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The Malaysia Dispatch: Finding Hidden, Winning Stocks

Chin Hui Leong

My goodness, the wait was not supposed to take that long.

I don’t know about you — but I haven’t visited a Singapore bank branch for years. There is little reason to do so these days. All of my usual banking activities can be done online today. In Singapore, that is. Not so for banks in Malaysia.

Here I was, stuck in a local Malaysian bank wondering when my queue number was going to be called. And that’s not the end of it.

Scuttlebutt in Malaysia

I entered this Malaysian bank looking for a queue ticket machine. I couldn’t find it.

I looked around and started observing where other visitors went. But still no luck. Wait, was I even supposed to get a queue number? Or am I supposed to just walk up to a random bank teller?

Maybe yes, maybe no. The only thing I was certain was that I had no clue.

Surely you can’t run a bank like this, I mused. Flustered, I did what any investor would do. I started looking up the bank’s financial statements.  

What I saw astounded me.

Hidden Gems

The bank I found myself in, of course, was Public Bank Berhad (KLSE: 1295.KL).

Founded by Teh Hong Piow in August 1966, Public Bank made its debut on the KLSE a year later.

Teh, who was born in Singapore, came from humble beginnings. His father was an immigrant from China and his mother died when he was just six, forcing him to take over the role of caring for his siblings. His family could barely make ends meet.

But Teh was bright and loved books. Early on, he had a keen eye for making profit.

After a successful stint at Singapore’s Overseas Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) (SGX: O39), Teh was of the team that started Malayan Banking Berhad (Maybank) (KLSE: 1155.KL) in 1960.

Given Teh’s business savvy, frugal habits, and tough upbringing, it is no wonder that Public Bank remains so lean in managing its expenses. Teh was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and he knew the value of hard work, determination, and grit.

Patient investors in Public Bank have benefited enormously from Teh’s work. In the 20 years prior to the end of 2018, shares of Public Bank have delivered an astonishing 30-fold return.

Curiosity to venture beyond what we see

The contrast in what I saw at Public Bank on the ground and how the company has performed is a timely reminder that we should not be too quick to judge the companies that we come across.

Without due diligence, we risk missing out on key factors that may matter more to a business over the long haul.

Some advantages can be found at the company level. At the same time, Malaysia does hold one key advantage over Singapore.

I will be talking about that factor my Malaysia dispatch on Monday.

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Motley Fool contributor Royston Yang contributed to this article. Royston Yang does own any of the shares mentioned.

The information provided is for general information purposes only and is not intended to be personalized investment or financial advice. The Motley Fool Singapore writer Chin Hui Leong does not own shares in the companies mentioned.

Motley Fool Singapore 2019