Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tussle over falling oil prices

Nov 10, 2014


Lower oil prices are reshaping the energy market, as Middle East countries try to fend off competition from US shale gas.

By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent, In London

SOONER rather than later, what went down must come up. That's at least the hope of the world's oil exporters, who are getting desperate as their products are now fetching the lowest prices in years.

Oil prices are famous for their unpredictable fluctuations and their sensitivity to political crises so, no doubt, the prediction will be proven right.

Still, the current sharp drop in energy prices is more than just a matter of market flutters. It is an indication of a bigger shift in the balance of power between producers and consumers, and the changing financial importance of different continental markets. This is no ordinary energy price war of the kind witnessed in the past, but a broader tussle which will result in more profound strategic realignments.

Right now, the world is awash with oil, and markets have responded in the only logical way, by marking the price of this crucial commodity down, from a peak of US$115 (S$148) per barrel in June to little more than US$80 today. The reasons for this price decline - the steepest in a decade - are obvious: better-than-expected production in war-torn Libya and Iraq, Iran's return to the oil export markets, and a global economic slowdown.

How Dubai caused the Arab awakening

Thomas Friedman

November 21, 2014

Ever since the Arab awakening in late 2010, America has lurched from one policy response to another. We tried decapitation without invasion in Libya; it failed. We tried abdication in Syria; it failed. We tried democratisation in Egypt, endorsing the election of the Muslim Brotherhood; it failed. We tried invasion, occupation, abdication and, now, reintervention in Iraq and, although the jury is still out, only a fool would be optimistic.

Maybe, the beginning of wisdom is admitting that we do not know what we are doing out here and, more importantly, that we do not have the will to invest in overwhelming force for the time it would take to reshape any of these places — and, even if we did, it is not clear that it would work.

So if the Middle East is a region we can neither fix nor ignore, what is left? I’m for “containment” and “amplification”. How so? Where there is disorder — Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya — collaborate with regional forces to contain it, which is basically what we are doing today. I just hope we do not get in more deeply.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Where Is the Inequality Problem?

MAY 8, 2014 35

Kenneth Rogoff

CAMBRIDGE – Reading Thomas Piketty’s influential new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, one might conclude that the world has not been this unequal since the days of robber barons and kings. That is odd, because one might conclude from reading another excellent new book, Angus Deaton’s The Great Escape (which I recently reviewed), that the world is more equal than ever.

Which view is right? The answer depends on whether one looks only at countries individually or at the world as a whole.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Japan’s warning to the world



NOVEMBER 19, 2014

Japan’s renewed descent into recession — its sixth in the past two decades — comes with an urgent if obvious warning to the United States, Europe and the rest of the developed world: Don’t let this happen to you. Japan’s famously stagnant economy may not be all that unique.

True, Japan’s predicament is exceptionally difficult. Extraordinary central-bank stimulus has helped boost markets, but has not been enough to prevent the economy from shrinking for two consecutive quarters. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe can and should postpone a planned sales-tax increase, but there is only so much that fiscal policy can do in a country with a giant government-debt burden.

Banking culture breeds dishonesty, scientific study finds


NOV 20, 2014 3:37 AM  240 63 0 0

LONDON (REUTERS) - A banking culture that implicitly puts financial gain above all else fuels greed and dishonesty and makes bankers more likely to cheat, according to the findings of a scientific study.

Researchers in Switzerland studied bank workers and other professionals in experiments in which they won more money if they cheated, and found that bankers were more dishonest when they were made particularly aware of their professional role.

When bank employees were primed to think less about their profession and more about normal life, however, they were less inclined to dishonesty.

As old buildings age, re-think rules on en bloc sales

Current rules hold back the redevelopment of ageing buildings. Should they be changed?

NOV 18, 2014


BUILT in the 1960s, Cairnhill Mansions is one of several properties in the Orchard Road area that has seen better days. Age and rising maintenance costs are taking their toll on the apartment block: a resident was recently trapped in the lift for four hours due to a malfunctioning lift motor.

Many of the development's 61 owners are keen to sell their units and move on. They would prefer to do so in a collective sale, where the whole building and the land it sits on are bought by a single buyer for more than the sum of the individual units.

But going en bloc has proven difficult for such old properties.

Last month, Cairnhill Mansions started its fourth collective sale bid, after earlier attempts in 2005, 2007 and 2011 fell through.

In August, another ageing building, the 44-year-old Tanglin Shopping Centre, failed in its second try to go en bloc.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hong Kong's 'second handover'

A China watcher offers a reading of what lies ahead for the Fragrant Harbour.

NOV 17, 2014


THE visiting senator, an influential member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, leant forward, looked the veteran intelligence officer in the eye and asked: "So, Tom, how is this protracted Occupy protest movement going to end?" Back came the answer in a heartbeat: "Badly for Hong Kong, I am afraid! Not so for Beijing."

"Pray explain," said the senator as he loosened his tie in the stuffy, windowless conference room inside the US consulate in Hong Kong, which is known to all staff there as The Vault because of its high-tech defences against all known forms of electronic eavesdropping. He was en route to Beijing for a conference and had asked for the briefing.

Tom paused for a full minute, as if to collect his thoughts, before he began: "Whether force will be used to clear the streets is no longer the key issue, though obviously, if a lot of blood is shed, then the situation will become even more dire. What really matters is that Pandora's box has been forced open.