Chau Ma Yu

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By:
Peter Koh
Published on:

Private investor

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Chua Ma Yu is perhaps the most influential individual investor in Malaysia. He is a one-man institution whose every investment is watched by the market that he knows inside out. With only his own wealth to worry about, he is far bolder than other institutions. If he believes in a company he invests heavily in it, but never buys more than 5% ? his concession to risk management.

An accountant by training, Chua is best known for co-founding with Rashid Hussain the highly successful Rashid Hussain Securities (now RHB Securities) in 1983.

Modest beginnings

When Chua started his career in 1975 in the back office of GP Securities (now part of Public Bank), as a financial controller, stock quotes were written on a black board with chalk. He rose to become a senior dealer serving institutional clients, high-net-worth individuals, and the Chinese community, which is how he met Rashid, then a client fund manager at the Bank Bumiputra group.

Chua persuaded his client that they should launch a brokerage business. Starting with just M$2 million (then worth about US$870,000) of capital, Rashid Hussain Securities grew rapidly and in 1987 became the first publicly listed stockbroker in southeast Asia and the largest brokerage house in Malaysia. Less than two years later RHB Securities purchased D&C Bank and renamed it RHB Bank. It became one of the largest banks in Malaysia.

In 1992 the partnership ended. "After nine years together I felt that I'd had enough," says Chua. "So I sold my shares to Rashid, who had first preference, and went into hotel development." Chua won't say why he had had enough but a popular theory has it that Rashid's legendary ego played a part. A former RHB Securities trader says that Rashid had his office desk built on a platform so that those sitting in front of him were beneath him.

Chua himself is not exactly the type to feign modesty. He is proud and confident but also jovial and down to earth.

He works from an office at the end of a row of up-market restaurants and cafés in an expensive residential area of Kuala Lumpur. His walls are decorated with Chinese paintings, paintings by Malaysian artists, and antique stock and bond certificates. In one corner there are pictures of Chua with former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad and others of him with Joseph Estrada, the former president of the Philippines.   

After RHB, Chua went on to develop several hotels in Malaysia and two resorts on the island of Cebu in the Philippines. His Philippines subsidiary, Waterfront Philippines, listed on the Manila Stock Exchange in 1994.

"I thought building resorts would be like taking it easy," says Chua, laughing, "but I found that it's not so exciting really." After selling Waterfront Philippines just before the Asian economic crisis in 1998, Chua turned all his attention to investing in the Malaysian market.

Malaysian expert

Chua still owns hotels in Malaysia, and a valuable piece of real estate opposite the Mandarin Oriental hotel and Kuala Lumpur's landmark Petronas twin towers, but most of his money is in Malaysian equities. "I invest most of my assets in my home because it's the market I know best. I know lots of people in this town so can manage my money better."

After being a service provider for nearly 30 years Chua is now content merely to manage his own money. "I want to be accountable only to myself ? it's much less pressure. If I make a loss I can just bite the bullet and not have to worry about being held accountable by others."

Chua has had his share of bad calls but analysts say that the fact that he has made it through the stock market's ups and downs for 28 years and is still investing makes him a rare survivor.

Some people call him a speculator. Chua's reputation means that his investment in a certain stock can sometimes be enough to boost the share price, so he is frequently the subject of rumours. However, Chua says he invests in very few companies. "I put my money where my mouth is."