The global mahjong winner’s curse


There is grave concern that the world economy is slipping into what Harvard professor and former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers calls the global secular deflation. In simple terms, growth has slowed without inflation, despite exceptionally stimulative monetary policy. Larry’s view is that the advanced countries can use fiscal policy to stimulate growth, using massive investments in infrastructure. If needs be, this can be financed by central banks.

Central bank financing fiscal deficits is technically called “helicopter money”, named by the late monetarist economist Milton Friedman as the central bank pushing money out of the helicopter. Strict monetarism thinks that this would cause inflation.

The simple reason why the world is moving into secular deflation is that the largest economies are all slowing for a variety of reasons. Unconventional monetary policy applied since the 2007 crisis has brought central bank interest rates to zero or negative terms in economies accounting for 60% of world GDP.

Most economists blame current slow growth to “lack of aggregate demand” or “excess of aggregate production”. The rich countries are mostly aging and already heavily burdened with debt, so they cannot consume more. After the 2007 global financial crisis, the emerging market economies have slowed down, as demand for their exports have slowed. We are in a vicious circle where global trade growth is now slower than GDP growth, because the US economy is no longer the consumption engine of last resort. China, which has been a huge consumer of commodities, has slowed. Japanese growth has been flat due to an aging population. European growth has not recovered, partly because the leading economy, Germany, calls for austerity by its southern partners.

The Brexit shock threatens to weaken global confidence and send growth down another notch.

Former Bank of England Governor Lord Mervyn King famously called the global monetary order a game of sodoku, in which national current accounts in the balance of payments add up to a zero sum game. This is because in the global trade game, one country’s current account deficit is another country’s surplus. In the past, if the US runs larger and larger current account deficits, world growth is stimulated because everyone wants to hold dollars and has been willing to supply the US with all manners of consumer goods. This has been called an “exorbitant privilege” for the dollar.

The present global monetary order or non-order is a result of the 1971 US dollar de-link from gold, which gave rise to a phase of floating exchange rates and rising capital flows, which some people call Bretton Woods II. The old order, set at the Bretton Wood Conference of 1944, centered around a system of global fixed exchange rates, based on the US dollar link with gold price at US$35 to one ounce of gold.

But flexible exchange rates has resulted in a system where everyone seems to be devaluing their way out of trouble. Has the global secular deflation something to do with Bretton Woods II?

My answer must be yes. The reason lies in what I call, instead of sodoku, the mahjong winner’s curse. The Chinese game of mahjong has four players with a limited number of chips. If one player is the persistent winner, he or she ends up with all the chips and the game stops. Since the global game of trade cannot stop, the winner has both an exorbitant privilege (of being funded by the others) and an exorbitant curse (of bearing the loss if the others won’t or refuse to pay). To keep the game going, the winner has to give or lend the chips back to the other players, who play with the hope of winning the next round.

Indeed, if the winner is generous, the game can be made bigger, because the winner can issue more chips (defined as a reserve currency), which the others are more than willing to borrow and play.

The current world situation is that the Winners are the four reserve currency countries, the dollar, euro, yen and sterling, all of which have interest rates near zero or even negative. Until recently, the Winners blame China and the oil producing countries as having too high current account surpluses. But recently, after the huge European cutback in expenditure, Europe as a whole is the world’s largest current account surplus group of nearly 5% of GDP.

Herein lies the winner’s curse. The emerging markets should be able to stimulate global growth, but are unwilling to run larger current account deficits because they cannot get financing. The richer economies can stimulate global growth, but they are unwilling to do so, because they either feel that they already have too much debt or because they worry that stimulus would lead to inflation.

However, reserve currency countries have an advantage. As long as they are willing to run current account deficits, there will be little inflation because the world economy has huge excess capacity and surplus savings. If emerging markets run higher current account deficits, they will have to depreciate, which is exactly what Brazil, South Africa and others have done.

The winner’s curse is that if Europe is now unwilling to reflate and spend, the world will continue to slow. Indeed, in a world of greater geo-political risks, money is fleeing to the US dollar and the yen, causing both to appreciate.

What these capital flows into the reserve currencies when their interest rate is zero and they are unable to reflate imply is that the dollar and yen play the deflationary role of gold in the 1930s. As more and more mahjong players hold gold and don’t spend, the world global trade and growth game slows further. The mahjong winner’s curse requires the winners to stimulate and spend, bearing higher credit risks. That’s the privilege and responsibility of winners in the global game. If not, look out for more global secular deflation.

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

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China urges Philippines to quit arbitration; Pushes back against US pressure


China urges Philippines to immediately cease arbitral proceedings

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http://english.cctv.com/2016/06/09/VIDESodRMnJFJdiaDZ3JKzuo160609.shtml

<<< Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hong Lei (Source: fmprc.gov.cn)

BEIJING, June 8 (Xinhua) — China on Wednesday again urged the Philippines to stop its arbitral proceedings and return to the right track of settling relevant disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation with China.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei made the comment at a routine press briefing.

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday issued a statement saying that disputes between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea should be settled through bilateral negotiation.

Hong said that by unilaterally initiating the arbitration in 2013, the Philippines had turned its back on the possibility of solving the issue through negotiation, leading to a dramatic deterioration of relations between China and the Philippines.

China and the Philippines have reached consensus on settling maritime disputes through bilateral negotiation in a number of bilateral documents, but the two countries have never engaged in any negotiation on the subject-matters of the arbitration, said Hong.

By unilaterally initiating the arbitration, the Philippines has violated its agreement with China as well as its own solemn commitment in the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC), he said.

This is an abuse of the dispute settlement procedures of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and is against international law, including UNCLOS, he added.

The door of China-Philippines bilateral negotiation is always open, he said. “China will remain committed to settling through negotiation the relevant disputes with the Philippines in the South China Sea on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law.”

“China urges the Philippines to immediately cease its wrongful conduct of pushing forward the arbitral proceedings, and return to the right path of settling the relevant disputes in the South China Sea through bilateral negotiation with China,” Hong said. – Xinhua

BEIJING: China has urged the Philippines to “immediately cease its wrongful conduct of pushing forward the arbitral proceedings” and “return to the right path” of settling the relevant disputes in the South China Sea, through bilateral negotiation.

In an official statement released yesterday, the Foreign Ministry reaffirmed Beijing’s commitment to a settlement via two-way negotiations, rather than an arbitration unilaterally sought by Manila against China in 2013.

Ties between Beijing and Manila were sunk after the initiation of the arbitration. From the very start of the arbitral process, China has refused to accept or participate.

In the wake of recent comments made by various Chinese officials about the arbitration, the statement said “the door of China-Philippines bilateral negotiation is always open”.

Observers and the media have increasingly called on Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and his expected administration to quit the arbitration and return to the table for two-way negotiations.

The arbitral case is still pending. Some media and observers said the expected ruling by the arbitral tribunal would be made in a few weeks.

China will remain committed to settling through negotiation the relevant disputes “on the basis of respecting historical facts and in accordance with international law,” the ministry wrote.

In the past weeks, Washington has publicly pressed Beijing to accept the ruling.

That also included a call from US Defence Secretary Ash Carter on Saturday at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore.

Wu Shicun, president of the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, said although it remained to be seen if the incoming Philippine administration would quit the arbitration and return to the table for talks, “it is apparent that the arbitration – from its very beginning – has led to increasing, not decreasing, number of problems between Beijing and Manila”.

“Other regional countries will come to the conclusion that embarking on such an arbitration will obtain no benefit, not to mention resolving any of the existing disputes,” Wu said.

Jia Duqiang, a researcher of South-East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said as the arbitration process came to a critical moment, all parties knew clearly that “no good will serve any party if the big picture is damaged”.

He also said the incoming administration was re-evaluating its policies towards China. — China Daily / Asia News Network

China pushes back against US pressure

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/ZabX_OfMRss

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/ZabX_OfMRss

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/qAsu3U47DzA

SINGAPORE: China rebuffed US pressure to curb its activity in the South China Sea today, restating its sovereignty over most of the disputed territory and saying it “has no fear of trouble”.

On the last day of Asia’s biggest security summit, Admiral Sun Jianguo said China will not be bullied, including over a pending international court ruling over its claims in the vital trade route.

“We do not make trouble, but we have no fear of trouble,” Sun told the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, where more than 600 security, military and government delegates had gathered over three days.

“China will not bear the consequences, nor will it allow any infringement on its sovereignty and security interest, or stay indifferent to some countries creating chaos in the South China Sea.”

The waterway has become a flashpoint between the United States, which increased its focus on the Asia-Pacific under President Barack Obama’s “pivot”, and China, which is projecting ever greater economic, political and military power in the region.

The two have traded accusations of militarising the waterway as Beijing undertakes large-scale land reclamation and construction on disputed features while Washington has increased its patrols and exercises.

On Saturday, top US officials including defence secretary Ash Carter warned China of the risk of isolating itself internationally and pledged to remain the main guarantor of Asian security for decades.

Despite repeated notes of concern from countries such as Japan, India, Vietnam and South Korea, Sun rejected the prospect of isolation, saying that many of the Asian countries at the gathering were “warmer” and “friendlier” to China than a year ago.

China had 17 bilateral meetings this year, compared with 13 in 2015.

“We were not isolated in the past, we are not isolated now and we will not be isolated in the future,” Sun said.

“Actually I am worried that some people and countries are still looking at China with the Cold War mentality and prejudice. They may build a wall in their minds and end up isolating themselves.”

During a visit to Mongolia today, US secretary of state John Kerry urged Beijing not to establish an air defence identification zone (Adiz) over the South China Sea.

Kerry, who will visit China next, said an Adiz would be “a provocative and destabilising act”, which would question Beijing’s commitment to diplomatically manage the dispute.

The South China Sea is expected to feature prominently at annual high-level China-US talks starting in Beijing on Monday, also attended by US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew.

US concerns about Chinese trade policy and the difficulty foreign businesses say they face operating in China will add to what will likely be difficult discussions. — Reuters

Related: 

Philippine politicians, experts, opinion leaders call for bilateral talks with China on South China Sea issue

Politicians,international relations experts and opinion leaders from the Philippines on Wednesday called on President-elect Rodrigo Duterte to start bilateral talks with China on the South China Sea issue as soon as
possible.

 Studio interview: Arbitration will not solve dispute

For more insights into the South China Sea issue, we have as our studio guest Jia Xiudong, a Senior Research Fellow from the China Institute of International Studies. Q1. China insists the Philippines
unilateral arbitration is illegal. So how much do you think the arbitration can help solve the maritime dispute?

Beijing believes Manila is politically motivated

 China believes that there are political motivations behindthe arbitration by the Philippines, as it is an open denial of China’ssovereignty. It brings uncertainty to how China would solve disputes with other countries.

South China Sea FAQ 2: What are China’s historical claims to the South China Sea?

 What are China’s historical claims to the South China Sea?

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The alchemy of money


Former Bank of England governor claims that for over two centuries, economists have struggled to provide rigorous theoretical basis for the role of money and have largely failed.

 

MONEY makes the world go round, so you would have thought that economists understand what money is all about.

The former governor of the Bank of England, Lord Mervyn King, has just published a book called The End of Alchemy, which made a startling claim that “for over two centuries, economists have struggled to provide rigorous theoretical basis for the role of money, and have largely failed.” This is a serious accusation from a distinguished academic turned central banker.

Alchemy is defined as the ability to create gold out of base metals or the ability to brew the elixir of life. King identifies that the main purpose of financial markets is to help real economy players to cope with “radical uncertainty”. But as we discovered after the global financial crisis, financial risk models widely used by banks narrowly defined risks as statistical probabilities that could be measured. By definition, radical uncertainty is an “unknown unknown” that cannot be measured. It was no wonder that the banks were blind to the blindness of financial models, which conveniently assumed that what cannot be measured does not exist. Ergo, no one but dead economists is to blame for bank failure.

When money was fully backed by gold, money was tied to real goods. But when paper currency was invented, money became a promisory note, first of the state – fiat money, supported by the power to impose taxes to repay that debt, and today, bank-created money, which is backed only by the assets and equity of the bank. The power to create “paper” money is truly alchemy – since promises by either the state or the banks can go on almost forever, until the trust runs out.

Today national money supply comprises roughly one-fifth state money (backed by sovereign debt) and four-fifths bank deposits (backed by bank loans and bank equity). Banks can create money as long as they are willing to lend, and the more they lend to finance bad assets, the more alchemy there is in the system.

A good description of financial alchemy is provided by FT columnist Prof John Kay, whose new book, Other People’s Money, is a masterpiece in the diagnosis of financialisation – how the finance industry traded with itself and (almost) ignored the real world. For example, Kay claimed that British banks’ “lending to firms and individuals in the production of goods and services – which most people would imagine was the principal business of a bank – amounts to about 3% of that total”. How is it possible that “the value of the assets underlying derivative contracts is three times the value of all the physical assets in the world”?

The answer is of course leverage. Finance is a derivative of the real economy, which can be leveraged or multiplied as long as there is someone (sucker?) willing to believe that the derivative has a “sound” relationship with the underlying asset. There are two pitfalls in that alchemy – a sharp decline in leverage and a fall in the value of the underlying asset – which were triggers of the global crash of 2007, as fears of Fed interest rate hikes tightened credit and questions asked about risks in subprime mortgage assets that were the underlying assets of many toxic derivatives.

Unfortunately, as we found to everyone’s costs, the banking system itself became too highly leveraged relative to its obligations, without sufficient equity nor liquidity to absorb market shocks.

The real trouble with financialisation is that central bankers, having not taken away the punch bowl when the party got really heady, cannot attempt anything like even trying to move in that direction without spoiling the whole party. Any attempt to raise interest rates by the Fed would be considered Armageddon by those who have huge vested interests in bubbly asset markets. Instead, central bankers like Mario Draghi has to continue to talk “whatever it takes” to continue the game of financialisation.

King’s recommendation that central banks reverse alchemy by behaving like pawnbrokers for all seasons (having collateral against all lending) can only be implemented after the next and coming crisis. Central bank discipline, like virginity, cannot be replaced once lost. The market will always think that in the end, it will be bailed out by central banks. In the end the market was right – it was bailed out and will be bailed out. In the game of playing chicken with finance, the politicians will always blink.

If we accept that radical uncertainty lies at the heart of finance, then money makes the world go around because it provides the lubricant of trade and investment. Without that lubricant, trade and investment would slow down significantly, but with too much lubricant, the system can rock itself to pieces.

The dilemma of central banks today is also globalisation. In addition to the Fed controlling dollar money supply within the US borders, there are US$9 trillion of dollars created outside the US borders over which the Fed has no control. Money today can be created in the form of Bitcoins, computerised digital units that tech people use to trade value. But Bitcoins ultimately need to be changed into dollars. So as long as someone will accept Bitcoins, digital currency become convertible money.

We got into a monetary crisis in which bad money drove out good. The reason was because the financial sector, in collusion with politics, refused to accept that there were losses in the system, so it printed more money to hide or roll over the losses. Surprise, surprise, there was no inflation, because the real economy, having become bloated with excess capacity financed by excess leverage, had in the short run no effective demand. So inflation at the global level is postponed.

But if climate change disrupts the weather and create food supply shortages, inflation will return, initially in the emerging economies, which cannot print money because they are not reserve currencies. In time, inflation will come back to haunt the reserve currency countries. But not before the emerging markets go into crises of inflation or banking first.

Money is inherently unfair – the rich will always suffer less than the poor.

In medieval times, only those with real money could afford alchemy. If it was true then, it remains true today.

Tan Sri Andrew Sheng writes on global affairs from an Asian perspective.

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Modern finance and money being managed like a Ponzi scheme !


Ponzi schemes and modern finance

 

Andrew Sheng says when the originator of a scheme to pass on debt to others is also ‘too big to fail’ – like America – then the global economy is heading for some painful restructuring

 

The dilemma today is that the US is the world’s largest “too big to fail” debtor, with gross international liabilities of US$31 trillion, equivalent to 40 per cent of global GDP. Photo: AFP

THIS global financial crisis is not over, as the volatile start to the New Year showed that 2016 may be a precursor to the 10th anniversary of the 2007 sub-prime crisis, which itself evolved from 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, after which the US Fed cut interest rates and started the rapid financialisation of the US economy.

READ MORE: Don’t listen to the ruling elite: the world economy is in real trouble

Two terms came out of the crisis that we see almost everyday, but have not been explained well by modern financial theory. Most economists think of them as aberrations that are at the periphery of normal economic behaviour. In fact, “Ponzi schemes” and “Too-Big-to-Fail” are at the heart of individual and social behaviour which go a long way to explain what is happening today.

A Ponzi scheme is a scam named after American Charles Ponzi. The term Ponzi scheme started in the 1920s from an American Charles Ponzi, who thought of selling an idea in making money from arbitraging the value of international reply coupons in postage stamps to a larger and larger investor scheme where he made money by getting new investors to pay for promised high returns to old investors. Of course, this is the “borrowing from Peter-to-Pay-Paul principle”, where the music stops when everyone want their money back. Ponzi schemes should in principle collapse naturally because it is of course impossible to pay unusually high returns. By this time, the founder would have run away to the Caribbean with a lot of OPM (other people’s money).

A foreclosure sign tops a “for sale” sign outside a property in northwest Denver in this 2007 photo. The number of homeowners receiving foreclosure notices hit a record high in the spring, driven up by problems with subprime mortgages. Photo: AP

The securitisation (packaging) of sub-prime mortgages into CDOs (collateralised debt obligations) and turbo-charging these into CDO2 (creating a highly leveraged synthetic financial derivative) and selling these to investors with a AAA credit rating was a 21st century Ponzi variant.

In simple terms, this is like selling a box of rotting apples, getting a rating agency to say that the box is worth more than the individual apples, with a guarantee against losses by adding more (rotten apples). In the end, the investor is buying a box of rotting apples, in which all his savings have been eaten up by those who sold the boxes (the derivatives) in the first place.

There are two fundamental elements of Ponzi operations – the promise of very high returns (false expectations) and the widening of the investor circle. Variants of the Ponzi scheme can be found in asset bubbles and pyramid schemes, in which more and more investors (new suckers) are enticed in until they are the ones who bear the final losses. Like the game Musical Chairs, the ones who did not get out when the music stops are the losers.

Actually, Ponzi schemes work by the originator taking profits by selling (or passing) his losses to all his investors – the more suckers, the bigger his profits and the more people to share the losses.

Technically, a Ponzi scheme is sustainable if the new funds that come in actually deliver good returns, but because the Ponzi promises a return higher than anyone can actually deliver, most Ponzis end up as fraudulent schemes.

READ MORE: Bank woes bode ill for world economy as talk of another global financial crisis gains traction

 

Under globalisation, the smaller reserve-currency countries like the euro zone and Japan can engage in quantitative easing, because instead of getting inflation, their currencies depreciate against the dollar. Photo: Reuters

But the Ponzi element in modern finance should be understood with another phenomena – the Too-Big-To-Fail (TBTF) dilemma. We all know that if we borrow US$1,000 from the bank, we are in trouble if we can’t pay, but if we borrow US$1bil from the bank, it is the bank that is in trouble. Thus, if a Ponzi scheme reaches the scale of TBTF, it has to be “rescued” somehow, because if everyone had bought the Ponzi product, everyone ends up being the loser.

This is the essence of modern money. Advanced country central banks can engage in quantitative easing (QE or printing money in whatever way you want to call it) to bail out banks that are losing money, because their banks are TBTF. The difference between QE and Ponzi is that the QE interest rate promised is near zero to negative, but the escalation of scale is the same. I call these Qonzi schemes.

In theory, in a closed economy, if you print too much money, you would get higher inflation. This is why the Germans are very much against the European Central Bank’s QE measures.

However, in a world with excess production capacity, you would not get into high inflation, because there are many more people in the emerging economies who are willing to hold reserve currencies like the US dollar, euro and yen. Under globalisation, the smaller reserve currency countries like the eurozone and Japan can engage in QE, because instead of getting inflation, their currencies depreciate against the dollar. The losers call such action “beggar-thy-neighbour” policy.

In other words, currency depreciation countries gain by passing “losses” to others, because they gain competitive trade advantage. But if everyone depreciates at the same rate, the whole world ends up with more deflation. Remember, when the Ponzi music stops, all losses are crystalised. As Warren Buffett used to say, when the tide goes out, you know who has been swimming naked.

READ MORE: Chinese scramble to safety of US dollar as yuan weakens and forex reserves drop

 
Rail cars and oil tankers sit on railway tracks as water vapour and smoke rise from a steel plant in the distance in Tonghua, Jilin province. The city’s once-vaunted state-run steel mills have slipped inexorably into decline, weighed down by slumping global markets and a changing economy. Photo: Bloomberg

 

READ MORE: The crisis in markets shows how our financial and political leaders have failed since 2008

The dilemma in the world today is that the US is the largest TBTF debtor in the world, with gross international liabilities of US$31 trillion, equivalent to 40% of world GDP (gross domestic product). In a world where interest rates are near zero, the threat of the Fed increasing interest rates causes capital flight into the dollar. But a dollar that also yields near zero interest rate, with the inability to reflate due to political constraints, plays exactly the deflationary role of gold in the 1930s.

Hence, a strong dollar is deflationary on the whole world. As geopolitical tensions rise, flight into the dollar causes its own deflation. The latest US net international investment position is a deficit of US$7 trillion or 40% of GDP at the end of 2014, sharply up from US$1.3 trillion in 2007. A strong dollar in which the US would run larger even current account deficits is clearly unsustainable for the US and its creditors.

During the Asian financial crisis, countries with net liabilities of over 50% of GDP got into crisis. But the US is the TBTF country in the international monetary system. Further QE will not solve this dilemma. The only solution is painful structural adjustment by all concerned. This is why investors are all so downbeat.

Consequently, I see no alternative but a coming new Plaza Accord to ensure that the dollar does not get too strong, with a concerted effort to have global reflation. Otherwise, watch out for more “Qonzi” schemes.

 

– Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from the Asian perspective.

US: an engine or a threat to the world economy? Unwise to write shortsighted rules!


WEF_improving

Is the US an engine or a threat to the world economy?

According to the World Economic Outlook published by the World Bank, the international economy is forecast to grow by 3 percent in 2015 and 3.3 percent in 2016. The US and the UK will maintain their economy recovery while Japan and the eurozone will remain sluggish, with growth forecast at no more than 1.1 percent. The World Bank also predicted that the US economy will grow by 3.2 percent in 2015. Developing countries are facing lots of challenges in its economic development.

The US seems to be the only engine of the world economy. But the US Federal Reserve is likely to raise its interest rate from 0 to 0.25 percent. The World Bank worries that any such move will make it more difficult for emerging economies to raise money. The US has emerged from its financial crisis while other countries are still trapped in economic troubles. From this perspective it is hard to assess whether the US is an engine or a threat to the world economy.

There is still a worry that Greece will exit the eurozone. If this happens, the eurozone will be thrown into turmoil. In Japan, so-called “Abenomics” have failed to generate the anticipated results. Russia and Venezuela are each facing their own troubles and threats.

The US economy is closely linked to the whole. Only when other economies achieve sound development, can the US economy maintain sustainable development. The US can’t just focus on its own development.

This article was edited and translated from 《美国是引擎还是威胁?》, source: People’s Daily Overseas Edition, Author: Zhang Hong

It is unwise for the U.S. to write shortsighted rules

In the latest State of the Union Address, President Barack Obama mentioned China many times. He claimed that China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region (Asia-Pacific) but the U.S. should write those rules. He went on to urge Congress to give him the authority to promote trade with this region.

Obama is setting considerable store by the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) Agreement (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). These trans-regional trade and investment agreements are designed to increase America’s competitiveness and encourage its exports. Although Obama’s government has tried hard to promote these agreements and to make his mark on presidential history in the U.S., parts of the bills of the two agreements are opposed by some of the negotiation partners, and it is not clear whether Congress will support the agreements.

The U.S. is avoiding queries over its strategic rebalancing toward the Asia-Pacific. The American government cannot give a clear answer to whether TPP targets any specific country. However Obama has now made his position clear: “We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”

It is readily apparent that America is not satisfied with international trade rules set by the World Trade Organization (WTO). Some countries are trying to break rules while China is attempting to set rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. However, China’s efforts could undermine American interests. Obama hold the view that China is taking advantages of existing free trade rules and it is not fair to the U.S.

It is not wrong for America to benefit from reform of international trade rules. But from a country good at promoting global rules in the past to one now busy promoting trans-regional rules between Asia and Europe, America’s leadership in international system gradually fades out. The U.S. thinks that it has suffered losses from past world trade rules and therefore wants to establish new trans-regional institutions that exclude China and other counties.

America is no longer a country positively promoting global financial trade rules. It now seems to be focused on short-term rules to suit itself and a few allies. Although these agreements will co-exist with the WTO, world trade may become more fragmentized due to trans-regional agreements. A conflict of interests is slowly developing between a group of developed countries, including America, and the developing countries. Trade interests between developing countries might also be damaged. In view of this situation, it is hard to say that the world will be freer or fairer.

Are the trade rules established by WTO really unfair? The U.S. thinks that the standards involving environmental protection, intellectual property protection, and markets are too low. However, America should always bear in mind that it too encountered these problems during its industrialization. Progress was achieved only after a long period. If America remains reluctant to cooperate with other countries to define international rules, it might lose international respect and miss out on new opportunities for development.

The article is edited and translated from 《美国切莫制定短视规则(望海楼)》, source: People’s Daily Overseas Edition, author: Shen Dingli, Vice Dean and professor of Institute of International Studies, Fudan University

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The Wealthy get wealthier


The richest people on Earth got richer in 2014, adding $92 billion to their collective fortune in the face of falling energy prices and geopolitical turmoil incited by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Video: http://www.bloomberg.com/video/popout/4PRJi7eqTcWSR0cwVL05iA/10.938/

The net worth of the world’s 400 wealthiest billionaires on Dec. 29 stood at $4.1 trillion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, a daily ranking of the planet’s richest.

The biggest gainer was Jack Ma, the co-founder of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest e-commerce company. Ma, a former English teacher who started the Hangzhou-based company in his apartment in 1999, added $25.1 billion to his fortune, riding a 56 percent surge in the company’s shares since its September initial public offering.

Ma, 50, with a $28.7 billion fortune, briefly passed Li Ka-shing as Asia’s richest person.

“I am nothing but happy when young people from China do well,” Li, 86, said through his spokeswoman in Hong Kong.

Global stocks rose in 2014, with the MSCI World Index advancing 4.3 percent during the year to close at 1,731.71 on Dec. 29. The Standard and Poor’s 500 Index rose 13 percent to close at 2,090.57. The Stoxx Europe 600 gained 4.9 percent to close at 344.27.

Two of the year’s other biggest gainers were Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg of the U.S. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., added $13.7 billion to his net worth after the Omaha, Nebraska-based company soared 28 percent as the dozens of operating businesses the 84-year-old chairman bought over the past five decades churned out record profit.

Gates, Slim

Buffett passed Mexican telecommunications billionaire Carlos Slim on Dec. 5 to become the world’s second-richest person. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft Corp., was up $9.1 billion during the year. The 59-year-old remains the world’s richest person with a $87.6 billion fortune.

Zuckerberg, the hoodie-wearing chief executive officer of the world’s largest social-networking company, gained $10.6 billion as the Menlo Park, California-based business rose to a record on Dec. 22.

Bloomberg Billionaires Gainers of 2014

Bloomberg Billionaires Gainers of 2014

This year Facebook made headway in mobile, a business that has flourished as mobile advertising increased and marketing initiatives expanded with applications and video. Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion has also been paying off: A Citigroup Inc. analyst said on Dec. 19 the photo-sharing app is worth $35 billion.

Russia Woes

Zuckerberg’s company faced a challenge in Russia, where the blocking of a Facebook page promoting a Russian opposition rally highlighted the challenges the social network faces as Putin cracks down on the Internet amid a looming economic downturn. The European Union and U.S. limited Russian companies’ access to financing to punish Putin after he annexed Crimea in March. Russia’s troubles have been worsened by the corresponding plunge in the price of oil, a bedrock of the country’s economy.

Nobody was hit harder than Vladimir Evtushenkov. Once Russia’s 14th-richest person, the 66-year-old lost 80 percent of his wealth, dropping him from the Bloomberg ranking. He was sentenced to house arrest by a Moscow court in September after a money-laundering investigation connected to the $2.5 billion purchase of shares in oil producer OAO Bashneft.

The court also ruled in favor of nationalizing his stake in Bashneft, which he controlled through publicly traded AFK Sistema. Evtushenkov’s fortune has fallen $8.1 billion, the most of any Russian in 2014.

Leonid Mikhelson has been the biggest loser in dollar terms among those remaining in the country’s 20 richest, dropping $7.8 billion since the start of the year. The 59-year-old is the chief executive officer of OAO Novatek, Russia’s second-largest natural gas producer, which fell 44 percent during the year. He has a $10.1 billion fortune, according to the Bloomberg ranking.

Western Sanctions

Viktor Vekselberg surpassed Alisher Usmanov as Russia’s richest person after Usmanov’s MegaFon OAO lost almost half its value since June. Vekselberg is worth $14.1 billion, while Usmanov fell 32 percent to $13.8 billion.

One of only a few Russians among the world’s 400 richest who gained in 2014 was aluminum billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who added $1.6 billion as his Hong Kong-based United Co. Rusal rose 122 percent. Deripaska has increased his fortune to $8.2 billion. He’s the world’s 154th-richest person.

“The reputation of Russian business in the west has become worse, and will continue to get worse,” said Stanislav Belkovsky, a Kremlin adviser during Putin’s first term who now consults for Moscow’s Institute for National Strategy, a research firm. “That means that the capabilities for Russia’s billionaires to run businesses abroad are going to decrease.”

Adelson Falls

Belkovsky says Putin will try to compensate the country’s sanctioned businessmen by giving them access to different state resources.

“The competition for resources will increase, as will the redistribution of ownership,” he said.

Russian billionaires weren’t the only ones to suffer losses. Sheldon Adelson, the gambling mogul who controls Las Vegas Sands Corp., the world’s largest casino company, fell $8.7 billion as the Las Vegas-based company dropped 25 percent.

Macau’s casinos are looking at their first down year in revenue since the market was opened to foreign operators in 2002, after China’s President Xi Jinping cracked down on corruption on the mainland and high-rollers shunned the gambling enclave. More than half of the company’s 2013 $13.8 billion in revenue comes from Macau.

Bezos, Musk

Adelson’s decline was followed by Jeffrey Bezos, the chairman of Amazon.com Inc. The 50-year-old had $7.2 billion trimmed from his fortune as the Seattle-based company lost ground in the cloud computing market to crosstown competitor Microsoft Corp.

Bezos, whose Blue Origin LLC space company won a contract in November to deploy rockets from NASA launchpads in Florida, is ranked 21st in the world with a $28.7 billion fortune. Blue Origin will develop a space vehicle that isn’t scheduled to be ready until after 2020.

Elon Musk’s space-exploration company is close to winning the certification it needs to begin deploying satellites for the U.S. military, according to an Air Force official. A contract win by Hawthorne,
California-based SpaceX would be the first since the Pentagon opened the program in late 2012 to as many as 14 competitive missions.

Musk added $2.9 billion to his net worth, most of which was the result of a 50 percent gain by Tesla Motors Inc., the world’s largest electric-car manufacturer.

Chinese Gains

China’s 10 richest people have added almost $48 billion combined year-to-date. Following Ma’s $25.1 billion gain, technology entrepreneurs Richard Liu of online retailer JD.com and Robin Li of Baidu Inc. added a combined $8 billion.

The title of Asia’s richest person could be challenged by Wang Jianlin, whose Dalian Wanda Group Co. staged an initial public offering of its commercial properties division this month. An IPO for Wanda Cinema Line Co. is planned for early 2015. Wang has a net worth of $25.3 billion, gaining $12.8 billion during the year.

Alibaba’s surge minted at least three new billionaires this year, including Simon Xie, an Alibaba co-founder and the second-biggest shareholder of the finance affiliate that owns Alipay. Xie, 44, owns 9.7 percent of Zhejiang Ant Small & Micro Financial Services Group Co., the parent of Alipay, according to company filings obtained by Bloomberg News.

Hidden Billionaires

Small & Micro CEO Lucy Peng and Jonathan Lu, CEO of Alibaba, each controls almost 4 percent in Small & Micro Financial, according to filings submitted by the company in Hangzhou. They also both own less than 1 percent of Alibaba, which made them new 2014 billionaires.

Bloomberg News uncovered 86 new or hidden billionaires who had never appeared on an international wealth ranking. Among them were the six heirs to a $13 billion Monaco fortune that were unveiled after the family’s matriarch, Helene Pastor, was gunned down in a parking lot in Nice, France, in May. The fortune spans two branches of the Pastor family, which built much of Monaco’s skyline and owns thousands of apartments in the city-state.

Carlos Pellas became Nicaragua’s first billionaire rebuilding his family sugar mill and parlaying the proceeds into a new bank, BAC-Credomatic, which, by 2005, was one of the largest financial institutions in Central America. He sold it to General Electric Co. in a deal completed between 2005 and 2010 for about $1.7 billion.

Latin America

His rise to riches was almost interrupted by a violent 1989 plane crash that killed more than 130 people and left his wife with 62 bone fractures and skin melting off her face.

Other Latin America fortunes that emerged include five billionaires from Brazil — Joesley, Wesley, Valere, Vanessa and Vivianne Batista — who created the world’s biggest beef producer after making more than $17 billion in acquisitions. Their company, JBS SA, rode the biggest stock rally on Brazil’s Bovespa index this year, jumping 30 percent year-to-date, fueled by surging beef prices and Russia’s lifting of a ban on Brazil meat-processing plants.

A surge in real estate and corporate valuations elevated the fortunes of at least five Blackstone Group LP billionaires. Co-founder and chairman Stephen Schwarzman added $926 million as the company rose 7.6 percent. The performance, along with surging art values, made James Tomilson Hill, Blackstone’s vice chairman who runs the company’s $64 billion hedge fund business, a billionaire. Jonathan Gray, who runs the firm’s real estate division, is worth $1.5 billion.

Strong Dollar

Real estate is seen as one way the wealthy could make further gains in 2015.
“The fact that interest rates are going to remain low, there might be some opportunities, especially with residential real estate in Europe,” Efrat Peled, the chairman of Arison Investments, said in a phone interview from her office in Tel Aviv.

Peled, who manages more than $2.5 billion in assets for Shari Arison, says a strong U.S. dollar should give some foreign markets a boost.

“Exports are better when the dollar is strong,” she said.

Whether interest rates stay low remains a looming question moving into 2015. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen appears poised to raise interest rates for the first time in almost a decade, and prognosticators are convinced Treasury yields have nowhere to go except up. Their calls for higher yields next year are the most aggressive since 2009, when U.S. debt securities suffered record losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Billionaire Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. in 2014.

USA Today: US print newspapers break-ups without financial support


Gannett, publisher of USA Today and dozens of other newspapers, became the latest to unveil its plan, splitting its print and broadcast operations into two separate units in a move to ‘sharpen’ the focus of each. – AFP

Washington (AFP) – Following an unprecedented series of spinoffs by major US media companies, the print news industry now faces a rocky future without financial support from deep-pocketed parent firms.

The wave of corporate breakups comes with newspapers and magazines struggling in a transition to digital news, and shareholders of media conglomerates increasingly intolerant of the lagging print segment.

Gannett, publisher of USA Today and dozens of other newspapers, became the latest to unveil its plan, splitting its print and broadcast operations into two separate units in a move to “sharpen” the focus of each.

This follows the recently completed spinoff by Tribune Co. of its newspaper group, which includes the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune, and Time Warner’s separation of its magazine publishing group Time Inc.

Two other newspaper groups, EW Scripps and Journal Communications, announced last month they would merge and then spin off their combined newspaper operations while creating a separate entity focused on broadcasting and digital media.

The trend arguably took hold last year with Rupert Murdoch’s split of his empire into separate firms focused on media-entertainment and publishing — 21st Century Fox and the newly structured News Corp.

– ‘Cast out of house’ –

The wave of spinoffs “certainly plays into the perception that these are children being cast out of the house by their parents,” said Mark Jurkowitz, associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project.

Newspapers were snapped up by media groups in an era when print was hugely profitable, but other segments of the media conglomerates are now driving profits, such as local television.

“The market doesn’t think much of the newspaper industry’s future,” Jurkowitz said.

Industry consultant Alan Mutter argues that publicly traded newspaper firms still produce an average profit margin of 16 percent, higher than that of Walmart and Amazon.

But Mutter said on his blog that profits and newsroom staffing have taken a huge hit in recent years, and that newspapers have failed to do enough in the digital arena.

“Rather than reliably ‘owning’ their audiences as they once did in print, the internal metrics at every newspaper show an increasing dependence on the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter to generate the traffic that is the lifeblood of any media enterprise,” he said.

Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University, said newspapers are recovering from the negative impact of earlier corporate tie-ups.

“It’s really corporate debt and the expectations of Wall Street that have done as much to damage the newspapers business as Craigslist,” Kennedy told AFP.

“Newspaper margins are still pretty good. And when you have newspapers owned by private companies without debt, some of them are doing pretty well.”

Some analysts say that the breakup of big media firms may force publishers to create ways to connect with readers online. “The real problem with newspaper industry has not been with the dead tree part, it is the failure to monetize the digital eyeballs,” Jurkowitz said.

“Unless there is an increase in digital revenue streams it’s hard to imaging them getting out of the situation they are in.”

The industry is closely watching the efforts of newspapers like the New York Times, which is experimenting with new digital access plans, and the Washington Post, which under new owner Jeff Bezos has boosted online readership to record highs.

– ‘Not the death phase’ –

Kennedy said that while newspapers may be profitable and an important part of the community, they may not be able to meet Wall Street’s expectations for growth.

“It’s not a growing business,” Kennedy said.

Private owners can still keep the business in the black, said Kennedy, citing the record of Boston Globe’s new owner, sports magnate John Henry.

But he said that newspapers need to make considerable investments “to make a smart transition to digital” in the coming years.

Peter Copeland, a former Scripps Howard News Service editor and general manager who now is a media consultant, said the breakups are logical and generally positive for newspapers.

“It’s better for the newspapers and TV to be separate,” Copeland said. “They were never a match. They are very different businesses.”

Now, he said the owners “will be able to focus 100 percent on the newspapers.”

Copeland said newspapers may end up severing their corporate ties and going back to their roots of local and private ownership.

“Newspapers always had difficulty” being part of corporate empires, said Copeland.

“I think newspapers are entering another phase. It’s not the death phase, it’s just another phase in the life cycle.” – AFP

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