News That Matters
George W. Bush is back. And he’s got a plan! Freedom overseas? Yes it would be nice to be free of George W. Bush’s destructive and costly neocon agenda (and I know many people overseas agree) but sadly the current White House occupant seems to be following the same authoritarian script; Bush hit Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama seems intent to continue expanding the wars into Pakistan and Yemen. On the economy, let’s judge him on his record
Germany refused to share the debt burden of stressed eurozone peers on Tuesday, ignoring two of the most influential international economic bodies which offered support for proposals championed by Paris, Rome and Brussels ahead of a summit. Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, has argued that any co-mingling of eurozone debt would remove incentives for southern economies to adopt structural reforms. The calls from the International Monetary Fund and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development came on the eve of Wednesday’s EU summit.

Asian shares retreated as hopes of fresh measures to tackle Europe’s debt crisis faded ahead of a meeting of European leaders while weak trade figures weighed on Japanese exporters. The MSCI Asia Pacific index slid 1.2 per cent with Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average 1.2 per cent lower, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index down 1 per cent and South Korea’s Kospi Composite index off 1.3 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 1.5 per cent while China’s Shanghai Composite index slipped 0.2 per cent.

Western powers are prepared to offer Iran an “oil carrot” that would allow it to continue supplying crude to Asian customers in exchange for guarantees it is not building an atomic bomb. As the five permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Germany and the European Union prepare for talks with Iranian officials in Baghdad on Wednesday, diplomats and oil executives said Washington and Brussels were likely to hold out the prospect of a possible suspension of an EU insurance ban on ships carrying Iranian oil. They added that the US and EU are not prepared to lift other sanctions including an EU import ban on Iranian oil and also cautioned that a deal is unlikely to be agreed at the meeting.


Singapore has enticed Trafigura, one of the world’s biggest commodities trading houses, to move its legal headquarters from Switzerland to the Asian city state, highlighting the attractions of its low-tax regime and proximity to China.  Trafigura’s relocation is a big boost for Singapore as it challenges the supremacy of Switzerland as the world’s commodities trading hub and fends off competition from other financial centres, such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Dubai.

As debate about a Greek exit from the euro grows, the European crisis is reaching boiling point. There are three sources for the problems of Greece and other peripheral European nations.  The first and most immediate is the fear that Greek banks will convert euro deposits into a new Greek currency. This has prompted withdrawals from not only Greek, but also Spanish and Portuguese banks and sent money flowing to German banks and German government bonds. The second is the unsustainable budget and current account deficits of many of the peripheral countries.

Brazil’s central bank has sold more than $2bn in currency derivatives in its biggest attempt so far this year to prop up the plunging real, scrambling to offset the effects of weaker global growth. After spending more than a year fighting the “currency war” against the strong real in an effort to protect manufacturers, the bank has rapidly reversed policy to stem a 25 per cent drop in the country’s currency against the dollar since July.
Australia is living up to its nickname of “the lucky country,” with a new survey marking it as the happiest industrialized nation in the world based on criteria such as jobs, income and health. Having sidestepped the economic malaise gripping much of Europe and with near-full employment owing to a once-in-a-century resources boom, Australia has come out on top ahead of Norway and the U.S. in the annual Better Life Index compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Countries involved in a U.S.-backed trans-Afghanistan pipeline will sign a commercial agreement Wednesday that is aimed at keeping the much-delayed $7.6 billion project alive. The U.S. has, for almost 20 years, supported the plan to pipe natural gas over 1,800 kilometers from Turkmenistan via Afghanistan to Pakistan and India–commonly referred to as the TAPI pipeline. But the project has gotten nowhere because of the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and commercial disagreements between the partners.

Bank of England policymaker Adam Posen said there is still room left for the Bank of Japan to ease monetary policy further, shrugging off concerns that more purchases of government bonds would lead to perceptions the central bank is financing the budget deficit. Mr. Posen, long a strong advocate for more credit easing by major central banks, also said it made sense for the BOJ to set a higher inflation target and hold itself more accountable for achieving that goal. Speaking as the BOJ started its two-day policy board meeting, Mr. Posen said the central bank shouldn’t be bound by a self-imposed rule on keeping its government-bond holdings below the amount of bank notes in circulation.

Officials from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund arrived in Lisbon Tuesday to begin the fourth evaluation of Portugal’s bailout program amid increasing uncertainty over the future of the euro zone. At stake is a €4 billion ($5.13 billion) tranche of the €78 billion in total loans the country is scheduled to receive until 2014 as long as it keeps to fiscal targets. In addition to looking at the fiscal and structural overhauls being implemented, officials will take a closer look at the latest unemployment figures, which are much higher than initially forecast, according to people familiar with the process.

The failure of Spanish banks to recognize the extent of their bad loans is preventing them from escaping from their current troubles, according to the economist who set up Ireland’s “bad bank” to stabilize the Irish banking sector after the property crash. Peter Bacon, an independent consultant specializing in Irish property markets, was hired by the Irish finance ministry in early 2009 to identify the scale of the country’s banking crisis after its property market collapsed. Mr. Bacon’s report led the authorities to establish the National Asset Management Agency, or NAMA, the “bad bank” that was designed to cleanse Irish banks of the commercial-property loans that had become toxic as a result of the market’s collapse.
China will buy more than 2,500 commercial aircraft between 2011 and 2015, the official Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday, citing the country’s top aviation regulator. Li Jiaxiang, head of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said the purchase would bring the country’s total fleet to more than 4,500 aircraft, according to Xinhua. The news agency didn’t give further details.

Two of the nations that fought hardest for closer ties to Western Europe in recent years may now be glad they didn’t get everything they wanted. With the European Union’s traditional powerhouses stumbling, solid growth in both Poland and Turkey may offer the best opportunities in the region. “Emerging Europe is the cheapest region in the world, trading at three to four times earnings. It’s cheap relative to anything else in the world,” said Sam Vecht, head of the emerging Europe equity team at BlackRock Inc.
Gold eased on Wednesday extending sharp losses made in the previous session as investors were skeptical that an informal European Union meeting later in the day would yield steps to help solve the region’s debt crisis. Gold fell to as low as $1,555.89 an ounce earlier in the day, its lowest level in nearly a week, tracking a weaker euro as investors fretted about the possibility of a Greek exit and its implications for the global economy.

Brent crude had dropped 46 cents to $107.95 a barrel by 0402 GMT and U.S. July crude had fallen 56 cents to $91.29, with economic concerns weighing as the World Bank cut its economic growth forecast for China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer.
Egypt’s decision last month to stop selling natural gas to Israel could be a harbinger of increasingly confrontational Egyptian-Israeli relations, an indication of a worsening Egyptian economy, or both. In any case, the end of the arrangement, which provided 40 percent of Israel’s supply, suggests the need for more Israeli creative thinking and assertive diplomacy — not with Egypt but, counterintuitively, with Turkey and Lebanon.  The Egyptian move would have raised greater concerns just a few years ago than it does today among Israelis, who import 70 percent of natural gas and all of their oil. Then, Israel saw no alternative to a near-complete dependence on other countries to meet its energy needs.
Headline risk from Europe could trip up Wall Street’s bulls Wednesday. As markets looked forward to Wednesday’s European leaders summit, clarification from former Greek Prime Minister Lucas Papademos could also sway sentiment. After the market closed, Papademos told CNBC there are no preparations underway in Greece for possibly exiting the euro, adding that he is not aware of any specific preparations in European institutions or other European countries.

With Japan awash in cheap funding provided by domestic savings and local banks continuing to park their cash in government bonds, analysts tell CNBC the country faces no urgency in dealing with its rising public debt, despite the latest ratings cut by Fitch. The ratings agency downgraded Japan’s sovereign rating by one notch on Tuesday, to A-plus from AA, citing the country’s rising debt-to-GDP ratio. But markets seem to be shrugging off the news; the yen strengthened against the dollar on Wednesday morning and 10-year government bond yields were relatively unchanged at 0.86 percent. The likelihood of a Europe style debt crisis for the world’s third-largest economy remains low, say analysts, because over 90 percent of government debt is domestically owned.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Despite rolling out much more competitive cars, and their continued dominance of trucks, the big three (Ford, Chrysler, General Motors) continue to lose market share to their foreign rivals. In fact, new data from Polk Automotive shows the domestic brands lost share over the last three years in 9 of the 10 biggest states for auto sales. “This data shows that while the domestic automakers have improved in so many areas including quality, styling and safety, this is an extremely competitive market,” said Tom Libby, Senior Automotive Analyst with Polk Automotive. “The reality is the domestic brands need to do more if they want to change this and gain market share.”
The Ontario Securities Commission on Tuesday filed charges against Sino-Forest, a Chinese company that once traded in Toronto, and five of its former executives, saying that the company had overstated its timber resources and misled investigators. The company once had a market value of about $6 billion, but its value quickly spiraled down after Muddy Waters Research last year released an extensive report by a short-seller that called the operation an “established institutional fraud.” Sino-Forest filed for bankruptcy protection in March. Its collapse has raised widespread concerns about investing in Chinese companies with North American listings.
The International Monetary Fund has called on the Bank of England to cut interest rates and resume printing money to boost demand in the economy. It has also asked the UK government to prepare a Plan B for deficit reduction if these measures do not work. In a tough assessment of the UK’s economic prospects, the fund said the economy had not responded as it had hoped and risks of continued stagnation were high. It said “further monetary easing is required” and should happen with more quantitative easing and a cut in the 0.5 per cent interest rate. Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, said in a joint press conference with George Osborne, the chancellor, that the BoE had been “nimble” in its responses, easing monetary policy to support growth.
The 17-country eurozone risks falling into a “severe recession,” the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warned on Tuesday, as it called on governments and Europe’s central bank to act quickly to keep the slowdown from dragging down the global economy. OECD Chief Economist Pier Carlo Padoan warned the eurozone economy could contract by as much as 2% this year, a figure that the Paris-based think tank had laid out as its worst-case scenario in November.
Japan’s trade deficit widened more than expected to 520.3 billion yen ($6.5 billion) in April, data released Wednesday showed, with the gap more than six times the 82.6 billion deficit recorded in March. The result came as exports missed forecasts with a 7.9% year-on-year rise, while imports increased by 8%, according to the Ministry of Finance numbers. A Dow Jones Newswires survey of economists had shown a median expectation for a 483 billion deficit, while exports had been tipped to rise 12.9%. The results showed a divergence among Japan’s top trading partners, as shipments to China fell more than 7% from a year earlier, but U.S. purchases jumped almost 43%. The Japanese yen weakened followed the data, with the U.S. dollar rising to 80.02 from 79.96 ahead of the announcement.
In April, existing home sales were up 3.4% from March to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.6 million, the National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday. They rose 10% from a year ago. Sales were higher in all four regions of the U.S. “April’s numbers reassure us that this market is still on the mend,” says IHS Global Insight economist Patrick Newport. The NAR data show distressed sales were 28% of April’s total, down from 37% a year ago. Fewer distressed home sales, which include foreclosures and short sales, helps values. Distressed homes sold at a 14% to 21% discount in April, vs. non-distressed home sales, NAR says.
The eurozone debt crisis could harm the growth of East Asian economies, the World Bank has warned.  The bank said that a “serious disruption” in the eurozone could hurt growth and dent demand for exports from East Asia. It said that East Asian countries need to boost domestic demand to rebalance their economies and sustain growth. The bank warned that a faster-than-expected slowdown in China was also a threat to the region’s growth

The US could fall off a “fiscal cliff” if tax rises and spending cuts due to take effect at the end of 2012 are not avoided, auditors have said.  The US economy could go in to recession, shrinking at a rate of 1.3% in the first half of 2013, the Congressional Budget Office said. Expiring Bush-era tax cuts are due to be amplified by $1.2tn (£760bn) of spending cuts due on 1 January. Analysts say the issue could provoke a partisan stand-off in election season.

The UK inflation rate fell last month to its lowest since February 2010 owing to a slowdown in transport price rises and the timing of Easter.  The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) measure fell to 3% from 3.5% in March, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said. The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure fell to 3.5% from 3.6% in March. The Bank of England recently said CPI inflation would remain above the 2% target “for the next year or so”.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she finds it “astonishing” that her pro-austerity stance is the cause of controversy, as Germany found itself increasingly isolated on the issue of eurobonds ahead of Wednesday’s European Union leaders summit. The German Chancellor said that the current debate in Europe and beyond “gives the impression that, for us, saving, as such, is pleasurable”. “It’s just about not spending more than you collect. It’s astonishing that this simple fact leads to such debates,” she said in a speech in Berlin.
A leading index for China rose at the same pace in April as the prior month, offering investors some comfort that the world’s second-biggest economy may avoid a deeper slowdown. The gauge increased 0.8 per cent from March to 232.4, the New York-based Conference Board said in an e-mailed statement today, citing a preliminary reading. That compares with a 0.8 per cent gain in March and 1 per cent in February. Wen Jiabao’s government may announce stimulus measures in the near term, the official China Securities Journal said yesterday, a day after the premier pledged to focus more on bolstering growth.

Australia’s economy could be at risk as Europe’s debt crisis threatens China’s export markets, the World Bank says. In its twice yearly update of economic forecasts for East Asia, released on Wednesday, the World Bank warns growth across the region is expected to slow to 7.6 per cent in 2012, down from 8.2 per cent in 2011 and nearly 10 per cent in 2010. China, Australia’s biggest trading partner, is expected to see economic growth slow to 8.2 per cent in 2012, down from 9.2 per cent, before lifting slightly to 8.6 per cent next year.
Efforts by Argentina to fine-tune its economy are forcing miners to reassess investment plans in the Andean country that is home to massive gold, copper and other resource deposits. Argentina, Latin America’s third-largest economy, has moved aggressively in recent months to stem capital outflows and bolster the market with measures including forced repatriation of export revenue on local markets and requirements for companies to source equipment locally.
Greece would remain in the euro zone if the radical left were to win upcoming Greek elections, anti-austerity leftist leader Alexis Tsipras said in Berlin on Tuesday.  ‘A vote for the left does not mean that we would leave the euro. Quite the opposite, we would keep the euro,’ said the leader of the Syriza party, which is tipped to win another round of elections expected on June 17.  ‘I do not think that a rejection of the austerity programme means that the country would have to leave the euro zone,’ he said, in comments translated into German.  ‘We will try to find solutions at a European level and I am convinced we will be able to succeed,’ he said.
China now has direct access to the U.S. Department of the Treasury to buy U.S. government bonds, though “the buying amount is not significant,” a source close to the central bank told the Global Times yesterday. China can now bypass Wall Street when buying US government debts, and it is the U.S. Treasury’s first-ever direct relationship with a foreign government, Reuters reported Monday, citing the Treasury’s documents. While all the other countries have to go through primary dealers on Wall Street to buy and sell U.S. bonds, China now only has to sell, not buy, through these brokers, Reuters reported. The People’s Bank of China, the country’s central bank, has a direct computer link to the U.S. Treasury’s bond auction system, and China used it to buy two-year notes in late June 2011, the report said.

Hong Kong’s composite Consumer Price Index (CPI) in April rose 4.7 percent from a year ago, easing from March’s increase of 4.9 percent, the city’s statistics department said here Tuesday. A spokesman said with receding domestic and external price pressures amid a more difficult economic environment, and with a slowing local economy, inflation should ease further. Netting out the effects of the city’s government’s one-off relief measures, the year-on-year rate of increase in April’s CPI remained at 5.6 percent, matching March, mainly due to eased increases in food prices and private housing rents. However, eased increase in these prices was offset by faster rise in charges for package tours, the department added.

China will issue specific guidelines on encouraging private investment in more industries after opening the way for private capital to flow into the railway and health sectors, an economic official said Tuesday. Drafting of detailed rules for private investment in the heavily state-controlled and monopolized electricity, oil and natural gas sectors is underway, said an official with the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), the country’s top economic planner. And government departments responsible for housing and construction, water resources, securities market and state-owned assets are also writing rules aimed to boost private investment in those sectors, an unnamed official said.

The Philippine economy is seen to grow 4.2 percent this year on back of strong domestic demand, investment, and increased government spending amid a global slowdown, the World Bank said Wednesday. The Washington-based lender also forecast in its latest East Asia and Pacific Economic Update that Philippine GDP will expand 5 percent in 2013.  Remittances sent by Filipino migrant workers will continue to fuel the consumption-based Philippine economy. Increased public spending and monetary easing policies will likewise support growth. But the World Bank said the government needs to plug holes in its tax system in order to get more revenues and support public spending.

The World Bank cut its economic growth forecast for developing countries in East Asia this year to 7.6 percent on Wednesday. It said that sluggish global demand and the slowing down of China’s economic growth will impact growth in East Asia. Excluding China, the annual growth for developing countries in this region will be 5.2 percent this year.

Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega said Tuesday that his country is ready to cope with any possible ripple effects the eurozone debt crisis may bring about on its economy. The fiscal policies carried out in Europe will “have negative effects not only in the continent but around the world,” Mantega told a Senate hearing, adding that even dynamic economies such as China and India are likely to experience some deceleration if the crisis worsens. The Brazilian economy has a solid fiscal situation, large foreign reserves and a strong domestic market to fall back on if demand from Europe dwindles, Mantega noted.

Latin America’s biggest economies will experience more moderate growth in 2012, according to a report released Tuesday by global rating agency Fitch Ratings. The report on the region’s economic outlook underscored a few of the factors that will slow growth, including weakening external demand, risk aversion in developed economies, and price volatility of basic goods. Other factors include the lack of economic recovery in the United States, and dwindling European demand, all of which will contribute to weakening the growth of Latin American exports. Several of Latin America’s larger economies, such as Brazil and Mexico, are combating these external factors with positive measures, including boosting their foreign currency reserves. Their stable banking systems and flexible economic policies also help, said Fitch.
India’s mounting economic and political woes are prompting market players to raise the spectre of a crisis in Asia’s third largest economy.  Talk of a Greek-style crisis in which the government struggles to pay back its debts is overdone – the country has a manageable foreign currency debt and ample foreign currency reserves. But the corporate and financial sectors have borrowed in foreign currencies and would be hit by any depreciation of the rupee.  Last Friday, the rupee crashed to an all-time low against the dollar of Rs54.9 and it was stuck most of Tuesday at the psychologically significant Rs55/USD level, where the currency is seen as having no obvious technical support. And the implications of a rupee collapse would be immense.

The World Bank cut its economic growth forecast for China this year to 8.2 percent from 8.4 percent on Wednesday and urged the country to rely on easier fiscal policy that boosts consumption rather than state investment to lift activity. In a biannual East Asia and Pacific economic update, the World Bank said a slowing China will drag growth in emerging East Asia to two-year lows this year, but warned Europe’s seething debt crisis could inflict even bigger damage if it worsens. Sluggish U.S. and European demand and a softening Chinese property market would combine to weigh on the Chinese economy in the near term, it said.
The bad loan ratio of banks in South Korea rose in April from the previous month due to a rise in fresh loan delinquency numbers caused by the sluggish economy and weak property market, the financial watchdog said Wednesday. Local banks’ non-performing loans accounted for 1.21 percent of their total lending as of the end of April, up 0.12 percentage point from a month earlier, according to the Financial Supervisory Service (FSS). It said there was a 700 billion won increase in new bad loans along with an overall rise in outstanding delinquent loans, which rose to 13.1 trillion won from 11.7 trillion won recorded the previous month.
President Vladimir Putin has made the Federal Financial Monitoring Service answerable to him in a new decree on the structure of federal bodies of executive power. That service, commonly known as Rosfinmonitoring, deals with money laundering. In particular, it coordinates agencies to combat laundering, collects information on monitored financial transa ctions, conducts inspections and can suspend financial operations.  If its officers conclude that a crime has been committed, their materials are forwarded to law enforcement.
The South African Reserve Bank’s monthly economic sentiment indicator increased by 0.1% to 134.5 points in March compared with February, mainly boosted by a rise in job advertisement space, a report showed on Tuesday.  The indicator collates data such as business confidence, job advertisements and the volume of manufacturing orders to gauge the economic outlook. It has gradually picked up since September last year.
Iran will complete drilling an exploratory well in the northeastern areas, hoping to find new natural gas deposits, said the National Iranian Oil Company’s director for exploration. “The exploratory well has reached 2,850 meters deep into ground up to now,” Mahmoud Mohaddes said, the Mehr News Agency reported. Initial studies indicate there are deposits of natural gas in the region, Mohaddes added.  Iran ranks the fourth worldwide with 155 billion barrels of recoverable oil reserves, next to Venezuela, Saud Arabia and Canada.
Arab and Indian leaders have gathered to explore how the longstanding, lucrative relationship between their countries can be further expanded at the third edition of the Arab-India Partnership Conference: Development through Trade & Investment. Shaikha Lubna Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade, opened the two-day conference at Etihad Towers in Abu Dhabi. The opening ceremony was also attended by Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, UAE Minister of Economy and a number of ministers of trade and industry from the Arab countries and India. The forum is being held under the patronage of UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs Shaikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Experts expect India-Middle East trade to increase by 34 per cent in the next year, making it one of the world’s fastest growing trade corridors.


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