Sunday, June 19, 2016

Brexit would be end of EU, says Soros; Tourism, Leicester City and cheap oil propel Thailand; Romance in virtual reality

1 Brexit would be end of EU, says Soros (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) Billionaire investor George Soros has warned that a Brexit vote this month would make the breakup of the EU “almost certain”.

Soros – who shot to fame in 1992 as the man whose $10bn (£6.9bn) bet against the pound broke the Bank of England – has switched more of his fortune into gold as he anticipates possible shockwaves from a leave vote in the EU referendum. “If Britain leaves, it could unleash a general exodus, and the disintegration of the European Union will become practically unavoidable,” he said.

Soros said an EU breakup was another threat to global stability along with concerns over the Chinese economy and a Trump presidency. In recent months the currency speculator has bet that a devaluation of the Chinese currency, the yuan, was inevitable, earning himself a rebuke from the Beijing authorities.

Gold, considered a safe haven by investors, has risen 17% since January to $1,244 an ounce. Shares in gold miners have soared this year with the Philadelphia Gold and Silver Index up 98% compared with a 3.5% increase in the New York S&P 500 Index.

2 Tourism, Leicester City and cheap oil propel Thailand (Straits Times) When it comes to hefty trade surpluses, the likes of China, Japan, Germany and South Korea make the list of usual suspects. But without much fanfare, Thailand - best known for its beaches, food, military coups and more recently, the football heroes Leicester City - has run up the biggest current-account surplus among major emerging markets.

The current-account surplus in the first quarter ballooned to an annualized 10.2 per cent of gross domestic product, an improvement that Richard Iley, chief economist for Asia at BNP Paribas, describes as "phenomenal."

Much of the buffer is down to a steep fall in oil prices - Thailand relies on crude imports for more than 80 per cent of its energy needs - and a surge in tourism fueled by Chinese shoppers. The nation attracted 7.9 million visitors from China last year, a 70 per cent increase from 2014.

Thailand has been using the windfall to replenish its foreign-exchange reserves by about $20 billion this year, providing a key bulwark if it faces a sudden surge in capital outflows or foreign-exchange market volatility. The increase in reserves has been the fastest of any other emerging market, according to BNP.

It's not all good news though. The current-account data also reflects a reluctance by companies and households to spend the dividend from cheaper energy, indicating a deeper malaise in the economy.  Thailand remains under military rule two years after a coup and political uncertainty has eroded confidence. Savings rates soared to 33 per cent of GDP in the first quarter, while investment has slid.

3 Romance in virtual reality (San Francisco Chronicle) Critically acclaimed Chinese director Jia Zhangke says he will make a virtual reality film next year with a romantic story as he and viewers get used to the new medium, and declared: "I think VR is going to be the next big thing."

The director, better known for films that depict China's social changes and acts of violence, said that the short film would be a gentle romance as "it takes time for people to feel comfortable" in virtual reality. "The speed and direction of movements may make people feel physically uncomfortable, so we're starting with a romantic story," he said.

Virtual reality entertainment consists largely of video games, but film festivals are starting to showcase VR films as directors venture into the new medium. It offers a much more solitary experience compared to watching a movie in a packed theater.

VR requires a headset that blocks out your surroundings and lets you wander through a story in a different world — either by moving a few steps in various directions or sitting on a swivel chair and moving your body to look around a 360-degree scene. The fake environment is, nonetheless, often realistic, but movie makers are still trying to work out how to tell a story in VR.

It also gives the audience more power as they choose what to watch. "In the past, the audience could only imagine the world inside and outside the frame," he said. "VR liberates an audience and allows people to independently choose what we want to be concerned with. Audiences become more important."

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