockholder's Equity is a shadow of its former self.

Not surprisingly, its Capital Adequacy Ratios, BSP's preferred indicator of financial strength, has consistently gone downhill and has fallen below BSP's own recommended minimum of 10.00%.

Lately, its Distressed Asset Ratio has hit a new high and has climbed above 100%, the threshold at which a bank is considered risky, since March 2015.

What could explain why Andy Bautista put so much money in LDB? Thinking Pinoy has advanced one theory.

But another explanation could be much more prosaic. It's possible that LDB that in this low interest rate environment, the bank was not earning much with a Return on Equity of 1.26% as of September 2013. The bank might have been forced to jack up rates on deposits to enlarge its deposit base. That would have attracted a lot of depositors, including the deposits from Andy Bautista's family.  But LDB had to earn a spread over its jacked up rates, meaning the interest rates on its loans would have been jacked up as well. But the massive growth in deposits meant that this money had to be lent out and soon. Its lending standards could have gone down or the only borrowers who would be willing to take up the higher interest loans would have been the riskier ones. Hence, the massive rise in NPLs and losses for LDB.

Now where have we heard this story before?