Saturday, June 30, 2012

A parched earth; No innocent bystanders in global era; RIM posts loss, to shed 5,000 jobs; America's new Tiger immigrants

1 A parched earth (Khaleej Times) The summer of 2012 is turning out to be one of the worst in living memory for millions of people in the northern hemisphere, as a devastating drought ravages across thousands of hectares of farmland from the Korean peninsula in the east through China and India and on to the US Midwest. Comparisons are already being drawn to the drought of 1988 when nearly $80 billion worth of crops were lost following the failure of the rains in America. Nearly a quarter of the United States is facing drought conditions and corn prices have soared by almost 30%. The fact that the drought is affecting vast swathes of land in three of the world’s most significant economies — the US, China and India — which are also leading producers of agricultural crops means that there could be an acute shortage of food and a spurt in food prices.

North Korea, facing its worst drought in 50 years, is already posing a major challenge for the global community with a looming food shortage threatening millions. In China, more than 4.25 million people — and an equally large number of livestock — are suffering from a shortage of drinking water in half a dozen provinces. The south-west monsoon, the lifeblood of India’s agriculture economy — which provides livelihood to 700 million people — has seen a disastrous start.

Is drought 2012 a prelude to an ominous era of water scarcity caused by global warming, as some might insist? Climate patterns have been known to change dramatically over the centuries and droughts and famines have been with us for thousands of years, destroying communities and nations. Governments though must harness technology to provide solace to the millions suffering from such harsh climatic upheavals.

2 No innocent bystanders in global era (Stephen S Raoch in The Guardian) Since the second quarter of 2009, US annualised real GDP growth has averaged 2.4%. With roughly 40% of that increase attributable to exports, that means the remainder of the economy has grown at an anemic 1.4% pace. Under a flat-line export scenario, with no rise in US exports, and if everything else remains the same (always a heroic assumption), overall real GDP growth would converge on that 1.4% bogey. That is a weak growth trajectory by any standard – likely to result in rising unemployment and further deterioration in consumer confidence.

It underscores one of the more obvious, yet overlooked, implications of an increasingly interdependent world: we are all in it together. The euro crisis is a serious shock and is producing ripple effects around the world. Europe is export-led China's largest source of external demand; as China goes, so goes the rest of China-centric Asia; and, from there, the ripples reach the shores of an increasingly export-dependent US economy.

In an era of globalisation, there are no innocent bystanders. There are certainly no oases of prosperity in the face of yet another major shock in the global economy. America's growth mirage is an important case in point.

3 RIM posts loss, to shed 5,000 jobs (San Francisco Chronicle) Research In Motion delayed the BlackBerry 10 phone release, announced plans to cut 5,000 jobs and posted a quarterly loss that was five times bigger than anticipated. The stock plunged 22% after the company reported a first-quarter loss of 37 cents per share, excluding some items. RIM stock had already lost more than two-thirds of its value in the past 12 months and had fallen almost 95% from its sto ck market peak in mid-2008, cutting its market value to $4.79 billion.

4 America’s new Tiger immigrants (The Wall Street Journal) No Country on earth is in the same league as the US when it comes to the quantity of immigrants who have come here and the quality of their contributions. But lately, Americans have been questioning the benefits of immigration. Many worry that today's immigrants differ from those of the past: less ambitious, less skilled, less willing and able to assimilate. A  report released this month by the Pew Research Center shows just how much the face of immigration has changed in the past few years. Since 2008, more newcomers to the US have been Asian than Hispanic (in 2010, it was 36% of the total, versus 31%). Today's typical immigrant is not only more likely to speak English and have a college education, but also to have come to the US legally, with a job already in place.
There also seems to be some truth in the "Tiger Mom" syndrome described by author Amy Chua. While 39% of Asian-Americans say their group puts "too much" pressure on kids to succeed in school, 60% of Asian-Americans think that other Americans don't push their kids hard enough. The hard work and strong family values appear to pay off: Asian-Americans' median household income is $66,000 (national median: $49,800) and their median household wealth is $83,500 (national median: $68,529). The world's best, the world's hardest-working and the world's most ambitious are still coming our way.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Koreas face big drought; More banks face rigging probe; Young Indians in death wish; Google as gadget maker

1 Koreas face big drought (San Francisco Chronicle) North Korea dispatched soldiers to pour buckets of water on parched fields, and South Korean officials scrambled to save a rare mollusk threatened by the heat as the worst dry spell in a century gripped the Korean peninsula. Parts of North Korea are experiencing the most severe drought since record keeping began nearly 105 years ago, meteorological officials in Pyongyang, North Korea, and Seoul said.

The protracted drought is heightening worries about North Korea's ability to feed its people. Two-thirds of North Korea's 24 million people faced chronic food shortages, the United Nations said earlier this month while asking donors for $198 million in humanitarian aid for the country. Even in South P'yongan and North and South Hwanghae provinces, which are traditionally North Korea's breadbasket, thousands of acres of crops are withering away despite good irrigation systems, local officials said.

Nearly 28,000 South Koreans, including soldiers and local residents, have been mobilized to help water rice paddies and farm fields and more than 13,000 water pumps have been provided to drought-stricken areas, the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said. Officials blamed high atmospheric pressure over the Korean peninsula for the drought.

2 More banks face interest rigging probe (BBC) A number of banks are being investigated and could face sanctions after Barclays was fined $450m for trying to manipulate interest rates at which banks lend to each other. Regulators in Europe, the US and Asia have said that investigations into other banks are "ongoing". The UK's Financial Services Authority said the early signs were that Barclays had not been the only firm involved. Other big names believed to be under investigation include Citigroup, JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank, HSBC and Royal Bank of Scotland.

3 Young Indians in death wish (Soutik Biswas on BBC) A study published in the medical journal The Lancet shows that suicide has become the second leading cause of death among India's young adults, after road accidents in men, and childbirth-related complications in women. There were 187,000 deaths from suicides in India in 2010, the study says - this is higher than the official figure of 134,599 suicide deaths from the National Crime Records Bureau. (Researchers attribute this gap to under-reporting or misreporting as friendly or bribe-seeking coroners often sign off suicide deaths as ones caused by accidents to protect the victim's family from police harassment and social stigma.)

If the findings by a team of doctors are to be believed, 40% of the men and 56% of the women who took their lives in 2010 were aged between 15 and 29 years. I asked Dr Vikram Patel, a leading Goa-based psychiatrist and professor at the London School of Hygience and Tropical Medicine, who co-authored the study, about why he thought this was happening. He believes that joblessness for men and post-marriage problems for women trigger off a lot of these suicides. "In women it manifests in depression, in men it becomes a drinking problem," he says.

India is a society steeped in the patriarchal tradition, where most women are still expected to stay at home, and bring up children. But more and more women are stepping out to work and aspiring to be independent and successful. But pressures of family, demands for dowry and domestic harassment - and violence - push many such young, married women over the edge in the country's teeming cities and towns.

"This is what I call the aspirational reality gap," says Dr Patel. "Exposure to global media, education doesn't match up to the realities at home. A touch of anomie worsens matters. Suicide is seen as a potential way out of it." Perhaps not surprising in a society which lives with one foot in tradition, and the other in modernity.

4 Google as gadget maker (The Wall Street Journal) Google stepped up its campaign to become a major player in consumer electronics, topped by a $199 tablet computer that could pressure Amazon while adding yet another challenger to market leader Apple. The company unveiled the tablet at a developer conference alongside other hardware it designed for the first time—a $299 home-entertainment player called Nexus Q and futuristic eyewear dubbed Google Glass that embeds a computer display in a glasses-like device.

For Google, the transition to hardware has become necessary as Apple continues to encroach on the Internet-search giant's territory with major software applications. Earlier this month, Apple touted a number of new software products, including a mapping service that would replace Google Maps as the default system for Apple devices. Like Amazon's Kindle Fire, the Google's tablet boasts a seven-inch screen, a $199 price and is designed to be used with content delivered from the Web—in this case digital books, music and other media available through Google's Play service.

Bank of England fears worse for UK; News Corp may sever publishing arm; Extreme poverty gives SA Prez sleepless nights

1 Bank of England fears worse for UK (The Guardian) A sharp deterioration in the outlook for the global economy over the last six weeks provoked Bank of England governor Mervyn King to back an extra £50bn of quantitative easing, MPs heard on Tuesday, adding to the gloom surrounding the UK's prospects for recovery. King said the spillover effects of the eurozone crisis in Asia and the US had forced him to rethink his view on the financial crisis and vote for more QE. "What has particularly concerned me in the last several months – why I have voted for more easing policy – was my concern about the worsening I see in the position in Asia and other emerging markets," King said. "And my colleagues in the United States are more concerned than they were at the beginning of the year about what is happening to the American economy," he added.

The world was not half-way through a deep crisis and the eurozone turmoil was creating enormous uncertainty, leaving Britain at risk of a downward spiral if businesses postponed investment, he told the all-party Treasury select committee. "We are in the middle of a deep crisis, with enormous challenges to put our own banking system right and challenges for the rest of the world that they are struggling with," King the committee. "I am pessimistic [about the eurozone outlook]. I am particularly concerned because over two years now we have seen the situation in the euro area get worse and the problem being pushed down the road," he said.

2 News Corp may sever publishing arm (The New York Times) After years of defending its financially underperforming newspapers, News Corporation is now in talks to break up the company and sever its publishing assets, like The Wall Street Journal, The Times of London and The New York Post, from its lucrative entertainment units. The possibility signals a sharp reversal in the thinking of Rupert Murdoch about his $53 billion media conglomerate. For years, investors and senior News Corporation executives have pressed for a spinoff of the newspapers, but Mr. Murdoch, a newspaperman at heart who built his company from a single paper in Adelaide, Australia, has consistently rejected those proposals.

3 Extreme poverty gives SA president sleepless nights (Johannesburg Times) South Africa has reached boiling point and needs radical policy changes to quell the rising anger of ordinary citizens. Explaining his backing of the hotly debated "second transition" policy proposal, President Jacob Zuma said the ANC could no longer sit back and watch its people live in squalor. Zuma, now three years in office, confessed to sleepless nights after seeing extreme poverty. But, he warned, South Africa could not afford to be a country of "social grants".

Zuma said South Africa needed solutions to rising poverty and unemployment. "I have paid visits to a number of areas where you can't believe that you are in South Africa. Why should I see that as the president of the country, not even of the ANC, and think that I could sleep peacefully when I know there are people who live in things you can't even describe as a house? It's a very serious matter. If I didn't know, or if I had forgotten [why I joined the struggle and fought to liberate people of this country], then I could sleep peacefully. I can't," he said.

4 Globe cartoon on Rio+20 summit: One participant -- "If we don't act, can you imagine the horror 20 years from now?" Responds another -- "Yeah, another summit!"

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cyprus is fifth eurozone country to seek bailout; Downgrade for 28 Spanish banks; Americans watch 10bn video ads a month; Indian Muslims with ties to Israel

1 Cyprus is fifth eurozone country to seek bailout (The Guardian) Cyprus has become the fifth eurozone country to seek outside financial help to shore up its ailing economy after a day of heavy selling on financial markets prompted by fear that this week's European summit will end without a blueprint to rescue the single currency. The government in Nicosia admitted that it had been caught in the backwash from the crisis in neighbouring Greece as it formally applied to Brussels for assistance.

On a day when Fitch cut Cyprus's credit rating to junk, a statement said: "The purpose of the required assistance is to contain the risks to the Cypriot economy, notably those arising from the negative spill-over effects through its financial section, due to its large exposure in the Greek economy."

2 Downgrade for 28 Spanish banks (Straits Times) Moody's hit 28 Spanish banks with new credit downgrades, as Madrid formally requested a rescue loan of up to 100 billion euros for the banking sector from its euro zone partners. Moody's said the banks face rising losses from commercial real estate loans and that Madrid's own lowered credit grade also contributed to the rating cuts. The downgrades, which ran from one to four notches, came on the same day Spain formally requested the emergency funds from the euro zone to strengthen its banks, hit by a crash in the country's real estate sector.

3 Americans watch 10bn video ads a month (Marketing Land) For the second consecutive month, US internet users watched a record number of video ads. According to the latest comScore Video Metrix report, Americans watched 10.1 billion video ads in May, up from about 9.5 billion in April. May marks the first time that video ads passed 10 billion views. Hulu and Google combined to deliver about three billion of those video ads and were the top two ad properties for the month in terms of count. Hulu users, though, watched far more minutes of video advertising than Google/YouTube users did.

4 Indian Muslims with ties to Israel (The Wall Street Journal) They call themselves the sons of Israel. Living within earshot of the call to prayer along a gully in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, is a small community of Muslims who claim Jewish ancestry. The Banu Israil say their forefathers arrived in India one thousand years ago to spread the message of Islam after their conversion from Judaism. Orally they trace their lineage back to Jacob who appears in the Torah, the Bible and the Koran.

Unlike the Bene Israel, the Banu Israil do not observe any Jewish customs or religious practices. According to some of the 20 to 30 Banu Israily families living in Aligarh in an area known as Banu Israilan, they are completely committed to Islam and there is nothing to distinguish them from the rest of the Muslim community. Their situation is starkly opposed to that of the 7,200-strong B’nei Menasseh community remaining in northeast India that claims to be a "lost tribe of Israel". They converted to Christianity in the nineteenth century but now observe Orthodox Jewish customs in the hope of Aliyah – the right to return to Israel. Some in the community were granted permission to do so in the late 1990s.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

We are in this together; Central banks hold 30% of global GDP; America's biotech future; An oasis of feminism in India; Eurozone austerity hits world's poor

1 We are in this together (Johannesburg Times) Austerity-strangled Greece, cheap-money US and military-ruled Egypt all exhibit different symptoms. But it is no accident so many of the world's economies are sputtering at the same time, or that so many people around the globe are angry. One reason for the synchronised gloom, of course, is the synchronisation of the global economy. But the world is suffering from more than a shared cold. Rather, we are all, both together and apart, trying to figure out three big questions. Our answers will shape the 21st century.

The first is how nation-states fit into a globalised world economy. Different countries are wrestling with different versions of this problem. Small states with their own currencies and open trade policies have just endured a version of the Asian crisis of 1998, and they have come to similar conclusions - survival requires a fortress-like national balance sheet and export-led growth.

The second question is even knottier. Global capitalism is the best economic system devised so far: Worldwide growth in the three decades before the financial crisis delivered, strikingly, a huge rise in incomes to poor people in countries like India and China that, a generation ago, economists had all but given up on. But policies of the past few decades to deliver for the middle class. As British politician Lord Paddy Ashdown recently told Canadian civil servants: "You alienate the middle class at your peril. The middle class always leads revolutions."

The third question is the one we speak about the least and should probably worry about most - can rich women be persuaded to have children? Rich, here, doesn't refer to the wives of the plutocrats. Once a country achieves middle-income status, its middle-class women stop having many children. This demographic squeeze is another big contributor to Europe's malaise.

The global family will be unhappy until we find a power configuration that works. The good news - and the bad news - is we will only be able to figure that out together.

2 Central banks hold 30% of world GDP (The Guardian) Almost 30% of global GDP, or $18tn, is held by central banks after purchasing government bonds and pumping liquidity into the financial system to ease the current crisis. This is double the level of ten years ago, according to the latest annual report from the Bank for International Settlements. Ahead of this week's European summit, the BIS said it was difficult to escape the idea that a solution to the eurozone crisis required a pan-European banking system – a plan which is not supported by all eurozone members.

3 America's biotech future (Fareed Zakaria in Khaleej Times) It's hard to find any good economic news these days. There is one bright spot on the American landscape: technology, particularly biotechnology. The cost of sequencing a human genome is down to $1,000, and the process now takes two hours — a pace that is much faster than "Moore’s Law." It is a reminder that, as we confront difficulties across the economic landscape, one area where the United States can still grow stronger is science and technology — if we make the right decisions.

There is more to encouraging science and technology than simply funding. Government rules and regulations play a large role. Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, the dynamic founder of one of India’s powerhouse pharmaceutical companies, Biocon, argues that the entire American-style set of regulations, clinical trials and lengthy waiting periods is a serious deterrent to innovation in drugs and in pharmaceuticals more generally. "It takes 12 years to get a drug from conception to market," she says, "while it took six years to get the Airbus A380 from the drawing board to flying in the skies." The science and economics of large-scale increases in support of science and technology are clear. As usual, the politics is the problem.

4 An oasis of feminism in India (Nilanjana S Roy in Khaleej Times) After you have spent some time in relatively conservative northern India, the state of Goa can give the impression of a feminist paradise — especially this year, when women have been unusually successful in running for key posts in the powerful local village councils. In some areas, like the popular resort towns of Calangute and Candolim, women have become council heads this year through the application of affirmative action policies. But in Salcete, 42% of the successful candidates were women — including many who won their seats in general wards, not just in constituencies reserved for women.

Women have significantly greater land rights in Goa, thanks to the Common Civil Code dating back to the days of Portuguese colonial rule. Under the code, elements of which survived the Indian annexation of Goa in 1961, women are entitled to a share in both parental and marital property. Still, even Goa is not quite a feminist paradise. Property disputes still occur, and in practice, many women have to fight hard to retain their rights to parental property after marriage.

5 Eurozone austerity hits world's poor (The Guardian) The flow of aid from Europe to the world's poorest countries fell by €700m in 2011, the first drop for almost a decade as the crisis in the single currency caused 14 member states to cut development assistance. Figures from the pressure group One showed that Europe had failed to meet pledges made at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005, and it warned that growing budget austerity had "spilled over into life-saving programmes". One's annual Data report showed that two of the countries worst affected by the sovereign debt crisis – Greece and Spain – slashed their aid budgets by 40% and 30% respectively between 2010 and 2011 as EU financial assistance dropped by 1.5%.

6 More UK highstreet shops face bankruptcy (The Guardian) The figurehead of the UK's insolvency industry has warned that a new batch of retailers could be forced into administration as the high street attempts to trade through one of the most financially stressful weeks of the year. The forecast by Lee Manning, the president of the insolvency industry's trade body, R3, comes as shopkeepers attempt to pay their landlords three months' advance rent on their stores, a bill that became due on Sunday in a deadline known as "rent quarter day".

7 Qatar seeks $5bn China investment (BBC) Qatar has said it is applying for a licence under China's Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) programme to invest in its capital market. It is seeking an investment quota of $5bn, five times the current cap of $1bn, according to the Xinhua news agency. This comes just days after China said it was looking to ease the entry rules for foreign investors. Qatar said it will invest the funds mostly in China's equity market.

8 Placenta eating in China (Straits Times) Placentophagy - the practice of eating one's placenta after birth - is relatively common in China, where it is thought to have anti-ageing properties, and dates back more than 2,000 years.

Friday, June 22, 2012

China economic woes may be deeper; Kenya not to send maids to Middle East; Super poor, yet super power?; Rethinking Indus Valley; Delhi's water woes

1 Chinese economic woes may be deeper (The New York Times) As the Chinese economy continues to sputter, prominent corporate executives in China and Western economists say there is evidence that local and provincial officials are falsifying economic statistics to disguise the true depth of the troubles. Record-setting mountains of excess coal have accumulated at the country's biggest storage areas because power plants are burning less coal in the face of tumbling electricity demand. But local and provincial government officials have forced plant managers not to report to Beijing the full extent of the slowdown, power sector executives said.

Indeed, officials in some cities and provinces are also overstating economic output, corporate revenue, corporate profits and tax receipts, the corporate executives and economists said. The officials do so by urging businesses to keep separate sets of books, showing improving business results and tax payments that do not exist.

Questions about the quality and accuracy of Chinese economic data are longstanding, but the concerns now being raised are unusual. This year is the first time since 1989 that a sharp economic slowdown has coincided with the once-a-decade changeover in the country's top leadership.

2 Eurozone big four agree on growth plan (BBC) Leaders of the eurozone's four biggest nations have agreed in principle to measures to boost growth equal to 1% of the currency area's economic output. Germany, France, Italy and Spain outlined plans to push for a 130bn-euros package. But analysts suggest that with little or no new money involved, the significance of the agreement between the four was more symbolic than actual. There is also still no consensus on issues such as common eurobonds.

3 Kenya wary of sending maids to Middle East (BBC) Kenya has stopped its citizens from seeking jobs as domestic workers in the Middle East, saying increasing numbers have been mistreated. Correspondents say Kenyans have returned with horror stories; from sexual abuse to a maid's body found stuffed into a fridge. The foreign affairs ministry says Kenyans have been duped by unscrupulous agents who promise non-existent jobs. Until the new rules are ready, Kenyan citizens are barred from seeking work in the Middle East as domestic workers. Some 3,000 Kenyans are believed to be working in Saudi Arabia, according to the International Organization of Migration.

4 Super poor, yet super power? (N Janardhan in Khaleej Times) Some of India's characteristics -- 1.2 billion population, world's largest democracy, home to 150 million Muslims, and largest provider of peacekeepers -- are well documented. Even as it is super-poor at one level, it has the trappings of a superpower at another -- hi-tech plans to develop supercomputers, complete nuclear fuel cycle facilities, placement of own satellites in orbit, replicating IT success in biotechnology, biogenetics and pharmaceuticals, apart from already being the world's No. 1 arms importer last year, and becoming the third largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity in 2012.

The fact that about 46,000 Indians reportedly still die from snakebites every year and the country has more mobile phones than toilets could be scary and nauseating statistics. But they reflect the diversity of two Indias, each living in different ages, and scope for development which assures economic vibrancy. It is this aspiration for remedying the darker side that could be its inspiration to achieve the brighter end.

Even the slowing global economy has not hindered wealth generation in India. Fifty Indians were on the Forbes billionaires’ list in 2011 and the number of millionaires rose by 21 per cent to 162,000. By 2015, this is forecast to double. This is why India need not be despondent. One needs to look back and be optimistic that the churn under way in various spheres would be more beneficial than detrimental. The country has risen from dust and is unlikely to bite dust again.

5 Rethinking Indus Valley civilisation (Asad Badruddin in Dawn) What is the relationship between the pre-Islamic, pre-Christian Indus Valley Civilization to today's Islamic Republic of Pakistan? These two strands of the secular and religious deliberately create a powerful contradiction.
Embracing our Indus past will enable us to reject Arab cultural imperialism in the name of religion, and will help us discard the Two-Nation Theory. We will be focused not on fighting wars with India, but in making the greatest cities in the world. Cities like those of the past, which valued trade and commerce and became the hub of Indo-Persian-Chinese commerce.

We will be a country that celebrates diversity; ethnic diversity of the many languages and cultures around the ecosystem of the great river, and religious diversity, for it will be a country for (all types of) Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs who can respect this ecosystem. And once religion is prevented from being abused we can truly reconcile it with modernity and our legacy of British constitutionalism. Once our conscious awakens to this idea, we will be a renewed nation. On the crumbling edifices of Moenjadaro and Harappa we will once more build great cities, and build a great country.

6 Why Delhi is running out of water (The Wall Street Journal) World Bank experts say that by 2020, it is likely that the next wars will be fought over water. For Delhi and Haryana, those wars seem to have already begun. Experts are of the view that Delhi's water woes are as much due to its own poor water management as the tussle over supply. Delhi has claimed that its request to Haryana to supply its share of water has not been met. Haryana's Chief Minister Bhupendra Singh Hooda has said that Delhi is getting more than its due share.

Delhi's water shortage isn't new. Every summer, taps go dry in several parts of the city as demand rises. According to official estimates, the city's water demand in peak summer months has hit more than 1,150 million gallons a day, but the city is getting only about 835 million gallons a day. Every year Delhi blames the states, but they haven't been able to set their own house in order, said Nitya Jacob, the program director of water at the New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment.

It isn't that Delhi is short of water, but the fact is a lot of water gets wasted, he said, adding that as much as 52% of water is wasted because of leakages in the distribution pipeline of the Delhi Jal Board, which is responsible for supplying water in the Delhi region and also for water treatment and waste disposal in the capital. Delhi generates a huge quantity of sewage, both domestic and industrial. But it roughly treats only 40% of it. The rest seeps into water bodies. It gets polluted too, says Mr. Jacob, adding that the groundwater now has a high quantity of nitrates and metals, making it unfit for domestic use. Additionally, the city can't use the Yamuna River as a source because it no longer has any fresh water. "It's only sewage now," Mr. Jacob says.

Downgrades for 15 big banks; Air France to cut 5,000 jobs; 'McDonald-isation' of hotels; The great digital 'divide'; A solution for Greece

1 Downgrades for 15 big banks (The New York Times) Already grappling with weak profits and global economic turmoil, 15 major banks were hit with credit downgrades on Thursday that could do more damage to their bottom lines and further unsettle equity markets. Credit agency, Moody's Investors Service which warned banks in February that a downgrade was possible, cut the credit scores of banks to new lows to reflect new risks that the industry has encountered since the financial crisis.

Citigroup and Bank of America, which have struggled to fully recover from the financial crisis, were among the hardest hit. After the downgrades, the banks stand barely above the minimum for an investment grade rating, a level also known as junk and a sign of the difficult business conditions they face. With lower ratings, creditors could charge banks more on their loans. Big clients may also move their business to less-risky companies, further crimping earnings.

But some analysts feel that Moody’s is playing a game of catch-up. The latest actions, say critics, are backward-looking and do not consider the measures that banks have taken to strengthen themselves, including raising capital and getting out of certain risky businesses like proprietary trading.

2 Any British banks in the Premier League? (Robert Peston on BBC) Moody's main rationale for all these downgrades - of US, Swiss, French, German and British banks - is that investment banking is a riskier business than many might have thought a few years ago. Really? Some would certainly say that is a statement of the egregiously bloomin' obvious. The most interesting thing about the Moody's analysis is that it, in effect, creates three new categories of global banks, the banking equivalent of the Premier League, the Championship and League One.

Of our biggest banks, only HSBC is in this Premier League. Barclays is in the Championship and Royal Bank of Scotland is in League One. So what will be the effect of the downgrades? Well, they might push up the cost of borrowing for the banks fractionally. But it would be odd if the impact was terribly significant - largely because they have all been downgraded, and those who control vast pots of cash have to put their money somewhere.

It is worth remembering that the Bank of England and HM Treasury have announced two new schemes to provide copious amounts of cheap loans to British banks, which can be seen as insurance against the downgrades leading to any kind of renewed credit crunch. After all this, if you are worrying that British banks don't look as robust as you might like, I would direct your attention to Thursday's publication of how much capital Spanish banks may need to raise, as per the assessment of consultants hired by Spain's government.

3 Air France to cut 5,000 jobs (BBC) Air France has announced it is to cut more than 5,000 jobs by the end of 2013 in an attempt to reduce costs and return to growth. The figure represents just under 10% of the total workforce of 53,000. Air France says it is hoping to avoid compulsory redundancies through natural turnover and voluntary redundancies. Air France, one component of the French-Dutch air carrier Air France-KLM, launched a major cost-saving programme, Transform 2015, earlier this year, after posting a loss of 809m euros for 2011 and a first quarter net loss in 2012 of 368m euros.

4 Capitalism and economic madness (The Guardian) As people in the developed world wonder how their countries will return to full employment after the global recession, it might benefit us to take a look at a visionary essay that John Maynard Keynes wrote in 1930, called Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren.

His General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, equipped governments with the intellectual tools to counter the unemployment caused by slumps. In this earlier essay, however, Keynes distinguished between unemployment caused by temporary economic breakdowns and what he called "technological unemployment" – that is, "unemployment due to the discovery of means of economising the use of labour outrunning the pace at which we can find new uses for labour".

"Technological unemployment" has risen. Since the 1980s, we have never regained the full employment levels of the 1950s and 1960s. Modern capitalism inflames, through every sense and pore, the hunger for consumption. Satisfying that hunger has become the great palliative of modern society, our counterfeit reward for working irrational hours. Advertisers proclaim a single message: your soul is to be discovered in your shopping. Aristotle knew of insatiability only as a personal vice; he had no inkling of the collective, politically orchestrated insatiability that we call economic growth. The civilization of "always more" would have struck him as moral and political madness.

5 'McDonald-isation' of hotels (Khaleej Times) A boom with a view — budget hotels take off in Asia. Surrounded by fine beverages and elephant motifs in the Tusker bar of Accor’s new luxury Sofitel hotel in Mumbai, chief executive Denis Hennequin is unsurprisingly betting on Asia to make up for uncertain prospects at home. He is also convinced the real elephant-sized growth will come from looking downmarket at low-cost, high-return economy hotels — piggybacking on the rise of budget airlines that have opened up domestic travel to Asia’s emerging middle classes.

Facing economic malaise in Europe and the US, as well as heavy local competition to build hotels in China, the world’s fastest growing hospitality market, global hoteliers see a window of opportunity in India and Indonesia. "We are a French-European company, but if you look at the pipeline for the next 3-5 years and beyond, more than 70% of the inventory of new rooms is from this part of world," said Hennequin.

Hoteliers such as Accor, Europe’s largest hotel group, InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott International and US investment group Starwood Capital’s Louvre Hotels are hoping that early-mover advantage will help them build their budget brands on a profitable scale. In India, the concept of branded mid-scale hotels, where rooms cost between $40 and $80 a night, is in its infancy, whereas in Indonesia, other international hoteliers are waking up to a sector already pioneered by local firms and Accor.

6 The great digital 'divide' (Anand Giridharadas in Khaleej Times) The technology world is divided over what to ask of you.In one camp are the wave of services that urge you to come online and stay a while, that offer numerous ways to fritter away the day. Facebook, where one can easily misplace 12 hours, is the reigning champion of this camp. In another camp are services with a very different mission: They want you to use them, then stop using them. To tell them what restaurant you’re in, peruse a friend’s tips on what to order, then put your phone away and eat (Foursquare).

"The current wave of ‘get offline’ start-ups is a reaction to our saturation with the ‘come online’ start-ups," said Hilary Mason, chief scientist of the link-shortening service "I think the start-up community is starting to realize that the real value is in enriching human experience, and most of that takes place in the physical space that we inhabit."

7 A solution for Greece (Sidin Vadukut in Khaleej Times) Many people assume that anyone who writes for a newspaper must know everything about pretty much everything. And so it was earlier this week when I met family for dinner. "Tell us Sidin, how do you think the Greek economy can be saved? Tell us! Tell us!" As they were haranguing me the television was streaming the daily news. And then suddenly it struck me. I knew exactly how to save Greece.

Listen carefully. The new Samaras government in Greece, or whichever one is in power when this column goes to press, must immediately declare a civil war situation in the country. This is easy enough to do anyways. Greece is currently deeply divided. Of course there won’t be an actual war. Just fake media reports and government press releases that seems to indicate extreme rebel violence. Greece must escalate this till it becomes a United Nations issue. As usual Russia and China will vote against interfering.

Subsequently Greece must secretly approach China and Russia for military assistance. It is one of the ironies of the modern world that while countries seldom lend each other money, they are more than happy to ship container loads of guns and bombs. Both countries will ship mountains of weapons over. Which the Greek government will then sell to Egypt or Syria for billions of dollars of cold, hard cash. The politicans will take 50% and give the country the remaining 50%. Problem solved, Greece saved, austerity finished, and common Greek on the street can resume evading taxes. What is the procedure to apply for Nobel Prize?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

US Fed to pump in $267bn; Bossless company; Grammar is a victim in the office; You for sale -- sharing the consumer genome; Dear Jobless Graduate

1 US Fed to pump $267bn into economy (The Guardian) The US Federal Reserve announced a $267bn plan to underpin the US's fragile recovery as chairman Ben Bernanke warned that unemployment was unlikely to improve before the end of the year. The plan – an extension of a scheme known as Operation Twist – aims to drive down long-term interest rate and encourage borrowing. The announcement came as the latest statement from the Fed painted a gloomier picture of the US economy and said it was prepared to take more action if necessary.

The Fed said that the growth in employment "has slowed in recent months, and the unemployment rate remains elevated," and that household spending "appears to be rising at a somewhat slower pace than earlier in the year." The Fed also reiterated its concern that "strains in global financial markets continue to pose significant downside risks" to growth. That news will be a blow to the Obama administration in the run-up to an election that looks set to be dominated by economic news in general and the unemployment rate in particular.

2 Welcome to the bossless company (The Wall Street Journal) Like many tech companies, Valve Corp., a videogame maker in Bellevue, Wash., boasts high-end espresso, free massages and laundry service at its offices.One thing it doesn't have: bosses. Valve, whose website says the company has been "boss free" since its founding in 1996, also has no managers or assigned projects. Instead, its 300 employees recruit colleagues to work on projects they think are worthwhile. The company prizes mobility so much that workers' desks are mounted on wheels, allowing them to scoot around to form work areas as they choose.

Welcome to the bossless company, where the hierarchy is flat, pay is often determined by peers, and the workday is directed by employees themselves. So, how does anyone get things done? "It absolutely is less-efficient upfront," says Terri Kelly, chief executive of WL Gore, the Newark, Del., maker of Gore-Tex and other materials. Her title is one of the few at the company. "[But] once you have the organization behind it…the buy-in and the execution happen quickly," she adds.

At Valve, there are no promotions, only new projects. To help decide pay, employees rank their peers—but not themselves—voting on who they think creates the most value. Any employee can participate in hiring decisions, which are usually made by teams. Firings, while relatively rare, work the same way: teams decide together if someone isn't working out. As for projects, someone typically emerges as the de facto manager, says Greg Coomer, a 16-year veteran of Valve who works on product design. When no one takes the lead, he adds, it's usually a sign that the project isn't worth doing.

3 Grammar is a victim in the office (The Wall Street Journal) Managers are fighting an epidemic of grammar gaffes in the workplace. Many of them attribute slipping skills to the informality of email, texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say.

In a survey conducted earlier this year, about 45% of 430 employers said they were increasing employee-training programs to improve employees' grammar and other skills, according to the Society for Human Resource Management and AARP. "I'm shocked at the rampant illiteracy" on Twitter, says Bryan A. Garner, author of "Garner's Modern American Usage". He has compiled a list of 30 examples of "uneducated English," such as saying "I could care less," instead of "I couldn't care less," or, "He expected Helen and I to help him," instead of "Helen and me."

Mr. Garner requires all job applicants at his nine-employee firm—including people who just want to pack boxes—to pass spelling and grammar tests before he will hire them. And he requires employees to have at least two other people copy-edit and make corrections to every important email and letter that goes out. "Twenty-five years ago it was impossible to put your hands on something that hadn't been professionally copy-edited," Mr. Garner says. "Today, it is actually hard to put your hands on something that has been professionally copy-edited."

4 Forget B-School; D-School is hot (The Wall Street Journal) Forget B-School. These days, D-Scool is the place to go. Stanford University's D-School—the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design—has gained recognition in recent years for introducing the trendy, but murky, problem-solving concept known as "design thinking" to executives, educators, scientists, doctors and lawyers. Now other schools are coming up with their own programs. Design thinking uses close, almost anthropological observation of people to gain insight into problems that may not be articulated yet. For example, researchers may study the habits of shoppers waiting to pay for groceries in order to create a more efficient checkout system that maximizes last-minute purchases.

5 You for sale: Sharing the consumer genome (The New York Times) It knows who you are. It knows where you live. It knows what you do. It peers deeper into American life than the FBI or the IRS, or those prying digital eyes at Facebook and Google. If you are an American adult, the odds are that it knows things like your age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, politics, buying habits, household health worries, vacation dreams — and on and on.

Right now in Conway, Ark., more than 23,000 computer servers are collecting, collating and analyzing consumer data for a company that, unlike Silicon Valley’s marquee names, rarely makes headlines. It’s called the Acxiom Corporation, and it’s the quiet giant of a multibillion-dollar industry known as database marketing.

Few consumers have ever heard of Acxiom. But analysts say it has amassed the world’s largest commercial database on consumers — and that it wants to know much, much more. Its servers process more than 50 trillion data "transactions" a year. Company executives have said its database contains information about 500 million active consumers worldwide, with about 1,500 data points per person. That includes a majority of adults in the United States.

Such large-scale data mining and analytics — based on information available in public records, consumer surveys and the like — are perfectly legal. For Acxiom, the setup is lucrative. It posted profit of $77.26 million in its latest fiscal year, on sales of $1.13 billion.

6 What happened to the Microsoft monopoly? (The New York Times) As Apple introduces a range of new products, it is worth remembering that there is no such thing as a monopoly in the computer industry. Fourteen years ago, the Justice Department accused Microsoft of maintaining a monopoly in personal-computer operating systems and expressed concern that Microsoft would extend that monopoly.

At the time, 90 to 95% of personal computers powered by Intel processors were running a Microsoft operating system. Some analysts said that this left PC owners little choice, and that Microsoft was preventing the marketplace from functioning well. Others suggested that the market was functioning quite well. Watching Apple introduce some amazing products last week, including laptops (which have been running Intel processors for several years now) and operating systems for mobile and desktop devices, it is difficult to imagine that the Justice Department once thought that, without government intervention, consumer choices would be significantly limited by Microsoft.

Interestingly, on Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it was introducing a tablet, the Surface, that will compete in the strong and growing market dominated by Apple’s iPad. Market forces are clearly working to give consumers choices in the market.

7 Booking milestone for (San Francisco Chronicle) Online accommodations marketplace announced that it had reached a total of 10 million guest nights booked on the site. The 5-year-old San Francisco company said it booked its 2 millionth guest night only one year ago, and hit the 5 million mark five months ago. In marking the milestone, the company also reported that it now lists more than 200,000 bookable properties worldwide, and that demand for Airbnb accommodations in the US has increased 240% in the last year.

8 Oracle's Ellison is buying a Hawaiian island (San Francisco Chronicle) Some people splurge on a trip to the Hawaiian Islands. Oracle co-founder and billionaire Larry Ellison splurges by buying one. Ellison is spending a small fraction of his billions to buy the Hawaiian island of Lanai, home to several luxury resorts, golf courses and residential developments, according to papers filed with state regulators.

The exact sale price was not disclosed, but the PUC documents state that the buyer will receive "hundreds of millions of dollars." "It is my understanding that Mr. Ellison has had a long-standing interest in Lanai," said Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie in a written statement. "His passion for nature, particularly the ocean, is well-known, specifically in the realm of America's Cup sailing. He is also a businessman whose record of community involvement in medical research and education causes is equally notable."

As news of the purchase spread, island residents were scratching their heads over a system that leaves some of the most important decisions about their community to a single person. "It's kind of strange that in 2012, a medieval system of having one man own an island in the middle of the state, on which 3,000 people live, can still exist," said Robin Kaye, who has lived on Lanai with his family since 2005. "It's very bizarre."

Ellison, 67, is known for his expensive tastes. A 23-acre Japanese-style estate in Woodside reportedly cost him $200 million, and he is said to have spent as much on other properties around Malibu. Ellison can afford his hobbies. He is the third-wealthiest American citizen, according to Forbes, worth $36 billion.

9 Dear Jobless Graduate (Jonathan Jansen in Johannesburg Times) Jobless Graduate writes to me often, posing a question filled with emotion and frustration. "I have a degree, but I cannot find a job. How do you explain that, professor?" JG is male and female, in the early to mid-20s, mostly black, from a poor family, and from all nine provinces. JG has applied for every job available, starting with one that fits the degree that she studied for and then, later, going for any job that could earn her some money.

So JG, here is my message to you. The reason you fail to get a job has little to do with your degree. It has everything to do with the other things employers look for in a candidate.To begin with, take a close look at your curriculum vitae. You will notice spelling errors and large gaps between words. You will see that your paragraphs are not always aligned, and that your references at the end are missing information. Your sloppy CV is one reason that employers decide, there and then, that you would probably make a careless worker.

Your CV makes no reference to voluntary work or holiday occupations. Your marks reveal that you concentrated on passing, and so your 40% in mathematical literacy at school, and your 52% in sociology at university, send all the wrong signals.While you were concentrating on passing, other students were focused on excelling; there is a big difference. Now I want you to reflect on your last interview. The way you walked into the interview room suggested a serious energy deficit. There was no smile, and you looked depressed, with your drooping shoulders. And for heaven's sake, dress properly.

And so you see, JG, it is not about showing up with a degree that matters. It is the other stuff they are looking for, the value added to the degree. They are looking for competence, composure and confidence, and evidence of a life well lived. They want proof of an energetic self-starter who filled her leisure time with service to others.

10 Mandarin is Australia's second most spoken language (Sydney Morning Herald) Just how multicultural a nation Australia is has been reinforced in new census data that shows that almost one in four Australians was born overseas. The latest snapshot of the country reveals a population of just over 21.5 million on census night last year - and 24.6% of them were born overseas, up from 22.2% in 2006, while 43.1% of people have at least one parent who migrated here.

The United Kingdom is our leading source of overseas-born residents, followed by New Zealand, China and India. Mandarin is now the second most common language spoken at home after English, while Hinduism has experienced largest proportional growth of the three most common non-Christian religious affiliations.

27m in slavery; Asia, not North America, has most millionaires; Young, social and paperless; Fairfax Media to cut 1,900 jobs; G20 gets indigestion; Forget Europe, it's submerging

1 27m in slavery (Straits Times) Up to 27 million people are living in slavery around the world, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton estimated on Tuesday as the US unveiled its annual report into human trafficking. But the report showed that as governments become more aware of the issue, instigating tough new laws and programmes to help victims, progress is being made in wiping out what it called the 'scourge of trafficking.' 'The end of legal slavery in the United States and in other countries around the world has not, unfortunately, meant the end of slavery,' said Mrs Clinton.

'Today it is estimated as many as 27 million people around the world are victims of modern slavery, what we sometimes call trafficking in persons,' she said at the unveiling of the report at the State Department. 'Those victims of modern slavery are women and men, girls and boys, and their stories remind us of the kind of inhumane treatment we are capable of as human beings,' said Mrs Clinton.

2 Asia, not North America, has most millionaires (San Francisco Chronicle) The number of millionaires in the Asia-Pacific region touched 3.37 million last year, exceeding those in North America for the first time. The roster of the rich in Asia climbed 1.6% as the number of millionaires in China, Japan, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia increased, according to Capgemini and RBC Wealth Management. The number of millionaires in North America dropped 1.1% to 3.35 million. North America remained the richest region with $11.4 trillion in high-net-worth assets.

3 Asian American immigrants outpace Latinos (San Francisco Chronicle) As the presidential candidates battle over US-Mexico immigration policy, a sweeping new survey shows that Asian Americans have overtaken Latinos nationally as the largest group of new immigrants arriving each year in the United States - a development with profound political and economic implications. Not only are Asian Americans the fastest-growing racial group in the country, but they have the highest incomes, are the best-educated and are happier with their lot in life compared with other groups, according to "The Rise of Asian Americans," a comprehensive new Pew Research Center survey and report.

"It is a reversal of fortune for Asian Americans," said David Lee, a longtime community organizer in San Francisco's Asian American neighborhoods who teaches political science at San Francisco State University. "One hundred years ago, they were the poorest of the poor," Lee said. "Today, they are the best-paid, best-educated, most-in-demand workers in the country." Socially, Asian Americans place a higher value on marriage and parenthood. And while many don't like the "Tiger Mom" image of pushy, demanding Asian American parents, 62% think American parents are too soft on their kids.

The Pew study is based on census data and surveys of 3,511 Asian Americans, including representative samples of the six largest Asian American country-of-origin groups - Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese - which comprise more than 80% of all Asian Americans.

4 To stay on schedule, take a break (The New York Times) Want to be more productive? Keep your nose to the grindstone, or your fingers on the keyboard and your eyes on the screen. Because the more time you put in, the more you’ll get done, right? Wrong. A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.

Mental concentration is similar to a muscle, says John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym. Breaks can induce guilt because they’re "this little oasis of personal time that we get while we’re selling ourselves to someone else," Professor Trougakos says. But that’s just the point. Employees generally need to detach from their work and their work space to recharge their internal resources, he says. Options include walking, reading a book in another room or taking the all-important lunch break, which provides both nutritional and cognitive recharging.

5 Young, social and paperless (The New York Times) The children of the baby-boom generation are the first generation that never knew life before the Internet. And because they are a growing portion of the work force, the companies that employ them, as well as the hotels, airlines and other travel-related businesses that serve them, are having to change the way they talk to them, work with them and sell to them.

Although this group — classified as those under 32 years old and known as millennials — makes up about 20% of the adult population and 13% of the business travel hotel bookings, their business travel numbers were up more than 40% in 2011 from a year earlier, according to data from the travel research firm DK Shifflet & Associates. This is what Maria Chevalier, a corporate travel manager at Hewlett-Packard, found after completing a six-month study about her company’s roughly 100,000 business travelers. "With these younger generations, you have to communicate more frequently, but shorter. You have to use different forms of communication," she said.

Darren Osleger, a consultant, said his best and most indispensable traveling partner is his iPhone. It has apps that let him simply enter a flight confirmation code and avoid having to print a boarding pass. "All of my tickets can go on my phone," he said. "I scan it at the TSA and scan it at the gate. There’s no reason to print out airline tickets again."

6 Fairfax Media to cut 1,900 jobs (The New York Times) Fairfax Media, publisher of some of the leading newspapers in Australia, will restructure its management and cut almost one-fifth of its staff, the beginning of a widespread shake-up of country’s media sector. Fairfax, which publishes The Sydney Morning Herald; the Australian Financial Review; and The Age, in Melbourne; said it would cut 1,900 jobs over three years from its staff of 10,000, shut down two printing plants and reduce broadsheet newspapers to tabloid formats.

In a conference call with analysts, Fairfax said its options included a digital-only future if revenues continued to slide. Fairfax’s classified advertisements were once considered "rivers of gold," but revenues have collapsed as Web sites have taken over markets for real estate, job and car ads. Fairfax’s announcement is expected to be followed shortly by news of a restructuring at its larger rival, News Ltd., the Australian unit of the News Corp., which is controlled by Rupert Murdoch. News Ltd. is preparing to announce job cuts of as many as 1,500 staff members as it restructures its work force of 8,000.

7 Costa Coffee to create 3,500 jobs (The Guardian) British leisure group Whitbread reported solid growth in first-quarter sales, boosted by a strong performance from its coffee shop chain Costa Coffee, and unveiled plans to create thousands of jobs. Whitbread, which also owns budget hotel chain Premier Inn, said underlying sales rose 4.5% in the 13 weeks to 31 May. "Our plans for profitable growth are well established, supported by our strong balance sheet, and we plan to open 4,200 Premier Inn rooms, eight joint site restaurants and 350 new Costa stores this financial year, creating an additional 3,500 UK jobs," said Whitebread's chief executive, Andy Harrison.

8 G20 gets indigestion (The Daily Telegraph) It's Wednesday, so it must be time for another international summit. Gathered in the Mexican seaside resort of Los Cabos, G20 leaders will already be wondering why they have made the trip. Nothing is promised from this latest piece of international junketing, other than a little Mexican levity and a nasty bout of indigestion, courtesy of the spicy food. Let's hope leaders have brought their anti-reflux medication with them; in more ways than one, they are going to need it.

Few G20 meetings are anything other than a waste of space, but this one more so than most, because the latest slowdown in the world economy can be dealt with convincingly only by Europe. And as we already know, Europe is seemingly incapable of sorting out the hopeless muddle it has inflicted on itself.

For examples of the abject failure of international cooperation to find solutions, look no further than the G20 itself. A great concept in theory, which seeks to engage the developing world in the idea of global governance, the G20 has turned out to be a hopeless organisation, capable of deciding little and implementing even less. In Los Gabos on Monday, British Prime Minister David Cameron claimed the G20 had at least stopped a slide to protectionism. It has not. The latest analysis by Global Trade Alert shows that protectionist measures are once again strongly on the rise as the global economy weakens, the bulk of it among G20 nations.

9 Forget Europe, it's submerging (Kenneth Lambden in Business Standard) Indian investors should only look at emerging markets. Invest in emerging markets and forget about Europe. You have got a choice; to look at emerging or look at submerging. Why do you want to look at the submerging countries? It is going to take five to 10 years for the US and Europe to dig out. Indian investors are very domestic focused and it’s appropriate to internationalise the emerging and not internationalise the submerging.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

UK's 'worst crisis' since second world war; Nokia future in doubt; An online dating revolution in India; Spanish crisis deepens

1 UK's 'worst crisis since second world war (The Guardian) Mervyn King has announced emergency measures to help banks and boost business lending after a warning from George Osborne that the "debt storm" raging on the continent had left the UK and the rest of Europe facing their most serious economic crisis outside wartime. In a joint proposal between the Bank of England and the Treasury, banks will receive cut-price funds provided they pass on the benefits to their business customers.
 3 German no to eurobond idea (BBC) Germany's deputy finance minister has ruled out "eurobond-lite" plans to pool part of eurozone countries' debt. Secretary of State Steffen Kampeter said "debt is a national responsibility". "I don't see any strategies where we socialise and redistribute the bad political decisions made by some who are over-indebted." The German government has already ruled out full "eurobonds" for now.

This new "funding for lending" scheme could provide an £80bn boost to loans to the private sector within weeks and alleviate growing fears of a second slump since the start of the financial crisis in 2007. In a second scheme the Bank will begin pumping a minimum of £5bn a month within the next few days into City institutions to improve their liquidity.

With one Spanish minister warning that the future of Europe could be decided within hours, both the governor and the chancellor used the backdrop of another day of financial and economic turbulence in the eurozone to express deep concern about the threat to Britain posed by Europe.

2 Nokia future in doubt after job cuts (The Guardian) Nokia's future as an independent company is hanging in the balance and Microsoft could be forced to rescue the business if chief executive Stephen Elop cannot resuscitate the group's smartphone business by the end of the year, analysts have warned. The Finnish mobile phone manufacturer announced 10,000 job cuts on Thursday and issued its second profits warning in nine weeks.

Nokia's shares dropped 18%, falling below the €2 mark for the first time since 1996, as it acted to stem massive losses by cutting a fifth of its handset workforce. A total of 40,000 jobs have gone at the company and its Nokia Siemens Networks joint venture since Elop joined in September 2010. With Nokia still unable to dent Apple and Samsung's dominance in the smartphone market, Elop all but admitted the date of Nokia's recovery was impossible to forecast, saying in the second profits warning since April that the intention was to return to profit "as soon as possible".

Nokia is pinning its hopes of survival on the Lumia range of phones, its first to use Windows software. But between the lavishly marketed global unveiling last November and March this year, the company had sold just 3m Lumias – a drop in the ocean compared to the 72m Apple iPhones sold since October. Having lost its position as the world's biggest phone maker to Samsung earlier this year, Nokia is burning through cash. It has spent €2.1bn over the past five quarters, meaning that, without cost cuts, its €4.9bn reserves could be gone within a couple of years.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bank 'wipeout' if weakest Euro nations leave; Brazil is economic powerhouse but no green hero; 'A miracle that women survive in India'; Afghan war casualty -- Five kids a day

1 A bank 'wipeout' if weakest Euro nations leave (The Guardian) Few large eurozone banks would be left standing and the banking sector could face a €370bn loss if the euro crisis results in the single currency bloc breaking apart, according to one of the first indepth analyses of what might happen if the eurozone disintegrates. The analysis by Credit Suisse estimates that up to 58% of the value of Europe's banks could be wiped out by the departure of the "peripheral" countries - Greece, Ireland, Italy, Portugal and Spain - from the eurozone.

Even if the single currency remains intact some €1.3tn of credit could be sucked out of the system as banks retrench to their home markets, unwinding years of financial integration, the Credit Suisse analysis warns. This represents as much as 10% of the credit in the financial system. "We find that a Greek exit could be manageable ... but in a peripheral exit, few of the large listed eurozone banks would be left standing," the Credit Suisse report said.

The banking sector could need capital injections of as much as €470bn if the three scenarios considered by the Credit Suisse analysts - a Greek exit, an exit of the periphery countries and a situation where banks retrench domestically - happen at once. The UK's banks will not escape unscathed, although they are better insulated than those in the eurozone. In the event that the peripheral countries leave the eurozone, Barclays faces losses of €37bn and bailed out Royal Bank of Scotland some €26bn.

2 Brazil is economic powerhouse, but no green hero (The Guardian) Despite Brazil's emergence as a global economic power, its massive environmental resources and its environmentally conscious people, many Brazilian companies and politicians have still not fully taken on board sustainable development as a strategic priority. The ongoing debate about a forestry law that could encourage deforestation has exposed deep divisions in Brazilian society. The UN Conference on Sustainale Development, also referred to as Rio+20, will take place in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil next week.

Brazil itself is one of the world's most environmentally diverse and sensitive countries. Almost 50% of Brazilian territory is taken up by the earth's largest tropical forest, the Amazon rainforest, home to nearly 50% of all the world's biodiversity. Almost half of all the energy consumed in Brazil comes from renewable sources: 75% from hydroelectricity and the rest from biomass, solar energy and ethanol. The Brazilian economy just overtook the UK to become the world's sixth largest economy. Brazil's poverty rate has also fallen significantly and in just the past five years some 30 million Brazilians (17.6% of the population) have joined the middle class.

In addition to all the plentiful natural resources available such as water and farmable land, Brazil is also becoming a very important player in the economic and political world scene. Nevertheless, it is still very much a land of contradiction, as Brazilian society, companies and government all struggle to address the many issues that remain. An example of this is a recent controversy surrounding the new version of a forest management law. The law represented a major step backwards for Brazilian environmental legislation and for our forests: its intent was to give an amnesty to land owners who cleared land in the past and who had illegally invaded and deforested riparian areas. The law also opened several loopholes for legalising further deforestation.

3 Aussie marine reserve (BBC) Australia says it will create the world's largest network of marine parks ahead of the Rio+20 summit. The reserves will cover 3.1m sq km of ocean, including the Coral Sea. Restrictions will be placed on fishing and oil and gas exploration in the protected zone covering more than a third of Australia's waters. Last year, the Australian government announced plans to protect the marine life in the Coral Sea - an area of nearly 1m sq km.

4 The vicious euro circle keeps turning (Stephanie Flanders on BBC) It's no good bailing out the banks if you can't bail out the economy. That, in a nutshell, is the judgement that financial markets seem to have been making about Spain in the past few days. Why are investors still so gloomy about Spain? One part of the explanation is probably our old friend, political uncertainty. The Greek election looms large on the horizon, and the agenda for the European summit at the end of next month looks painfully ambitious.

But the core of the problem for Spain is economic growth. In Italy, too - worries about the state of the economy helped push up the Italian government's cost of borrowing at the start of the week. It's largely the grim prospects for the Spanish economy that has led Fitch and other ratings agencies to downgrade so many Spanish banks in recent days. Emergency lending is helpful. But it can't make the recession go away, and it can't take away the need for many more years of fiscal austerity.

5 Outrage over China abortion picture (BBC) A photo purporting to show a baby whose mother was forced to have an abortion has shocked Chinese internet users.Feng Jiamei, from Zhenping county in Shaanxi, was allegedly made to undergo the procedure by local officials in the seventh month of pregnancy. Ms Feng was forced into the abortion as she couldn't pay the fine for having a second child, US-based activists said. Rights groups say China's one-child policy has meant women being coerced into abortions, which Beijing denies.

6 SA's service-delivery protests (Johannesburg Times) The number of violent service-delivery protests spiked this month and more can be expected. The use of tear gas, stone-throwing, setting up barricades of burning tyres and community anger have become common around the country and Kevin Allan, of Municipal IQ, which monitors 283 municipalities and keeps track of service-delivery protests, says they are becoming more frequent.

Most of the unhappiness arises from urbanisation - the flocking to the cities of people from poor rural areas to find jobs. They are forced to live in informal settlements lacking basic services. Yesterday, there were service-delivery protests in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Many promises were made by politicians in 2009 ahead of the national elections, when service-delivery protests were common.

7 'A miracle that women survive in India' (Dawn) The birth of a girl, so goes a popular Hindu saying, is akin to the arrival of Lakshmi – the four-armed goddess of wealth, often depicted holding lotus flowers and an overflowing pot of gold. In reality, India’s women are discriminated against, abused and even killed on a scale unparalleled in the top 19 economies of the world, according to a new poll by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The survey, polling 370 gender specialists, found Canada to be the best place to be a woman amongst G20 nations, excluding the European Union economic grouping. Saudi Arabia was the second worst, after India.

"It’s a miracle a woman survives in India. Even before she is born, she is at risk of being aborted due to our obsession for sons," said Shemeer Padinzjharedil, who runs, a website which maps and documents crimes against women. "As a child, she faces abuse, rape and early marriage and even when she marries, she is killed for dowry. If she survives all of this, as a widow she is discriminated against and given no rights over inheritance or property."

Many of the crimes against women are in India’s heavily populated northern plains, where, in parts, there is a deep-rooted mindset that women are inferior and must be restricted to being homemakers and childbearers. In addition, age-old customs such as payment of hefty dowries at the time of marriage and beliefs linking a female’s sexual behavior to family honor have made girls seem a burden.

India had a female prime minister, and well-dressed women in Western attire driving scooters or cars to work is now an everyday sight in cities. Women doctors, lawyers, police officers and bureaucrats are common. But scratch under the surface and the threats in India are manifold – from female foeticide, child marriage, dowry and honor killings to discrimination in health and education and crimes such as rape, domestic violence and human trafficking. "There are two Indias: one where we can see more equality and prosperity for women, but another where the vast majority of women are living with no choice, voice or rights," said Sushma Kapoor, South Asia deputy director for UN Women.

8 Afghan war casualty: Five children a day (Dawn) Child casualties in the conflict in Afghanistan rose by more than a quarter last year, the UN said, with an average of nearly five youngsters killed or injured every day in 2011. A UN report on children in armed conflict said a total of 1,756 children were killed or injured in the war in Afghanistan in 2011, an average of 4.8 a day, compared with 1,396 in 2010.

The UN children’s agency UNICEF said more than 300 under-18s were reportedly recruited to fight in Afghanistan, where Taliban militants are waging an increasingly bloody insurgency against the government and its Western backers. Tens of thousands of children in Afghanistan, driven by poverty, work on the streets of the war-torn country’s cities and often fall prey to Taliban bombings and other violence, as well as abuse.

Under 30s are 'generation rent'; World Bank's growth warning; Running US' oldest family business; New Orleans' latest storm -- Newspaper layoffs; Christian and Parsi educators of Pakistan

1 Under 30s are 'generation rent' (The Guardian) More than 1 million young people will be "locked out" of home ownership in eight years' time, making up a generation that is "increasingly marginalised" and renting due to the lack of houses, a study warns. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that by 2020 the number of home owners under the age of 30 will fall from 2.4m to 1.3m, a drop of 46%. The foundation also predicts that by then 400,000 vulnerable young people could be "excluded completely", unable to afford either to rent or buy accommodation.

Signalling a widening intergenerational gap, the report warns that many young people who today might expect to get on to the housing ladder will in future find they cannot buy a home. Instead the young of today either might have to rent property over their lifetime, or, well into their 30s, remain with their parents and try to save to buy a home. This will come as a blow to many Britons who cling to the idea that the country is a "property-owning democracy".

The study forecasts an extra 1.5m 18-to-30-year-olds will be renting a home in 2020, while another half a million young people will "stay at home"; by 2020 the number living with "mum and dad" will be 3.7m. "It means many young people's dreams of owning a home will never come true, while many more will have a much longer wait before they own their own property," says the foundation.

2 World Bank's growth warning (BBC) Developing nations should brace themselves for weak growth and "tougher times", the World Bank has warned. It said that there may be "a long period of volatility in the global economy" as the eurozone debt crisis escalates. It forecast that developing economies will grow by 5.3% this year, down from 6.1% in 2011 and urged policymakers to take adequate long-term measures to ensure that they can sustain growth.

The World Bank warning comes amid heightened fears about the eurozone debt crisis spreading to the region's bigger economies such as Spain and Italy. There are fears that as the crisis escalates it will hurt investor sentiment in Europe and dent demand. That does not bode well for developing economies, especially in Asia, which rely heavily on demand from the eurozone for their exports. To make matters more complicated, growth in China, the world's second largest economy and one of the biggest consumers of commodities, has also slowed. Its economy grew at an annual rate of 8.1% in the first quarter, the slowest pace in almost three years.

3 Spain's borrowing cost at record high (BBC) Spain's borrowing costs have risen to the highest rate since the launch of the euro in 1999.The benchmark 10-year bond yield hit 6.81%, as optimism about the weekend's Spanish bank bailout continued to evaporate. Italy's 10-year bond yield rose to 6.28%, a rate not seen since January, as concerns about its finances rose. The interest rates are seen as unsustainable in the long run for two countries weighed down by huge debts.

Markets continued to be uneasy about the situation in the eurozone. In other developments on Tuesday: Ratings agency Fitch downgraded the creditworthiness of 18 Spanish banks, following its decision on Monday to cut its ratings on the country's two biggest banks, Santander and BBVA.

4 Running US's oldest family business (BBC) Nearly 400 years ago, in 1623, Avedis Zildjian founded a cymbal-manufacturing company in Istanbul. Now run by 14th generation family member Craigie Zildjian, along with her sister Debbie, the company has outlasted empires, survived a move overseas to the US, and thrived during the economic turmoil of the Great Depression and two World Wars. Today, the company controls 65% of the world's cymbal market, and took in more than $50m in revenues last year.

But for the Zildjians, it's more than just a business. Walking through the halls of the Zildjian factory in Norwell, Massachusetts, is like getting a front row seat to music history. So what are the Zildjians' secrets to staying in business for nearly four centuries? First off, there's the literal secret - the special alloy of copper, tin, and silver that gives the Zildjian cymbals their world-renowned sound. It's a proprietary mix that Avedis Zildjian brought over with him from Turkey and handed down from generation to generation of Zildjians - and only to Zildjians.

Beyond the legend, there are other tricks and best practices that the Zildjians say have allowed them to keep the business in the family. Every Zildjian who wants to work in the family business must get a college degree, preferably in business. They also must intern while in high school or college, to get a taste of the company's standards.

There are more than 20 million family businesses in America, contributing an estimated $5.9tn to the US economy annually, and employing more than half of the country's workforce. Globally, family businesses are extremely prevalent, and contribute an estimated 70% to global GDP, according to the Family Firm Institute.

5 New Orleans' latest storm -- Newspaper layoffs (The New York Times) In New Orleans and across the state of Alabama on Tuesday, as part of a basic restructuring of the news business at four papers owned by Advance Publications, scores of employees walked into one-on-one meetings and walked out 10 minutes later with severance packages. They included advertising employees, copy editors, press operators, crime reporters, photographers and graphic artists. The Web site reported that 400 employees in Alabama would "experience an employment loss."

The Birmingham News had a newsroom of 102 going into Tuesday; by the end of the day 61 were gone. The Times-Picayune laid off more than 200 people, or nearly a third of its overall staff. Jim Amoss, the editor of The Times-Picayune, said that while about half the newsroom was let go on Tuesday — around 84 people — a coming series of hires would mean that by fall the newsroom would be smaller by only about 32 people. The decisions about whom to lay off, he said, were made for both economic reasons and as part of a new digital approach to journalism.

6 The Christian and Parsi educators of Pakistan (Dawn) "The discipline inculcated in me by my teachers at the Convent has stayed with me through the years," says award-winning filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy. Obaid-Chinoy, who was schooled at the Convent of Jesus and Mary, says the school was run "in a very meticulous manner." Similar is the case with several other Christian schools spread across Karachi. Stop a passer-by and ask them the way to the Mama Parsi School, the St. Josephs Convent, the Trinity Methodist School or one of the five branches of Dar-ul-Sukun, and surely, you will receive a satisfactory reply.

Represented by the white stripe on Pakistan’s flag, minorities have been granted the right to profess, practice and propagate their religion and to establish, maintain and manage their religious institutions under Article 20 of Pakistan’s constitution. Very seldom, though, are the rights granted. But what is similar between Mumbai and Karachi, is the influence of minority communities – mainly Parsis and Christians – in the provision of education via the private sector.

Whilst Mumbai boasts of the famous Maneckji Cooper School, the Bai Avabai Framji Petit High School and the St. Joseph’s Convent amongst its host of Christian and Parsi institutions; Karachi does not lag behind, providing its 18-million strong population with immaculate standards of education through reputable private sector institutions such as the St. Joseph’s Convent – established by the Daughter’s of the Cross in both Mumbai and Karachi –, the St. Patrick’s High School, the Mama Parsi School, the BVS Parsi High School, St. Lawrence’s School and several others.

7 Cartoon in The Guardian showing Greece's football team wearing German jersey, with the caption: 'We're Greece -- They are just our sponsors'.

Monday, June 11, 2012

US family net worth drops to 1990s level; Why Spanish bailout won't work; New education ends rote, cursive; India realty cos sit on debt mountain

1 US family net worth drop to 1990s level (The New York Times) The recent financial crisis left the median American family in 2010 with no more wealth than in the early 1990s, erasing almost two decades of accumulated prosperity, the Federal Reserve has said. The median family, richer than half of the nation's families and poorer than the other half, had a net worth of $77,300 in 2010, down from $126,400 in 2007, the Fed said, a decline of almost 40% between 2007 and 2010. The crash of housing prices explained three-quarters of the loss.

This vast loss of wealth was compounded by a loss of income, as the earnings of the median family fell 7.7% in the same period. Figures are reported in 2010 dollars. Despite these setbacks, consumers have continued to spend surprising amounts of money in recent years, helping to keep the economy growing at a modest pace. The survey underscores where the money is coming from: Americans are saving less for future needs and making little progress in repaying debts.

The share of families saving anything over the previous year fell to 52% in 2010 from 56.4% in 2007. Other statistics show that total savings have increased since 2007, suggesting that a smaller group of families is saving more money, while a growing number manage to save nothing. And the report highlighted the fact that households made limited progress in reducing the amount they owed to lenders. The share of households reporting debt declined by 2.1 percentage points in the past three years, but 74.9% of households still owe something. The median amount of debt didn't change.

2 Why Spanish bailout won't work (Andrew Ross Sorkin in The New York Times) The euro zone’s offer of $125 billion to bail out Spanish banks over the weekend was hailed by finance ministers and officials across Europe as a masterstroke. Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, suggested no further bailouts would be needed, saying, "Spain is on the right track." On Sunday, some analysts and investors even applauded, with David R. Kotok, co-founder and chief investment officer of Cumberland Advisors, proclaiming: "Euro zone leaders rose to the occasion." How wrong they were.

By now, it should be apparent that the bailout has failed — or is at least on its way to failing. Indeed, it now appears that the bailout could make things in Spain worse, not better. And market indicators for the next domino in line for a bailout, Italy, point in the wrong direction. This was bound to happen. That’s because bailing out the banks in each European country individually is a fool’s errand. Experts often note — wrongly — that TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program that pumped $700 billion into the banking system in the United States, arrested the financial crisis in 2008. TARP, to some degree, has become the model for Europe.

But we forget history: TARP was only one component of the bailout. Perhaps more important was the government’s unilateral move to raise the amount of money the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation could insure, increasing the account limit to $250,000 from $100,000 and fully backstopping the entire money-market industry.

3 New education ends rote, cursive (San Francisco Chronicle) Like fashion, trends in public education come and go. With the threat of Soviet innovation and Sputnik, old math became new math in the 1960s and then back to old arithmetic about 10 years later. "Is it still necessary for kids to learn their times table when they can pick up their iPhone and ask Siri what is 20 times 2?" asked Dan Domenech, executive director of the American Association of School Administrators.

Europe's young adults struggle for jobs; Thoughts on being a mediocre employee; Messy Spanish rescue; Long may the SMS reign; India: Licence Raj to Resource Raj

1 Europe’s young adults struggle for jobs (San Francisco Chronicle) Europe's economic crisis has fuelled a spiralling problem of unemployment among young people, with job seekers aged 15-24 more than twice as likely to be out of work as the average European. Policymakers and experts are warning that a growing number of them could remain locked out of the economy for years to come, posing a long-term challenge to growth and raising questions about the fundamental health of the continent's labour force.

Across the European Union, youth unemployment has skyrocketed from 15.1% in December 2007 to 22.6% this March, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the statistical arm of wealthy countries. In Italy and Ireland, roughly one in three people aged 15-24 is looking for work; in Spain and Greece it's one in two. In the United Kingdom and France the rate is close to the continent-wide average, but that represents a sharp rise for Britain, where it was 13.6% in 2007.

With almost 1 million young Britons classified as NEETs - not in education, employment or training programs - there are growing worries for "a generation that has really become lost and has not been on the radar," said Betty Campbell of Leap, a charity that promotes job skills among underprivileged groups. The figures aren't merely academic. Last summer, London was struck by its worst riots in nearly two decades after police shots and killed a black man in Tottenham, in north London. Although the unrest began as a response to what protesters called harsh police tactics, many experts said it also was a direct result of high unemployment rates and widespread deprivation, primarily in black communities.

2 Thoughts on being a mediocre employee (The New York Times) This is based on a blog statement, and it illustrates the huge difference in perspective that can exist between the owners of companies and their employees. Here is the comment: There is nothing wrong with being an average (mediocre) employee. Not everyone aspires to be in management. If the person meets the requirements of their current job, and they like the job and want to stay in the job, so be it. Stop trying to force people to get to the next level. The reality is that work is not the most important thing in everyone’s lives. Work is simply a means to get the money we need to pay the mortgage and our other bills. As long as I am meeting the requirements of my job, than that is good enough. Don’t expect any more of me because I will not be a slave to any company. — Jo-Ann Youngblood, Tulsa, OK.

I get it, Ms. Youngblood. And I agree with much of what you say, including this: Stop trying to force people to the next level. We would have a big problem if everyone wanted to move into management. The difference between you and most people, I believe, is that you know you are a mediocre employee. In fact, you defend it. Good for you. And I certainly agree that no one needs to be a “slave” to a company. But I have rights, too. As the owner of a business, I have the right to avoid hiring someone who only wants to do the bare minimum to get a paycheck. In fact, if I hire too many people with that attitude, I will be out of business. This is Capitalism 101, survival of the fittest. I operate in a very competitive market.

But don’t worry, I will take your advice and not expect any more of you. If you are happy, I am happy. While I appreciate your honesty and perspective, I will hope to avoid people who share your attitude, both as an employer and as a customer.

3 Economy fears pull down oil (BBC) Oil prices dropped to $98.06 in London - their lowest in 17-months on fears of waning economic growth in China. US benchmark oil price was also lower, falling to 1.4% to $82 in early trade before recovering to $84.10. Brent crude bounced back in later trading to $99.47, but is still more than 25% below its March peak. The fall comes as traders bet on reduced demand from Chinese factories with eurozone woes adding extra pressure. The world's biggest exporter of crude oil, Saudi Arabia, started to scale back shipments in June.

4 Messy Spanish rescue (Robert Peston on BBC) Lenders to financially over-stretched eurozone banks and governments are likely to be encouraged by the signal from the governments of the eurozone that they will provide 100bn euros (£81bn) of finance to recapitalise - or strengthen - weaker Spanish banks. But the extent of any restoration of confidence may be muted, until we know the terms attached to the emergency loans and where precisely the money is coming from.

An important issue point is whether the rescue funds will come from the European Financial Stability Facility, the temporary bailout fund that is being wound down, or its permanent replacement, the European Stability Mechanism. If the money were to come from the ESM, existing and future commercial lenders to the Spanish government would rank behind eurozone governments in the event that Spain was unable to repay all its debts in full.

So this means that the perceived quality of private-sector loans to the Spanish government would deteriorate - which, in theory, would have the perverse effect of making it harder and more expensive for Spain to borrow from conventional sources. An ESM bailout would classify Spain as a second-class borrower in a formal sense, and actually delay its rehabilitation.

5 Long may the SMS reign (Johannesburg Times) The greatest communication mechanism in the world is arguably still SMS - the short message service sent over cellphones. SMS works across all phones and works well. It might be the most expensive messaging method, however, because network operators still charge disproportionately more for texts than it costs them to deliver them. But it works, often when nothing else does, and is a lifeline of communication in some of the poorest areas of the world. Mobile operators are predicted to earn $722.7-billion in SMS revenues between 2011 and 2016, according to Informa Telecoms & Media.

One of the most remarkable communications platforms is FrontlineSMS, which lets grassroots users and NGOs communicate by SMS. It was founded by Ken Banks after a trip to the Kruger National Park in 2004 and has since gone global. It has a number of spin-off projects aimed at providing educational, legal and medical advice, and offers mobile money management.

The ubiquity of SMS means other services can be built on top of it, such as the mobile payment system that has become synonymous with Kenya's mobile success, M-Pesa. New communication technologies have always brought great change to the world. It started with the printing press, the telegraph and the telephone. They were the analogue precursors to the telephone network, the internet and now cellphones. They are evolving into smartphones but the vast majority of people still use them for their primary functions: voice calls and text messaging. SMS is still the king of communication. Long may it reign.

6 Arab world needs to create 75m jobs (Khaleej Times) In the coming decade, the Arab world will need to create a staggering 75 million jobs, an increase of 40% more than currently exist to keep pace with the young and fast-growing population set to enter the workforce. However, with the substantial jobs-skills mismatch currently plaguing the region, this much-needed rise in employment may not be achievable.

A study carried out by management consulting firm, Booz & Company, in collaboration with the World Economic Forum (WEF) and Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), has identified various ways in which large employers can decrease the Arab World’s youth unemployment rate now at an average of 24.9%. According to the World Bank data, the six GCC states (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) have some of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, as high as 40% among certain age groups. More than half of the region’s population is under 25 years.

7 Google, Apple can catch you sunbathing (Straits Times) Google and Apple have utilised spy planes that are able to capture sunbathers in their back gardens and are in the process of producing aerial maps so detailed they can show up objects just 10.16cm wide, the online Daily Mail reported. However, campaigners say the technology is a sinister development that brings the surveillance society a step closer.
Google admits it has already sent planes over cities while Apple has acquired a firm using spy-in-the-sky technology that has been tested on at least 20 locations, including London. Apple's military-grade cameras are understood to be so powerful they could potentially see into homes through skylights and windows. The technology is similar to that used by intelligence agencies in identifying terrorist targets in Afghanistan.

8 Do humans carry expiry dates? (The Wall Street Journal) After celebrating her 60th year on the throne in style this past week, Britain's Queen Elizabeth II can now look forward to breaking some more records. She is already, at 86, Britain's oldest monarch (were she to die now, her son would immediately be the 12th oldest). On Sept. 10, 2015, she would pass Queen Victoria to become the longest-reigning monarch in British history. To beat Louis XIV (who succeeded to the throne at the age of 4) for the longest reign in European history, she would have to live to 98.
Elizabeth II is still going strong, but the maximum human lifespan isn't rising at anything like the rate of average life expectancy, which is rushing upward globally at the rate of about three months a year. The oldest woman in the world, Besse Cooper, a retired schoolteacher in Georgia, will be 116 on Aug. 26, according to the Gerontology Research Group, an organization that studies aging issues. That's a great age, but it's a hefty six years short of the record: 122 years and 164 days, set by Jeanne Calment of France in 1997.
That's a long time, considering that there are now nearly a half million centenarians alive in the world. That number has been going up 7% a year, but the number of those over 115 is not increasing. There is perhaps no limit to the number of people who can reach 90 or 100, but getting more than a handful of people past 120 may never be possible, and 150 is probably unattainable, absent genetic engineering—even for a monarch.
9 India: Licence Raj to Resource Raj (Raghuram Rajan in Mint) Emerging markets around the world – Brazil, China, India, and Russia, to name the largest – are slowing. One reason is that they continue to be dependent, directly or indirectly, on exports to advanced industrial countries. Slow growth there, especially in Europe, is economically depressing.  Hardest to understand, though, is why India is underperforming so much relative to its potential. For a country as poor as India, growth should be what Americans call a “no-brainer.” It is largely a matter of providing public goods: basic infrastructure like roads, bridges, ports, and power, as well as access to education and basic health care.
Satisfying the demand for such goods is itself a source of growth. For a few years, the momentum created by previous reforms, together with strong global growth, carried India forward. Politicians saw little need to vote for further reforms, especially those that would upset powerful vested interests. But, while politicians spent the growth dividend on poorly targeted giveaways such as subsidized petrol and cooking gas, the need for further reform only increased. As demand for land and land prices increased, corruption became rampant. India’s corrupt elites had moved from controlling licenses to cornering newly valuable resources like land. The Resource Raj rose from the ashes of the License Raj.
As with the other major emerging markets, India’s fate is in its own hands. If its politicians can take a few steps to show that they can overcome narrow partisan interests to establish the more transparent and efficient government that a middle-income country needs, they could quickly re-energize India’s enormous engines of potential growth. Otherwise, India’s youth, their hopes and ambitions frustrated, could decide to take matters into their own hands.
10 International Herald Tribune cartoon on Queen Elizabeth completing 60 years on the throne: ‘At this age, she must have known the Rolling Stones’.