|From: Sam Citron||1/11/2010 11:24:22 PM|
|As China Rises, Fears Grow on Whether Boom Can Endure [nyt]|
By MICHAEL WINES
BEIJING — As much of the world struggles to clamber out of a serious recession, a gradual flow of economic power from West to East has turned into a flood.
New high points, it seems, are reached daily. China surged past the United States to become the world’s largest automobile market — in units, if not in dollars, figures released Monday show. It also toppled Germany as the biggest exporter of manufactured goods, according to year-end trade data. World Bank estimates suggest that China — the world’s fifth-largest economy four years ago — will shortly overtake Japan to claim the No. 2 spot.
The shift of economic gravity to China has occurred partly because growth here remained robust even as the world’s developed economies suffered the steepest drop in trade and economic output in decades.
But that did not happen by chance: China’s decisive government intervention in the economy, combined with the defiant optimism of its companies and consumers, has propelled an economy that until recently had seemed tethered to the health of its major export markets, including the United States.
Beijing’s state-run news media, indulging in a moment of self-congratulation, have hailed China’s new economic prominence as proof of national superiority.
The country’s economic miracle, the newspaper People’s Daily boasted last week, exists because its leaders — unlike those in other, unnamed nations — can make quick decisions and ensure underlings carry them out. The Great Recession, the newspaper said, has laid bare cracks in plodding Western-style capitalism.
Yet China confronts a number of challenges about its recent surge, including whether its formula for growth is sustainable, and how it will manage its increasingly strained economic relations with the outside world. Those are likely to prove challenging issues for a leadership unaccustomed to making policy under an international spotlight.
Sustaining a global-size economy is nowhere near as simple as building one, some Chinese and Western economists say. As the Chinese navigate toward a bigger role in the world financial system, they are already running into diplomatic and political headwinds.
At home, ordinary citizens and economists alike worry that the government’s decision to flood the economy with cash has created speculative bubbles — in housing, in lending — that could burst with disastrous effect. But curbing speculation requires moves, such as raising interest rates, that could crimp the sprees of investment and industrial expansion that are the main contributors to growth.
Abroad, the pressure on China to revalue its currency, the renminbi, is strengthening, and it seems sure to intensify after trade statistics released Sunday showed that China’s yearlong downturn in export growth reversed in December. Keeping the renminbi fixed at a low rate against the dollar boosts China’s exports and its economy. But increasingly, it angers its trade partners.
China once could wave off complaints about its currency policies, arguing that it was a developing nation entitled to a bit of slack from its Western customers. But with the world’s fastest-growing economy — and more than $2 trillion in foreign reserves — that argument looks increasingly untenable.
“At a time when you’ve got 10 percent unemployment in the U.S. and a very slow and gradual global recovery — and China seems to be skyrocketing — the pressure on the Chinese to change some of these policies, including the exchange-rate policy, is really going to grow this year,” said Nicholas Consonery, a China analyst at Eurasia Group, a New York-based political risk research firm.
In theory, China’s growing economic clout should benefit everyone: in an interconnected world, growing trade creates jobs and money everywhere.
“China’s extremely important, no doubt about it. And over all, the more important China becomes, the better it is for the American economy,” Scott Kennedy, who heads the Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business at Indiana University, said in an interview.
That Shanghai-assembled iPod, Mr. Kennedy said, is the product of American research and design and marketing, and most of the proceeds from its sale go back into American coffers. But China’s rise also poses new risks both for Beijing and for its trading partners.
Its largely bruise-free journey through last year’s economic crisis aside, not everyone is convinced that Beijing has eliminated threats to its financial and economic health.
Hit hard by an initial drop in exports that was frighteningly steep for a leadership that has long promised and delivered fast growth, China poured $585 billion in stimulus money into its domestic economy. Officials also ordered state-run banks to increase their lending by double that amount, triggering a spree of easy money that created jobs for migrant factory workers and fueled rises in the price of assets, like stocks and real estate.
Some experts fear that too much of the stimulus money was put into unprofitable projects and bad loans that will be exposed in a few years. In that view, China’s 2009 boom, in which automakers sold nearly 14 million cars and trucks, and housing prices doubled, is really a sign of an overheated economy at risk of serious recession down the road.
Judged by the numbers, China’s economy still looks robust. In Beijing, officials said, per capita gross domestic product is expected to exceed $4,000 this year, a 10 percent jump from 2009. Last month, the value of China’s exports leaped by nearly a third over the same month in 2008 — and imports jumped 55 percent, pointing toward growth in manufacturing.
But a Chinese economic crisis, which could have been shrugged off a few years ago, would be a considerably more serious event in a world in which Beijing runs the second-largest economy.
The government appears concerned. Last week, the central bank edged up the rate on an often-watched interbank loan, the first such hike in five months. That seemed to signal concern that the economy was expanding too quickly.
Many experts see few signs of immediate danger. After all, they note, China has gone on splurges before — building too many steel mills, and too many office buildings — only to see the nation’s breakneck growth sop up the excess capacity. With nearly a billion people still clawing to advance beyond peasant status, they say, China’s growth story has many chapters ahead.
Mr. Kennedy, the Indiana University expert, said he was less certain that endless growth is such a panacea. “No one defies economic laws,” he said. “Eventually you get it, whether you want it or not.”
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|From: Sam Citron||2/25/2010 12:46:25 PM|
|Banks Bet Greece Defaults on Debt They Helped Hide [NYT]|
By NELSON D. SCHWARTZ and ERIC DASH
Bets by some of the same banks that helped Greece shroud its mounting debts may actually now be pushing the nation closer to the brink of financial ruin.
Echoing the kind of trades that nearly toppled the American International Group, the increasingly popular insurance against the risk of a Greek default is making it harder for Athens to raise the money it needs to pay its bills, according to traders and money managers.
These contracts, known as credit-default swaps, effectively let banks and hedge funds wager on the financial equivalent of a four-alarm fire: a default by a company or, in the case of Greece, an entire country. If Greece reneges on its debts, traders who own these swaps stand to profit.
“It’s like buying fire insurance on your neighbor’s house — you create an incentive to burn down the house,” said Philip Gisdakis, head of credit strategy at UniCredit in Munich.
As Greece’s financial condition has worsened, undermining the euro, the role of Goldman Sachs and other major banks in masking the true extent of the country’s problems has drawn criticism from European leaders. But even before that issue became apparent, a little-known company backed by Goldman, JP Morgan Chase and about a dozen other banks had created an index that enabled market players to bet on whether Greece and other European nations would go bust.
Last September, the company, the Markit Group of London, introduced the iTraxx SovX Western Europe index, which is based on such swaps and let traders gamble on Greece shortly before the crisis. Such derivatives have assumed an outsize role in Europe’s debt crisis, as traders focus on their daily gyrations.
A result, some traders say, is a vicious circle. As banks and others rush into these swaps, the cost of insuring Greece’s debt rises. Alarmed by that bearish signal, bond investors then shun Greek bonds, making it harder for the country to borrow. That, in turn, adds to the anxiety — and the whole thing starts over again.
On trading desks, there is fierce debate over what exactly is behind Greece’s recent troubles. Some traders say swaps have made the problem worse, while others say Greece’s deteriorating finances are to blame.
“This is a country that is issuing paper into a weakening market,” said Ashish Shah, co-head of credit strategy at Barclays Capital, referring to Greece’s need for continual borrowing.
But while some European leaders have blamed financial speculators in general for worsening the crisis, the French finance minister, Christine Lagarde, last week singled out credit-default swaps. Ms. Lagarde said a few players dominated this arena, which she said needed tighter regulation.
Trading in Markit’s sovereign credit derivative index soared this year, helping to drive up the cost of insuring Greek debt, and, in turn, what Athens must pay to borrow money. The cost of insuring $10 million of Greek bonds, for instance, rose to more than $400,000 in February, up from $282,000 in early January.
On several days in late January and early February, as demand for swaps protection soared, investors in Greek bonds fled the market, raising doubts about whether Greece could find buyers for coming bond offerings.
“It’s the blind leading the blind,” said Sylvain R. Raynes, an expert in structured finance at R&R Consulting in New York. “The iTraxx SovX did not create the situation, but it has exacerbated it.”
The Markit index is made up of the 15 most heavily traded credit-default swaps in Europe and covers other troubled economies like Portugal and Spain. And as worries about those countries’ debts moved markets around the world in February, trading in the index exploded.
In February, demand for such index contracts hit $109.3 billion, up from $52.9 billion in January. Markit collects a flat fee by licensing brokers to trade the index.
European banks including the Swiss giants Credit Suisse and UBS, France’s Société Générale and BNP Paribas and Deutsche Bank of Germany have been among the heaviest buyers of swaps insurance, according to traders and bankers who asked for anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.
That is because those countries are the most exposed. French banks hold $75.4 billion worth of Greek debt, followed by Swiss institutions, at $64 billion, according to the Bank for International Settlements. German banks’ exposure stands at $43.2 billion.
Trading in credit-default swaps linked only to Greek debt has also surged, but is still smaller than the country’s actual debt load of $300 billion. The overall amount of insurance on Greek debt hit $85 billion in February, up from $38 billion a year ago, according to the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, which tracks swaps trading.
Markit says its index is a tool for traders, rather than a market driver.
In a statement, Markit said its index was started to satisfy market demand, and had improved the ability of traders to hedge their risks. The index and similar products, it added, actually make it easier for buyers and sellers to gauge prices for instruments that are traded among players over the counter, rather than on exchanges.
“These indices have helped bring transparency to the sovereign C.D.S. market,” Markit said. “Prior to their creation, there was no established benchmark index enabling investors to track the performance of segments of the sovereign C.D.S. market.”
Some money managers say trading in Greek swaps alone, not the broader index, is the problem.
“It’s like the tail wagging the dog,” said Markus Krygier, senior portfolio manager at Amundi Asset Management in London, which has $40 billion in global fixed-income assets. “There is a knock-on effect, as underlying positions begin to seem riskier, triggering risk models and forcing portfolio managers to sell Greek bonds.”
If that sounds familiar, it should. Critics of these instruments contend swaps contributed to the fall of Lehman Brothers. But until recently, there was little demand for insurance on government debt. The possibility that a developed country could default on its obligations seemed remote.
As a result, many foreign banks that held Greek bonds or entered into other financial transactions with the government did not hedge against the risk of a default. Now, they are scrambling for insurance.
“Greece is not a small country,” said Mr. Raynes, at R&R in New York. “Credit-default swaps give the illusion of safety but actually increase systemic risk.”
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|From: Sam Citron||6/9/2010 10:19:21 AM|
|Medvedev Amasses Land for ‘Dream’ of Home Ownership (Update2)|
By Anastasia Ustinova
June 9 (Bloomberg) -- President Dmitry Medvedev’s government has acquired almost 2.5 million acres, an area larger than Cyprus, to promote construction of single-family homes and move Russians out of Soviet-style apartment blocks, the official in charge of the effort said.
To achieve that goal, the government will have to change the way people think about housing, said Alexander Braverman, general director of the property fund Medvedev created in 2008 to help developers build homes.
“For a long time our people were trained to live in high- rise apartment buildings, and we have to admit openly that this habit remains,” Braverman said this week in an interview in Moscow. “We’ll have to create a program to stimulate demand, and we’ll begin this work in the near future. Call it the Russian dream. I think we can make this dream come true.”
Medvedev says ownership of single-family homes is the best way to expand Russia’s middle class, creating an engine for economic and demographic expansion. Billionaire Mikhail Gutseriev’s Mospromstroi and Alexander Lebedev’s National Housing Corp. are lining up to profit from the boom if the president succeeds in creating a market.
‘Cooped Up’ in Apartments
Seventy-seven percent of Russia’s 142 million people are “cooped up” in apartments, a legacy of Soviet policies that “excluded everything oriented toward the individual,” Medvedev said in April 2008 as he unveiled his home-building program. In the U.S., 67 percent of homes are owner-occupied, according to the Census Bureau.
At least 14 million square meters of housing will be under construction next year on land owned by the Federal Fund for the Promotion of Housing Construction Development, Braverman said. That will rise to 20 million square meters in 2012, or about 30 percent of residential construction volume.
“We think that people who have their own homes, driveways and careers are fundamentally different than those who don’t have these things,” Braverman said. “The person who has something to defend is a different kind of person.”
To overcome the legacy of Soviet collectivism, the fund plans an advertising blitz including TV, print and billboards to persuade Russians of the advantages of home ownership, he said.
Medvedev’s plan looks like the “American dream” of home ownership turned upside-down, said Nadezhda Kosareva, president of the Institute of Urban Economics, a research group in Moscow.
“In the U.S. in the 1960s, the demand for homes came first and the government provided the rest, while in Russia the government is trying to push the idea from above,” she said.
Medvedev’s home-ownership drive has been hampered by mortgage rates that averaged 13.8 percent on 83.7 billion rubles ($2.6 billion) of loans since the start of the year, central bank data show.
To spur borrowing, the government is providing 11 percent home loans subsidized by the federal mortgage agency, Braverman said. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in February that rates are too high for many potential borrowers and the government will spend 250 billion rubles this year to reduce them.
Medvedev insisted the homes built under the program be affordable, naming a figure of 20,000 rubles ($631) a square meter. Braverman later quoted a price of 30,000 rubles. The average May residential property price on Moscow’s secondary market was $4,406 per square meter, according to the Indicators of Property Market.
“There’s a terrible need for affordable housing in Russia,” said Nuri Katz, chief executive officer of Century 21 Russia. “The question is how much money the government can afford to give out to support the mortgage business.”
The government incentives aren’t likely to spur lending on a big scale, Katz said.
“It’s a simple real estate rule: Without the widespread availability of affordable mortgages, there will be no widespread availability of affordable housing,” Katz said.
Braverman’s fund has auctioned off the rights to develop 29 parcels of land nationwide, and plans 46 more this year. To attract developers, the fund guarantees it will buy as much as 35 percent of the homes built, Braverman said.
“We have no problem with demand” from developers, he said. “We strive to reduce risks on our properties, but the rate of return remains the same, so investors are interested. The enormous volume and potential of the market also makes us attractive.”
The fund is “absolutely open” to foreign investors, Braverman said.
Mospromstroi, the builder controlled by the Gutseriev family’s BIN Group, according to Forbes magazine, won auctions to develop more than 36 hectares near Moscow. Gutseriev’s fortune is estimated at $2.2 billion by Forbes.
National Housing Corp. has 10 plants with a capacity to make 20,000 prefabricated homes a year. Even so, Lebedev says he needs state aid.
“People can’t buy houses because they don’t have enough money,” Lebedev said in an interview. “I want to lower the price to make it affordable for them, but the company has to generate profit. I can’t do it alone.”
The number of middle-class Russians, those with monthly disposable incomes of more than $1,000, fell about 48 percent last year to about 13.6 million people, or roughly 9.6 percent of the population, Vladimir Osakovsky, an economist UniCredit SpA, said on May 20. The middle class will recover to its “pre- crisis peak” in 2011 and double by 2013, according to Osakovsky.
Lebedev, whose fortune Forbes estimates at $2 billion, said he has invested more than 200 million euros ($239 million) in the factories, and is looking for partners, including the state.
The fund “would be happy to work with him, but under the general guidelines” for all developers, Braverman said. “Our basic position is that we don’t build.”
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|From: Sam Citron||6/10/2010 2:07:02 PM|
|Women Prefer Men Holding State Bonds, Japan Ad Says (Update1)|
By Wes Goodman and Theresa Barraclough
June 9 (Bloomberg) -- Japanese women are seeking men who invest in government bonds, according to an advertisement being run by the Ministry of Finance.
“I want my future husband to be diligent about money,” a 27-year-old woman says in an ad being run in free magazines promoting a fixed-rate, three-year note that Japan started selling last week. “Playboys are no good.” She’s one of five women featured in the page, which says “Men who hold JGBs are popular with women!!”
The ministry commissioned the ads to appeal to citizens for money at a time when record government borrowing threatens to outstrip demand. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who took office yesterday, said he doesn’t have an instant fix to rein in the world’s largest public debt.
The government’s plan to attract marrying-age men comes after a campaign aimed at retirees started last August. That push featured Junko Kubo, a former anchor on Japan’s public broadcaster NHK, in ads placed in the backs of taxi cabs. Kubo followed Koyuki, an actress and model who in 2003 appeared in “The Last Samurai” with Tom Cruise as well as posters for government bonds.
“It strikes of desperation,” Christian Carrillo, a senior interest-rate strategist in Tokyo at Societe Generale SA said about the ad campaign. “I doubt this will be a successful strategy to attract retail investors.”
Individuals can buy government debt at local banks for 10,000 yen ($109) according to the ads. The finance ministry in 2002 hired Koushiro Matsumoto, an actor in Kabuki theater, and model Norika Fujiwara in its bond campaigns.
Japan’s government debt amounted to a record 882.9 trillion yen as of March 31, according to the Ministry of Finance. A 600 billion yen sale of 30-year bonds yesterday attracted bids for 2.25 times the amount on offer, the least since April 2004.
Japan has the world’s largest bond market, followed by the U.S., based on a ranking of 35 nations by the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland, using data through September 2009. Kan, the former finance minister, takes office facing a debt burden that has increased by almost 80 percent in a decade and it is equivalent to 180 percent of the nation’s annual economic output.
“I don’t think fiscal rehabilitation can be done overnight,” he told reporters last week.
Moody’s Investors Service rates Japan’s debt at Aa2, the third-highest investment grade, with a stable outlook. Standard & Poor’s cut the outlook on Japan’s AA grade in January, citing diminishing “flexibility” to cope with the nation’s swelling debt load.
Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s decision to quit last week “has no credit implications, but that in itself is positive news, given reports that Japan’s ship of state is rudderless,” Thomas Byrne, senior vice president of Moody’s, wrote in a statement released June 7.
“The world is full of dirty shirts in terms of excessive debt,” Bill Gross, who runs the world’s biggest bond fund at Newport Beach, California-based Pacific Investment Management Co., said in an interview June 4.
Japanese households have started to cut their holdings of the nation’s debt. Their ownership of government securities declined to 35 trillion yen as of Dec. 31 from a record 36.7 trillion yen a year earlier, according to the Bank of Japan.
Masaaki Kaizuka, director of debt management at the Ministry of Finance, aims to change that.
The ministry started selling three-year bonds tailored for individuals on June 3, after conducting a market survey that showed pent-up demand for shorter-term securities, Kaizuka said.
“What we can do is try to attract an untouched group of people to find a different sort of investor,” Kaizuka said. Shorter bonds are seen as safer because they mature faster.
This campaign for JGBs was crafted by Dentsu Inc., Japan’s largest advertising company, which the ministry chose through an annual bidding process, Kaizuka said.
“Retail government bonds, which provide the peace of mind that women want, are now available in three-year maturities with a fixed rate,” the ad says.
The bonds are called “Kotei3,” meaning “Fixed3” because they mature in three years.
Japanese government securities maturing in 2013 yield 0.176 percent as of 3:26 p.m. in Tokyo, versus 1.20 percent for same- maturity debt in the U.S.
The yield turns to about 1.38 percent in Japan after accounting for falling prices in the economy. The so-called real yield in the U.S. is negative 1 percent.
Japan’s bonds handed investors a 1.32 percent gain this year, versus 3.96 percent for sovereign debt globally, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch indexes.
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|From: Sam Citron||6/15/2010 10:29:48 AM|
|The Rise of a Chinese Worker's Movement|
Spurred by the Foxconn suicides, and aided by an exploding Internet, China's labor ranks are organizing for higher wages and more rights
By Dexter Roberts
A nondescript Beijing suburb was recently the venue for an evening of radical politics. The New Labor Art Troupe, a performance group with a cast of laborers, ran a graphic photo of a Foxconn worker who had just killed himself. Poems were read commemorating the hard lives of migrant workers in electronics factories and on construction sites. A guitar and harmonica were hauled out and songs were sung with titles like Marginalized Life, Industrial Zone, Working Is Our Glory and Our Hell, Get Back Our Wages, and Fighting in Solidarity. Some of the hundred or so assembled migrant workers, many of them employed in small furniture factories around the capital, started crying. The evening ended with the crowd standing up for a Chinese rendition of the The Internationale, the old battle hymn of the worldwide socialist movement. "The atmosphere was militant, but there was no overt criticism of the government," says University of Hawaii political scientist Eric Harwit, who attended the two hour-plus evening performance on May 28. "They seemed really sincere that they were upset about migrant labor working conditions."
The recent Beijing performance is just one example of the rising labor activism now evident in China, activism that asserted itself in recent weeks at the factories of Foxconn and Honda Motor (HMC). It includes groups like New Labor, yet it also encompasses legal aid and other support networks at scores of universities, law firms focused on promoting worker rights, and countless migrant worker aid associations. "Civil society organizations are growing more powerful. They will push China to change," says Li Fan, director of the Beijing-based nongovernmental organization World & China Institute. Li has worked closely with labor groups as well as those pushing grassroots democracy.
The question is whether these groups can spawn a workers' movement that has the organization and mass to challenge factory owners across the country. Until a few years ago the Chinese authorities broke up sporadic workers' protests with relative ease: Local officials arrested a few ringleaders, then quickly offered concessions to the rest of the strikers to stop the unrest. Above all else, the Chinese security apparatus made sure that the leaders of labor protests in Shenzhen, Harbin, and elsewhere didn't connect with each other to form a national movement.
Today's young workers may be harder to corral. China now has 787 million mobile-phone users and 348 million Internet users—and migrant workers in their twenties are far more aware of world developments than their parents. The younger generation can follow labor actions as they unfold, whether in China's northeastern Rust Belt or southern Pearl River Delta. "They have access to information. They use their mobile phones for messaging, to send pictures and video, and to go online," says Chinese Academy of Social Sciences journalism professor Bu Wei, who is researching the use of media by migrant workers.
The more assertive workers have also benefited from a huge push by China's state-run media to popularize knowledge about the tough labor contract law promulgated in 2008. As a result, young workers know what's owed them, whether it be guarantees of double pay for overtime or safer working conditions. "Every worker is a labor lawyer by himself. They know their rights better than my HR officer," says Frank Jaeger, a German factory owner who produces cable connectors in Dongguan in Guangdong Province. Adds Harley Seyedin, president of the American Chamber of Commerce of South China: "There are Internet cafés everywhere, so the workers can get information. They are starting to ask for more. The days of cheap labor are gone."
The workers' ranks are now filled with self-starters like Xu Haitao. A 28-year-old technician in a small metal components factory in Shenzhen, Xu takes a class on labor law and worker rights every Sunday at a local migrant workers support center. "Of course, more and more workers understand their rights these days," says Xu, who surfs labor law sites regularly. "Last year I started using my own computer. Computers are not expensive anymore. I bought the pieces and constructed my own." Xu wants more workers to educate themselves. "Many capitalists and factory managers still abuse our rights," he says. "If all the workers knew the labor law—all 600 million of us—then many factory owners would go bankrupt."
These self-educated workers now have new allies in China's universities. A decade-long effort by Beijing to expand the number of students in China's universities has brought more and more of the rural population—and those with relatives and friends who still work in the factories—onto Chinese campuses. That has driven a wave of support at colleges for migrant workers, points out CASS professor Bu. Students studying law, political science, and social science are forming support groups and even provide legal aid for workers, to a degree not seen before. One of Bu's graduate students, for example, has a brother working for the Foxconn facility near Shanghai.
Many faculty members support their students' activism. "From the Foxconn tragedy, we hear screams coming from the lives of a new generation of migrant workers, warning the entire society to rethink this development model leveraged upon the sacrifice of people's basic dignity," warned an open letter dated May 19 and signed by nine sociologists from prominent schools, including Peking and Tsinghua Universities. "We call for national and local governments to implement practical measures that allow migrant workers to integrate and establish roots in the city...sharing the fruits of economic development they themselves created."
It may be a long summer for Chinese officials trying to contain this unrest. On June 3 more than 20 women workers were detained when police tried to shut down a two-week strike at a formerly state-owned cotton mill in Pingdingshan, Henan. Thousands of workers had stopped operating the looms to express their anger at their factory's privatization and to demand higher wages, reports the Hong Kong-based China Labour Bulletin. Although workers are back on the line at the Honda transmission plant that strikers had shut down, their language is anything but conciliatory. "We call all workers to maintain a high degree of unity and not to allow the capitalists to divide us," the Honda workers declared in a statement released on June 3. "We are not simply struggling for the rights of 1,800 workers, but for the rights of workers across the whole country." On June 7, another Honda plant in China went on strike.
The bottom line: A new, savvier, and more militant generation of workers may start to form a genuine labor movement in China.
Roberts is Bloomberg Businessweek's Asia News Editor and China bureau chief.
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|From: Sam Citron||6/16/2010 9:37:20 AM|
|France and Spain Proceed With Austerity Plans|
June 16, 2010, 6:29 am
The French government proposed a series of measures Wednesday to rein in the budget deficit, including raising the retirement age by two years and increasing income taxes on the rich, Matthew Saltmarsh reports in The New York Times.
Spain also was set to announce contentious plans to shake up its labor market Wednesday, as countries across the euro area respond to investor fears about public finances.
In France, the minimum age for retirement will be lifted gradually by 2018 to 62 from the current 60, the minister for labor, Eric Woerth, told reporters. The government had considered raising the age to 63.
“It looks like a major step forward,” said Jean-Michel Six, chief European economist at Standard & Poor’s. He said the announcement appeared to be a compromise between the demands of investors for deep budget cuts and the need to retain a sense of social equality.
France has been slower than other European countries like Spain, Portugal and Britain to announce fundamental budget changes, partly reflecting the fact that its budget deficit is lower, while investor demand has kept the interest rates that France pays on its debt low relative to most euro-zone countries.
“Working longer is inevitable,” Mr. Woerth said. “All our European partners have done this by working longer. We cannot avoid joining this movement.”
Increasing the minimum age of retirement “respects the fundamental principals of justice,” he said, “an effort must be made by all the French and not just one group.”
The long-awaited shakeup of the French pay-as-you-go pension system included extending the number of years of work required to qualify for a full pension to 41.5 years in 2020 from 41 years in 2012.
The age at which workers who have not made full contributions can receive a pension without penalties will rise gradually to 67 in 2023 from 65 in 2018. Civil servants, who now pay 7.85 percent of their salary in pension contributions, will see their deductions rise to the 10.55 percent paid by private sector employees by 2020.
The government is seeking to hold on to its top-notch credit rating by showing it is serious about reining in spending and borrowing.
The pension system alone is forecast to have a deficit of €32 billion, or $39 billion, this year. That figure would have surged without any changes.
The retirements proposals will save nearly €19 billion in 2018 and should bring the pension system back into credit that year, while the tax increases will bring in €3.7 billion next year, the government said.
President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose rating in opinion polls has been tumbling, “decided to take the cautious approach and spread the reforms over several years to make them less painful,” Mr Six said.
Mr. Sarkozy hopes the changes will demonstrate progress toward cutting the national debt — 78 percent of gross domestic product last year — and enable France to hold onto its AAA sovereign debt rating.
There was a muted reaction to the announcement in financial markets; the yield on the benchmark 10-year French government bond was unchanged around midday Wednesday, while the CAC-40 index in Paris was up 0.3 percent in line with other European markets.
The changes are likely to meet stiff resistance from public sector unions and political opponents of the center-right government.
Leaks of the government’s plans have already sparked angry reactions from the opposition Socialist party and labor unions, which demonstrated against the proposed measures before they were announced and confirmed this week a call for a day of demonstrations and strikes by private and public workers June 24.
Mr. Woerth said he remained “open to discussion” with unions and others affected.
The plan is expected to be debated by lawmakers in September.
In Spain, Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero is facing intense opposition to his economic program. He was to present a plan to improve the labor market Wednesday.
Wary investors have sent Spanish borrowing costs up in recent days, after the Socialist-led government failed to win union backing for measures that it says are crucial for resurrecting the economy and allaying concerns about Spain’s public finances.
The Spanish prime minister is seeking to ease rules allowing lay-offs by employers in economic difficulty, while discouraging an over-reliance on temporary hiring to trim the 20 percent jobless rate, which is the highest in the euro zone.
Employers have said that the proposals do not go far enough, while unions have called for a general strike, although it might not occur until September.
The French government also announced a series of fiscal measures including an increase in income tax on high earners; the top rate would rise to 41 percent from 40 percent to be applied on earnings over €69,783.
In addition, companies would have to pay higher social charges to cover employees medical and unemployment coverage; some tax loopholes would be closed; a tax on home sales will edge up; higher taxes will be applied on stock options and dividends; and taxes on capital gains and investment income will rise slightly.
The shake-up is expected to be the last major legislative change of Mr. Sarkozy’s current five-year term, which expires in 2012.
“He’ll now focus on politics before the election,” Mr. Six of S&P said.
France has forecast a budget deficit of 8 percent of gross domestic product this year and has committed bring the deficit under 3 percent by 2013. Spain, which is in a worse situation, aims to cut its deficit to 9.3 percent of G.D.P. this year and 6 percent in 2011.
Other EU countries have responded to the problem of funding their aging populations already. Britain has announced plans to raise the retirement age to 68 from 65 starting 2044. Germany has agreed to increase the retirement age in steps to 67 from 65 by 2029.
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|From: Sam Citron||7/6/2010 6:05:13 PM|
|Turning East, Turkey Asserts Economic Power [NYT 7.5.10]|
By LANDON THOMAS Jr.
ISTANBUL — For decades, Turkey has been told it was not ready to join the European Union — that it was too backward economically to qualify for membership in the now 27-nation club.
That argument may no longer hold.
Today, Turkey is a fast-rising economic power, with a core of internationally competitive companies turning the youthful nation into an entrepreneurial hub, tapping cash-rich export markets in Russia and the Middle East while attracting billions of investment dollars in return.
For many in aging and debt-weary Europe, which will be lucky to eke out a little more than 1 percent growth this year, Turkey’s economic renaissance — last week it reported a stunning 11.4 percent expansion for the first quarter, second only to China — poses a completely new question: who needs the other one more — Europe or Turkey?
“The old powers are losing power, both economically and intellectually,” said Vural Ak, 42, the founder and chief executive of Intercity, the largest car leasing company in Turkey. “And Turkey is now strong enough to stand by itself.”
It is an astonishing transformation for an economy that just 10 years ago had a budget deficit of 16 percent of gross domestic product and inflation of 72 percent. It is one that lies at the root of the rise to power of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has combined social conservatism with fiscally cautious economic policies to make his Justice and Development Party, or A.K.P., the most dominant political movement in Turkey since the early days of the republic.
So complete has this evolution been that Turkey is now closer to fulfilling the criteria for adopting the euro — if it ever does get into the European Union — than most of the troubled economies already in the euro zone. It is well under the 60 percent ceiling on government debt (49 percent of G.D.P.) and could well get its annual budget deficit below the 3 percent benchmark next year. That leaves the reduction of inflation, now running at 8 percent, as the only remaining major policy goal.
“This is a dream world,” said Husnu M. Ozyegin, who became the richest man in Turkey when he sold his bank, Finansbank, to the National Bank of Greece in 2006. Sitting on the rooftop of his five-star Swiss Hotel, he was looking at his BlackBerry, scrolling down the most recent credit-default spreads for euro zone countries. He still could not quite believe what he was seeing.
“Greece, 980. Italy, 194 and here is Turkey at 192,” he said with a grunt of satisfaction. “If you had told me 10 years ago that Turkey’s financial risk would equal that of Italy I would have said you were crazy.”
Having sold at the top to Greece, Mr. Ozyegin is now putting his money to work in the east. His new bank, Eurocredit, gets 35 percent of its profit from its Russian operations.
Mr. Ozyegin represents the old guard of Turkey’s business elite that has embraced the Erdogan government for its economic successes. Less well known but just as important to Turkey’s future development has been the rapid rise of socially conservative business leaders who, under the A.K.P., have seen their businesses thrive by tapping Turkey’s flourishing consumer and export markets.
Mr. Ak, the car leasing executive, exemplifies this new business elite of entrepreneurs. He drives a Ferrari to work, but he is also a practicing Muslim who does not drink and has no qualms in talking about his faith. He is not bound to the 20th-century secular consensus among the business, military and judicial elite that fought long and hard to keep Islam removed from public life.
On the wall behind his desk is a framed passage in Arabic from the Koran, and he recently financed an Islamic studies program just outside Washington at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., where Mr. Erdogan recently spoke.
Whether he is embracing Islam as a set of principles to govern his life or Israeli irrigation technology for his sideline almond and walnut growing business, Mr. Ak represents the flexible dynamism — both social and economic — that has allowed Turkey to expand the commercial ties with Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria that now underpin its ambition to become the dominant political actor in the region.
Other prominent members of this newer group of business executives are Mustafa Latif Topbas, the chairman and a founder of the discount-shopping chain BIM, the country’s fastest-growing retail chain, and Murat Ulker, who runs the chocolate and cookie manufacturer Yildiz Holding.
With around $11 billion in sales, Yildiz Holding supplies its branded food products not just to the Turkish market but to 110 markets globally. It has set up factories in Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine and now owns the Godiva brand.
The two billionaires have deep ties to the prime minister — Mr. Erdogan once owned a company that distributed Ulker-branded products, and Mr. Topbas is a close adviser — but the trade opportunities in this part of the world are plentiful enough that a boost from the government is now no longer needed.
In June, Turkish exports grew by 13 percent compared with the previous year, with much of the demand coming from countries on Turkey’s border or close to it, like Iraq, Iran and Russia. With their immature manufacturing bases, they are eager buyers of Turkish cookies, automobiles and flat-screen televisions.
This year, for example, the country’s flagship carrier, Turkish Airlines, will fly to as many cities in Iraq (three) as it does to France. Some of its fastest growing routes are to Libya, Syria and Russia, Turkey’s largest trading partner, where it flies to seven cities. That is second only to Germany, which has a large population of immigrant Turks.
In Iran, Turkish companies are building fertilizer plants, making diapers and female sanitary products. In Iraq, the Acarsan Group, based in the southeastern town of Gaziantep, just won a bid to build five hospitals. And Turkish construction companies have a collective order book of over $30 billion, second only to China.
On the flip side, the Azerbaijani government owns Turkey’s major petrochemicals company and Saudi Arabia has been a big investor in the country’s growing Islamic finance sector.
No one here disputes that these trends give Mr. Erdogan the legitimacy — both at home and abroad — to lash out at Israel and to cut deals with Iran over its nuclear energy, moves that have strained ties with its chief ally and longtime supporter, the United States. (Turkey has exported $1.6 billion worth of goods to Iran and Syria this year, $200 million more than to the United States.)
But some worry that the muscle flexing may have gone too far — perhaps the result of tightening election polls at home — and that the aggressive tone with Israel may jeopardize the defining tenet of Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk: peace at home, peace in the world.
“The foreign policy of Turkey is good if it brings self-pride,” said Ferda Yildiz, the chairman of Basari Holding, a conglomerate that itself is in negotiations with the Syrian government to set up a factory in Syria that would make electricity meters.
Even so, he warns that it would be a mistake to become too caught up in an eastward expansion if it comes at the expense of the country’s longstanding inclination to look to the West for innovation and inspiration.
“It takes centuries to make relations and minutes to destroy them,” he said.
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|From: Julius Wong||8/2/2010 12:09:12 PM|
|New Silk Road by China Binds Asia to Latin America (Update1) |
By Simon Kennedy, Matthew Bristow and Shamim Adam
Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) -- The high-speed rail link China Railway Construction Corp. is building in Saudi Arabia doesn’t just connect the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It shows how Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America are holding the world economy together.
Ties between emerging markets form what economists at HSBC Holdings Plc and Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc call the “new Silk Road” -- a $2.8-trillion version of the Asian-focused network of trade routes along which commerce prospered starting in about the second century.
Today’s world-spanning web is insulating markets such as China from the drag of weak recoveries in the advanced world and providing global growth with a new power source. Stephen King, HSBC’s chief economist, predicts the relationships will strengthen and lists them as a reason for his forecast that emerging markets will grow about three times faster than rich nations this year and next on average.
“The potential for inter-emerging market trade is ginormous,” said Jim O’Neill, chief economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. in London, who coined the term BRIC in 2001 to describe the rising role of Brazil, Russia, India and China. “That makes it quite difficult to see how you get a sustained global recession because of what’s going on in the west.”
Share of Trade
The BRIC economies hold a 13 percent share of world trade and have been responsible for about half of global growth since the start of the financial crisis in 2007, according to O’Neill. He predicted the BRICs will grow about 9 percent this year and next compared with 2.6 percent in advanced nations.
Investors are tuning in. Research by Kieran Curtis, who helps oversee $2 billion at Aviva Investors in London, found growing trade between emerging markets helps explain why they now account for about 30 percent of global final consumption, about the same as the U.S. and up from 10 percent in 1990.
That should increase demand for the Chinese yuan if the government continues to loosen restrictions on settling trade transactions with its currency, he said.
“Go to a market in Nairobi and you’ll see Chinese goods on sale,” Curtis said. “If emerging market fundamentals continue to be superior, there is the potential for serious currency appreciation against old-guard currencies.”
China’s government signaled June 19 that it will allow a more flexible exchange rate. So far, it’s limited the yuan’s rise to less than 1 percent against the dollar after allowing a 21 percent appreciation in the three years to July 2008.
Jerome Booth, who helps oversee $33 billion of emerging- market assets as head of research at Ashmore Investment Management Ltd. in London, said emerging markets are increasingly starting to denominate trade contracts in currencies other than dollars as commerce between them rises.
Commodity prices that may have been dropped in the past when advanced nations grew less are now cushioned by trade between emerging markets, said Dariusz Sliwinski, head of emerging markets at Martin Currie Investment Management in Edinburgh.
“Commodity prices would have been much lower without the support, which is good for the likes of Russia and Brazil,” said Sliwinski, who helps manage about $15 billion.
Royal Bank of Scotland Chief China Economist Ben Simpfendorfer in Hong Kong says emerging Asian and Middle Eastern economies will account for 75 percent of every extra barrel of oil consumed or produced in the next decade, while copper should gain because it’s a key input in infrastructure and nickel may benefit because of its use in steel.
Impact on Commodities
The Standard & Poor’s GSCI Total Return Index, tracking the net amount investors received from 24 raw materials, climbed 13 percent last year. While the price of oil fell as low as $32.40 a barrel during the recession it has since rebounded, ending last week at $78.95 a barrel. The cost of nickel and copper more than doubled over the same period.
Chu Moon Sung, a fund manager at Shinhan BNP Paribas Asset Management Co. in Seoul, which manages $26 billion, says investors will increase their holdings of emerging-market equities.
“The populations in emerging markets, especially in Asia, are large,” he said. “They are getting more educated and income levels are rising, which make these countries very attractive for companies. China is a favorite for stock investors but we’re seeing more interest in Indian, Brazilian and Russian markets.”
Gains in Trade
The Geneva-based World Trade Organization estimates intra- emerging market trade rose on average by 18 percent per year from 2000 to 2008, faster than commerce between emerging and advanced nations. It totaled $2.8 trillion in 2008, about half of emerging-market trade with all nations.
That performance is especially welcome now given the sluggish recovery in the rich economies, said HSBC’s King, author of “Losing Control: The Emerging Threats to Western Prosperity” and a former U.K. Treasury official.
Chinese exports to the emerging world accounted for about 9.5 percent of gross domestic product in 2008, compared with 2 percent in 1985, he calculated. India’s jumped to 7.3 percent from 1.5 percent and Brazil’s almost doubled to 6.3 percent.
Emerging-market economies will grow 6.9 percent this year and 6.2 percent in 2011, King said, outpacing the 2.4 percent and 1.9 percent projected expansions of developed economies.
“There are now massive trade connections within the emerging markets and they’re becoming increasingly important,” said King in a telephone interview. “It means in one sense the emerging world is protected from the worst ravages of the developed world.”
Those ravages were born in the global recession of 2008-09 from which the advanced world is proving slow to recover, even after policy makers cut interest rates to record lows. That’s prompting businesses and investors to seek other sources of growth.
Of the foreign direct investment flowing into south, east and southeast Asia alone, China was a source of 13.3 percent in 2008, compared with the U.S.’s 7.9 percent and up from 0.4 percent in 1991, according to a report last month from the Geneva-based United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
China, the world’s fastest-growing major economy, dominates the push into fellow emerging markets, passing the U.S. as the biggest exporter to the Middle East in 2008.
Huawei in India
Shenzen-based Huawei Technologies Co., its biggest maker of phone equipment, had orders of $1.7 billion from India in 2008 and said in January that it will invest $500 million in its research center in Bangalore.
China Mobile Ltd. of Hong Kong, the world’s biggest phone carrier, is “interested in doing business in Africa,” where it can boost services in rural areas, Chairman Wang Jianzhou said in a June 26 interview.
Elsewhere in Asia, a group led by Korea Electric Power Corp., South Korea’s largest utility, beat off competition from General Electric Co. and France’s Areva SA to win a $20 billion UAE nuclear contract. The Saudi Railways Organization last month awarded a contract to China South Locomotive and Rolling Stock Corp. to supply 10 cargo locomotives. The Mecca-Medina rail contract went to Beijing-based China Railway as part of a Saudi- Chinese consortium.
Brazil in Africa
In Latin America, Brazil’s Vale SA has been on an international spending spree, helped by booming commodities demand from China and a currency that has doubled against the dollar since 2003. The company estimates that its $1.3-billion coal mine in Mozambique will have a capacity of 11 million tons per year three to four years after it enters production in the first half of 2011.
Vale in 2009 acquired stakes in three copper projects, in Zambia, Africa’s largest producer of the metal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. In April this year, the company agreed to pay $2.5 billion for iron ore deposits in Guinea, including assets the country confiscated from the Rio Tinto Group.
“We saw the same phenomenon with American and European companies 50 to 100 years ago as they went global,” said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital Investors, which manages about $95 billion in Sydney. “Emerging-market companies are now big enough and they have the choice of going to developed countries where they may be more constrained or to the emerging world where the growth potential is.”
They are also jostling with each other. Brazil’s Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA, or Embraer, is braced for increased competition from new Chinese and Russian rivals.
In December 2009, 32 percent of the backlog of orders for Embraer’s medium-range E-Jet airliners was from emerging markets, up from 1 percent in 2005. Over the same period the company’s backlog of orders from North America and Europe fell to 53 percent of the total, down from 91 percent.
“We are selling less, on a proportional basis, to the U.S. and Western Europe, and we have a growth in sales in Latin America, Asia and Asia-Pacific,” said Paulo Cesar, Embraer’s executive vice president-airline market, in a telephone interview.
Embraer is braced for new competition from Russia’s Sukhoi Co. and the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China, or Comac, particularly in their home markets, Cesar said. Both companies are developing civilian airliners.
Middle East Link
Royal Bank of Scotland’s Simpfendorfer, whose book “The New Silk Road: How a Rising Arab World is Turning Away from The West and Rediscovering China” was published last year, says the trade ties between China and the Middle East alone make for a modern Silk Road.
The original was more than 4,000 miles (10,200 kilometers) of trade routes crossing Asia and into southern Europe and north Africa. Based around China’s silk industry and once traveled by Marco Polo, the commerce it enabled also helped power the growth of civilizations from Egypt to Rome.
Governments are seeking to take advantage of the modern version. India said in May that it will open an economic division at its embassy in China’s capital as the two countries seek to increase bilateral trade to $60 billion this year from $43 billion last year. Since taking office in 2003, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has visited about 68 developing nations, more than any of his predecessors.
With trade nevertheless comes tension. Developing economies in Asia and the Middle East accounted for about 45 percent of new anti-dumping investigations reported to the WTO in 2009, up from 22 percent in 1998.
China said in May that India shouldn’t discriminate against Chinese telecommunication products, a month after people with knowledge of the matter said contracts for products from Huawei Technologies and ZTE Corp. were vetoed by India’s government on national security grounds.
MTN Group Ltd., Africa’s largest mobile-phone company, in June halted talks to purchase $10 billion of assets from Orascom Telecom Holding SAE after Algeria’s government blocked a sale of the company’s local unit, the most profitable in the portfolio. Orascom, the biggest mobile-phone company by subscribers in the Middle East, also operates in Bangladesh, Pakistan and Egypt.
There is still scope for ties to strengthen. In a study released last week, the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank concluded “massive bilateral trade” could develop between Latin America and India if tariffs are cut.
Gene Grossman, who succeeded Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke as head of Princeton University’s economics department, sees a repeating pattern of what he called the “home market effect,” in which countries at similar income levels increasingly trade because their consumers have similar tastes and spending power.
India’s Tata Group was the second-largest investor in sub- Saharan Africa in the six years through 2009, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“Once an Indian firm enters and develops expertise based on its sales to its local market it now sees profit opportunities in serving markets elsewhere,” said Grossman.
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|From: Julius Wong||10/13/2010 7:38:43 AM|
|RPT-SPECIAL REPORT-Mongolia's fabled mine stirs Asian frontier|
Wed Oct 13, 2010 2:52am GMT
The new gold rush to develop Mongolia's resources could make it the world's fastest-growing economy over the next five years, according to Renaissance Capital, which projected GDP will almost quadruple to $23 billion by 2013 from $6 billion today. To profit from its untapped iron ore, coal, copper, uranium, silver, and gold deposits, the government needs to build a vast network of roads and railways to ship the inerals out of the country's vast interior. More than 10 "strategically important" deposits are in development including the Dornod uranium deposits, the Asgat silver deposit, and the massive Tavan Tolgoi coal site.
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