Thursday, January 28, 2016

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's 1984 speech on how mode of governance must suit needs of its people

January 27, 2016

SINGAPORE — In outlining proposed changes to Singapore’s political system in Parliament today, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged MPs to re-read a memorable speech by the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew more than 30 years ago. In that speech in July 1984, the late Mr Lee and then-PM, outlined how a country’s mode of government must suit the needs of its people.

Here is an edited excerpt of his remarks:

[This was the debate on the creation of Non-Constituency MPs.]

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Inquiry in China Adds to Doubt Over Reliability of Its Economic Data


New York Times, JAN. 26, 2016

HONG KONG — The veracity of China’s economic data has been increasingly questioned as the slowing pace of the country’s growth has startled the world. And a new investigation into the official who oversees the numbers is unlikely to inspire confidence.

The Communist Party’s anticorruption commission announced late Tuesday that it was looking into the head of the country’s statistics agency over what it called “serious violations.”

It is unclear whether the investigation into the agency’s head, Wang Baoan, who became the director of the National Bureau of Statistics of China last April, is related to his current role or to his previous one as vice minister of finance. The commission did not release any further details about the inquiry.

China’s shrinking manufacturing sector and falling stock market have unnerved global investors. Any further doubt about its economic figures could paint an even darker picture of the health of the economy, adding to the pain in the markets. Stocks in Shanghai, which closed before the announcement, were off 6.4 percent on Tuesday.

Citizens and civil service part of a whole

Speech of the day

27 Jan 2016

Mr Seah said Singaporeans should not have to face vigilante justice from the public or high-handed behaviour from civil servants.

Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, spoke about nation-building and collaboration among citizens. Here is an edited extract:

Recently, I had a senior (although still young) civil servant observing one of my Meet-the-People Sessions. The combination of youth and seniority is sometimes an indicator for high fliers, but it can be an unpropitious mix. This officer observed what we did that evening.

At the end of the session, as we were sharing, he turned to one of my key volunteers, exasperated, and he asked: "Why do you keep writing us these letters to make exceptions? You know that we cannot do that. You don't waste time writing, we won't waste time replying."

I am very seldom speechless and very seldom at a loss for ideas. But that night, I paused on both counts.

Does our public service need to change?

Atlantic City dependent on Gambling Revenues threatened Bankruptcy. Christie Announces Plan for State Control

JAN. 26, 2016, New York Times

ATLANTIC CITY — The elected officials of this struggling seaside gambling resort will yield control of the city’s finances to the state government in a deal announced on Tuesday by Gov. Chris Christie that is intended to stave off bankruptcy.

Mayor Don Guardian had threatened to seek protection from the city’s creditors in bankruptcy court, a prospect that could have embarrassed Mr. Christie, who is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination as a prudent financial steward. The governor detoured from stumping in New Hampshire to stand with Mr. Guardian, a fellow Republican, in Trenton and reveal their plans.

The agreement falls short of an outright takeover by the state of the city’s government, but it would leave state officials to make all of the important decisions about how to reduce its crushing debt of $240 million and slash the size and cost of its civil services. A report this month from an emergency manager Mr. Christie appointed concluded that the city could run out of money by the spring.

“The urgency of the city’s current financial predicament cannot be understated,” Mr. Christie said, adding that he hoped the intervention would stave off the “last resort” of a bankruptcy filing.

Stephen M. Sweeney, the president of the State Senate, had pressed for a full state takeover, and he said bills would be drafted to allow for the handover of financial controls.

“We have to fix this government,” Senator Sweeney, a South Jersey Democrat, said at a news conference, flanked by the governor and the mayor. “It’s not Atlantic City’s fault, but they’re spending three dollars and taking one in.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Middle Kingdom's dilemma in the Middle East

Jonathan Eyal
Europe Correspondent

25 Jan 2016

If China wishes to take the Middle East seriously - as President Xi claims it does during his recent trip there - it will not only have to invest in new diplomatic capabilities, but it will also have to change mindsets and decide if it wants a role in maintaining the region's political order.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

When doing business in China gets unhealthy

Curtis S. Chin For The Straits Times

Jan 23, 2016

BANGKOK • China's increasing assertiveness in South-east Asia may well have taken an ominous new direction. It's not just oil rigs off the shores of Vietnam or artificial islands being built near the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Most places, you worry about bookstores vanishing. Sadly, in Hong Kong and now Thailand, it's also booksellers. And that's not good news for South-east Asian business people at home and in Hong Kong. The capitalist, freewheeling city-state has been pretty much left on its own to run as an autonomous special administrative region of China since the British left this one-time Crown colony in 1997.

That could now be changing.

From battlefield to marketplace

Jean-Pierre Lehmann 

For The Straits Times
(By Invitation)

Jan 23, 2016

Asean has led the way in showing the rest of Asia how to achieve relative stability

The term "Asia" - coined by the 5th century BCE Greek historian Herodotus to describe what lay east of Anatolia - can be used only in referring to the continent, the world's largest and most diverse by far, but not in the context of any particular attributes.

The values of, say, a Syrian are so very different from those of, say, a Korean, that any talk of the erstwhile, much-ballyhooed "Asian values" is meaningless.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Singapore must not become a ‘yardstick society’: Chan Chun Sing

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office tells the St Gallen Symposium Singapore Forum that instead of blindly chasing conventional definitions of success, society must have diverse groups of people and talents.

By Justin Ong
23 Jan 2016 

SINGAPORE: The “saddest thing” Singaporeans can do for themselves is to become a “yardstick society” where people blindly chase after stereotypical definitions of success, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Chan Chun Sing on Saturday (Jan 23).

He was speaking at the inaugural St Gallen Symposium Singapore Forum - the first of its kind outside the annual global conference held in Switzerland - where he delivered the keynote address on economic growth before participating in a panel discussion and dialogue with the audience.

Some students in the crowd raised concerns of Singaporean society favouring scientific and mathematical disciplines over the humanities and social sciences, as well as being biased toward those from schools such as Raffles Institution (RI), where Mr Chan was educated.

In response, he said: “I don’t think the subjects we do define us. But what you do with your process of study will. Even if you do science, do you read widely? If you do philosophy, do you bother to go understand science, maths etc.? Never be pigeonholed and say ‘I’m like that because I’m in this course’."

Friday, January 22, 2016

The 'We' in our National Pledge

This is excerpted from a speech delivered by the director of the Institute of Policy Studies at the Singapore Perspectives conference yesterday, which had the theme 'We'.

Janadas Devan

The Straits Times,
19 January 2016

"We" - it is the first word in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States : "We the People…"

It is also the first word in our National Pledge: "We, the citizens of Singapore…"

It is an example of what in modern rhetorical theory has come to be known as a "catachresis" - a linguistic imposition that brings into existence that which it posits. The "we" in "we the people" is the application of a pronoun "used by a speaker to refer to himself or herself and one or more other people considered together", as the Oxford English Dictionary defines "we", to a much larger grouping of people largely unacquainted with each other - in the US, China or Singapore - thus bringing into existence the "imagined community" that we collectively posit by referring to ourselves as "we".

China's great economic shift needs to begin

Martin Wolf
For The Straits Times

22 Jan 2016

Chinese policymakers have a stellar reputation for the quality of economic management but the same was true of the Japanese three decades ago. For the Japanese, the difficulty of shifting from their high-savings, high-investment, "catch-up" economic model proved very large. Indeed, this has still not been completed. While the Chinese economy has far more room to grow than Japan a quarter of a century ago, its disequilibria are even bigger. Moreover, contrary to conventional wisdom, the transition to a new pattern of growth has not really begun.

Already, the difficulty of handling this transition is damaging Chinese policymakers' reputation. Mistakes in handling the implosion of the "bubble economy" of the 1980s did the damage in Japan. Now, it is the Chinese authorities' mishandling of the currency and the stock market. Similarly, the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 devastated the reputation of Western financiers and policymakers. Everybody seems to be a genius when credit is surging.

Understandably and rightly, observers are calling upon the Chinese authorities to be more transparent. Given their political system - "the bureaucrat knows best" - that is going to be hard to do, but this is a second-order matter. The first-order one is that it is unclear how and whether the transition to a more balanced economy is to be made.

Expectations for Budget 2016 as recession looms

Devadas Krishnadas
For The Straits Times

22 Jan 2016

The Budget will be announced on March 24. This is a month later than has been historical practice, to give the new Government more time to formulate its policies and plans. This upcoming Budget speech has several dimensions of special significance.

As the first Budget of a new term of government, it will be an opportunity to set political direction with fiscal policy - essentially to put fiscal bucks behind policy bangs. Voters will be able to perceive the priorities of the new Government from the relative weights of expenditure.

Second, it will be the first Budget for the new Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat. His predecessor, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, helmed this vital ministry for nearly a decade, including through the last recession and in response to the political knock of the 2011 General Election when the People's Action Party's (PAP) vote share slid to a post-Independence low.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

CPF savings and the elusive dream of high returns, low risk

Economic Affairs

Aaron Low
Deputy Business Editor

Jan 20 2016

The question of how returns on CPF savings should be calculated has resurfaced after an economics don's surprising call for change.

When shopping, many people open their wallets on one simple principle - "cheap and good".

In the world of finance, an equivalent of the maxim would probably be "high and low" - high returns on low risk. The problem is there are almost no investments that can offer a high return on low risk, without a hidden catch. High returns must necessarily come with high risks. That is a universal law of finance.

But last week, a National University of Singapore economics don offered a suggestion that could result in returns on the Central Provident Fund becoming "high and low".

Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon said at a symposium on pensions that the formula used to tabulate the returns on the CPF Ordinary Account (OA) could be tweaked such that interest rates on the funds can be enhanced while still bearing zero risk for the member.

Elected Presidency

On Friday, President Tony Tan Keng Yam delivered an address to open the 13th Parliament, in which he highlighted the need for political change and referred to the elected presidential system. In this article (below) written before that presidential address, the writer calls for a U-turn on the elected presidency.

Then, a letter in response to this proposal.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Should I cook my vegetables or eat them raw?

January 15, 2016
Dear Cecil:

Raw foodists claim that heat destroys digestive enzymes in fruits and vegetables, reducing the benefit we can derive from eating them. I’ve also heard an opposing claim: that cooking vegetables breaks down indigestible cellulose, which allows us to absorb more nutrients. What do you say?

— Red Ree

Cecil replies:

I can’t blame you for seeking a second opinion on this one, RR. A quick Google search for “digestive enzymes” yields reams of websites with names like Life Force and Soul Healing, all vigorously encouraging the reader to ingest extra helpings of these enzymes — whether as found naturally, in fruits and vegetables, or synthetically, via the growing supplement market. Keep clicking and pretty soon you’re reading about vaccinations, autism, colloidal silver, precious bodily fluids, etc.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The world needs another Tu Youyou

Oct 23, 2015

Chinese scientist behind anti-malarial drug a giant in history of public health sciences
Ong Choon Nam and Ng Qin Xiang

Chinese scientist Tu Youyou is one of the recipients of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of a novel therapy against malaria.

Her discovery of artemisinin, the most powerful anti-malarial medicine available, is widely regarded as a major breakthrough that contributed to significantly reducing the spread of a devastating communicable disease.

Malaria has plagued humankind for as long as we know. Scientific studies on malaria probably began about a century ago, when Scottish physician Ronald Ross proved that mosquitoes were the vector for malaria transmission. For this work, Ross received the 1902 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

French doctor Charles Laveran later found parasitic protozoa known as Plasmodium inside the red blood cells of malaria-infected patients, and showed for the first time that a parasite could underlie a disease. He was awarded the 1907 Nobel Prize.

Malaria causes fever and, in severe cases, brain damage and death. There were 198 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2013, according to the World Health Organisation. This resulted in an estimated over half a million deaths.

The Big Read: From Isle of Gods to start-up haven

Entrepreneurs are finding in Bali an ecosystem conducive to a foray into tech start-ups

Laura Philomin

15 January 2016

BALI — Finding that support for entrepreneurs like her was lacking back home in Australia, Ms Maire Shanahan decided to relocate to the Indonesian resort island of Bali three years ago.

And it proved to be a “transformational” move, as the 41-year-old found, in Hubud, a co-working space with like-minded people — “entrepreneurs, who were doing the same kind of things I was, (and) understood the challenges”.

In recent years, unconventional working spaces offering an ecosystem conducive for tech start-ups to grow, such as Hubud and Livit, have attracted “digital nomads” — professionals and entrepreneurs who work remotely — to Bali.

And together with the low cost of living and conducting businesses, the Island of Gods has become a new haven for tech start-ups, despite getting little support from the government.

Some experts have cited Bali, with its thriving start-up scene, as one of Singapore’s up-and-coming competitors in the high-tech sector.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

China's stock market casino and the real economy

Esther Teo
China Correspondent

JAN 13, 2016

Will China's stock market turmoil affect the rest of its economy? Only in so far as officials exhibit their ability or inability to tame volatility

BEIJING • While China's real economy is usually viewed as being detached from its markets' wild rides, the latest stock market volatility has stoked fears of a sharper slowdown in its economy and raised concerns over the knock-on effects this could have for its many trading partners.

Chinese shares had their worst start of the year in two decades, with sharp price falls triggering so-called circuit breakers twice last week.

The mechanism was introduced in the wake of a similar crash last August and halts trade for the day once losses reach a threshold of 7 per cent.

However, these circuit breakers were unable to prevent a repeat of the chaos.

Last Thursday, the Chinese stock market fell 7 per cent in just 29 minutes, triggering the circuit breaker and making it the shortest trading day in Chinese history.

The tumult sent global markets plummeting, erasing more than US$2.3 trillion (S$3.3 trillion) off share values last week. The Dow and S&P 500 also had their worst five-day starts in history, falling 6.2 per cent and 6 per cent respectively for the week.

Regulate Uber and GrabCar with a light touch

This will even the playing field and protect passengers, without hindering the progress of technology

Toh Yong Chuan
Manpower Correspondent

14 Jan 2016

Ride-sharing app companies Uber and GrabCar face the prospect of greater controls in Singapore; not just the companies but also their drivers.

A Ministry of Transport (MOT) review is under way, raising the possibility of some form of regulation by year end.

The ministry has so far held dialogues with commuters, taxi drivers and the National Taxi Association (NTA), an affiliate of the powerful National Trades Union Congress.

Details of the review are still sketchy. Senior Minister of State for Transport Ng Chee Meng, who is heading the review, has said that he has three priorities - ensuring that commuters' interests are taken care of, promoting healthy competition and levelling the playing field for taxi drivers where justified.

Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also said, when he announced the review in October, that it is important to be fair to both the incumbents and new players, and to take a balanced approach.

If a new player disrupts the rules, maybe it's the rules that need to change

Thinking Aloud
10 Jan 2016

The regulator's job is to look at the potential for good in a new player
Chua Mui Hoong
Opinion Editor

Pity the regulator today.

He inherited a system at the peak of its success, with rules carefully thought out. He thought his role was to implement and enforce rules.

Then things change. Disruptive technologies change the industry and new players enter the market. Unhappy incumbents want to deny the new players access to funding or infrastructure they had paid to build, and hold the regulator to the rule-book.

Meanwhile, consumers clamour for choice and diversity at ever declining prices. Citizens who once trusted the state to preserve a stable status quo now question its impartiality and ask whose side it is on.

Across different sectors, the chaps in government whose job is to come up with rules for industry are facing a hard time.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The future of personal transport: The driverless, car-sharing road ahead

Carmakers increasingly fret that their industry is on the brink of huge disruption

The Economist, Jan 9th 2016

THE whizzy gadgets for geeks to goggle at during CES, an annual consumer-electronics show in Las Vegas, have typically been small enough to pick up. But they have been joined in recent years by an increasing number of cars. The Detroit motor show, America’s biggest and glitziest, starts later this month, but many in the car industry now regard CES, which opened on January 5th, as a more important event. Mary Barra, GM’s boss, unveiled a new production version of its Bolt electric car at Las Vegas this week.

Incumbent manufacturers are recognising the double threat posed by technology, as car-sharing takes off and driverless vehicles come closer. First, some people who might hitherto have wanted to own a car may no longer do so, cancelling out the growth the motor industry might otherwise have expected from the rising middle classes in developing countries (see chart). Second, technology firms may be better placed than carmakers to develop and profit from the software that will underpin both automated driving and vehicle-sharing. Some of these firms may even manufacture cars of their own.

Oil's slide below $30 sends shockwaves far and wide

13 Jan 2016


NEW YORK - U.S. oil stumbled below $30 for the first time in 12 years to levels that threaten the survival of many U.S. shale firms, spur more belt-tightening by oil majors and spell more pain for crude-producing nations and regions.

A seven-day losing streak fueled by concerns about a continued supply glut and fragile demand from China, the world's No. 2 consumer, wiped out almost a fifth of crude prices this year and 70 percent since mid-2014.

Traders have all but given up attempting to predict where the new-year rout will end, with momentum-driven dealing and overwhelmingly bearish sentiment engulfing the market. Some analysts warned of $20 a barrel; Standard Chartered said fund selling may not relent until it reaches $10.

And more of the world's biggest energy companies are conceding that it may be many years before prices recover. On Tuesday, U.S. crude futures traded below $50 through 2021.

British oil and gas giant BP Plc said on Tuesday it would slash 5 percent of its workforce in the face of the continued slump while Brazil's state oil firm Petrobras
cut its investment plan for the third time in six months.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Exxon Mobil Corp meanwhile have seen their stock decline by 11 and 4 percent respectively.

The latest cuts add to the hundreds of thousands of job lost and billions of dollars spending cuts throughout crude's 18-month slide from levels above $100 a barrel in the summer of 2014, a collapse that has run far longer and deeper than originally expected, reaching crisis point for some.

For Russia, which relies on energy for about half its budget revenues and 40 percent of exports, $30-a-barrel oil could wipe out in just over a year the nation's rainy day funds amassed during bull energy markets and blow a hole in its budget.

Even Saudi Arabia, whose policy of maintaining output to defend its market share even as prices slide has been blamed, together with the resilience of U.S. shale producers, for the persistence of the global supply glut, is feeling the squeeze.

In its 2016 budget unveiled late last month, Riyadh announced a series of spending cuts and reduction in subsidies as oil revenues shrink.

But with major U.S. energy lender Wells Fargo estimating that sustained prices below $40 per barrel, let alone $30, are too low for U.S. shale producers to survive in the longer run, the stakes are exceptionally high for the young industry that turned the United States into a leading oil and gas producer.

The rout has already pushed dozens of small firms into bankruptcy or turned them into "zombies" firms that barely manage to pay their bills and service debts, but do not earn enough to ensure sustained production and revenues ahead.

Stocks of U.S. energy companies lost more than 9 percent in the past nine trading days and the sector is expected to report a 70 percent annual drop in earnings per share for the fourth quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data.

There are few signs suggesting any near-term relief. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted on Tuesday that already heavily swollen global oil stockpiles would continue rising until the second half of next year.


The prospect of a protracted slump has fueled expectations of a flurry of asset sales deals that could be possibly financed by private equity or hedge fund investors and law firms and banks have been beefing up their restructuring teams.

The latest slide, however, quashed hopes that the market may have already found its bottom and private equity investors are expected to hold off with buying any assets with action expected to shift to bankruptcy courts.

The U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) benchmark briefly touched a low of $29.93, which was last seen in December 2003.

“With WTI now trading below $30, people are getting their minds wrapped around the lower-for-longer price scenario and … management teams and sponsors are starting to become resigned to the likelihood of an in-court solution,” said Matthew Hart, who leads the restructuring practice at Intrepid Partners.

The latest plunge has also deepened the gap between U.S. states such as Alaska, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Louisiana and New Mexico, which depend on production taxes to fund education and health care and the rest of the country, which has benefited from low gasoline prices.


There are winners of the oil rout too.

Cheap gasoline and low heating costs have produced a windfall for the majority of U.S. consumers, which with a delay begins to show up in discretionary spending and savings.

The U.S. auto industry is also racking up record sales and profits, largely due to the resurgent popularity of trucks and sport utility vehicles fueled by gasoline prices at multiyear lows.

And some investors are still looking at the latest slide as a potential opportunity.

“It’s a wild cycle, but it’s so hard to predict where the bottom is,” said Gary Bradshaw, portfolio manager at the $1.9 billion Hodges Small Cap Fund. He says his firm has been buying small-cap natural gas firms in anticipation that the stocks will rebound soon, particularly if global events cause a quick tightening in oil supply.

“I think we’ll have a heck of a snap-back rally and crude will eventually, my guess, rebound to around $55 a barrel," he said. "We’re buying stocks thinking they’re awful close to getting washed out.”


US$10 - $20: That is how low oil prices could get

“In light of prices already falling towards US$30 without the increase in Iranian crude, it would seem that US$20 is a possibility,” Phillip Futures analyst Daniel Ang said.

By Tang See Kit, Channel NewsAsia

13 Jan 2016

SINGAPORE: As crude oil prices slide further to 12-year lows this week, market watchers are slashing their price forecasts yet again, with some predicting US$20 a barrel becoming a distinct possibility.

Analysts at the likes of Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and Bank of America Merrill Lynch earlier this week lowered their oil price assumptions for 2016 to the US$20 level, while Standard Chartered was the most bearish with a call for oil to tumble as low as US$10 a barrel.

As of Wednesday’s early Asian trade, US West Texas Intermediate crude (WTI) traded at US$30.88 a barrel, nudging up slightly from Tuesday’s intra-day low of US$29.93 which was last seen in December 2003. Meanwhile, Brent crude traded at US$31.20 a barrel, after bottoming at US$30.34 on Tuesday.

[Note: West Texas Intermediate, and Brent Crude are the best quality crude oil and they are

Year-to-date, oil prices have lost nearly 17 per cent and are about 70 per cent lower from their peak in June 2014.


An increasing likelihood of a deeper devaluation in the Chinese yuan, also known as the renminbi, has been singled out as the prime culprit behind oil’s dismal start to the new year.

“China is an instigator of the recent selloff, as markets worry about China’s oil demand for the year,” Daniel Hynes, senior commodity strategist at ANZ, said in a telephone interview. "Markets continue to price in the worst scenario.”

Decelerating growth in the world’s top commodity importer has been fuelling fears of slowing demand - further squeezing a battered oil market already struggling with massive oversupply. More weakening in the yuan would render dollar-denominated oil even more expensive and deal yet another blow to demand.

“[Weak yuan] could lead to another round of commodity weakness and send oil into the US$20s,” Morgan Stanley’s analyst, Adam Longson, wrote in a report dated Jan 11.

Coupled with a strengthening US dollar, which has been given a boost following last week’s upbeat nonfarm payrolls report, it is unsurprising that market watchers continue to dial back their estimates for an oil recovery.

According to Phillip Futures analyst Daniel Ang, hedge funds are increasing their short positions on WTI crude, implying a sense of “strong bearishness”.

Meanwhile, news that Saudi Arabia is considering a float of state-owned Saudi Aramco, the world's largest oil producer, has also fuelled more uncertainties, according to Ben Pedley, head of investment strategy for Asia at HSBC Private Bank.

Saudi Aramco manages crude reserves that exceed 261 billion barrels. (AFP/Hassan Ammar)


For now, with supply unlikely to subside, global crude oil prices are struggling to find any support.

“Although US rig counts have been declining, this is not reflected in US crude production. This means that for the first half of the year, we should continue to see oil prices remain low,” Mr Ang from Phillip Futures said in an email interview.

US oil rig count — commonly used as an indication of drilling activity and future production levels — dropped by 20 to 516 in the weekend ending Jan 8, logging its steepest decline in two months.

“In light of prices already falling towards US$30 without the increase in Iranian crude, it would seem that US$20 is a possibility,” the Singapore-based analyst added.

For spread better IG’s Evan Lucas, the possibility of oil prices languishing at US$20 a barrel also seems like a certainty and will be a “dire problem as it will bring the bankruptcy question to bear”.

“There are several estimates that sub-US$30 a barrel would mean one third of US oil and gas players would go broke in six months,” the Melbourne-based analyst added.

One casualty of the ongoing slump in oil prices is British oil and gas company BP, which announced plans on Jan 12 to slash 5 per cent of its global workforce as it undergoes a US$3.5 billion restructuring programme.

- CNA/sk

'Sell everything' warns RBS as fears mount that mass sell-off is about to crash markets and oil could spiral towards $10 a barrel

RBS tells investors 'In a crowded hall, exit doors are small. Risks are high'
Mass sell-off could be as severe as the 2008 market meltdown, bank says
Oil price drop could see petrol fall to 86p a litre, says RAC 


Daily Mail

13 January 2016

Top banks set off warning sirens today with forecasts of a $10 a barrel oil price and a mass sell-off as severe as the 2008 market meltdown.

The oil price plunged again to $30 a barrel, and Standard Chartered said it might yet fall to a third of that. RBS told investors to sell almost everything, saying: 'In a crowded hall, exit doors are small. Risks are high.'

The blood-curdling warnings follow a torrid start to the year on financial markets, with billions of pounds wiped off stocks in the UK and elsewhere, as China struggles to control turbulent trading and oil continually spirals lower.

The FTSE 100 managed to finish up 1 per cent or 57.41 points at 5929.24 at the close today, but it only barely regained the ground lost yesterday.

London's top stock index saw £85billion wiped off its value after tumbling 5.2 per cent last week, during what is being dubbed the worst start to a New Year ever on world markets.
A string of banks including Barclays, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and Societe Generale have slashed their 2016 oil forecasts this week, while Standard Chartered cautioned that the price could plummet to $10 a barrel.

But RBS sounded the strongest alert, issuing advice to clients saying 'danger is lurking out there for every investor' and 'the downside is crystallising. Watch out. Sell (mostly) everything.'

It went on: 'In a crowded hall, exit doors are small. Risks are high.' Adding 'this looks very much like 2008', RBS suggested taking refuge in US and German government bonds.

UK motorists can look forward to lower petrol prices as the oil price tumbles, but the recent declines are causing chaos on financial markets which could end up tanking the global economy in the worst case scenario.

RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said: 'This latest prediction of oil hitting just $10 a barrel would have the potential to take petrol prices down to around 86p per litre – the last time we saw average prices this low was in early 2009.

'However, for prices to get this low the pound would have to get no weaker against the dollar than it is today.'

He added: 'At $10 a barrel, tax would account for around 84 per cent of the total price per litre – a clear indication of just how high a proportion of every litre we buy goes straight to the Treasury.'

Oil has been dragged lower by a supply glut, China’s weakening economy and stock market turmoil, as well as the strong dollar, which makes it more expensive for those using other currencies to buy oil.

Prices have also been driven lower by a threat that markets will be flooded by even more oil when sanctions against Iran are lifted shortly.

China has tried to impose draconian measures to halt wild bouts of selling on its markets, but to little avail so far.

Analysts have started to warn that what looked like a market correction in one of the world's biggest economies is becoming a full-blown crisis, which shows no signs of going away.

Micro Apartments: Utopia or Dystopia?

Fast Company

Dec 14 2015

New York City just completed its first micro-unit development. Is the future of urban living too tight a squeeze?

In the hierarchy of things New York City residents kvetch about, housing ranks near the top. A dearth of affordable apartments has the city in a stranglehold and there’s seemingly no end to escalating rents. (Good luck finding a studio in Manhattan for less than $2,300 per month, the average going rate in the borough.) To tackle this problem, former mayor Michael Bloomberg staged a competition in 2012 to design a micro-units development. In just three years, the experimental buildings have hit the market. But is it enough to alleviate the affordable housing crisis? Short answer: it opens the conversation about retooling the city’s supply of apartments, but it’s not exactly a panacea for NYC’s housing headaches.

Designed by the Brooklyn-based firm nArchitects, Carmel Place (formerly known as MyMicro) is located in Kips Bay, a neighborhood on Manhattan’s east side, familiar to many as "The place where that movie theater that isn't Union Square is" and "No, I do not live in Murray Hill." Like CitySpaces SOMA, in San Francisco, and Cubix, in Seattle, Carmel Place portends the migration of micro units into American cities.

Bridging CPF gaps: NUS don raises idea of payouts, but notes risks


January 13

SINGAPORE — A National University of Singapore (NUS) economist has raised for discussion the idea of payments of S$450 to S$600 a month for the low-income elderly, citing concerns that the existing Central Provident Fund (CPF) system may be inadequate for vulnerable groups who were unable to save enough during their working years.

However, she also cautioned that such a scheme could also risk unintended consequences, such as disincentives to save, work and creating a crutch mentality. Associate Professor Chia Ngee Choon, who researches retirement issues and sat on the National Longevity Insurance Committee, was speaking at a symposium on social security at NUS yesterday.

Sharing several ideas for bridging the gaps in the CPF system — which were also published in a paper in the Singapore Economic Review last year — Assoc Prof Chia noted how CPF has worked well for the majority of Singaporeans who “work consistently” and have “made prudent housing choices”. But while the system has been lauded for its fiscal sustainability, “it doesn’t address the retirement adequacy for vulnerable groups”, she said.

For instance, as CPF is based on contributions, it might fail to address whether the needy, including low-wage and casual workers, those unable to work due to poor health, stay-at-home mothers, and the single elderly with no family support can save enough for retirement, she explained.

Kra Canal project not on government agenda: Thai PM

Privy Councillor Thanin Kraivichien wrote an open letter to the government over the weekend, advocating the canal construction.

By Panu Wongcha-um, Channel NewsAsia

13 Jan 2016

BANGKOK: Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha on Tuesday (Jan 12) stressed that his government will not pursue the Kra Canal project after a member of the King’s Privy Council wrote an open letter to the government over the weekend, advocating the canal construction.

Privy Councillor Thanin Kraivichien, 88, was the 14th Prime Minister of Thailand between October 1976 and October 1977. He is familiar with the Kra Canal feasibility studies conducted by foreign consultants during his time in various public offices in the 1970s.

Privy Councillor Thanin Kraivichien, 88, wrote an open letter to the government over the weekend, advocating the canal construction.

In his public letter to Prime Minister Prayut, a third letter he wrote since the military coup in 2014, Thanin called on the government to build a strong network of merchant marine as part of an overall strategy to make the country the region’s logistic hub. He said the construction of the Kra Canal would help complement this goal.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

How Facebook makes us dumber

JANUARY 12, 2016

Why does misinformation spread so quickly on social media? Why does it not get corrected? When the truth is so easy to find, why do people accept falsehoods?

A new study focusing on Facebook users provides strong evidence that the explanation is confirmation bias: People’s tendency to seek information that confirms their beliefs and to ignore contrary information.

Confirmation bias turns out to play a pivotal role in the creation of online echo chambers. This finding bears on a wide range of issues, including the current presidential campaign, the acceptance of conspiracy theories and competing positions in international disputes.

The new study, led by Italy’s Laboratory of Computational Social Science’s Michela Del Vicario, explores the behaviour of Facebook users from 2010 to 2014. One of the study’s goals was to test a question that continues to be sharply disputed: When people are online, do they encounter opposing views, or do they create the virtual equivalent of gated communities?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Singapore a 'Third World' F&B market: Chen Fu Ji owner

Chen Fu Ji's Roger Koh tells 938LIVE's On The Record that compared to Hong Kong, local practices in marketing and creating value are lagging behind, but these also create opportunities.

By Bharati Jagdish, 938LIVE
9 Jan 2016

SINGAPORE: Mr Roger Koh, the owner of what many have called the “overpriced fried rice place”, Chen Fu Ji, was a successful accountant with a multinational corporation, when an opportunity to buy the successful eatery came his way.

He took it, and the restaurant’s signature Golden Imperial Fried Rice into the news with its S$25 price tag. While he has managed to keep the cost the same as it was in the 90s, he now faces the same challenges that many other businesses in Singapore face – higher business costs and labour shortages.

Mr Koh went “On the Record” with Bharati Jagdish about these issues, his restaurant, and more about the fried rice dish that at one point, was even discussed in Parliament.

A new Saudi Arabia is suddenly in a hurry in era of cheap oil

January 8, 2016


DUBAI — Saudi Arabia, one of the most tradition-bound societies on the planet, where family structure and tribal patriarchy differ little from a century ago, is suddenly in a hurry. It has done more in the past week than in most years.

Over eight days, it has executed dozens of militants, severed ties with Iran and announced numerous steps for a radical rollback of the state that may include privatising oil giant Saudi Aramco, among the world’s largest companies.

The flurry of action, a result of tumbling oil prices, shifting US interests and regional upheaval threatening rulers across the Middle East, appears to be the largely the work of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 30-something son of King Salman, in office less than a year. And while his ambition to modernise has drawn praise, some fear he is in over his head.

“The Saudis had a reputation of being kind of cautious, secretive,” said Mr Eckart Woertz, a senior researcher at Barcelona Centre for International Affairs. “Right now there are some concerns about rash decisions.”

Friday, January 8, 2016

When China stumbles

By Paul Krugman -

January 8

NEW YORK — So, will China’s problems cause a global crisis? The good news is that the numbers, as I read them, don’t seem big enough. The bad news is that I could be wrong, because global contagion often seems to end up being worse than hard numbers say it should. And the worse news is that if China does deliver a bad shock to the rest of the world, we are remarkably unready to deal with the consequences.

For those just starting to pay attention: It has been obvious for a while that China’s economy is in big trouble. How big is hard to say, because nobody believes official Chinese statistics.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Inequality and the City

Paul Krugman

NOV. 30, 2015

New York, New York, a helluva town. The rents are up, but the crime rate is down. The food is better than ever, and the cultural scene is vibrant. Truly, it’s a golden age for the town I recently moved to — if you can afford the housing. But more and more people can’t.

And it’s not just New York. The days when dystopian images of urban decline were pervasive in popular culture — remember the movie “Escape from New York”? — are long past. The story for many of our iconic cities is, instead, one of gentrification, a process that’s obvious to the naked eye, and increasingly visible in the data.

Specifically, urban America reached an inflection point around 15 years ago: after decades of decline, central cities began getting richer, more educated, and, yes, whiter. Today our urban cores are providing ever more amenities, but largely to a very affluent minority.

But why is this happening? And is there any way to spread the benefits of our urban renaissance more widely?

Business leaders call for CPF monies to be invested in Singapore shares to help 'moribund' market

Jan 6, 2016

Marissa Lee

SINGAPORE - Major business chambers and trade associations are calling for workers' Central Provident Fund monies to be used to help revive Singapore's lagging stock market.

"Currently, our CPF money is pooled with our other reserves and managed by GIC. Unlike other jurisdictions where their pension funds have provided strong support for their stock market, Singapore rides against the wave by specifically stating as a policy that the funds managed by GIC are to be invested abroad," wrote the Singapore Business Federation (SBF) in a new economic position paper released on Wednesday (Jan 6).

Describing the local share market as "moribund", SBF said that the Government "should consider separating the CPF component and managing it differently as how pension funds are managed. This will free these funds from the GIC investment restrictions and will likely result in some investments in the Singapore market. These investments will send strong signals on our market to other investment professionals".

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

‘Elder care is the new child care,’ professor says


The Globe and Mail  Jan. 03, 2016

When Dawn Sinclair’s workweek ends, her other work begins.

Every second Friday, she battles traffic to make the 40-minute trip to her parents’ home east of Toronto where she’ll spend the weekend caring for her mom, 85, left partially paralyzed by a stroke, and giving her 83-year-old dad a much-needed break.

“I’m it,” says Ms. Sinclair, her parents’ only child and herself the single mother of a now-grown daughter. “Sometimes it almost feels like I am in survival mode. I just keep going. There is a lot of guilt because no matter how much you do, it is never enough.”

The chronic sorrow of loving a special child

Chong Siow Ann

5 Jan 2016

Parenting is hard to do - harder when the child is born with disability, or when he or she is adopted.
Rosemary Kennedy was born at home on Sept 13, 1918, and although the labour was seemingly uneventful, the nurse in attendance ordered Rosemary's mother to keep her legs closed as the doctor was not yet there on hand to complete the delivery. When she was finally allowed to emerge into the world some two hours later, it was believed that the delay had somehow caused damage to her brain.

She was the third child of the wealthy Joseph P. Kennedy and Rose Fitzgerald, who went on to have six more children. Rosemary's siblings included John F. Kennedy, the 35th United States President, and two US senators, Robert Kennedy and Edward Kennedy.

How do Sunni and Shia Islam differ?

January 4, 2016

NEW YORK — Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr could escalate tensions in the Muslim world even further. In the Shiite theocracy Iran, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said yesterday (Jan 3) that Saudi Arabia, which is ruled by a Sunni monarchy, would face “divine vengeance” for the killing of the outspoken cleric, which was part of a mass execution of 47 men. Al-Nimr had advocated for greater political rights for Shiites in Saudi Arabia and surrounding countries. Saudi Arabia had accused him of inciting violence against the state.

Here is a primer on the basic differences between Sunni and Shia Islam.