Saturday, January 31, 2015

A common Asean time zone? 6 things about time differences in the region

Jan 30, 2015

SINGAPORE - Is it time for a common time zone in Asean?

Singapore strongly supports the idea, which it mooted some time ago, Foreign Minister K Shanmugam has said.

The issue was brought up again at the Asean Foreign Ministers' Retreat in Kota Kinabalu on Jan 28.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said a common time zone for Asean capitals "is an idea worth considering".

It would be in line with the formation of an integrated Asean Community, and airline operations and stock market activities could be better co-ordinated, he said.

When asked by the media what he thought of it, Mr Shanmugam said: "Asean today is the seventh largest economy in the world with 600 million people, (with a) GDP of more than two trillion dollars and anything that helps businesses integrate, move goods, services, work with each other seamlessly, will help the man in the street."

He added that the discussions were at a "very preliminary level", but all the parties there supported it. He also pointed out that the details need to be worked out, such as which time zone to choose.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Equipping Chinese cities for the new normal

The aim of China’s shift to a ‘new normal’ is to ensure annual economic growth of around 7 per cent, driven by new opportunities in value-added manufacturing, information technologies and modernised agricultural production, said its President.


JANUARY 29, 2015

For decades, rapid urbanisation in China created clusters of knowledge, manufacturing and distribution in areas that benefited from well-established connections to the global economy. But that growth model has reached its end. With the share of people living in cities rising to 53 per cent in 2013, from 20 per cent in 1981, China is shifting to a “new normal”. President Xi Jinping said the aim is to ensure annual economic growth of around 7 per cent, driven by new opportunities in value-added manufacturing, information technologies and modernised agricultural production.

In moving towards this goal, however, China will face difficult balance-sheet adjustments that cannot easily be managed by conventional fiscal and monetary policies. A new Deutsche Bank study reports that, last year, China’s 300 cities faced a 37 per cent drop in their land-sale revenues — a major setback, given that land sales accounted for 35 per cent of total local-government revenues. Such revenues had risen at an average annual rate of 24 per cent from 2009 to 2013.

Moreover, annual consumer and producer inflation dropped to 1.5 per cent and -3.3 per cent, respectively, last month, owing partly to the sharp decline in world oil prices. China now faces deflation and an inhospitable external economic environment, and its urban centres are struggling with the complex interaction of solvency, liquidity, and structural issues.

But some cities are better equipped than others to weather these challenges. China’s first- and second-tier cities are very wealthy, benefiting from high property values and the continuous inflow of talent, capital, companies and investment projects. Despite a property-market slowdown, Beijing’s recent land auction concluded with record-breaking prices of about 38,000 yuan (S$8,280) per square metre.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

US in position to dictate oil market

Jan 26, 2015

Oil prices, which have plunged by 50 per cent in four months, may stabilise next year as production slows. But it's America, not Saudi Arabia, that will be the new swing producer.


A HISTORIC change of roles is at the heart of the clamour and turmoil over the collapse of oil prices, which have plummeted by 50 per cent since September.

For decades, Saudi Arabia, backed by the Persian Gulf emirates, was described as the "swing producer". With its immense production capacity, it could raise or lower its output to help the global market adjust to shortages or surpluses.

But on Nov 27, at the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) meeting in Vienna, Saudi Arabia effectively resigned from that role and Opec handed over all responsibility for oil prices to the market, which Saudi oil minister Ali Al-Naimi predicted would "stabilise itself eventually".

Opec's decision was hardly unanimous. Venezuela and Iran, their economies in deep trouble, lobbied hard for production cutbacks, to no avail. Afterwards, Iran accused Saudi Arabia of waging an "oil war" and being part of a "plot" against it.

By leaving oil prices to the market, Saudi Arabia and the emirates also passed the responsibility as de facto swing producer to a country that hardly expected it - the United States.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

To embrace or oppose those who are different?

The state can encourage mixing but it cannot force people to integrate

JAN 25, 2015


Two Muslims, a Christian and a Buddhist went to Jerusalem together. There, they met a Jew who drove them around, showed them the sights and told them snippets of the history of Israel and its people.

As they walked the cobbled streets of the old city, the Buddhist asked the others to explain their faith to him. They continued talking as they went to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam; to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that is sacred to Christians; and to the Wailing Wall which marks the perimeter of the Jews' ancient temple - all places of prayer and pilgrimage.

I was the Christian in that mix and I am grateful that I saw Jerusalem in the company of people whose religious beliefs are different from mine, and had a chance to converse with and learn from them.

Diversity can enrich, injecting colour, variety and fresh perspectives into many aspects of life - from food to fashion, from sports to scholarship. But it is a double- edged sword and sadly, its dark side has been making headlines of late with the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, anti-immigration protests in Europe and terrorist assaults in the Middle East and Africa.

Against that backdrop, a pertinent question to ask is how people can learn to live with and embrace difference.

Or is that even a realistic aim, since differences of race and religion have time and again sparked outbreaks of violence? Should the focus be instead on containing the problems associated with diversity, so as to minimise harm?

What dark secret is in the S'pore basement?

There are things every society is not proud to be associated with, but which still exist

JAN 27, 2015


I had not heard of the child in the basement, the one who is in our midst.

Until I read The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas by American writer Ursula Le Guin, and wished more people would read it.

This is the gist of the story: In the city of Omelas, life couldn't be better. The people are happy, they have everything they want and they live life to the fullest.

Except for one dark secret that they share.

There is this child who is kept locked in a basement in utter misery, deprived and tortured. The author does not say why this is so, or what the child has done to deserve this terrible imprisonment.

Only that it is necessary for the city's continued success and contentment. Free him and everything that made the city such a wonderful place will disappear.

"They all know it is there, all the people of Omelas. Some of them have come to see it, others are content merely to know it is there. They all know that it has to be there. Some of them understand why, and some do not, but they all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on this child's abominable misery."

Wrecked in the name of responsibility



The United States and Europe have a lot in common. Both are multicultural and democratic; both are immensely wealthy; both possess currencies with global reach. Both, unfortunately, experienced giant housing and credit bubbles between 2000 and 2007, and suffered painful slumps when the bubbles burst.

Since then, however, policy on the two sides of the Atlantic has diverged. In one great economy, officials have shown a stern commitment to fiscal and monetary virtue, making strenuous efforts to balance budgets, while remaining vigilant against inflation. In the other, not so much.

And the difference in attitudes is the main reason the two economies are now on such different paths. Spendthrift, loose-money America is experiencing a solid recovery — a reality reflected in President Barack Obama’s feisty State of the Union address.

Meanwhile, virtuous Europe is sinking ever deeper into deflationary quicksand; everyone hopes that the new monetary measures announced on Thursday will break the downward spiral, but nobody I know really expects them to be enough.

China Economy Stories Jan 23

["China is Falling" stories. May be true... or not.]


China's bad debt ratio rises to five-year high in 2014

JAN 23, 2015

BEIJING (Reuters) - The bad debt ratio of Chinese banks climbed to 1.6 per cent as of the end of 2014, government data showed on Friday, a level not seen since the global financial crisis and underscoring building financial pressures as China's economy cools.

Singapore Perspectives 2015: Choices

Reports on the Singapore Perspective 2015.

To stay relevant, Singapore has to be extraordinarily successful

SINGAPORE: In a speech at the Institute of Policy Studies’ annual Singapore Perspectives conference on Monday (Jan 26), Mr Bilahari Kausikan, Ambassador-at-Large and former permanent secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, explained why being a small country in South-east Asia is not as simple as it sounds for Singapore.

Mr Kausikan's full speech is below:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Lower-income group hardest hit by higher cost of living

By Valerie Koh

January 24

SINGAPORE — Inflation may have slowed last year, but figures released today (Jan 23) showed that the lower-income households felt the brunt of the higher cost of living.

Data from the Department of Statistics (SingStat) showed that the Consumer Price Index (CPI)-All Items for the bottom 20 per cent, middle 60 per cent and highest 20 per cent income groups increased by 1.5 per cent, 1.2 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

Excluding imputed rentals on owner-occupied accommodation, the bottom 20 per cent income group experienced inflation of 1.8 per cent last year, while the CPI for the middle 60 per cent and the highest 20 per cent income groups increased by 1.3 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively.

For all households, the main items responsible for the higher cost of living were food, school and tuition fees, and medical treatment fees, SingStat said.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Projects in Iskandar - Housing Glut looming?

[In addition to the projection that there is enough homes in the pipeline currently (being developed, for completion within the next few years) for Singapore until 2030, there is also a projection that there will be a glut of homes in Johor. 

These are two of the projects underway.]

Jan 14, 2015

Controversial Johor Strait land reclamation project Forest City gets the go-ahead

By Marissa Lee

Cut-Price Luxury Homes Fuel Singapore Tri-Nation Sprawl (Sijori)

By Sharon Chen - Jun 4, 2014

Darren Chin gave up a 15-minute train journey to his office in Singapore for a two-hour drive with a stop at passport control. The reason: By commuting from Malaysia, he can afford his own two-story home and car.

“It’s worth it,” said the Malaysian financial adviser, who leaves his house before 6:45 a.m. to get to his job at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. (OCBC) on time. “I’m saving on rent and I’m paying for my own house.”

[If having more Space is more important, then yes. Invest in a big home off-island, but the trade-off is more time commuting. However, if having more Time to spend with family is more important, the trade off might well be space. ]

Chin is part of the expansion of Southeast Asia’s richest city across its borders as residents and companies seek property, labor and amenities, often at half the cost or less. The result is a three-nation urban complex with a population bigger than London and an economy that would rank as one of the fastest-growing in the region.

Singapore diplomat rebuts former Coldstore detainee

JAN 21, 2015


SINGAPORE's High Commissioner to Australia, responding to a second online commentary by former leftist detainee Poh Soo Kai, has accused him of obfuscation and disregard for historical evidence.

Many senior Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leaders have made their own peace with history since the end of the Cold War, Mr Burhan Gafoor wrote.

But he added: "Dr Poh is among the diehards who persist in denying the verdict of history."

Mr Burhan's latest reply came in a letter to the Australian National University's New Mandala website, which ran a Jan 14 article by Dr Poh, 82, who claimed the CPM was a decimated force in Singapore by the 1950s and posed no security threat to justify the 1963 crackdown when he was detained.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

To succeed, fail fast and learn quickly

JAN 22, 2015


"IF AT first you don't succeed, try, try, try again."

This 19th-century saying by British educational writer William Edward Hickson has been adapted for use by technology entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and elsewhere today.

They call it "fail fast, learn quickly".

The emphasis is on learning quickly, rather than failing, for it would otherwise be insane to seek out failure, said innovation management guru Scott Anthony.

The Singapore-based managing partner of global innovation consulting firm Innosight said: "Every innovative idea is partially right and partially wrong, so the goal is to learn which is which and what to do about it."

This notion of failing and learning fast was raised by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during the launch of the Smart Nation programme last November. Singapore schools need to imbue students with tech skills as well as the Silicon Valley mindset of "fail fast, learn quickly" so that they can create the technology of the future, he said.

Chronic economic and political ills defy easy cure


JANUARY 22, 2015

What sort of world are we now living in? The right answer is one characterised by chronic economic and political ailments. Here then are six enduring conditions of the “new normal”.

First, deficient demand. The idea behind “secular stagnation” is that, without rapid asset-price inflation or exceptionally aggressive monetary policy, it has proved impossible to generate enough demand to absorb potential global supply.

[Perhaps this is where over-consumption is killing the planet?]

Chronic demand deficiency is a global condition. It was in operation well before the 2007-2009 global financial crisis. It is in operation today. If anything, it is even getting worse. Overall, debt overhangs in crisis-hit economies remain very high. Meanwhile, the emerging economies, including notably China, have seen their own freedom of policy manoeuvre diminish as public or private debts (or often both) have soared. The only plausible offset is the fall in oil prices, which shifts income from savers to spenders. It should give relief, but only temporarily.

While demand is strengthening in the United States and United Kingdom, as one might hope after years of aggressive monetary policies, the eurozone remains in a dangerously depressed condition. Meanwhile, Japan has still to escape its deflation trap.

[Perhaps many sales or consumption were "borrowed" from the "future" in the past, so now there is little demand left.]

Second, stagnant productivity. Since the latter part of the last century, underlying growth of labour productivity in the high-income economies has fallen from close to two per cent a year to well below one per cent. Low growth of productivity tends to inhibit both investment and consumption, as expected future incomes are depressed, so exacerbating the deficient demand. It also makes the bite of rising inequality more severe. Happily, however, emerging economies can still catch up on the productivity levels of the rich.

Stagnant productivity makes the bite of rising inequality more severe.

[Is there some natural limit to productivity? When one person is doing the job of 1000 persons, is that the max of human productivity?]

Third, fragile finance. The global financial system is in some respects even more fragile than it was before the crisis. The Western world’s banking system is even more concentrated than before. The leverage — ratio of assets to equity — of many large global banks is about 25 to 1, which is bound to make them vulnerable. Incentives to move financial activity outside the highly regulated core of the global financial system are, nonetheless, strong. One source of worry has been the financing of emerging market corporations via dollar-denominated bonds.

Moreover, the lack of transparency of balance sheets remains daunting. In a complex global financial system, the ability of participants to understand balance sheets is limited. This tends to generate cycles of overwhelming risk-affection followed by panic-induced aversion.The low real returns on safe assets tend to exacerbate the intensity of the affection and so the extent of the aversion.


Fourth, unstable politics. Deteriorating economic performance and rising inequality are generating substantial political stresses. Hitherto stable Western democracies are displaying both sharp divergences of domestic opinion and hostility towards domestic political and business elites.

A common element is hostility to both foreigners and supranational political projects. The UK, for example, once an exceptionally stable democratic polity, is one no longer. Such tensions are particularly threatening to the eurozone.

The current turn of the economic wheel will also stress politically fragile emerging countries, as commodity prices decline, bad debts emerge and the days of cheap capital inflows end. Some areas of the world are characterised by weak or non-existent states. Sometimes, states have never really functioned. Sometimes, brittle despotisms have collapsed, as in Syria. Either way, the absence of order invites interventions and spreads chaos.

Fifth, tense geopolitics. Ours is an era of rapid changes in relative economic power, with the rise of China, above all, and the relative decline of Europe and the US. China is assertive; Russia is irredentist; the West is cautious. In this world, the possibility of serious miscalculation is a permanent reality. A year ago, the talk was of friction between China and Japan. Now it is of Russia and the West. Nobody can be sure what will come next

Sixth, challenge overload. These stressed political systems confront large domestic and international challenges. Among those challenges are the supply of global public goods, which includes preserving the open world economy, peace and the global commons. It is always hard for a large number of states to cooperate closely. But some of these challenges are particularly tough. Managing climate change is the hardest. Yet 2014 was the hottest year on record.

These conditions are chronic, not critical. They cannot be cured quickly or easily. They can, however, be managed. They should not prevent continued economic growth, particularly in emerging economies. But this process of convergence is operating in the context of stressed economies and fragile politics. Indeed, convergence is, in important respects, exacerbating stress. We cannot afford to ignore all these difficulties. On the contrary, we must work much harder to reduce them.


Martin Wolf is chief economics commentator at The Financial Times.

Need for tolerance greater than ever

JAN 21, 2015


THE Paris shootings shocked the world and drew deeply polarised views. Why are views so polarised everywhere?

Polarisation today is more acute than ever in all societies; protests in some, extremism in others. Syria is already in civil war, while 45 per cent of people in Scotland voted for separation from the United Kingdom. Factionalism, fanaticism and nationalism arise when people become insecure about their jobs, health and security.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has identified 10 top trends for 2015. These are:

  • deepening income inequality
  • persistent jobless growth
  • lack of leadership
  • rising geopolitical competition
  • weakening of representative democracy
  • rising pollution in the developing world
  • increasing occurrence of severe weather events
  • intensifying nationalism
  • increasing water stress
  • growing health concerns, plus an emerging concern over immigration.

This long list can be simplified into three sets of divisive issues - economic (inequality, unemployment and lack of leadership), climate and environment (pollution, weather change and water stress) and social (geopolitical tension, weakening democracy, nationalism, health and immigration).

Making babies making a comeback in developed countries

JAN 22, 2015


ACCORDING to blogger Ana Swanson of the Washington Post, and many other bloggers around the Internet in the past week, Japan's government has been engaged in rosy, optimistic denial over its falling fertility rate. Ms Swanson writes: "The data... shows just how bad Japan has been at forecasting its fertility rate since 1965. Government projections have been almost comically wrong, as the government repeatedly interpreted the sharp decrease in the fertility rate as a temporary dip rather than a sustained trend."

There is only one problem: The data shows the exact opposite.

Malaysia dealt a tough hand as Asean chair

 Jan 22, 2015


By Mark J. Valencia For The Straits Times

LAST year was a bad year for Malaysia's international image. Its national carrier's loss of two aircraft under questionable circumstances and its clumsy, seemingly disingenuous public handling of the first incident raised doubts that Malaysia was ready for prime time.

However, for better or worse, Malaysia is the Asean chair for this year, and it will certainly have a challenging agenda full of political opportunities and risks - for Asean and for its own international reputation.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Corporate pension plans 'less relevant' for S'pore

JAN 21, 2015


SINGAPORE may have scored below the global average in a ranking of retirement adequacy, but that is partly due to the mechanics of how the index is calculated, Senior Minister of State for Finance Josephine Teo said in Parliament yesterday.

For instance, the index gives more points to countries offering tax advantages to companies that provide retirement plans for their workers.

But such plans are less relevant for Singaporeans, she added.

Mrs Teo was responding to a question from Non-Constituency MP Yee Jenn Jong, who noted that Singapore scored 56.4 for retirement adequacy in the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index released last October, below the global average score of 63.

Guantanamo Diary: A chronicle of hell




Last week, several United States Republican Senators, including Mr John McCain, called on President Barack Obama to stop releasing detainees from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Their argument was that after the terror attacks in Paris, the 122 prisoners still in Guantanamo should be made to stay right where they are, where they can do the West no harm.

Yesterday, one of those detainees, Mr Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who was sent to Guantanamo in 2002 and remains there to this day, offered a powerful rejoinder. Three years into his detention — years during which he was isolated, tortured, beaten, sexually abused and humiliated — Mr Slahi wrote a 466-page, 122,000-word account of what had happened to him up to that point.

His manuscript was immediately classified, and it took years of litigation and negotiation by Mr Slahi’s pro bono lawyers to force the military to declassify a redacted version. Even with the redactions, Guantanamo Diary is an extraordinary document — that everyone should read. “A vision of hell, beyond Orwell, beyond Kafka,” British author John le Carre aptly describes it in a back cover blurb.


A native of Mauritania, Mr Slahi, 44, is fluent in several languages — he learnt English while in Guantanamo — and lived in Canada and Germany as well as the Muslim world.

He came under suspicion because an Al Qaeda member, who had been based in Montreal — where Mr Slahi had also lived — was arrested and charged with plotting to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport in 1999. Mr Slahi was questioned about this plot several times, but he was always released.

After 9/11, Mr Slahi was detained again for questioning. That time, he was turned over to the American authorities, in whose captivity he has been ever since.

What was he accused of? Mr Slahi asked this question of his captors often and was never given a straight answer. This, of course, is part of the problem with Guantanamo, a prison where being formally charged with a crime is a luxury, not a requirement.

His efforts to tell the truth — that he had no involvement in any acts of terrorism — only angered his interrogators. “Looks like a dog, walks like a dog, smells like a dog, barks like a dog, must be a dog,” one interrogator used to say. That was the best his captors could do to explain why he was there.

The military was so sure he was a key Al Qaeda player that he was subjected to “special interrogation techniques” that had been signed off by the then-Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld himself.

Special interrogation techniques, of course, is a euphemism for torture. The sections of the book that describe his torture make for harrowing reading. Mr Slahi was so sleep-deprived that he eventually started to hallucinate. Chained to the ground, he was forced to “stand” in positions that were extremely painful. Interrogators went at him in shifts — 24 hours a day. Sometimes during interrogations, female interrogators rubbed their breasts over his body and fondled him.

It is hard to read about his torture without feeling a sense of shame.

Does Mr Slahi crack? Of course; to get the torture to stop, he finally lied, telling his interrogators what he thought they wanted to hear, just as torture victims have done since the Inquisition.

“Torture doesn’t guarantee that the detainee cooperates,” writes Mr Slahi. “In order to stop torture, the detainee has to please his assailant, even with untruthful and, sometime, misleading (intelligence).”

Mr McCain, who was tortured in Vietnam, knows this. Last month, he made a powerful speech in which he condemned America’s use of torture, saying the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes Americans from their enemies: Their belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights.

That is also why it is so disheartening that Mr McCain has allied himself with those who want to keep Guantanamo open.

In 2010, a US federal district judge ruled in favour of Mr Slahi’s habeas corpus petition because the evidence against him was so thin. The government appealed and the order remains in limbo.

I asked Ms Nancy Hollander, one of Mr Slahi’s lawyers, to describe her client. “He is funny, smart, compassionate and thoughtful,” she said. All of these qualities come through in his memoir, which is surprisingly without rancour.

“I have only written what I experienced, what I saw and what I learnt firsthand,” he writes towards the end of his book. “I have tried not to exaggerate, nor to understate. I have tried to be as fair as possible, to the US government, to my brothers and to myself.” One of the wonders of the book is that he does come across as fair to all, even his torturers.

But the quote that sticks with me most is something that one of his guards told him, something that could stand as a fitting epitaph for Guantanamo itself: “I know I can go to hell for what I did to you.” 



Joe Nocera is a business journalist, author and op-ed columnist for The New York Times.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Temasek building icons to pay it forward

Jan 20, 2015


The zoo is the place to study Temasek Holdings' new business strategy - that harks back to its beginnings.

By Lee Su Shyan, Money Editor

BIG-TICKET deals have been the calling card of Temasek Holdings but a shift in strategy could be under way and you only have to go to the zoo to see it.

The zoo might not be the most obvious place one can think of to observe the operations of one of the corporate world's biggest beasts. But, in fact, the investment firm's latest undertaking illustrates how its game plan is evolving.

The high-profile deal involves Temasek partnering the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to develop the Mandai area, which includes the Singapore Zoo, Night Safari, River Safari and Jurong Bird Park.

It makes perfect sense on one level: Temasek holds a majority stake in Wildlife Reserves, the entity that owns the attractions, so that alone should give it first dibs on any future development.

But look further and the firm's new strategy begins to emerge.

The zoo makeover is not an obvious "Temasek investment" that will generate returns in the next few years
but one that will require a long time to come to fruition. It will, after all, take over a decade to develop the entire area.

While the investment giant is still making the big-ticket deals that have marked much of its 40-year history, there is a newer emphasis, less perhaps on immediate returns and more on building businesses for long-term gains.

In some respects it is a return to Temasek's early days when it was a builder of national champions like Singapore Airlines.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Chinese home prices fell in December for fourth straight month


BEIJING — China’s new home prices fell significantly in December for a fourth straight month, with persistent oversupply expected to keep pressure on real estate prices and investment, though year-end sales surged.

Average new home prices across China fell 4.3 per cent last month compared with year-ago levels, a faster decline than the 3.7 per cent drop seen in November, based on Reuters calculations from official data published yesterday.

The National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data showed new home prices fell year-on-year in 68 of the 70 major cities it monitors, unchanged from November, though year-end sales volumes surged.

Singapore households' inflation expectations at their lowest level in three years: SMU

Jan 19, 2015

By Ann Williams

SINGAPORE - Singapore households' expectations of inflation have dropped to their lowest levels in three years because of plunging oil prices and uncertainty about global economic growth, according to the findings of a Singapore Management University (SMU) survey, released on Monday.

The one-year-ahead inflation expectations of Singapore households dropped to 3.53 per cent from 3.73 per cent in September 2014, according to the latest quarterly survey for SMU'S Singapore Index of Inflation Expectations (SInDEx).

Franc lessons from Swiss monetary efforts

 JAN 19, 2015


AH, SWITZERLAND, famed for cuckoo clocks and sound money. Other nations may experiment with radical economic policies, but with the Swiss, you don't get surprises.

Until you do. Last Thursday, the Swiss National Bank, the equivalent of the US Federal Reserve, shocked the financial world with a double whammy, simultaneously abandoning its policy of pegging the Swiss franc to the euro, and cutting the interest rate it pays on bank reserves to minus, that's right, minus 0.75 per cent. Market turmoil ensued.

And you should feel a shiver of fear, even if you have no direct financial stake in the value of the franc. For Switzerland's monetary travails illustrate in miniature just how hard it is to fight the deflationary vortex dragging down much of the world economy.

What you need to understand is that all the usual rules of economic policy changed when financial crisis struck in 2008; we entered a looking-glass world, and have not yet emerged. In many cases, economic virtues became vices: Willingness to save became a drag on investment, fiscal probity a route to stagnation. And in the case of the Swiss, having a reputation for safe banks and sound money became a major liability.

Et tu, Charlie? Cartoonists and murderers shared similar mode of thinking

[also republished on 17 Jan as "Charlie Hebdo and the hold of absolute values"]

Jan 16, 2015

By Bilahari Kausikan

The world rightly condemned the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo. The tragedy has spawned hundreds of commentaries around the world. Is there really a need for yet another one? Most have predictably cast the issue in terms of freedom of speech, and this is certainly an important aspect that should not be ignored. And of course terrorism is a global problem that the world should unite to fight. But I have yet to come across one that has drawn attention to the eerie extent to which the murderers and their victims shared a similar mode of thought.

Both held their values to be so absolute that they justified anything. The fact that the terrorists had a completely mistaken interpretation of Islam is of course correct, but also beside the point. The point is that they believed in it; believed in it as fervently as the cartoonists believed in their right to freedom of expression. But is freedom of expression necessarily the prime value for everyone? Thousands may agree; thousands of others would disagree and disagree without murderous intent.

CPF investments: Too much choice may end badly

 JAN 19, 2015



LAST September, the CPF Advisory Panel was commissioned by the Ministry of Manpower to consider, among other things, whether or not to provide more flexibility for Central Provident Fund (CPF) members who are prepared to take on more risk.

In a recently-published working paper, Investment Risks in Singapore's Retirement Financing System, which I co-authored, we concluded that the returns available from the CPF Board are broadly equivalent to a portfolio invested 60:40 in global equities and bonds, but with considerably less downside risk. We noted that the returns from the CPF are more financially efficient, and that these returns therefore represent an attractive benefit to CPF members, compared to other available investment opportunities.

I would go further and argue that the default return-risk balance provided by the CPF Board is good enough for most members. Adding more choice and flexibility may add complexity to the system. A lack of adequate financial literacy among CPF members and potential retirees may result in sub-optimal decision-making. Taken together, this will result in underperformance and poorer outcomes for retirees' financial adequacy. The array of investment options - from Singapore Government Bonds and Treasury Bills, to equities and gold - available to CPF members under the CPF Investment Scheme (CPFIS) already creates what American psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the Paradox of Choice. He says that while having some choice may be good, more choice is not necessarily always better. There are psychological and decision-making costs resulting from an overload of choice that may reduce one's well-being.

China shares plunge as regulators "prick stock market bubble"

JAN 19, 2015

SHANGHAI - Chinese stocks tumbled, led by brokerages, after regulators took measures to rein in margin trading at three of the nation's biggest securities firms.

The Shanghai Composite Index sank as much as 6 per cent to 3,175.16 at 9:36 a.m. local time. Citic Securities Co. and Haitong Securities Co., two of the brokerages targeted by regulators, slumped by the 10 per cent daily limit.

The penalties have raised concern that policy makers are trying to curb a surge in stock purchases using borrowed money, after outstanding margin loans jumped to 1.08 trillion yuan (S$230.92 billion) as of Jan. 13 from about 400 billion yuan at the end of June. The Shanghai Composite index has jumped 61 per cent during the past 12 months on record volumes as individual investors piled into the market.

The nation's top two biggest listed securities firms and Guotai Junan Securities Co. were suspended from lending money and stocks to new clients for three months, the China Securities Regulatory Commission said on its microblog on Jan. 16 after the market closed.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Lessons from France for Singapore

[This is a bit redundant, but am including it as a marker for the sign of the times.]

JAN 15, 2015



The brutal deaths of 17 people in Paris, once regarded as the city of dreams and the cultural capital of the world, are having a devastating effect on France.

The killings of staff at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and people at a Jewish supermarket are seen as acts of terror and an assault on freedom of speech. But they can also be viewed as manifestations of a broader narrative of traditional tensions from the Middle East, imported via immigration into Paris.

The Paris murders also segue into the worldview of the much touted clash between Western values that extol freedom of speech and non-Western ones that apparently countermand this.

But France is not the bastion of free speech that some may think it is. There is a law against Holocaust denial. France is in the process of trying to pass a new law, making it an offence to deny that an Armenian genocide occurred in the last century.

Enough home supply for up to 2030



Many property market participants remain in denial about the housing oversupply situation, with investors and real estate agents hoping that the outlook will improve while they ignore the growing difficulties in securing tenants amid stiff competition among landlords.

It should be clear by now that the residential property segment is heavily oversupplied.

Vacancies of private homes at 7.1 per cent equate to more than 21,000 empty units at the end of last September, Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) data showed. Meanwhile, the stock of vacant Executive Condominiums (ECs) rose sharply to 2,375 units, or 16.2 per cent, at the end of September from 1,634 units, or 12.2 per cent at the end of June. And more homes are being built, putting further pressure on the market. We can expect a total residential supply of 150,689 units within three years and possibly another 35,000 units in 2018.

For China, even good numbers don’t add up



The improving United States economy has brought some welcome cheer to officials in Beijing, which reported an unexpectedly high 9.7 per cent jump in December exports on Tuesday. If those numbers continue in the months ahead, they would also be good news for a global economy that is running short on viable growth engines.

Not all analysts are convinced that they will. Many predict that China will have to loosen monetary policy soon to ensure that gross domestic product growth stays above last year’s target of 7.5 per cent (it is currently around 7.3 per cent). That is worrisome because of a different number entirely: 251.

That, in percentage terms, is Standard Chartered’s working estimate for China’s debt-to-GDP ratio. Already worryingly high compared with where Japan was 25 years ago when its own bubble burst, the number will only rise further with additional stimulus. The more China gins up growth this year, the more irresponsible lending it will have to service in the decade ahead.

A call to revolution against jihadist zeal


JANUARY 15, 2015

United States President Barack Obama was criticised for failing to attend or send a proper surrogate to the giant antiterrorism march in Paris on Sunday. That criticism was right. But it is typical of American politics today that they focus on this and not what would have really made the world feel the jihadist threat was finally being seriously confronted.

And that would not be a march that the President helps to lead, but one in which he is not involved at all. That would be a million-person march against the jihadists across the Arab-Muslim world, organised by Arabs and Muslims for Arabs and Muslims, without anyone in the West asking for it — not only because of what happened in Paris, but also because of the scores of Muslims recently murdered by jihadists in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria and Syria.

Mr Abdul Rahman Al Rashed, one of the most respected Arab journalists, wrote on Monday in his column in Al Sharq Al Awsat: “Protests against the recent terrorist attacks in France should have been held in Muslim capitals, rather than Paris, because, in this case, it is Muslims who are involved in this crisis and stand accused ... The story of extremism begins in Muslim societies, and it is with their support and silence that extremism has grown into terrorism that is harming people. It is of no value that the French people, who are the victims here, take to the streets ... What is required here is for Muslim communities to disown the Paris crime and Islamic extremism in general.” (Translation by

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Those who champion revisionist account of Singapore's fight against communists are distorting history: Sam Tan

Jan 14, 2015

By Zakir Hussain

SINGAPORE - Historians and activists seeking to downplay the Communist threat to Singapore in the 1960s are being intellectually dishonest as they "distort Singapore's history to serve their political agendas".

The comment by Minister of State (Prime Minister's Office) Sam Tan on Wednesday is the latest in an ongoing debate over allegations by ex-detainees and some historians that a major crackdown on 113 leftists in February 1963, codenamed Operation Coldstore, was politically motivated.

"Revisionist historians and their proxies have resorted to defending their claims on the grounds that these were 'peer reviewed', but they have not been able to deny or refute the contrary sources and overwhelming evidence that demolish their thesis," he said in a statement.

"Historical discourse and debate requires academic rigor, intellectual honesty, and respect for evidence.

"These qualities have been sadly lacking among those championing a revisionist account of a key fight on our road to independence."

He said that in distorting history, "they disrespect the memory of those who made sacrifices and lost lives to defeat the communist threat and build the Singapore that we have today".

No more land? Build floating real estate


JANUARY 14, 2015

Singapore is the third-densest city in the world. But unlike other large cities, it is without a hinterland. There is no buffer for spillovers. The sea has to serve as the island-state’s “hinterland”.

The Singapore coastline is similar to a column of ants, made up of airports, ports, shipyards, power stations and recreation parks. One golf course, also on the coastline, is on its way out. Inland, about 5.5 million citizens and foreigners have homes in ever-taller towers. Roads are congested and trains packed every morning.

No wonder then, the White Paper on population tabled in 2013 sparked an outcry from Singaporeans, even though the population was projected to grow by about 1.5 million in 17 years, a rise of only 1 per cent per year.

Intellectuals weighed in. Professor Kishore Mahbubani of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) advocated fewer roads. Dr Liu Thai Ker, also from LKYSPP, said that with proper planning, Singapore has room for 10 million people.

One idea has yet to capture the imagination of our state planners: Floating real estate.

In about-turn, KL approves bigger area for Forest City project


KUALA LUMPUR — In an apparent reversal of its earlier reported stance, Malaysia’s Department of Environment (DOE) has greenlighted the RM600 billion (S$228 billion) Forest City mixed-development project in Johor.

The decision comes barely a week after reports in Malaysia quoted the DOE as saying only a fraction of the project — 405ha, instead of the developer’s planned 1,386ha — would be given the go-ahead. Yesterday, however, the developer said approval had been given for 1,386ha — only a shade smaller than the original plan of 1,623ha.

Country Garden Pacific View (CGPV) said yesterday that the DOE had approved the project’s detailed environmental impact assessment report (DEIA), which means the developer can now proceed with earthwork and construction.

The developer said in a statement that reclamation would continue, but with the project’s total size slightly reduced. The project, now divided into four reclaimed islands, instead of one huge island nearly three times the size of Ang Mo Kio as originally planned, will have a total size of 1,386ha — smaller than the 1,623ha proposed by the firm.

The case for an independent rate

[An article from almost 2 years ago.]

May 02, 2013

An unnaturally low interest rate encourages inequality, worsens inflation and jacks up property prices.

By Soon Sze Meng And Tan Tien Leong

For The Straits Times

SINCE independence, Singapore's interest rate has followed the United States'.

This interest rate is regarded as risk-free - it provides a price for savings and investments and is often described as the market rate of interest.

At the same time, however, there is also a natural rate of interest (Federal Reserve Bank of SF). This is set when individuals with savings they do not immediately need lend them to borrowers. Singapore's natural rate of interest (Moneyness) lies between its inflation rate and economic growth rate, which is around 3 per cent.

An appropriate rate protects bank depositors from the corrosive effect of inflation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A smoother ride on growth path

Jan 13, 2015


Falling oil prices will be a boost for the domestic economy as low prices fuel growth in overseas markets that buy Singapore goods - but there will be some losers too

By Grace Leong

THE latest dramatic plunge in oil prices to below US$49 a barrel, with no apparent bottom in sight, has come as a shock to investors and analysts, given the relatively stable state of the global economy.

But the fall is also an unexpected bonanza for consumers, and should act as an international stimulus for growth and, in turn, Singapore's economy.

Oil prices have slumped more than 50 per cent since last June, the most since the 2008 global financial crisis, amid a supply glut. Part of the reason is that the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries is refusing to reduce output for fear of losing market share to competitors, such as shale oil producers in the United States.

Analysts are tipping that prices of benchmark Brent crude could fall to as low as US$40 a barrel.

The scale of the global effect is significant. Think-tank Oxford Economics has estimated that every US$20 fall in the oil price raises global growth by 0.4 per cent within two to three years.

Charlie Hebdo horror is not an attack on free speech


JANUARY 13, 2015

A Singaporean friend and her French boyfriend have been having interesting discussions recently regarding the horrific attacks on the Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris.

The Frenchman’s views fall in line with Western mainstream media’s framing of these terrorist acts as a gross attack on freedom of speech, a value the French hold especially dear and are now rallying defiantly around. Solidarity manifests in Je suis Charlie placards, light projections, hashtags and Facebook profile pictures. After all, France is the land of Voltaire, whose views on freedom of speech were summarised pithily and memorably by his biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

On the other hand, my Singaporean friend is a freethinker who identified more with the Je suis Ahmed hashtag: Ahmed Merabet was the Muslim policeman who was killed in action trying to stop the terrorists from fleeing the Charlie Hebdo offices. Belgium-based Lebanese activist and writer Dyab Abou Jahjah (@Aboujahjah) tweeted: “I am not Charlie, I am Ahmed the dead cop. Charlie ridiculed my faith and culture and I died defending his right to do so.”

Automation Makes Us Dumb

Human intelligence is withering as computers do more, but there’s a solution.


Nov. 21, 2014

Artificial intelligence has arrived. Today’s computers are discerning and sharp. They can sense the environment, untangle knotty problems, make subtle judgments and learn from experience. They don’t think the way we think—they’re still as mindless as toothpicks—but they can replicate many of our most prized intellectual talents. Dazzled by our brilliant new machines, we’ve been rushing to hand them all sorts of sophisticated jobs that we used to do ourselves.

But our growing reliance on computer automation may be exacting a high price. Worrisome evidence suggests that our own intelligence is withering as we become more dependent on the artificial variety. Rather than lifting us up, smart software seems to be dumbing us down.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Scholarship, Meritocracy, Equality - 3 letters and an article.

SingTel launches scholarship for polytechnic students



SINGAPORE — SingTel has launched its first-ever scholarship for polytechnic students, at a time when the Government is pushing to de-emphasise the obsession with getting a university degree.

The 90 scholarships — worth more than S$2 million and handed out each year — will include internships, employment and development opportunities such as on-the-job-training.

Such industry-relevant training is similar to the recommendations made by the Applied Study in Polytechnics and ITE Review (ASPIRE) committee to improve the prospects of poly and Institute of Technical Education graduates.

The SingTel Cadet Scholarship Programme, which was officially open for applications yesterday, will be available to top students pursuing diplomas in computer engineering and infocomm security management at Singapore Polytechnic (SP), and the diploma in customer relationship and service management in Republic Polytechnic (RP).

Upon graduation, scholars will also secure jobs in cybersecurity, network engineering and customer experience management as they serve a one-year bond with SingTel. Depending on their work performance, they will be offered a part-time or full-time university scholarship after completing their bond.

Speaking at the launch yesterday, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat lauded the SingTel move for being closely aligned to SkillsFuture and recognising that its principles can be replicated in many industries. He urged more employers to step forward to develop programmes to best suit their needs.

What the World Will Speak in 2115

A century from now, expect fewer but simpler languages on every continent


Jan. 2, 2015

In 1880 a Bavarian priest created a language that he hoped the whole world could use. He mixed words from French, German and English and gave his creation the name Volapük, which didn’t do it any favors. Worse, Volapük was hard to use, sprinkled with odd sounds and case endings like Latin.

It made a splash for a few years but was soon pushed aside by another invented language, Esperanto, which had a lyrical name and was much easier to master. A game learner could pick up its rules of usage in an afternoon.

But it didn’t matter. By the time Esperanto got out of the gate, another language was already emerging as an international medium: English. Two thousand years ago, English was the unwritten tongue of Iron Age tribes in Denmark. A thousand years after that, it was living in the shadow of French-speaking overlords on a dampish little island. No one then living could have dreamed that English would be spoken today, to some degree, by almost two billion people, on its way to being spoken by every third person on the planet.

Science fiction often presents us with whole planets that speak a single language, but that fantasy seems more menacing here in real life on this planet we call home—that is, in a world where some worry that English might eradicate every other language. That humans can express themselves in several thousand languages is a delight in countless ways; few would welcome the loss of this variety.

But the existence of so many languages can also create problems: It isn’t an accident that the Bible’s tale of the Tower of Babel presents multilingualism as a divine curse meant to hinder our understanding. One might even ask: If all humans had always spoken a single language, would anyone wish we were instead separated now by thousands of different ones?

Raising financially-smart children


JANUARY 12, 2015

The profile of the average Singaporean with debt problems is typically middle-income males in their 40s, said Credit Counselling Singapore, which has seen the average number of debtors seeking help annually go up. Many of these debtors are parents.

Their financial mismanagement could be passed to the next generation. Parents’ poor finances lead to money becoming a sensitive issue at home, which could have psychological effects on children who may not be able to lead financially-secure lives.

The reverse is also true. Parents who are savvy in financial management and teach their children to do the same will change their family’s financial destiny.

The financial skills learnt — planning, discipline and goal-setting — will also help their children to be successful in their career and life.

An ongoing survey conducted in Singapore and Malaysia by financial education company Jopez Academy, polling more than 220 parents, found that more than 99 per cent of participants had knowledge gaps about teaching their children about money.

Finn-ished, the PISA test

[Something from Dec 2013 on education.]

The fall of a former Nordic education star in the latest PISA tests is focusing interest on the tougher Asian model instead

The Economist, Dec 7th 2013

WHEN the first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests to focus on maths results were published a decade ago, Finland’s blue-cross flag fluttered near the top of the rankings. Its pupils excelled at numeracy, and topped the table in science and reading. Education reformers found the prospect of non-selective, high-achieving and low-stress education bewitching.

Every three years since then, 15-year-olds have sat PISA tests in maths, reading and science. In 2012 fully 500,000 heads were bent over desks for the exam in 65 countries or cities. The results, published on December 3rd, doled out a large helping of humble pie to Europe’s former champion. Finland has fallen by 22 points on its 2009 result, with smaller falls (12 points and 9) in reading and science. “The golden days are over,” lamented the Finnbay news website.

None of this should have come as a surprise. Finland’s maths performance has been tailing off since 2006. But it is worsening faster than in other countries with falling scores such as Canada and Denmark. The Asian high-fliers (Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore) have consolidated their position at the top. Much soul-searching is under way in Helsinki.

The Western myth of universality and China's moment in history

Jan 09, 2015

This is an excerpt of a keynote speech by veteran diplomat Bilahari Kausikan at the Regional Outlook Forum yesterday organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (Iseas). He explains that the Western claim of universality of certain political forms and values, which has been used to justify military interventions to change regimes, has aroused anxieties in countries including China.

China's rise has been psychologically disquieting to many in America and the West generally, because in China, capitalism flourishes without liberal democracy. This is regarded as somehow unnatural and illegitimate because it punctures the Western myth of the universality of certain political values and of the inevitability of the development of certain political forms. And unlike, say, Japan or India, China only wants to be China and not an honorary member of the West.

The myth of universality is ahistorical, pretentious and parochial.

Friday, January 9, 2015

China December inflation near five-year low, more policy easing seen


BEIJING — China’s annual consumer inflation hovered at a near five-year low of 1.5 per cent in December, signalling persistent weakness in the economy but giving policymakers more room to ease policy to support growth.

The world’s second-largest economy still faces formidable headwinds this year as a property market downturn persists and local governments and companies are struggling to repay debt.

“Deflation this year is definitely a risk,” said Mr Minggao Shen, economist at Citi in Hongkong.

“We continue to argue that deflation provides more room for policy easing. Our best-case scenario is still two more rate cuts in the first half of this year and maybe three to four reserve requirement ratio cuts this year.”

Analysts polled by Reuters had expected annual consumer inflation to be 1.5 per cent in December, compared with 1.4 percent in November.

Xi’s 2015 mission: Fighting graft, tightening grip on China


As New Year’s Eve messages go, Mr Xi Jinping’s speech on national television was almost pitch-perfect.

Highlighting continued economic growth and rising living standards last year, the Chinese President — entering the third year in his expected decade-long reign — said he wanted to “click the ‘like’ button” for the country’s 1.3 billion citizens, whose support for officials at all levels made such achievements possible.

Mr Xi — who heads the ruling Communist Party as well as the world’s largest standing army — promised deeper reform and the rule of law in the coming year, comparing them to “a bird’s two wings”.

While he hit all the right notes, Mr Xi saved the most dramatic metaphors for his massive anti-corruption campaign.

The 61-year-old leader, considered China’s most powerful in decades, reiterated his “zero-tolerance” stance, vowing to keep “waving high the sword against corruption” and “fastening the cage of regulations”.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

On Housing, Pricing

Singapore 'must get creative' on housing, income inequality: Ho Kwon Ping

In his lecture, S R Nathan Fellow Ho Kwon Ping said creative solutions will be needed as the nation deals with the biggest "known unknown" in the next 50 years: disruptive technological change.

Nov 13, 2014

By Fiona Chan

Housing affordability and income inequality are two challenges facing Singapore's economy in the next 50 years, businessman Ho Kwon Ping said yesterday.

In a lecture that examined how the nation's economic strategy would need to evolve in the coming decades, Mr Ho offered some radical solutions for these bread- and-butter issues that have become political hot potatoes.

To keep home prices within the reach of Singaporeans, he proposed setting "sale price caps" for all new homes and doing away with the distinction between public and private housing.

Low-income families can benefit from access to credit cards


JANUARY 8, 2015

For anyone who has a credit card, buying the latest gadget or going out for dinner is easy even when they do not have enough money. They can buy now and pay later.

For more than half of the residents here in Singapore, however, that easy lifestyle is not possible. Nearly 60 per cent of individuals here have an average annual income below S$30,000, said the Department of Statistics, and current regulations do not allow them to receive a credit card.

[According to, if you earn $2,500 a month or $30k in 12 months, you are in the 41.5th percentile. That means you earn more than 41.5% of the resident population. And if you count 13th month salary, the monthly salary should be about $2,300 and about 40% or less. So it is not 60% of the population unable to have a credit card. Maybe closer to 40%. Unless you count the 8% of retiree age Singaporeans. More on that later.]

This puts lower-income families at a disadvantage. When there is a sale on something they need, they have to wait until they save enough and may pay a far higher price. If their child would benefit from just a little more tuition before an exam or would learn by participating in more activities at school, they need to wait until the family has saved enough because they cannot use a credit card to pay for the education over time. And if they want to use credit to buy medicine, get insurance or make payment in an emergency, they can only use the money they have rather than using their card and paying later.

Even though the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) does allow banks to make loans to people with incomes above S$20,000, banks are less likely to offer short-term loans for daily necessities. The result is that these families have few good options.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Is there an oil war happening right under our noses?

If oil prices fall below US$70, there will be a drop in US production, but have no doubt, this price fall-off serves American and Saudi strategic interests.


Thomas Friedman

October 17, 2014

Is it just my imagination or is there a global oil war under way pitting the United States and Saudi Arabia on one side against Russia and Iran on the other?

One cannot say for sure whether the American-Saudi oil alliance is deliberate or a coincidence of interests, but if it is explicit, then clearly we are trying to do to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, exactly what the Americans and Saudis did to the last leaders of the Soviet Union: Pump them to death — bankrupt them by bringing down the price of oil to levels below what both Moscow and Tehran need to finance their budgets.

Think about this: Four oil producers — Libya, Iraq, Nigeria and Syria — are in turmoil today and Iran is hobbled by sanctions. Ten years ago, such news would have sent oil prices soaring. But today, the opposite is happening. Global crude oil prices have been falling for weeks, now resting around US$88 — after a long stretch at US$105 to US$110 a barrel. [Update 6 Jan 2015: Brent Crude is below US$50 a barrel.]

Big Idea No. 10: Downsize the PIE

Nov 08, 2014


Need a car in 2065? Don't buy a private car. Use a smartphone app to find a shared one. Preferably driverless.

By Kishore Mahbubani, For The Straits Times

MY BIG Idea No. 10 in this series of essays on Singapore's future is easy to remember but hard to implement: "Downsize the PIE."

This idea came to my mind when I saw a huge sign along the Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) saying "Upsize the PIE".

It was a clever play on words.

It is always good to increase the size of the pie, literally speaking. However, in land-scarce Singapore, how could we possibly celebrate the fact that we are expanding road space?

Every square metre we give up for road usage means a square metre less for a more environmentally friendly use. Already, Singapore uses up to 12 per cent of its land for road usage, probably one of the highest in the world.

Can we reduce road space in Singapore? Yes, we can!

With the arrival of new technology and new systems of transportation, we can have an alternative dream for Singapore.

To put it simply, my dream for Singapore is to reduce the number of vehicles from one million to 300,000.

Betting on stocks? Don't bet on winning

Jan 04, 2015

Over-confidence is clouding the judgment of investors and leading them to systemic errors in their investment strategies, according to a leading local academic.

Associate Professor Fong Wai Mun of the National University of Singapore Business School told The Sunday Times the tendency of investors to think they know it all is why the market is rife with stock betting, a lack of diversification and excessive trading, all against the tenets of prudent investments.

"Individual investors have much less information about the markets (than professionals), but most of them are also affected by an over-inflated confidence in their own ability," Prof Fong said. "One clear symptom of this is that investors do not diversify their portfolios, instead putting all their wealth on a few stocks because they're 'confident' the bet will make money."

The end of sushi as we know it?


Mr Jiro Ono, 89, widely considered the world’s greatest sushi chef, has some dire news for aficionados of raw fish: The delicacy’s best days may be behind us.

“The future is so bad,” the owner of the three-Michelin-star-rated restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro, who was the subject of the 2011 documentary Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, told CQ (Central Queensland) News last month. “Even now I can’t get the ingredients that I really want. I have a negative view of the future. It is getting harder to find fish of a decent quality.”

The reason is overfishing, particularly of the endangered bluefin tuna, a sushi staple. With 90 per cent of the world’s fisheries deemed either maxed out or overexploited, we may be, as one conservationist put it, in the era of “peak wild fish”.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A year to take advantage of cheap oil

 Jan 06, 2015

By Lee Chia-Yi, For The Straits Times

THE major cause of the recent oil price fall is the increasing oil production in the United States as advanced technology enables US oil companies to extract previously untapped shale oil and gas.

Although remaining a major oil importer, the US now produces more than half of the oil it consumes. One salient consequence which may have great geopolitical impact is that the US has overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil-producing country.

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, the leading member of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) and the world's largest oil exporter, is unwilling to cut its oil production to reduce global oil supply. At a recent energy forum held in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi restated Riyadh's policy of not cutting oil output, and blamed the non-cooperation of non-Opec oil producers for the drop in oil prices.

Will oil remain cheap?

Monday, January 5, 2015

Unhappiness over Sengkang temple with columbarium: 7 other cases of residents opposing developments near their homes

Jan 05, 2015

SINGAPORE - Future residents of Build-To-Order (BTO) project Fernvale Lea are up in arms over a planned Chinese temple with columbarium next to their flats. The columbarium, where funeral urns will be stored, will take up 15 per cent of the temple it will be housed at.

About 400 would-be residents of Fernvale Lea attended a closed-door dialogue with Dr Lam Pin Min, MP for Sengkang West, on Jan 4. There have even been requests to get refunds from the Housing Board.

There have been other cases of people not wanting certain types of amenities in their neighbourhood - or, as many know it, the not-in-my-backyard (Nimby) syndrome. Here are some past incidents:

Ketuanan Melayu: What's in a name?

Jan 05, 2015

By Joseph Chinyong Liow For The Straits Times

AT UMNO'S recent general assembly, the trope of "Ketuanan Melayu" rang loud and clear yet again through the halls of the Putra World Trade Centre, drowning out Prime Minister Najib Razak's "1Malaysia" in the same way that it drowned out Mr Abdullah Badawi's "Islam Hadhari" not too long ago, and Tun Mahathir Mohamad's "Bangsa Malaysia" before that.

What exactly does Ketuanan Melayu mean? Furthermore, what does it imply?

At first glance, the meaning of Ketuanan Melayu, in the Malaysian cultural and historical context, is innocent enough. According to school textbooks, Ketuanan Melayu is defined as "the passion for anything related to the Malay race, such as political rights, language, cultural heritage and customs, as well as homeland".

Much in the same vein, the influential Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (Institute for Language and Literature) defines it as the right to rule or control a country (negara), state (negeri), or a district (daerah) on the basis of the principle of sovereignty (kedaulatan).

Its root word, tuan, in this context means "lord" or "master" (in relation to a servant) or "owner" (in relation to property).

Hence, literally, Ketuanan Melayu means Malay sovereignty, or the lordship claim of the Malays on the tanah Melayu - the land belonging to the Malays and everything in/on it.

Indonesia deploys Usman Harun to help in search


SINGAPORE — Singapore offered its help to Indonesia in the wake of the AirAsia crash as part of a humanitarian effort, and will continue providing its assistance professionally, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said yesterday in response to Jakarta’s deployment of KRI Usman Harun, the naming of which sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries last February.

Indonesia media reported that KRI Usman Harun, a Bung Tomo-class corvette, was deployed because it is equipped with advanced underwater sonar capabilities — the Thales Underwater Systems TMS 4130C1 hull-mounted sonar.

A MINDEF spokesperson said: “Singapore offered its help for this humanitarian effort arising from a tragic accident of AirAsia flight QZ8501 which has befallen our Indonesian neighbour. We offer our deepest condolences to the bereaved families of the passengers and crew. The Singapore Armed Forces will continue to assist in this search effort professionally.”

Jakarta’s decision to name the ship after two marines who carried out a bombing at MacDonald House in 1965 had led the Singapore Government to send a Third Person Note — a formal diplomatic note — to its Indonesian counterparts to register its regret.

Subsequently, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the KRI Usman Harun would not be allowed to dock in Singapore and the Republic’s navy would not sail with it in joint exercises.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sometimes, handouts are not enough

Dec 28, 2014

Helping the poor to clear their debts will give them a fresh start in life

By Theresa Tan

Two charities are giving poor families a fresh start in the new year by helping them pay off their household debts.

The Methodist Welfare Services (MWS) will give an average of $2,000 to each of 850 needy families to clear their rental, phone bills, utilities and other arrears.

Care Corner is also giving $2,000 each to 500 poor families for the same purpose.

Both charities, which are raising funds for this, are doing so to celebrate Singapore's 50th birthday next year.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A house is not a credit card

 NOV 17, 2014


THIS autumn, federal regulators made a controversial decision to back down from tough new underwriting standards for mortgages. Some affordable-housing advocates, allied with parts of the corporate housing industry, had successfully argued that the proposed standards would make it too hard for people to qualify, thereby reducing home ownership and hurting the housing market. Last summer, that same trump card stopped a bipartisan Bill to reform the mortgage market, more than six years after Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had to be taken over by the government.

All of this ignores a crucial fact: Much, and at times most, of what happens in the mortgage market doesn't have anything to do with home ownership. A sizeable percentage of mortgages - including most of the risky ones that were made in the run-up to the financial crisis - are not used to buy a home. They are used to refinance an existing mortgage. When home prices are rising and mortgage rates are falling, many home owners choose to replace their mortgage with a bigger one, taking the difference in cash. In other words, mortgages are a way to provide credit.

Pink IC and red passport not enough to make you Singaporean

Jan 02, 2015

William Wan, For The Straits Times

Take a leaf from the book of Aleksandar Duric, the Yugoslav-born footballer who came to Singapore at 29 and became a Singaporean at 37. Focus on the common things that bind Singaporeans, not the differences that separate us.

By William Wan For The Straits Times

Thursday, January 1, 2015

In showing off its new toys, China isn't playing nice

December 18, 2014
YU NAKAMURA, Nikkei staff writer

GUANGZHOU, China -- China may have seen economic growth slow in November, but on the whole, it wasn't such a bad month for Beijing, as it enjoyed success in other areas.

"We should vigorously promote the Asia-Pacific free trade zone, setting the goal, direction and road map, and turn the vision into reality as soon as possible," Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Beijing on Nov. 11.

Xi called on the leaders of member states, including U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, to work toward unity and harmony in the region. At the summit, held in the suburban Yanqi Lake area, China presented itself to the world as a powerful country. For his part, Xi acted as the amicable host, greeting guests with a handshake as they arrived at the welcoming ceremony.

Pension to give peace of mind to the elderly poor?

Jan 01, 2015


The Central Provident Fund works for those who have CPF savings. But for those who don't, a targeted basic pension scheme is the answer.

By Aaron Low Deputy News Editor

OVER the years, while reporting on manpower and economic issues, I've met dozens of families with zero savings.

They are just getting by, using their meagre wages to support their own families and their aged parents. They save by eating meat only once a week, or using candles to save on electricity.

Most do so without complaint. Their fortitude and filial piety are moving, and it's hard not to be affected by their plight.

Their problems have been acknowledged by the Government which has made significant strides to strengthen the social safety net in the past three years.

Still, one area needs addressing urgently - helping those old folk who do not have enough in their Central Provident Fund (CPF) for their retirement.

It is a timely concern; in about a month's time, an advisory panel set up by the Government will issue recommendations to improve key areas of the CPF - a key pillar of Singapore's social security safety net, but which has recently become one of the country's most hotly debated policies.