Asian students dominate global exam; Are the Chinese cheating in PISA or are we cheating ourselves?

Asian Student Dominate ExamMemento: In this file photo, parents take pictures of their children outside a high school in Beijing after they finished their national college exams. — AP

AS a ninth-grader, Shanghai’s Li Sixin spent more than three hours on homework a night and took tutorials in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry on the weekends.

When she was tapped to take an exam last year given to half a million students around the world, Sixin breezed through it. “I felt the test was just easy,” said Sixin, who was a student at Shanghai Wenlai Middle School at the time and now attends high school.

The long hours which focused on schoolwork — and a heavy emphasis on test-taking skills — help explain why young students like Sixin in China’s financial hub once again dominated an international test for 15-year-olds called the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).

Students from Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan — all from Asia — were right behind. In the wealthy city of Shanghai, where affluent families can afford to pay for tutors, the results are not representative of China overall, although they are ranked as a group alongside national averages for countries such as tAS a ninth-grader, Shanghai’s Li Sixin spent more than three hours on homework a night and took tutorials in Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry on the weekends.

When she was tapped to take an exam last year given to half a million students around the world, Sixin breezed through it. “I felt the test was just easy,” said Sixin, who was a student at Shanghai Wenlai Middle School at the time and now attends high school.

The long hours which focused on schoolwork — and a heavy emphasis on test-taking skills — help explain why young students like Sixin in China’s financial hub once again dominated an international test for 15-year-olds called the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa).he United States and Japan.

Still, they are indicative of education trends in China and elsewhere in Asia — societies where test results determine entrance into prestigious universities and often one’s eventual career path.

Shanghai scored an average of 613 on Maths, as compared with the nearest rival Singapore (573), and the global average of 494. Hong Kong ranked third in Maths, scoring 561, while Japan was ranked seventh and scored 536. The test is given every three years.

In China, educators say hard work is key to their students’ impressive showing. “They listen carefully in the class and do their homework,” said Bai Bing, the headmaster of Sixin’s school, where about 40 students were chosen to take the global test.

Still, Chinese educational experts say the results are at most partial and covers up shortcomings in creating well-rounded, critical thinking individuals. “This should not be considered a pride for us because overall, it still measures one’s test-taking ability. You can have the best answer for a theoretical model but can you build a factory on a test paper?” asked Xiong Binqi, a Shanghai-based scholar on education.

“The biggest criticism is that China’s education has sacrificed everything else for test scores, such as life skills, character building, mental health, and physical health,” said Xiong.

“Shanghai is an exception, and it is by no means representative of China,” said Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal at the High School Attached to Tsinghua University in Beijing. “It’s an international city where its residents pay great attention to education and where there are many universities.”

Affluent Shanghai parents annually spend an average of 6,000 yuan (RM3,190) on English and Math tutors and 9,600 yuan (RM5,100) on weekend lessons.

Shanghai Normal University president Zhang Minxuan said Pisa does not measure students’ social abilities, physical health and aesthetics, and he cautioned against extrapolating to the rest of the country.

“Shanghai students’ top placement in Pisa is no proof of equal development of education in China,” he said, as reported by Shanghai Education News. “There’s no denying, China’s education still has a long way to go.”

By Didi Tang — AP
Are the Chinese cheating in PISA or are we cheating ourselves?

Andreas Schleicher Andreas Schleicher

Whenever an American or European wins an Olympic gold medal, we cheer them as heroes. When a Chinese does, the first reflex seems to be that they must have been doping; or if that’s taking it too far, that it must have been the result of inhumane training.

There seem to be parallels to this in education. Only hours after results from the latest PISA assessment showed Shanghai’s school system leading the field, Time magazine concluded the Chinese must have been cheating. They didn’t bother to read the PISA 2012 Technical Background Annex, which shows there was no cheating, whatsoever, involved. Nor did they speak with the experts who had drawn the samples or with the international auditors who had carefully reviewed and validated the sample for Shanghai and those of other countries.

Others were quick to suggest that resident internal migrants might not be covered by Shanghai’s PISA sample, because years ago those migrants wouldn’t have had access to Shanghai’s schools. But, like many things in China, that has long changed and, as described by PISA, resident migrants were covered by the PISA samples in exactly the way they are covered in other countries and education systems. Still, it seems to be easier to cling to old stereotypes than keep up with changes on the ground (or to read the PISA report).

True, like other emerging economies, Shanghai is still building its education system and not every 15-year-old makes it yet to high school. As a result of this and other factors, the PISA 2012 sample covers only 79 per cent of the 15-year-olds in Shanghai. But that is far from unique. Even the United States, the country with the longest track record of universal high-school education, covered less than 90 per cent of its 15-year-olds in PISA – and it didn’t include Puerto Rico in its PISA sample, a territory that is unlikely to have pulled up US average performance.

International comparisons are never easy and they are never perfect. But anyone who takes a serious look at the facts and figures will concede that the samples used for PISA result in robust and internationally comparable data. They have been carefully designed and validated to be fit for purpose in collaboration with the world’s leading experts, and the tests are administered under strict and internationally comparable conditions. Anyone who really wants to find out can review the underlying data.

Short of arguments about methodology, some people turn to dismissing Shanghai’s strong performance by saying that Shanghai’s students are only good on the kind of tasks that are easy to teach and easy to test, and that those things are losing in relevance because they are also the kind of things that are easy to digitise, automate and outsource. But while the latter is true, the former is not. Consider this: Only 2 per cent of American 15-year-olds and 3 per cent of European ones reach the highest level of math performance in PISA, demonstrating that they can conceptualise, generalise and use math based on their investigations and apply their knowledge in novel contexts. In Shanghai it is over 30 per cent. Educators in Shanghai have simply understood that the world economy will pay an ever-rising premium on excellence and no longer value people for what they know, but for what they can do with what they know.

PISA didn’t just test what 15-year-olds know in mathematics, it also asked them what they believe makes them succeed. In many countries, students were quick to blame everyone but themselves: More than three-quarters of the students in France, an average performer on the PISA test, said the course material was simply too hard, two-thirds said the teacher did not get students interested in the material, and half said their teacher did not explain the concepts well or they were just unlucky. The results are very different for Shanghai. Students there believe they will succeed if they try hard and they trust their teachers to help them succeed. That tells us a lot about school education. And guess which of these two countries keeps improving and which is not? The fact that students in some countries consistently believe that achievement is mainly a product of hard work, rather than inherited intelligence, suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling the values that foster success in education.

And even those who claim that the relative standing of countries in PISA mainly reflects social and cultural factors must concede that educational improvement is possible: in mathematics, countries like Brazil, Turkey, Mexico or Tunisia rose from the bottom; Italy, Portugal and the Russian Federation have advanced to the average of the industrialised world or close to it; Germany and Poland rose from average to good; and Shanghai and Singapore have moved from good to great. Indeed, of the 65 participating countries, 45 saw improvement in at least one subject area. These countries didn’t change their culture, or the composition of their population, nor did they fire their teachers. They changed their education policies and practices. Learning from these countries should be our focus. We will be cheating ourselves and the children in our schools if we miss that chance.

International comparisons are never easy and they aren’t perfect. But PISA shows what is possible in education, it takes away excuses from those who are complacent, and it helps countries see themselves in the mirror of the educational results and educational opportunities delivered by the world’s leaders in education.
The world has become indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving of frailty and ignorant of custom or practice. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. And the task for governments is to help citizens rise to this challenge. PISA can help to make that happen.

Andreas Schleicher is deputy director for Education and Skills, and special adviser on education policy to the OECD’s Secretary General.

In response to criticisms and questions regarding the validity of high scores achieved by 15-year-olds from Shanghai, China, in the recent PISA assessment, he posted this article to the OECD’s education blog

Sources: The Sydney Morning Herald

Related post:
Malaysia, US, UK and Australia lag in global education ranking as China and Asian countries rise to the top

Malaysia, US, UK and Australia lag in global education rankings as China and Asian countries rise to the top


 Malaysia students score below global average

PETALING JAYA: Malaysian students have scored below the global average under the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) 2012.

According to the results released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Malaysia scored 421 in Mathematics, 398 in Reading and 420 in Science respectively.

The results achieved in the latest survey showed Malaysia was below the global average score of 494 in Mathematics, 496 in Reading and 501 in Science.

Based on the mean score for 2012, Malaysia is still placed in the bottom third, ranking 52 out of 65 countries, and 55 out of 74 countries in the 2009 survey.

In 2009, Malaysia scored 404 in Mathematics, 414 in Reading and 422 in Science.

Pisa is administered by the OECD every three years on 15-year-olds in both OECD and non-OECD countries and offers students questions in the main language of instruction in their respective countries. Each round focuses on one area of either Reading, Mathematics or Science.

The assessments have been conducted since 2000, with Malaysia taking part for the first time in 2009.

Currently, Malaysian students are at the bottom one-third among more than 70 countries in international assessments like Timms (Trends in International Mathe­mathics and Science Studies) and Pisa. The Malaysia Education Blueprint has set the goal for Malaysia to be in the top third of countries participating in Pisa and Timms by 2025.

Contributed by Kkang Soon Chen The Star/Asia News Network

US students lag in global education rankings as Asian countries rise to the top

Students in the United States made scant headway on recent global achievement exams and slipped deeper in the international rankings amid fast-growing competition abroad, according to test results released Tuesday.

American teens scored below the international average in math and roughly average in science and reading, compared against dozens of other countries that participated in the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which was administered last fall.

Vietnam, which had its students take part in the exam for the first time, had a higher average score in math and science than the United States. Students in Shanghai — China’s largest city with upwards of 20 million people — ranked best in the world, according to the test results. Students in East Asian countries and provinces came out on top, nabbing seven of the top 10 places across all three subjects.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan characterized the flat scores as a “picture of educational stagnation.”

“We must invest in early education, raise academic standards, make college affordable, and do more to recruit and retain top-notch educators,” Duncan said.

Roughly half a million students in 65 nations and educational systems representing 80 percent of the global economy took part in the 2012 edition of PISA, which is coordinated by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, or OECD.

The numbers are even more sobering when compared among only the 34 OECD countries. The United States ranked 26th in math — trailing nations such as the Slovakia, Portugal and Russia. What’s more, American high school students dropped to 21st in science (from 17th in 2009) and slipped to 17th in reading (from 14th in 2009), according to the results.

“These numbers are very discouraging,” Eric A. Hanushek, an expert on educational policy and a Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, told NBC News. “They say that we have to work more seriously at trying to raise the performance that leads to these scores.”

The exam, which has been administered every three years to 15-year-olds, is designed to gauge how students use the material they have learned inside and outside the classroom to solve problems.

U.S. scores on the PISA have stayed relatively flat since testing began in 2000. And meanwhile, students in countries like Ireland and Poland have demonstrated marked improvement — even surpassing U.S. students, according to the results.

“It’s hard to get excited about standing still while others around you are improving, so I don’t want to be too positive,” Jack Buckley, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, told the Associated Press.

Duncan said the results were at “odds with our aspiration to have the best-educated, most competitive work force in the world.”

The scores are likely to reopen a long-simmering political debate about the state of education in America as economically ascendant nations like China eclipse U.S. students’ performance.

American students historically have ranked low on international assessments, owing to a range of social and economic factors — from skyrocketing rates of child poverty to sheer population diversity. Nearly 6,100 American students participated in this round of testing.

“Socio-economic background has a significant impact on student performance in the United States, with some 15% of the variation in student performance explained by this, similar to the OECD average,” according to a PISA summary of U.S. performance. “Although this impact has weakened over time, disadvantaged students show less engagement, drive, motivation and self-beliefs.”

Shanghai students also dominated the PISA exam in 2009, according to the AP.

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, told the wire service that the educational system in that city is not equitable — and the students tested are progeny of the elite because they are the only ones permitted to attend municipal schools due to restrictions that, among other things, prohibit many migrant children.

“The Shanghai scores frankly to me are difficult to interpret,” Loveless told the wire service. “They are almost meaningless.”

Buckley told the AP that U.S. officials have not encountered any evidence of a “biased sample” of students administered the exam in Shanghai. He said if the whole country was included, it is unclear what the results would show.

Hanushek told NBC News that the performance of Asian teens says a great deal about the modern mindset of the Far East.

“These East Asian countries are hungry,” Hanushek said. “They have the view that improving their lives and improving their future depends on education.”

And the U.S., he added, has grown too accustomed to leading the world in knowledge that it may have lost its edge.

“We have the strongest economy in the world. But everybody is too complacent,” Hanushek said.
The test is premised on a 1,000-point scale. Here’s a sampling of the leading findings:

— In math, the U.S. average score was 481. Average scores ranged from 368 in Peru to 613 in Shanghai. The global average was 494.

— In science, the U.S. average score was 497. Average scores ranged from 373 in Peru to 580 in Shanghai. The global average was 501.

— In reading, the U.S. average score was 498. Average scores ranged from 384 in Peru to 570 in Shanghai. The global average was 496.

Students from all states were tested. For the first time, three states — Massachusetts, Connecticut and Florida — elected to boost participation in PISA to get more state-specific data.

Average scores from Massachusetts rose above the international average in all three subject areas.

Connecticut students scored on average near the global average in math and higher than the global average in science and reading. Florida students on average scored below the global average in math and science and near the global average in reading, according to the AP.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

PISA Results Show UK Students Lagging Behind Rest Of The World

uk students lag behind rest of world pisa
- The Huffington Post UK/PA

UK teenagers and students are lagging far behind their peers across the world as the country fails to improve its performance in reading, maths and science, a major international report reveals.

Young adults in Singapore, Estonia and Slovenia are storming ahead, despite the UK spending more than average on education. There has been “no change” in the country’s abilities in the basics, according to the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) study 2012.

The UK was in 26th place for maths, 23rd for reading and 21st for science, it found.

More than half a million 15-year-olds from 65 countries took part in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) study last year, which assesses how students could use their knowledge and skills in real life, rather than just repeating facts and figures.

The findings show that the UK’s average score for maths was 494 and in reading it was 499, broadly the same as the OECD averages for the subjects and putting the country on a par with nations such as the Czech Republic, France,and Norway.

In science, the UK’s teenagers scored 514 points, above the OECD average and similar to results in Australia, Austria, Ireland, New Zealand and Slovenia.

But it also leaves the UK lagging far behind leading nations including Shanghai in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea and Japan in each of the areas tested.

The OECD concluded that across all three subjects the UK’s average performance in maths has remained unchanged since the PISA tests in 2006 and 2009.

Andreas Schleicher, special adviser to the OECD’s secretary-general, said: “The relative standing and the absolute standing of the UK is really unchanged.”

He added: “In essence you can say that the UK stands where it stood in 2009.”

The results come despite major investment in education in the UK.

The study found that the UK spends more per head on education than the average across OECD countries, at around £59,889 per student between the ages of six and 15. The OECD average is £50,951.

It says that expenditure per student can explain about 30% of the difference in average maths results between countries, but that moderate or high spending per pupil does not automatically equate to particularly high or low performance in the subject.

The report shows that around one in eight (12%) of UK teenagers are considered “top performers” in maths scoring the highest results, this is a similar proportion to the OECD average. Around nine percent were top performers in reading, while 11% fell into this category in science.

And more than a fifth (22%) were “low performers”, compared to the OECD average of 23%, meaning that at best they can solve simple maths problems. Around 15% were low performers in reading, along with 15% in science.

The results also showed that students from an immigrant background in the UK perform as well in maths as other students, whereas in many other OECD countries they score significantly lower.

It adds that UK students are generally positive about school, but like those in many other countries they are less positive about learning maths.

Mr Schleicher said that the latest PISA results could not be used to judge the Coalition Government’s education reforms, saying “you couldn’t possibly see anything of what’s been done in the last couple of years.”

Education Secretary Michael Gove said: “These poor results show the last government failed to secure the improvements in school standards our young people desperately need.

“Labour poured billions of pounds into schools and ratcheted up exam grades – yet our education system stagnated and we fell behind other nations.”

He added that the performance “underlines the urgent need for our reforms”.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said: “The PISA report is a big wake-up call. Eastern dominance centres on the importance that these high performing education systems place on the quality and status of the teaching profession as the central lever for driving up standards.

“This report exposes the failings of this Government’s schools policy: a policy that has sent unqualified teachers into the classroom and prevented effective collaboration between schools.”

Australian students slipping behind in maths, reading: OECD report

Video: Christopher Pyne says the results are a ‘serious wake-up call’ (ABC News)

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A new report comparing Australian high school students with 65 other countries shows the nation is slipping further behind in maths and reading skills.

The 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) measures the mathematics, reading and science skills of half a million 15-year-olds from around the world.

It found Australian teens placed equal 17th in maths, equal 10th in reading and equal 8th in science.

Asian countries like China, Singapore, Korea and Japan are pulling ahead of Australian students in maths and reading.

The results show Australian students are slipping in maths performance by about a half a year of schooling compared to 10 years ago.

How the states/territories rated:

Maths Science Reading
ACT 518 534 525
NSW 509 526 513
VIC 501 518 517
QLD 503 519 508
SA 489 513 500
WA 516 535 519
TAS 478 500 485
NT 452 483 466
AUST 504 521 512
Shanghai 613 580 570

The decline was stronger in girls than boys, with girls dropping to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average.

The report also found a wide gap between students in different parts of the country.

Tasmania and the Northern Territory lagged well behind other states in all three areas.

About 14,500 Australian students from 775 schools were measured in the assessment, which was conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) for the OECD.

ACER’s director of educational monitoring and research, Dr Sue Thomson, says gender, Indigenous status and socio-economic status still divide student outcomes.

Australian students from a wealthy background show a difference of about two-and-a-half years of schooling compared to a student from the lowest socio-economic group.

Questionnaire responses have also found girls hold a much more negative view about maths.

“Australia has slipped backwards to the type of gender disparity that was seen decades ago, and the performance scores of girls coupled with a number of particularly negative motivational attitudes puts Australia further away from providing all students with the same educational opportunities,” Dr Thomson said.

Indigenous students are on average performing significantly worse than non-Indigenous students, a difference of about two-and-a-half years of schooling or more in maths, science and reading.

Ms Thomson also raised concerns that more than two-fifths of students failed to reach base proficiency levels in maths.

“These are the levels at which the Ministerial Council set as not really ambitious goals but achievable goals for a country such as Australia and for a large proportion of students not to be achieving those results is quite a worry,” she said.

Twelve other countries also showed declines in maths literacy over 10 years, with the largest decline occurring in Sweden, then Finland, New Zealand, Iceland then Australia.

See how the countries compare in the latest results:

Embed: Map of educational performance, December 4 2013  

Results back Government’s plan to focus on teachers, says Pyne

Education Minister Christopher Pyne says the results are a bad report card on Labor’s years in office.

“In that period our results dramatically declined,” he said.

“These are the worst PISA results since PISA began in 2000.

“They are demonstrably worse than anything that ever occurred under the Coalition government. They are a serious wake up call for the Australian education system.”

He says the report’s findings vindicate the Coalition’s plan to focus on teacher quality.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott says the Government has fixed the school funding issue and school standards are the key to lifting rankings.

“We’ve got the funding sorted out. We need to have a debate about better school performance, about more principal autonomy, about more parental involvement, about more community engagement and above all else, about higher standards and that can now happen,” he said.

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has used the report to intensify pressure on the Government to adopt all of Labor’s Gonski schools plan.

The Federal Government will go ahead with Labor’s Gonski plan from next year but will only commit to four years of funding.

Mr Shorten says it needs to get on board for the full six years.

“It’s time to implement Gonski in full. It’s time to stop the political games and bandaid solutions and get on board giving the next generation of Australians the best start in life.”

Opposition Education spokeswoman Kate Ellis says the figures are worrying.

“We have always conceded that the system has been broken, that the old Howard-style system is broken, which is why the Labor government went through the biggest reform of our school system in 40 years and why the Abbott Government now cannot afford to toss it aside.”

Kevin Donnelly from the Education Standards Institute says he is not surprised by the results.

“We have in fact been in trouble, if you like, for many, many years.

“We have trouble with disruptive classrooms…[and] we don’t allow our teachers to mentor one another and to help one another. In places like Singapore, they actually respect teachers, children respect teachers, they are well-resourced.

“They have a lot more time to learn from one another and to improve classroom practice.”
He says the debate is not only about funding.

“Money is important, but it gets back to a rigorous curriculum, effective teaching practice, good teacher training – so there are a few things we can look at there.”

Results back push for needs-based funding model: Greens

The Greens say Australia’s results in the report should put more pressure on the Government to adopt a needs-based school funding model.

Senator Penny Wright has attacked the deals the Government struck with Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory on Monday for more school funding.

She says those deals ditch the so-called Gonski funding model in favour of a “no-strings-attached” model.


“It’s not just the quantity of money handed out to the states, it’s the way that money is spent,” Senator Wright said in a statement.

“If that money doesn’t get to the most disadvantaged students, Australia will continue to decline on an international scale.”

The Australian Education Union says the widening gaps vindicate the predictions of the Gonski review.

“This must be a wake-up call to the Abbott Government,” deputy federal president Correna Haythorpe said in a statement.

“They have consistently refused to embrace the Gonski recommendations for more equitable funding arrangements.

“Amid the constant backflips and chaos, it remains impossible to determine whether they even care about the inequity in education and the social and economic cost of it.

“The Government must make a full six-year commitment to the more equitable funding arrangements contained in the Gonski law and agreements if schools are to be given the resources and time required to lift achievement levels and break the connection between disadvantage and poor outcomes.”

PISA in Brief 2012

China’s education system could be model for other countries

Watch Video:

A global education survey has revealed that when it comes to mathematics, reading and science, young people in Shanghai are the best in the world. The findings are part of the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment or PISA. Full story >>

For more on this, we are joined by Wang Yan, Director of the Department of International Communication at the National Institute of Education Sciences.

1. Good evening. It’s not unusual to see Chinese students ace an exam. But do you think training children to be good at taking tests at a young age is a good strategy, or something that should be changed?

2. There was criticism from experts of China’s basic schooling system. But as Chinese students continue to excel internationally, do you think other countries will begin adopting parts of China’s educational model?

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 Shy boys given rooms to grow as they are lagging girls – Rightways

You are being snooped on, Malaysia views US-NSA spying seriously!

Asia being snooped on, too 

Spying by foreign intelligence agencies is also prevalent in Malaysia and other regional countries via the Internet or spying equipment located in embassies.

SO last week it was the turn of Asians to learn that their region was also the subject of foreign spying.

This was no surprise. If American intelligence is spying on Americans, on Latin Americans, and on Europeans (including its top political leader, Angela Merkel of Germany), it is a foregone conclusion that Asia would not be left out.

There is no revelation yet that Asian prime ministers and presidents have had their personal mobile phones and e-mails tapped.

But it is also a foregone conclusion that these things are happening. Be prepared, therefore, to read in the coming weeks about famous Asian leaders, opposition stalwarts, journalists and celebrities being the subjects of snooping.

Nevertheless, the news that American and Australian embassies are being used to snoop on Asian countries justifiably caused outrage in our region. The Australian surveillance is reportedly in cooperation with the United States.

Malaysia is one of the places where Australian intelligence operates to spy, according to reports in the Der Spiegel and Sydney Morning Herald. They revealed that the spying takes place from the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

Other Asian countries where the intelligence collection is conducted is the Australian embassies in China, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Timor Leste and Papua New Guinea.

The news reports also revealed that the US embassies have also been conducting surveillance activities in many Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar.

Malaysia last Friday registered its protests in official notes handed to the Australian High Commissioner and the US Deputy Chief of Mission who were summoned to Wisma Putra. The notes warned that surveillance of close friends could severely damage relations.

Indonesia warned the United States and Australia that the continuation of surveillance facilities inside their embassies threatened to derail years of trust built up between countries.

China also responded to the report that the American embassy in Beijing and consulates in Shanghai and Chengdu operated special spying facilities.

Its Foreign Ministry has demanded an explanation from the United States, saying that “foreign entities must not in any form engage in activities that are incompatible with their status and that are harmful to China’s national security and interest”.

Also last Friday, Brazil and Germany introduced a draft resolution to a United Nations General Assembly committee calling for an end to excessive surveillance.

The press reports on spying in Asian countries are based on information leaked by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the US National Security Agency.

Newspapers and magazines had previously revealed that the personal phones of the German chancellor and the Brazilian president had been tapped. Both leaders have registered protests directly to US President Barack Obama.

Last week also saw revelations by the Washington Post that the US and British intelligence agencies had found a way of intercepting communications from Google as well as Yahoo as the data were being passed between their data centres.

“We are outraged at the lengths to which the government seems to have gone,” said Google’s chief legal officer.

The Internet giant companies have found that their encryptment system protecting e-mail and other information flowing through its data centres is not secure after all.

The technology companies are worried that their millions of customers will no longer trust that their privacy will be protected.

How will this affect the use of browsing, e-mail, Facebook and other facets of the Internet technology?

US companies and entities currently dominate the global Internet business. Much of the world’s flow of data go through Internet companies based in the United States.

The US administration had projected itself as an honest host of the Internet centres, respecting the rights and privacy of the world’s Internet and e-mail users, and a champion of Internet freedom.

That image has been shattered by the series of revelations emerging from Snowden’s leaked files. The opposite image has replaced it, of a government that has used high technology to gather billions of bits of data on practically all Internet users.

If counter-terrorism was the official reason, this now seems to be only a pretext for also spying on any important person, including one’s closest allies.

Now that they have lost confidence that the United States or other countries will respect privacy of the politicians, companies and citizens of their countries, some governments are now planning to limit the reach of American-based Internet companies.

The Financial Times reported that Brazil is planning regulations that would force technology companies to retain information on the Internet about its citizens and institutions within Brazil itself.

It also said that European officials are discussing the need to have stronger cloud computing capabilities in Europe to protect their citizens’ privacy.

Brazil is also planning to bring up in various UN agencies and fora the need for a global framework to respect and protect privacy on the Internet.

Contributed by Global Trends Martiin Khor
The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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Malaysia views spying seriously

KLUANG: Spying activities on Malaysia by its allies is a serious matter, says Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein.

This is because it can cause relations between Malaysia and these countries, long established based on trust and sincerity, to be tense.

“I believe if this (spying) is not fully explained, our long-established good relations can be adversely affected. Therefore, we need a full explanation on the extent of the spying activities and for what purpose.

“Tensions can be avoided if the allies involved uphold the trust and sincerity in their relations with Malaysia,” he said.

Hishammuddin said this to reporters after attending a Deepavali open house hosted by Johor Unity and Human Resources Committee chairman R.Vidyanathan here yesterday.

The spying issue arose following media reports on the claim made by intelligence informant Edward Snowden that the United States had 90 electronic surveillance facilities throughout the world, including at its embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

In light of this, Hishammuddin wanted a detailed explanation on the matter as such activities could threaten Malaysia’s security and its other interests.

The US ambassador to Malaysia, Joseph Y. Yun, was reported to have explained on the spying claim to Wisma Putra.

Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said Yun had stated that all surveillance activities by the United States throughout the world were specifically for security, to detect threats of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

On his trip to China last month, Hishammuddin said it was aimed at enhancing cooperation in the area of defence, especially through joint exercises, exchange programmes involving navy and other military officers, establishing cooperation between the defence industries of both countries, and efforts to combat terrorism and transnational crime.

Meanwhile in Yan, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar said they would arrest any foreign diplomat found to be involved in spying activities.

“We will not hesitate because spying is a threat to the country’s sovereignty. In the 1980s, we have arrested foreign diplomats involved in spying activities.

“We will do the same again if there is proof of such activities,” he told newsmen after a briefing on the Sungai Limau by-election at the Yan police headquarters yesterday.

- The Star/Asia News Network Monday Nov 4, 2013

Worries over systemic risks of shadow banking and mid-tier banks

Shadow banking

Analysts have been warning on the risks of China’s “shadow banking” system – a sector estimated to have as much as RM4.15tril in assets. 

RAMADAN is always a good time for reflection.

This year, I’ve been researching a new TV documentary series, Ceritalah Indonesia, that I’m hoping to shoot by September.

I want to tell the story of how Indonesia, having endured the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997/1998, ousted President Suharto and then launched into the tumultuous “Reformasi Era” before finding some degree of stability under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

As a result, I’ve been going over recent history – including the roots of the crisis itself.

Now even though I’m not an economist, it’s been a very interesting journey, especially reading about the various bank failures that sparked off and then deepened the crisis.

Back then, banks seemed to be falling like dominoes: Thailand’s Finance One collapsed spectacularly.

This was followed only a few months later by Bank Indonesia’s surprise decision to close sixteen banks.

As the momentum gathered in intensity, one of Japan’s most important brokerage houses – Sanyo Securities was also shuttered.

Just over a decade later, a similar sequence of events was to take place in Europe and North America as Northern Rock, Iceland’s Landsbanki (better known by its British brand-name Icesave) and Lehman Brothers also failed, leaving in their wake a massive dislocation across the developed world.

Now, as I reflect on the events of 1998 and 2008, I can’t help but sense a similar trend emerging to our north – in China.

Indeed, the next global economic crisis could very well start there. Why?

Well, have you visited the many ghostly, almost totally-empty high-rise communities that have sprung up across the Middle Kingdom?

I can still recall wandering through vast and deserted business quarters in Dalian, Tianjin and Beijing.

At the time, everyone told me that China was different … well that’s what they said about Thailand, Iceland and Spain.

But now after years of over-building: roads, bridges and railway lines, expanding capacity to the highest degree, people are beginning to question China’s growth model.

For many months now, analysts have been warning on the risks of China’s “shadow banking” system – a sector which some estimate to have as much as US$1.3tril (RM4.15tril) in assets.

“Shadow banking”– is simply non-bank lending and borrowing. Investing in hedge funds, venture capital and private equity are all forms of “shadow banking”.

There’s nothing wrong with this: shadow banking often helps individuals or businesses that would otherwise not qualify for conventional bank loans or get credit.

Also, some shadow banking wealth management products offer lucrative returns.

Shadow banking thrived in China with the liquidity that flooded the market in 2008, when its government pumped in a US$586bil (RM1,828bil) stimulus package in response to the subprime crisis.

All this excess liquidity has, however, causing a housing bubble and also saved a number of underperforming Chinese state-owned enterprises from having to reform.

At the same time, Chinese policymakers were debating long-standing calls for them to cool down their economy – a fateful decision as we will see later.

As the astute Henny Sender wrote in the Financial Times on July 11, the investment products which form the backbone of Chinese “shadow banking” have the potential to create yet another subprime crisis.

Why? Well, many of China’s hedge funds are shorting the shares of China’s weaker banks. Does that sound familiar?

According to Sender: “… second-tier banks listed in Hong Kong or in mainland China, including China Merchants, China Minsheng Banking and tiny Huaxia, are vulnerable” as they “… have less ability to absorb losses and more of their balance sheets are tied up with shadow-like activities.”

Minsheng, founded in 1996, is China’s ninth-largest bank by assets and the only private bank amongst its top 10 commercial lenders.

It also, according to JP Morgan, has the fastest growth in inter-bank assets and the highest weighting of interbank liabilities to total interest bearing liabilities.

As mentioned, China’s government was initially determined to “cool” its economy.

The People’s Bank of China (PBOC) hence refused to intervene when the Shanghai interbank offered rate (“Shibor”, China’s LIBOR) spiked to an all-time high, to almost 14% from 3% previously.

This led to fears that the sudden “credit crunch” would leave banks like Minsheng at risk of default, the very thing that caused the collapse of Western banks like Lehman in 2008 due to a sudden lack of liquidity.

Indeed, in late June worried investors sent Minsheng’s shares down by 16.7%, wiping out US$6bil (RM18.7bil) of its market value.

Talk of a crisis forced the PBOC to promise to end the credit crunch.

Still, worries over China’s shadow banking system persist.

As Fitch Ratings has stressed, systemic risk over China’s mid-tier banks is rising due to their credit exposure and weakness in absorbing losses.

It remains to be seen whether banks like Minsheng will indeed become China’s Lehman.

But this much is clear: those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Ceritalah  By KARIM RASLAN

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The West envious of global economy led by China

Asian Consumers

As central banks in the euro zone and Britain edge closer this week to deciding that their flagging economies need yet more monetary stimulus, they can be forgiven for casting an envious eye towards China.

The same goes for the United States. Because of deadlock in budget talks, mandatory federal spending cuts are now being phased. They will brake a recovery that, as Friday’s jobs report is likely to show, is already frustratingly weak.

China, the biggest contributor to global growth in recent years, has plenty of headaches of its own, of course.

Over reliance on investment in heavy industry, a financial system rigged in favour of the state, and a failure to integrate some 140 million rural migrant workers into urban life top the list of structural problems.

Louis Kuijs, an economist with Royal Bank of Scotland in Hong Kong, adds rising inflation, a renewed climb in house prices and a rapid expansion in ‘shadow banking’ to the government’s to-do list for 2013.

But Kuijs and other economists expect outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao to reaffirm a growth target of 7.5 percent for this year when he delivers his last ‘state of the nation’ report to the annual meeting of parliament that opens on Tuesday.

China entered 2013 with solid growth momentum thanks to measured policy stimulus in the second half of last year. That impetus is now fading somewhat after a strong fourth quarter, as figures for January and February will probably suggest.

So, just as the West is looking to China to boost global demand, China is counting on a pick-up in the West as 2013 unfolds to help exports and revive corporate investment, Kuijs said.

“Looking at trade and industrial production indicators, we are all expecting a strengthening global picture, coming especially from the United States and Europe, but it’s still a forecast: it’s not showing up yet in the hard data,” he said.

Euro Zone Disappoints

Indeed, the European Commission is projecting that the euro zone economy will shrink in 2013 for the second straight year. And February’s survey of purchasing managers was downright weak.

“This increases the chances of a rate cut, but it’s still not our baseline assumption,” said Petr Zemcik, director of European economics at Moody’s Analytics in London. “The ECB has done all it can at this stage.”

His comments were in line with a Reuters poll of economists, which saw a 90 percent chance that the ECB, the European Central Bank, would keep its main short-term interest rate unchanged at 0.75 percent when it meets on Thursday.

However, a growing minority expects the ECB will cut rates at some point. Doing so now, right after Italy’s election produced a big protest vote against austerity, would invite the suspicion that the bank was acting out of political panic.

But President Mario Draghi is sure to be quizzed about further easing and possible activation of the ECB’s bond-buying program for euro zone strugglers, especially if the bank lowers its 2013 growth and inflation forecasts again.

Jeffrey Anderson with the Institute for International Economics in Washington, a financial-industry lobby group, said a rate cut would send a useful signal of the importance of growth to voters weary of austerity.

The Italian economy has shrunk for six quarters in a row. Euro zone unemployment hit a record 11.9 percent in January.

At the same time, euro zone finance ministers, who meet on Monday, should excuse Italy from further fiscal tightening as its budget is close to structural balance, Anderson argued.

“Ways must still be found to prod Italy to move on overdue labor market liberalization. But action to boost near-term growth would help Europe to sustain the popular backing necessary to advance the reforms needed for the longer term,” he said in a note.

Bank of England Closer to Easing

In Britain, the government seems determined to stick to budget austerity despite a sharp drop in manufacturing in February and a stinging defeat for Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative party in a parliamentary by-election.

This keeps the onus on the Bank of England, three of whose nine policymakers have already voted to expand the central bank’s stock of asset purchases, now set at 375 billion pounds.

That could turn into a majority as soon as Thursday, when the BOE meets to set policy, if a survey two days earlier of the all-important services sector is weak, said Simon Hayes, an economist at Barclays Capital in London.

Further easing by the Federal Reserve is not on the cards. But job figures on Friday are likely to underscore that the U.S. central bank is in no hurry to withdraw its stimulus – the message Chairman Ben Bernanke relayed to Congress last week.

According to a Reuters poll, firms probably added 160,000 non-farm jobs last month, in line with January’s 157,000 gain, while the unemployment rate held steady at 7.9 percent.

That is well above the Fed’s goal of 6.5 percent. Moreover, federal spending cuts, if not reversed, will stiffen fiscal headwinds and could lop 0.5 percent off growth over the rest of this year, many economists estimate.

Nevertheless, Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics in Valhalla, New York, is confident that it is just a matter of time before the Fed’s ultra-easy policy starts to bear more fruit.

Job growth was already brisk enough to reduce the unemployment rate given a secular decline in the participation rate due to an ageing population, he argued.

“Based on what we’re seeing in the labor market, in the battle between monetary stimulus and fiscal drag, the Fed is winning,” O’Sullivan said. – Reuters

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Chance to invest in distressed assets

Banks_Hedge Money

Distressed property markets where deals are difficult to finance and yield spreads are at all-time highs provide attractive investment opportunities, according to Morgan Stanley’s real estate unit.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Morgan Stanley Real Estate Investing is most focused on China, India, Australia and Japan, said Olivier de Poulpiquet, who helps oversee $36 billion in real estate assets as the global co-head for the unit.

In India and China, demand is driven by strong demographic trends amid a dearth of financing, while in Australia and Japan, low borrowing costs are providing opportunities, he said.

Morgan Stanley, with a team of 280 globally in 11 countries dedicated to the property business, has about 45 percent of its investments in the U.S., 33 percent in Asia and about 22 percent in Europe.

In many developed markets, such as U.S., Japan and Australia, the yield spread between real estate and the risk free rate, typically the interest rate on U.S. Treasury bills, is as much as 400 basis points, de Poulpiquet said.

“Asia and the U.S. will continue to offer opportunities,” de Poulpiquet said in an interview in Singapore yesterday. “Investments in real estate have seen a flight to safety globally and in particular in the U.S. and Europe.”

Interest in property investments by institutional investors is improving as the asset class is viewed as an effective portfolio diversifier and an inflation hedge, de Poulpiquet said. Allocations to real estate by major institutions may climb from an average of 7 percent currently to 10 percent, he said, without providing a time frame for the increase.

India, China

In India and China, Morgan Stanley is finding opportunities by financing developers that are seeking money to complete projects amid a scarcity of capital, de Poulpiquet said.

In its almost three-year effort to tighten the property market, the Chinese government has raised down-payment and mortgage requirements, imposed a property tax for the first time in Shanghai and Chongqing, and enacted home-purchase restrictions in about 40 cities. India’s biggest developers have struggled to rein in record debt as they grapple with high borrowing costs, dwindling sales and banks’ reluctance to lend.

“The major trend in these markets is that this growth is combined with a capital constrained environment for real estate, mostly driven by government interventions and price cooling measures,” de Poulpiquet said.

“In India and China, there is less opportunity to buy existing assets but greater opportunity to pick the right developer and build to either lease or sell.”

Favorable Demographics

India will have 127 million more working age adults by 2020, while in China, the 470 million adults leaving rural areas for cities will reach a rate of 11 million per year, said de Poulpiquet.

Over the next 15 years, the total global urban space growth will reach about 82,000 square kilometers (31,660 square miles), 47 percent of which will be driven by India and China, he said.

In markets such as Shanghai, the supply of class A office spaces is relatively low while demand is forecasted to remain robust, de Poulpiquet said. In India, the trend is similar where the residential sector continues to offer interesting opportunities, he said.

In Australia, distressed assets sold by European banks which are undergoing deleveraging processes to clean up their balance sheets are attractive, said de Poulpiquet.

In Japan, Morgan Stanley is buying class B office assets in Tokyo and greater Tokyo, he said.

“In many markets globally, including Japan and Australia you can buy class B plus assets, at significant yield differential between your cost of borrowing and the real estate yield,” said de Poulpiquet. “It is a relatively safer investment with good quality yield and return profile.”

Europe will also increasingly offer attractive investments in real estate with all the level of distress in the market, he said. Still, Morgan Stanley remains “cautious” and focused on making “defensive investments” in the region as prices still have some room to fall, he said.

“Overall, we will see slower growth, more volatility but in Europe, it’s neither a doomsday scenario nor in a happy recovery and this will last for a while,” he said.- Bloomberg

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West is failing to capitalise on rising China

We are rapidly moving away from an ‘old world’ dominated by Europe, the United States and Japan to a ‘new world’ led by China

China Rising

West is failing to capitalise on rising China: HSBC

SINGAPORE: Western nations have failed to capitalise on China’s economic rise as they struggle with their own problems, leaving others to benefit from the Asian giant’s insatiable demand, HSBC said.

“The world economy is increasingly led by China. Those nations raising their China exposure have outperformed. Western nations, faced with internal discord, have failed to grab the opportunity,” the bank said.

“We are rapidly moving away from an ‘old world’ dominated by Europe, the US and Japan to a ‘new world’ led by China,” it said in a report entitled “The Great Rotation”.

Among the beneficiaries of the global shift are countries located close to China and far-flung exporters that supply the Asian giant’s demand for commodities, the report noted.

South Korea’s exports to China currently account for 12 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), up from 3.5 percent in 2000, HSBC said.

Malaysia and Singapore are also key industrial exporters to China while commodities producers like Australia, Chile, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia “have also shared in the spoils,” the bank added.

“And in demonstrating China’s ever-increasing connections with Africa, Angola is now China’s 14th most important source of imports ahead of India, France, Canada, Italy and Britain,” it said.

Western countries, in contrast, have failed to exploit Chinese demand, it said.

US exports to China account for a mere 0.7 percent of US GDP, with Canada, France and Italy “more or less” at the same level, HSBC said.

Britain’s exports to China are even less significant at 0.4 percent of British GDP, it said.

While Germany has expanded its trade ties with China, this was overshadowed by a bigger increase in its dependence on the rest of Europe, HSBC noted.

This is “one reason why, despite its competitive advantages, Germany found itself succumbing in the second half of 2012 to a crisis which had already engulfed other parts of the eurozone,” the bank said.

HSBC forecasts China’s economy to grow 8.6 percent this year, up from an estimated 7.8 percent expansion in 2012.

The US and Japanese economies are expected to grow 1.7 percent and 0.2 percent respectively next year while the eurozone is likely to contract 0.2 percent, the bank said.- AFP

Dim global growth prospects in 2013

Global slowdown

The year 2012 is coming to a close, leaving behind many problems. Most are man-made originating in politics.

Yet, sadly, there are no major political leaders who have the credibility, charisma and strength of character to garner the needed political resolve to set their own nations or the world on the righteous path of sustainable growth.

The re-election of US President Barack Obama helped a little. As I write, even if he is able to persuade opposition Republicans in Congress to a deal to avoid the looming “fiscal cliff” (self-inflicted arrangement involving US$600bil of indiscriminate tax hikes and “sequester” cuts in military and welfare spending, bringing on a 3% reduction in 2013 fiscal deficit), the resulting cuts and taxes will invariably become a drag on growth estimated by most to be at least 1% of gross doemstic product or GDP in 2013.

The downside risk to global growth is likely to be exacerbated by the spread of the ongoing austerity to most advanced nations. Thus far, the recessionary fiscal drag has been centred on the eurozone periphery and United Kingdom. Latest indicators point to it spreading to the eurozone’s core (including Germany and France) and Japan.

This only confirms the International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s contention that excessive front-loading of fiscal austerity will “dim global growth prospects in 2013.”

The recent near simultaneous leadership changes in China, Japan and South Korea offer East Asia a fresh opportunity for reconciliation after a period of tension.

The region’s three biggest economies now appear to be confidently over the hump following the Tokyo and South Korean elections last week and Beijing’s leadership “jockeying” resolved by last month. But, realistically, they continue to face headwinds from a stumbling world economy.

North Korea’s rocket launch last week adds to regional uncertainty. So does continuing unrest in Syria and the Middle East.

Critical to the well-being of nations is how they will use this opportunity to get their ties back on track.

Enter 2013

The year 2013 is a big step following a tough year. To me, six events had dominated:

(i) Europe held the world’s fate in its unsteady hands for most of the year. It took the European Central Bank (ECB) president Mario Draghi‘s promise “to do whatever it takes to save the euro” to rid the sting out of the crisis, with a later pledge of “unlimited” bond buying;

(ii) The impact of the war in Syria and Morsi’s uneasy presidency in Egypt;

(iii) Leadership transition in four of the world’s five largest economies, with “elections” in United States, France, Japan and China ushering promises of new approaches to politics and policy making;

(iv) Serious political disputes in the East Asia seas;

(v) recent massive anti-Putin unrest in Russia; and

(vi) Serious transformation moves in Myanmar.

Today they still continue to dominate. For the moment, it is too soon to tell what their politics will bring in 2013. But one thing is for sure: Global business gloom has deepened since the third quarter of 2012 and is likely to persist.

I think there are some important lessons.

First, investment risks have turned more political. US businesses today have more than US$1 trillion in cash reserves and committed facilities awaiting investment. For them, the nightmare is Washington staying gridlocked, four days before falling off the “cliff.” Hopefully, like before, the “game of chicken ends at the last minute.”

Second, even a small economy like Greece (barely 2% of eurozone economy) can have a material impact on global business sentiment as the “Grexit” drama showed.

Third, the European episode pointed clearly that governments can’t cut and grow. One of the important takeaways from 2012 is that it is critical to always focus on the big picture and not be grappled by event risks as these come and go.

As a US civil rights activist once said: “For all its uncertainty, we cannot flee the future.” So as we step into 2013, nations just have to embrace risks and learn to manage and live with them. Scurrying away will not help.

OECD slashes forecast

Paris-based rich nations’ think-tank OECD (Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development) said in mid-December that its composite leading indicators (CLIs) point to widely differing growth outlooks among its 34 member states.

Signs are of a modest pick-up in United States and the United Kingdom, slowdown in Canada and Russia, and deepening recession in the eurozone (including significant slackening in Germany and France) and in Japan, and possibly Brazil.

OECD’s CLIs are designed to provide early signals of turning points between economic expansion and slowdown, based on extensive data that have a reliable history of signalling changes in activity.

Overall, barring worst fears won’t come to pass, combined OECD GDP will only rise 1%1.5% in 2013, not much change from 2012, with a modest pick-up to 2%2.5% in 2014.

Not unlike IMF’s forecast, OECD growth will only expand if eurozone deals seriously with its political and debt crisis, and the United States finds a timely credible path to avoid the “cliff.”

Absent such actions, world growth would slide into another downturn, with deepening recession in the eurozone periphery, and contraction or stagnation at the core and related advanced nations. What’s needed is “very careful policy steering”.

Eurozone manufacturing kept contracting in November for a 16th month. Data show signs of recession extending into 2013 as policymakers struggle to come to grips with the crisis. For businesses and investors, the October Markit survey concluded that in 2013 companies can expect challenging sales and profits, causing many to focus on cost cutting.

Eurozone: ECB slashed its forecast for the eurozone in 2013, signalling another difficult year ahead. Echoing the IMF, it now expects growth of between shrinking at 0.9% to a growth of 0.3% next year (minus 0.5% in 2012).

The level of uncertainty was reflected in its first attempt to forecast 2014 at 1.2%. “Gradual recovery should start later in 2013” (GDP shrank 0.1% in the third quarter of 2012).

As the eurozone slipped into recession for the second time in four years, Germany’s growth slowed down to 0.2% in the third quarter of 2012 (0.3% in the second quarter); expectation is for it to expand 0.4% in 2013 (from 1.6% in 2012). However, Germany faces a “favourable environment on the back of expansionary monetary policy”. Expect some revival later on in the second half of 2013, following better-than-expected jump in investor sentiment in December.

Industrial output in Germany fell 2.4% in October (minus 1.6% in September); France reported a 0.6% drop while Spain and Portugal had increases of 1.2% and 4.8% respectively.

“France is facing conditions much worse than Germany it’s fast becoming aligned with its southern neighbours of Spain and Italy.” Germany, given its openness, cannot “prosper alone; it has a particular interest in the welfare of its partners”.

Nevertheless, eurozone’s peripheral shows little sign of recovery: GDP continues to shrink because of fiscal austerity, euro’s excessive strength and severe credit crunch. Already, social and political backlash against more austerity is becoming overwhelming with strikes, riots, violence and rise of extremist politics.

They just need growth. Another year of muddling through only revives old risks in a more virulent form in 2013 and beyond.

The United States: Growth in United States remained anaemic at 1.5%2% for most of 2012. Political and policy uncertainties abound. Fiscal worries are centred on four key areas: taxes, spending, stimulus and borrowing.

The United States needs:

(i) A package exceeding US$1 trillion in revenues over 10 years and set in motion a tax reform process in 2013 to limit tax deductions and lower rates for businesses and individuals;

(ii) A package of spending cuts with less generous social benefits, health spending reductions and cuts in selected mandatory programmes, including military;

(iii) Some short-term stimulus measures, especially on infrastructure projects and on education and R&D; and

(iv) Raising the debt ceiling now.

Already, with continuing impasse even at this late hour, forecasters are downgrading growth expectations for 2013. “It’s a dangerous situation,” says Nobel Laureate P. Krugman. “The opposition is lost and rudderless, bitter & angry as it lashes out in the death throes of the conservative dream.”

All this is happening at a time of significant game changes boosting the outlook:

(a) Housing is recovering;

(b) Manufacturing re-engineering is underway;

(c) The third quarter 2012 growth is up 3.1% (1.3% in the seconbd quarter), with consumer spending rising 1.6% and unemployment down to 7.7%, its lowest since 2008;

(d) Pent-up demand is awaiting to be unleashed upon clarity on the future fiscal pathway; and

(e) New future in energy transformation, especially from low cost shale oil and gas.

But first, the daunting task to regain business and consumer confidence needs to begin now. Because of continuing uncertainty, consensus forecast chances of 24% for greater than 3% growth in 2013, same as chances of a recession.

On the whole, they expect growth of 2.3% in 2013, better than three months ago. But, this won’t materially help the 12 million jobless. Even by 2014, unemployment is unlikely to be lower than 7%.

East Asia and Pacific (EAP): World Bank‘s December update places growth in China and developing East Asia at 7.5% in 2012 (against 8.3% in 2011) in the face of weak external demand.

Growth in EAP is still the highest among the developing world and constituted 40% of global growth, but is set to recover to 7.9% in 2013.

EAP (excluding China) will grow 5.6% in 2012, 1% higher than in 2011 due mainly to a rebound of activity in Thailand, strong growth in the Philippines, and relatively modest slowdown in Indonesia and Vietnam. Malaysia held a steady course.

For the entire region, easy fiscal and monetary policies supported growth. Next year, the region will benefit from continued strong domestic demand and the mild expected global recovery, especially in the second half of 2013.

I agree with the World Bank that most EAP nations have retained strong underlying macroeconomic fundamentals and should be better able to withstand external shocks. But many risks remain, including open vulnerabilities in the eurozone that could readily lead to renewed financial market volatility, and global slowdown: The United States falling off the “cliff” resulting in a loss of growth push for EAP; potential hostility arising from political territorial tensions in the Asian seas; and fallout from unexpected developments in Syria and the Middle East.

However, the robust growth in services this year reflects strong domestic support derived from continuing rising incomes. As these trends gather strength, services can be expected to emerge as a new growth driver in EAP.

For the region, latest business sentiment surveys have turned positive for the fourth quarter of 2012, reversing two consecutive quarters of declines, while global uncertainties remained the biggest concern for the region’s firms.

China is expected to grow by 7%-9% in 2012 (9.3% in 2011), the lowest since 1999, due mainly to lower domestic demand growth reflecting the 2011 stabilisation measures. World Bank expects China to expand 8.4% in 2013 fuelled by fiscal stimulus and faster effective implementation of large investment projects.

Indications are the recent slowdown has now bottomed out: The third quarter 2012 GDP rose 7.4%, below the historical trend and the lowest in 14 quarters, but its quarter-on-quarter growth reached a 9.1% annual rate in the third quarter of 2012. Growth is, however, expected to slacken to 8% in 2014 as productivity and labour force growth tail off.

Consumer prices will likely continue to fall, averaging 2.8% in 2012, but will rise moderately to 3.3% in 2013 as growth picks up and the lagged effects of easy monetary policies in the second half of 2011 take hold.

China’s policy challenge is to balance the trade-off between supporting growth and reforming. But, priority remains at implementing targeted tax cuts, health and social welfare spending and large-scale social housing to support consumption.

What, then, are we to do?

Geopolitical uncertainties will engulf 2013. Consumers, corporate and investors are bound to remain cautious and risk adverse even scared.

But prospects in EAP look bright and the region continues to have ample fiscal space to counter the impact of external shocks.

Much of the global uncertainties are still being generated in Europe. It’s messy there right now, but the recovery of Europe will come some day.

Today, the ratio of stock market value to GDP averaged worldwide at 80%. In peripheral Europe, this ratio ranged from 23% in Greece to 38% in Portugal akin to where Asian counterparts were in 1998. Italy’s total stock market value is today about the same as Apple‘s.

R. Sharma of Morgan Stanley made these and other insightful comments in the Financial Times, with this refrain: Is Italy worth no more than Apple? Food for thought.

Look at it this way. We all have to keep the perspective in approaching 2013 in order to avoid our own self-made “cliff.”

  ● Former banker, Dr Lin is a Harvard educated economist and a British Chartered Scientist who speaks, writes and consults on economic and financial issues. Feedback is most welcome; email:

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The rotten heart of capitalism: interest rate-fixing scandals

The magnitude of the banking scam must be realised and tough action taken

Swiss bank UBS  in Zurich

The UBS building in Zurich. Photograph: Michael Buholzer/Reuters

This is the year the consensus changed. Around the world, policy-makers, regulators and bankers recognised that the legacy of the 20-year credit boom up to 2008 is more corrosive than all but a few realised at the time. The bankers – and the theorists who justified their actions – made a millennial mistake. Navigating a way out of the mess was never likely to be easy, but it is made harder still by not recognising the magnitude of the disaster and the necessary radicalism involved if things are to be put right.

If there were any last doubts they were dispelled by the record $1.5bn fine paid by the Swiss bank UBS for “pervasive” and “epic” efforts to manipulate the benchmark rate of interest – Libor – at which the world’s great banks lend to each other. The manipulation was at the behest of the traders who buy and sell “interest rate derivatives”, whose price varies with Libor, so that cumulatively billions of pounds of profits could be made. Nor was UBS alone. What is now evident is that all the banks that made the daily market in global interest rates in 10 major currencies were doing the same to varying degrees.

There was a complete disdain for the banks’ customers, for the notion of custodianship of other people’s money, that was industry wide. It is hard to believe this culture has evaporated with the imposition of a fine. No banker falsifying the actual interest rates at which he or she was borrowing or lending, or trader who requested that they did so, had any sense that there is something sacred about banking – that the many billions flowing through their hands are not their own. It was just anonymous Monopoly money that gave them the opportunity to become very rich. The UBS emails, which will be used to support criminal charges, could hardly be more revealing. This was about making money from money for vast personal gain.

Interest rate derivatives are presented as highly useful if complex financial instruments – essentially bets on future interest rate movements – that allow the banks’ customers better to manage the risks of unexpected movements in interest rates. Whether a multinational or a large pension fund, you can buy or sell a derivative so you will not be embarrassed if suddenly interest rates jump or fall. Bookmakers lay off bets. Interest rate derivatives allow buyers to lay off the risk that their expectations of interest rate movements might be wrong.

What makes your head reel is the size of this global market. World GDP is around $70tn. The market in interest rate derivatives is worth $310tn. The idea that this has grown to such a scale because of the demands of the real economy better to manage risk is absurd. And on top it has a curious feature. None of the banks that constitute the market ever loses money. All their divisions that trade interest rate derivatives on their own account report huge profits running into billions. Where does that profit come from?

The answer is it comes largely from you and me. Global banking, intertwined with the global financial services and asset-management industry, has emerged as a tax on the world economy, generating much activity and lending that has not been needed, but whose purpose is to make those who work in it very rich. The centre-left thinktank IPPR reports that people with identical skills earn on average 20% more in financial services than in other industries, with the premium rising the higher the seniority. That wage premium does not come from virtuous hard work or enterprise. It comes from how finance is structured to deliver excessive profit.


The Libor scam is an object lesson in how finance taxes the rest of the economy. Plainly, the final buyers of the mispriced interest rate derivatives could not have been other banks, otherwise they would have lost money and we know that they all made profits. In any case, they were part of the scam. The final buyers of the mispriced derivatives were their customers. Some must have been large companies, but many were those – ranging from insurance companies and pension funds to hedge funds – who manage our savings on our behalf.

Here a second scam kicks in. One of the puzzles of modern finance is why the returns to those who buy shares in public stock markets are so much lower than the profits made by the companies themselves. One of the answers is that there are so many brokers, asset managers and intermediaries along the way all taking a cut. Sometimes it is through excessive management fees, but another way is not doing honest to God investing – choosing a good company to invest in and sticking with it – but through churning people’s portfolios or unnecessarily buying interest rate derivatives to protect against interest rate risk, while charging a fee for the “service”. Many of those mispriced interest rate derivatives will have ended up in the investment portfolios of large insurance companies and pension funds or, more sinisterly, in the portfolios of the banks’ clients.

Most rotten

Bank managements are presented as ignorant dolts, fooled by rogue traders. They were no such thing. The interest rate derivative market is many times the scale than is warranted by genuine demand precisely because it represented such an effective way of looting the rest of us. The business model of modern finance – banks trading on their own account in rigged derivative markets, skimming investment funds and manipulating interbank lending, all to underlend to innovative enterprise while overlending on a stunning scale to private equity and property – is not the result of a mistake. It represents a series of choices made over 30 years in which finance has progressively resisted any sense it has a duty of custodianship to its clients or wider responsibilities to the economy. It was capitalism allegedly at its purest. We now understand it was capitalism at its most rotten. It needs wholesale reform.

The government’s proposals to ringfence investment banking from the rest of a bank’s activities, following the proposals from Sir John Vickers, is a start. But it is only that. Last week, Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie’s cross-party parliamentary commission proposed ” electrifying” the ringfence with the threat of full separation if malpractice continues. It also considered banning banks from trading in derivatives on their own account. But while tough, the commission should extend its brief. The issue is to create a financial system in its entirety that serves individuals and business alike, makes normal profits and, above all, embeds its public duty of custodianship in the bedrock of what it does. The government fears that more upheaval will unsettle banking and business confidence. It could not be more wrong. Reform is the platform on which a genuine economic recovery will be built.

Will HuttonComment by Will Hutton – Guardian
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It’s a Smart, Smart, Smart World

The country that tops the IQ charts isn’t the US or in Europe, it’s Singapore

Before I get to the dreary budget debates in Washington, here’s a bright spot of good news: We’re getting smarter.

Nicholas D Kristof
Damon Winter/The New York Times

Nicholas D. Kristo

My readers are all above average. But if I ever had average readers, they would still be brilliant compared with Americans of a century ago.
The average American in the year 1900 had an I.Q. that by today’s standards would measure about 67. Since the traditional definition of mental retardation was an I.Q. of less than 70, that leads to the remarkable conclusion that a majority of Americans a century ago would count today as intellectually disabled.
The trend of rising intelligence is known as the “Flynn Effect,” named for James R. Flynn, the New Zealand scholar who pioneered this area of research. Countless other scholars worldwide have replicated his findings, and it is now accepted science — although there is still disagreement about its causes and significance.
The average American I.Q. has been rising steadily by 3 points a decade. Spaniards gained 19 points over 28 years, and the Dutch 20 points over 30 years. Kenyan children gained nearly 1 point a year.
Those figures come from a new book by Flynn from Cambridge University Press called “Are We Getting Smarter?” It’s an uplifting tale, a reminder that human capacity is on the upswing. The implication is that there are potential Einsteins now working as subsistence farmers in Congo or dropping out of high school in Mississippi who, with help, could become actual Einsteins.
The Flynn Effect should upend some of the smugness among those who have historically done well in global I.Q. standings. For example, while there is still a race gap, black Americans are catching up — and now do significantly better than white Americans of the “greatest generation” did in the 1940s.
Another problem for racists: The country that tops the I.Q. charts isn’t America or in Europe. It’s Singapore, at 108. (The reason may have to do with Singapore’s Confucian respect for learning and its outstanding school system.) 
None of this means that people today are born smarter. While I.Q. measures something to do with mental acuity, it’s a rubbery and imperfect metric. It’s heavily shaped by environment — potential is diminished when children suffer from parasites or lead in air pollution. As a result, the removal of lead from gasoline may have added 6 points to the I.Q. of American children, according to Dr. Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Flynn argues that I.Q. is rising because in industrialized societies we give our brains a constant mental workout that builds up what we might call our brain sinews.
“The brains of the best and most experienced London taxi drivers,” Flynn writes, citing a 2000 study, have “enlarged hippocampi, which is the brain area used for navigating three-dimensional space.” In a similar way, he argues, modern life gives our brains greater exercise than when we were mostly living on isolated farms.
It’s not that our ancestors were dummies, and I confess to doubts about the Flynn Effect when I contemplate the slide from Shakespeare to “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Likewise, politics does not seem to benefit: One academic study found a deterioration in the caliber of discussions of economics in presidential debates from 1960 to 2008.
But Flynn argues that modern TV shows and other entertainment can be cognitively demanding, and video games like those of the Grand Theft Auto series probably require more thought than solitaire. (No, don’t call the police. My teenage kids are not holding me hostage and forcing me to write this paragraph.)
Back to the debates in Washington. To me, the lesson from this research is the vast amount of human potential globally that is available if we can nurture and stimulate kids who now get neglected.
One challenge is to preserve foreign aid. Some 61 million children around the world still don’t attend even primary school, and President Obama in his 2008 campaign was right to propose a global education fund, in part as an alternative to extremist religious schools. I’m hoping the idea doesn’t get dropped forever.
The even greater challenge is nation-building at home at a time when funding for schools is being slashed, about 7,000 high school students drop out every day, and there are long waits to get into early-childhood-enrichment programs like Head Start. Literacy programs can help break cycles of poverty and unleash America’s potential — and a single F-35 fighter could pay for more than four years of the Reading Is Fundamental program in the entire United States.

As we make hard budget choices, let’s remember that the essential fact of the world is that talent is universal and opportunity is not. I hope we’re finally smart enough to try to remedy that.

Related post: 

Singapore job growth high, unemployment low, vacancies rise despite more layoffs


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