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Much loved: Sok Chuang's wake was packed with wreaths and friends. Photo by Sim Kih
 

WHEN I HEARD news that Chew Sok Chuang, 54, had suddenly passed away, I was dazed, felt numbed pain, then the tears welled. She was someone I had known, and liked, on the job in the financial industry.

Life proved to be fragile for Sok Chuang: She died on Saturday after battling cancer since Aug 07.


She leaves behind her husband Alex Siow, a son and a daughter.

The sudden news stunned the investment community, especially since many of us had been touched by her warmth and helpfulness in the course of our work.

Sok Chuang headed Westcomb Financial’s research team for a good number of years before joining Temasek Holdings as a consumer analyst in mid 2007. This was shortly after she accurately predicted during September 2006 the Straits Times Index would reach 3,000 points.

I remember she had maintained a bullish outlook despite an SGX rally that was already into its 4th year.

At that time, the STI rally had met with some hiccups and resistance at 2,500.  At least one broking house cautioned that the rally could be ending.

Sok Chuang presented her bullish views at an investment seminar attended by several hundred retail investors on 16 Sep 2006, the Saturday morning after the STI closed at 2,483.

Her 3,000-point target for the STI was spot on.  The index went straight on to rally sharply by another 20% and rocketed past 3,000 points about 4 months after her presentation.

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The STI formed a head-and-shoulders support at 3,000 points, the level where Sok Chuang had correctly predicted it would rally to several months before it happened.
 

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Sok Chuang with an unidentified friend. Photo courtesy of Alex Siow.
 

Hard working and conscientious analyst

Sok Chuang had told me she was conscientious about putting together macro-economic analyses to be unveiled at each of Westcomb’s “Discover IPO Gems” seminars, and was careful not to merely rehash something from published reports.

I also remember she was the first analyst to initiate coverage on engineering services provider AusGroup in June 2005 when it was trading at 22.5 cents.  Those were the days when Westcomb rolled out numerous IPOs one after the other, AusGroup included.

Sok Chuang’s buy recommendation on AusGroup came with a 32-cent (one-year) price target.

The stock subsequently rocketed past S$2 in July 2007 and stayed above S$1.50 for a good six months in 2007.

To recap, AusGroup at the point of its IPO, specialized in fabrication and maintenance services for mining infrastructure in Western Australia's energy resources sector, such as iron ore, LNG / oil & gas.

Its IPO at 22 cents had taken place two months before Sok Chuang initiated coverage, back in April 2005.

Most local analysts were at that time oblivious to the resources boom that was taking place in Western Australia, led by China’s huge capacity expansion and foray into shipbuilding.

It was only two years later in 2007 that the large foreign brokers like Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan initiated coverage with buy recommendations.

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After Sok Chuang initiated coverage on AusGroup, it eventually became one of the few penny stocks that Merrill Lynch valued at over 20x PE at one point.
 

Dearly loved and fondly missed

Most of us who knew Sok Chuang personally recall her as friendly, chirpy and a very helpful lady.

Says Mark Lee, Financial PR’s Deputy Managing Director who now heads the leading investor relations agency's Hong Kong outfit, Aries Consulting: ”I was having difficulties understanding international and Chinese iron ore price indices while studying the business of HG Metal years ago.

"So I called her and she actually spent an hour on the phone, explaining the issue to me.

"She had no airs and had no hesitation in helping me - a junior consultant back then - to fully comprehend the topic.” 

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Sok Chuang with daughter Iris.
Photo courtesy of Alex Siow.
 


He adds: ”I was shocked to hear of her death on Saturday night!  Life is really unpredictable.”

Another thing about Sok Chuang is that she was unlike other heads of research: She would personally attend investor meetings for small cap stocks. 

Sok Chuang was one of the few I know who did that. Terence Wong of DMG-OSK is another.  Interestingly, these two are the very ones who have shown guts in making contrarian calls.

Personally, I remember her willingness to ask junior people the simple questions in order to get the basics right.

”Industries are always evolving, moving into upcycles, and new business models evolve from industries that analysts have seen being around for decades,” she said.

It is rare and admirable that she remained so humble even after a long track record of accurate calls.

Dear Sok Chuang, life is unpredictable and fleeting - you are dearly loved and fondly missed. 

 

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