Friday, November 27, 2009

Thailand's relatively flexible labor

Thailand's relatively flexible labor regulations enhance overall employment and productivity growth. The non-salary cost of employing a worker is low, and dismissing a redundant employee is not burdensome. Regulations related to the number of work hours are quite flexible.
Corruption is perceived as significant. Thailand ranks 84th out of 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2007, a steep drop from 2006. Allegations of customs irregularities continue. The lack of administrative transparency is attributable to Thailand's complex hierarchical system of laws and regulations. The government is trying to make the evaluation of bids and awarding of contracts more transparent. Convictions of public officials on corruption-related charges are rare.

Thailand’s economic

Thailand’s economic freedom score is 63, making its economy the 67th freest in the 2009 Index. Its score is 0.7 point better than last year, reflecting improvements in three of the 10 economic freedoms. Thailand is ranked 10th out of 41 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, and its overall score is higher than the world average.

Showing a moderate degree of resilience, Thailand has continued its steady economic growth in recent years. The regulatory environment has become more efficient and streamlined. Opening a business takes less time than the world average, and overall licensing procedures are simple and transparent. The financial sector continues to be strengthened and is more open to competition. Private property is generally protected, although the judiciary is subject to inefficiency and corruption.

Thailand scores less well in monetary freedom, investment freedom, and freedom from corruption. Though inflation is moderate, the government directly subsidizes the prices of a number of staple goods. Foreign investment is subject to a variety of serious restrictions that are not enforced uniformly. Corruption is significant, although not as extensive as in many neighboring countries.

Australia's labor market

Australia's labor market operates under highly flexible employment regulations that enhance employment creation and productivity growth. The non-salary cost of employing a worker can be moderate, and dismissing a redundant employee is costless.
Corruption is perceived as minimal. Australia ranks 11th out of 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index for 2007, and the government actively promotes international efforts to curb the bribing of foreign officials.

Australia's well-developed and highly competitive financial sector

Australia's well-developed and highly competitive financial sector provides a wide range of products and services through advanced banking, insurance, and equity industries. Government regulation of banks is minimal, and foreign banks, licensed as branches or subsidiaries, offer a full range of banking operations. As of October 2007, Australia had 55 licensed financial institutions: 14 Australian-owned banks and 41 foreign-owned banks. An additional 20 foreign banks have maintained representative offices. Though it has regulatory power to set lending policies and interest rates, the central bank has not exerted this authority since the deregulation of financial markets in the 1980s. There are no government-owned banks, and banks are highly competitive. Foreign insurance companies are permitted, and regulation is focused on capital adequacy, solvency, and prudential behavior. With 1,900 entities listed and their total market capitalization of over $900 billion, the Australian Stock Exchange is the world's eighth largest.

Australia's economic

Australia's economic freedom score is 82.6, making its economy the 3rd freest in the 2009 Index. Its overall score is 0.4 point higher than last year, primarily reflecting improvement in fiscal freedom as a result of recently implemented tax cuts. Australia is ranked 3rd out of 41 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, and its overall score is well above the regional average.

Australia rates high in virtually all of the 10 economic freedoms. Monetary stability and openness to global commerce buttress an internationally competitive financial and investment environment based on market principles. A strong rule of law protects property rights and tolerates virtually no corruption. Both foreign and domestically owned businesses enjoy considerable flexibility in their licensing, regulation, and employment practices.

Efforts to improve fiscal governance and maintain long-term fiscal sustainability are focused on achieving better efficiency and effectiveness, particularly in health care spending. The National Reform Agenda, adopted in 2006, should continue to promote needed competition in the energy and transport sectors.

Singapore's financial sector

Singapore's financial sector is modern and competitive. Bank consolidations have left the country with three dominant banking groups. One of these three groups is the government-controlled Development Bank of Singapore, which is the largest and is publicly listed. The other two banking groups also have significant government-held minority shares. There were 113 commercial banks in mid-2008, 107 of them foreign. Foreign banks now have greater freedom to open branches and offer services, but the government seeks to maintain the domestic bank share of deposits above 50 percent, and the majority of domestic bank board members must be Singapore citizens and residents. License quotas for full-service foreign banks were eliminated in July 2005, and the quota for U.S. wholesale banks was eliminated in January 2007. Foreign banks are allocated to three categories that specify the services they can provide: full service, wholesale, and offshore. Foreign firms compete aggressively in insurance, fund management, and venture capital. Capital markets are well developed, and the Singapore Exchange is increasing its ties with other Asian exchanges.

Singapore's weighted average tariff rate was 0 percent in 2006

Singapore's weighted average tariff rate was 0 percent in 2006. Tariffs are generally low, but import restrictions, services market barriers, import taxes, import licensing, non-transparent regulations, burdensome sanitary and phytosanitary rules, weak enforcement of intellectual property rights, and export incentive programs add to the cost of trade. Ten points were deducted from Singapore's trade freedom score to account for non-tariff barriers.

Cambodia's financial system

Cambodia's financial system is segmented, not fully developed, and subject to government influence. The system has gradually improved its efficiency as a result of some privatization and consolidation since 2000. All 12 commercial banks are privately owned following the 46 percent sale of the Foreign Trade Bank of Cambodia to foreign investors, though the government still has a stake in specialized banking. The banking sector is market-oriented, and banks are well capitalized. Foreign presence in the sector has been growing and there are now three foreign bank branches and two foreign representative offices in Cambodia. Credit is allocated on market terms, but the government exercises influence over lending decisions. There is no stock market, but the government has announced plans to launch a stock exchange by 2009. The National Bank of Cambodia, which used to operate as a commercial bank as well as the central bank, is now solely a regulatory and supervisory agency.


Cambodia's economic freedom score is 56.6, making its economy the 106th freest in the 2009 Index. Its overall score is 0.8 point better than last year, primarily as a result of a much improved trade freedom score. Cambodia is ranked 21st out of 41 countries in the Asia–Pacific region, and its overall score is slightly lower than the regional average.

Cambodia has gradually moved toward a market-based economic system, experiencing solid economic growth in recent years. The country scores noticeably well in fiscal freedom and government size, and moderately well in monetary freedom. Low income and corporate tax rates contribute to a low overall tax burden, giving the country a high fiscal freedom score. Government spending is low, and with improved budget management, authorities aim to increase efficiency in the system and better allocate revenues.

Other institutional weaknesses still hold down Cambodia's overall economic freedom score, however. Business freedom, trade freedom, property rights, and freedom from corruption all receive notably low scores. The formal labor market is not fully developed, and its rigidity is partly responsible for the existence of an underground dual labor market. Pervasive corruption contributes to the high costs of entrepreneurial activity, and the weak rule of law in many areas makes it difficult to resolve commercial disputes.

Surprise fall in US home building

The construction of new homes and apartments in the US showed a surprise fall in October.

New US housing starts tumbled 10.6% to an annual rate of 529,000 homes - the lowest level since April.

The decline in construction was led by a fall in demand for both single-family and multi-family occupancies.

Separately, a report showed prices edging up in October. The consumer price index rose 0.3%, pushed up by higher energy prices.

'A weak number'

The housing figures are a blow to recent signs of recovery in the market.

David Resler from Nomura Securities in New York said they were "really disappointing".

"I had convinced myself that we had turned the corner on housing," he added. "I am no longer convinced. This is really a quite weak number."

Congress has voted to extend a tax credit of up to $8,000 for first-time buyers. It had been due to expire at the end of November.

Some analysts said that the uncertainty over whether it would be renewed could have held back construction.

'Whiff of inflation'

Meanwhile, the 0.3% rise in consumer prices was slightly more than expected.

Stuart Hoffman from PNC Financial Services said: "There's a whiff of inflation in that number and frankly it smells a lot like gasoline."

The core rate, which strips out food and energy, rose 0.2%. The US Labor Department said that more than 90% of that increase was down to a spike in prices for used cars and trucks, as well as new vehicles.

US consumer confidence edges up but remains subdued

US consumer confidence edged higher in November after a big drop in October, as fewer Americans felt the economic situation was likely to worsen.

The closely-watched Consumer Confidence Index from the Conference Board rose to 49.5 from a revised 48.7 in October.

But in a downbeat report, the board said income expectations were "very pessimistic" and consumers were in "a very frugal mood".

The figures cast doubt on how strong Christmas spending will be this year.

Consumer spending accounts for about 70% of overall economic activity in the US, so weak spending in the run-up to Christmas could have serious implications for the US economy.

A reading of 90 on the Confidence Index is the minimum to indicate a healthy economy.

'Strong bounce'

The "moderate improvement in the short-term outlook" was a result of fewer consumers expecting conditions to worsen, as opposed to more consumers expecting conditions to improve, said Lynn Franco at the board.

However, the number of people claiming that jobs are "hard to get" increased slightly.

Figures released earlier this month showed that the unemployment rate in the US rose to 10.2% in October, its highest rate since April 1983.

"Until the jobs market turns around, it's hard to see a particularly strong bounce in consumer sentiment," said Vassili Serebriakov at Wells Fargo.

The Conference Board figures were overshadowed by the latest GDP figures for the US economy between July and September, which were revised down to show growth of 2.8%, against the original estimate of 3.5%.

US consumer spending rises more than expected

US consumer spending rose more than expected in October, raising hopes that the economic recovery is continuing despite stubbornly high unemployment.
Spending by consumers increased by 0.7% compared with the previous month, said the Commerce Department, more than market expectations of a 0.5% gain.
The rise followed the 0.6% decline seen in September following the end of the US car scrappage scheme.
Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the US economy.

'Recovery contribution'

"Don't count consumers out, they are making a contribution to the recovery," said analyst Ken Mayland, president of ClearView Economics. The rebound in consumer spending came despite the most recent official figures showing that the unemployment rate in the US rose to 10.2% in October, the highest rate since April 1983.
The Commerce Department data showed that consumers increased their spending in October on both durable manufactured goods, such as cars and household appliances, and nondurables, such as food and clothes.

"Certainly everybody is looking for the consumer to begin step up here a little bit in the economy, so this is positive data," said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management.

The Commerce Department also revealed that sales of new homes rose at an annualised rate of 6.2% in October, boosted by people buying new property before the end of a tax credit.

US economic growth revised down

The US economy grew by far less than originally forecast between July and September, according to revised official figures.

The latest estimate said the economy grew at an annual pace of 2.8%.

That compared with the 3.5% the Department of Commerce initially forecast earlier this month.

The change in the gross domestic product figure came partly because imports, which count as negative, were higher than thought.

Imports increased at an annual rate of 21%, the biggest gain since the second quarter of 1985, and a big jump on the 16% first thought.

US GDP is expressed as an annualised rate, or annual pace, which shows what the annual rate would be if the latest change continued for the rest of the year.

Following the downward revision, the main US share index, the Dow Jones, ended Tuesday trading down 17 points or 0.2% to 10,434. Further hurdles

Economic growth, though, was helped by a substantial government spending plan, including a scrappage scheme to boost car sales, and higher investment in residential property. The figures still indicate the first quarterly growth in GDP since the second quarter of 2008, and appear to have put an end to the worst recession in the US for 70 years.

But some economists think there could be further setbacks.

"The consumer still isn't there. Other data suggest that the effect from 'cash for clunkers' and first-time home buyer credits are fading," said independent market strategist TJ Marta.

"This will be a muted, slow recovery and it will be strewn with setbacks."

The latest figures on the mood of the US consumer bear out this view. Shortly after the GDP numbers were released, the Consumer Confidence Board brought out a downbeat report.

Although its Confidence Index had risen, the board said income expectations were "very pessimistic" and consumers were in "a very frugal mood".

And the figures cast doubt on how strong Christmas spending will be this year.

Meanwhile, released minutes from the latest Federal Reserve meeting earlier this month showed that the central bank considers the US economic recovery to be durable.

However, at the same time it warned that unemployment will remain a problem.

Figures released earlier this month showed that the unemployment rate in the US rose to 10.2% in October, its highest rate since April 1983.

What is Dubai and who runs it?

From the pinnacle of the world economic boom to the brink of bankruptcy, Christopher Davidson of Durham University explains some of the background to the glittering city in the desert.

The inability of the government of Dubai to refinance the massive debts incurred by its largest state-owned company, Dubai World, has sent shockwaves throughout the world prompting many observers to ask not only how severe the economic crisis is, but also what exactly is Dubai and who is in control of it?

Although frequently described as a city state or even as a country in its own right, Dubai is a constituent member of the federation of United Arab Emirates along with six other emirates.

Only one of these, Abu Dhabi, possesses substantial oil reserves, and as such it has dominated most areas of federal politics - including foreign affairs and defence - since the UAE was formed following Britain's withdrawal from the Persian Gulf in 1971.

Shares markets gripped by Dubai debt uncertainty

Worries over Dubai's debt problems have rattled Europe's share markets for a second day running.

The main share indexes in London, Paris and Frankfurt all opened more than 1% lower before recovering.

The moves followed news from the state-owned Dubai World that it would delay repaying some of its debt.

UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown described the fall in the markets as a "setback" but said it was "not on the scale of previous problems".

"The world financial system is stronger now and able to deal with the problems that arise," he told reporters on his way to a Comonwealth leaders summit.

Earlier, Asia's markets had fallen sharply. Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei fell 3.2% to 9,081.52. In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index ended down 4.84% at 21,134.5.

Dubai World is the centrepiece of the Gulf state's economy. David Buik, senior partner at BGC Partners, said: "You can't just say to the world: 'I don't want to pay my debts'. There is no income coming in from any of these properties. I think this is shocking PR."

Holiday hiatus

The news shook markets that are recovering from the collapse of the US housing market and contagion that threatened to rupture the global financial system last year.It was the timing of the announcement as much as the lack of clear information that heightened nerves. The first news emerged late on Wednesday, as the Muslim world was preparing for its Greater Eid celebrations.

It also coincided with the closedown of the world's most important share market, with US markets winding down for Thursday's Thanksgiving holiday.

Uncertainty of the scale of banks' exposure to Dubai hit banking shares at first. However, bank shares recovered strongly throughout Friday morning.

Threat to confidence

The biggest underlying fear is that Dubai's problems could reignite the international financial turmoil of the credit crisis.

Chris Skinner, chairman of the Financial Services Club, said: "We're very heavily interlinked. Dubai is the key financial centre in the Middle East."

Any knock to economic confidence could lower global demand for a whole range of commodities, including oil.

Oil prices have dropped sharply. US crude fell 5% to $74.23 a barrel and London Brent Crude was down $1.47 to $75.42.

Dubai, which has less oil money than many of its neighbours, became a trading and tourism hub with global ambitions.

Dubai World, the conglomerate that led the emirate's expansion, had $59bn (£36bn) of liabilities as of August, a large proportion of Dubai's total debt of $80bn. Its subsidiary Nakheel was the builder of the landmark palm tree-shaped island developments off Dubai.