Friday, October 14, 2016

Record car sales in Europe; Singapore faces up to slow growth; 'Last battle' against Isis in Iraq

1 Record car sales in Europe (San Francisco Chronicle) Europe's car industry continues to rebound from its longest-ever slump, posting 7 percent growth in September to reach the highest level on record for the month.

Italy and Spain significantly outpaced the market, contributing double-digit growth as sales in the European Union reached a September record of 1.45 million units, the European manufacturers' body, ACEA, said. Still, the three-year growth streak has not yet returned the overall market to pre-crisis levels, which peaked at nearly 16 million units in 2007 before dropping by a quarter over six years.

New car registrations over the first nine months of the year rose 8 percent to 11.2 million units with growth in the big five markets of Italy, Spain, Germany, France and Britain. ACEA has forecast sales to reach around 14 million this year.

IHS Markit analyst Ian Fletcher called the result "a return to normality" but noted that growth was driven by fleet registrations "and not all of it natural corporate demand." IHS forecasts full-year sales at 14.757 million units, before flattening next year at around 14.59 million.

2 Singapore faces up to slow growth (Chia Yan Min in Straits Times) The Singapore economy is on track to log its slowest rate of growth since 2009, and few companies have been spared the effects. Business has stagnated and firms are bracing themselves for the coming winter.

The economy is projected to expand by 1 to 2 per cent this year, in what could be the slowest year since the global financial crisis. Companies in the hardest-hit sectors have had no choice but to lay off staff.

Against the backdrop of one of the worst slumps the global oil and gas industry has seen in decades, thousands of workers in that sector here have lost their jobs, as firms tried to slash costs amid the plunge in oil prices. The collapse of debt-laden offshore services firm Swiber Holdings is stoking concerns in the credit markets over banks' exposure to the oil and gas sector.

Banks themselves have not been having an easy time - the poor outlook has resulted in savage staff cutbacks across the industry. The manufacturing sector, which makes up a fifth of the economy and has been hit hard by lacklustre export demand, has been shedding workers every quarter for about two years.

Meanwhile, bank lending to corporates has been on a downward trend over the past year - a sign that firms are borrowing less for expansion and investment. Amid high costs and flagging sales, a growing number of companies are buckling under the pressure. About 42,000 businesses were shut down in the first six months of this year, compared with 49,000 over the whole of last year.

Minister for Trade and Industry (Trade) Lim Hng Kiang told Parliament earlier this week that a recession is unlikely to set in, but the possibility that the Singapore economy could see some quarters of negative growth cannot be ruled out.

3 ‘Last battle against Isis in Iraq (Martin Chulov in The Guardian) Iraqi and Kurdish forces are finalising plans to attack the last urban stronghold of Islamic State in Iraq, the northern city of Mosul, which after a month-long buildup is now largely surrounded by a 60,000-strong force.

The assault could begin as early as this weekend and is the most critical challenge yet to Isis’s two-year-old “caliphate”, which had shredded state authority in the region’s heartland, led to a mass exodus of refugees, attempted a genocide of minorities and led to grave doubts over Iraq’s viability.

Iraqi forces, which have driven hundreds of miles for what Baghdad has hailed as a last battle against the terror group, moved into their final positions on Friday, joining Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers ahead of an expected advance from the south. Also on the ground are US, British and French special forces, who have been advising Peshmerga troops.

Isis is thought to have around 6,000 fighters ready to defend Mosul, hidden among an estimated civilian population of 600,000, most of whom are expected to flee as the battle intensifies.

The UN estimates that as many as 700,000 of Mosul’s residents will be in desperate need as the attack gets under way. At least another 600,000 residents and residents of the Nineveh plains are already receiving aid after fleeing the city after the Isis invasion.

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