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The Global Crisis Reaches China: Unrest Spreads as Growth Stalls

China’s leaders are currently contending with declining demand, rising debt and a real estate bubble. Some factories are laying off workers, suffering financial losses or even closing as orders from crisis-plagued Europe dry up. The economic strains are frustrating workers and consumers in the country, threatening the political establishment and Beijing’s economic miracle.

This October was the third straight month Chinese exports decreased. Along with it, the hopes of German manufacturers that Asia’s growth market might help lift them out of the global crisis as it did in 2008 are also evaporating. This time China faces enormous challenges of its own — a real estate market bubble and local government debt — that could even pose a risk to the global economy.

Related article: Every Chinese Province bankrupt like Greece –  Chinese Regime nearly bankrupt  – 17.11.2011

A police special forces unit appears suddenly. One moment, a worker named Liu* is marching back and forth in front of city hall in Dongguan, China, with about 300 colleagues from the bankrupt factory Bill Electronic. “Give us back the money from our blood and sweat!” they chant.

The next moment, their shouts turn to screams as a few hundred uniformed police with helmets, shields and batons, along with numerous plainclothes security forces, leap out of olive green police vans. The demonstration leaders, including Liu, are rounded up on the side of the street by police dogs. Within just a few minutes’ time, the communist authorities have successfully suffocated the protest.

The men and women, most of them young adults, are packed into yellow buses and hauled back to their factory, where the government exerts massive pressure: By afternoon, they must consent to make do with 60 percent of the wages they are owed by the employment office. Anyone who refuses, officials warn, will receive nothing at all.

The new global crisis has reached China. Debt problems in Europe, the country’s most important trading partner, are starting to dim prospects here in the nation that has effectively become the world’s factory, as well. The unstable United States economy and threat of a trade war between the two superpowers make the situation even more uncertain. As the US presidential election campaign starts too heat up, American politicians are vying to outdo one another in protectionist declarations directed toward their communist rival.

Disillusioned Workers

For Liu, the factory worker, his country’s economic miracle is certainly over for now. Until recently, he worked 12 hours a day assembling accessories for DVD players. But then there was less and less work to do, he says, and a while back, the boss informed workers that fewer orders were coming in from Europe.

After the police break up the demonstration, Liu, now daunted, wanders through his city’s dusty streets, passing row upon row of factories and residential buildings. “We just wanted our full wages, but they set the police on us,” he says. He’s lost his faith in the party and the government.

Especially here in the export region of Guangdong, an experimental laboratory of Chinese capitalism, hardly a day goes by without new bankruptcies or protests. The Yue Chen shoe factory in Dongguan, which produces athletic shoes for a parent company in Taiwan that supplies brands such as New Balance, is in a state of emergency. With orders dropping off, the manufacturer has fired 18 managers. Workers have seen overtime pay eliminated, and normal wages are barely enough to live on. Frustration is so high that some shoe factory workers also went to protest in front of city hall. About 10 of them were injured in the clash with police, some young women from the factory report.

The situation outside the gray factory complex is tense. Thugs in plainclothes guard the entrance, photographing and intimidating anyone who talks to the workers. Inside the factory, the showdown between bosses and employees goes on. Workers sit inactive in cheerless factory rooms. The management has switched off the power in some of the halls where workers normally sew and glue together shoes.

In the rest of China as well, more and more assembly lines are grinding to a halt. In Wenzhou in eastern China, a city known for making cheap lighters, shoes and clothes, a large number of business owners are on the run from their creditors, the private shadow banks that last lent them money. Some of these businesspeople even secretly removed machinery from their factories before taking off.

Demand Drop in Europe and China

China’s showcase industries are also feeling the crunch of the drop in European demand. Suntech Power Holdings, for example, which manufactures solar panels in Wuxi, near Shanghai, reported third-quarter losses of $116 million (€87 million). During the same quarter of the previous year, the company generated $33 million in profits.

Just recently, Asia’s champion exporter was the object of admiration from foreign executives and politicians, a victor in the global financial crisis. Some even believed they’d found a superior alternative to crisis-ridden Western-style market economies in Beijing’s authoritarian-style capitalism.

German carmakers, in particular, let themselves be carried away by China’s growth and made enormous investments. China is Volkswagen’s most important market, and the company hopes to sell 2 million cars there by the end of this year.

But the car boom is slowing. “We haven’t received a single new order in nine days,” admits a smartly dressed salesman at Dongguan’s Porsche dealership. “We’ve never experienced that before.” Many business owners are short on cash, he adds. “They used to mostly pay cash, but now they prefer to buy on credit.”

Cheap Chinese brands such as BYD (“Build Your Dreams”) are also having a harder time selling their cars. Important governmental tax incentives for buying cars ran out last year, and major cities such as Beijing are attempting to ease their congested streets by restricting the number of new automobiles. In October, people in China bought roughly 7 percent fewer cars than in the previous month.

Economic Missteps?

At first, it seemed as if Beijing’s state capitalists had found the magic recipe for endless growth. In 2009, they pumped 4 trillion yuan (the equivalent of €430 billion) — China’s largest stimulus package in history — into building ever more modern highways, train stations and airports. Tax incentives led millions of farmers to purchase refrigerators and computers for the first time.

More or less on the party’s orders, banks threw their money at the people’s feet, and local governments were particularly free about getting themselves into debt. By the end of 2010, outstanding debt stood at 10.7 trillion yuan — nearly a quarter of China’s entire economic output.

Much of these funds went, directly or indirectly, into real estate construction. Local governments discovered that selling land for building made for a lucrative source of revenue — and of collateral, so banks would continue to issue new loans. Thousands of farmers were driven off their fields so that villas and apartment buildings could be built.

Many of those development projects, often megalomaniac undertakings from the start, are now ghost towns. In China’s 15 largest cities in October, the number of newly auctioned building plots decreased by 39 percent compared to October 2010.

While many in the West hold out hope that China can solve the euro and dollar debt crisis with its foreign currency holdings, the rift between rich and poor within the country is growing. The “harmonious society” promised by Hu Jintao, head of the government and of the Communist Party, is at risk.

The country’s central bank has increased interest rates five times since mid-2010 to get inflation under control, while at the same time forcing banks to hold larger reserve funds. Beijing hopes this method will allow it to orchestrate a “soft landing” from its own economic boom. But the maneuver entails risks. Along with the construction industry, the motor driving China’s economy up until now, other sectors such as cement production, steelmaking and furniture construction stand to lose vitality as well.

Part 2: Will Rising Middle Class Turn against Government?

If the real estate bubble bursts, it is sure to turn China’s rising middle class against the government. Until now, the nouveau riche has viewed the Communist Party as a guarantee of their own prosperity. Recently, however, outraged apartment owners organized a demonstration in downtown Shanghai, protesting the decline in the value of their property.

Wang Jiang, 28, points to a nearly complete apartment block in Anting, one of the city’s suburbs. The software company manager bought an apartment on the 16th floor of the building for €138,000 in early September. It was a steep price for 82 square meters (883 square feet), especially since the building is located in an industrial area, hemmed in by factories and highways. But Wang was determined to get in on the boom. He didn’t even take the time to view the housing complex before he bought the apartment. Where else, after all, should he have invested his assets, if not in real estate?

Now China’s state-run banks are paying their customers negative interest and Shanghai’s stock market is considered a high-risk casino, where a few major governmental investors are believed to manipulate exchange rates at will.

Wang’s apartment isn’t even finished yet, but he no longer feels any joy about moving in — not now that the real estate company is offering similar apartments in the same complex for about 20 percent less.

Wang feels he was deceived about his apartment’s resale value. “What are they thinking?” he demands. “Surely they can’t just erase a portion of my assets?”

But they can.

Wang and many other furious apartment owners went to the real estate company’s salesroom to protest the drop in value. Suddenly, Wang relates, someone started smashing the miniature models of apartments. After that, in the blink of an eye, the company’s guards grabbed him and hauled the protesters to the police in minibuses. “We were interrogated until 2 a.m. in the morning,” Wang says. Some of the protesters, he adds, are still in prison and authorities won’t tell their families anything.

A Political Quandary

Whether in Dongguan or Shanghai, cracks seem to be forming everywhere in Chinese society. As long as the one-party dictatorship kept growth in the double digits, most people accepted their lack of freedom. Now, though, Beijing is facing a dilemma. Tough police crackdowns will hardly get the consequences of the stagnating economy under control in the long term. But nor are government subsidies enough to stimulate the economy. It seems neither money nor force will help.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao recently announced a “fine-tuning” of his economic policy: Banks should grant more generous loans, especially to small and medium-sized export companies, he said.

The economic situation now is far more complicated than it was after the 2008 global financial crisis, says economist Lin Jiang. In 2008, Chinese exports collapsed and roughly 25 million migrant workers had to return from factories to their home provinces.

Back in Dongguan, authorities have no cause at the moment to fear any further protest from Liu, the factory worker. He’s too busy looking for a new place to stay. When he lost his job, he also lost his spot in one of the electronics factory’s residences.

* Liu’s name has been changed by the editors in order to protect his identity.

Source: Spiegl Online, 08.12.2011 By Wieland Wagner

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10 Trends for 2011 by Gerald Celente

After the tumultuous years of the Great Recession, a battered people may wish that 2011 will bring a return to kinder, gentler times. But that is not what we are predicting. Instead, the fruits of government and institutional action – and inaction – on many fronts will ripen in unplanned-for fashions.

Trends we have previously identified, and that have been brewing for some time, will reach maturity in 2011, impacting just about everyone in the world.

1. Wake-Up Call In 2011, the people of all nations will fully recognize how grave economic conditions have become, how ineffectual and self-serving the so-called solutions have been, and how dire the consequences will be. Having become convinced of the inability of leaders and know-it-all “arbiters of everything” to fulfill their promises, the people will do more than just question authority, they will defy authority. The seeds of revolution will be sown….

2. Crack-Up 2011 Among our Top Trends for last year was the “Crash of 2010.” What happened? The stock market didn’t crash. We know. We made it clear in our Autumn Trends Journal that we were not forecasting a stock market crash – the equity markets were no longer a legitimate indicator of recovery or the real state of the economy. Yet the reliable indicators (employment numbers, the real estate market, currency pressures, sovereign debt problems) all bordered between crisis and disaster. In 2011, with the arsenal of schemes to prop them up depleted, we predict “Crack-Up 2011”: teetering economies will collapse, currency wars will ensue, trade barriers will be erected, economic unions will splinter, and the onset of the “Greatest Depression” will be recognized by everyone….

3. Screw the People As times get even tougher and people get even poorer, the “authorities” will intensify their efforts to extract the funds needed to meet fiscal obligations. While there will be variations on the theme, the governments’ song will be the same: cut what you give, raise what you take.

4. Crime Waves No job + no money + compounding debt = high stress, strained relations, short fuses. In 2011, with the fuse lit, it will be prime time for Crime Time. When people lose everything and they have nothing left to lose, they lose it. Hardship-driven crimes will be committed across the socioeconomic spectrum by legions of the on-the-edge desperate who will do whatever they must to keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table….

5. Crackdown on Liberty As crime rates rise, so will the voices demanding a crackdown. A national crusade to “Get Tough on Crime” will be waged against the citizenry. And just as in the “War on Terror,” where “suspected terrorists” are killed before proven guilty or jailed without trial, in the “War on Crime” everyone is a suspect until proven innocent….

6. Alternative Energy In laboratories and workshops unnoticed by mainstream analysts, scientific visionaries and entrepreneurs are forging a new physics incorporating principles once thought impossible, working to create devices that liberate more energy than they consume. What are they, and how long will it be before they can be brought to market? Shrewd investors will ignore the “can’t be done” skepticism, and examine the newly emerging energy trend opportunities that will come of age in 2011….

7. Journalism 2.0 Though the trend has been in the making since the dawn of the Internet Revolution, 2011 will mark the year that new methods of news and information distribution will render the 20th century model obsolete. With its unparalleled reach across borders and language barriers, “Journalism 2.0” has the potential to influence and educate citizens in a way that governments and corporate media moguls would never permit. Of the hundreds of trends we have forecast over three decades, few have the possibility of such far-reaching effects….

8. Cyberwars Just a decade ago, when the digital age was blooming and hackers were looked upon as annoying geeks, we forecast that the intrinsic fragility of the Internet and the vulnerability of the data it carried made it ripe for cyber-crime and cyber-warfare to flourish. In 2010, every major government acknowledged that Cyberwar was a clear and present danger and, in fact, had already begun. The demonstrable effects of Cyberwar and its companion, Cybercrime, are already significant – and will come of age in 2011. Equally disruptive will be the harsh measures taken by global governments to control free access to the web, identify its users, and literally shut down computers that it considers a threat to national security….

9. Youth of the World Unite University degrees in hand yet out of work, in debt and with no prospects on the horizon, feeling betrayed and angry, forced to live back at home, young adults and 20-somethings are mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Filled with vigor, rife with passion, but not mature enough to control their impulses, the confrontations they engage in will often escalate disproportionately. Government efforts to exert control and return the youth to quiet complacency will be ham-fisted and ineffectual. The Revolution will be televised … blogged, YouTubed, Twittered and….

10. End of The World! The closer we get to 2012, the louder the calls will be that the “End is Near!” There have always been sects, at any time in history, that saw signs and portents proving the end of the world was imminent. But 2012 seems to hold a special meaning across a wide segment of “End-time” believers. Among the Armageddonites, the actual end of the world and annihilation of the Earth in 2012 is a matter of certainty. Even the rational and informed that carefully follow the news of never-ending global crises, may sometimes feel the world is in a perilous state. Both streams of thought are leading many to reevaluate their chances for personal survival, be it in heaven or on earth….

See also http://www.trendsresearch.com/forecast.html

Source: Gerald Celente, Trendsresearch, 18.12.2010

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China Property Market Beginning Collapse That May Hit Banks, Rogoff says

July 6 (Bloomberg) — China’s property market is beginning a “collapse” that will hit the nation’s banking system, said Kenneth Rogoff, the Harvard University professor and former chief economist of the International Monetary Fund.

As China’s economy develops, “especially at the speed it’s growing, it’s going to have bumps,” said Rogoff, speaking in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Hong Kong. He also said that while recoveries across the global economy are “very slow,” the danger of a return to recession isn’t “elevated.”

Rogoff’s concern echoes that of investors, who sent China’s benchmark stock index to its worst loss in more than a year last week. China’s data have been a focus because the nation has led the global recovery from the worst postwar recession.

Chinese authorities have this year been trying to cool the economy as it expanded at an 11.9 percent annual pace in the first quarter, and to reduce property-market speculation. The central bank has told lenders to set aside more money as reserves, and targeted a 22 percent cut in credit growth at banks this year, to 7.5 trillion yuan ($1.1 trillion).

The efforts have contributed to a slump in real-estate sales, while prices continue to climb. The value of property sales dropped 25 percent in May from the previous month.

“You’re starting to see that collapse in property and it’s going to hit the banking system,” Rogoff said today. “They have a lot of tools and some very competent management, but it’s not easy.”

Growth Outlook
Goldman Sachs last week cut its growth forecast for China this year to 10.1 percent from 11.4 percent because of the government’s monetary tightening measures.
Rogoff also said it’s unrealistic to expect China to continue growing its exports to the rest of the world “at the pace it’s been doing.”

“It’s impossible. At some point they have to redirect their strategy” for economic growth, he said.

For your info:
1) About one third of the total bank lending (about 40 trillion) is in real estate sector in China.
2) Most of the bank lending has used land and real estate properties as collateral.

Source: Bloomberg, 06.07.2010

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China: The collapse of the Asian growth model

Over the last three decades there has been a dramatic shift in the stance of development policy with import-substitution being replaced by the export-led growth. A significant concern with this latter model is that it may risk turning global growth into a zero-sum game. This can happen if one country’s export growth comes by poaching of domestic demand elsewhere or by displacing exports of other countries.

China on ‘Treadmill to Hell’ Amid Bubble, Chanos, Faber, Rogoff Say

Rather than focusing on production for domestic markets, countries were advised to focus on production for export. This shift away from import-substitution toward the export-led growth was driven significantly by the economic troubles that emerged in the 1970s. At that time many developing countries, who had prospered under regimes of import-substitution, began to experience slower growth and accelerated inflation.
This led to claims that the import-substitution model had exhausted itself, and that the easy possibilities for growth by substitution had been used up.second factor fostering adoption of the export-led model was the shift in intellectual outlook amongst economists in favor of market directed economic activity. Import-substitution requires government provided tariff and quota protections, and economists increasingly came to portray these measures as economic distortions that contribute to productive inefficiency and rent seeking.
The shift in policy stance was also propelled by the empirical fact of Japan’s spectacular success in growing its economy in the twenty five years after World War II, and by the subsequent growth success of the four east Asian “tiger” economies – South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. All of these economies relied on increased exports.

The problem is that the export-led growth model suffers from a fallacy of composition whereby it assumes that all countries can grow by relying on demand growth in other countries. When the model is applied globally in a demand-constrained world, there is a danger of a beggar-thy-neighbor outcome in which all try to grow on the backs of demand expansion in other countries, and the result is global excess supply and deflation. In this connection, it is not exporting per se that is the problem, but rather making exports the focus of development. Countries will still need to export to pay for their imported capital and intermediate goods needs, but exporting should be organized so as to maximize its contribution to domestic development and not viewed as an end in itself.
Export led growth model prompts countries to shift ever more output onto global markets, and in doing so aggravates the long-standing trend deterioration in developing country terms of trade. This pattern partakes of a vicious cycle since declining terms of trade and falling prices compel developing countries to export even more, thereby compounding the downward price pressure. This vicious cycle has long been visible for producers of primary commodities. However, as a result of the transfer of manufacturing capacity to developing countries who lack the consumer markets to buy their own output, the same process may now be present in all but highest-end manufacturing.
In the 1950’s, Western opinion leaders found themselves both impressed and frightened by the extraordinary growth rates achieved by an Eastern economy, although it was still substantially poorer and smaller than those of the West.
The speed with which it had transformed itself from a peasant society into an industrial powerhouse, and it’s perceived ability to achieve growth rates several times higher than the advanced nations, seemed to call into question the dominance not only of Western power but of Western ideology.
The leaders of that nation did not share Western faith in free markets or unlimited civil liberties. They asserted with increasing self-confidence that their system was superior: societies that accepted strong, even authoritarian governments and are willing to limit individual liberties in the interest of the common good, take charge of their economies, and sacrifice short-run consumer interests for the sake of long-run growth that would eventually outperform the increasingly chaotic societies of the West.
China’s economic growth has averaged 9pc a year over the past 10 years, compared with a paltry 1.9pc for the British economy. Last year, despite the credit crunch, China posted a remarkable growth rate of 10.7pc against a British contraction of 3.2pc.some are extrapolating present trends forward, and proclaiming that China will usurp the United States as the world’s largest economy.
However, in the absence of expanding foreign demand for its exports, it has instead come to rely on a massive surge in domestic bank lending to fuel its growth rate. When measured relative to the size of its economy, the 27pc point jump in bank loans to GDP is unprecedented; at no point in history has a nation ever attempted such an incredible increase in state-directed bank lending.
This appetite for cheap Chinese exports, which had at one point seemed insatiable, means that the West has come to owe China over 2 trillion $. China has become the world’s biggest creditor, but creditor nations running persistent trade surpluses has two historical examples. The US economy in the Twenties and the Japanese economy in the Eighties.
In both of the previous examples a failure to allow exchange rates to adjust to the new reality created a large speculative pool of credit that, in turn, led to overvalued domestic assets and, eventually, an economic crisis.
The banks in China are lending money at breakneck speed, but China’s state planners have favoured investment over consumption. High-speed rail networks, first-class infrastructure projects and the urban migration of 55 million people every year are common explanations for the ability of the nimble Chinese to overcome the frailties of this global economy. But the goal of economic policy, is to maximise households’ wellbeing and consumption. Unfortunately, and China’s share of consumption within its economy has fallen relentlessly, reaching 35pc of GDP in 2008.
In China, investment spending has tripled since 2001 and the consequences are staggering. A country that represents just 7pc of global GDP is now responsible for 30pc of global aluminum consumption, 47pc of global steel consumption and 40pc of global copper consumption. The overriding problem is that the Chinese model leads to a deflationary spiral that is perpetual in nature. Domestic consumption never grows fast enough to absorb the supply, prompting the planners to commit to ever-higher levels of investment. Over-capacity inevitably plagues many sectors of the economy and Chinese profitability is already low.

The story in China has been one of imperiled, marginally profitable enterprises relying on generous state-provided incentives for utilities, credit, etc. now having to deal with slowing global demand. The drying up of trade finance isn’t helping, either. The giant stimulus worldwide, and especially in China, helped the world economy for one year but that has now dried up.

Source and full article at  Israel Financial Experts, 08.06. 2010,

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China and India – Himalayas, Water and growing conflicts

The brewing disputes and growing concerns of the Himalayan Region by worlds two most populus nations, is a further indication of increasing dangers of latent resource wars, particularly on water. The continuing desertification in China and migration to coastal region increase pressure. While planned deviation of water ways to Chinese low lands could severely affect South- and South East Asia, see also

Political Hands across the Himalayas, FT, 15.11.2009

Excerpt: India and China are touted as white knights coming to the rescue of the world economy. Considerable hope rests on these two countries, with fast-paced growth, developing domestic markets and high savings rates, reviving demand and leading other languishing parts of the world out of recession.

The two rising powers, however, may yet be clashing knights. For in New Delhi it is fear of Beijing, rather than partnership, that all too frequently characterises the trans-Himalayan relationship. While some size up trade balances and growth trajectories, others are measuring missile ranges and comparing military parades.

Mr Mishra advised Atul Behari Vajpayee, the former premier. His views, albeit hawkish, are respected by the current Congress party-led government and carry weight with the diplomatic community.

So his recent forecast that India might face a second military front within five years turned heads. The former intelligence chief predicted that India could find itself locked in an armed stand-off simultaneously with Beijing and Pakistan, the traditional rival.

Mr Mishra’s suspicions of China have been newly aroused by Beijing’s warm relationship with Islamabad and its supply of military hardware to Pakistan’s army.

They have also been stoked by territorial claims to Arunachal Pradesh, a north-eastern Indian state, and predictions on Chinese websites that India, a country of huge diversity, is doomed to fall apart.

Mr Mishra says China’s stridency in its territorial ambitions has grown over the past two years to a level not seen since the early 1960s. Moreover, he accuses China of trying to bring into question India’s sovereignty over the state at the international level.

Military strategists interpret China’s policies as a regional power play. They say that tying India up within its own borders prevents it from projecting itself in the region and rivalling China.

In spite of the fighting talk in India, the relationship between India and China holds much more potential than antagonism. China’s impressive record of infrastructure development and lifting people out of poverty holds lessons for India. Likewise, India’s democratic credentials and inclusiveness are instructive to China.

Read full article hear:  15.11. 2009 by James Lamont in New Delhi

The high stakes of melting Himalayan glaciers, CNN 05.10.2009

Execerpt – The glaciers in the Himalayas are receding quicker than those in other parts of the world and could disappear altogether by 2035 according to the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The result of this deglaciation could be conflict as Himalayan glacial runoff has an essential role in the economies, agriculture and even religions of the regions countries.

Satellite data from the Indian Space Applications Center, in Ahmedabad, India, indicates that from 1962 to 2004, more than 1,000 Himalayan glaciers have retreated by around 16 percent. According to the Chinese Academy of Sciences, China’s glaciers have shrunk by 5 percent since 1950s.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, an environmental activist, physicist and leader in the International Forum on Globalization, has just returned from a “Climate Yatra,” a research journey to the Himalayas to study the impact of climate change and the glacial melt upon communities in Asia.

“Himalayan rivers support nearly half of humanity,” Dr. Shiva told CNN. “Everyone who depends on water from the Himalayas will be affected.”

Both India and China are exploring opportunities to harness Himalayan waters for hydroelectric power projects, and while the initial melt promises to provide plenty of water for both sides, the loss of glaciers could lead to water shortages further in the future.

Water-related conflicts have already been witnessed in other parts of the globe such as in the West Bank and in Darfur.

According to Himanshu Thakkar of the South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People, almost 70 percent of the non-monsoon flows in almost all the Himalayan rivers come from glacier melt.

International water security issues within Asia could be likely since the waters of the Indus, Ganges and the Brahmaptura basins flow into China in the upstream, and are shared across South Asia in the downstream.

Dr. Shiva believes the situation will render major security issues, between India and China particularly, as flows reduce and demands intensify.

Read full article here: CNN, 05.10.2009


In retreat: the roof of the world is experiencing rapid summer melting.

 

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Global warming threat for Asia financial hubs – Yangtze ‘facing climate threat’

The report, produced by WWF, the environmental pressure group, puts the two financial hubs in the top 10 cities threatened by climate change in Asia, the region widely believed to be most vulnerable to rising global temperatures.

It warns that Hong Kong is in danger from higher sea levels, which are likely to rise 40cm-60cm in China’s Pearl River delta by 2050, increasing the area of coastline that is vulnerable to flooding by up to six times.

Costs imposed by typhoons are also likely to rise dramatically, the report says, noting that 14 of the 21 extreme storm surges between 1950 and 2004 occurred after 1986.

The number of nights when Hong Kong temperatures rise above 28°C has risen almost fourfold since the 1960s, while the number of winter nights when the temperature falls below 12°C is predicted to fall from an average of 21 to zero within 50 years.

For Singapore, the report says, the sea level is forecast to rise by 60cm by the end of the century, eroding coastal protection and decreasing the shoreline of the city state, making it more vulnerable to storm surges and flooding.

The report says climate change could also increase the prevalence of dengue fever. The number of cases has been rising in periodic outbreaks and the last significant peak, in 2007, saw the third highest number of outbreaks ever.

Dhaka, the Bangladeshi capital, heads the list of the most vulnerable cities, mainly because of its position in a big river delta already subject to periodic flooding, its low average height above sea level and its poverty, which makes protection and adaptation more difficult.

Other cities at risk include Jakarta and Manila, which rank equal second, Calcutta and Phnom Penh, which are equal third, Ho Chi Minh and Shanghai, equal fourth, Bangkok, fifth, and Kuala Lumpur, which ties with Hong Kong and Singapore for sixth place.

The report calls on developed countries to agree to shoulder the bulk of the costs required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to finance an adaptation fund to pay for changes required in developing countries, and to provide recompense for losses and damage caused by climate-related catastrophes.

However, the report also says that vulnerable cities and national governments should take action themselves, including better management of coastal habitats and ecosystems.

The report is timed to influence the 21 heads of government attending this week’s Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation summit in Singapore, before the global climate change summit in Copenhagen next month.

Source: FT, 11.11 2009 by Kevin Brown in Singapore

The Yangtze river basin is being increasingly affected by extreme weather and its ecosystems are under threat, environmentalists say.

In a new report, WWF-China says the temperature in the basin area of China’s longest river has risen steadily over the past two decades.

This has led to an increase in flooding, heat waves and drought.

Further temperature rises will have a disastrous effect on biodiversity in and along the river, the report says.

The WWF – formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund – predicts that in the next 50 years temperatures will go up by between 1.5C and 2C.

The group’s report is the largest assessment yet of the impact of global warming on the Yangtze River Basin, where about 400 million people live.

Data was collected from 147 monitoring stations. The report’s lead researcher, Xu Ming, said the forthcoming Copenhagen negotiations on climate change would have an obvious and direct influence on the Yangtze.

“Controlling the future emissions of greenhouse gases will benefit the Yangtze river basin, at the very least from the perspective of drought and water resources,” he said.

The report says the predicted weather events and temperature rises will lead to declines in crop production, and rising sea levels will make coastal cities such as Shanghai vulnerable.

Some of the problems could be averted by strengthening river reinforcements, and switching to hardier crops, its authors suggest.

Source: BBC, 10.11.2009

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Energy: Don’t Believe Long-Term Oil Forecasts

On 4 October 2009, The Wall Street Journal ran an article World Need for Oil Expected to Ease (subscription might be required), where the author, Spencer Swartz, wrote:

The International Energy Agency next week will make a “substantial” downward revision to its long-term forecast for global oil demand, a person familiar with the matter said, marking the second year running the group has slashed its view of the world’s thirst for oil.

If demand pessimists are correct, future increases in the price of crude could be damped as weaker consumption stretches world oil supply by billions of barrels. Various analyst estimates maintain that the roughly 2% a year average growth rate in world oil consumption seen earlier this decade — the biggest reason for crude prices hitting a record $147 a barrel last year — may turn out to be an anomaly and that annual growth in the neighborhood of 0.5% to 1% is more the norm.

The reality is that no one knows what the long term future holds. The IEA itself struggles with the Bull versus Bear oil outlook. Ask yourself, how many pundits foresaw the mess we are in now and anticipated the dramatic easing of oil demand?

Sure, one can gather relevant information and make a reasonable guess as to oil demand next year and the year after that. But after five years, the potential paths of demand growth become unwieldy. How will economic growth be sustained over the next five years? Will the OECD countries lag emerging countries? Will China and the rest of Asia power ahead and create substantial demand? If Asian countries do power ahead and create many millions of middle class citizens, will they demand their own vehicles and tickets on jet planes to see the world? Will Brazil and other South American countries enjoy strong economic growth? Will the Middle East be stable over this period? Will Iraq resume its full production capabilities? As you see, one can begin asking any number of questions that are impossible to answer with an accuracy or certainty and that might have a major bearing on demand or supply or both.

What do we know? We know that for a long time, oil prices were usually within $20-$30 real per barrel. Now those prices are laughable. No reasonable person expects the world to return to those prices any time soon. Many major oil fields around the world are in decline. Oil companies are searching in more remote and sometimes more unfriendly regions of the world to develop further existing fields and to discover new fields. And, the rise of oil prices has given new prominence to some national oil companies. A sample list, though incomplete, of companies include: Gazprom OAO (OGZPY.PK), Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., and Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. – Petrobras (PBR).

If we were to accept the 1% annual growth of oil demand mentioned in the WSJ quote for a long duration, what would that mean or imply? A child born tomorrow will see by her seventieth birthday a doubling of daily world oil production from about 85 million barrels per day to 170 million barrels per day. Moreover, during her seventy years, the world will have produced more during that time than the total cumulative amount prior to her birth. Call me a skeptic, but I am unable to see where we would find that much additional oil to produce at such high rates for such a sustained period.

To be clear, neither the article nor the IEA is suggesting that we endure a 1% growth forever. Rather, I wanted to use this seemingly small innocuous number of only 1% growth to draw attention to its implication. If the long term growth were 2%, then in 35 years the daily world oil production would double to 170 million barrels per day and the oil produced during those 35 years would exceed the prior total cumulative amount of oil produced.

I recommend two excellent sources of information to learn more about oil, oil demand, oil prices and various policy initiatives:

  • Statistical Review of World Energy from BP p.l.c. (BP). I found the link to the Adobe pdf document toward to the bottom on its homepage.
  • Monthly Oil Market Report from the International Energy Agency. The link is to the webpage that hosts the document that is released two weeks after the initial release date. Subscribers receive immediate access through a different link.

Both documents are extremely helpful. I find the BP document provides concise information and historical context. The IEA document provides the agency’s latest thinking and forecasts.

As the world struggles to find new sources of oil, there will be dramatic changes. I have already discussed some questions we should ask ourselves as we contemplate future oil demand growth. Of course, many more questions need to be considered. And I have indicated that some national oil companies have gained strength and prominence with higher oil demand and prices. As investors, we should also think about what long term oil demand growth means for oil sands companies such as Suncor Energy, Inc. (SU) and Canadian Oil Sands Trust (COSWF.PK), and for large multinationals such as ConocoPhillips Company (COP), Chevron Corporation (CVX), and Exxon Mobil Corporation (XOM).

As demand continues to rise, I am curious what will happen. Will scientific breakthroughs help? How will the world cope with the environmental consequences? How will people adapt to possibly much higher prices? How will countries and regions change because of either having or lacking domestic oil supplies? If the world does experience higher prices, what are the implications for global world trade? And do higher prices imply that people will travel less and have less of an understanding of other regions? These questions are just a small sample of what investors should begin considering.

A few years ago, Professor Bartlett gave a compelling lecture, captured in a series of YouTube videos, to some students at the University of Colorado. In his lecture, he discussed oil demand growth. The lecture starts a bit slow; however, when you reach the latter part of the third video, you’ll see how the prior information is relevant to his discussion on oil. In other words, because they are important, don’t skip the initial video segments and jump to the third. I urge you to watch the complete video series.

And after you’ve watched the videos, ask yourself, “What time is it?” This question will make sense once you’ve seen the videos.

When I initially saw the WSJ article, I was drawn by the long term forecasts. My personal bias is that most longer term things in life are difficult, if not impossible, to forecast with any reasonable degree of accuracy. Then as I read the article, I saw the 1% growth number, which by itself seems very innocuous. But if you think about what 1% growth means over a long and sustained period, you quickly realize there are going to be changes. Moreover, the world has already witnessed a significant shift in oil prices over the last decade. We are no longer in our prior historical norm of $20-$30 per barrel. Some might argue that we are now in unchartered territory. As part of that possible unchartered territory, I wanted you to think about some larger questions. The questions mentioned in this article are just off the top of my head without much thought. I am sure you can think of many more. And last, I wanted to draw your attention to Professor Bartlett’s excellent lecture. His lecture will make you think about oil demand (and others) growth differently. I hope this article causes you to further your own research.

Source: Seeking Alpha, 08.11.2009

Filed under: Brazil, China, Energy & Environment, Mexico, News, Risk Management, Venezuela, Vietnam, , , , , , , , , , ,

Dark Pools in Danger ?

Increasing regulatory supervision and calls for transparency on one side and  the threaten proliferation of “unregulated and opaque”  Dark Pool and crossing networks by large institutions, have increased the calls by exchanges and exchange federations to review regulation and even ban them.

While the global debate is in full swing, China has clearly distance it self from any alternative trading venues in the country and prohibited the access to any “non-transparent” trading venues like dark pools for it’s QDII (Qualified Domestic Institutional Investors).

Below Article highlight the current trends and voices

SEC to extend probe into dark pools 09.10.2009

The Securities and Exchange Commission is to extend its regulatory probing of dark pools to include issues surrounding high frequency trading, direct market access and co-location.

What’s the Matter with Dark Pools, 02.10.2009

Dark pools are on the regulatory front burner. They’re seen as competing with the displayed markets, even as they’ve captured a segment of trading from the desks of broker-dealers’ upstairs.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is now bearing down on issues related to trading in dark pools and how much flow can execute in individual pools without triggering obligations to the rest of the marketplace. To provide some perspective on this broader discussion….

LSE and Turquoise an Item: Official, 01.10.2009

When we suggested here a few weeks back that the London Stock Exchange take a look at on-the-block Turquoise as a possible solution to its ‘TradElect problem’ it was slightly tongue in cheek. After all, we knew the LSE was in talks with MillenniumIT and it looked on paper as if an approach to Turquoise would amount to the exchange losing face to an upstart rival.

Dark Pools 2009: Not So Dark Anymore AITE Group, 30.09.2009

Only two things about dark pools are clear at this time: their overall market share continues to grow, and regulatory intervention appears inevitable.

London Stock Exchange to leave FESE  30.09.2009

But the move is a sign that a recent criticism by some of the world’s largest exchanges of the large banks’ off-exchange activities is not shared by some exchanges, which see their interests increasingly aligned with those same banks.

n a letter to Eddy Wymeersch, chairman of the Committee of European Securities Regulators, Ms Hardt said FESE believed the banks’ dark pools were “unregulated venues” operating with “full opacity”. The European equities market was “becoming a dealer market”.

Chi-X Global alleges ‘fear card’ move by ASX 30.09.2009

The head of Chi-X Global, the equities trading platform, on Wednesday accused the Australian Securities Ex­change of playing the “fear card” after the exchange’s chairman spoke of the dangers of allowing multiple share trading venues.

New ideas fail to lift mood over dark pools 24.09.2009

Yet even as dark pools continue to generate eye-catching ideas, controversy is raging over their very existence. In Europe, the issue is pitting exchanges against big banks in a new battle over control of billions of dollars in share trading orders.

Exchanges call on G20 to tackle dark pools 23.09.2009

The World Federation of Exchanges (WFE) has urged G20 leaders to press for market reform to tackle the uneven playing field and eroded price discovery it claims has been caused by the emergence of alternative trading platforms such as dark pools.

In a letter sent to Mario Draghi, head of the financial stability board at the Bank for International Settlements ahead of the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, the WFE calls for more uniform rules between exchange-traded and “less-regulated” markets.

The WFE warns: “The heightened opacity of certain market operations in many countries inhibits price discovery and may lead to negative outcomes, such as increased volatility.”

“Taken together, the combination of the absence of a level playing field between execution venues and decreased market transparency is an unsettling development,” says the letter, signed by William Brodsky, chairman of the WFE.

The exchanges call on G20 leaders to agree on ways to avoid “regulatory arbitrage” to ensure market participants do not just go to countries with weak rules.

Source: Finetik, 01.10.2009

Filed under: Australia, Exchanges, FiNETIK Articles, Japan, News, Risk Management, Trading Technology, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Demise of the Dollar, Robert Frisk

In a graphic illustration of the new world order, Arab states have launched secret moves with China, Russia and France to stop using the US currency for oil trading

By Robert Fisk

October 06, 2009 “The Independent” — — In the most profound financial change in recent Middle East history, Gulf Arabs are planning – along with China, Russia, Japan and France – to end dollar dealings for oil, moving instead to a basket of currencies including the Japanese yen and Chinese yuan, the euro, gold and a new, unified currency planned for nations in the Gulf Co-operation Council, including Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi, Kuwait and Qatar.

Secret meetings have already been held by finance ministers and central bank governors in Russia, China, Japan and Brazil to work on the scheme, which will mean that oil will no longer be priced in dollars. The plans, confirmed to The Independent by both Gulf Arab and Chinese banking sources in Hong Kong, may help to explain the sudden rise in gold prices, but it also augurs an extraordinary transition from dollar markets within nine years.

The Americans, who are aware the meetings have taken place – although they have not discovered the details – are sure to fight this international cabal which will include hitherto loyal allies Japan and the Gulf Arabs. Against the background to these currency meetings, Sun Bigan, China’s former special envoy to the Middle East, has warned there is a risk of deepening divisions between China and the US over influence and oil in the Middle East. “Bilateral quarrels and clashes are unavoidable,” he told the Asia and Africa Review. “We cannot lower vigilance against hostility in the Middle East over energy interests and security.”

This sounds like a dangerous prediction of a future economic war between the US and China over Middle East oil – yet again turning the region’s conflicts into a battle for great power supremacy. China uses more oil incrementally than the US because its growth is less energy efficient. The transitional currency in the move away from dollars, according to Chinese banking sources, may well be gold. An indication of the huge amounts involved can be gained from the wealth of Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar who together hold an estimated $2.1 trillion in dollar reserves.

The decline of American economic power linked to the current global recession was implicitly acknowledged by the World Bank president Robert Zoellick. “One of the legacies of this crisis may be a recognition of changed economic power relations,” he said in Istanbul ahead of meetings this week of the IMF and World Bank. But it is China’s extraordinary new financial power – along with past anger among oil-producing and oil-consuming nations at America’s power to interfere in the international financial system – which has prompted the latest discussions involving the Gulf states.

Brazil has shown interest in collaborating in non-dollar oil payments, along with India. Indeed, China appears to be the most enthusiastic of all the financial powers involved, not least because of its enormous trade with the Middle East.

China imports 60 per cent of its oil, much of it from the Middle East and Russia. The Chinese have oil production concessions in Iraq – blocked by the US until this year – and since 2008 have held an $8bn agreement with Iran to develop refining capacity and gas resources. China has oil deals in Sudan (where it has substituted for US interests) and has been negotiating for oil concessions with Libya, where all such contracts are joint ventures.

Furthermore, Chinese exports to the region now account for no fewer than 10 per cent of the imports of every country in the Middle East, including a huge range of products from cars to weapon systems, food, clothes, even dolls. In a clear sign of China’s growing financial muscle, the president of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, yesterday pleaded with Beijing to let the yuan appreciate against a sliding dollar and, by extension, loosen China’s reliance on US monetary policy, to help rebalance the world economy and ease upward pressure on the euro.

Ever since the Bretton Woods agreements – the accords after the Second World War which bequeathed the architecture for the modern international financial system – America’s trading partners have been left to cope with the impact of Washington’s control and, in more recent years, the hegemony of the dollar as the dominant global reserve currency.

The Chinese believe, for example, that the Americans persuaded Britain to stay out of the euro in order to prevent an earlier move away from the dollar. But Chinese banking sources say their discussions have gone too far to be blocked now. “The Russians will eventually bring in the rouble to the basket of currencies,” a prominent Hong Kong broker told The Independent. “The Brits are stuck in the middle and will come into the euro. They have no choice because they won’t be able to use the US dollar.”

Chinese financial sources believe President Barack Obama is too busy fixing the US economy to concentrate on the extraordinary implications of the transition from the dollar in nine years’ time. The current deadline for the currency transition is 2018.

The US discussed the trend briefly at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh; the Chinese Central Bank governor and other officials have been worrying aloud about the dollar for years. Their problem is that much of their national wealth is tied up in dollar assets.

“These plans will change the face of international financial transactions,” one Chinese banker said. “America and Britain must be very worried. You will know how worried by the thunder of denials this news will generate.”

Iran announced late last month that its foreign currency reserves would henceforth be held in euros rather than dollars. Bankers remember, of course, what happened to the last Middle East oil producer to sell its oil in euros rather than dollars. A few months after Saddam Hussein trumpeted his decision, the Americans and British invaded Iraq.

Source: The Independent, 06.10.2009

Filed under: Asia, Brazil, China, Energy & Environment, India, Japan, Latin America, News, Risk Management, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Nassim Nicholas Taleb points to the black swan

It’s you and me, and everyone else gathered last night at the Grand Hyatt to receive his lecture on why the financial crisis is far from over.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb of “Black Swan” fame reminds me of the court jesters of medieval Europe. What made them comedic was not their slapstick or bawdy antics, but their ability to speak truth to power. The jester, dressed in his clown suit, might have looked ridiculous, but he told the king the plain truth — truth that was so overpowering, so obvious and so tragic, that the king and his courtesans could do little but laugh.

Taleb addressed a full-capacity crowd at the Hong Kong Grand Hyatt last night as the speaker for the Asia Society’s annual gala dinner. He noted in his erudite and often piercingly funny remarks that he was the only male in the room not wearing a tie — this jester preferred a Chinese mandarin collar.

And, like the jesters of yore, he told truth to power. The room was Power incarnate, full of glitterati. Investment bankers of course, but also central bankers, big-time private equity and fund managers, government officials and diplomats — and even a few journalists, another favourite whipping post of Taleb’s.

Power heard the truth — overpowering, obvious and tragic. And it laughed at his wit, it nodded at his wisdom, it even spent yesterday evening writing up his words, and this morning as you read this, it is going about its business as usual.

Power did not take it all sitting down. The Q&A with Taleb saw quite a few brave bankers challenge his arguments. A bond underwriter and a high executive from a Tarp recipient both argued that debt is necessary to economic prosperity. But the jester would have none of it. While he did make the distinction that he appreciates the role bankers should play, he was not about to accept the argument that debt or bailouts are in any way healthy to society at large. In fact, he skewered these representatives – flunkies – of Power.

Taleb has written two famous books. The first, “Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets”, was a tour de force of incisive logic (and egotism) that exploded many of the myths behind asset management. It introduced the concept of the black swan event — an event beyond the usual measurement of expectation, but which has a high impact, like the subprime mortgage-fuelled credit debacle in America.

The second book, “Fooled by Randomness: The Impact of the Highly Improbable”, came out in 2007, just in time to make Taleb one of the intellectual stars of the global financial crisis. He had seen it coming. (This second book, by the way, is twice as long and half as interesting as the first.)

He drew upon a set of 10 lessons outlined in “Fooled” that must be implemented to avoid further breakdowns such as the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Ominously, it seems that policymakers, particularly in the US, have failed to meet a single one.

Here’s a flavour. What is going on in America today is not capitalism. Bailing out banks that are ‘too big to fail’ is socialising losses and privatising profits. It is the bastard spawn of capitalism and socialism, taking the worst aspects of both systems.

If an organism is fragile, it’s best to break it yourself, early, before it poses a systemic threat (by becoming ‘too big to fail’). The US government (and those in Western Europe) have helped the ‘too big to fail’ banks become even bigger. For every cry that a bailout is ‘un-American’, Taleb can point to a litany of bailouts that have continuously set a precedent, even under Ronald Reagan’s presidency (Continental Illinois, Chrysler).

Taleb repeatedly compared economic activity to nature. In nature, there’s no such thing as too big to fail. Nature can’t tolerate overly large organisms, and if one dies, the rest of the herd isn’t doomed to die with it. Why? Because nature doesn’t believe in myths. It doesn’t care about ‘value at risk’ or other misleading metrics. It doesn’t have an ideology. It just has natural selection and a uniform impulse among organisms to reproduce, to survive via competition.

That’s capitalism. Taleb can denounce big-bank statism with one breath and praise California tech entrepreneurs with the next, as examples of what is and what is not capitalism. He also praises hedge funds, which fail by the thousands every year without a whimper of complaint or public money — unless they are run by fools with Nobel prizes, in which case a government bailout is then required.

Death is necessary to make capitalism work — death, and a lack of debt. Taleb has no patience for a hint that debt can help society. He’s heard it all before — the velocity of money, the uses it has in helping ordinary people buy a home.

He has no time for Ben Bernanke. Bernanke is among the trio of failed bureaucrats (he says) running US economic policy (along with Larry Summers, ex Citi, and Tim Geithner). Bernanke’s academic claim to fame is having understood the Great Depression. “Any grandmother who remembers the Great Depression knows you shouldn’t have debt,” Taleb says, dismissing the academic career of the chairman of the Federal Reserve System in a single line.

He has no time either for bonuses, particularly when there’s no punishment for people like Robert Rubin — ex Citi, ex Treasury — who got paid $120 million in bonuses, initially from Citi shareholders and now by US taxpayers, retrospectively. And he has no time for complex financial products, risk metrics or economic policy that is about propping up models of indebtedness rather than allowing for failure.

Much of what Taleb had to say last night was familiar. We’ve read about it all year long. But it was Taleb who was often the first to say these things, and it took time and a horrible crisis to get others to repeat his warnings and his prescriptions.

If policymakers did adhere to Taleb’s principles, society would be better off, but Power would not be. How many of you in the Grand Hyatt ballroom, who applauded him so profusely, would really like to sell simple, vanilla financial products? How many would really like to see indebted consumers convert to equity-only means of saving and investment? How many would prefer to see MBAs and trained economists all fired and ignored? How many would like to have their bonuses tied to future performance? How many would like to see the bank you work for (or is your client, or your custodian, or your financier) collapse rather than be propped up by Uncle Sam? And if all of this came to pass, would you want to pay AsianInvestor for our content or our advertising or our conferences?

Overpowering, obvious, tragic. Prepare for more black swan events. We’re breeding them.

Source: AsianInvestor, 29.09.2009

Asian Investor

Filed under: News, Risk Management, Services, , , , , , , ,

Strategist warns of fiscal stimulus side-effects in China

Beware of asset price bubbles and a spike in non-performing loans, says RBC Capital Market’s Brian Jackson.

China’s fiscal stimulus package has boosted growth, but excessive liquidity risks major side-effects, including asset price bubbles and a spike in non-performing loans, according to Brian Jackson, senior emerging markets strategist at investment bank RBC Capital Markets, which is part of the Royal Bank of Canada.

“Strong stimulus has supported growth and eased concerns about a protracted economic slowdown, but now other concerns are building,” says Jackson. “The surge in bank lending has several potential side-effects that threaten the sustainability of China’s recovery and that could force a sharp reversal in the policy stance. The accelerator is working well, but at some stage Beijing will need to apply the brake.”

The risk, Jackson says, is that excessive liquidity in the economy may require the brake to be used sooner and more forcefully than policymakers and investors would prefer.

The potential side-effects of China’s policy stimulus reflect the size and speed of the lending surge, Jackson notes. With so much financing made available so quickly, it is almost inevitable that there will not be enough shovel-ready investment opportunities available to absorb these funds. This implies that much of the new lending will be used for other purposes. And even among those investment projects that can be started quickly, it is very likely that many of them will prove to be ill-advised, eventually putting the borrower under severe stress.

Rising asset prices provide strong circumstantial evidence that a significant proportion of new bank lending is being used for speculative purposes, Jackson adds. Chinese equity markets, in particular, have recorded massive gains, with the main Shanghai index up almost 90% year-to-date. These gains have prompted renewed retail interest. Property markets in major cities have also rebounded in recent months. With growth still below trend and the outlook for corporate earnings still weak, these sharp moves in asset prices clearly raise concerns that a new bubble is forming.

China is among the most favoured markets of fund managers investing in Asia, largely because of the Rmb4 trillion ($586 billion) stimulus package announced in November, which is aimed at combating the most serious economic threat to the mainland since the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Before the stimulus package was announced, China was riddled with worries over the impact of the global financial crisis on both domestic consumption and exports.

The stimulus package, with a life span that extends until 2010, covers key areas including affordable housing, rural infrastructure, railways, power grids, post-earthquake rebuilding in Sichuan, and social welfare to raise incomes. It also includes reforming the value-added-tax system to encourage investment in new technologies.

With foreign reserves and a budget surplus amounting to around $2 trillion, investors are generally confident that China has the capacity to further stimulate the economy if needed. There are those, however, who believe that too much faith has been placed on China’s growth prospects and, as it stands, the market could be over-crowded and valuations stretched.

Source: AsianInvestor.net, 05.08.2009

Filed under: Asia, Banking, China, Exchanges, News, Risk Management, Services, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Coming Doom vs Coming Recovery

While unemployment, bankruptcy and defaults are growing and retail consumtion is falling,  financial institutions which just a few months ago where on the brink of collaps are claiming profits and  the media, analysts and government start claiming to have found the road to recovery.   Too good to be true?  Here are a few alternative view:


Filed under: Asia, Energy & Environment, Latin America, News, Risk Management, Services, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mexico Central Bank prohibit some Lender/Credit/Banking Fees

July 21 (Bloomberg) — Mexico’s central bank said it will prohibit commercial banks from applying some fees in a bid to make charges more transparent and bolster competition.

Starting Aug. 21, banks won’t be able to charge fees for depositing checks that are returned, for exceeding debit card limits or for canceling deposit accounts, credit cards, debit cards or online banking services, the central bank said today in an e-mailed statement.

FiNETIK recommends

The measures may force Mexican banks to issue more loans to compensate for revenue they currently get from fees, which may open up credit channels that seized up amid the global financial crisis, said Gabriel Casillas at UBS AG in Mexico City. Fees and commissions accounted for 20 percent of the Mexican banking industry’s operating revenue in 2008, Standard & Poor’s says.

“This is an important blow to one of the biggest sources of revenue for Mexican banks,” said Casillas, who is chief economist for Mexico and Chile. “This should give them an incentive to increase credit and obtain revenue from there.”

Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, which controls Mexico’s largest lender BBVA Bancomer SA, fell 1.4 percent to 9.675 euros at 12:15 p.m. New York time from 9.81 euros at 10 a.m., when the measures were announced.

Banks will also be unable to charge customers for opening or managing accounts that were opened in order to receive a loan, the bank said.

Antitrust Chief

Mexican antitrust chief Eduardo Perez Motta said in a July 17 interview that authorities needed to make it easier for customers to switch banks so they could more easily shop for low-cost services, which would in turn boost competition.

“When you tell your bank you want to leave, they make your life difficult,” Perez Motta said.

Still, Angelica Bala, an S&P credit and banking analyst in Mexico City, said increased regulations won’t improve competition or transparency.

“The central bank is doing this because there has been a big political push against banks charging so much for fees and commissions,” Bala said in a telephone interview. “But putting a cap on fees and commissions is not a good thing. It has to be driven by competition.”

Source: Bloomberg, 21.07.2009 by : Jens Erik Gould in Mexico City at jgould9@bloomberg.net.

Filed under: Banking, Latin America, Mexico, News, Services, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Asia’s Private-Banking shakeout to intensify, says UBS

Asia’s private-banking industry will experience a “big shakeout” as the global recession saps investors’ appetite for risk and drives down fees, according to UBS AG. 

The Zurich-based bank, Switzerland’s biggest, and other firms will have to cut compensation, the biggest cost component of the business, said Tee Fong Seng, Head for Key Clients in Asia-Pacific at UBS’s wealth-management unit. Costs haven’t declined with revenue after the industry grew, “maybe a bit too aggressively,” in the last few years, he said. 

“There was a sense of optimism leading up to 2005, 2006, 2007, and things just received carried away,” Tee said today at an industry conference in Singapore. “The present business model of banking is not sustainable, it has to change. Revenue is coming down.” 

Assets under management at UBS’s private-banking unit in the region have fallen “substantially,” after growing to more than US$200 billion in 2007 from US$75 billion at the end of 2004, he said. 

The wealth-management industry is seeking to win back the trust of clients whose wealth has been eroded by global financial turmoil. Individuals worldwide with more than US$1 million probably saw the value of their assets shrink by about 20% to 25% in 2008, Stephen Wall, a London-based director at Scorpio Partnership Ltd, said in an interview. 

Cutting Edge 
In 2007, wealthy people’s assets rose 9.4% to US$41 trillion, while the total number of high-net-worth individuals rose 6%, according to the latest survey by Capgemini SA and Merrill Lynch & Co. 

Clients prefer “simple direct investments” in equities, bonds and precious metals, shunning “complex structured products” that pay higher fees, said Kwong Kin Mun, head of private banking in South Asia at Singapore-based DBS Group Holdings Ltd 

“When we go back to clients with terms like ‘innovation’ and ‘cutting edge,’ they are really viewed with suspicion and in some cases disgust,” Kwong said. “The credit crunch right now has developed into a kind of a revenue crunch and the whole industry is trying to find the right model.” 

If the “risk aversion” lasts for another nine to 12 months, it will have “tremendous impact on the wealth management industry,” Kwong said. “Most of us have built our models on a very bullish assumption.” 

High Costs 
Private banks competing to manage the region’s riches were recruiting senior bankers from their competitors as recently as two-years ago, leading pay to escalate. Private bankers will have to be “more realistic” in their salary expectations, UBS’s Tee said. 

Costs that were built up in the past were “well taken care of by the revenue generation,” he said. 

New York-based Morgan Stanley is trying to cut its “variable costs,” said Tan Su Shan, the bank’s head of wealth management in Southeast Asia and Australia. “We’ve come to realise that our fixed costs have been too high,” she said. 

Aggressive Strategy 
“Three or four-years ago, most of the industry players realised that excesses had built up, but none was brave enough to stand against this very strength,” said DBS’s Kwong. “Most, if not all, of the industry players continued to carry out a very aggressive growth strategy on the premise that perhaps Asia would take over the driver’s seat in world economic growth and therefore private wealth would continue to grow incessantly.” 

Financial institutions worldwide have reported US$1.3 trillion of losses and shed more than 286,000 jobs since the US subprime mortgage market collapsed, data compiled by Bloomberg show. 

“The modern wealth management market has never been through a decline like this,” said Scorpio Partnership’s Wall. “It’s been experiencing about 15 years of growth and it’s become a massively professional industry. Now it appears that all the professionalism didn’t work, it’s become a basic average man-on-the-street investor kind of process. Banks haven’t lived up to expectations.” 

Source: Bloomberg, 27.03.2009

Filed under: Asia, Banking, News, Risk Management, Services, Wealth Management, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

So much cash, so little confidence

Investors are still hurting from losses caused by the global financial crisis and are understandably cautious about their next move. But the urge to recoup some – or hopefully most – of those losses over time is pressing and investors can hardly be expected to sit back and wait for the global economic recession to unfold. The big question on everyone’s minds is: where do I put my money in 2009?

Holding on to cash lock-stock-and-barrel – while tempting – is certainly not the way to go. Cash has normally been used to moderate the performance of a portfolio during rough patches or to provide liquidity. Cash has never really been a good proxy for investing and holding on to it in bulk will certainly lead to missed opportunities.

In the past, fund managers and strategists would have jumped at the chance to advise investors on where to put their money by recommending this or that asset class, market or product. But these days, most of them will answer the key question on investors’ minds with two questions of their own: what is your risk tolerance level and what is your timeframe?

That’s not an exciting discussion to have, but one that’s absolutely necessary given the post-Lehman Brothers world that we live in. For sure, those two questions were already part of the discussions between fund managers and investors before the US credit crunch led global financial markets to where they are now. But this time around, risk tolerance level and investment horizon are critical to those discussions, rather than on the periphery.

Even before considering any asset allocation (or reallocation, as the case may be), investors are now being urged to seriously asses what kind of allocation suits them best. One main reason global equity and bond markets went into a tailspin post-Lehman Brothers’ collapse was due to the fact that many investors’ portfolios were mismatched with their risk profile and investment horizon. By now, everyone is familiar with the stories of moms and pops losing all their savings in investments gone awry last year.

In large part, institutional investors – typically a conservative lot – were spared from the monumental mistakes that were made by retail investors or even high-net-worth individuals. But that’s not to say that institutional investors didn’t suffer from substantial market losses as a consequence of the financial turmoil.

One of the biggest mistakes investors made over the past two years, even after the onset of the US credit crunch in 2007, was to hold on to the belief that the good times in the asset classes they were in – whatever they may be – would last forever (or at least for a long, long time). Of course, these days, the default defence to staying heavily invested for so long is that the credit crisis and its global impact were not really fully understood until it was too late.

Generic approaches to investing – equities versus bonds, China versus India, Bric (Brazil, Russia, India, China) versus Mena (Middle East and North Africa), hedge funds versus private equity – aren’t going to work this time. In fact, it would be disastrous to make sweeping assumptions about which asset class or market would serve your money well.

Investors need to make sure their portfolios meet their requirements for income growth and are cognisant of whether their timeframe for realising those potential gains is this year, the next, or beyond. There’s no singular investment prescription – there has never been – but somehow that message was lost in the past, thanks in large part to the bandwagon effect during the bull years.

Asset allocation or the exact mix of holdings will depend mainly on investors’ risk profile and investment horizon. A consensus is forming, however, in terms of advice for a typical investor who’s raring to make the most of the next few years while still reeling from the pain of the last 18 months: get out of the safety of government bonds within the next few months, move into corporate bonds, and gradually accumulate equities.

Elsewhere, the lack of consensus reflects the uncertainties in those asset classes. The prospects for property are mixed, the outlook for commodities remains clouded, currencies are expected to trade within a narrow range, and potential returns from hedge funds are in question given that the majority failed to deliver absolute returns last year.

Whatever investors end up doing this year, they must do it mindful of the lessons learned from the global financial turmoil. There’s something to be said about investing cautiously, even when markets turn for the better.

Source: AsianInvestor,

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