Thursday, March 31, 2016

After 8 months, China factory output jumps; Hunt begins for a Tata Steel buyer; Obese outnumber underweight

1 After 8 months China factory output jumps (Straits Times) China's official factory gauge showed improving conditions for the first time in eight months, suggesting the government's fiscal and monetary stimulus is kicking in.

The manufacturing purchasing managers index rose to 50.2 in March, compared with a median estimate of 49.4 in a Bloomberg News survey of economists. The measure matches its highest level since November 2014.

Top officials at the National People's Congress last month unveiled a record fiscal deficit and pledged to accelerate restructuring of bloated state-owned industries to meet their 6.5 per cent to 7 per cent expansion target for this year. Monetary authorities have flagged more room to act if growth falters.

Home prices in some of China's biggest cities are surging, spurring policies to curb loose lending even as authorities seek to support overall demand. To underpin economic growth targets, China's top planning agency is doling out new fiscal stimulus, further raising the amount of money available to local governments this year under a special infrastructure bond program.

2 Hunt begins for a Tata steel buyer (Anushka Asthana & Graham Ruddick in The Guardian) A source within Tata confirmed that the UK government was leading the efforts to find interested parties, but revealed that one option under consideration was a sale of “different portfolios”, which would mean breaking the company up.

However, sources inside Tata Steel said the company, which is losing £1m a day on its UK operations, had failed to find a buyer over the past 18 months. Tata Steel has appointed PwC to advise it on the restructuring of its UK business, but even though the company is willing to release its assets for “nothing”, investors could be put off by potential liabilities. The company – essentially the former British Steel and the UK assets of Corus – may also need a pension fund top-up of £2bn.

After hosting an emergency summit at No 10 following his return from holiday, prime minister David Cameron said the situation was “of deep concern”, but added: “I don’t believe nationalisation is the right answer. What we want to do is secure a long-term future for steel plants in the UK.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, had said he was shocked by the idea of ministers taking nationalisation off the table, while the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, urged ministers to consider a temporary return to public ownership and suggested that they should “get a grip”.

The government said its intervention helped ensure that Tata announced a sales process for Port Talbot, rather than immediate closure. But ministers have been widely attacked for failing to take more action.

Ministers stand accused of having “rolled the red carpet out” to China – with Labour MP Stephen Kinnock, who represents the constituency containing Port Talbot, arguing that Britain’s industrial strategy was being drawn up in Beijing.

3 Obese outnumber underweight (BBC) There are now more adults in the world classified as obese than underweight, a major study has suggested. The research, led by scientists from Imperial College London and published in The Lancet, compared body mass index (BMI) among almost 20 million adult men and women from 1975 to 2014.

It found obesity in men has tripled and more than doubled in women. Lead author Prof Majid Ezzat said it was an "epidemic of severe obesity" and urged governments to act. The study, which pooled data from adults in 186 countries, found that the number of obese people worldwide had risen from 105 million in 1975 to 641 million in 2014.

Meanwhile the number of underweight people had risen from 330 million to 462 million over the same period. Global obesity rates among men went up from 3.2% in 1975 to 10.8%, while among women they rose from 6.4 % in 1975 to 14.9%.This equates to 266 million obese men and 375 million obese women in the world in 2014, the study said.

The research also predicted that the probability of reaching the World Health Organization's global obesity target - which aims for no rise in obesity above 2010 levels by 2025 - would be "close to zero". The clinical definition of obese is a BMI - a measurement that relates weight and height - of 30 kilograms per metre squared (kg/m2).

More obese men and women now live in China and the USA than in any other country. Women in the UK have the third highest BMI in Europe and the 10th highest for men. Almost a fifth of the world's obese adults - 118 million - live in only six high-income English-speaking countries - Australia, Canada, Republic of Ireland, New Zealand, UK, and the US.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

South Korea industrial production rebounds; Steel crisis puts UK ministers in 'disarray'; Neighbours outshine Singapore in IPOs

1 South Korea industrial production rebounds (BBC) South Korea's industrial activity rebounded in February, supported by the chemicals and chip making businesses. Official numbers showed industrial production increased by 3.3% from a month earlier, marking the the biggest monthly increase since late 2014.

In January, the export dependent nation saw production fall by 2.1%. South Korea's economy has been hurt in recent times by softer demand from China, one of its most important trading partners.

Following a raft of disappointing economic data, South Korea's government unveiled new stimulus measures in February designed to help boost exports and domestic demand. South Korea, which is Asia's fourth largest economy, saw its economy expand by 3.1% in the three months to December compared to a year earlier.

2 Steel crisis puts UK ministers in ‘disarray’ (The Guardian) David Cameron has flown back to Britain for emergency talks with ministers over the financial crisis engulfing Tata Steel’s British operation – amid warnings that the firm has just weeks to secure a rescue deal on which up to 40,000 jobs could depend.

The Indian-owned company said it was losing £1m a day, with a source claiming that the government’s failure to back calls in Europe for higher tariffs against cheap Chinese imports was the “last straw”, prompting the decision to sell the business that was once British Steel and more recently Corus.

Labour accused the government of being in “disarray” as Cameron and his business secretary, Sajid Javid, scrambled back to the UK after Tata announced it would be selling off British plants. Jeremy Corbyn has urged Cameron to treat the unfolding situation as a national crisis by recalling parliament and considering bringing Britain’s ailing steel industry back into public ownership.

However, Javid rejected the idea of nationalisation, which government officials believe will carry a pricetag of £1.5bn a year. “I don’t think that nationalisation is going to be the solution,” said Javid. “I think everyone would want a long-term viable solution and, if you look around Europe and elsewhere, I think nationalisation is rarely the answer, particularly if you take into account the big challenges the industry faces.”

The financial problems facing Tata are so significant that the value of its British steel operations are now “almost zero”. The company source said Tata was now prepared to “give it away for nothing”. They warned that Tata had tried and failed to find a buyer over the past 18 months because of the amount of money needed to get the company back on track.

Tata’s decision came after Javid opposed calls last month to scrap a regulation known as the “lesser duty rule”, which would have allowed the EU to increase tariffs on Chinese steel beyond the current 9%. The government said this would lead to higher costs for users of steel and was not a proportionate response.

3 Neighbours outshine Singapore in IPOs (Straits Times) Singapore's reign as the premier destination for initial public offerings in South-east Asia has come to an end. Its exchange had the smallest haul of new share sales among the region's four largest stock markets in 2015. Listings this year on South-east Asia's biggest bourse have totalled $34 million, lagging behind Thailand and Malaysia.

Singapore's slide down the IPO rankings reflects not so much its own failings, but the growing ability of rivals from Jakarta to Bangkok to convince local issuers to stay at home instead of flocking to the regional hub. Indonesia, which has South-east Asia's biggest population and largest economy, plans to start an exchange dedicated to young technology companies, while Thailand's premier has highlighted the importance of the country's capital markets.

Singapore's decline in new listings adds to the challenges faced by Mr Boon Chye Loh, who became chief executive officer of Singapore Exchange in July and has been trying to restore confidence in a market where turnover hasn't recovered from a mystery penny-stock crash in 2013.

Companies that listed last year in Singapore raised $366 million, its worst performance since 2001. The amount was less than 10 per cent of funds raised from Thailand's IPOs, just a third of Malaysia's and half of Indonesia's, the data show. Globally, companies have raised $14.5 billion from IPOs in 2016, a 67 per cent plunge from the same period last year.

Singapore will continue to be relevant as a listing destination, said Mr Michael Wu, an analyst at Morningstar in Hong Kong. The island's pro-business regulatory environment, political stability and robust currency makes it an ideal place for issuers and investors, he said.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tata Steel plans to sell UK plants; Impeachment looms for Brazil president; Gender markings to go in New York college

1 Tata Steel plans to sell UK plants (BBC) India's Tata Steel plans to sell its loss-making UK business, putting the jobs of thousands of workers at risk. Its European holding company has been told to "explore all options for restructuring", including the partial or entire sale of its UK operations. Union leaders travelled to Mumbai in a bid to persuade Tata to keep making steel at plants including Port Talbot.

The UK and Welsh governments said they are working "tirelessly" to ensure the future of the British steel industry. Meanwhile, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood said that her party wanted the Welsh Assembly to be recalled to discuss the crisis.

Tata's restructuring decision, which was announced after a board meeting in Mumbai, will also affect workers its other UK plants. Tata said trading conditions had "rapidly deteriorated" in the UK and Europe due to a global oversupply of steel, imports into Europe, high costs and currency volatility.

Unions expressed concern at the announcement and urged Tata and politicians to work at finding a buyer for the business. Tata Steel has been operating in the UK since 2007 when it bought Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus. In January the company announced more than 1,000 UK job cuts. And last October Tata Steel said nearly 1,200 jobs would go at plants in Scunthorpe and Lanarkshire.

There have been allegations that Chinese steel is being "dumped" on world markets at prices that UK plants cannot hope to compete with. At the same time China's economy has remained sluggish, meaning that the demand for steel from its construction sector is now weaker. Other factors affecting the wider UK steel industry include relatively high energy prices and the extra cost of climate change policies.

2 Impeachment looms for Brazil president (San Francisco Chronicle) Brazil's largest party abandoned President Dilma Rousseff's governing coalition, a decision that diminishes the possibility that she will survive mounting pressure in Congress for her impeachment.

The Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, known as the PMDB, said after a meeting that six Cabinet ministers belonging to the party as well as some 600 federal government employees who are members must step down. The announcement was made after more than 100 lawmakers approved the decision.

The session ended with chants calling for the end of Rousseff's Worker's Party and for Vice President Michel Temer to become Brazil's president. Temer, who is the leader of the Democratic Movement, would assume the presidency if Rousseff was impeached for breaking fiscal laws.

The break increases the chance that Rousseff, whose popularity has plunged amid Brazil's worst recession in decades and corruption scandals, will be impeached in the coming months. Brazilians have been staging wide protests demanding the president's impeachment and protesting the sprawling corruption scandal at state-run oil giant Petrobras that has been moving closer to Rousseff's inner circle.

Rousseff, a former chairwoman of Petrobras' board, has not been implicated in the unfolding scandal at the oil company, which prosecutors say is the largest corruption scheme ever uncovered in Brazil. Rousseff backers say impeachment is a power grab by opponents who themselves have been sullied by the probe into kickbacks and bribery at Petrobras.

The embattled leader will now search for new allies and will try to form a new government before the end of the week, Rousseff's chief of staff, Jaques Wagner, said. A recent poll by the respected Datafolha agency says 68 percent of people surveyed want to see lawmakers vote to impeach Rousseff, but only 11 percent believe they would be better off under Temer.

3 Gender markings to go in New York college (Molly Redden in The Guardian) Last fall, the oldest building on the Cooper Union campus underwent a sudden renovation. A group of students, agitating for their transgender classmates, stripped the words “men” and “women” off the doors of the Foundation Building’s restrooms.

The act expressed years of pent-up frustration that in lower Manhattan, at one of the most liberal colleges in the country, students who failed to conform to gender norms nevertheless risked harassment whenever they went to the bathroom.

But then, the unexpected happened. The signs were never replaced. And in an apparent first for a US college, the Cooper Union administration this month moved to remove the gender designations from all the bathrooms on campus by taking down the rest of the men’s and women’s signage from bathrooms.

The decision stands in contrast to many of the bitter fights over bathroom and locker room access transpiring across the country. This year alone, states have considered more than two dozen bills to restrict transgender individuals from using bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity.

Placards outside what was formerly the men’s room will read “restroom with urinal and stalls”, and outside the former women’s room, “restroom with only stalls”. The change represents a triumph even as the student activists say that the campus can still be an unfriendly place for transgender individuals and those who do not identify with either gender. The dorms remain divided by gender, although the school says it is accommodating of students who request different arrangements.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The worldwide IPO drought; Has the Brics bubble burst? FBI and the cracking of an iPhone

1 The worldwide IPO drought (Goh Eng Yeow in Straits Times) It has been a long, dry spell in the initial public offering market and the drought looks unlikely to end any time soon. So far this year, only four IPOs have surfaced in Singapore and all four were trading below their respective issue prices, as of last Thursday.

Their lacklustre performances are likely to dampen the ambitions of other companies planning to launch their own IPOs. In New York, the IPO market is virtually shuttered, except for the listing of a small handful of bio-tech companies. Hong Kong - billed as the world's largest IPO market last year - is also suffering a slow start to the year.

But there is a twist in being a cornerstone investor now. In the halcyon days when IPOs sold like hot cakes, the cornerstone ploy was used to attract high-profile names to IPO hopefuls, giving them an aura of respectability for being able to attract such powerful investors.

That, in turn, was meant to whet the appetite of other institutional and retail investors to subscribe to the new offerings. But with the souring of investor appetite for IPOs, many of the new Chinese listings in Hong Kong have resorted to relying on "friends and family", such as fellow state-owned enterprises, as cornerstone investors to bolster their IPO order books.

Until 20 years ago, all IPOs were truly public offerings. Except for a small portion of shares reserved for staff and company associates, the rest of the IPO had to be made available for public subscription. This changed with the onset of the 1997-1998 Asian financial crisis, when merchant banks and brokerages were forced to place out the bulk of the IPOs handled by them to clients because retail interest had dwindled to almost zero. That sad state of affairs prevails to this day.

2 Has the Brics bubble burst? (Simon Tisdall in The Guardian) The political crisis in Brazil over economic mismanagement and high-level corruption, likely to come to a head this week, has reinforced the fashionable view, popular among western governments and businesses, that the Brics bubble has burst.

Members of the exclusive Brics club of leading developing countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – are failing to justify predictions that, separately and together, they will dominate the 21st century world, or so the argument goes.

But ambitious plans to create an alternative reserve currency to the US dollar and challenge American dominance in IT and global security surveillance have come to little. Meanwhile, adverse economic conditions compounded by falling global demand and lower oil and commodity prices are taking their toll.

Last November, Goldman Sachs, where the idea originated, closed its Bric investment fund after assets reportedly declined in value by 88% from a 2010 peak. The bank told the US securities and exchange commission it did not expect “significant asset growth in the foreseeable future”.

The problems facing Brics members are remarkably similar, even though each country is different. Russia and Brazil have both fallen into recession, while China, the principal engine of world growth, has seen a sharp contraction in overall economic activity.

In South Africa where Jacob Zuma, the country’s president, and the ruling African National Congress government are beset by allegations of corruption and malfeasance, big questions surround the influence wielded by private individuals and businesses over government appointments and policies. The backdrop is under-performing state-owned companies, a depreciating currency, falling exports and rising inflation.

But not all the Brics are floundering. As the analyst George Magnus noted, India currently presents a model of relative progress which the others might study to their advantage. “India is certainly no paragon of virtue when it comes to corruption, nor is its economic infrastructure efficient, but it is endeavouring to accelerate economic reform, and competitiveness,” Magnus wrote.

To take their rightful place in the 21st century, the Brics countries must create more open, accountable, and trustworthy systems of governance. This is a challenge of leadership, not profit and loss.

3 FBI and the cracking of an iPhone (San Francisco Chronicle) Turns out there's a shadowy global industry devoted to breaking into smartphones and extracting their information. Now one of those hacking businesses may well be helping the FBI try to break into the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino killers.

Late Monday, the FBI abruptly put its legal fight with Apple on hold, announcing that an "outside party" had come forward with a possible way to unlock the phone. FBI Director James Comey said the method "may work." If so, it could render Apple's forced cooperation unnecessary.

The announcement has thrown a spotlight on a group of digital forensics companies, contractors and freelance consultants that make a living cracking security protections on phones and computers. Comey said the publicity around the Apple case encouraged such people to come forward with new ideas.

Most such companies keep a very low profile. Since the bulk of their business is with governments and law enforcement, there's no reason to for them to advertise their services. For the moment, no one outside the Justice Department appears to know who the FBI's white knight is.

In the cybersecurity arms race, Apple has managed to stay ahead of these forensics companies. "Anything is crackable — it's just how much time do you have and how much money do you have to spend," said Jeremy Kirby, sales director at Susteen, based in Irvine, California, that says it's not the FBI's outside party.

Friday, March 25, 2016

US economy growth revised up; In a first, drone delivers to residential area; How emerging tech is helping women

1 US economy growth revised upwards (BBC) The US economy grew at an annualised rate of 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to official figures. The US Commerce Department revised its fourth quarter GDP to upward from an initial estimate of 0.7%. Overall, the US economy is estimated to have grown at a rate of 2.4% for all of 2015.

One reason for the revised figure was greater consumer spending than officials initially thought, boosted by an improving labour market. "It's especially good that we saw a boost in consumption, however we are only talking about 1.4% growth, which is still anaemic compared to the 3.5% we would like to see," said Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America.

"The economy is still running in low gear," he said. Increased employment has helped to slowly boost wages and housing prices, while low oil prices have increased discretionary spending by US households.

The stronger growth rate could increase the chances of an interest rate hike when the Federal Reserve meets in April. US corporate profits dipped 11.5% for the fourth quarter compared to the same October through December period in the previous year. Companies were hurt by low oil prices, with some industrial and petroleum linked companies forced to cut their workforces or file for bankruptcy.

2 In a first, drone delivers to residential area (San Francisco Chronicle) A drone has successfully delivered a package to a residential location in a small Nevada town in what its maker and the governor of the state said was the first fully autonomous urban drone delivery in the US.

Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeney said the six-rotor drone flew about a half-mile along a pre-programmed delivery route on March 10 and lowered the package outside a vacant residence in an uninhabited area of Hawthorne, southeast of Reno. The route was established using GPS. A pilot and visual observers were on standby during the flight but weren't needed, Sweeney said.

He said the package included bottled water, food and a first-aid kit. NASA is working with the drone industry and the Federal Aviation Administration on a low-altitude air traffic control system to prevent crashes involving drones and other low-altitude aircraft.

The Nevada delivery demonstrates that advanced drone systems allow aerial vehicles to safely navigate around buildings and deliver packages with precision within a populated area, Sweeney said.

3 How emerging tech is helping women (Amanda McKenna in The Guardian) The internet has been central to driving the fourth wave of feminism – through factors such as exchange of information, access to investment opportunities and the democratisation of data. Now other emerging technologies have the potential to have a similarly profound effect.

The virtual reality empathy effect: It may not have hit the mainstream quite yet but the potential offered by virtual reality technology is vast – both for commercial applications and those with a more social-oriented, not-for-profit purpose.

Last year Torbay hospital created a virtual reality film following a patient’s journey from ambulance to operating theatre, allowing doctors to share and appreciate a patient’s experience and potentially re-assess their patient-handling approaches. It’s easy to see how a similar approach could be used with frontline workers who have to interact with vulnerable women who have experienced violence or abuse.

3D printing empowering African women: This technology is already starting to directly touch women’s lives. Research has found that take-up of artisanal 3D printing is more prevalent among women than men. Coming from the more commercial end of the spectrum is the Mink device, a pen-like digital printer that can create cosmetics of any shade. It’s not going to change the world, but it’s empowering to be able to choose and create nonetheless.

Taking on the Zika virus: At the start of this month, Google announced a new partnership with Unicef aimed at mapping, and ultimately halting, the spread of the Zika virus among pregnant women in Latin America. The open-source platform gathers data from a range of sources to create an accurate situational awareness of the Zika virus that 10 years ago would have been denied to the organisations combating the virus. It is hoped that by analysing patterns and trends, governments and NGOs could better target their resources.

Unmanned aerial vehicles: California tech outfit Matternet has already conducted field trials based around delivering medical supplies in Haiti, while a similar distribution trial in the Dominican Republic saw drones deliver medicines from healthcare hubs into small centres in remote, inaccessible areas, and return laden with samples taken by doctors ready to be analysed in a central lab.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Mitsui warns of first ever loss; First US shale supply arrives in Europe; Grabbing wife's phone is robbery

1 Mitsui warns of first ever loss (BBC) Shares in Japanese trading house Mitsui & Co fell as much as 8% after warning of its first annual loss since 1947. Mitsui said China's economic slowdown and the slump in global commodity prices made the loss inevitable. Its president Tatsuo Yasunaga said they would "exhaust all possible means to return to profitability".

Japan's trading houses of Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Marubeni and Itochu have traditionally helped control the country's natural resource imports. This is by making large investments in raw materials that help secure supplies at certain price levels.

Several of them have already had to take on impairment costs as oil and metal prices collapsed. Mitsubishi may also post its first net loss of more than 100bn yen ($890m) in the year ending March 31.

2 First US shale supply arrives in Europe (Terry Macalister in The Guardian) The first US shale gas sailed into Europe bringing controversy in its wake. Ineos, the chemical group, said that its own gas carrier arrived in Norway on Wednesday with 27,500 cubic metres of American ethane on board. Shipments to Ineos’s UK refinery at Grangemouth are scheduled to start later this year.

“This is a strategically important day for Ineos and Europe,” said Jim Ratcliffe, chairman and founder of Ineos which has spent $2bn on different aspects of its import programme over five years. “We know that shale gas economics revitalised US manufacturing and for the first time ever Europe can access this essential energy and raw material source too,” he added.

Ineos has chartered eight purpose-built vessels which it says will create “a virtual pipeline across the Atlantic” with gas from the Marcellus shale of Western Pennsylvania shipped out via an export terminal near Philadelphia.

But the shipments have triggered rows about the British government’s own shale strategy which has faced drilling protests from locals and environmentalists at early sites such as Balcombe in West Sussex. Nick Grealy, an independent UK gas consultant, said that Ineos ethane import plans and existing liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports from other countries such as Qatar made no sense when there were known reserves under the ground in Britain.

The gas from Ineos is not the first shipped out of the US. Last month that prize went to Cheniere Energy which exported LNG to Brazil. In the past exports of oil and gas were banned as the country was a net importer. But the massive ramp up in US shale oil and gas production which has seen the price of both oil and gas plummet worldwide, has encouraged Barack Obama to change the law.

Environmentalists still fear that shale gas – whether from the US or Britain – will crowd out investment for renewables and undermine a rush away from fossil fuels of which it is one. But gas enthusiasts believe the fuel, much lower in carbon content than say coal, can act as a “bridge” to a lower carbon world.

3 Grabbing wife’s phone is robbery (Bob Egelko in San Francisco Chronicle) Convicted of robbery for grabbing a cell phone from his wife after attacking her, Jose Aguilera argued, through his lawyer, that it couldn’t have been robbery because the phone, which he had purchased, was community property — jointly owned –and he’d intended to keep it only temporarily.

Nice try. Upholding Aguilera’s conviction, the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles said that a spouse who takes property by “force or fear,” and intends to deprive the other spouse of a major portion of its value or use, commits robbery even if it’s community property.

The case dates from August 2014, when Aguilera and Angelica Avila, his wife of six years, got into an argument after attending a party together. According to Avila’s statement to officers — which she tried to recant at Aguilera’s trial — she ran to their car, and he ran after her, started to choke her and demanded her phone.

She said she broke free, got in the car and locked the door, but he broke a window and tried to pull her out. The court said bystanders intervened and pulled Aguilera off, but he was able to take her phone from her purse. Officers said they found him talking on the phone a block away.

Prosecutors said Aguilera had attacked his wife in the past and taken her cell phone to keep her from calling the police. A Los Angeles County jury rejected a felony domestic violence charge but convicted him of misdemeanor battery as well as the felony charge of robbery, and he was sentenced to a year in jail.

Under California law, theft occurs only when a co-owner takes property with the intent to keep it permanently. But robbery, as the court in Aguilera’s case explained, is a different type of crime — it requires proof that property was taken from someone by “force or fear.”

A forcible temporary taking of community property can be robbery, Justice Thomas Willhite said in the 3-0 ruling, if it deprives the other spouse of “a major portion of the value or enjoyment” of the property. And that’s what happened in this case, Willhite said: The evidence showed that Aguilera had taken the phone “to prevent Avila from calling the police in the midst of his violent assault on her.”

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

UK inflation stays at 0.3%; Manufacturing to get boost from 3D printing; J&J working on disease prediction project

1 UK inflation stays at 0.3% (BBC) UK inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index was unchanged at 0.3% in February, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Annual inflation has been below the Bank of England's 2% target for two years, and last year it was zero.

The Bank said last month that it expected inflation to stay below 1% this year. Other ONS figures published at the same time indicated that Chancellor George Osborne is close to missing his target for cutting the country's budget deficit in the 2015-16 financial year.

Government borrowing fell less than expected in February, coming in at £7.1bn, according to the ONS. That brings the total deficit for the 11 months of the year so far to £70.7bn, as against the chancellor's full-year target of £72.2bn.

2 Manufacturing to get boost from 3D printing (Lester Hio & Marissa Lee in Straits Times) At a factory on the fifth floor of Woodlands Spectrum, a sprawling Singapore industrial estate, 10 machines, each about the size of a large cupboard, hum for hours each day as they churn out fully-formed products in metals, plastic, resin, sandstone or wax.

Making anything from machinery gears to figurines, the additive manufacturing facility run by Ultra Clean Asia Pacific (UCT), a unit of Nasdaq-listed manufacturing solutions player Ultra Clean Holdings, is the largest commercial 3D-printing facility in South-east Asia, and still has capacity to spare despite receiving five to 10 orders per day.

Industrial additive manufacturing is set to grow in the future of manufacturing here, thanks to the versatility, low cost and creative potential of the process, said industry players who see growth in this sector.

"Additive manufacturing is in its 'mature pioneering stage' here - it will only grow," said Mr Lavi Lev, UCT's senior vice-president for Asia. "It has solid solutions to problems, and in some cases even solutions looking for a problem - which means I have this new technology, maybe someone can do something with it."

Even as traditional manufacturing continues to slow to a grind, posting its first contraction since the global financial crisis, additive manufacturing is showing signs of growth. In the past four years alone, interest in the real-world applications here have soared, with international companies setting up 3D-printing facilities here.

In fact, the slowdown may end up giving a boost to innovation in the additive manufacturing sector, as companies seek to find cheaper and faster ways of producing parts, said Professor Chua Chee Kai, executive director for the Singapore Centre for 3D Printing at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

According to the Agency for Science, Technology and Research, the market size of additive manufacturing is projected to grow five-fold from $2.2 billion in 2012 to an estimated $10.8 billion in 2021. Among others, demand is likely to come from the aerospace, defence, auto and medical industries, driven by the prospect of cheaper and customised products.

3 J&J working on disease prediction (San Francisco Chronicle) Johnson & Johnson has ramped up its ambitious project to learn how to predict who will develop particular diseases and find therapies to prevent or stop the disease early, when it's most treatable.

Since the health care giant announced its groundbreaking project in February 2015, it's expanded to include two dozen research programs with partners — in government, universities, patient advocacy groups and other drug and diagnostic test companies.

Their expertise and resources should speed discoveries and allow Johnson & Johnson to spread its funding across more ventures.

Monday, March 21, 2016

$10bn quarterly loss for Petrobras; Millions of UK seniors forced to delay retirement; Sydney home prices record biggest fall in 7 years

1 $10bn quarterly loss for Petrobras (BBC) Brazil's Petrobras, which is at the centre of a massive corruption scandal, has posted its biggest ever quarterly loss due to the plunge in oil prices. The state oil firm's net loss widened to $10.2bn in the three months to December.

The company had to write down billions of dollars from assets like oil fields and drilling rigs after crude prices fell by more than 40%. Its chief executive said in a press conference that 2015 was "an extremely difficult year for the oil industry".

Petrobras has also been trying to deal with the fallout from an expanding corruption scandal that has gone to the top ranks of government and seen some of its former executives jailed. Brazil is also mired in its worst recession in a century, which has led to weak demand at home for its fuel products.
To maintain its finances, the firm has drastically reduced its spending and investment plans. Petrobras is also looking to sell some of its assets in order to raise more than $14bn.

2 Millions of seniors forced to delay retirement (Patrick Collinson in The Guardian) Millions of workers in the UK in their 50s have been forced to postpone their retirement by eight years due to a lack of pension savings and high levels of debt, according to a report from Aviva.

Forty per cent of people in their 50s expect to work until 70 or older, the insurer found. In a sign that the days of early retirement – in the private sector at least – are over, only 5% said they were financially capable of retiring in their 50s.

Aviva, one of Britain’s biggest pension providers, interviewed 500 companies and 2,000 employees. It said: “More than one in three (36%) private sector employees aged 50 and above now expect to retire at a later date than they had envisaged when they were 40. The average time gap between when these people thought they would retire versus when they think they will now retire is eight years.”

The collapse of generous final-salary-based pension schemes and their replacement with policies that rely on stock market performance to determine payouts is behind many of the retirement fears of private sector workers in their 50s.

The research found that almost half of people questioned said that they had not saved enough into their pension, and that the amount available through the state pension would not be enough. Lingering debts are also a continuing worry among today’s 50-year-olds, with many expecting to have to pay a mortgage well into their 60s.

But the Aviva report also found that workers who stayed with their employer past 65 report higher levels of job satisfaction than their younger colleagues. “Beyond their 50th birthday, almost two in three (64%) employees feel valued by their employer, and there is a significant jump in this percentage as people age. Compared with 55% of those aged 50-54, more than four in five (81%) of over-65s feel valued in the workplace,” the report found.

3 Sydney home prices record biggest fall in 7 years (Straits Times) Sydney home values fell the most in seven years in the December quarter as a regulatory crackdown amid record prices pushed up mortgage rates and sapped demand.

The residential property index in Australia's biggest city dropped 1.6 per cent, the first decline in 13 quarters, according to government statistics. Sydney prices have, however, recovered in the first two months of the year, more recent data from research firm CoreLogic Inc.

Home-price growth in Australia's biggest cities is expected to slow as mortgage-rate increases and tightening lending standards, introduced as prices climbed to a record, hurt buyer affordability. Sydney home values have climbed about 70 per cent since the end of 2007, while in Melbourne they have risen about 50 per cent, data from the statistics bureau show.

Home values across the largest cities in the country expanded 0.2 per cent in the December quarter, according to the data. The total value of Australia's 9.6 million residential dwellings increased A$31.6 billion to A$5.9 trillion.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

US president in Cuba after 88 years; Singapore office rents may fall 25%; Ten years of Twitter

1 US president in Cuba after 88 years (Dan Roberts in The Guardian) Barack Obama descended on Cuba with a pomp unmatched by the Pope on Sunday, becoming the first American president to visit Cuba in nearly a century, and the first since a revolution led by Fidel Castro toppled a US-backed strongman in 1959.

As he arrived, Obama used a Cuban phrase meaning “what’s up?” when he tweeted: “¿Que bolá Cuba? Just touched down here, looking forward to meeting and hearing directly from the Cuban people.” A giant American delegation, estimated at somewhere between 800 and 1,200, swept into Havana this weekend, intent on closing a final chapter in cold war history and sealing the diplomatic legacy of Obama’s presidency.

Joined by first lady Michelle Obama and his two daughters, Obama toured Old Havana by foot, walking gingerly on the slippery wet stones in front of the Havana Cathedral. The downpour notwithstanding, a few hundred people gathered in the square erupted in applause and shouted Obama’s name as the first family stepped forward.

Hundreds of tourists have been bumped outside the city, and even the Rolling Stones, who initially wanted Revolution Square for their concert venue on Friday, had to work their date around the president’s arrival, which coincides with his daughters’ spring break.

For many American journalists, also on their first ever trip to an island just 90 miles from Florida, this is a Berlin wall moment: a step toward liberation worthy of Nelson Mandela, at whose funeral Obama and president Raúl Castro famously first shook hands.

But while the US trade embargo has done much economic damage to the island, where even international ships were once forbidden from docking if they wanted future entry to American ports, Cuba was not hermitically sealed from the world like some Caribbean North Korea; it has been walled off primarily from the giant neighbour to the north.

3 Singapore office rents may fall 25% (Straits Times) Singapore office rents may decline as much as 25 per cent in a prolonged slump that may last until the end of 2018, as demand slows, according to Daiwa Securities Co.

Daiwa expects 2018 to be a highly risky year for lease renewals and forecasts that rents will continue to fall until then, David Lum, an analyst at the brokerage said in a note to clients. Mr Lum forecasts a 25 per cent drop in rents from the peak in the first quarter of 2015 through the fourth quarter of 2018, while predicting office values will slide 14 per cent during the same period.

Daiwa joins other analysts in forecasting declines for the Singapore office sector as the outlook for global economic growth remains cloudy and a large supply outstrips demand for prime space. Singapore prime office rents may fall up to 20 per cent this year after declining 15 per cent last year, according to Jones Lang LaSalle Inc, while office values may see similar declines as rents this year after falling 6 per cent in 2015.

Mr Lum downgraded real estate investment trusts tied to offices to negative from neutral, and lowered all individual stock ratings to underperform from hold.

3 Ten years of Twitter (Hannah Henderson & Michael Ertl on BBC) Ten years after Jack Dorsey launched Twitter with the words "just setting up my twttr", the micro-blogging site has become a feature of millions of people's lives - but for some it has been life changing.

From a 140-character marriage proposal to inspiring a revolution from the comfort of a sofa, people have been sharing their stories to mark 10 years of Twitter.

The first Twitter marriage proposal: When American Greg Rewis was thinking of an unusual way to propose to his then girlfriend Stephanie, he decided to tweet her after she had turned him down on a private messaging service.

"The proposal started as a joke. I was talking to Steph on an instant messenger and asked her if she wanted to marry me. She said that I had never asked her in a proper way. So I posted on Twitter and told her to refresh her feed. It simply looked like it was the right moment. It was quite a shock when I found out that this was the first proposal on Twitter. Had we known it was the first time, we would have made it more impressive. I would have planned everything way better.

"We now live together and split our time between Phoenix and California, but I have to travel a lot for work. We still use Twitter to stay in touch and actually we live-tweeted our wedding a year after the proposal in 2009."

Marwa Mammoon, from Egypt, is a BBC journalist, but in 2011 she was a stay-at-home mum. Pregnant with her second child and unable to take part in public demonstrations during the Egyptian revolution, she activated her Twitter account and changed her life.

"I was sitting at home but I was being politically active" she said. "I would pick a new topic every couple of weeks, such as female genital mutilation, sexual harassment and other women's issues which mattered in the Arab world and would write about them. I didn't realise what influence I had. Then before I knew it, I was named on Twitter as one of the most influential women in the Arab world.

"The next day all the political parties in Egypt were trying to get me to join them. I was broke and needed a job though so I sent out a funny tweet appealing for a job. I wasn't a journalist, I had worked in marketing but ended up working as a chief editor of a website which was set up by an American investor." The website was a success and after a few years Marwa left to work for the United Nations. She then worked Radio Netherlands before joining the BBC.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Youth are right to be angry about financial insecurity; Life after Nokia; The curious case of diminishing adulthood

1 Youth are right to be angry about financial insecurity (Joseph Stiglitz in The Guardian) Older upper-middle-class Americans and Europeans have had a good life. When they entered the labour force, well-compensated jobs were waiting for them. That generation expected to have job security, to marry young, to buy a house – perhaps a summer house too – and finally retire with reasonable security. Overall, they expected to be better off than their parents.

Today, the expectations of young people, wherever they are in the income distribution, are the opposite. They face job insecurity throughout their lives. Today’s young university graduates are burdened with debt – the poorer they are, the more they owe. So they do not ask what job they would like; they simply ask what job will enable them to pay their college loans, which often will burden them for 20 years or more. Likewise, buying a home is a distant dream.

These struggles mean that young people are not thinking much about retirement. The inequities cannot easily be explained away. It isn’t as if these young people didn’t work hard: these hardships affect those who spent long hours studying, excelled in school and did everything “right”. The sense of social injustice – that the economic game is rigged – is enhanced as they see the bankers who brought on the financial crisis, the cause of the economy’s continuing malaise, walk away with mega-bonuses, with almost no one being held accountable for their wrongdoing.

Three realities – social injustice on an unprecedented scale, massive inequities, and a loss of trust in elites – define our political moment, and rightly so. More of the same is not an answer. That is why the centre-left and centre-right parties in Europe are losing.

Were the reforms put forward by Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders adopted, the financial system’s ability to prey on those already leading a precarious life would be curbed. And both have proposals for deep reforms that would change how America finances higher education.

Most importantly, the young will not find a smooth path into the job market unless the economy is performing much better. The “official” unemployment rate in the US, at 4.9%, masks much higher levels of disguised unemployment, which, at the very least, is holding down wages. We won’t be able to fix the problem if we don’t recognise it. Our young do. They perceive the absence of intergenerational justice, and they are right to be angry.

2 Life after Nokia (Edwin Lane on BBC) In Tampere, former Nokia employees still ponder how the company went from world leader in mobile phones as recently as 2007 to the struggling takeover target for Microsoft in 2014. "I think one of the high points was when we'd shrunk the mobile phones smaller than Motorola," says Mika Grundstrom, a former senior manager at Nokia's R&D site in Tampere. "That was around 1997-1998. It was kind of an engineering dream."

For Mika the brief in the early days was simple - make the phone with the best battery life in the smallest case possible. But then all that changed with the rise of the smartphone, and in particular the launch of Apple's iPhone in 2007.

Nokia played catch-up in the smartphone market until 2014, when its mobile phone business was sold to Microsoft and the Nokia name was removed from its devices altogether. But despite its effective demise, many Finns say there is a positive legacy to appreciate.

"Giving Nokia shares to workers made it accepted that your next door neighbour could be a millionaire," says Kari Kankaala. He says Nokia's biggest impact was to revolutionise Finland's business culture. "That acceptance that someone can actually make money, combined with the new approach to entrepreneurship - that was a major change."

Two hours to the south in Helsinki there are already signs of that new business culture taking hold in the post-Nokia world. Tuomas Kytomaa is a software engineer who spent most of his career working for Nokia, including stints in the US and Germany.

For him Nokia's legacy is a wealth of talent and expertise waiting to be tapped. "The talent hasn't really gone anywhere," he says. "The sheer magnitude of Nokia in Finland means that there's a pool of tech talent that has deep specialised knowledge. Finland's buzzing with high-tech skills and start-ups." Whatever the future of Finland's tech industry, few believe that a company of Nokia's size and influence will appear again.

3 The curious case of diminishing adulthood (Sushmita Bose in Khaleej Times) The other day, I was talking, on the phone, to a friend - who's well into his 40s - and he happened to remark: "I have some of the office kids over at home." Then, he went on to name someone (on that select list of guests) - who I'd met - and this "kid" was at least 30.

My thought flow was muddied even more when my brother happened to call his 8-year-old daughter (my niece) "a baby". There's something weird happening. I know 40 is the new 30, and 50 the new 40 and all of that, but that's stretching youthfulness, being less ageist - all of which are good things.

But why on earth are seemingly grown-up (albeit young) folks being called "kids"? Isn't it a sort of downgrade, trying to smack the onus of responsibility and other such grown-up matters off young (but surely not under-age?) shoulders?

All I hear, in sociological contexts, is how everyone grows up much faster these days than they did 20 years ago. If someone grows up faster, shouldn't they be, on their own, feeling less like "kids" and more like adults?

I'm confused no end. Rahul Gandhi, who's in his mid-40s, is a "youth leader"; many times, he's referred to as the "Gandhi kid [who understands nothing]". But in a few years' time, he'll be labelled a geriatric by third millennium "kids". So, as he (along with countless others) hurtles from being a kid to an old man, he's missing out on the most critical part of his life: being an adult.