Friday, December 30, 2011

Electricity tariffs to increase by average of 2.3 per cent

Between Jan 1 and March 31 next year, electricity tariffs will increase by an average of 2.3 per cent due to higher fuel prices, reported The Straits Times.

The charges will increase to 27.59 cents per kilowatt hour from the current 26.98 cents, bringing about an average monthly increase of $2.30 in the electricity bills for families living in four-room HDB flats.

Electricity tariffs are reviewed every three months based on guidelines set by the Energy Market Authority, who regulates the electricity industry.

800,000 HDB households to receive $40 million of U-Save rebates

About 800,000 Singaporean households in Housing Board flats can expect to receive $40 million worth of Utilities-Save (U-Save) rebates in January 2012, said the Ministry of Finance (MOF) on Friday.

A Singaporean household may receive up to $90 in U-Save rebates, depending on the Housing Board flat type.

The U-Save rebates in January are the final tranche of the five years of rebates that were granted as part of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Offset Package beginning in 2007.

Over the past five years, those living in Housing Board flats have received more than $800 million worth of utilities rebates, including additional rebates given under the Grow & Share Package this year. 

Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme ongoing charge capped at 1%

About 30,000 Singaporeans stand to benefit from a new rule that will make it cheaper to invest under the Central Provident Fund Investment Scheme (CPFIS).

The CPF Board is placing a limit of 1 per cent a year on the wrap fee charged on unit trusts included in the CPFIS, starting from July next year.

A wrap fee is a regular charge paid to financial advisers for providing bundled investment services, such as advisory, brokerage and administrative services.

Also known as an ongoing fee, the wrap fee is typically levied monthly or quarterly by liquidating a small portion of the investment, which eats into returns.

Shares down 17% in year of wild swings, almost $130b wiped out

Investors will be glad to see the back of this year after a nerve-racking 12 months of wild swings and near panic drove shares down 17 per cent - better than some recent years but a blow after last year's bumper effort.

The trading year ended on an appropriate note on Friday with stocks down 1 per cent, bringing the Straits Time Index (STI) to a 2011 close of 2,646.35. Go back a year ago and it was at a heady 3,190.04.

The carnage has also wiped about $129.8 billion off the value of local shares, leaving the market valuation at $716.3 billion.

It was not a total horror show, however. There were some significant listings including March's US$5.45 billion (S$7 billion) initial public offering of Hutchison Port Holdings Trust - a record launch here - and markets elsewhere across the region fared even worse.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More apply for subsidised GP care under revised scheme

Interest in a scheme which gives older, less well-off Singaporeans access to general practitioners (GPs) at polyclinic rates has taken a leap forward since its qualifying criteria were eased in August.

The Primary Care Partnership Scheme (PCPS) now gets an average of 2,000 applicants a month, up from about 1,000 before.

These figures came from Minister of State for Health Amy Khor on Wednesday on the sidelines of one of her weekly visits to the homes of her constituents in Bukit Batok.

With the change to the qualifying criteria to kick in on Jan 15, individuals aged 40 and above living in a household with an income of no more than $1,500 per head are eligible to apply for this subsidised medical care.

Temasek looking to sell majority stake in Pakistan bank

SINGAPORE - Singapore state investor Temasek is looking to sell its 88.6 percent stake in Pakistan's NIB Bank after heavy losses, the Business Times reported on Thursday quoting a source.

The paper also said NIB had suffered a cumulative net loss of about 17 billion Pakistan rupees (S$245.6 million) since Temasek first invested in the bank in early 2005.

Business Times quoted a Temasek spokesman as saying the firm did not comment on market speculation. The Singapore state investor could not immediately be contacted by Reuters for comment.
Reuters reported last month that Khawaja Iqbal Hassan, who was instrumental in bringing Temasek as an investor, had stepped down as CEO of NIB and that Singapore was looking at a paper loss of about US$400 million of its US$540 million investment.

The new get-rich rules

SO WHAT IF THE economy looks like it's on the brink of another downturn?

Because this could jolly well be the year that you start your journey towards amassing an abundance of wealth.


Here's the plan: an easy financial tune-up that will save you plenty of cash, and smart investment tactics to help you make loads more.


Start your tune-up at where you keep by what you find.

Most recently, a technical glitch at HSBC caused its customers to be charged more than they had actually spent. Although some discrepancies were significant enough to be spotted easily, others were not.

Some banks also charge miscellaneous fees that you may not be aware of. And if you don't examine your bank statements regularly, you could miss them entirely.

Take action if you see something you don't like.

"Some institutions will throw in a freebie as a form of service recovery for mistakes they've made, or even drop monthly fees if you make certain adjustments to the way you bank," says Greg McBride, a senior banking financial analyst.


Eighty per cent of mobile phone users overpay for service, says Schwark Satyavolu, co-founder of (a website that analyses how you spend your money and advises you on how to save).

Not by just cents, either, but by an average of $200 a year. If you're not wedded to the latest phone - can you live without an iPhone 4S? - a no contract plan will probably save you big.

You can get unlimited phone, texting and surfing the Net for roughly $40 a month. If you can't abandon your gadget, you can at least save on texting by using free apps like Textplus, IMO and Textnow.

And don't rule out prepaid - if you're either a very light or very heavy (unlimited) user, this may be the best option for you.

Next, call your service provider. Let the company know that you've seen its competitor's ads and you're thinking about switching if you don't get a better offer. More often than not, the rep will pony up a "special promotion" to save you some bucks.


We can never stress this enough: As long as you have credit card debt, you'll never get rich. It's a simple truth. Accept it, then do something about it.

The problem isn't really the amount you owe, but what it's standing in the way of: a downpayment on a property, your ability to invest in stocks with good ROI, a rainy day savings account.

And don't just transfer your debt from one low-rate card to the next. Eliminate it!

Take out a low-interest personal loan to clear all your credit card debts, and work to pay off that loan as quickly as possible without incurring new debt on your cards (meaning, don't even use them).


Okay, now that you're losing less money, it's time to bring in more.

Here's what not to do: March into your boss's office and declare: "If you won't pay me what I'm worth, I'll find a company that will."

Instead, lay the groundwork now for a big raise next year, says Deborah Kolb, a negotiation consultant.

Start by periodically reminding your boss how much you do - just drop it in the conversation.

Next, schedule a series of quick meetings to update him on the projects you're working on. Finally, six months before the next round of raises, meet with him formally.

Tell him exactly what you believe you're worth, Kolb says. Then ask him for a six-month plan, with specific goals, to take you there.


These smart investment tactics will ensure that looking at your bank balance puts a smile on your face.

Mix the risk Spread your investments across two or more funds in different sectors to guard against a single investment underperforming, says Darius McDermott, a financial analyst.

Play the long game

Smarter investors opt for drip-feed schemes known as "dollar cost averaging", where you buy "units" on a month-bymonth basis. It removes the need for a big lump sum and has good returns in volatile markets.

Watch and learn

Review your investment by comparing it every six months against a benchmark such as the STI index, says Ben Yeardsley, an international funds and wealth manager.


Many Singaporeans have become instant millionaires over the past decade through real estate. But there's really no telling when the bubble may pop, given that the economy may be heading for a downturn. Yet, none of this matters.

It's still a smart investment for two reasons: First, every payment you make builds equity in the property - it's like putting money in a savings account (unlike paying for your car, which is a depreciating asset).

And, second, interest rates on housing loans are currently very low. Combine these two factors and the "real" monthly cost is half of what It seems. If the house rises in value quickly, that's icing on the cake.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Singapore sits moodily atop wealth pole

Last month, if Singapore had been a person, it would have stood above the unwashed tableau of Occupy Wall Street (OWS), watching from its penthouse and laughing into its cognac.

But it has spent the year being a little down in the mouth, preoccupied with property prices, taxi fares and faulty trains.

This gloom is hard to explain in the grander scheme of things.

When OWS's gross simplification of the one per cent trampling on the 99 per cent is contemplated, Singapore is practically part of the world's one per cent.

This is a country where, every single day, 25 people bought either a Mercedes-Benz or a BMW for the first 11 months of the year.

In the same period, every four days, someone drove away from the Ferrari showroom with a big smile on his face. (One assumes that, each time, it's a different person.)

When it comes down to it, Singapore can be almost as Wall Street as Wall Street.

Last year, 8.5 per cent of New York City's workforce was on the payroll of the finance and insurance industries.

Singapore had about 6.4 per cent of its resident population on it, while Hong Kong had 6 per cent.
If a demonstrator with anti-banking invective to expend were to imagine the two as corporate entities - which is not hard - he would therefore be more inclined to picket Singapore than Hong Kong.

"One per cent" might be a dirty term these days, but would-be picketers here have to be careful about calling others names that might apply to themselves.

On a per-adult basis, Singapore has the sixth highest net wealth in the world: a mean value of US$284,692, according to the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook 2011.

"Net wealth" here is defined by a person's financial and real estate assets minus debt.

The mean value, however, gets short shrift from experts, since it ignores wealth distribution.

"(It is the) mean without information on inequality. A very high personal net wealth with high inequality is likely to imply a skewed prosperity within the country . . . Actually, it is not something we would like to boast about," says Ho Weng Kong, senior lecturer at SIM University.

The median net wealth figure then - which is less vulnerable to being yanked up or down by the obscenely rich or the devastatingly poor - sees Singapore ranked eighth out of 160 countries, at US$101,033.

On this score, the only countries that outrank it are Australia, Japan, Belgium, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom.

Last year, the odds of being born in any one of these countries, including Singapore, was 2 per cent - not quite the fabled one per cent, but close enough.

This is better than the best odds in the Singapore Toto (one in 321), but to properly appreciate the jackpot-like nature of being born in any of these eight countries, the rest of the world needs to be surveyed.

At the best end of the ovarian lottery, more than half the adults in Singapore belong to the wealthiest 8.8 per cent of adults globally.

And while the one per cent of the United States might be under the onslaught of scrutiny there, the global one per cent club is thriving in Singapore; two out of every 25 adults here can claim membership.

On the losing end of the ovarian lottery, however, only 0.3 per cent of the adults here have less than US$1,000 in net assets.

Perhaps it is not so much that Singapore is fabulously wealthy (which it is), but that the rest of the world is poor (very much so).

Suppose you represent Singapore's population with 100 people riding on a bus.

If that bus were to stop at the world's poorest neighbourhood to let residents get off, less than one person would alight.

This shantytown, however, is where more than one-fifth of the world's adults have to live.
This says as much about the rest of the world as it does Singapore.

To be better off than half the adults on this planet, the threshold is heartbreakingly low. All it takes is US$4,200 in net assets.

'Only moderate inequality' 

This perhaps goes some way towards clarifying why Occupy Wall Street took off but Occupy Raffles Place bombed in a way that would embarrass nitroglycerine.

Tropical humidity and legal concerns aside, the conditions for dissatisfaction are different.
In the United States, 10 per cent of the adults control 73 per cent of the wealth.

Here, the privileged group controls just 57 per cent, which translates to "only moderate inequality" in Credit Suisse's book.

Many, however, will take issue with "only" and "moderate".

Academics like SIM University's Dr Ho are quick to point out that "among the developed countries, we are at the very top" of the inequality stakes.

Based on numbers from the Central Intelligence Agency, Singapore is ranked 28th out of more than 100 countries on the Gini Index.

The higher the ranking, the greater the inequality.

Citigroup economist Kit Wei Zheng makes a sobering point about the lowest-earning 20 per cent here. For this group, in the first half of the noughties, "the rising Gini coefficient was partly due to declines in the absolute levels of wages", he says.

"While the period of fast growth in 2004-2007 did see wages for the bottom 20 per cent recover most of their earlier losses, wages of the rich rose much faster."

This means that the bottom 20 per cent of working folk have spent much of the last decade standing still - an unpalatable notion when the rest of Asia appears to be pelting ahead.

Stuck in the middle with you 

Mr Kit might have considered the plight of the working class and the prosperity of those flying First Class, but it is the condition of the middle class - this increasingly vocal and dissatisfied group - that is the most perplexing.

It is not clear what OWS's demographics are like, but in Singapore, the events of this year have been given over to middle-class angst, not proletarian anger.

"A concrete example of this discontent can be seen in the recent general election in which the PAP garnered its lowest percentage of votes . . . since Independence," says Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir, an assistant professor of sociology at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

"The main issues . . . are a combination of the rising cost of living in Singapore and the lower standard of living . . . linked to the large increase of migration into the country over the last few years."

Even if the issues are articulated, clarity does not necessarily follow in this relatively new examination of middle-class ennui.

"To better understand the extent of these anxieties, more rigorous research is needed," says Prof Kamaludeen.

Tan Ern Ser, associate professor of sociology at the National University of Singapore (NUS), readily lists the lamentations of the middle class: a higher probability of downward mobility while being caught between the duties of filial piety and the obligations of parenthood.

Does the whinging bear listening to? This is harder to answer.

"Whether the issues are valid depends on the standards they compare their lifestyles with. If they were to compare with their parents' generation, they would be very satisfied. But obviously, they don't. They expect to live the Singapore Dream, equivalent of the American Dream," says Prof Tan.
But the American Dream is in tatters now.

Maybe looking West no longer riles the middle class as much as looking upward does.

Says Mizuho economist Vishnu Varathan: "Being disgruntled is always a relative thing. More often than not, it is the middle class who tend to be more disgruntled. They tend to be slightly more educated and upwardly mobile, so they are frustrated when they see the guy earning the $1 million salary.

"They might not be badly off. They might be getting their $80,000 or $100,000 a year, but they're disgruntled because they think, 'Hey, I know almost as much as that guy does. Why is he getting the $1 million salary?'"

Incidentally, to have come within even wine-sniffing distance of the $1 million salary last year, you would have needed to be part of the proverbial top one per cent of tax-paying residents, according to data from the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore.

To be disgruntled about getting $80,000-100,000 a year, you would have to be unhappy about being in the top 28.37 per cent.

This excludes residents earning $20,000 or less and are therefore not taxed.

Why so glum, chum?

There is, however, the niggling worry about mobility.

Where this is concerned, experts struggle to be definitive on the matter, but it is clear which way they are leaning.

"Given my own research using limited Singapore data and an assessment of the political economy in Singapore, (my assessment) is that mobility is relatively low compared to other developed economies," says Irene Ng, assistant professor of social work at NUS.

Chia Wai Mun, assistant professor of economics at NTU, says that in Singapore, "there is a significant jump in the income and educational status of later generations relative to the earlier ones".

"However . . . intergenerational mobility . . . is low. Those whose parents were at the bottom tend to remain at the bottom and those whose parents were at the top tend to stay at the top."

It does not help either that even the asset-rich might not feel rich.

In the last quarter, residential property assets made up 50.2 per cent of total household assets here.

Says Citi's Mr Kit: "Having a large chunk of wealth plastered into your home may not necessarily be a good gauge of economic well-being, especially when there are limited avenues to monetise housing net wealth in Singapore."

Ultimately, the math of the middle class is a messy one.

But even the less mathematically rigorous endeavour of counting your blessings is hard when you do not have much time for it.

Last year, the average person in Singapore worked the most hours among developed countries, clocking 2,409 hours annually.

Norwegians worked just about half as hard: 1,414 hours.

Gallingly, Singaporeans were among the least productive, with the fourth-lowest gross domestic product per hour worked in purchasing power parity terms - while their restful Norwegian counterparts ranked first.

Whether cubicle drones here have themselves and Facebook-surfing to blame is as muddled as the larger issues that plague the middle class.

OWS is, on tangible terms, a shadow of itself.

Last month, police evicted protesters from Zuccotti Park, the movement's flagship site.

Thousands of protesters-turned-homeless people melted into the night with no place to go.

Singapore, with its 87.2 per cent home ownership rate among residents, will not find answers in OWS.

That does not mean, however, that the questions will go away.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

5 money lies that make us overspend

How many times have you wondered where that $50 in your wallet went, or why your wallet feels incredibly lighter, or why the numbers in your bank account are getting lower and lower.

Start thinking back to the last purchases that you've made, and you would probably say that you didn't really spend much at all. Or that you spent "smartly".

Sometimes, these "smart" ways of spending are actually what's causing you to lose money.

According to the website mintlife, we sometimes tell ourselves "money lies", or what it says are not too accurate statements to justify unnecessary purchases that lead to unneeded spending.

Find out what these top money lies are, according to the financial website, and how to fight back.

#1 "If I don't buy it now, I might miss out"

We usually say this when we see ads or banners screaming out "Last three days of sale" or "Sale! This weekend only!"

Who wouldn't be tempted, especially when they're coupled with statements like "Discount of up to 70 per cent off!"

A consumer adviser, Andrea Woroch, told the site that deals like this 'create a sense of urgency' among consumers who feel that if they don't grab the opportunity, they 'could miss out on the value later down the road'. That's why they end up buying items even when they don't particularly need them.

FIGHT BACK: Remind yourself that you don't need these items, and that sales like these happen all the time.

#2 "I need it"
Scenario: You see a cute top in the mall, or a high-end camera with better specs than the one you're using. In your head, you're thinking - I need that! I need that to keep up my appearance at work, or I need that to take better photos of my growing toddler. But do you really?

Dr. James Roberts, author of "Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don't Have in Search of Happiness We Can't Buy, tells mintlife: "Pretty much everything we buy is a discretionary purchase, not something we need."

FIGHT BACK: Dr Roberts' advice: Remember that the only things we truly need are food, shelter, and clothing. Remember though that this doesn't give you licence to splurge on lobster and truffles, an exorbitantly expensive property, or that Gucci frock that you swear had your name written on it when you saw it through the window.

Beyond the basics, spend only what you can truly afford. Make sure that you have the means to pay before splurging beyond what you really need.

#3 "I can always return it"

When shopping at a place with return policies, it's easy to think that if you change your mind after you purchase an item, you can always return it.

However, remember that not all stores have return policies, and those that do can be quite strict about the conditions of return, or will only give you in-store credit, or an exchange for items of the same price or less. Bottomline: You might not get your money back.

FIGHT BACK: Apart from buying only the items you need, if you really must return something, make sure you remember when you'll have to return it by, advises the website.

#4 "I should buy it since it's for charity"

A growing number of companies are saying that a portion of the proceeds from certain items will go to charity. And for most, this could easily be the tipping point to decide whether to buy an item or not.

FIGHT BACK: If you really don't need an item and you feel it's not worth it despite the charity tag, remember that you can always donate to the charity on your own whether you buy the item or not.

#5 "It's worth it for the freebies"

You're in the supermarket and you find out that you're about four dollars away from the minimum purchase needed to get a coupon that will go towards that pastry dish you've been eyeing. You then hurriedly try to see what you can buy to top up the amount to qualify for the coupon.

Sounds familiar? A lot of times, these impulse purchases can be completely unnecessary, or in the case of the extra bag of chocolates that you add to your shopping bag to meet the purchase amount, bad for your hips.

Or think about those times when you've seen items bundled together and proclaim it's discounted by a certain amount. You might only need one or two of the items in the bundle, but because you see the discount, you feel like you're getting a better deal.

FIGHT BACK: According to mintlife, you should not let the freebie sway your decision, particularly if you would not have paid good money for it on its own. Think about how much you would have paid for the items in the bundle that you would really use, and if it's worth more than the price of the bundle - don't buy it.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Medisave Required Amount increases to S$32,000 from Jan

SINGAPORE: From January next year, the Medisave Required Amount (MRA) will be raised to S$32,000, higher than the current S$27,500.

The MRA refers to the amount that must be set aside in the Medisave Account, after the CPF Minimum Sum requirement has been met.

Those who have met the CPF Minimum Sum and have a MRA shortfall at the point of withdrawal have to make a top-up to the Medisave Account with part of the balances from the Ordinary Account and/or Special Account to meet the prevailing MRA.

The Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board, which announced the change on Monday, also said members will continue to enjoy a risk-free interest rate of 4 per cent on their Special and Medisave Accounts (SMA) between January 1 and March 31, 2012.

The interest rate is also set at 4 per cent for the Retirement Account (RA) - from January 1 to December 31, 2012.

This is in line with the government's announcement made in September 2011 to maintain the 4 per cent per annum floor rate for interest earned on all SMA monies and RA monies until December 31, 2012.

The CPF Board said savings in the SMA currently earn either 4 per cent or the 12-month average yield of 10-year Singapore Government Securities (10YSGS) plus 1 per cent, whichever is the higher.

The interest rate on SMA savings is adjusted quarterly, based on interest rates on 10YSGS over a preceding 12-month period.

The average yield of the 10YSGS plus 1 per cent from December 1, 2010 to November 30, 2011, works out to be 3.19 per cent.

The SMA interest rate payable to CPF members from January 1 to March 31, 2012 will be maintained at the current floor of 4 per cent.

CPF members to enjoy 12% savings on HPS premiums

SINGAPORE: From January 2012, HDB homeowners will be paying lower premiums for the Home Protection Scheme (HPS).

Announcing this on his Facebook Page, Minister of State for Manpower and National Development Tan Chuan-Jin said the move will benefit 80 per cent of CPF (Central Provident Fund) members who are currently paying these annual premiums.

They will enjoy an average discount of about 12 per cent.

For example, a male member, aged 36 years old, who is servicing a S$150,000-housing loan from the Housing and Development Board for 25 years will pay a premium of S$195.30, instead of S$223.05 when he joins the scheme from 1 January.

That is a discount of 12 per cent.

Members who join the HPS scheme on or after 1 January will get to enjoy the new rates. Existing members paying annual HPS premiums will pay the lower premiums when they renew or adjust their HPS coverage on or after 1 January.

The HPS is a mortgage-reducing insurance scheme and has been around since 1981.

It protects CPF members and their families from losing their homes, should the CPF member become permanently incapacitated or pass away before their home loans are paid up. The key objective of HPS is to provide home protection to as many CPF members as possible.

Premiums can be paid from a member's CPF Ordinary Account savings.

The CPF Act was also recently amended to allow for the portability of HPS cover to a newly acquired property, meaning that CPF Board will waive the requirement of good health if the member's previous property was under HPS.

Mr Tan said he was glad this adjustment had been made.

He added: "It is important to keep HPS sustainable and affordable to members for the long term. While I hope that we will never ever need to file a claim from HPS, it is assuring to know that our family members are protected against losing their homes, should anything unfortunate happens to us."

It's not too late to reduce your taxes

ECONOMIC uncertainty and market turmoil may be making a lot of people nervous, but there's one thing that's still within our control: income taxes.

Don't take an approach to your taxes akin to a rudderless ship sailing uncontrollably into troubled waters.

As 2011 draws to a close, consider the following tax tips that are still available to you by Dec 31, 2011 to reduce your tax bill for the Year of Assessment 2012, which covers income earned in 2011.

These tax tips are general in nature.

You should review your own situation with a qualified tax adviser to see if it applies to you.

Claim applicable reliefs

Some types of tax relief are automatically granted and will appear in your tax return. Examples include earned income relief, NSman relief, topping up of your Central Provident Fund (CPF) account and contributions made to the Supplementary Retirement Scheme (SRS). You need not put in a claim for these when you file your tax return.

However, there are other tax reliefs which the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) will grant only if claimed for each year. You should consider if you qualify and make a claim if you do.

For instance, if you are a Singapore resident these would include spouse relief, child relief, parent relief and foreign maid levy relief for working women.

Both male and female taxpayers can claim for spouse relief if they are married, and if their wife or husband does not have annual income exceeding $4,000 in a year.

In addition, if you undertook educational courses, you can also claim a tax relief for fees incurred of up to $5,500 per year. Other reliefs to claim include the CPF top-up, CPF contributions for the self-employed, and contributions to the SRS.

Consider participating in the SRS if you have not done so. SRS is a voluntary retirement savings scheme and all you need to do is open an account with any one of the three SRS operators (DBS, OCBC and UOB) and make a contribution by Dec 31, 2011.

A cash contribution to your SRS account can help you enjoy a tax relief for the year in which you or your employer makes. However, take note that this is currently capped at $12,750 for Singaporeans and permanent residents, and $29,750 for foreigners.

Donation to approved charities

You can also claim tax deduction for cash donations made to an approved Institution of Public Character (IPC) or a Qualifying Grant-making Philanthropic Organisation. Besides cash, donations to IPCs can be in the form of Singapore-listed shares, unit trusts that are ready to trade in Singapore, as well as land and buildings.

The tax deduction for the Year of Assessment 2012 will be equal to 2.5 times the amount of donations made by Dec 31, 2011. If the tax deduction for the donation is more than the donor's income for the year, the donor is allowed to carry forward the un-utilised deductions for a maximum of five years.

From Jan 1, 2011, all IPCs are required to use the e-Submission of Donation to transmit tax-deductible donation information to IRAS. Individual donors therefore no longer need to claim for a tax deduction when they file their income tax returns as it will be granted automatically.

Donors are required to provide their Tax Reference Numbers (NRIC No/FIN) to IPCs for their transmission of this information to the tax authority. The IRAS no longer accepts claims for this tax deduction based on donation receipts.

Rental income from property

Owners of rental property should note that while the rental income is taxable, rental expenses to offset the rental income can be claimed.

There are different types of allowable deductible rental expenses. Some common examples include mortgage interest on the loan borrowed to purchase the property. Others include property tax, maintenance fees paid to the Management Corporation, fire insurance and general repairs or maintenance such as painting and pest control services.

For your first property you are renting out for the first time, certain expenses incurred to secure the first tenant are not allowable. Examples include any commission paid to the property agent as well as advertising and legal costs. Expenses incurred for securing subsequent tenants are deductible.

For any subsequent properties that you rent out, your property agent's commission, advertising and legal expenses are deductible against the rental income from these properties. This is even if incurred for securing the first tenant of the subsequent property. The cost incurred to renew a lease or secure the subsequent tenant is also deductible.

If you own several rental properties, rental losses from one property can be used to offset the income from another property.

Where the final amount from all the rental properties is a loss, you cannot offset the loss against income from other sources. You may, however transfer the loss to your spouse if he or she has positive rental income to absorb the loss.

Not Ordinarily Resident Scheme

If you are a non-resident of Singapore for three consecutive years before the year you become a Singapore resident, you can apply for the Not Ordinarily Resident (NOR) status for a five-year period commencing with the first year of residency.

What an NOR status means is that if you spend at least 90 days outside Singapore for business and your employment income is at least $160,000, you can apply for the concession of time-apportionment of employment income.

This means that you would not be taxed on the portion of employment income corresponding to the number of business days spent outside Singapore, subject to a minimum floor tax rate of 10 per cent. This tax rate is therefore the minimum you should expect.

If you qualify as an NOR taxpayer and meet this criteria, you should review your travel schedule to determine if you can apply for this time-apportionment concession.

Tax deduction for angel investors

You may also wish to consider the Angel Investors Tax Deduction Scheme, introduced in 2010, if applicable. This incentive applies to approved angel investors committing at least $100,000 in qualifying investment to a qualifying start-up in a given year.

The scheme was introduced to encourage eligible individuals to invest in start-up companies by providing them a tax relief for their efforts at providing management expertise, building business networks and so on. Investments have to be made during the period from March 1, 2010 to March 31, 2015 (both dates inclusive).

Approved investors can enjoy a tax deduction at the end of a two-year holding period equal to 50 per cent of their investment. The tax deduction will be subject to a cap of $500,000 of investments in each Year of Assessment.

To become an approved investor, you have to apply to Spring Singapore, which can also provide interested investors with more details about the scheme and its qualifying conditions.

Effective at tax planning requires that you stay abreast of any changes to the tax laws and regulations which may affect you. Alternatively, speak to a tax adviser to determine whether there are any changes or tax deductions besides those discussed which you can capitalise upon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Singapore's consumer confidence hits 2-year low in Nielsen survey

Consumer confidence in Singapore has fallen for the second consecutive quarter to a two-year low, amid growing worries of an economic recession.

The Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Index for Singapore fell nine points to 94 in the three months to September compared to the quarter before.

A number above 100 indicates positive consumer sentiment, while a figure below 100 indicates pessimism.

“Singaporean consumers turned into a more pessimistic group as the prospect of a prolonged global macroeconomic malaise became more pronounced. The continuing inflationary pressures and higher volatility in asset prices also contributed to a higher level of uncertainty among consumers, who are increasingly concerned about how to protect their wealth,” said Ms Grace Liu, head of consumer research at Nielsen Singapore.

The drop means Singapore is now only the 11th most confident country in the Asia-Pacific region, falling behind leaders India, Indonesia and the Philippines.

The number of people here who think that the country is already in an economic recession doubled to 24 percent in the past three months, from the previous quarter.

Personal Finance Hopes Hit

The survey was part of the Nielsen Global Online Survey, which polled more than 28,000 consumers in 56 countries throughout the Asia-Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and North America.

Perceptions here over job prospects and personal finances also took a beating.

“Consumers turned into a more pessimistic group over the third quarter, driven by uncertainty about the future course of the global economy, concerns over job security and other economic risks,” Liu said.

The top three concerns are the economy, job security and the increasing food prices. Consumers are also looking to preserve and grow their wealth, and are more restrained on spending.

Two-thirds of people here have indicated that they plan to put spare cash into savings, and 31 percent of consumers plan to invest in stocks or mutual funds, a considerably higher percentage compared to the global average of 18 percent.

This is also not a good time to buy things that they want or need, according to 65 percent of respondents here. This is a stark increase from the same period last year, where only 48 percent of consumers felt this way.

Big revamp of CDP system under way

Singapore Exchange's (SGX) Central Depository (CDP) system will soon see a radical overhaul, reported The Straits Times.

The CDP, which holds the shares of about 1.4 million individual investors here, will undergo a revamp which will take about three years to complete.

According to the report, one of the key changes that will be implemented will be to allow Singapore's stockbroking firms to gain access to a client's CDP account. With the client's permission, they will be able to find out exactly what stocks are in his portfolio. This will put brokers in a better position to give their client advice on how to tweak their portfolios in response to market movement.

In 1987, when stock trading went paperless, broking firms became unable to access this information in order to assure investors that their shares would be safe with a central depository system. However, SGX chief Magnus Bocker told The Straits Times that this is now "out of sync with the practice in most developed stock markets worldwide".

Other changes will include new computer hardware and software that will cut down on the paperwork generated with transactions performed by an investor. With the new system, they can choose to get statements online instead of receiving mailers.

This is part of an effort by SGX to update its ageing infrastructure, with the CDP currently using 20-year-old technology.

Fitch downgrades seven global banks

Fitch Ratings, the third-biggest of the major credit rating agencies, downgraded seven global banks based in Europe and the United States, citing "increased challenges" in the financial markets.

Fitch cut long-term ratings on Barclays Plc and Credit Suisse AG, by two notches to 'A' from 'AA-.'

The agency cut by one notch its long-term ratings on Bank of America Corp, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank AG and Goldman Sachs Group.

The financial market challenges the banks face "result from both economic developments as well as a myriad of regulatory changes," Fitch said in an announcement issued shortly after regular market hours in New York.

In a separate announcement about the downgrade of Citigroup, Fitch cited "policy momentum" against using taxpayer money to support banks during a crisis.

Fitch's actions follow downgrades by Standard & Poor's of several major banks at the end of last month. S&P's moves came as part of an overhaul of its ratings methods to incorporate lessons learned in the financial crisis. Moody's also issued downgrades recently.

Jerry Dubrowski, a spokesman for Bank of America, which has had ratings cut by all three agencies, said in an email, "This decision is driven more by concerns about the global economy than the specific credit quality of Bank of America. We continue to maintain strong liquidity levels and to build capital."
Fitch on Thursday also affirmed its long-term 'A' ratings on JPMorgan Chase & Co, Morgan Stanley and UBS AG , as well as its 'A+' rating on Societe Generale.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Singapore economy to slow to 3% in 2012: MAS survey

SINGAPORE - Singapore's economy will grow by 3.0 per cent in 2012, slowing from an expected 5.2 per cent in 2011 as the global economy and financial services sector cool, according to central bank's survey of private economists released on Wednesday.

The median forecast is at the upper end of the government's growth forecast range of 1-3 per cent for 2012.

The survey also expects the Singapore dollar to strengthen to $1.23 against the US dollar by the end of 2012 from an estimate of S$1.28 by the end of the year. It traded around $1.31 at 0300 GMT.

Asian economies have slowed in recent months, hurt by the euro zone debt crisis that has resulted in weaker demand for the region's exports.

The survey showed that growth in financial services sector in Singapore, which is one of Asia's biggest wealth management centre, is expected to slow to 4.2 per cent in 2012 from a forecast of 9.4 per cent in 2011.

According to the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) latest Survey of Professional Forecasters, economists now expect inflation in the city state to ease to 3.1 per cent next year from 5.1 per cent in 2011.

Singapore, like many Asian countries, is grappling with high inflation even as growth slows because of troubles in Western countries.

Economists in the survey have cut their forecast for this year's growth slightly to 5.2 per cent from 5.3 per cent in the previous survey in September.

Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in the October-December quarter of this year is now expected to be 4.4 per cent year-on-year, compared with 5.9 per cent in the previous survey.

For 2012, growth in financial services is expected to slow to 4.2 per cent from a forecast of 9.4 per cent in 2011.

Last month the Singapore government warned that the city-state's economy could contract in fourth-quarter growth, while 2012 GDP growth is likely to slow due to the weakness in the western economies.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Job hopes 'poorer' in first quarter of next year

A new survey of Singapore employers has found that job prospects in the first three months of next year are looking sharply weaker as the economy slows.

Only about one in five employers surveyed plans to add staff, far lower than the one in three in the current quarter, according to the latest Manpower Employment Outlook Survey by US-based recruitment firm Manpower.

This is the weakest figure since the end of 2008, and comes on the back of a bleak economic growth forecast for next year of just 1 per cent to 3 per cent expansion.

Employers planning to cut staffing levels jumped to 5 per cent from just 2 per cent this quarter. The survey found the best bets in the weakening jobs market are civil service positions, education jobs and those in real estate, finance and insurance.

Employment Pass rules: Foreigners, firms gear up for changes

With less than three weeks before stricter qualifying criteria for the Employment Pass (EP) kick in, some foreign job-seekers are prepared to settle for lower-level permits which come with less pay.

Some current EP holders are also feeling jittery about their chances of renewing their passes when they expire.

Some recruitment agencies have noticed a dip in approval rates for renewals before the new requirements take effect.

From next year, the minimum salary level for Q1 pass-holders, the lowest rung of EP, will be raised to $3,000, from $2,800. Older applicants will have to earn even more to qualify. 

Changes to framework from Jan 1
Q1 PASS: Applicants will have to earn a minimum monthly salary of $3,000, up from $2,800
  • To qualify, young graduates must be from good institutions and earn at least $3,000, among other conditions.

  • Older applicants will have to command higher salaries to qualify, commensurate with the work experience and quality they are expected to bring.
P2 PASS: The qualifying salary will be bumped up to $4,500, from $4,000

P1 PASS: No change in the qualifying salary, which remains at $8,000

  • Before next Jan 1: They will get a one-time renewal of up to two years based on the pre-July EP criteria (in which the lowest qualifying salary was $2,500).
  • Between next Jan 1 and June 30: They will get a one-time renewal of up to one year on the existing EP criteria.
  • On or after next July 1: The new EP criteria will apply.

Bankers net highest pay increase this year: survey

Bankers received the highest average salary increases last year, according to a survey by global management consultancy Hay Group.

A survey it conducted in September 2011, covering over 480 Singapore-based companies (local and foreign-owned) from both the private and public sectors, revealed that the top three sectors with the highest salary increases (excluding pay freeze) are Banking and Financial Services (7.0 per cent), Transportation (4.9 per cent) and Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) (4.6 per cent).

Actual average salary increases (excluding pay freeze) are 4.4 per cent for 2011 while average salary increases for 2012 are forecasted at 4.4 per cent.

Mr Victor Chan, Regional General Manager (Singapore and ASEAN) for Productized Services, Hay Group, said: "Traditionally, the market trend around actual and forecast for salaries indicates a higher salary forecast for the following year. This time around, we've observed that the forecast is stagnant. Although the outlook for 2012 is less optimistic, the tight labour market in Singapore will nevertheless ensure that salary increments remain positive."

In terms of bonuses, the report (Bracing for an unpredictable economy) showed that the actual average variable bonus (i.e. performance-based bonuses excluding annual wage supplement, contractual bonuses) is 2.7 months for a 12-month period. This is slightly more than the average of 2.3 months in 2010.

Senior management will have something to cheer about this festive period, receiving the highest average bonus payout of 3.6 months. Middle management will look forward to 2.8 months, the second highest average bonus payout, while junior professionals and clerical support will receive an average bonus payout of 2.4 months and 2.2 months respectively.

The forecast average variable bonus payout is 2.7 months for the coming 12 months.

As a reflection of the downward business sentiment, only 46 per cent of the surveyed organisations plan to increase staffing levels by five to 10 per cent, compared to 62 per cent this time last year.

According to the report, the employee group in high demand are technical specialists (62 per cent) and junior professionals (47 per cent). Middle mnagement is seeing the highest cutback among the groups at 35 per cent.

Going by job functions, the main focus of recruitment is on Engineering (30 per cent), Sales (29 per cent), Finance & Accounting (27 per cent) and Administration/Support Service (27 per cent).

In its report today, Hay Group said that for companies to thrive in the current global economic uncertainty, companies have to differentiate their reward and employee engagement initiatives for high-performing talent.

"In light of the subdued economic outlook, companies are looking once again at how to do more with less. Hence, having employees who are willing to go the extra mile is critical for business success.

However, their discretionary efforts will be wasted if companies do not support them for success e.g. by removing red-tape, providing adequate resources. Otherwise, their additional efforts will not translate into business results," said Mr Chan.

The survey also showed that talent retention is still a major focus for companies, with 88 per cent of surveyed organisations looking into retaining and engaging their workforce.

Revised fares hit cabbies' takings

COMFORTDELGRO taxi drivers reported a drop in daily takings of at least 20 per cent yesterday, the first day the company's revised fares kicked in.

Cabbies my paper spoke to lamented that some passengers avoided getting into their taxis as a result of the fare revision.

"Even though they see that our cabs are empty, they choose to board those of other companies," said cabby S. L. Chua.

The 50-year-old, who has been a taxi driver for more than a decade, said his earnings yesterday had been "significantly" affected by the fare changes.

"Typically, I could easily make up to 20 trips in a day. But this morning, I had to go around hunting for passengers," he said.

Cabby Teh Kok Wah, 58, said he barely made enough money yesterday to cover the daily rental of his taxi and diesel costs of about $120.

"It is a lose-lose situation for both the passengers and us. They end up having to pay more while we see fewer people taking our cabs," he explained.

Even during the evening rush hour, cabbies said they faced similar difficulties.

When asked how business had been affected yesterday, ComfortDelGro spokesman Tammy Tan said that it was "too early to say".

ComfortDelGro's taxi companies, Comfort Transportation and CityCab, manage a fleet of about 15,700 taxis. Drivers of other taxi operators, too, reported a drop in earnings yesterday.

Trans-cab cabby H. W. Wong, 58, said: "When the biggest player increases prices, the passengers assume that all the cabs are charging higher fares and so avoid them altogether."

However, cabbies said they expect the situation to stabilise within the next two weeks, once passengers get used to the changes.

They also pointed out that December has traditionally been a slow period due to the school holidays, when people go on vacation.

However, it being the festive season, "people are in a festive mood and won't mind spending, so a clearer picture will emerge after Chinese New Year next year", said Mr Teh.

Yesterday, SMRT, the third-largest operator with some 4,000 taxis, also announced changes to its fare structure.

When contacted, two of the four other taxi companies said they are monitoring the situation.

Trans-cab and Smart Taxi said they are in discussions with their drivers to review their fares.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

COE prices for cars fall

Premiums for certificates of entitlement (COEs) for cars fell at the end of Wednesday's open bidding exercise.

Prices for small cars (1,600cc and below, and taxis) dipped to $52,392 from $54,887 in the last bidding in November, a 4.5 per cent drop.

The open category, usually used for cars, also saw a two per cent dip to $75,889 from $74,340.

The biggest drop was reserved for the big car category (above 1,600cc). Prices fell 6.5 per cent to $72,350.

Commercial vehicle premiums slided marginally to $40,189 from $40,009.

Motorcycle premiums did not move much at $1,902 from $1,889, a 0.7 per cent change.

Singapore property shares plunge on gov't cooling move

SINGAPORE - Shares of Singapore property developers fell sharply on Thursday after the government announced new measures to cool the city-state's housing market.

CapitaLand Ltd shares fell as much as 6.5 per cent to S$2.44 while smaller rival City Developments Ltd fell 7.6 per cent to S$9.26 and Wing Tai Holdings was down 6.5 per cent at S$1.00.

Shares of Ho Bee Investment Ltd, which develops high-end condominiums in Singapore, tumbled by as much as 12.1 per cent to S$1.09.

Singapore said on Wednesday foreigners who buy private homes will have to pay an additional stamp duty equal to 10 per cent of the property value.

Analysts said they expect developers with greater exposure to high-end luxury apartments to face more pressure because as foreign buyers make up a large chunk of their sales.

"We believe each of the key residential demand drivers, foreign buying, job creation and credit availability, will likely see signs of softness," Goldman Sachs said in a report.

It added that this could lead to a 15 per cent decline in home prices over the next 18 months with the prime segment facing more immediate pressure as foreign buyers pull back.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

S'poreans reminded to sign up for Growth Dividend

SINGAPORE: Letters will be sent out from December 7 to remind Singaporeans aged 21 and above to sign up for the Growth Dividend this year.

They must do so by 31 December 2011, said the Finance Ministry.

This can be done either online or at any community centre.

Grassroots leaders will also be visiting one- to three-room HDB flats to help the elderly and low-income Singaporeans sign up for their payouts.

Eligible Singaporeans can sign up online at the "Grow & Share" website

Alternatively, they may complete the "Grow & Share" form available at any community centre, Community Development Council or CPF Service Centre. All forms should reach CPF Board before 31 December 2011.

What lies ahead for SMEs

SINGAPORE: Caution ahead! The sign seems to what most small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Singapore see on the horizon.

The findings of the 9th annual SME Development Survey which were shared during a conference co-sponsored by HSBC Singapore, indicated that SMEs seem more aware of the potential for another downturn and the need for financial strength.

Ms Ong Siew Kim, general manager of DP Information Group, however noted that despite the low confidence level that impacted overseas expansion, SMEs should push beyond the familiarity of the local market to seize opportunities presented by regional as well as global markets as part of their overall long term strategy.

Other findings revealed – plans to freeze new hire in the year ahead, with the proportion of SMEs reducing human capital in the year ahead doubling, as opposed to the 2010 increase in hiring activities. The report further reveals that fewer SMEs are looking to invest in staff training and development. The conclusion is backed by WDA’s training scheme Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (SPUR) in November 2010 which has seen SMEs’ investment in staff training take a backset.

The survey conducted between May and August this year among some 2,504 SMEs also found that only those in the information & communications sector plan to invest in staff training, while more companies in general, intend to employ higher skilled workers as part of their manpower strategies.

Given that budgets for technology innovation and staff training are being reduced, the survey also found that expansionary expenditure like branding and advertising strategies are less important.

Association urges other taxi operators to follow fare revision

The National Taxi Association (NTA) has urged the five other taxi operators in Singapore -- Trans-Cab, SMRT, Premier, Smart and Prime, to follow ComfortDelGro's fare revision, The Straits Times said on Tuesday.

The NTA represents taxi drivers here and currently has more than 11,000 members.

It said this would help to defray rising costs of operation, for example, higher diesel prices, and increase the annual income of taxi drivers.

NTA president Wee Boon Kim said drivers are expected to make about $6 or $7 more under the new fare structure.

Other firms say they have not decided whether to revise their fares, and will make a decision after seeking feedback from their drivers.

The report added that SMRT Taxis will consider a fare revision as drivers' operating costs have increased since the last fare revision in 2007.

ComfortDelGro explained the reason behind the revision by pointing to how "strong population growth and an increase in tourist arrivals" have led to a significant increase in demand for taxis throughout the day -- even during "off-peak" hours, The Straits Times said.

Monday, December 5, 2011

ComfortDelGro to revise cab fares

TAXI fares for many commuters are likely to go up from Monday after Singapore's largest taxi operator, ComfortDelGro, revises its fare structure.

The company said yesterday in a statement that its new fare structure will include reductions in the peak-hour surcharge. For example, the $1 public-holiday surcharge will be removed.

But, at the same time, peak periods will be extended, and will also include those during weekends and public holidays. For example, the evening city- area surcharge will be applied on Sundays and public holidays.

The last taxi-fare adjustment was done in December 2007.

"Since then, taxi drivers have had to cope with higher costs of living as a result of inflation," said the statement.

ComfortDelGro said the introduction of SMS and smartphone taxi-booking services in the past three years had greatly increased taxi-booking demand.

ComfortDelGro now handles 2.4 million bookings a month, up 47 per cent from 2007.

To cater for the high booking demand, the peak period will start at 6am and end at 9.30am on weekdays.

Current call-booking charges will be reduced by 20 cents - from $3.50 to $3.30 - during the peak period and from $2.50 to $2.30 at all other times.

ComfortDelGro's taxi companies, Comfort Transportation and CityCab, manage a fleet of about 15,700 taxis.


Daily Market 6 Dec 2011

Global Markets

Standard & Poor's said Germany and France may be stripped of their AAA credit ratings as the debt crisis prompts 15 euro nations to be put on review for possible downgrade.

The euro area's six AAA rated countries are among the nations to be placed on a negative outlook, and their credit ratings may be cut depending on the result of a summit of European Union leaders on Dec. 9, S&P said today in a statement. The euro reversed its gains and U.S. Treasuries rose earlier today after the Financial Times reported that the credit-ranking firm planned to reduce six AAA outlooks.
Systemic stress in the eurozone has risen in recent weeks and reached such a level that a review of all eurozone sovereign ratings is warranted,? S&P said in a statement. The downgrade warnings come as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy push for a rewrite of the EU's governing rules to tighten economic cooperation in a demonstration of unity on ending the debt crisis. With the fate of the currency shared by the 17 euro countries at risk, Merkel and Sarkozy presented a common platform for a Dec. 8-9 summit of EU leaders in Brussels that aims to halt the crisis now in its third year.

The S&P move is yet another signal that euro area countries must take decisive action to deal with the crisis or else the problems will spread from Greece and others with the most acute fiscal problems to the rest of the euro zone, said Phillip Swagel, a professor of economics at the University of Maryland's School of Public Policy who was an assistant Treasury secretary for economic policy in the George W. Bush administration. It is time for Germany and France to act -- either to save Greece and the others or to let them fail.


Treasuries fell for a second day after Germany and France said they want new European Union rules on borrowing limits and penalties for deficit violators to curb the region?s debt crisis.   The plans, including a permanent rescue fund in 2012, support forecasts for yields to rise as the European and U.S. economies improve. Benchmark 10-year rates will increase 36 basis points by June 30, according to a Bloomberg survey of banks and securities companies. Treasuries have fluctuated this year in response to developments in Europe, sending 10-year rates to a record low of 1.67 percent on Sept. 23 as investors sought the relative safety of American debt.


Australia, the third-largest wheat exporter, is set for a record harvest and shipments this year after late winter and spring rain boosted yield prospects,
according to a revised outlook from a government forecaster.  Output may total 28.3 million metric tons in 2011-2012, 8 percent more than a September estimate of 26.2 million tons
and compared with last year?s revised record crop of 27.9 million tons, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences said today. Exports may be a record 21.6 million tons, from the 20.4 million tons estimated in September.   A second record Australian harvest may help extend wheat's 23 percent slump this year as global output expands and Russia lifted an almost yearlong export ban on July 1. The grain is heading for its biggest annual decline since 2008, helping to ease global food costs that reached a record in February.

U.S. Supplies
Wheat for March delivery on the Chicago Board of Trade was little changed at $6.1125 per bushel at 8:41 a.m. in Singapore. Futures fell 2.2 percent yesterday, the most in two weeks, on signs that demand is declining for U.S. supplies.    World wheat production will gain 5.3 percent to 683.3 million tons, the second-biggest crop ever, according to the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. Global food costs tracked by a Food & Agriculture Organization gauge, which peaked at 237.68 in
February, fell to 216.1 in October.

Cotton Production
Cotton production in Australia, the third-largest exporter, may reach a record 1.1 million tons, in line with September's forecast, according to the report. Production totaled 898,000
tons in 2010-2011, boosted by rainfall, the bureau said.   Output may surge as much as 25 percent to an all-time high after floods boosted water supplies and spurred record plantings,
producers? group Cotton Australia said last month.     La Nina-linked wet weather brought record rainfall to parts of eastern Australia last year, ending drought and replenishing
dams used for irrigating cotton crops, which are planted in about November and mostly harvest from April.

Canola production is forecast at 2.5 million tons in 2011-2012, up from 2.3 million tons predicted in September. Output may total a record 2.63 million tons, the Australian Oilseeds
Federation said Nov. 15.      The bureau raised its forecast for barley production to 8.5 million tons from 8.3 million tons in September and a revised 8.1 million tons in the previous year.


Yen Gains Versus Major Peers as Asia Stocks Drop on S&P Warning.

The yen rose against its major counterparts as Asian stocks declined after Standard & Poor's put 15 European nations on watch for potential downgrades, boosting demand for the currency as a refuge.

The yen gained 0.3 percent to 103.96 per euro as of 10:23 a.m. in Tokyo. It strengthened 0.1 percent to 77.74 against the dollar.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Italy backs urgent measures to avoid bankruptcy

ROME (AFP) - Italy's cabinet on Sunday adopted a package of tax hikes, budget cuts and pension reforms worth 20 billion euros (S$34.4 billion) in a rush to avoid a bankruptcy that threatens to bring down the euro zone.

'This is a decree to save Italy,' Prime Minister Mario Monti said at a press conference after the cabinet meeting, adding: 'This is a moment in which Italy risks being responsible for helping to drag down the economy of Europe.'

Italy will 'put its deficit and debt under strong control' so that the country is 'not seen as a suspicious flash point by Europe,' he said. He also warned that Italians had to make 'sacrifices' and said he was renouncing his own salary as prime minister in a gesture of solidarity.

The three-year package includes a controversial pension reform that will increase the minimum pension age for women to 62 starting next year and fall into line with men by 2018, by which time both will retire at 66.

Italy set to enter recession in 2012, says deputy minister

ROME (AFP) - Deputy Economy Minister Vittorio Grilli said on Sunday Italy was set to enter a recession in 2012, with Gross Domestic Product predicted to shrink by 0.4 to 0.5 per cent.

Italy's growth should level out again by 2013, he added during a press conference following the adoption by the cabinet of a draconian package aimed at pulling the country back from the brink of insolvency.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Singapore to become a premium car market?

High-end names such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz are expected to make up for more than half of new cars sales next year, according to a Straits Times report today.

This is due to the lower number of certificates of entitlement available next year, which predetermines the number of cars sold.

The paper reported that the motor industry is "expecting next year's supply to shrink to between 26,000 and 28,000, from around 30,000 this year, 42,000 last year and an average of 100,000 a year between 2004 and 2008."

With a smaller supply in future COE numbers, are car prices expected to increase again?

Already, a restricted supply this year have caused COE prices to rise to more than $50,000 for cars up to 1,600cc and more than $70,000 for bigger cars, according to the report's figures.

And higher COE prices will naturally favour sales of premium cars rather than bread-and-butter brands like Toyotas and Hyundais, the paper said.

Mr David Ting, deputy editor of motoring magazine Torque, told the paper that buyers and sellers of such premium cars "are better able to stomach expensive COEs than those of mass market brands".

In short, this group is less affected by prices. The COE price forms a smaller percentage of the price of a premium make as compared to a mass-market make.

At today's prices, an average 1,600cc Japanese car is more than $100,000.

Coupled with the premium makes expanding their model range (some even into the Cat A category), lowering prices and investing more in marketing and advertising, the German makes have overtook the Japanese names, Mr Ting explained.

He was quoted by the paper as saying: "I think this might be the 'new normal' going forward."

Friday, December 2, 2011

Big bargains at Johor Premium Outlets? Not so, Singaporeans find

Friday's rain did not deter hundreds of Singaporeans who took an hour's drive to Johor Premium Outlets (JPO) in search of designer goods at high street prices.

But shoppers at the 16,258 sq m mall in Kulaijaya, which opened on Friday with most of the planned 80 stores up and running, went away with only a bag or two of purchases.

Singaporeans whom The Straits Times spoke to at the mall said the discounts were not as steep as those at outlet malls in the United States and Europe, even though JPO shops gave discounts of up to 70 per cent on selected products.

For example, Zegna ties, which cost $290 each at the boutique in Takashimaya, were about 55 per cent less at RM315 (S$130). High heels from Salvatore Ferragamo, which typically sell for $790 here, cost RM1,040 (S$430).

Teacher Y.L. Tan, 36, said: 'If we wait for things to go on sale in Singapore, they are about the same price.'

High-end cars winning market race as COE supply shrinks

Premium brands are expected to account for more than half of new car sales next year as the certificate of entitlement (COE) supply shrinks to an all-time low and prices remain high.

Already, these brands, ranging from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi to Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce, are poised to garner about 46 per cent of sales this year.

This is up from 33 per cent last year and below 10 per cent in the past several decades.

Audi Singapore managing director Reinhold Carl predicted: 'The premium brands will account for more than half of new car sales next year.'
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