2020 has wreaked havoc across many industries. But the chaos has been a bonanza for Malaysian glove manufacturers Top Glove, Hartalega, Supermax, Kossan and others.
Glove makers are attracting unprecedented levels of investor attention – far more than the electric cars of Tesla. Top Glove Corp., the world’s biggest maker of the product, is up 428 percent this year, while Supermax Corp. has leaped more than 1,200%. In contrast, Tesla has “only” managed 259 percent.
Two factors are fuelling this rally – the skyrocketing demand for gloves and a short-selling ban on Malaysia’s stock market until 2021. More than US$1 of every US$10 invested in the nation’s stock market right now is a bet on gloves, a feat that makes the Southeast Asian nation a play on global hygiene, much like South Korea and Taiwan are for semiconductors.
“The rally in glove makers reminds many of Tesla but the sector’s earnings outlook is more certain than that of Tesla,” said Ross Cameron, a fund manager at Northcape Capital Ltd. which overseas about US$7 billion in assets globally. The short-selling ban has had a minor contribution to the rally while “we expect the sector to report significantly more than 100 percent earnings growth next year,” he told Bloomberg.
Order books for virtually every Malaysian glove maker is full until mid-2021, with many refusing new orders until at least December of this year. The market price of gloves, which is around US$0.08 per piece, is being revised monthly as glove makers maintain the delicate equilibrium between supply and worldwide demand. The Malaysian Rubber Glove Manufacturers Association expects global glove demand to rise 20 percent to 330 billion gloves this year.
Malaysia produces about 65 percent of the world’s supply for rubber gloves – and it now counts at least four billionaires whose fortunes were made in the industry, including two new ones this year alone. Stanley Thai of Supermax was the latest to join the club, with a net worth estimated at about US$1 billion at the stock high earlier this month, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
The other newly minted billionaire is Lim Kuang Sia, who’s now worth US$1.1 billion. Shares of his Kossan Rubber Industries Bhd, which produces 28 billion disposable latex gloves annually, have surged 97 percent at last close as medical staff from Beijing to Boston scramble to find protective gear. He and his family own 50 percent of Kossan shares.
Lim Wee Chai of Top Glove and Kuan Kam Hon of Hartalega round up the Malaysian glove billionaires’ club, with estimated net worths of US$2.5 billion and US$4.8 billion respectively, including shares indirectly owned through holding companies.
Slamming the Brakes
Still, a faster-than-expected development of a vaccine to treat COVID-19 risks putting the brakes on the spectacular rally in glove makers’ shares. The US Customs and Border Patrol has also placed a detention order on disposable gloves made by Top Glove over labour issues. As of press time, the company is reaching out to US Customs to seek to resolve the matter, while the Malaysian government slammed the ban as “baseless”.
Overseas manufacturers are also eager for a slice of the pie. Sri Trang Gloves Thailand, the kingdom’s largest glove manufacturer and the world’s third largest, completed a 14.9 billion baht (US$482 million) IPO in June, with shares surging 75 percent above IPO price a week after listing. Malaysian glovemakers are also at risk should countries such as China expand their production, according to a Maybank Investment Bank Bhd report last week.