Malaysia taps into the growing importance of the redback: Yuan


The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication says yuan usage worldwide grew 15.6% between July and August this year.

MALAYSIA’S love affair with the yuan or renminbi is growing, and it is easy to see why.

For one thing, China’s economic clout is rising. It is now the second largest economy in the world, and with ongoing financial reforms by the Chinese government, the yuan is expected to eventually rise to match the country’s economic stature.

For another – and more importantly – China has, in recent years, been growing to be an increasingly significant trading partner to many economies in the world, especially in Asia, including Malaysia.

Bilateral trade between Malaysia and China, for instance, is now seven times higher than it was 20 years ago.
And China has emerged as Malaysia’s largest global trading partner since 2009.

Last year, Malaysia’s total trade with China was valued at RM167bil, up 14% from the preceding year, and accounting for 14% of the country’s total trade.

The Government expects the value of Malaysia’s total trade with China to double in the next five years.

China’s rising prominence, in Bank Negara governor Tan Sri Dr Zeti Akhtar Aziz’s words, presents “a new operating environment” that requires “dynamic response”.

At a recent seminar entitled “Renminbi Trade Settlement and Investment”, Zeti said one of the changes that would shape the international financial system in the years to come was the wider role of the yuan in trade and finance.

As it is, such trend is already taking shape, with yuan usage across the world increasing progressively.

Wider yuan usage 

According to Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), yuan usage worldwide grew 15.6% between July and August this year, compared with an average decrease of 0.9% across all other currencies. SWIFT further noted the yuan has moved up one position to be the 14th mostly used world currency, with a market share of 0.53%, up from 0.45% in July 2012.

Standard Chartered plc’s report supports claims that the global use of yuan is on the rise, for trade settlement, in particular.

The international bank notes that Asian and European firms, led by those from Singapore and London, are increasingly open to using yuan.

“We see many European and Asian clients shifting away from settlement in US dollars,” Standard Chartered’s Hong Kong-based foreign exchange analyst Eddie Cheung wrote in his report.

Reports by foreign media suggest that yuan trade settlement could run between US$350bil and US$450bil this year, up from US$300bil last year.

It is understood that China is also quietly working on developing new yuan financial centres around the world to expand the international use of the currency.

At present, Singapore and London are the only cities outside Hong Kong that have been allowed to serve as yuan trading centre. China is reportedly planning for the next regional hubs for settling trade deals in yuan to be set up in Latin America and the Middle East.

As part of an initiative to encourage a wider use of its currency and to manage volatility in uncertain economic times, China has been actively seeking to establish ilateral swap agreements with foreign central banks since the onslaught of the global financial crisis in 2008.

To date, China has managed to set up 20 bilateral local currency swap agreements, worth a total of 1.6 trillion yuan (RM780bil), with central banks of countries within and outside of Asia.

This list includes Malaysia, South Korea, Iceland, Argentina, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and Australia.

China’s bilateral swap agreement with Malaysia is worth 180 billion yuan.

Zeti notes that Malaysia’s trade settlement in yuan is still at a paltry 1% of the country’s bilateral trade with China. “There is, therefore, a significant potential for this to increase,” she says.

Bank Negara is currently on a mission to promote a wider use of yuan for trade settlement and investment among Malaysian corporations as a way to generate cost savings and minimise exchange rate risks.

“A wider use of yuan is only a natural progression, led by China’s rapidly expanding trade volume and its increasing role as the driver of global economic growth,” explains RAM Holdings Bhd group chief economist Dr Yeah Kim Leng.

“For Malaysian businesses with yuan obligations, the shift to the use of yuan will provide a natural hedge and help them reduce risk and lower cost,” he adds.

According to Zeti, Malaysia’s interest in yuan is also notable in the investment option, with yuan deposits in the country’s banking system having tripled within the first seven months of this year.

Focus on Dim Sum bonds

Meanwhile, there is also an ambition to promote Malaysia as the next hub for yuan-denominated debt (or popularly known as “Dim Sum bonds”) in Asean after Singapore. This is led by the growing interest in raising financing in yuan to meet funding requirements.

“Malaysia is well-positioned to realise this growth potential in yuan-denominated bond and sukuk, given our market size and supporting infrastructure,” Zeti argues.

She, however, says the number and timing of yuan-denominated bond and sukuk issuances will depend on the approvals of Bank Negara and the Securities Commission.

To date, there are only two issuances of offshore yuan-denominated sukuk out of Malaysia and a yuan-denominated bond issuance by Malaysian corporations.

“Ultimately, the potential of Malaysia of becoming a regional yuan debt hub will have to be led by natural market forces, that is, supply and demand,” Yeah points out.

At present, Europe, led by Luxembourg, outstrips Asia (excluding Hong Kong) in terms of both the number of issues and the number of issuance locations.

Analysts, however, believe Asia (excluding Hong Kong) will soon catch up.

Anchor currency

According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the yuan will eventually become the “anchor currency” for Asia.

This destiny is cemented by the growing use of the currency in the region’s trade and financial markets.

This, however, does not necessarily mean that the yuan will become part of the foreign exchange reserves of Asian countries, most of which still hold US dollar, euro and the Japanese yen, says ADB. Rather, it means that countries that use yuan widely will manage their currencies according to the yuan’s movement.

The consensus view is that there is still some way to go before the yuan can become a reserve currency. That will involve further openness of China’s own financial markets.

At present, the yuan has yet to qualify as a reserve currency due to its lacks of full convertibility as defined by the International Monetary Fund.

Nevertheless, many central banks have already started to diversify their reserves into the yuan. One of these is Bank Negara, which became the first central bank in the world to announce the inclusion of yuan in its foreign reserves in 2010.

It has been five years since China embarked on a plan to internationalise its currency.

Analysts argue that the process of internationalising the yuan is already progressing smoothly, but gradually in a managed way.

In their working paper entitled “Will the renminbi rule?” authors Eswar Prasad and Lei Ye argue that although China still has extensive capital controls in place, they are being “selectively and cautiously dismantled”.

“China’s capital account is becoming increasingly open in actual terms even though by this measure it remains less open than those of the reserve currency economies – the euro area, Japan, Switzerland, the UK and the United States,” they argue.

According to CIMB Research chief economist Lee Heng Guei, China has taken small yet quite successful steps in its quest for internationalisation of the yuan.

However, he says, full-fledged internationsation of the yuan is a still a distant goal.

“China is clearly more influential than in the past and the internationalisation of the yuan has sped up. But it will take many more years, perhaps another five to ten, for the yuan to be fully global and convertible,” Lee argues.

Undervalued or not?

Now, China’s currency policy has for long been a contentious issue with many western developed nations, especially the United States. There has been growing political pressure on China, led mainly by the United States, to increase the value of the yuan.

The United States has been arguing that the yuan is significantly undervalued, hence giving China’s exporters an unfair price advantage over US manufacturers.

The undervaluation of yuan, which, to some, warrants China being tagged a currency manipulator, has even become an important scoring point in the current US presidential campaign between Republican candidate Mitt Romney and incumbent Barack Obama.

A semi-annual report on the yuan by the US Treasury is due to be released on Monday.

It remains to be seen whether the release of the report will be delayed until after the Nov 6 US presidential election, given the political sensitiveness of the issue.

To be fair, since the yuan’s depeg from the US dollar in July 2005, the Chinese currency has appreciated more than 30% against the greenback.

And reaffirming its policy stance of further exchange rate flexibility, the Chinese government in April widened the trading band from +/-0.5% to +/-1% for the yuan against the US dollar.

Peterson Institute for International Economics estimated the yuan four years ago was undervalued by 31.5% against the US dollar. The latest estimate by the Washington think tank in May indicates that the yuan is now undervalued by only 7.7% against the greenback.

CIMB’s Lee contends that the yuan’s appreciation has to be a gradual and longer-term affair to avoid disrupting China’s economic development.

“The gradual and consistent yuan appreciation can be considered a stabilising factor for the (Chinese) economy, especially its export-oriented sector,” he explains.

According to the Royal Bank of Scotland, the yuan’s value is unlikely to change much in the short term, but further medium-term appreciation on account of productivity catch up remains a possibility.

“If the global economic outlook improves in 2013, the yuan is likely to see further medium-term strengthening, with the pace depending on current account developments,” RBS’ Hong Kong-based analyst Louis Kuijs notes.

By CECILIA KOK
cecilia_kok@thestar.com.my

 

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IMF aid to Europeans stirrings of resentment


Members feel Eurozone countries aren’t willing to swallow the necessary tough medicine

 

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Critical role: Last month, European Central Bank president Mario Draghi (right) gave the International Monetary Fund, headed by Christine Lagarde (left), an important new task: requesting that the Fund keep an eye on the behaviour of countries like Spain if the bank took measures to contain their borrowing costs. – PHOTO: REUTERS

IT IS one of the ironies of the eurozone crisis: the Europeans who have long dominated the International Monetary Fund (IMF) are now the ones borrowing its money and swallowing its advice.

The IMF, traditionally a lender to poor countries, now devotes more than half of its financial resources to the eurozone. Moreover, the fund and its managing director, Christine Lagarde, have emerged as the taskmasters that European leaders seem to need to flog them towards a solution to the crisis.

The Fund’s critical role in Europe has revitalised the organisation’s claim to relevance in world affairs. Last month, Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), gave the Fund an important new task: requesting that it keep an eye on the behaviour of countries like Spain if the bank took measures to contain their borrowing costs.

“The ECB wants an independent observer,” said Manuela Moschella, an assistant professor at the University of Turin who studies the IMF. ”They want someone who can blow the whistle and say what is going on.”

But there is also resentment among some of the 188 countries that belong to the fund and supply its financial firepower. These discontents are likely to surface in Tokyo when the I.M.F. and the World Bank hold their annual meetings, which were to start Tuesday.

The United States and Canada, among others, have objected to the shift of resources to Europe at the same time that European countries have blocked changes that would give emerging countries a greater voice in making I.M.F. decisions.

Tough pill to swallow

Canadian leaders, in particular, have said that countries whose people live on a few dollars a day should not be asked to help maintain the European welfare state.

”The feeling is that the Europeans don’t want to swallow the tough medicine,” said Bessma Momani, a professor of political science at the University of Waterloo in Ontario. There is, she said, ”a more general sense that European society and way of life are passé.

”Before the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008, the fund provided almost no financial assistance to Europe. Now resources committed to the European Union, including Greece and Portugal, account for 56 percent of the I.M.F. total – (EURO)110 billion, or $143 billion.

The first European countries to seek I.M.F. help in recent years were former Soviet Bloc countries, like Latvia and Hungary in 2008, both of which are members of the European Union. The I.M.F. also played a main role in the Vienna Initiative in 2009, in which the European Union and commercial banks cooperated to prevent the collapse of the financial systems in Eastern Europe.

Management of the I.M.F. has long been dominated by Europeans, leading to accusations that the region is now getting preferential treatment. Since its founding in 1946, all of the fund’s managing directors have been European.

”There is at least the suspicion that the European members will get easier terms” for financing, Ms. Moschella said.

”This is really a threat to the credibility of the organization. I think the I.M.F. has behaved correctly, but the suspicion is there.

”European countries continue to contribute more money to I.M.F. coffers than they take back in loans. Germany’s quota, or maximum financial commitment, is $14.6 billion, while France’s is $10.7 billion. The largest contributor is the United States, with a quota of $42.1 billion out of a total for the fund of $238 billion.

Officials at the fund argue that the euro zone crisis has become a threat to the global economy, including poorer countries, and it is in everyone’s interest to fix it. As members of the I.M.F. and financial contributors, European countries have as much right to ask for help as other members.

”When there are systemic crises that affect other countries in the world, it is natural for the fund to be involved,” said Reza Moghadam, director of the fund’s European department.

”The fund has huge depth of expertise in crisis management,” Mr. Moghadam added. ”We have dealt with a lot of crises in the past, and there is huge institutional knowledge.

”Many analysts agree that there is no other organization with the clout, money or expertise to serve as outside arbiter to quarreling euro zone members.

”Expertise and impartiality – that’s what they bring to the table,” said Carl B. Weinberg, chief economist at the research firm High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York. ”They know how to walk into a government treasury and look at the books and know what they’re seeing.” Mr. Weinberg, as a banker earlier in his career, worked with the I.M.F. on debt restructuring programs in Mexico and other countries.

Ms. Lagarde has helped Mr. Draghi and U.S. leaders put pressure on European officials to move more aggressively to fight the crisis.

European firewall

During a speech in Washington late last month, Ms. Lagarde beseeched European leaders to ”implement the European firewall – notably the European Stability Mechanism; implement the agreed plan for fiscal union; and, at the country level, implement the programs that are essential for growth, jobs and competitiveness.

”If, as expected, Spanish leaders ask for help from the European Central Bank, the I.M.F. would monitor whether the country kept promises to overhaul the economy and contain government spending. The E.C.B. does not want to take the risk of buying Spanish bonds, a way of lowering the country’s borrowing costs, without such conditions.

The euro zone crisis has also presented the I.M.F. with unprecedented organizational challenges. Instead of dealing with one country, it must deal with the 17 members of the European Union that use the euro. They frequently do not agree, and decision-making is slow. In overseeing lending and restructuring programs in Greece, Ireland and Portugal, the fund has shared authority with the E.C.B. and the European Commission, with the three having come to be known as the troika.

”The fund’s relationship with Europe is more complicated than anything it has ever been involved in,” said Edwin M. Truman, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.

While he said the fund had done a ”reasonable job” in Europe, Mr. Truman also called the I.M.F.’s involvement on the Continent a ”political subterfuge” because the euro zone countries were effectively outsourcing responsibilities they should be taking on themselves.Some observers say that European countries made the fund’s task more difficult because they hesitated too long to ask for help, for reasons of pride.

”We should have let the I.M.F. in earlier in Greece,” said Erik Berglof, chief economist at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. ”We could have maybe had an earlier solution to the Greek problem and not allow it to grow in magnitude before it was addressed.

”There is a risk that European leaders will repeat the same mistake in Spain, waiting to call in the I.M.F. until the crisis is acute. No national leader likes to take orders from an outside institution, especially in Europe, where countries are not used to being charity cases. The stigma and loss of sovereignty are likely reasons that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain has delayed asking for help.The fund has learned from its own mistakes in places like Asia that too much austerity can be counterproductive, but was not always able to apply that experience. In Greece, for example, Germany and other northern countries insisted on a strict austerity program.”The I.M.F. has learned a lot how to design programs and structural reform measures and how to embed them in the local political system,” Mr. Berglof said. ”That experience the European institutions didn’t have from the beginning.

”Though the I.M.F.’s presence in Europe may not please everyone, it is likely to continue growing. No other institution, even the E.C.B., has the political independence or expertise needed to oversee restructuring programs in a country like Spain. Canada and other countries that resent paying for a European bailout are not likely to block one altogether.

Said Mr. Berglof of the E.B.R.D., ”There is a broader constituency that has a very strong stake in the resolution of the economic problems in Europe.

Political uncertainty

”The International Monetary Fund is cutting its global economic forecast yet again, calling the risks of a slowdown ”alarmingly high,” primarily because of policy uncertainty in the United States and Europe, Annie Lowrey reported from Washington.

It foresees global growth of 3.3 percent in 2012 and 3.6 percent in 2013, down from 3.5 percent this year and 3.9 percent next year when it made its previous report in July. New estimates suggest a 15 percent chance of recession in the United States next year, 25 percent in Japan and more than 80 percent in the euro area.

Financial market stress, government spending cuts, stubbornly high unemployment and political uncertainty continue to hamper growth in high-income countries, the fund said. At the same time, the emerging-market countries that fueled much of the recovery from the global recession, like China and India, have continued to cool off, with global trade slowing.

By Jack Ewing, The International Herald Tribune

New global currency wars warning!


The recent money-pumping measure by the United States has been criticised by Brazil as a protectionist move which will adversely affect developing countries.

THE recent announcement by US Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke that the United States would be renewing its pumping of money into the banking system has been acclaimed by some parties as a move to revive its faltering economy.

But the Fed’s measure to revive “quantitative easing” is not being welcomed by all. It has instead caused anxiety in some developing countries.

Their fear is that a large part of the massive amounts of money being unleashed into the financial markets may fail to boost the US economy but will find its way as unwanted capital flows into some developing countries.

Bernanke announced that the Fed would purchase US$40bil (RM124bil) per month of mortgage-linked assets from the market, and do so continuously until the jobs situation improves.

The hope is that cheap and abundant money will encourage entrepreneurs and consumers to spend more and spark a recovery.

However, previous rounds of such quantitative easing did not do much for the US economy.

A large part of the extra funds were placed by investors not in new US production but as speculative funds in emerging markets or in the commodity markets, in search of higher returns.

In developing countries that received the funds, adverse effects included an inflation of prices of property and other assets, as well as appreciation of their currencies which made their exports less competitive.

On the other hand, the US dollar depreciated because of the increased supply of US dollars and the reduced interest rates, making US exports more competitive.

Brazil has been in the forefront of developing countries that are critical of the US money pumping. Last week, the Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega called the US Fed measure a “protectionist” move that would re-ignite global currency wars.

Mantega told the Financial Times that the third round of quantitative easing would only have a marginal benefit in the United States as the already high liquidity in the United States is not going into production.

Instead, it is really aimed at depressing the dollar and boosting US exports.

Japan has also decided to expand its own quantitative easing programme in response to the US move, and this is evidence of tensions and a currency war, said Mantega.

In previous rounds of liquidity expansion in recent years, Brazil has been one of the developing countries adversely affected by sharp currency appreciation, which reduced its export competitiveness and facilitated import increases.

Recently, Brazil’s currency, the real, has weakened from the high of 1.52 real to the dollar to the present two real, which has improved its competitiveness.

But the new liquidity expansion in the United States may again cause a flood of funds to enter Brazil and reverse the currency trend.

In such a situation, Brazil may be forced to take measures to stop the real from appreciating, said the minister.

Previously, the country had taken capital controls to discourage inflows of foreign funds.

What has irritated Brazil even more is an accusation by the US Trade Representative Ron Kirk that Brazil has become protectionist in raising some tariffs, even though the Brazilian measures were within its rights in the WTO framework.

Brazil’s Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota last week wrote to Kirk pointing out the unfairness of a protectionist US accusing Brazil of protectionism.

“The world has witnessed massive monetary expansion and the bailout of banks and industrial companies on an unprecedented scale, implemented by the United States and other developed countries,” said Patriota.

“As a result, Brazil has had to cope with an artificial appreciation of its currency and with a flood of imported goods at artificially low prices.”

He pointed out that the United States was a major beneficiary, as it almost doubled its exports to Brazil from US$18.7bil (RM58bil) to US$34bil (RM105bil) from 2007 to 2011.

“While you refer to WTO-consistent measures adopted by Brazil, we, on our side, worry about the prospect of continued illegal subsidisation of farm products by the United States, which impact Brazil and other developing countries, including some of the poorest countries in Africa.

“The US has managed in a short period to remarkably increase its exports to Brazil and continues to reap the benefits of our expanding market. But it would be fairer if those increases took place in an environment not distorted by exchange rate misalignments and blatant Government support”.

As the quantitative easing from the United States and Japan is only going to take effect in future, it remains to be seen whether history will repeat itself – it will have minimal effect on the United States and Japanese economic recovery but will cause problems for developing countries – or whether it will be different this time.

GLOBAL TRENDS By MARTIN KHOR

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Japan’s buying Diaoyu Islands provokes China to strike back


China should strike back over sale: experts

Analysts Friday slammed Japan’s plan to nationalize the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea as provocations which would further trash Sino-Japanese relations, and called on the Chinese government to take corresponding measures to counter Japan’s scheme.

This video image, taken by the Japan Coast Guard on Aug 15, and released on Aug 27 shows a Chinese boat carrying Hong Kong activists after landing on the disputed island called Senkaku in Japanese and Diaoyu in Chinese in the East China Sea.

Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun paper reported that Japan is scheduled to hold a cabinet meeting on Monday to officially “nationalize” the Diaoyu Islands on Tuesday.

The Japanese government will sign a deal with the so-called private owners on Tuesday to purchase the islands. And the Japanese government believes that putting the Diaoyu Islands under state ownership at an early date could minimize the backlash from China, said the report.

The paper also noted that the actions of Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara, who had pushed strongly for the island purchase, had helped drive the state toward the purchase.

Qu Xing, director of the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times that by buying the islands, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s administration is attempting to reinforce Japan’s claim of sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands.

“The repeated provocations have greatly undermined Sino-Japanese relations,” said the expert.

“We should resort to corresponding countermeasures to strike back against Japan’s unilateral move. Japan is making their assertion by legal means. Accordingly, China could also reinforce our claims of sovereignty over the islands through legal means,” said Qu.

According to the Kyodo News Agency, Japanese Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba said that Noda is unlikely to hold summit talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak on the sidelines of the ongoing Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Vladivostok, Russia, indicating that formal talks would not be appropriate given renewed territorial rows.

Gemba added that informal and “spontaneous” exchanges may take place, the report said.

Wang Ping, a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times that Sino-Japanese relations are bound to be further undermined if Tokyo continues to inflame the situation.

“Japan’s national interests as well as its strategic interests in East Asia and the West Pacific will also be hurt. It should better recognize the consequences of its moves,” warned Wang.

The impact of the diplomatic rows between the two countries have already extended to the sphere of economic ties.

Reuters quoted Toshiyuki Shiga, a senior executive of Japanese auto maker Nissan, as saying that Japanese car manufacturers were having difficulty in holding big, outdoor promotion campaigns, which may have hurt August sales.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Thursday that in order to change the current situation, Japan must immediately stop encroaching upon China’s territorial sovereignty.

China is Japan’s largest trading partner, while Japan is the fourth largest trading partner of China.

Though Japan relies much more on its trade with China than China does Japan, economic friction is a double-edged sword, Qu said.

“The adverse political climate will definitely affect economic relations. But smashing Japanese cars and boycotting Japanese goods don’t help resolve the problems,” said Qu, calling for the public to remain rational.

Separately, Taiwan leader Ma Ying-jeou Friday inspected the Pengjia Islet, which is located 156 kilometers from the Diaoyu Islands. He made a speech in front of a monument on the islet and praised those who have helped to protect the Diaoyu Islands, reported the Xinhua News Agency.

Responding to a question about Ma’s visit, Hong Lei said Friday that all Chinese, including those from both sides of the Taiwan Straits, are responsible for safeguarding the sovereignty of the islands.

By Jin Jianyu and agencies contributed to this story

 Taiwan warns Japan against nationalising islands

Pengchia:  Taiwan’s president used a high-profile visit to a Taiwanese islet on Friday to warn Japan against making any attempts to nationalise islands that are part of a disputed chain in the East China Sea.

Escorted by warplanes and naval vessels, President Ma Ying-jeou flew by military helicopter to Taiwan’s Pengchia Islet, which lies off northern Taiwan, only about 140 kilometers (85 miles) west of the disputed chain.

The chain — known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China — is controlled by Japan but also claimed by China and Taiwan, and has been a key part of simmering regional tensions over rival territorial claims. Japan’s government reportedly is planning to buy several of the islands from their private Japanese owners.

Analysts say Ma chose the Taiwanese islet to make his well-measured gesture to raise international attention without further aggravating tensions.
South China Sea. Agencies

Disputes have flared over island chains in the East China and South China seas, rich fishing grounds with potentially lucrative oil and gas reserves.

But diplomatically isolated Taiwan — which China claims a part of its own territory 63 years after the two sides split amid civil war — has been largely left out of the spotlight.

Ma called on the East China Sea chain’s three claimants — Taiwan, China and Japan — to put aside their disputes and hold dialogues to jointly develop the rich resources there. He suggested bilateral or trilateral talks “to resolve the issue in a peaceful way.”

Ma also asked commanders at two Taiwan-controlled islets in South China Sea’s Pratas and Spratly island chains to strengthen guards. Those chains are claimed by Taiwan, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei and Malaysia.

“Ma has tried to avoid provoking tension, but as Taiwan’s leader, he must make a gesture even though the impact may be limited,” said Lo Chih-cheng, a political scientist at Taipei’s Soochow University.

While Taiwanese media were generally skeptical about the visit’s impact, some say Ma’s trip may manage to rebut Beijing’s appeal for a united front with Taiwan over the disputes. Many Taiwanese fear Beijing may be using its warming economic ties with Taiwan in recent years to further its goal of unifying with the self-ruled democratic island.

“The mainland is trying to create the false scenario of cross-Strait cooperation in the East and South China” seas, Taiwan’s China Times said in an editorial. – AP

No let-up in protests over Diaoyu Islands

By CHOW HOW BAN hbchow@thestar.com.my/Asia News Network

There have been protests on many fronts after the move on Monday by Japanese government to buy the islands from their “owners”.

CHINESE actress Li Bingbing became the latest ordinary citizen to publicly show her outrage against Japan over its claim of the disputed Diaoyu Islands (known in Japan as Senkaku Islands).

The Golden Horse Best Actress award winner turned down an invitation to attend the premiere of her latest film, Resident Evil: Retribution, in Tokyo on Monday in protest of the move by the Japanese government to buy the islands from their “owners”.

“The premiere in Tokyo was an important event for this film because it was the first premiere around the world. During the shoot, it was already decided that all the production crew should go for the Tokyo premiere,” she said.

“I do not like to break an appointment but after what had happened to the Diaoyu Islands, I did not feel like going. It is something I cannot stand and I thank the film company for their understanding,” Li was quoted by the Chinese media as saying on Thursday.

Two weeks ago, two Chinese men, aged 23 and 25, were detained for stopping the car of the Japanese Ambassador to China, Uichiro Niwa in downtown Beijing.

The duo allegedly emerged from their car and pulled the Japanese flag off Niwa’s car when the ambassador was on his way back to the Japanese embassy.

Another man was issued a warning for blocking Niwa’s car.

Earlier last month, hundreds of Chinese protesters took to the streets in Shenzhen and Hangzhou and called on the Chinese government to protect the islands, following an incident where 10 Japanese nationalists swam to the islands in East China Sea in response of a similar landing by seven Chinese activists.

Some Chinese protesters also surrounded the embassy in Beijing and the Japanese consulate office in Shenyang, Liaoning province.

Two senior citizens who threw eggs at the embassy were persuaded to leave, while another demonstrator was stopped by the police when he attempted to enter the premises.

Other demonstrators held a 7m-long banner expressing their indignation over Japan’s detention of the Chinese activists who landed on the islands.

Last Monday, Kyodo News Agency reported that Tokyo was in the final stages of reaching a deal to buy the islands by the end of this month.

Japanese television images showed that a team of surveyors dispatched by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara was surveying the shoreline and waters around the uninhabited isles.

The surveyors then released the outcome of their investigation, detailing the geographic composition of the islands.

Apparently, Ishihara called on the Japanese government to build a harbour in the area.

It was reported that the administration of Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda had agreed to pay two billion yen (RM79mil) for the islands.

The controversial islands are counter claimed by China and Taiwan.

China and Taiwan claim that the islands have been a part of Chinese territory since at least 1534 until Japan took brief control of it during the first Sino-Japanese war (1894-1895), while Japan has rejected claims that the islands were under China’s control prior to 1895.

In its editorial, China Daily warned that Japan was dicing with danger of leading the Sino-Japanese relations to their worse path.

“Japan is escalating tensions between itself and China. Our protests, be it official or civil, have fallen on deaf ears with the Japanese government.

“The deal for the islands was signed just five days after a letter from Japanese Prime Minister Noda to Chinese President Hu Jintao was delivered in Beijing on Aug 31. Noda was then said to have talked about lowering tensions between the two countries.

“The Noda administration now lacks credibility. They said they wanted to maintain and manage the islands in a peaceful manner but the islets are not part of Japan’s territory,” it said.

The newspaper said while China had kept its word to seek common ground on the islands and to maintain peace in the area, Japan had no longer shared the same goal.

China had failed to understand Japan’s diplomatic strategy, after all, and should re-look into its stand on the issue, it added.

Xinhua news agency slammed the islets purchase deal, saying that it would put to test Japan’s credibility over an historical commitment made in 1978 friendship treaty between Japan and China to resolve the issue.

Renmin University’s Centre for East Asia Studies director Huang Dahui said the pressure from the Japanese elections and fears of China’s economic development were reasons for the move.

“Japan is playing a two-faced game with China. What Ishihara and Noda are trying to do share the same purpose, which is to nationalise the Diaoyu Islands. China should strongly protest,” he told Global Times

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Financial Times hails Malaysia’s economic boom


KUALA LUMPUR: It is not always that emerging economies get favourable remarks from hard-boiled foreign media practitioners but Malaysia is getting more laudatory remarks from foreign journalists these days.

Take Jeremy Grant’s article on Kuala Lumpur’s soon-to-be-developed new financial centre, the Tun Razak Exchange, and the state of the Malaysian economy in the Financial Times Friday, for example.

He wrote: “With much of the world economy experiencing anaemic growth at best, it is hard to believe that any country would contemplate a project on this scale.

“Yet Malaysia’s economy is enjoying a gravity-defying boom that is confounding sceptics. Second-quarter gross domestic product figures out this week showed the economy grew by 5.4%, way above consensus expectations of 4.6%, and the 4.9% recorded – after an upward revision – for the previous quarter.”

Grant attributed this development to big-ticket government spending, lending to business by well-capitalised banks, and robust consumer demand, fuelled by pay rises for civil servants and cash handouts that have even seen taxi drivers receive vouchers for free replacement tyres.

“Malaysia’s stock market has been among the best performers in the world, buoyed by big flotations including Felda, a state-controlled palm oil producer, which was the second-largest initial public offering after Facebook when it raised over USD2bil last month. Bankers are cashing in with a parade of further IPOs expected within months,” he added.

“Much of the impetus behind the growth comes from the “economic transformation programme” initiated by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak when he came to power in 2009.

This involves dozens of government-backed projects designed to boost per capita income to USD15,500 by 2020, from USD9,600 last year and lift Malaysia out of its “middle-income trap”, Grant wrote.

Over spending: Analysts say one nagging concern for Malaysia is the rising household debt caused by the rapid growth in credit card usage. Over spending: Analysts say one nagging concern for Malaysia is the rising household debt caused by the rapid growth in credit card usage.

The Financial Times also quoted Christian de Guzman, an analyst at Moody’s, a rating agency, who admitted he was sceptical about the programme’s ability to spur private sector development when it was launched. De Guzman is more convinced now, adding that “The proof of the pudding is in the eating but so far they are on track. In aggregate there are just so many things going on [in the economy].”

Grant wrote that “Not only has Malaysia experienced strong domestic demand offsetting its vulnerability to weakening demand for its exports – much of them electronics destined for Europe; it has also benefited from deeper ties with economies in Asia.

Moody’s says that in 2006 the United States was Malaysia’s largest trading partner, absorbing 18.8 per cent of its exports, while Asia Pacific accounted for 60 per cent. By last year the US share had dwindled to 8.3 per cent while Asia Pacific jumped to 69 per cent.

Malaysia’s healthy economy – and the resulting “feel good” factor – stands in contrast to growing anxiety among Malaysia’s neighbours in south-east Asia as the global downturn has tarnished their economies.

Analysts point out one nagging concern for Malaysia: rising household debt, caused by rapid growth in credit card usage.

As the transformation programme’s projects take root, Grant wrote that Bank Negara Malaysia is forecasting full-year growth at the upper end of its 4-5 per cent.

Amidst this scenario, the Financial Times also quoted Rahul Bajoria, an anaylst at Barclays, as saying that: “We expect momentum to remain underpinned as the project-based nature of these investments means that it is unlikely to be halted abruptly.” – Bernama

Related posts:

Malaysia’s Days in the Sun – WSJ

Malaysia’s growth forecasts raised after the actual 5.4% in Q2, 2012

US poverty on track to rise to highest since 1960s


This photo shows new parents Garrett Goudeseune, 25, Laura Fritz, 27, left, with their daughter Adalade Goudeseune, as they pose for a photo at the Jefferson Action Center, an assistance center in the Denver suburb of Lakewood. Both Fritz and Goudeseune grew up in the Denver suburbs in families that were solidly middle class. But the couple has struggled to find work and are now relying on government assistance to cover food and $650 rent for their family. The ranks of America‘s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net. Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections. (AP Photo/Kristen Wyatt)

The ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in nearly half a century, erasing gains from the war on poverty in the 1960s amid a weak economy and fraying government safety net.

Census figures for 2011 will be released this fall in the critical weeks ahead of the November elections.

The Associated Press surveyed more than a dozen economists, think tanks and academics, both nonpartisan and those with known liberal or conservative leanings, and found a broad consensus: The official poverty rate will rise from 15.1 per cent in 2010, climbing as high as 15.7 per cent. Several predicted a more modest gain, but even a 0.1 percentage point increase would put poverty at the highest level since 1965.

Poverty is spreading at record levels across many groups, from underemployed workers and suburban families to the poorest poor. More discouraged workers are giving up on the job market, leaving them vulnerable as unemployment aid begins to run out. Suburbs are seeing increases in poverty, including in such political battlegrounds as Colorado, Florida and Nevada, where voters are coping with a new norm of living hand to mouth.

“I grew up going to Hawaii every summer. Now I’m here, applying for assistance because it’s hard to make ends meet. It’s very hard to adjust,” said Laura Fritz, 27, of Wheat Ridge, Colo., describing her slide from rich to poor as she filled out aid forms at a county centre. Since 2000, large swaths of Jefferson County just outside Denver have seen poverty nearly double.Fritz says she grew up wealthy in the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, but fortunes turned after her parents lost a significant amount of money in the housing bust. Stuck in a half-million dollar house, her parents began living off food stamps and Fritz’s college money evaporated. She tried joining the Army but was injured during basic training.

Now she’s living on disability, with an infant daughter and a boyfriend, Garrett Goudeseune, 25, who can’t find work as a landscaper. They are struggling to pay their $650 rent on his unemployment checks and don’t know how they would get by without the extra help as they hope for the job market to improve.

In an election year dominated by discussion of the middle class, Fritz’s case highlights a dim reality for the growing group in poverty. Millions could fall through the cracks as government aid from unemployment insurance, Medicaid, welfare and food stamps diminishes.

“The issues aren’t just with public benefits. We have some deep problems in the economy,” said Peter Edelman, director of the Georgetown Centre on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.

He pointed to the recent recession but also longer-term changes in the economy such as globalisation, automation, outsourcing, immigration, and less unionisation that have pushed median household income lower. Even after strong economic growth in the 1990s, poverty never fell below a 1973 low of 11.1 per cent. That low point came after President Lyndon Johnson‘s war on poverty, launched in 1964, that created Medicaid, Medicare and other social welfare programs.

“I’m reluctant to say that we’ve gone back to where we were in the 1960s. The programs we enacted make a big difference. The problem is that the tidal wave of low-wage jobs is dragging us down and the wage problem is not going to go away anytime soon,” Edelman said.

Stacey Mazer of the National Association of State Budget Officers said states will be watching for poverty increases when figures are released in September as they make decisions about the Medicaid expansion. Most states generally assume poverty levels will hold mostly steady and they will hesitate if the findings show otherwise. “It’s a constant tension in the budget,” she said.

The predictions for 2011 are based on separate AP interviews, supplemented with research on suburban poverty from Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution and an analysis of federal spending by the Congressional Research Service and Elise Gould of the Economic Policy Institute.

The analysts’ estimates suggest that some 47 million people in the U.S., or 1 in 6, were poor last year. An increase of one-tenth of a percentage point to 15.2 per cent would tie the 1983 rate, the highest since 1965. The highest level on record was 22.4 per cent in 1959, when the government began calculating poverty figures.

Poverty is closely tied to joblessness. While the unemployment rate improved from 9.6 per cent in 2010 to 8.9 per cent in 2011, the employment-population ratio remained largely unchanged, meaning many discouraged workers simply stopped looking for work. Food stamp rolls, another indicator of poverty, also grew.

Demographers also say:

—Poverty will remain above the pre-recession level of 12.5 per cent for many more years. Several predicted that peak poverty levels — 15 per cent to 16 per cent — will last at least until 2014, due to expiring unemployment benefits, a jobless rate persistently above 6 per cent and weak wage growth.

—Suburban poverty, already at a record level of 11.8 per cent, will increase again in 2011.

—Part-time or underemployed workers, who saw a record 15 per cent poverty in 2010, will rise to a new high.

—Poverty among people 65 and older will remain at historically low levels, buoyed by Social Security cash payments.

—Child poverty will increase from its 22 per cent level in 2010.

Analysts also believe that the poorest poor, defined as those at 50 per cent or less of the poverty level, will remain near its peak level of 6.7 per cent.

“I’ve always been the guy who could find a job. Now I’m not,” said Dale Szymanski, 56, a Teamsters Union forklift operator and convention hand who lives outside Las Vegas in Clark County. In a state where unemployment ranks highest in the nation, the Las Vegas suburbs have seen a particularly rapid increase in poverty from 9.7 per cent in 2007 to 14.7 per cent.

Szymanski, who moved from Wisconsin in 2000, said he used to make a decent living of more than $40,000 a year but now doesn’t work enough hours to qualify for union health care. He changed apartments several months ago and sold his aging 2001 Chrysler Sebring in April to pay expenses.

“You keep thinking it’s going to turn around. But I’m stuck,” he said.

The 2010 poverty level was $22,314 for a family of four, and $11,139 for an individual, based on an official government calculation that includes only cash income, before tax deductions. It excludes capital gains or accumulated wealth, such as home ownership, as well as non-cash aid such as food stamps and tax credits, which were expanded substantially under President Barack Obama’s stimulus package.

An additional 9 million people in 2010 would have been counted above the poverty line if food stamps and tax credits were taken into account.

Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, believes the social safety net has worked and it is now time to cut back. He worries that advocates may use a rising poverty rate to justify additional spending on the poor, when in fact, he says, many live in decent-size homes, drive cars and own wide-screen TVs.

A new census measure accounts for non-cash aid, but that supplemental poverty figure isn’t expected to be released until after the November election. Since that measure is relatively new, the official rate remains the best gauge of year-to-year changes in poverty dating back to 1959.

Few people advocate cuts in anti-poverty programs. Roughly 79 per cent of Americans think the gap between rich and poor has grown in the past two decades, according to a Public Religion Research Institute/RNS Religion News survey from November 2011. The same poll found that about 67 per cent oppose “cutting federal funding for social programs that help the poor” to help reduce the budget deficit.

Outside of Medicaid, federal spending on major low-income assistance programs such as food stamps, disability aid and tax credits have been mostly flat at roughly 1.5 per cent of the gross domestic product from 1975 to the 1990s. Spending spiked higher to 2.3 per cent of GDP after Obama’s stimulus program in 2009 temporarily expanded unemployment insurance and tax credits for the poor.

The U.S. safety net may soon offer little comfort to people such as Jose Gorrin, 52, who lives in the western Miami suburb of Hialeah Gardens. Arriving from Cuba in 1980, he was able to earn a decent living as a plumber for years, providing for his children and ex-wife. But things turned sour in 2007 and in the past two years he has barely worked, surviving on the occasional odd job.

His unemployment aid has run out, and he’s too young to draw Social Security.

Holding a paper bag of still-warm bread he’d just bought for lunch, Gorrin said he hasn’t decided whom he’ll vote for in November, expressing little confidence the presidential candidates can solve the nation’s economic problems. “They all promise to help when they’re candidates,” Gorrin said, adding, “I hope things turn around. I already left Cuba. I don’t know where else I can go.”

By Hope Yen Associated Press

Malaysia’s Days in the Sun – WSJ


New York, Hong Kong, London…Kuala Lumpur? Malaysia is going gangbusters. Now, it must sustain the momentum.

The Southeast Asian nation is home to the world’s second and third largest initial public offerings this year—the $3.3 billion listing of Felda Global Ventures 5222.KU 0.00% and IHH Healthcare’s $2 billion IPO. Meanwhile, the benchmark KLCI hit a record Wednesday after rising almost 7% this year.

State backing for Malaysian equities is a factor. Felda’s IPO was largely bought by government-backed investors such as individual Malaysian states. Mandatory retirement savings boosts domestic pension funds that typically invest a lot in the local market too.

The economy is also performing well. Unemployment is low. Inflation is benign at about 2%. Gross domestic product growth is around 5%. That is important because the Malaysian stock market is mainly comprised of domestically focused companies.

Diverse exports are also relatively robust. Commodities like palm oil, petroleum and gas make up about a quarter of exports, while electronics and manufactured goods make up the rest. HSBC notes that Malaysia’s exports are down just 2% since last August, compared to a 13% aggregate decline for shipments from Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The country’s banks look healthy too. Asset quality is strong and deleveraging by European banks isn’t a big threat, says Moody’s. “Their claims on the Malaysian economy amount to a mere 5% of GDP,” notes the rating company.

Still, there are risks that warrant caution. A prolonged slump in global trade would hurt. Net exports are equal to about 16% of GDP—much higher than the ratio for neighbors such as Indonesia and the Philippines.

Politics is a wildcard too. Prime Minister Najib Razak wants to improve infrastructure and boost investment in sectors including oil and gas and tourism. Investors must hope that agenda stays on track regardless of the outcome of an election expected by early 2013.

Much of the good news may be priced in. Malaysia’s benchmark stock index trades at about 15 times current earnings. Some analysts say that is rich. Malaysia has momentum. But much now depends on domestic politics and the depth of the weakness in global trade.

Write to Cynthia Koons at cynthia.koons@wsj.com

Singapore millionaires who don’t feel rich


Singapore, the third richest country in the world on a per capita basis, may be good at accumulating wealth but it fares less well when it comes to distributing it.

WHEN I read last week that one in six households in Singapore is a millionaire in investable wealth, it stirred mixed emotions of pride and worry.

Bloomberg had earlier reported that the city state had become the third richest country in the world on a per capita basis.

Many Singaporeans probably share these mixed feelings, if they could take time away from work to think about it. (More on that later.)

The pride, of course, stems from our transformation from a squatter colony to this present level of affluence in only 47 years, and the concern comes from the high cost of living that such wealth brings.

Singapore is the 10th most expensive city in the world. The two factors – wealth and high cost – are related; if cost of living is taken into account Singapore’s wealth ranking drops to 11th in the world.

Inflation clouds everyone’s lives, unless he is among the 188,000 millionaire households, to which it probably matters much less..

A school-teacher commented: “Being told that I am living in one of the world’s richest cities doesn’t profit my life and the resultant high cost is a blow.”

Last year, the number of millionaires (in US dollars) increased by 14%, one of the world’s fastest growth rates. In the previous year – from 2009 to 2010 – it went up by a record one-third.

Their wealth does not include the value of their properties or other fixed assets. If it does, Singaporeans would be even richer.

The question is: how many of the new rich are foreigners who took up permanent residency here? If the number is high, it could distort the picture a little.

Over the past five years, the number of rich mainland Chinese, Indians and Indonesians who took up PR here has risen, pushing up the price of properties.

Two of Facebook billionaire co-founders, Mark Zuckerberg and Eduardo Saverin, have made Singapore their home.

I also noticed that the pro-government media has been playing up stories of rising wealth and the capacity of Singaporeans to spend it. It is understandable because it paints a rosy picture.

Recent tales included the following:

> Singapore’s (resale) public flats are worth more than some expensive villas and islands in Portugal, Greece and Spain, as well as luxurious properties in the United States, reported Business Times.

> Rising property prices – nearly 7,000 “shoe box” condos of 300 sq ft to 500 sq ft have been built. A 463 sq ft condo was sold for S$702,000 (RM1.7mil).

> For sale: a bottle of special edition whisky in Singapore for S$250,000 (RM620,165).

> Singapore girl from a promi­­-nent family splurging S$200,000 (RM496,252) on a photo shoot.

> Launch of the Singapore’s most expensive car, priced at S$3.6mil (RM9mil).

> A 23,920 sq ft bungalow at the prestigious Nassim Road was sold for a record S$47.8mil (RM118.6mil).

Such stories will likely continue to happen but so will tales relating to the new poor.

Singapore may be good at accumulating wealth but it fares less well when it comes to distributing it.

In fact, what is rubbing off some of the “wealth” shine is the widening inequality between the rich and the poor, an imbalance that ranks a notorious second in the world next to Hong Kong.

According to the Manpower Ministry, the earnings of the poorest 20% had stagnated in the past 10 years, with real income rising only S$200 (RM496) to S$1,400 (RM3,471), or 0.3%.

Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad wrote: “Singapore is rich and happy at the moment, and that’s not good. America was like that at one point in time.”

I know what he means.

A blogger recalled this was what former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew said years ago. He said he feared affluence was making Singaporeans complacent.

He said the young generation compared badly with the poorer, hard-striving migrants from China and needed “spurs on its side” to drive it on.

Are wealthy Singaporeans happy? Happiness is subjective, but a Twitter reported that only one quarter of the people are happy.

A newspaper for Indians in Singapore, Tabla, wrote: “They are among the world’s wealthiest, ranking sixth highest in net wealth with a mean value of US$284,692 (RM908,737) per adult. But Singaporeans aren’t necessarily a happy lot.”

Most attribute it to the pressure cooker living, the high cost of living and the education system. Despite what Lee said, Singaporeans work the longest hours in a worldwide comparison, beating the Japanese.

But the country has the second lowest job satisfaction in the world, according to an Accenture survey, with some 76% saying they are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Long-time visitor Brian Nelsen wrote last month: “Where are the friendly Singaporeans I used to know?”

He expressed shock and dismay at the abrupt change in the attitude of Singaporeans towards tourists in the last few years. They appear unfriendly and rude nowadays.

“Nobody smiles or returns a greeting any more. Many are now a surly lot,” he said. He probably had not met our richer folks.

Joyce Hooi of The Business Times wrote: “If Singapore had been a person, it would have stood above the unwashed tableau of Occupy Wall Street, watching from its penthouse and laughing into its Cognac.”

The really wealthy are busy buying up luxuries.

Every single day, she added, 25 people had bought a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW, and a Ferrari every four days over the past 11 months.


INSIGHT DOWN SOUTH BY SEAH CHIANG NEE  cnseah@thestar.com.my

Eurozone unemployment hits record 10.9% as manufacturing slumps to recession!


Eurozone unemployment hit a record in March, with Spain’s 24.1% rate setting the pace.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Unemployment in the eurozone rose to 10.9% in March, another sign of the broad economic weakness and possible recession across the continent.

The unemployment rate across the broader 27-nation European Union remained at 10.2% in March, according to a organization report Wednesday.

But the 17-nation eurozone unemployment edged up from 10.8% in February. The EU and eurozone rates are the highest since the creation of the common euro currency in 1999.

There are now 13 nations in Europe struggling with double-digit percentage unemployment, led by a 24.1% rate in Spain, which was a record high, and 21.7% in Greece.

The rising jobless rates are primarily blamed on the ongoing European sovereign debt crisis, which has forced governments to take tough austerity measures to cut spending.

There are 12 countries in Europe that have had two or more consecutive quarters in which their gross domestic product has dropped — a condition many economists say define a recession. Nine of the countries are in the eurozone, and three use their own currency.

The United Kingdom, which had an 8.2% unemployment rate in its most recent reading, is the largest economy now in recession.

The entire EU and and eurozone are widely believed to be in recession as well, a fact likely to be confirmed when their combined GDPs are reported on May 15.

Even some of the healthier countries in Europe are likely to meet that criteria, including Germany, the EU’s largest economy and one in which unemployment is 5.6%, the fourth-lowest rate on the continent.

German GDP declined 0.2% in the fourth quarter and many economists are forecasting another drop in the first quarter, suggesting Germany could be in recession soon.

http://i.cdn.turner.com/money/.element/apps/cvp/4.0/swf/cnn_money_384x216_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=/video/news/2012/03/08/n-job-fair-unemployment.cnnmoney

By contrast to Europe, the U.S. unemployment rate has been steadily falling, reaching 8.2% in March. The jobless rate here reached a 26-year high of 10.0% in October 2009, but it has declined in six of the last seven months, shaving almost a full percentage point off the 9.1% rate of last August.

Economists surveyed by CNNMoney forecast that the rate will stay unchanged in the April jobs report this Friday, while hiring is expected to pick up to a gain of 160,000 jobs

By Chris Isidore @CNNMoney ,  Newscribe : get free news in real time

Eurozone manufacturing heads towards recession

Greece-EU

(BRUSSELS) – Gloom over eurozone manufacturing deepened in April, highlighting the impact of policies to control budgets and signalling recessionary pressures, a Markit survey showed on Wednesday.

A key index of activity based on a survey by Markit fell to almost the lowest level for three years.

Markit publishes closely watched leading indicators of economic activity and in its latest survey for its purchasing managers’ index the firm said: “The eurozone manufacturing downturn took a further turn for the worse in April.”

The adjusted manufacturing PMI figure, closely watched as an indicator of economic trends, fell to 45.9 from 47.7 in March.

A figure of below 50 points to contraction and Markit noted that “the headline PMI has signalled contraction in each of the past nine months.”

The chief economist at Markit, Chris Williamson, said: “Manufacturing in the eurozone took a further lurch into a new recession in April, with the PMI suggesting that output fell at (a) worryingly steep quarterly rate of over 2.0 percent.”

He said that “austerity in deficit-fighting countries is having an increasing impact on demand across the region” and that “even German manufacturing output showed a renewed decline.”

Williamson commented that the latest forecast from the European Central Bank “of merely a slight contraction of GDP (gross domestic product) this year is therefore already looking optimistic.”

He added: “However, with the survey also showing inflationary pressures to have waned, the door may be opening for further stimulus.”

His remarks highlight controversy over policies in many countries to correct budget deficits and heavy debt to install confidence on debt markets where governments borrow.

There are increasing warnings that the eurozone must raise economic growth, but opinions differ on the best route, with some saying that budget austerity opens the way to structural reform and competitiveness and others saying that extra stimulus is essential.

Markit said that “the April PMIs also indicated that manufacturing weakness was no longer confined to the region’s geographic periphery.”

In Germany, which has the biggest economy in the eurozone and has shown broad resilience to downturn elsewhere, Markit also noted a setback.

“The German PMI fell to a 33-month low, conditions deteriorated sharply again in France and the Netherlands also contracted at a faster rate,” it said.

Markit said: “There was no respite for the non-core nations either, with steep and accelerating downturns seen in Italy, Spain and Greece. Only the PMIs for Austria and Ireland held above the 50.0 no-change mark.”

Markit said that manufacturers reported weak demand from clients inside and outside the zone and this had hit even German companies.

The worsening outlook for eurozone manufacturing was also affecting the job market, Markit said, just as eurozone data put the unemployment rate at a record high level.

In manufacturing “job losses were reported for the third straight month in April, with the rate of decline the sharpest in over two years,” Markit said on the basis of its survey. – AFP.

Related posts:

Unemployment Fuels Debt Crisis

Global recession grows closer as G20 summit fails in

US no longer ‘AAA’, Eurozone the next?

Eurozone seeks bailout funds from China

Eurozone unemployment hits new record

French head to polls in presidential election


First round voting begins in overseas territories as incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy appears set to face a stern test.

More than 44 million French voters are to go to the polls for the first round of a presidential election that represents a serious threat to incumbent Nicholas Sarkozy‘s tenure in the post.

While predictions of a high abstention rate and a strong protest vote have left the outcome uncertain, opinion polls point towards Francois Hollande, Sarkozy’s main Socialist challenger, replacing his conservative rival.

The two 57-year-old political leaders are on course to finish in the top two in Sunday’s polling, thus setting them up to square off in a second round vote on May 6.

The result of that vote will decide who is France’s president for the next five years.

Voting began on Saturday in France’s overseas territories, which are mainly islands dotted around the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

On Sunday, voting will continue in 85,000 polling stations across the country’s European mainland. Voting will begin at 8am local time (06:00 GMT) and continue until 8pm (18:00 GMT).

Voting estimates will then be immediately published, giving what has been a traditionally accurate assessment of how the polls will stand once results are finalised.

In all, 10 candidates are in the race, with Hollande and Sarkozy trailed by far-right leader Marine Le Pen, hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon and veteran centrist Francois Bayrou. A handful of outsiders round out the field.

Once the first round is over, the top two candidates will face each other in the final poll, with the run-up to that including a televised debate.

Spotlight coverage of April 22 presidential election

Hollande says that Sarkozy has trapped France in a spiral of austerity and job losses, and has called for the European response to the debt crisis to be more pro-growth.

Sarkozy, meanwhile, says that his rival is weak-willed and would spark panic in financial markets by adopting an approach that involves increased government spending.

Al Jazeera’s Tim Friend, reporting from Paris, said that Sarkozy faces a stiff challenge due to his “extraordinary” unpopularity.

“A lot of the people voting will be putting their ballot paper into the ballot box more against Sarkozy than perhaps for the candidate they eventually vote for,” he said.

Since Saturday, there has been no sign of any of the rhetoric that has characterised an increasingly heated contest, as French law prohibits campaigning and opinion polls on the eve of voting.

Voters went about their business without being accosted by pamphleteers, the campaigns’ websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds were left without updates and broadcasters had to find other subjects to interview.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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