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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Job cuts: rightsizing the oil and gas industry

THE slide in global crude oil prices has left a trail of casualties in its wake.

Oil companies and governments that rely on the price of crude oil for profit and revenue have been hurt by plunging receipts from lower crude oil prices.

For countries dependent on commodities such as crude oil, the effect cuts deeper. Their currencies have felt the brunt from the weaker crude oil prices and it is this group of countries that have a reliance on commodities that have seen the biggest depreciation against the US dollar compared with oil importing countries.

While the macro picture hogs the headlines and generates most of the chatter, the real micro cost of plunging crude oil prices has been felt by employment in the sector.

Many oil majors have announced job cuts to manage costs that had spiralled upwards during the boom days in the industry. Oil majors now have resorted to slashing their workforce amid the biggest downturn in the industry for decades.

For Malaysia, that impact is telling. Between January and July, the Malaysian labour market has laid off 6,547 people (not inclusive the voluntary separation schemes for Malaysia Airlines and banks). But 30% of that number, or nearly 2,000 people who lost their jobs, have come from the oil and gas industry alone.

“It is getting worse,” an oil industry executive says on the job cuts plaguing the industry. He says the oil major he works for is in the midst of a rightsizing exercise and that will mean many jobs will need to be slashed in the coming months.

“We have to reach a new equilibrium for the economies in the oil and gas sector.”

And it does not seem like the industry has hit a trough when it comes to retrenchment.

Part of that is down to the outlook for the price of crude oil. Although there is optimism that prices have hit a bottom, there is another school of thought that predicts more pain for the sector.

Supply from shale oil and future Iranian oil, once trade sanctions are lifted, are clouding the supply dynamics for crude oil and gas.

With expectation that oil prices will remain weak for the foreseeable future, oil majors continue to announce job layoffs. More jobs are expected to be cut next year.

In the US alone, oil companies are reported to have laid off more than 86,000 personnel from June last year up to September of this year. With many global giants having a presence in Malaysia, the workforce in the country will likely be included as part of a global cut in workforce.

Poor profit

The main culprit for job cuts among oil and gas has been the financial performance of those companies. As profits plunge, the knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs, and employment is in the crosshair of such cuts.

The hit on leaner employment prospects has already been told through not only the fall in crude oil prices but also cuts in capital expenditure and operating expenditure by Petronas Nasional Bhd. Companies that service the upstream segment of the industry have been the worst hit.

Downsizing: The main culprit for job cuts among oil and gas has been the financial performance of O&G companies. As profits plunge, the knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs, and employment is in the crosshair of such cuts. — EPA
Downsizing: The main culprit for job cuts among oil and gas has been the financial performance of O&G companies. As profits plunge, the knee-jerk reaction is to cut costs, and employment is in the crosshair of such cuts. — EPA

Petronas, the driver of the local oil and gas industry, has cut its operating costs and that has meant lesser demand for services provided by the oil and gas industry.

An industry official says Petronas, for its part, is not retrenching employees at the moment despite pressure to maintain profitability. It will cut bonuses in order to keep its permanent staff.

“There is no rightsizing of permanent staff at Petronas but whether it renews the contracts of high-paying employees is another thing,” he says.

The hardest hit segment on the industry’s value chain has been upstream activity. The cut in the number of exploration rigs and the associated services indicates the predicament the industry is going through.

The collapse in the price of crude oil has meant that companies are less inclined to spend on searching for new sources of crude oil. It makes matters worse when it is already costly to search for such oil in areas such as deepwater oil fields.

“As revenue comes down, staff are being redeployed from upstream to downstream. Staff will also be asked to multi-task but whether they can do that is another thing,” he says.

A pickup in hiring activity in the upstream segment is not expected as long as crude oil prices are anaemic.

Job cuts have taken place in that segment as a result of dimmed prospects in the industry.

With prices not expected to bounce up significantly, job prospects will remain dim. The general consensus is that crude oil prices are expected to remain sluggish for the short- to medium-term and that has necessitated the cut in expenditure and staff costs.

Trickle down effects

The oil and gas sector is not the only segment that has laid off workers as the pace of retrenchments seemed to have picked up pace.

Maybank Investment Bank says in a report that retrenchments rose sharply in the second quarter, up 56.7% year-on-year to 3,213 in the second quarter compared with a 14.4% increase to 2,789 in the first quarter of this year. “Retrenchments in the construction sector went up as a number of major projects are nearing completion amid slow replenishment rate. The oil and gas sector’s retrenchment has been on the uptrend since the second half of 2014, coinciding with the plunge in crude oil price.

“At the same time, services industries like ‘finance, insurance, real & business services’ and ‘transport, storage & communications’ also showed uptrends,” it says.

Between January and July of this year, statistics indicate that 47% of retrenched workers are skilled, 40% semi-skilled and 13% unskilled.

It is the loss of skilled jobs, such as that by the oil and gas sector, that will have a big knock-on effect on the rest of the economy. The higher than average salaries that those workers once commanded will evaporate from the system and the absence of which will trickle down to the different sectors of the economy.

The slump in the industry has already been felt in the areas surrounding KL City Centre (KLCC), which is said to be the operational hub for oil and gas companies in Malaysia.

Hotel occupancy is down in Kuala Lumpur, especially those around KLCC. The Kuala Lumpur Shangri-la, which is the benchmark for hoteliers in the country, has announced a 10% drop in revenue in the second quarter of this year.

Apart from hotels, rental demand for houses surrounding the KLCC area has been acutely felt with the loss of jobs in the oil and gas industry.

“There has been a knee-jerk reaction especially around the KLCC area,” says a property consultant.

He says tenancies have been cancelled with oil and gas workers retrenched and for those who still have their jobs, their employers are housing them in different areas in the city.

“The numbers are down but it is not significant. There has, however, been a downgrade in the choice of accommodation,” he says.

The outlook though is not going to be rosy. With gross domestic product clocking a growth rate of 4.9% in the second quarter compared with growth of 5.6% in the first quarter, the slower growth rate will eventually bite into the prospects of employment.

“The labour market lags economic activity. There will be a lag of one or two quarters as companies won’t immediately lay off workers,” says an official.


Fewer job vacancies due to wait-and-see attitude.

INDUSTRY experts say the shrinking number of job vacancies in the country is due to companies adopting a “wait and see” approach, putting on hold any expansion plans because of economic uncertainty..

Other worse-affected businesses which cannot afford to wait, they said, are downsizing, contributing to the rising number of retrenchments that totalled 6,547 until July this year..

While retrenchments are pressured to rise, what is worrisome is that the number of job vacancies has been on a decline over the past few years. The new openings for jobs have fallen from 1.62 million jobs in 2012 and 1.4 million in 2013 to only 1.07 million last year..

The biggest drop in vacancies was seen in the manufacturing sector, followed by the services sector..

Vacancies in the manufacturing sector fell from 598,890 in 2012 to 352,784 positions last year, a massive 45% drop in just three years..

Retrenchments in the sector was also the highest last year with 5,716 job cuts..

In the services sector, job vacancies went down from 369,983 in 2012 to 275,199 available positions in 2014, while retrenchments were up by an additional 1,151..

The construction sector also saw fewer job vacancies last year, with only 202,878 positions compared to 310,954 two years earlier..

Vacancies in the mining and quarrying sectors saw a marginal increase, up 19% from 2,180 to 2,605 jobs. But conditions have soured in the mining industry led by the slump in global crude oil prices..

The sector saw retrenchments surge almost four-fold from only 81 in 2012 to 318 job cuts last year..

Economist Yeah Kim Leng says the authorities must scrutinise data very carefully to find out to what extent the drop in job opportunities are due to the slowdown in investments and business expansions..

“The Government needs to look at the factors affecting business confidence and the measures to alleviate these factors..

“Given that the investment pipeline seems healthy, the declining number of vacancies is very surprising,” he says..

Yeah expects the situation to improve in the second half of next year, once the Chinese economy stabilises and commodity prices recover..

The Government is currently mulling the possibility of setting up an Employment Insurance Scheme to help retrenched workers in the country..

Deputy Human Resources Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Abd Muttalib said early this month that the scheme, aimed at helping retrenched workers through temporary financial aid, reskilling and upskilling, was announced in Budget 2015 last year..

“In Malaysia, during the economic crisis of 1997-1998 and 2008-2009, we had a steady increase of unfair dismissal cases filed at the Industrial Relations Department. “After those periods, the cases returned to a normal pace. With an economic downturn possibly occurring in the near future, we are getting worried that dismissal and retrenchment cases would go up tremendously,” he said..

The total job loss in Malaysia as a result of the 2008/09 global economic crisis was around 40,000, out of which around 60% were in the manufacturing sector..

This was less severe compared with the estimated total job loss of 84,000 during the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis..

The unemployment problem in Malaysia during the global economic crisis was somewhat cushioned by the “more considerate” strategies taken by companies, which included cutting down their operating hours or days and reducing the salaries of their workers, so as to retain as many workers as they possibly could, instead of cutting headcount..

Weak business sentiment.

Although there has been an increase in investment approvals by the Malaysian Investment Development Authority, Yeah says, business sentiment needs to be monitored..

“We must monitor closely to see if they are going ahead with their investments or are pulling out,” he says..

Business conditions in Malaysia have deteriorated this year, with the Business Conditions Index by the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research painting a grim outlook after the second quarter of the year..

The index fell to 95.4 points from 101 points in the previous quarter. A reading below 100 indicates pessimism..

It also found that the local and export sales outlook was bleak, and capacity utilisation rate had dipped further..

The survey, conducted each quarter to assist in assessing the short-term economic outlook, covers a sample of over 350 manufacturing businesses operating in 11 industries..

Areas explored include production level, new order bookings, sales performances, inventory build-up and new job openings..

In June, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar said although Malaysia had more than 400,000 people looking for jobs at any given time, the Government had set a target that 75% of graduates would find employment within six months of graduation..

According to the latest numbers from the Department of Statistics, in July this year, there were 459,900 Malaysians unemployed compared to 394,100 in July last year, a 16.7% increase..

The unemployment numbers have been on a rise every month since April this year, from 429,000 to 460,000 persons jobless in July..

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan says the situation is worrying as it means that many graduates would not be able to secure employment due to the shrinking number of vacancies..

“The ability to create middle-level management vacancies is a challenge now due to the economic condition..

“Nobody is sure what is going to happen, so companies have adopted a wait-and-see attitude..

“They are not making any new commitments. They are just maintaining what they have – if possible – or downsizing,” he says..

Shamsuddin says employers need the extra confidence from authorities in order to fix the situation..

“To stimulate employment, incentives have to be given directly to the sector. For example, there are incentives for companies that hire women who have been on a career break for over six months..

“The same can be done for companies that hire fresh graduates, for example, who have not secured jobs after a certain period,” he says..

This, he says, could be in the form of salary subsidies for the first few months..


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Monday, September 28, 2015

Urgent to tell the truth !

THE greatest tribute that Malaysians can pay to the memory of Kevin Morais and others like him who had sacrificed their lives fighting against the abuse of power is to protect and strengthen those institutions tasked with ensuring that integrity and good governance define our identity as a nation.

Each and every one of those institutions – from the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to Bank Negara – is under some sort of stress and strain today. Fulfilling their amanah (trust) – doing what they are required to do by law and convention – has become a major challenge. Why are they in such a situation today?

One, we continue to be burdened with a neo-feudal psychology which accords precedence to unquestioning loyalty to a leader, however wrong he may be, over allegiance to values, principles and institutions associated with integrity. The neo-feudal leader himself expects such blind loyalty and cultivates it assiduously through material rewards and allurements.

Two, in a society where communal consciousness is pervasive there is always a tendency among a significant segment of society to demonstrate fidelity to communal identities, institutions and personalities. Such fidelity often results in the subordination of values such as integrity and honesty.

Three, when loyalty to communal identity becomes obsessive, it is not difficult to whip up fear and hatred of the other to a point where collective fear overwhelms concern for integrity or righteousness. The manipulation of fear, by no means confined to ethnic and religious sentiments, is sometimes a tool that elites employ in order to perpetuate their power.

Four, when a party has been dominant for a long while – as the Barisan Nasional was until 2008 – and has not been held in check by a culture of accountability and transparency, it develops a mindset that is dismissive of anything that questions its exercise of power. Integrity is often the victim of such a mindset.

Five, a major episode in the life of a nation that devastates the integrity of a vital institution of governance can weaken the principle and practice of amanah in society as a whole for decades to come. This is what happened in Malaysia in 1988 when the head of the Judiciary was removed on flimsy, fabricated charges and senior judges dismissed.

For all these reasons, institutions which are expected to preserve and protect values and principles such as truth, justice, integrity and honesty have not been able to function as well as they should. The investigations into 1MDB and the RM2.6bil in the Prime Minister’s personal bank account which have been hampered and hindered by various moves and manoeuvres underscore this.

In more concrete terms, the PAC has been immobilised. There is still no action on the report submitted by Bank Negara to the Attorney-General which called for enforcement. There has been very little progress in apprehending key individuals wanted in both the 1MDB and RM2.6bil investigations.

The Prime Minister has yet to sue the Wall Street Journal for alleging financial improprieties on his part. Those who are concerned about integrity in public life are understandably disillusioned about the whole situation. This may explain why some of them may have sought external avenues to address the malaise.

There is no doubt at all that foreign actors who are focusing upon the current controversies in Malaysia have their own agendas. Given the orientation of the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and the Washington Post, one is not surprised that they are exploiting the controversies to achieve their own goals which may include regime change in Putrajaya – a possibility which I had alluded to in an article on Feb 17.

Apart from Prime Minister Najib Razak’s explicit support for Hamas which has incensed Israel and its backers in the United States, it is also quite conceivable that Malaysia’s military cooperation with China reflected in the four-day joint naval exercise between the two nations in the strategic Straits of Malacca from Sept 18 – the biggest that China has conducted with any Asean state – has upset some circles in Washington DC.

It has also been argued that the targeting of Najib in the US media may be part of the attempt to ensure that Malaysia signs up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.

Whatever the motives, it is obvious that the Malaysian Government’s acts of commission and omission on 1MDB and the RM2.6bil account have provided foreign manipulators with a lot of ammunition to hit Najib.

This is why it is extremely urgent to tell the whole truth. The yet to be completed report of the Auditor-General which would be the basis for the reconstituted PAC to finish its work, and the finalisation of the MACC’s investigations, together with Bank Negara’s report which is with the Attorney-General, should reveal the truth about 1MDB and the RM2.6bil account. Foreign investigations may also help.

The Malaysian people should send a clear message to our Government. The investigations into the two related controversies should be closed and the whole truth should be made known to the nation and the world by the end of this year.

To allow the controversies to drag on into 2016 will only bring our nation to the edge of the precipice.


(Dr Chandra Muzaffar has been writing and speaking on integrity in public life since the nineteen seventies.)

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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Towards closer ties between China and US

Win-win By Luo Jie

President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the United States may mean vastly improved China-US relations, with key agreements signed ahead to mark the occasion.

IF timing is a significant factor in shaping important events, what has it done to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the United States?

That the visit came at the same time as the first-ever papal address to the US Congress meant that media attention was effectively halved. Xi and Pope Francis had to share the media blitz; prime-time and front-page priorities were split.

But while the Pope’s visit was imbued with spirituality, Xi’s was rich in material significance and consequence. The Xi-Obama huddle was a meeting between leaders of the world’s two largest economies with much to discuss on economic and security matters.

More significantly, the Chinese leader, who is still in the early years of his decade in office, has come to visit his US counterpart in the twilight of the latter’s tenure. Yet China’s state media have no qualms about calling the visit “historic”.

President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017. Although that is still more than a year away, it takes time for two distant yet interrelated, lumbering giants – China and the United States – to size each other up to work effectively together.

Not that Xi and Obama are total strangers. They have met repeatedly since 2009, some of those times only incidentally “on the sidelines” of a larger conference.

Still, much is assumed about the decisive nature of personal rapport between leaders. What impact does it have on bilateral relations between nations?

Western societies generally prefer formal agreements such as treaties to benchmark external relations.

For Asian countries such as China, unilateral pledges work as well and their voluntary observance deserves plaudits.

But Asian cultures also value personal connections, such that know-who is at least as important as know-how. Thus, Xi’s careful cultivation of Obama is nearing its end.

That cultivation has included the development of relations between the two First Ladies, and Xi’s affinity with Lincoln High School and Tacoma from early personal associations.

These are human touches, not simply frivolous details. For millions of Americans, they help to flesh out the character of the leader of an otherwise faceless, alien monolith that is China.

The importance of a personable character and thus of personal ties is also more important in the United States than is generally supposed. How can the personal imprint of any particular president on policy be denied?

It is unlikely for US policy on China to be identical with George W. Bush, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton in the White House. Election impresario and political mud wrestler Donald Trump will want it to be different again in his White House.

The US election season has begun, and among the seasonal domestic bloodsports is China bashing. How will the next president honour any deals Obama now makes with China?

The soothing argument is that however much a maverick a presidential candidate may be, the heft of political realities and high office will weigh on the incoming president to ensure a pragmatic moderation.

The problem is that nothing can guarantee that outcome.

Consistency in China’s external policymaking is less of a problem. A one-party state ensures that regardless of the personal style or preference of the leader of the day, the collective outlook is constant.

Barring unforeseen circumstances and contingencies, the ends and means in China’s long-term plans are reasonably clear. Individual leaders bring only a certain accent or tenor to dealmaking, with certain emphases such as eliminating corruption.

Xi has also called for a major reset in relations with the United States since at least 2013. No country can reasonably reject that call so there has been progress, even if it has been slow.

Xi’s first state visit is particularly significant in tackling three main themes head-on: essential new major-power bilateral relations, economic cooperation whose need is obvious enough, and military cooperation, which is as important as it may seem unlikely.

In mid-2013, just months into his new presidency, Xi flew to Califor­nia for a working meeting with Obama to jointly design a new style of US-China relations. They agreed on the importance of that task and on its follow-through.

This month’s summit is the next big step on that road. In the intervening two years, officials on both sides had been working on consolidating that agreement.

The economic aspects of the reset in relations are the most evident. So are their limitations.

The US Foreign Investment and National Security Act (2007) constrains China’s investments in certain key sectors deemed to impinge on key US infrastructure or other national security interests. Foreign enterprises are known to face difficulties in acquiring stakes in US “strategic industries” – oil or high technology assets.

China followed the US example this year with a draft of its own Foreign Investment Law (2015). During the Seattle trip, Xi pledged to facilitate US investments in China, but it was not clear if any aspect of the FIL would be compromised.

Meanwhile, reports of mergers and acquisitions between China and the United States continue to show promise.

The value of M&A deals in the first half of this year exceeded US$300bil (RM1.3 trillion), an increase of more than 60% over the same period last year, which had already set the record for the first half year.

Perhaps most significantly, China and the United States signed annexes to two agreements on major military operations, as well as air and sea encounters.

With China’s growing naval reach and US naval “rebalancing”, sea lanes in the Western Pacific are becoming more traversed as routes tend to overlap. The agreements signed just days before are intended to improve operational coordination and avoid misunderstanding and false alarms.

The first annex covers a telephone hotline between both countries’ defence ministries and mutual notification of an impending crisis. The second relates to airborne encounters, improved communication and better coordination in emergencies.

These are still early days in such China-US cooperation, but a promising start has been made in addressing the most pressing concerns. More cooperation and coordination can be expected.

More broadly, China-US cooperation has yielded results in environmental management and the Iran nuclear deal. More progress may be envisaged over North Korea, anti-terrorism measures and even improved US-Russia relations.

In already focusing on security provisions for the Western Pacific, with all its implications for the South China Sea and the East China Sea, Beijing and Washington have taken the bull by the horns.

This is surely the better and bolder way. The alternative is a somewhat indecisive and half-hearted attempt to face the issues, in part by deferring them to a later time that may never come.

Now that a bold start has been made, the follow-up has to be at least as gutsy. The momentum, once created, has to be maintained and built on to reach satisfactory policy conclusions.

Chinese commentaries have largely pronounced Xi’s state visit as momentous, in terms of China’s intent in soliciting a positive US response to redefining their bilateral relations. That will also require China’s continued commitment to the cause.

Xi’s objectives should also be Obama’s, as evidenced in their discussions for two years now, particularly since these objectives equally serve US and Chinese interests. To help realise them, the United States needs to contribute its share of commitment.

By Bunn Nagara Behind the Headlines

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

Xi visit helps US avoid anxiety over China

President Xi Jinping arrived in Washington DC on Thursday. His stay there was the climax of his week-long state visit to the US.

The diplomatic exchanges in recent years seem to have reached a consensus, in which the heads of state prefer to hold a more private and longer meeting, where the subjects of their talks can range from domestic as well as diplomatic matters. Such a scheme helps to build personal trust and enable them to better understand each country's policies.

On Thursday night, Xi and Obama's talk lasted for three hours. On Friday morning the two met again in limited company. When the meeting expanded to more people, the duration was shorter. As such intensive exchanges continue, China and the US are in better place to avoid strategic miscalculation.

As for the achievement of this visit, people are focusing their attention on how much the talks over cyber security can yield and whether a code of behavior to govern the two air forces' encounter will be officially signed. Although the bilateral investment treaty may not be signed this time, an exchange of negative lists for foreign investment will help both sides get closer toward the eventual agreement.

The strategic impact of Xi's visit will take effect in the near future, which will be assessed by how much the tension will ease around thorny issues between the two countries.

Talk about a "Thucydides trap," in which a rising power clashes with an existing power, permeates academic and media circles, especially in the US.

However, both Xi and Obama said they do not believe in the Thucydides trap, which means the two countries will not walk toward the strategic confrontation.

The US had three enemies in history, Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union. China is different from any of the three. It is larger than Germany and Japan, and it was more efficient than the Soviet Union. The most important thing is that China is one of the largest US trade partners. The US has more interests in China than in any of its allies.

China is still growing at a high speed, though the momentum has slowed. But the growth still outpaces other major economies. The anxiety from the US is inevitable.

Xi's latest visit has helped ease the anxiety from the US. The Chinese and US people may also do something to help their countries avoid the Thucydides trap - give their governments more flexibility so that both can make compromises on thorny matters. - Global Times

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Structural issues including education are holding Malaysia back

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia is facing several long-term structural issues in its economy that needs to quickly adjust in accordance with the new realities of the global economy.

This was the conclusion of a panel discussion by representatives of three leading rating agencies – Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services (S&P), Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings – during Malaysia’s Economic Update 2015 forum on “Outside-In Perspective: Economic Outlook for Malaysia” held here.

The agencies said that while the fundamentals of the country, including the financials, were good, the country needed to address several issues that would hold it back in the long-term.

S&P’s associate director of sovereign and international public finance ratings Phua Yee Farn said that one of the issues that needed to be quickly addressed was the state of education in the country.

“As discussed earlier (in the forum) by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Abdul Wahid Omar on the education system here, this is something that is very fundamental to improving the level of output and productivity.

“The affirmative action policy has been around for decades and we think that it will continue to be in place here. However, this will continue to cause the brain drain to other countries. The brilliant ones are paid very well and are choosing to go somewhere else,” Phua said.

He, however, also acknowledged that the Government had made some efforts to try and reverse this situation, adding, however, that it would “not be easy”.

“The education system has to go through some structural reforms before we can see the next leap to a real high-income economy,” Phua said.

Meanwhile, Fitch Ratings’ managing director and global head of sovereign and supranational ratings James McCormack said that being stuck in the “middle-income trap” was something that should be of concern to Malaysia.

“While we are all preoccupied with China and the growth picture there now, the reality is that there is a transformation going on there now from an investment-led, export-oriented economy to a consumption-led, domestic-demand economy.

“Asia, in general, has leveraged off the previous export growth model tremendously. Even if the growth rate may be lower in China, but (structurally) it is a different kind of growth that will be taking place there,” McCormack said.

“It is not one where the rest of Asia can simply feed intermediate products into an export machine that will eventually end up in Europe and the United States. China is already supplying more of these inputs domestically so that trade is actually slowly disappearing,” he added.

He noted that the economies that were more geared to the new consumption model in China were the ones that would benefit from this new economic model there.

“This, however, seems to be more evident in north Asia such as in Taiwan, Japan and South Korea than it is in South-East Asia. These countries in north Asia are heavily invested in China and have companies that are directly selling to Chinese consumers. This is an economic model that is less prevalent in South-East Asia,” he said.

“This is why I worry about Malaysia and South-East Asia being caught in this middle-income trap because the higher value-added products are in north Asia, while the lower end lies in the lower-income countries.

“Because the income levels are moving up here in Malaysia and this is where you get competition from both the top and bottom. this is what the middle income trap is about – getting squeezed in the middle,” he pointed out.

McCormack’s views were also shared by Moody’s vice-president/senior analyst of sovereign risk group Christian de Guzman, who added that Malaysia needed to attract more high-value investments.

By DANIEL KHOO The Star/Asia News Network

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KEVIN Morais (pix) was a pure professional, highly ethical, very hardworking and humble. He possessed no ego of any form. In his work he ...

Monday, September 21, 2015

China-US new type of major power relations: positive narratives needed to help turn negative tide

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

New type of great power relations

Xi Jinping's upcoming visit to the US comes amid the two sides' pledge to push for a "new type of great power relations." Though tensions come part and parcel of ties between great powers, China and the US have vowed to navigate those dangerous waters through dialogue.

China-US are on way to a new type of major power relations

Recently, worries have been heard in the Western academia and strategic circles on China's development direction, foreign policy changes and thus the possible deterioration of China-US relations.

Two catchy phrases are mostly used to describe the current situation, the "Thucydides's Trap" and "tipping point."

The "Thucydides's Trap," which means a rising power generates fear in an established power that it ultimately leads to a war between the two, is not persuasive to describe the possible prospect of nowadays China-US relations. On the one hand, it neglects significant changes of the external environment. In addition, the theory hardly explains the peaceful transition of power in history.

On the other hand, the "Thucydides's Trap" puts too much blame on the threat of the rising country, missing the possibility that the established country could be more comfortable in launching a preemptive war.

"Tipping point" is another phrase that has caused a round of discussion about China-US relations in both countries. David Lampton, a senior China scholar, delivered a speech in May, worrying that China-US relations were approaching "a tipping point." After that, some US politicians and scholars followed the suit and expressed worries about bilateral relations. Even in China, people began to write articles, discussing how to avoid a hot war with the US.

Paying too much attention on the two phrases will exaggerate the competitive sides of the two countries and are not helpful for China-US relations. It will lead people to imagine more difficulties and feel frustrated about the relations.

We should adopt positive narrative about China-US relations and concentrate more on cooperation rather than competition.

It is a good chance for the two countries to strengthen the positive and grand narrative about bilateral relations during the upcoming state visit paid by Chinese President Xi Jinping to the US. A new type of major power relationship in general is a useful guideline and positive narrative for the future development of bilateral ties.

Meanwhile, the two countries should inject more concrete contents into the idea by narrowing divergences and expanding cooperation. China-US relations are the most important and complex bilateral relations in the world. It is impossible for the two countries to shun competition, but strengthening bilateral cooperation still forms the major part of the relations.

China and the US need each other. Although some US scholars and politicians argued that the US government should change its grand strategy toward China, namely balancing China's rise, the fact is that the US needs China's cooperation on a bunch of issues ranging from bilateral issues to global governance such as climate change.

Xi's visit will provide a great opportunity to facilitate cooperation between the two countries. The communication between the two leaders will first of all enhance the strategic mutual trust and ensure the relations on the right track. Numerous highlights might pop up during Xi's visit.

On cyber security, the two may reach some fundamental consensus like promising not to attack each other's key infrastructure, regulating their own actions and forming basic norms.

On economic cooperation, as the top two economies in the world, the countries should express their willingness to lead the global economic development.

On climate change, the countries may carry on the momentum and release another joint announcement to accumulate more dynamism for the upcoming Paris Climate Conference.

In addition, Xi might share his experience of China's development path to disperse US misunderstandings about China's domestic policies and interact with the US public, offering a solid foundation of the bilateral relations.

By Sun Chenghao Source:Global Times

The author is an assistant research fellow at the Institute of American Studies, China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.


Young adults stress key role of Sino-US ties ahead of Xi's trip

Nearly 80 percent of young US respondents are interested in Chinese President Xi Jinping's state visit to the country, according to a survey by China Daily.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

China's Long March-6 new carrier rocket succeeds in carrying 20 satellites to space

A new model of China's carrier rocket Long March-6 carrying 20 micro-satellites blasts off from the launch pad at 7:01 a.m. from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China's Shanxi Province, Sept. 20, 2015. The new carrier rocket will be mainly used for the launch of micro-satellites and the 20 micro-satellites will be used for space tests. (Xinhua/Yan Yan) 


China successfully launched a new model of carrier rocket, Long March-6, at 7:01 a.m. Sunday from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in north China's Shanxi Province.

The rocket carried 20 micro-satellites into the space for space tests.

The new rocket, fueled by liquid propellant made of liquid oxygen and kerosene, is China's first carrier rocket that uses fuel free of toxicity and pollution, said Gao Xinhui, an official at China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation.

"Using such propellant can cut costs by a great margin," he said.

Zhang Weidong, designer-in-chief at the Shanghai Academy of Spaceflight Technology with the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, said the new rocket also "reformed the way carrier rockets are tested and launched in China."

"Loading, testing and positioning were finished when the Long March-6 rocket was at a horizontal position, before it was lifted to an upright position for launching," he said.

"We believe it will greatly boost the competitiveness of Chinese carrier rockets in the international market. The new model will also significantly improve our abilitiy to access space," said Zhang.

The launch on Sunday has tested the feasibility and accuracy of the rocket's design as well as other new technologies. The new carrier rocket will be mainly used for the launch of micro-satellites.

The rocket is the 210th mission by the Long March rocket family. In 1970, a Long March-1 rocket sent China's first satellite, Dong Fang Hong 1, or "the East is Red", into Earth orbit. - Xinhua

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China launches new carrier rocket with 20 satellites

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Asian finance uncertain future

While Asians think long term, their institutional framework remains short term.

Global factory: A cargo ship waits to be loaded with shipping containers at a port in Qingdao, Shandong province. China’s emergence consolidated Asia’s key role as the global factory, supplying the rest of the world with all manner of consumer goods. – Reuters

ANYONE who thinks he can predict the future of Asian finance has to know first how the Asian real economy will be doing. Projections of the future, based on past data, are notoriously inaccurate. But there are general scenarios that we can paint about the mega trends in the global economy that will certainly shape what will happen to Asia.

Roughly every five years, the US National Intelligence Council ( has been publishing scenarios about the future, the latest being for 2030. There are no straight line projections into the future, but rather factors that we do have some knowledge about that will impact on future outcomes.

The key trends are well known, such as demographics, urbanisation, technology and social media, globalisation, climate change and growing risks through social conflict, including terrorism, civil disruption and regional wars. The main trend that makes life much more complicated is the fact that we have moved from a uni-polar world where the US dominant position has weakened relative to the other major players.

Not only are there new powers emerging, such as the BRICS countries, but also non-state players like Isis that can fight across borders without a national identity. This makes coordinated and consistent action much more difficult to manage, which is why there is little agreement at the level of the United Nations, International Monetary Fund and other multilateral institutions.

The McKinsey Global Institute has tried to help corporate captains and policy-makers frame the uncertain future for the period 2015-2025 into basically four possible outcomes. The best scenario is a globally coordinated and distributed growth underpinned by broadening productivity increases.

Next are pockets of global growth with imbalances. Scenario three is low but stable global growth, with lots of muddling through. And the worst is continuing rolling regional crises with volatile and weak growth all round.

Stimulus packages

Most of what is likely to happen would depend on what is happening near term to stimulus packages like quantitative easing (QE) and the outlook for energy prices. Over the long term, the aging of advanced economies, rapid urbanisation (or labour migration) and technology and global connectivity will shape the final outcome.

The near-term outlook is much bleaker in the post-crisis adjustment period. Having shot the world full of steroids in terms of QE, the world’s central banks are moving in divergent paths. The Fed wants to withdraw, while the European Central Bank and Japan are still bent on using very loose monetary policy. But post-crisis, advanced country growth are roughly 2% below potential, and their demand for Asian imports are likely to remain weak.

Which is why Asian finance would depend on what happens in the next decade to the Asian global supply chain. Historians remember that the Japanese led the post-war revival of the Asian economies by being the first to supply the demand for consumer goods by the West.

After growth in Japan peaked in the 1980s, Japan invested heavily in the rest of East Asia to exploit cheap labour and increase its productive capacity. China’s emergence consolidated Asia’s key role as the global factory, supplying the rest of the world with all manner of consumer goods.

The success of the Asian global supply chain meant that Asia ran a current account surplus with the rest of the world, but mostly with the US. With rising incomes and savings, Asia became a net lender to the world, further stimulating global growth as domestic investments, an emerging middle class and demand took most of Asia to middle-income levels.

But such excessive savings were never properly intermediated within Asia. Instead, the excess savings were parked in New York and London, returning to Asia in the form of foreign direct or portfolio investments. Fundamentally, Asia did not upgrade its bank-dominated system of using short-term deposits to fund long-term investments.

Despite aging population, the level of long-term pension and insurance funds and therefore the institutionalisation of long-term savings remained small compared with the banking system.

Low rate policies

Much of this has to do with a penchant for low interest rate policies, beginning with the Japanese attempts to reflate its economy with ultra-loose monetary policy. Excessively low interest rates meant that investments may not go to the best use of funds, while speculation in asset bubbles became more profitable than upgrading total factor productivity.

China’s stock market gyrations this year symbolise the contradictions within Asia’s financial system. On the one hand, the stock market should be the source of long-term equity much needed for giving the whole economy an equity cushion against overleveraged fragilities.

On the other, the stock market became a casino for retail punters with margin funding.

Which is why the Fed’s decision on raising interest rates has so much impact on the future of Asian finance, because New York and London remain an important intermediary for Asian excess savings.

Capital outflows back to New York and London occur precisely because as Asian excess savings unwind, interest rates will adjust upwards and Asian asset bubbles will accordingly also unwind.

The irony of Asian growth is that while Asians think long term, their institutional framework remains distinctly short term. Asian pension and insurance funds remain too small and lack the firepower and innovative imagination to be the market stabilisers that are needed for the long haul.

The Japanese pension system is the classic example of Asian institutional weakness. By putting the bulk of its savings in domestic government bonds, the system is trapped in terms of returns, since the large Japanese fiscal deficit and debt overhang (roughly twice GDP) can only be sustained by low interest rates. We then have the world’s largest net saver becoming the largest borrower, owing everything to oneself.

Can the right hand of an aging person rescue its left hand? Over any demographic cycle, it is the young that will support the old, so one must invest in the young for the future to be bright.

The future of Asian finance is less a technical issue and more a mindset problem. Unless Asian policymakers start thinking more about long-term funding for its young (in thinking as well as action), it will continue to be subject to the whims of monetary policy decision in Washington DC.

Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective.

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U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen attends a press conference in Washington D.C., the United States, Sept. 17, 2015. The Federal Re...

Friday, September 18, 2015

US key interest rate unchanged as global economy worries

U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen attends a press conference in Washington D.C., the United States, Sept. 17, 2015. The Federal Reserve announced on Thursday that the federal funds rate will stay unchanged considering the weak global economy and low inflation. (Xinhua/Yin Bogu)

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 (Xinhua) -- The U.S. Federal Reserve on Thursday kept its benchmark interest rate unchanged, saying the rising uncertainty abroad and low inflation were the key reasons behind the decision.

After concluding a two-day monetary policy meeting, the Fed said in a statement that the economic activity is expanding at moderate rate with labor market approaching maximum employment but inflation staying muted.

However, in light of the heightened uncertainties abroad and a slightly softer expected path for inflation, the Fed judged it appropriate to wait for more evidence, including some further improvement in the labor market to bolster its confidence that inflation will rise to 2 percent in the medium term, Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen said at the press conference on Thursday.

In regard to foreign developments, the central bank is paying more attention to the developments in China and emerging economies, according to Yellen.

China's economy is growing at a slower pace as it rebalances its economy, which has no surprise, said Yellen, but adding that developments in financial markets in August, in part, reflected concerns that there was down-side risk to Chinese economic performance.

In addition, the substantial downward pressures on oil prices and commodity markets have significant negative impact on resources-exporting emerging markets and advanced economies. Important emerging markets have seen significant outflows of capital, pressures on their exchange rates and concerns about their future performance.

Besides the rising uncertainty in emerging markets, the low inflation is one of the reasons holding the Fed back in raising interest rates.

The core personal consumption expenditure (PCE) price index, an inflation gauge preferred by the Fed, only went up 1.2 percent year on year in July, far below the central bank's 2 percent. The index has been below the Fed's target for over three years.

The recent drop in oil prices and the further appreciation of U.S. dollar have put some downward pressure in the near-term on inflation, which means that it will take a bit more time for these transitory effects to fully dissipate, said Yellen.

According to the Fed officials economic projections released on Thursday, they expected the core PCE price index won't meet the Fed's target until 2018, while the unemployment rate will drop to 4.8 percent, below 4.9 percent, the level the Fed considered as full employment.

Yellen said that as the labor market heals, there will be further upward pressure on inflation. But She said the process is slow and is characterized by lags, and that is why it takes a few years as the inflation to get back to 2 percent, while the unemployment rate falls and even overshoots its longer-run normal level.

The Fed still leaves door open to a rate hike sometime this year. Most Fed officials still expect a first rate increase this year, Yellen said, noting that 13 out of the 17 Federal Reserve Board members and Federal Reserve Bank presidents are looking for a move in 2015.

The Federal Open Market Committee, the monetary policy decision body, will hold two policy meetings this year, in October and December. According to Yellen, every meeting has possibility for a rate increase.

Yellen reiterated that market should pay less attention to the timing of the first interest rate increase and more attention to the expected path of rates.

"The stance of monetary policy will likely remain highly accommodative for quite some time after the initial increase in the federal funds rate," said Yellen.

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