Oil Prices: What’s Behind the Drop? Simple Economics


    Some think it will be years before oil returns to $90 or $100 a barrel, a price that was pretty much the norm over the last decade. Credit Michael Stravato for The New York Times

The oil industry, with its history of booms and busts, is in its deepest downturn since the 1990s, if not earlier.

Earnings are down for companies that made record profits in recent years, leading them to decommission more than two-thirds of their rigs and sharply cut investment in exploration and production. Scores of companies have gone bankrupt and an estimated  250,000 oil workers have lost their jobs.

The cause is the plunging price of a barrel of oil, which has fallen more than 70 percent since June 2014.

Prices recovered a few times over the last year, but the cost of a barrel of oil has already sunk this year to levels not seen since 2003 as an oil glut has taken hold.

Also contributing to the glut was Iran’s return to the international oil market after sanctions were lifted against the country under an international agreement with major world powers to restrict its nuclear work that took effect in January.

Executives think it will be years before oil returns to $90 or $100 a barrel, a price that was pretty much the norm over the last decade.

What is the current price of oil?

Brent crude, the main international benchmark, was trading at around  $38 a barrel on Wednesday.

The American benchmark was at around $37 a barrel.

Why has the price of oil been dropping? Why now? 

This a complicated question, but it boils down to the simple economics of supply and demand.

United States domestic production has nearly doubled over the last several years, pushing out oil imports that need to find another home. Saudi, Nigerian and Algerian oil that once was sold in the United States is suddenly competing for Asian markets, and the producers are forced to drop prices. Canadian and Iraqi oil production and exports are rising year after year. Even the Russians, with all their economic problems, manage to keep pumping.

There are signs, however, that production is falling because of the drop in exploration investments. RBC Capital Markets has calculated projects capable of producing more than a half million barrels a day of oil were cancelled, delayed or shelved by OPEC countries alone last year, and this year promises more of the same.

But the drop in production is not happening fast enough, especially with output from deep waters off the Gulf of Mexico and Canada continuing to build as new projects come online.

On the demand side, the economies of Europe and developing countries are weak and vehicles are becoming more energy-efficient. So demand for fuel is lagging a bit.

Who benefits from the price drop?

Any motorist can tell you that gasoline prices have dropped. Diesel, heating oil and natural gas prices have also fallen sharply.ny motorist can tell you that gasoline prices have dropped. Diesel, heating oil and natural gas prices have also fallen sharply.

The latest drop in energy prices —  regular gas nationally now averages just above $2 a gallon, roughly down about 40 cents from the same time a year ago — is also disproportionately helping lower-income groups, because fuel costs eat up a larger share of their more limited earnings.

Households that use heating oil to warm their homes are also seeing savings.

Who loses?

For starters, oil-producing countries and states. Venezuela, Nigeria, Ecuador, Brazil and Russia are just a few petrostates that are suffering economic and perhaps even political turbulence.

The impact of Western sanctions caused Iranian production to drop by about one million barrels a day in recent years and blocked Iran from importing the latest Western oil field technology and equipment. With sanctions now being lifted, the Iranian oil industry is expected to open the taps on production soon.

In the United States, there are now virtually no wells that are profitable to drill.

Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and BP have all announced cuts to their payrolls to save cash, and they are in far better shape than many smaller independent oil and gas producers.

States like Alaska, North Dakota, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana are  facing economic challenges.

There has also been an uptick in traffic deaths as low gas prices have translated to increased road travel. And many young Saudis have seen cushy jobs vanish.

What happened to OPEC?

Iran, Venezuela, Ecuador and Algeria have all pressed OPEC, a cartel of oil producers, to cut production to firm up prices. At the same time, Iraq is actually pumping more, and Iran is expected to become a major exporter again.

Major producing countries will meet on April 17 in Qatar, and some analysts think a cut may be possible, especially if oil prices approach $30 a barrel again.

King Salman, who assumed power in Saudi Arabia in January 2015, may find it difficult to persuade other OPEC members to keep steady against the financial strains, even if Iran continues to increase production. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the revenues of Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf allies will slip by $300 billion
this year.

Is there a conspiracy to bring the price of oil down?

There are a number of conspiracy theories floating around. Even some oil executives are quietly noting that the Saudis want to hurt Russia and Iran, and so does the United States — motivation enough for the two oil-producing nations to force down prices. Dropping oil prices in the 1980s did help bring down the Soviet Union, after all.

But there is no evidence to support the conspiracy theories, and Saudi Arabia and the United States rarely coordinate smoothly. And the Obama administration is hardly in a position to coordinate the drilling of hundreds of oil companies seeking profits and answering to their shareholders.

When are oil prices likely to recover? 

Not anytime soon. Oil production is not declining fast enough in the United States and other countries, though that could begin to change this year. But there are signs that supply and demand — and price — could recover some balance by the end of 2016.Oil markets have bounced back more than 40 percent since hitting a low of $26.21 a barrel in New York in early February.Some
analysts, however, question how long the recovery can be sustained because the global oil market remains substantially oversupplied. In the United States, domestic stockpiles are at their highest level in more than 80 years, and are still growing.But over the long term, demand for fuels is recovering in some countries, and that could help crude prices recover in the next year or two. – The New York Times

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The allure of Penang heritage properties


Prized property: The Chimes Heritage building at Jalan Bawasah, Penang. The value of heritage properties has increased by 37 to 157 per sq ft since 2008 due to the investments made by Penangites staying overseas and by Singaporeans.

 

Value of such assets has jumped by as much as 157% psf

THE heritage property segment is still attracting strong interest from investors despite the softening of the overall property market in Penang.

The value of heritage properties has increased by about 37% to 157% per sq ft (psf) since 2008 due to investments made by Penangites staying overseas and by Singaporeans.

Depending on the location, size, and condition of the heritage properties, the present pricing on a psf basis ranges from RM550 per sq ft (psf) to RM1,800 psf, compared to between RM400 psf and RM700 psf in 2008.

According to the National Property Information Centre (Napic), a locally registered company, World Class Land Sdn Bhd, snapped up over 60 pre-war houses in George Town’s heritage areas for about RM122mil.

Raine & Horne Malaysia senior partner Michael Geh says the properties were sold between late 2013 and August 2015.

“The most expensive pre-war property, with a 1,363q ft land area and located in Chulia Street, was sold for over RM2,000 psf,” he says.

It is learnt that about RM30mil would be spent for restoring the properties, as the cost of restoration is about RM500,000 per unit.

The company also acquired a 30,000 sq ft of land in Magazine Road for about RM36.9mil. “This was the highest transaction for a vacant land in 2015, as the sale was transacted at RM1,250 psf,” Geh adds.

Geh says locals tend not to pay attention to the capital appreciation of heritage properties, although the value had risen substantially since 2008.

“They should invest because the supply of heritage properties is limited.

“There only some 3,853 units of such properties in George Town’s heritage core and buffer areas, according to George Town World Heritage Inc.

“Because the supply is limited, it is safe to invest, as the value would tend to rise than fall.

“I urged Penangites to acquire heritage properties for own use and enjoy the capital appreciation that would occur incrementally,” he says.

Because of the strong appreciation in the value of pre-war houses, the rental yield of such properties has remained unattractive.

In 2008, the rental of heritage properties, depending on the location, size, and condition of the heritage properties, ranged between RM1,000 and RM3,000, compared to the rental today which is between RM3,000 and RM8,000.

“Calculated on a yearly basis, the rental yield is not attractive.

“Today the yield is about 4.8%, compared to about 4.5% in 2008

“This shows that the value has appreciated faster than the rentals, as there is very little demand to rent properties in the state,” he says.

According to Geh, local investors should pay attention in particular to the heritage properties in the Prangin Market or Sia Boey area, as it has been earmarked for the location of the central LRT station on the island, which would boost the value of the properties in the area.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Institute of Architects (PAM, Northern Chapter) chairman Datuk Lawrence Lim says the cost of restoring heritage properties has increased by about 40% since 2008.

“Today the cost to restore such houses ranged between RM150,000 and RM500,000 per unit.

“A simple restoration for a heritage property with a 2,000 sq ft built-up area can cost about RM150,000.

“It cost just RM50,000 to restore the roof of a heritage house,” he says.

Despite the increased in the cost of restoration, there are local investors who are still investing in heritage properties.

Lim, who is also East Design managing director, says the company was now undertaking restoration projects for heritage houses in Hong Kong Street and Magazine Road.

“We will be restoring the Koon Kee office building at Hong Kong Street, the manufacturer of Penang’s famous white coffee.

“The other project involves the restoration of 10 pre-war units in Magazine Road for commercial usage,” Lim says.

Datuk Ooi Sian Hian, who is also Ghee Hiang group executive chairman, says he will be restoring the heritage property of his family’s maternal grandparents at 123 Macalister Road.

The property, measuring 3,600 sq ft in built-up area, sitting on a 30,000 sq ft site, was built in the 19th century, and came under the ownership of Ooi’s maternal grandparents in the 1950s.

“We are getting local architects and architectural students through the assistance of PAM to come up with a suitable design concept to restore the property.

“It will be up to the architectural fraternity to decide on the appropriate design concept for the property.

“Whether it will be restored for commercial or residential usage will depend on their design.

“We plan to kick off the project in two year’s time,” Ooi says.

Ooi’s family has 10 properties at Prangin Lane, nine of which he will restore at a later date for commercial re-use.

“The properties have been passed down from the maternal grandparents.

“We want to wait and see what the market for restored heritage properties is like first, as there are already in the market many such restored heritage projects.

“We also want to wait for the state government’s Sia Boey project to be completed first, as the site has been earmarked for a LRT project hub,” he adds.

Ooi says he is submitting a plan to restore the tenth heritage terraced property located in Prangin Lane, which has a built-up area of 1,620q ft.

“We are naming it Jumpa@41PranginLane, which will be restored as a event centre for pop-up markets, seminars, stage plays, and culinary events,” he says.

Under Ghee Hiang, the group is now restoring its heritage property at 61 Beach Street, which has over 3,000q ft in built-up area.

“It is the Ghee Hiang Group’s Concept Lifestyle In-Store, which will be designed to accommodate a living heritage museum showcasing the history of the group’s history and tau sar pneah products and a lifestyle themed cafe,” he says.

Khoo Kongsi trustee Datuk Khoo Kay Hock says the clan association has restored 16 pre-war properties and had leased them to a hotel operator.

“The properties are undergoing interior refurbishment now, and scheduled for opening in the second half of 2016.

“About RM4mil was invested to restore the properties, which were completely restored two years,” he says.

According to George Town World Heritage Inc general manager Dr Ang Ming Chee, there are 3771 heritage properties in George Town belonging to category II.

“Category II properties are those residences and business premises that have existed for generations.

“They were built to support the traditional beliefs of the inhabitants and users.

“In the George Town’s World Heritage Site (WHS), there are 82 buildings, gateways, cemeteries, and sites categorised as Category 1.

“Category 1 buildings and monuments are important because they reflect the authenticity of the cultural landscape and therefore the outstanding universal values of the world heritage site (WHS),” she adds.

By David Tan The Star

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Government refusal to recognize the UEC due to ‘national sovereignty’, Kamalanthan said


School activity: Liow (right) with Eco World Foundation chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye (with cap) and its CEO Capt (R) Datuk Liew Siong Sing (on Lee’s right) with students from SJK(C) Bukit Tinggi after Eco World handed over its donation of new canteen tables and benches to the school.

Liow: Retract UEC statement

BENTONG: MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai wants Deputy Education Minister Datuk P. Kamalanathan to retract his remarks about the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC).

He said Kamalanathan’s statement in Parliament that the Government’s refusal to recognise the UEC was due to issues of “national sovereignty” was never discussed in Cabinet meetings.

Kamalanathan and Muhyiddin“I urge Kamalanathan to retract his statement. This has nothing to do with the sovereignty of the country.

“This is his (Kamalanathan) personal view and not the Government’s. He may not have had the necessary information when he commented on the matter and this might mislead the public,” he said at SJK(C) Bukit Tinggi here after witnessing the handover of new canteen tables and benches yesterday.

Liow said if Kamalanathan did not understand the issue, he should have let Deputy Education Minister Chong Sin Woon explain it, adding that the statement might hurt the Chinese education system and the nation.

“The Education Ministry and the Higher Education Ministry have been in discussion over the recognition of the UEC,” he added.

Liow said the matter was discussed by the Malaysian Chinese Education Consultative Council Committee, comprising the United Chinese School Committees Association (Dong Zong), United Chinese School Teachers’ Association (Jia Zong) and Federation of Chinese Associations (Hua Zong), among others.

Responding yesterday, Kamalanathan maintained that his answer in Parliament was based on a Cabinet decision and not his personal view. His parliamentary reply was “verbatim” as per the Cabinet meeting on the matter on Nov 6 last year, he added.

However, he said it did not mean that it was impossible for UEC to be recognised.

“We (Education Ministry) have never closed the door on discussing (such) matters with any organisation because it is the ministry’s and everyone’s hope to see an improvement in the quality of our national education,” he said.

In KOTA KINABALU, Liberal Democratic Party president Datuk Teo Chee Kang said he was puzzled by Kamalanathan’s remarks in Parliament linking recognition of the UEC to national sovereignty.

“I regret that in answering a question in Parliament, the Deputy Minister said that the Government will not recognise the UEC for reasons of national interest and sovereignty.

“I wonder whether he knew what he was talking about. I cannot understand how it is related to national sovereignty,” he added.

– The Star/Asia News Network

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Entrepreneurship is not a job but providing a solution


Coming up with a winning idea

Entrepreneurship is not a job. It’s about providing a solution, and pulling people and resources together to make that change. Workable business ideas are all about solving problems.

Q: I’m an engineering student in Portugal, but I feel I really was born to be an entrepreneur. I started creating logos for companies when I was about 15. I’m passionate about entrepreneurship and I’m always trying to think of new ways to start businesses. I want to follow my passion — but it’s tough when you have a great business idea, and no support. How do I find the right path? — João Bandeira, PortugalJoão, it’s always heartening to hear a young would-be entrepreneur talk about passion being a key driver in his life. The most successful entrepreneurs share that indescribable desire to change the world and make a positive difference in people’s lives.

And while it can be a struggle in the early days to find one project to pour all your enthusiasm into, just remember that successful entrepreneurs always manage to come up with an idea that’s right for them, and they make it work.

Your question reminds me of the origins of Ring — a wildly successful business that I have invested in.

For years, founder Jamie Siminoff had attempted to come up with a winning business idea — he even turned his garage in California into a lab for prototypes. As he worked there, though, Jamie was annoyed that he couldn’t hear the front doorbell.

One day he decided to fix this problem — he created a program to link the doorbell to his smartphone so that he could answer the door remotely with a video call. It was a great solution.

Jamie’s wife loved the idea as well: When Jamie was away, she could always see who was at the front door, and she felt safer.

Later, Jamie invited friends around to check out his other inventions, but the only thing anybody cared about was the doorbell!

He soon realised that this was the best business idea he ever had, and Ring was born. Just like that, the hours of searching for a winning idea were over.

João, the fact that you are constantly thinking of new businesses to start is a hugely valuable asset. Being proactive is a good thing, but I would strike a note of caution about the idea search.

I recently joined a host of fellow entrepreneurs in Los Angeles for Virgin Atlantic’s inaugural “Business Is an Adventure” event, and the topic of generating business ideas came up in a panel. Sean Rad, the CEO and founder of the dating app Tinder, made a great point.

“Entrepreneurship is not a job — it is a reaction to you wanting to solve a problem,” he said. “You have to wake up and say: ‘I am passionate about making a change, and I am passionate about pulling together people and resources… Not wake up and say: ‘I want to be an entrepreneur’ because I think you’ll kind of be lost… you’ll be looking for a problem instead of finding a problem looking for a solution.”

It’s a shrewd observation, and one that underlies the success of many companies, including Tinder.

In our daily lives, we all come across problems, annoyances or frustrations that we would love to see solved. Luckily, entrepreneurs are perfectly placed to solve those problems.

Interestingly enough, that’s how Virgin Atlantic began. After one particularly terrible experience as a passenger with an unscrupulous airline, I decided there must be a better way to fly. The next day, our team was on the phone with Boeing asking if they had any second-hand 747s that they were willing to sell.

Thankfully, they didn’t laugh and hang up — and the first Virgin airline was born.

So keep in mind that generating ideas is a great strength, but make sure that you’re spending your time and energy searching for solutions, not problems. That’s the best way to approach workable business ideas. Become a passionate problem-solver, and you’re half-way to being a successful entrepreneur.

Also keep in mind that once a great idea has been sparked, getting it off the ground can feel like a daunting task for anyone — especially if you have nobody there to support you, as you point out. I would advise you to take advantage of the connectivity offered by the Internet. Plenty of resources, networks and fellow entrepreneurs are just a click away.

Additionally, getting a mentor who can point you in the right direction and share his experiences is one of the best things you could ever do. You’d be surprised how many people are willing to help if you just ask. — Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate

By Richard Branson

Questions from readers will be answered in future columns. Please send them to Richard.Branson@nytimes.com. Please include your name, country, email address and the name of the website or publication where you read the column.

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The iron lady of the last survivors of Japanese occupation in WWII Part 4


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The Last Survivors: Yap Chwee Lan
How Japan Forced Women Into Sexual Slavery

AT the age of 15, girls were pretending to be boys during the Japanese Occupation in Malaya, but Yap Chwee Lan was bravely rescuing the people of Kampung Baru, Johor, all because she could speak Japanese.

“Every night, about seven or eight young girls from the neighbourhood would come to my house to sleep because they felt safer there. They knew I could speak Japanese,” recalled Yap, now 90.

“The Japanese soldiers would come knocking on our door to ask for young girls and I’d respond in Japanese, ‘ Why do you need women? You need housekeepers?’. They were shocked I could speak Japanese.”

Yap learnt the language from her former Japanese employer, who was a hairdresser in Johor. The then 13- yearold picked up the language quickly, and was even treated well by his family.

Yap’s fluency in their language granted her favour in the eyes of the Japanese, and this ordinary girl found herself holding extraordinary power – the ability to save people.

She managed to save those who lived in her town, Kampung Baru, Johor, by identifying them – in Japanese – to the soldiers who would have killed them on suspicion of aiding the resistance.

And we were there to capture her experiences as the R. AGE crew brought her around Johor to film at locations that hold significant memories during the Occupation. This is for The Last Survivors, an interactive online documentary project that aims to raise awareness to youths about the importance of preserving Malaysian World War II stories.

Listening to her stories when he was growing up, one of Yap’s grandson Sebastian Chew, 18, is glad he didn’t have to experience WWII and the Occupation as he thinks it will haunt him throughout his life.

“I can’t imagine going through everything – from the bombings, hiding, living in fear and when the Japanese made the people dig their own graves in one of the fields and killed them. I don’t know how my grandma did it,” he said.

“That’s why I think it’s important for young people to know about these war stories so they can prevent anything of this sort from happening in the future. It’s cruel and heartbreaking.”

In her teenage years, Yap, whose father passed away when she was seven years old, had to work because her family was living in poverty.

She got married when she was 15, and lived with her husband Chiew Seng Leung at his laundry shop, Kedai Dobi Shanghai, in Johor Baru. Twenty days after their wedding, the Japanese started bombing Singapore.

Japanese fighter jets, based in Johor, would fly across to Singapore twice a day to bomb the neighbouring country. As the Japanese was attacking Singapore, lots of people walked over to Johor for safety. Yap and her family evacuated to Tampoi.

“We packed food and clothes, and placed them on my husband’s bicycle. As we were walking to Tampoi, we were stopped by a soldier because he wanted our bicycle. I told him in Japanese that it was ours and he let us through,” said Yap.

“The soldiers would leave you alone if they knew you could speak Japanese because it was like you were one of them. They’ll have more respect for you.”

Once they were in Tampoi, they sought refuge in a temple along with about 50 other refugees, but soldiers came looking for comfort women. Yap not only told them there were none, but also said she was part Japanese, hoping they wouldn’t come back.

But the next day, the Japanese returned. This time, they were with their general.

Yet, Yap wasn’t afraid. “Strangely enough, I wasn’t scared. He was impressed that I could speak Japanese and praised me, saying it was good because I could help the Japanese soldiers,” she said. He proceeded to ask Yap if they had enough food and made sure they did by sending them rice, sugar and flour so they could cook.

He also offered her a job in Singapore as a liaison officer between the Japanese and the locals. She took the job after the island was invaded, but later learned that the Singaporeans she had liaised with were all eventually killed.

The distance was too much for Yap to handle as well, as she didn’t know if her family was well and alive. She returned to Johor one week later, and things were unfortunately similar to what was happening in Singapore.

Chiew’s boss had been arrested, along with a bunch of other people.

“There were black flags all along the streets,” Yap recalled. “It meant everybody was to stay home, because the Japanese would arrest anyone on sight.”

Those who were arrested were taken to a house in Jalan Abdul Samad, behind what is now the Maktab Sultan Abu Bakar, to be held before being taken to Dataran Bandaraya, where they would be executed.

“When I got to the house, the people were kneeling on the ground, their hands tied behind their backs with thick wire as the Japanese soldiers pointed bayonets at them,” said Yap.

“A lot of them called out my name, begging me to save them. Then the Japanese asked if I knew these people.”

“I said, ‘ Yes, I do’. A lot of them lived in my neighbourhood. When I identi- fied them, they were freed.”

The rest, whom she couldn’t identify, weren’t so lucky. Her mother’s friend’s son was one of the unlucky ones.

“I didn’t see him there, I was devastated when I found out. His mother was crying in the street,” said Yap, recalling the horrors of wartime Malaya.

Those remained were brought to the field. They were asked to dig holes in the ground, sit at the edge of the holes and were shot with machine guns. As the bodies fell in, those who were merely injured were kicked into those holes they had dug themselves and buried alive together with the dead.

While a great number of people died during the Occupation, many more owe their lives to Yap.

Her family, though, remained safe, thanks to Yap.

“Before I went to Singapore, the Japanese general gave me a permit for my family,” she said. “He told me, ‘ If anybody disturbs your family, ask them to report to one of my officers’.”

Today, Yap and her family still live in Johor, where some of the survivors’ descendants still recognise her.

“I was walking around town and suddenly someone called out, ‘ Ah Ma!’. They told their kids that I saved their grandfather or grandmother,” Yap said with a laugh.

By VIVIENNE WONG The Star

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Collective and mutual understanding needed to get out of oncoming global deflation

 

Rajan: ‘We can no longer ignore the elephant in the room, either theoretically or practically. – Bloomberg

SPRING is the time for conferences. I was lucky to join two excellent conferences last week. One was in Singapore organised by the Nanyang Technological University Para Limes Institute on “Silent Transformations”, followed by another on “Advancing Asia – Investing for the Future”, organised by the IMF and the Ministry of Finance, India in New Delhi.

Para Limes (www.paralimes.ntu.edu.sg/Pages/Home.aspx) is an institute dedicated to complexity studies – the idea that we cannot see the world from partial analysis, but must take into consideration the interconnected complex whole.

Professor Geoffrey West, former President of the Sante Fe Institute (the first of the complexity institutes founded out of the scientists that participated in the Los Alamos nuclear programme) and a leading thinker on growth, innovation and urban life, delivered a brilliant view on the sustainability of present growth models.

Modern life and culture is increasingly urban, because the larger the city, the more efficient the usage of energy and resources, but there are costs in terms of pollution, crowding and spillovers.

In other words, growth accelerates exponentially until the economy reaches maturity and slows down, and if there is no longer innovation and change, growth can even become negative.

Life follows an S-curve (sigmoid for the technically-minded), and therefore growth can only be sustained with continued innovation and reform – exactly what the Chinese are attempting.

West’s ideas resonated with me during the “Advancing Asia” conference, where the future of India became a major theme within the Asian growth story.

India is today one of the youngest (demographic labour force) growth stories, today the fastest growing and by 2050 the largest population in the world.

Without doubt, the Indians intend to use 21st technology to leapfrog traditional forms of growth, including development through knowledge and services, and less through manufacturing, currently dominated by East Asia. In contrast, the Chinese economy, currently the world’s number 2, is slowing and also aging.

In Beijing, the world sighed with relief as the Chinese Premier Li Keqiang committed to steady growth, stability in the RMB and continuous reform.

As oil prices seemed to stabilise at around US$40 per barrel and the Fed committed to slower interest rate adjustments, financial markets actually turned back upwards.

The Delhi conference was marked by extremely high quality debate on the future of growth models.

The key question before us is whether Asia, as one of the fastest growth regions, can overcome the global debt deflation. There is an existential question that the West (advanced countries including Japan) is unwilling to address.

Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan, arguably one of the most thoughtful of central bank governors, posed the question as the “elephant in the room” – a big issue that is right in front of us, but none of us want to address.

The basic question is why current growth is slowing and what policies can we adopt to get out of this debt deflation trap.

The advanced countries refuse to adopt fiscal expansion, because of internal politics and the growing debt overhang. Increasingly, they use quantitative easing (QE) or unconventional monetary policy to try and expand aggregate demand.

The trouble is that QE is outliving its usefulness, but has very negative spillovers on emerging markets, such as volatile capital flows, declining trade and lack of long-term investments.

The unspoken policy conundrum is that advanced countries refuse to admit that these spillovers matter.

Firstly, these spillovers are notoriously difficult to measure accurately. Secondly, central banks owe their allegiance to domestic authorities and would ignore pleas by neighbours or foreigners.

Thirdly, no one wants to admit that QE basically amounts to currency depreciation, which then forces emerging markets to also devalue in order to maintain their competitiveness.

Governor Rajan’s view is that we can no longer ignore the elephant in the room, either theoretically or practically.

If we continue to do so, the whole system could degenerate into a global deflation or worse.

Hence, he argued cogently for the beginnings of a conversation on how to grow stably and sustainably together, namely a consistent and legitimate set of international monetary rules.

The Delhi conference laid out the fundamental dilemmas in today’s growth trap. Monetary and fiscal policies are conducted through national agendas, which have spillovers onto others, but these policies do not add up in a global system.

Both the theoretical and geopolitical framework are partial, interactive and contradictory, because what is right for a single country can be wrong for the system as a whole.

Partial views are like blind men trying to describe an elephant. None of them get it right.

But partial or silo views end up with individual action or non-action that may be collectively wrong. For example, former Fed Chairman Dr Bernanke famously argued in 2005 that the US lost monetary control because of excess savings by the emerging markets.

From a system point of view, this is like an elephant complaining that it has become fat because the grass is growing too much. The grass grows because the elephant’s piss and poo fertilises the plain, whereas the gas emitted increases carbon as a spillover. Indeed, if there is too much liquidity provided, some of the smaller animals get drowned.

The yuan faces a similar dilemma. If it devalues, temporarily Chinese trade will recover, but if everyone devalues at the same rate, there will be no advantage.

However, China will have to undergo even more painful deflation with a stable exchange rate against the US dollar.

Because of China’s size, many of its trading partners could be hurt if China slows further.

Collectively, the current global monetary rules do not acknowledge a collective action to help make such adjustments more smoothly.

There is an old African and Asian saying that when elephants fight, the grass gets trampled.

The grass gets trampled even when elephants are dancing. We need collective and mutual understanding to get out of the oncoming global deflation.

But leadership and statesmanship are scarce when the dark clouds loom. For the next year or so, electioneering and partisan views will trump moderation and mutual understanding.

When bull elephants like Trump trumpet their charge, beware of global consequences.

By Andrew Sheng

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from Asian perspective.

 

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Trump victory a major global risk: EIU

 

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LONDON: The prospect of Donald Trump winning the US presidency represents a global threat on a par with militancy destabilising the world economy, according to British research group EIU.

In the latest version of its Global Risk assessment, the Economist Intelligence Unit ranked victory for the Republican front-runner at 12 on an index where the current top threat is a Chinese economic “hard landing” rated 20.

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Justifying the threat level, the EIU highlighted the tycoon’s alienation towards China as well as his comments on extremism, saying a proposal to stop Muslims from entering the United States would be a “potent recruitment tool for militant groups”.

It also raised the spectre of a trade war under a Trump presidency and pointed out that his policies “tend to be prone to constant revision”.

“He has been exceptionally hostile towards free trade, including notably NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), and has repeatedly labelled China as a ‘currency manipulator’.” it said.

“He has also taken an exceptionally right-wing stance on the Middle East and terrorism, including, among other things, advocating the killing of families of terrorists and launching a land incursion into Syria to wipe out IS (and acquire its oil).”

By comparison it gave a possible armed clash in the South China Sea an eight — the same as the threat posed by Britain leaving the European Union — and ranked an emerging market debt crisis at 16.

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A Trump victory, it said, would at least scupper the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the US and 11 other American and Asian states signed in February, while “his hostile attitude to free trade, and alienation of Mexico and China in particular, could escalate rapidly into a trade war.”

“There are risks to this forecast, especially in the event of a terrorist attack on US soil or a sudden economic downturn,” it added.

However, the organisation said it did not expect Trump to defeat his most likely Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in an election and pointed out that Congress would likely block some of his more radical proposals if he won November’s election.

Rated at 12 alongside the prospect of a Trump presidency was the threat of Islamic State, which the EIU said risked ending a five-year bull run on US and European stock markets if terrorist attacks escalated.

The break-up of the eurozone following a Greek exit from the bloc was rated 15, while the prospect of a new “cold war” fuelled by Russian interventions in Ukraine and Syria was put at 16.- AFP

Old and ageing abused by their own Children


PETALING JAYA: When his son left him at a bus station, John (not his real name) waited patiently for him to return. Five hours later, he was still waiting. Passers-by noticed him and called the police.

The 72-year-old man has dementia and was sent to hospital. Medical social workers managed to get him to recall his son’s telephone number.

When they called John’s son, he did not want to take his father home.

People like John are vulnerable to abuse and neglect, and he is not eligible for government shelter for the elderly because he still has a family.

John is among many Malaysian elderly folk who are facing abuse and neglect. According to a study, one in 10 urban elderly Malaysian is abused, with financial abuse being the most common.

The survey by a team of researchers from the Department of Social and Preventative Medicine under Universiti Malaya’s Medical Faculty said psychological abuse was the next most common followed by physical abuse.

“A pilot survey was done among the urban poor in Kuala Lumpur in 2012 involving 291 individuals above the age of 60. There were elders living in low-cost government-subsidised flats. Of the total, 9.6% said they experienced one or more forms of abuse within the last 12 months of the survey,” said Dr Noran Naqiah Hairi.

By S. Indramalar The Star/Asia News Network

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Dr Noran is leading the Prevent Elder Abuse and Neglect Initiative (Peace) with her colleague Dr Clare Choo.

The team also found that one in 20 rural elders have experienced abuse based on a survey they did among 2,000 respondents in Kuala Pilah, Negri Sembilan.

The most common abuse reported among rural elders is psychological followed by financial.

Anita (not her real name) is a subject of financial abuse. As she has arthritis, she found it difficult to go to the bank. Her son persuaded the 68-year-old retired clerk to give him the authority to handle her finances.

Soon after, he got his widowed mother to sign over her house to him.

“I didn’t want to, but I was bullied into signing my house over. He kept accusing me of not trusting him.

“At first, everything was all right. But then he began investing my money in all kinds of ventures. I have no say in what he does with my money. When I ask him, it gets unpleasant.

“But I am worried what will happen when my money runs out,” laments Anita, who lives with her son in Petaling Jaya.

Still, she would never report her son because elder abuse is not a topic Malaysians discuss openly.

Deputy Women, Family and Com­munity Development Minister Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun admits that reported figures do not paint the actual picture.

“These are only the cases that come to us. There may be more that we do not know of,” she said.

Most of elder abuse cases go unreported as many see it as a “family problem” which can be dealt with behind closed doors.

Only 23 cases of elder abuse and neglect were reported in the past three years, according to statistics from the ministry.

The study, however, shows it is far more prevalent.

“The Peace study is the first of its kind in Malaysia and it corroborates prevalence rates of elder abuse and neglect in other Asian countries which range from 14% to 27.5%,” added Dr Noran.

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