Thursday, October 27, 2011

Markets surge after eurozone summit deal

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Europe's ground-breaking deal to save its single currency sent markets soaring and bolstered the euro Thursday as analysts queried whether the masterplan to put paid to the debt crisis would stand the test of time.

After an unprecedented marathon of talks, involving two EU and two eurozone summits in just four days, Europe's leaders in the small hours Thursday agreed a new rescue of Greece, a trillion-euro (S$1.75 trillion) bailout fund, and cut a deal squeezing banks to share the burden of the two-year debt crisis.

"We have done what needed doing," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

News of the deal sent markets surging, with stocks in Paris and Milan up five per cent in mid-afternoon trade and the euro hitting a seven-week high against the dollar.

"Decisions have been made in Europe, and even if we are short on detail Europe's leaders are talking the right game and the markets seem to like it," said Kathleen Brooks, an analyst at traders

With the deal reached, IMF chief Christine Lagarde welcomed "substantial progress", but European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet warned that "all of this now requires a lot of work and a lot of quick work."

Analysts likewise welcomed the deal by European Union leaders, repeatedly accused of doing too little too late in the face of a festering two-year crisis, that after claiming Greece, Ireland and Portugal threatens Europe's third and fourth economies, Italy and Spain.

EU institions and governments "now seem more determined to get ahead of the crisis curve," said Janis Emmanouilidis of the European Policy Centre. "But it is by no means clear whether the final package will be able to boost confidence and provide orientation in the weeks and months to come."

Russia said the deal was grounds for "cautious optimism" to hold off dangers on the global front while China pledged faith in the eurozone and confirmed that President Hu Jintao would speak to French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy later Thursday.

And Beijing, like Moscow, reiterated it would likely take a stake in the European rescue fund through the IMF, a sign that emerging economies plan to to play a larger role in the world economy.

As talks dragged on for almost 10 hours overnight in Brussels, the last and perhaps toughest chapter in the four-point plan was a deal between eurozone leaders and the Institute of International Finance banking lobby to force private investors to take a 50 per cent loss on Greece's debt.

In backroom drama, Sarkozy and Merkel broke off from the summit to save the day and cut a deal with the head of the banking lobby, Charles Dallara.

"We said it was our last word, our last offer," said Merkel of Europe's threats to allow Greece to default failing an agreement with the banks.

"Not only the future of Greece but the future of Europe was at stake," said Deutsche Bank chief Josef Ackermann after negotiating the write-down in his role as chairman of the IFF.

The deal aims to slice a whopping 100 billion euros off the 350-billion-euro debt pile hampering Greece, which also approved an accord for a 100-billion-euro loan over the next three years.

But financial analysts said they were waiting to see if all banks would sign on. "We still have no confirmation of the extent of the voluntary takie-up said Azad Zangana, of Schroders Quickview.

Prime Minister George Papandreou, hailed "a new era, a new chapter" for Greece, which triggered a crisis threatening to trigger global recession.

To address that danger, eurozone leaders agreed to boost their debt rescue fund to one trillion euros.

The firepower of the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) is to be leveraged up between four- and five-fold using clever financial footwork, to avoid increasing commitments from member states as taxpayers in countries such as Germany complain of pouring money into a bottomless hole.

The EFSF will provide risk insurance on new bonds issued by fragile governments in a bid to reassure investors.

A second fund, linked to the EFSF, will be created to attract private and public investors, including the likes of China and Russia. The investment vehicle might be linked to the International Monetary Fund.

Proposals for international help came as global powers pressed European leaders to come up with a lasting solution to the debt crisis before a G20 summit in France on November 3 and 4.

With fears growing that the debt drama will turn into a banking system meltdown, European leaders also struck a deal to force banks to recapitalise at a summit of the 27-nation EU that preceded the eurozone talks.

The European Banking Authority said banks would need 106 billion euros to fulfill the requirements.
Across Europe Thursday, major lenders, fearing government meddling and even nationalisations, said they could readily raise the capital without state help. With fears of contagion hitting Italy, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi came to the summit with a detailed list of pledges to cut his country's 1.9-trillion-euro debt.

"Whilst we expect markets to be jubilant as we enter the new year, questions remain as to the longer term solvency of some peripheral euro-zone countries," said Mike Turner of Global Strategy and Asset Allocation.

Mothering a child with a terminal illness

How do you mother a child with a terminal illness?

With the same unconditional love, and more, that you would give a healthy one.

But for Mrs Sandra Fairclough, the pain of mothering her sick daughter is so intense she sometimes wishes her daughter had cancer instead of her current illness.

"There's nothing good about having cancer," says the 50-year-old, whose heart goes out to Ms Cynthia Lim, mother of six-year-old Charmaine.

Yesterday, The New Paper reported on how Charmaine lost her two-year fight against cancer, which studded her with tumours and filled her mouth with blood.

"It's very tiring for any mother in that position. It's physically, mentally and emotionally draining.

But at least the doctors can immediately tell you the good, the bad and the ugly," says Mrs Fairclough.

"They can give you timelines, how much time you have with your child."

But that's not the case with 13-year-old Chelsea, who suffers from brainstem hemangioma-inoperable - there are lesions in her brainstem, the most compact and important part of the brain, which bleed.

For Chelsea, multiple bleeds have left her paralysed neck down since she was nine years old.

Ticking clock

Other patients suffer from vision problems, loss of facial functions, loss of consciousness and other cognitive and physical deficits.

It is a terminal illness, and in Chelsea's case, she could die anytime.

Mrs Fairclough, a Briton who has lived here for the past 17 years, describes the illness to The New Paper on Sunday: "Your nerves in your brainstem are like 1,000 strands of spaghetti, each one carrying a signal to a certain part of the body.

"Too much water causes the spaghetti to break. In the same way, with more and more bleeds or breaks, Chelsea loses more and more functions in her body.

"One day, there might be so much damage that she can't recover and she dies."

When will this day come?

"That's the thing, you don't know. If you don't know, it's more terrifying," she says.

But she's far from fatalistic about it.

She's focused on letting Chelsea live her life to the fullest.

"I have to drive her to rebellion"

Chelsea likes reading, painting, and beat boxing. And like many other teenagers, she's into Facebook, thinks of doing "rebellious things" like getting a tattoo, and loves watching the Vampire Diaries.

But there're some differences.

Because Chelsea is paralysed from neck down, she needs people to turn book pages for her and paints with the wheels of her wheelchair.

Mrs Fairclough logs onto Chelsea's Facebook page on her behalf, and if Chelsea decides to get a tattoo, she will have to convince her mother to drive her to the parlour.

She says, with a laugh: "I literally have to drive her to rebellion. And unlike other mums of teenagers, I don't have to worry about what my child is doing online since I have full access."

Judging from Mrs Fairclough's energy, positiveness and wit, one can hardly tell how challenging the past 13 years have been for her and her family.

She runs a training and consulting company and is married to a computer consultant. They have two other children, aged 10 and 15, who are healthy.

Chelsea was born normal, but within the first six months of her life, she had undergone three surgeries.

By the time she celebrated her first birthday, she had spent 110 days in an intensive care unit at the KK Women's and Children's Hospital.

Fighting against the odds

Between her first and third birthdays, she had been hospitalised more than 10 times as the brainstem lesions affected various organs including her lungs and stomach.

She weighed just 8kg when she was three years old.

Looking at their child, who at that time tired easily and walked with a limp, Mrs Fairclough and her husband made a decision.

"You either hold your breath and hold your child real tight, or you let her experience all that she can in life. It was a real leap of faith for us," says Mrs Fairclough, adding that she's glad that Chelsea's condition stabilised enough when she was between three and eight years old, allowing her to swim, swing on a trapeze, do ballet and ride a horse.

"That was a wonderful period in Chelsea's life, and it brought me great joy to let her enjoy her life.

She got to be herself."

But Chelsea started to get weaker and tired easily from the time she was nine years old. That year, she became paralysed but her family assumed the loss of function would come back.

"It always had," says Mrs Fairclough.

However, Chelsea did not get better. Soon after, her breathing had to be assisted. A tracheostomy - an operative procedure that creates a surgical airway in the cervical trachea - was needed.

Mrs Fairclough resisted this initially, as there was a possibility that Chelsea would lose her ability to speak.

"How was I to communicate with her then?" she asks.

Mother and daughter worked out a way of communicating using eye signals.

Whisper of courage

Just before theoperation, the nurse asked Mrs Fairclough: "Have you recorded Chelsea's voice? You must."

"So I recorded this crazy conversation for all of us to always remember what she sounds like," she recalls.

The operation was a success, although it resulted in her voice being reduced to a mere whisper.

"My whisper has courage because it's all I've got. It's my only way to speak. The courage comes out through my whispers," says Chelsea, who enjoys expressing herself through her blog ( and her art.

Says Mrs Fairclough: "What she has achieved is phenomenal. As a parent, you spend a huge amount of time asking, 'Why me?' But that's a very unproductive position to be in.

"Chelsea is suffering, not me. My job is to help her. At some point, I'll suffer enormously if she dies. But until that day, I haven't lost anything."

She believes that the experience of having a disabled child has humbled her and made her a better person.

"People say, 'I don't know how you do it.' It's true, you don't. Until you have to step up, you've no idea what you can do and how much strength you have," she says.

Remaining positive

"Everyone wants a perfect, easy life. But I won't trade this for anything. The reality is that my children have created my life, and they are amazing."

Chelsea quips: "I don't want to be boring and normal. I want to be awesome and different."
The road ahead remains rough for mother and daughter. But Chelsea is positive.

"Yes, I get frustrated. But there's no use getting frustrated. I don't know what I want to be, but I just know I have to always move forward and move on," she says.

It's the same with Mrs Fairclough, who celebrates every little triumph in Chelsea's life. On good days, Chelsea can move the index finger of her right hand.

So instead of exchanging fist pumps, mother and daughter exchange finger pumps instead.

Referring to the friendly alien's magical healing finger, Chelsea says as she leans her finger to touch her mother's: "ET phone home."

Friday, October 21, 2011

Small percentage of S'poreans use CPF for parents' medical fees

Less than five per cent of Singaporeans with Central Provident Fund (CPF) accounts used these funds to pay for their parents' healthcare expenses in 2010.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong revealed these figures in Parliament on Friday, in response to a parliamentary question by Non-Constituency Member Gerald Giam, who had asked for these figures.

Mr Gan said in 2010, there were around two million working Singaporeans with CPF accounts, and among them 80,000 used their CPF to pay for their parents' medical fees. If older CPF members were excluded from the figures, the proportion would be slightly higher.

Singaporeans withdrew $732 million from their Medisave accounts in 2010, of which 18 per cent was used to pay for their parents' treatment.

Eurozone agrees to unlock 8b euro loan for Greece

BRUSSELS: Eurozone finance ministers on Friday agreed to unlock an eight-billion-euro slice of aid to help debt-laden Greece, EU diplomats said.

Ministers of the 17-nation eurozone "have given their agreement for the sixth tranche of aid to Greece," the diplomat said, referring to debt funding provided in a 110-billion-euro rescue package for Greece agreed in May 2010.

A second diplomat confirmed the breakthrough.

The tranche of aid is crucial for debt-stricken Greece which faced running out of money to pay civil servants and pensions in mid-November.

It had been blocked since mid-September as a team of EU, European Central Bank and International Monetary Auditors scrutinised the Greek government's reform efforts.

On Thursday, the Greek parliament approved a controversial government list of even tougher austerity measures demanded by the auditors and which have sparked violent street protests.

Some 35,000 people gathered in Athens on the second day of a general strike on Thursday that crippled the public sector and much of the country.

The protests turned violent and police said a man in his fifties died in hospital. Authorities declined to speculate on the cause of death, but Greek media said he was hurt on the sidelines of the protests.

Another key sticking point is how much of Greece's debt mountain can safely be written off without spreading the debt crisis to other under-pressure economies such as Italy and Spain.

This pivotal point, however, is unlikely to be resolved before a meeting of EU leaders on Wednesday, amid differences between France and Germany over the "haircut" to be applied to Greece's 350 billion euros of debt.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mobile phone, cancer "no link"

PARIS: The largest study of its kind found no link between long-term use of mobile phones and increased risk of brain tumours, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) reported on Friday.

Danish researchers found no evidence of enhanced risk among more than 350,000 mobile-phone subscribers whose health was monitored over 18 years.

Earlier research on the possible link between cell phone use and cancerous tumours has been inconclusive, partly due to lack of long-term data.

In June, the World Health Organisation's International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified the radio-frequency electromagnetic fields emitted by mobile phones as "possibly carcinogenic to humans."

The new study follows up an earlier investigation that compared the cancer risk faced by all mobile phone subscribers in Denmark -- some 420,000 people -- with the rest of the adult population.

Patrizia Frei, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Danish Cancer Society, and colleagues examined health records from 1990 to 2007 for 358,403 cell phone subscribers.

Overall, 10,729 tumours of the central nervous system were diagnosed.

But among people with the longest mobile phone use -- 13 years or more -- cancer rates were nearly the same as for non-subscribers.

"The extended follow-up allowed us to investigate effects in people who had used mobile phones for 10 years or more, and this long-term use was not associated with higher risks of cancer," the study concluded.

The findings, however, could not rule out the possibility of a "small to moderate increase in risk" for very heavy users, or people who have used cell phones for longer than 15 years.

"Further studies with large study populations where the potential for misclassification of exposure and selection bias is minimised are warranted," the researchers said.

In a commentary, Anders Ahlbom and Maria Feychting from Sweden's Karolinska Institute said the new evidence was reassuring but called for continued monitoring of health registers.

There are about five billion mobile phones registered in the world, a figure that continues to rise sharply along with the average amount of time spent using them.

The IARC does not issue formal recommendations, but its experts pointed in June to a number of ways consumers can reduce possible risk.

Texting and using hands-free sets for voice calls lower exposure to potentially harmful radiation, compared to device-to-ear voice calls, by at least 10-fold, they said.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

People risk contracting infections at fish spa therapies

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) in the United Kingdom (UK) has found that fish spa therapies - where tiny toothless Garra Rufa fish nibble off the dead skin on hands and feet - can put people with weak immune systems or underlying medical conditions at risk of contracting infections.

The HPA has found that tank water containing the fish had a range of micro-organisms.

The agency also found that infections could be transmitted in a number of ways - from fish to person during the nibbling process, from contact with the contaminated water, or from person-to-person through sharing the same tank.

An HPA spokesman told the Sun newspaper in the UK on Oct 18 that the pedicures may spread blood-borne viruses like HIV or hepatitis.

High blood pressure ups birth defect risk: Study

LONDON (AP) - A new study suggests that high blood pressure during early pregnancy is what raises the risk of major birth defects - not the medicines used to control the condition, as previously thought.

Pregnant women have been warned for years to avoid drugs called ACE inhibitors during the later stages of pregnancy to avoid the possibility of birth defects. But whether it was safe to take them during the first trimester wasn't clear.

A 2006 paper concluded no, and two later studies found an increased risk with other blood pressure drugs as well. Researchers behind a new, larger study suggest it's the high blood pressure itself that is responsible for the higher risk of birth defects, not the medications.

Compared to women without high blood pressure, those with the condition were more likely to have babies with congenital heart, brain or spinal cord defects regardless of whether they were taking ACE inhibitors, other medications, or getting no treatment at all, the study found.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Boy, 7, loses toe in escalator accident at food centre

A seven-year-old boy is believed to have lost a toe in an escalator accident on Sunday afternoon.

He was on an escalator with his parents at around 2pm at Taman Jurong Food Centre when the accident happened. According to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), it received a call at about 2.25pm that a boy's toe was stuck in the escalator.

Officers from the SCDF arrived seven minutes after it was contacted but he had already been sent to a hospital by his father.

The five-storey food centre in Yung Sheng Road is owned and managed by the National Environment Agency.

Singapore exports contract 4.5% in September

Singapore's non-oil domestic exports (NODX) contracted 4.5 per cent in Sept 2011 compared to a year earlier, due to a 14 per cent decline in electronic NODX outweighing the expansion in non-electronic NODX, IE Singapore said on Monday.

The 14 per cent dip in electronic NODX follows a 19 per cent decline in the previous month. The decrease was largely due to disk drives, which dipped 54 per cent, ICs, and parts of ICs.

Year-on-year, non-electronic NODX expanded a marginal 0.9 per cent in Sept 2011. The rise in non-electronic NODX was led by pharmaceuticals, up 12 per cent, civil engineering equipment parts, up 54 per cent and printed matter, which rose 37 per cent.

On a year-on-year basis, total trade rose by 7.0 per cent in Sept 2011, following the 9.9 per cent growth in the previous month. Total exports expanded by 7.1 per cent in Sept 2011, following the 4.1 per cent increase in the previous month. Total imports grew by 6.8 per cent in Sept 2011, after the 17 per cent increase in the preceding month.

Friday, October 14, 2011

S'pore to reduce growth of vehicle population over next 3 years

Singapore's yearly vehicle population growth rate will be lowered incrementally over the next three years, starting with the current 1.5 per cent reduced to 1 per cent in 2012.

This will be further reduced to 0.5 per cent in 2013 and 2014, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) said on Friday.

For 2012, the 1 per cent growth will be front-loaded, meaning a 1.5 per cent annual growth rate will be kept from Feb 2012 to July 2012, followed by 0.5 per cent from Aug 2012 to Jan 2013, the second half of the quota year.

LTA said the current increase of 1.5 per cent in the vehicle numbers has outstripped the average annual road growth of about 1 per cent in recent years.
The transport body expects road growth to further slow down to about 0.5 per cent a year on average over the next decade.

"The lower vehicle growth rate is not expected to have a large impact on the COE supply in the next few years, especially in the context of an expected uptrend in vehicle de-registration numbers," it said.
The annual vehicle population growth rate will be reviewed after three years.

Caught in a lower income trap

MADAM Koh Ting Guat’s bedridden husband needs to be hooked up to an oxygen
machine to help him breathe.

She changes the ventilator tubes once a week, instead of the prescribed every
three days. That way, she reckons, the $5 pack of 50 tubes will last longer.

Such cutting of corners is not out of meanness but a lack of means.

A year ago, they were getting by as a middle-income family. She earns $2,800
a month as a shipping executive and her husband made $1,500 as a salesman.

But life threw them a curveball when he suffered a stroke, leaving him bedridden.

These days, the family makes do on her salary, with little left after paying for
their two sons’ school expenses, her husband’s medical bills, the wages of a Filipino
caregiver, utilities, transport and food.

The family has fallen into that sandwich class of low-middle income Singaporeans
who keep Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports
Chan Chun Sing awake at night.

In a media interview last week, he said that this group tend to be in jobs that are
vulnerable to being lost in the churn of economic cycles. They also tend to have
little savings to cushion the impact.

He identified them as being in the 11th to 20th percentile in terms of resident
household income, making an average of $2,681 a month. These are headed by a citizen or permanent resident, and with at least one working person.

Another set of figures, measuring individual incomes of Singaporeans, is sobering.

A joint report by the Manpower Ministry and the Department of Statistics
showed that monthly real incomes of Singaporeans at the 20th percentile grew 0.3
per cent over the decade – almost zero per cent a year.

In contrast, those in the middle saw real monthly incomes rise 1.2 per cent a
year over the same period, or 11.3 per cent over the decade.

Who are in this low-middle income group and how can they be helped?

Figures culled from various agencies show them to be mainly made up of large
families with school-going children, with the parents aged between 40 and 50. One
parent may have been recently retrenched, or they may be burdened by
heavy medical bills or in some cases, marital woes have added to their troubles.

Some may benefit from the Workfare Income Supplement Scheme, if they are
aged 35 and above and have gross monthly incomes of $1,700 or less, among other

But apart from Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports
(MCYS) programmes to help with childcare costs and taking care of elderly parents,
little other help is available as they fall outside social assistance nets.

Government schemes such as Com- Care Transitions and the Work Support
Programme disqualify households with incomes above $1,500.

Those in the 1st to 10th percentile – with average monthly household incomes
of $1,400 – would qualify for benefits such as cash grants and utilities vouchers
under these programmes.

The “at risk” group in the 11th to 20th percentile, Mr Chan pointed out, form a
significant portion of the bottom third of the population. About 377,400 employed
residents aged 15 years and above earn between $2,000 and $2,999, according to labour statistics last year.

And, the minister feels, this group’s meagre savings – not more than a few
thousand dollars usually – mean they are on a dangerous keel in an increasingly uncertain global economy where a recession might be around the corner.

“You think I have savings now? If strike lottery tomorrow, yes,” said Madam

She is thinking of taking on a second job to supplement her income. In the
meantime, scrimping and saving is all she can do. She is cutting back even on treatments for her husband.

Acupuncture treatments, for example, have been cut from thrice to twice weekly, saving $100.

“If a downturn really happens, I might have to sell this flat and move in with my
parents in Pasir Ris,” said Madam Koh of their four-room Sengkang flat.

Like many in their bracket, she and herhusband have only secondary education.
Singaporeans in this rung hold jobs such as technicians, security guards and in the service industry.

Top of their wish-lists: financial help from the Government when they hit dire
straits, or utility and transport vouchers, especially if a downturn occurs.

For Mr S. Ahmad, 55, his household is “already in a recession”.

A diabetic, he was a freelance travel agent earning about $1,000 a month until
June last year, when his right foot suddenly became swollen. He has been going for operations and follow-up treatment since. After insurance claims and government subsidies, he still has had to paymore than $10,000 in medical bills.

Now, his 25-year-old son, an optometrist earning about $2,500 monthly, is the
family’s sole breadwinner.

Adding further strain on Mr Ahmad’s finances are a $680 monthly housing loan instalment and another two young children who are still in school.

And as Mr Ahmad did not have the $1,000 advance to pay for a machine to
vacuum the pus from his foot last year, the infection spread upwards to his knee.

More medical treatments, bills and stress followed.

“I just have to borrow money from friends, what can I do?” he said resignedly in an interview in his Pasir Ris flat.

“I’m just living by the day.”

His 53-year-old housewife may resort to making kueh and selling it from home to raise funds, he said.

Another Singaporean trying to make ends meet is Mr Haron Ajit, 51.

He was a logistics supervisor until he suffered a stroke in June. His 21-year-old daughter is now the family’s sole breadwinner,earning about $2,500 from her nursing job. He has two sons – one in Secondary 4 and the other in Primary 1.

Mr Haron said: “We’re financially very tight now because of my condition.”

Apart from help to deal with medical expenses, social workers say some in the
low-middle income group also seek assistance for family problems like divorce, or after they lose their jobs.

Mr Hindran Maniam, a counsellor at Rotary Family Service Centre in Clementi,said: “They ask for counselling for problems like family violence, taking care of elderly parents, or communication issues with children.”

One middle-income wife, for instance,went for counselling at Fei Yue Family
Service Centre in Yew Tee after she discovered her husband had an affair. She was contemplating divorce, but was held back by fear that it would affect the household income.

Retrenchments are not a problem yet but Ms Florence Lim, the director of Covenant
Family Service Centre in Hougang,expects such cases to surface if the global economy drags Singapore down.

Industry veterans say the best way to help the low-middle income group is to raise
the upper limit for ComCare programmes to about $2,000 to $2,500.

This would open up qualifying for more benefits such as medical assistance,rental and utilities vouchers, and monthly cash grants.

Ms Lim, a social worker for three decades,said: “Why not also look at their net income after Central Provident Fund deductions,rather than gross household income,in deciding eligibility?”

This would widen the pool of those eligible,especially with rising living costs.

The Government could give slightly smaller ComCare subsidies to the low-middle income bracket compared to those at the bottom rung, Ms Rachel Lee, head of Fei Yue Family Service Centre and a social worker for 19 years, mooted.

Getting these workers to upgrade their skills so they can get jobs that are less susceptible to being wiped out by economic cycles was another popular suggestion,
but there are problems with that route.

“These people need money from work. Who’s going to feed their families when they go for training for those few months?” said Ms Lim.

She said CDCs do give a few hundred dollars a month to help these individuals during say the quantum should be higher.

Short-term assistance for about threemonths to help them tide over a difficult situation would also work well, said North East District Mayor Teo Ser Luck.

Mr Teo, whose district has been helping residents who do not qualify for Com-Care through its local scheme, said: “You have to be there when they need you.

That’s what this safety net is about – covering the cracks.”

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Banks sink as US stocks close mixed amid Greece worries

NEW YORK (AFP) - Falling banking stocks dragged the United States (US) equity market down on Thursday amid worry about fallout from a Greek default, but Apple and Google helped the Nasdaq gain for a fourth straight day.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 40.72 points (0.35 per cent) to finish at 11,478.13.

The S&P 500, a broader measure of the markets, fell 3.59 (0.30 per cent) to 1,203.66, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite gained 15.51 points (0.60 per cent) to 2,620.24.

'US stocks spent most of the session south of break-even today, with banks leading the retreat in the wake of a less-than-stellar earnings showing from JPMorgan Chase,' said Ms Andrea Kramer at Schaeffer's Investment Research.

S'pore economy expected to grow 5.0% in 2011

SINGAPORE: Releasing the advance GDP estimates for the third quarter on Friday, the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said that the Singapore economy is expected to grow by around 5.0 percent in 2011.

However, inflation is expected to hover at around 5 per cent in 2011, warned the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) in a separate statement, before easing to 2.5-3.5 per cent in 2012.

As such, the MAS said it will continue with a policy of a modest and gradual appreciation of the S$NEER policy band.

By doing so, the MAS is guiding the Singapore dollar to appreciate at a slower pace, after the currency reached historic highs against the US dollar in July.

The MAS move takes into account estimates for Singapore's economy which saw growth of 5.9 per cent on a year-on-year basis in the third quarter of 2011.

On a quarter-on-quarter basis, the economy grew by 1.3 per cent, a reversal from a contraction of 6.3 per cent in the previous quarter.

MTI said the improved economic performance in the third quarter was mainly due to a pick-up in growth in the biomedical manufacturing cluster.

It also cautioned that growth could be weighed down by the softening global economic conditions for the rest of 2011.

It cited the electronics cluster as one area which is expected to remain weak due to the easing of global electronics demand.

Singapore Inflation Unexpectedly Accelerates, Complicating Policy Decision

Singapore’s inflation unexpectedly accelerated to the fastest pace since 2008 as housing and food costs climbed, complicating the central bank’s decision ahead of a policy review next month as risks to growth rise.

The consumer price index rose 5.7 percent in August from a year earlier, the Department of Statistics said in a statement today. That compares with the 5.2 percent median estimate of 18 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News. Inflation was 5.4 percent in July, according to previously reported data.

The Singapore dollar has declined this quarter along with most regional currencies outside Japan, as a struggling U.S. economy and Europe’s debt crisis dimmed the outlook for exports and prompted officials from China to the Philippines to avoid further rate increases.

The island, which uses the exchange rate to manage inflation, will release its twice-yearly monetary policy decision in October.

“Higher than expected domestic inflationary pressure has kept inflation elevated in the near term even when global energy and commodity prices have eased,” Irvin Seah, an economist at DBS Group Holdings Ltd. in Singapore, said in a note before the report. “This will change in the months ahead.”

The Singapore government has lowered its forecast for the economy’s expansion in 2011 even after the central bank raised its inflation estimate. The island’s currency has appreciated to unprecedented levels since the central bank said in April it would allow further gains to tame price pressures, the third monetary tightening in a year. 

Policy Stance

While Singapore’s central bank will most likely maintain its current policy stance of a gradual appreciation in the Singapore dollar’s nominal effective exchange rate, “downside risks to growth and easing inflation could tilt the policy decision towards a more neutral policy stance,” Seah said.

Singapore’s consumer prices may climb 4 percent to 5 percent this year, more than a previous forecast of 3 percent to 4 percent, the central bank estimates.

The monetary policy stance remains appropriate, Ong Chong Tee, deputy managing director at the central bank, said Aug. 10. Policy makers are giving equal priority to containing inflation and spurring growth, Kwek Mean Luck, a deputy secretary at the Ministry of Trade and Industry, said the same day.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Soros warns euro crisis could destroy world financial system

BERLIN (AFP) - Billionaire investor George Soros and some 100 former European dignitaries on Wednesday published an open letter warning that the euro zone debt crisis could bring down the global financial system.

'The euro is far from perfect,' they wrote in German business daily Handelsblatt. 'The current crisis has shown that.'

'But as a reaction to that, we need to revise the weaknesses in its make-up rather than allow the crisis to undermine, even destroy, the world's financial system,' they added.

The group, calling themselves 'concerned Europeans', appealed to governments to establish an institution that can provide liquidity to the whole euro zone, a strengthening of financial market oversight and a revised European Union (EU) growth strategy.

The letter was signed by top former politicians, such as ex-German finance minister Hans Eichel, former French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner and Pedro Solbes, who was once EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner.

Distinguished economists such as Mr Charles Goodhart from Britain and Mr Peter Bofinger from Germany also added their names to the appeal.

France and Germany have vowed to come up with a wide-ranging solution to the ongoing debt crisis by the end of the month but have kept mum on the details.

The euro zone power-brokers are working on four main issues - pumping more money into European banks; defining the way the European bailout fund should work; supporting the work of international auditors in Greece and toughening the EU's debt rules.

Later on Wednesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was poised to issue hotly anticipated proposals on bank recapitalisation, seen as a key step in bolstering their defences against the debt crisis.

More financial help with medical bills: Health Minister

More patients can expect financial help with their medical bills in the coming years as the Ministry of Health (MOH) beefs up its subsidies and other helplines, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in his addenda to the President's Address.

Already, recent changes meant that half of all Singaporeans aged 40 and over will be able to enjoy subsidies when they get treated by their family doctor.

The Government will also increase subsidies for those needing step-down care, such as nursing homes or rehabilitation care, he said when setting out the health social safety net.

MediShield and Eldershield insurance will also be enhanced.

The broad-stroke objectives for the MOH is to provide better health, better care, better value and better support for ageing so all Singaporeans can 'live well, live long and enjoy peace of mind'.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Cancer patient prized sex more than life

He prized his love life more than his life. To his detriment.

He had prostate cancer and could have been cured if he had had the cancer surgically removed at an early stage.

But because that carries a risk of his losing his ability to have sexual intercourse, he decided to gamble with his life.

He had been married only recently.

Impotence would have meant an end to sex with his 28-year-old wife and the possibility of children.
So he ignored his doctor's advice.

He died six months later at 30.

Prostate cancer is the third most common cancer among men in Singapore. It develops in the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system.

On average, there are 534 new cases a year and 105 deaths from prostate cancer.

Speaking to The New Paper on Sunday, leading urologist Peter Lim recalled his youngest patient: "His prostate cancer was detected by biopsy and it was still at an early stage.

"I told him to remove it urgently or he will die. He asked me, 'Any danger?' I said, 'Yes, you have a high chance of impotency.' And he ran away.

"At that time, we did not have the robots and it was an open operation. The chance of his being impotent was high, at 80 per cent," Professor Lim explained.

Death preferable to impotency?

He said 10 to 15 per cent of his patients "disappeared" at the very mention of "impotence".

"Sex is very important to most men. Even though they can still have a penile implant to get back their erections, many do not want to take the risk.

"They would run away and it is usually their wives who would encourage them and get them to return to the hospital for treatments."

Last month, The Journal Of The American Medical Association published a study that found that a high percentage of men could not have a normal sex life after being treated for prostate cancer.

Fewer than half of the 1,027 patients involved in the study and who had reported good sexual function before cancer had managed to regain it two years after treatment.

Those involved in the study were aged between 38 and 84. Overall, just 35 per cent of men in the surgery group, 37 per cent who were in the radiation group and 43 per cent of those in the brachytherapy group could have sexual intercourse two years after treatment.

Sex life still possible after surgery

Still, it is possible for men who have had surgery to experience an improved sex life two years later.
Alternative treatments like radiotherapy may not necessarily lower the risk of impotency. It's just that the effect could be delayed, said Dr Lewis Liew, a urologist and laparoscopic surgeon.

Prostate cancer tends to develop in men older than 50. But Prof Lim has treated patients as young as 41. In the last 10 years, he had two patients, both aged 30, hit by prostate cancer.

He said: "The younger you are, the more aggressive the tumour will be. You must remove the tumour urgently or you will die.

"The minute you know that you have cancer, you cannot be so stupid to go shopping around for another doctor. They are going to say the same thing to you."

He added: "Some patients hope to find one doctor who would say to them, 'Oh, don't worry! I can give you this medicine and you will be okay.'

"Men should know that if you are not that young and you get prostate cancer, it is not a bad cancer to have, provided you quickly treat it."

He recalled another patient, a 52-year-old Caucasian, who refused to have the tumour surgically removed because he was newly married.

Prof Lim said: "He told me, 'Why should I go for the operation and be impotent?' I told him, 'It's about your life, you know'."

Within 18 months, the cancer spread to his liver and, even though he started chemotheraphy, he died three months later.

Best chance for recovery

Prof Lim, who sees five times more foreigners than Singaporeans seeking treatment for prostate cancer, added: "We have the best treatment in Asia.

"We have a few robots here that can perform the surgery accurately. With robotic surgery, the risk of impotency is low, at 25 per cent.

"In fact, I just operated on a patient from Mauritius. He was in hospital for three to four days and after he returned to Mauritius, he called to tell me that he had an erection!"

What women say... 
"Most men define their masculinity through sex and to some, especially those still in their prime, sex is a big part of their lives. Losing the ability to perform is like losing sight of who they are, thus the feeling that life is not worth living." - Miss Cheryl Lim, 27, business owner

"While sex may be crucial in a marriage, it is not the only thing. When you lose your life, you lose everything, not just sex." - Ms Shino Yee, 37, a beautician

"Men need to know that women want more than just sex. If they can't even take care of themselves, how are they capable of taking care of their loved ones?" - Miss Fei Wong, 32, regional assistant director of sales

"While I can understand how men value their 'manhood', it is stupid to put health and life at such a risk." - Miss Deborah Dayani Nanayakara, 26, public relations manager

Sunday, October 9, 2011

BG Tan urges Singaporeans to plan for retirement early

Instead of sipping coffee at their favourite breakfast joints, more than 500 Singaporeans spent their Sunday morning getting tips on how to plan for retirement.

The audience, many of whom were reaching 55 years of age, were attending talks organised by the Central Provident Fund (CPF). Topics covered included managing healthcare and housing costs.

Minister of State for Manpower and National Development Tan Chuan-Jin was the guest of honour at the event, which was held at the NTUC auditorium at Marina Boulevard.

Many among the audience nodded and listened intently as BG (NS) Tan urged them not to overstretch their finances and to prepare for uncertainties such as changes in income levels.

The minister also launched two initiatives: The 'Are You Ready' website ( to help people assess their readiness to retire; and the Minimum Sum Topping-Up campaign, where Singaporeans who top up their or their loved ones' CPF accounts before December 15 stand to win prizes worth up to $4,000.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Are You Ready" to retire?

SINGAPORE: The Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board has launched a campaign "Are You Ready" to help Singaporeans kickstart their retirement planning.

It will help to educate them on financial literacy with a checklist of four themes - cash flow, heath care, housing and retirement.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign on Sunday, Minister of State for Manpower and National Development Tan Chuan-Jin noted that some Singaporeans are already ensuring that they have enough savings.

He said records from the CPF Board showed that about 60 per cent of members do not make withdrawals when they reach the age of 55.

Brigadier-General Tan also said that many CPF members have been voluntarily making top-ups for their loved ones through the Minimum Sum Topping-up Scheme.

Over the past five years, the number of these transactions has gone up by 36 per cent while the top-up amount has grown by 33 per cent.

Last year, there were about 30,000 minimum sum top-up transactions, amounting to S$250 million.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Long-Term Investing Works!

We hear the phrase all the time: "Invest over the long term! Don't punt in the stock market!" Is that really a wise investment?


We started with a familiar market again - the Straits Times Index. Our period: 25 years starting from the year 1976 and ending in the year 2000. This period included the 1979 Oil Shock, the 1986 Singapore recession, the 1997 Asian Currency crisis, and other world events which had an impact to a certain degree on Singapore, which is so exposed to external influences.

We first took a tally of all the positive growth periods in the Straits Times Index on a 1-year basis. There were 15 out of 25 years in which the Straits Times Index had positive growth. This means that if you had randomly picked the start of any year from 1976 to 2000 to buy into the Straits Times Index and you had a holding period of 1 year, you would have had a 60% chance of coming out ahead.

We then tried the same experiment on a holding period of 3 years. The result was that out of twenty-three 3-year periods, eighteen of these were gains. So, if you had invested in the Straits Times Index at the start of any year from 1976 to 2000 with a time horizon of 3 years, you would have had a 78.26% chance of coming out ahead (quite a large improvement over 60% isn't it?).
We also experimented with 5 and 10-year holding periods. Take a look at the results in the following chart.

Chart 1

Source: S&P Micropal

As you can see, when you extend the holding period to 10 years, there is a 100% chance that you would have made money. The question now is, does this apply only to the Singapore stock market? What if we were to try the same experiment on other stock markets? Well, we did, on six other stock markets:

USA (represented by S&P 500)
Technology (represented by NASDAQ)
Europe (represented by MSCI Europe)
Taiwan (represented by the Taiwan Weighted Index)
Hong Kong (represented by Hang Seng)
Japan (represented by the Nikkei 225 Index)
World (represented by the MSCI World USD)

Chart 2

Source: S&P Micropal

As can be seen, the increasing percentages of positive periods for all the stock markets would seem to suggest that, at least historically, the longer your holding period, the greater the possibility of making money from an investment in one of the above equity markets.

In fact, in six of the markets shown above, you would have made money 100% of the time if your holding period were 10 years.

At this point, some may ask: "I can come out just 5% ahead after holding a Singapore fund for 10 years. That is a far cry from the 21.89% I would gain even if I were to keep it in a fixed deposit giving me 2% per annum!" That could be the case. After all, investing in equity markets are always riskier than investing in fixed income instruments.

So, we now choose to be more strict in our analysis. Instead of just having a positive gain, we choose to take the periods where the annualised gain (or average gain per year) is more than 4%. This is pretty reasonable since even the CPF special account can only promise 4% per year.

If an investment grew by 4% per year, after 3 years, it would have grown 12.49%. After 5 years, it would have grown 21.67%, and after 10 years, it would have grown 48%. This is because of the miracle of compounding (we won't go into that today as that isn't the focus of our study).


We also analysed the Straits Times Index with a stricter criterion. We counted periods where the returns were over 4% per year, over 12.5% for 3 years and more, over 22% for 5 years and more, and over 48% for 5 years and above. These would then be counted as a percentage against the total possible 1-year, 3-year, 5-year and 10-year periods over the last 25 years. The results are shown in Chart 3.

Once again, you can see that the rising trend over longer holding periods does not change. Also, even taking into account that our criterion is now far stricter, when you extend the holding period to 10 years, the probability that you would have gained a compounded 4% per year was 93.75%. Thirteen out of fifteen 10-year periods saw a gain of more than 93.75%, where the Singapore Straits Times index was concerned.

Just as with our initial analysis, we extended this to cover the six stock markets and the world index mentioned in Chart 2. The results are shown in Chart 4.

Charts 3 and 4

Source: S&P Micropal

The same rising trend can be seen for every stock market that we measured. For six of these stock markets, there was a higher than 90% probability that if you had invested in the stock market index at the beginning of any year since 1976, with a 10-year horizon, you would have made better than 4% per year. If you wanted to time the markets (meaning that you jumped into a market with all your money, then jumped out again after 1 year to hop into another market), then from a statistical point of view, your chances of making better than 4% per year would be significantly less and your transaction costs would be higher as well. We did not try to see if a shorter holding period of 6 months or less would give better results - we suspect that they won't.

One more interesting conclusion you might arrive from looking at Charts 4 and 2 is that the US stock market represented by the S&P 500 Index is a less volatile stock market than others. It had a 100% probability of having a 5-year gain, and also has one of the highest probabilities of having an average compounded 4% gain over the various periods measured. We believe that this is due to its low reliance on external fund flows. Most of the capital that make up the stocks in the US market are from US investors. Even during downtrends, US investors are not outward looking preferring to hold cash, or shift to bonds. This results in a more stable market environment where there are fewer drops, or spikes. As we mentioned in our previous article "Do Top Performing Markets Always Shine," there are times when other stock markets may outperform the US stock market. However, these stock markets may also be more volatile.


These analyses are statistical in nature and have their underlying limitations. The two main limitations would be analysing past performance data (which are not a guarantee for future returns), and not taking into account transaction costs.

Nevertheless, this is balanced by two considerations. Regarding the limitation of looking at past data, the figures taken were from an extremely long period of 25 years, during which there were quite a few wars (especially in Middle East), there was a global oil shock, and recession. So, if you are a believer that history repeats itself, then you will also come to the same conclusion: Long-term investing works far better than short-term punting.

The limitation of transaction costs is balanced by the fact that we were measuring only the indices and not active funds that invested in these markets (most of the funds in Singapore do not have such long histories). If you choose a good fund manager, one that is able to outperform the market index he invests in over the long run, you will not only be able to cover any possible transaction costs, you may even have gains better than the market index.

In conclusion, we first state that our objective here was not to find the best stock market to invest in. We recognise that each stock market has its peculiarities, and some have historically been more volatile than others. However, based on our analyses, we can at least discover a common trend among stock markets regardless of their size, volatility and other attributes. This common trend is: Long-term investing has a higher statistical chance of giving returns than short term investing.

Dollar Cost Averaging Method

The Regular Savings Plan (RSP) utilizes the dollar cost averaging (DCA) concept of investing which is the practice of investing a fixed amount of money regularly regardless of market conditions. In the case of RSP, the investments take place monthly. This article helps investor understand the benefits of DCA and what considerations that an investor has to make in executing a dollar cost averaging plan.

The Regular Savings Plan (RSP) utilizes the dollar cost averaging (DCA) concept of investing which is the practice of investing a fixed amount of money regularly regardless of market conditions. In the case of RSP, the investments take place monthly. This article helps investor understand the benefits of DCA and what considerations that an investor has to make in executing a dollar cost averaging plan.

Benefits of Dollar Cost Averaging 

For many investors, market timing of buying low and selling high is almost an impossible task especially when fear and greed typically lead investors to do the opposite of buying high and selling low. The main benefit of DCA is that it takes the guesswork and emotion out of investing. 

By investing a fixed amount on a monthly basis, RSP ensures that you accumulate more units when prices are low but lesser when prices of units are high. A lot of stress is avoided as the investor does not have to decide whether the fund is expensive or not and whether the market condition is suitable to invest. 

Table 1 shows a hypothetical example of how more units are acquired when prices are low and vice versa assuming that an investor invests $100 every month. Chart 1 is the graphical presentation.

Table 1
Investment amount ($)
*Price ($)
Units Acquired
* Prices are randomly generated
Source: iFAST Compilations

Chart 1

Many investors procrastinate in investing, preferring to accumulate a large sum of money before deciding where to invest. The temptation of spending the sum meant for investments could also derail longer-term financial goals. By deducting a fixed sum of money from the bank account and placing them into funds, RSP also instills discipline in investing. 

This helps investors steadily move towards their financial goals. Moreover, with investors now starting young, many may not have the luxury of investing a large lump sum. RSP becomes a practical method of "invest-as-you-earn".

Lump sum investing would be better for investors with long investment horizon 

DCA is a strategy that works well in a market environment that is volatile, experiencing both upswings and downswings but ends at a level that is close to the initial level. However, historical data shows that most stock markets do exhibit an uptrend over the long term. 

This means that for investors who have a large sum of money to start their investments with and coupled with a long term investment horizon, they would be better off investing the money right away (refer to " Long-Term Investing Works").

Although lump sum investing works better than DCA assuming that stock markets continue their long-term uptrend, investors are often paralyzed with fear in times of heightened volatility such that they put off investing. These investors can consider DCA in such times to start their investments. 

By breaking the lump sum into smaller parts, investors can view it as a chance to average down their costs when markets move down. On the other hand, if the markets move up subsequently, investors would have already invested part of their money. 

The main benefit of DCA in times of heightened volatility is that it helps investors overcome the fear of investing in turbulent markets.

Now that we have explained the benefits of DCA, the following steps would help the investor execute the method of DCA through RSP.

Actions to take for RSP
  • Decide on the monthly amount that can be sustainable over the investment horizon
  • Select the funds to invest into, making sure that portfolio is diversified.
  • Rebalance your funds at least annually to ensure that your portfolio remains diversified
  • Wait for your investments to reap rewards. 

Emotions Hinder Good Decision Making

You think you can outsmart everyone else, you believe in exciting investment stories, you trust your investment decisions to be logical. How do we know? We’re humans too.

Besides fundamentals (e.g., earnings growth and valuations), stock markets are driven by investors’ emotions. Their emotions pervade all manner of good and bad financial news, enveloping market performance in messy layers of ‘noise’. As a result, good news doesn’t necessarily mean positive performance, and bad news doesn’t necessarily mean negative performance.

Alas, a self-respecting investor will not admit that he can’t see beyond his arm’s reach in such situations.

The Seven Sins

James Montier, the author of Behavioural Investing: A Practitioner’s Guide to Applying Behavioural Finance, summarised common human biases into the “Seven Sins” of money management:
  1. Evidence shows that investors are bad at forecasting, even though it could be an integral part of their investment process;
  2. Investors cannot seem to have enough information, even though more information might not lead to better investment decisions;
  3. Investors overrate meetings with management because management themselves are probably biased;
  4. Investors think they can outsmart everyone else;
  5. Investors tend towards having a short-term horizon;
  6. Investors ignore the boring facts in favour of new and exciting stories, which are further enhanced to suit investors’ biases;
  7. Investors tend to believe, rather than be naturally skeptical.

Hardwired For Poor Decision Making

Montier also stated that in decision making the brain defaults naturally to an “emotional system”. People tend to focus on short-term gratification, leading to quick and easy decisions. Also, people tend to dislike social exclusion behaviour, preferring to follow the herd instead. This emotional system, he claims, exerts less energy compared to objective thinking.

Despite our beliefs that we are logical and rational decision makers, we are hardwired for poor decision making.

Is There A Way Out Of Behavioural Pitfalls When Investing?

Yes, and one such way out is the Dollar Cost Averaging (DCA) method. It is a method that sticks to a strict investment schedule regardless of how the markets are performing. It is very mechanical and there are no emotions involved. 

In Conclusion

Having emotions per se isn’t a bad thing but not many people can remain calm and collected when the stakes are high in decision making. However, recognising that emotions are an innate weakness when it comes to decision making is as good as taking the first step towards successful investing.

Monday, October 3, 2011

9 out of 10 seniors resilient, but many don't exercise

Nine out of 10 senior citizens are hardy enough to live independently, according to a survey of 2,558 old folk in Marine Parade.

But almost 400 of them show worrying signs of depression or dementia. A similar number also say they suffered a fall in the preceding 12 months.

Worse, more than half of these folk aged 60 and older confess they do not exercise.

These findings of a Health Ministry survey, done between March and June this year, were unveiled last night at a dialogue Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong had with residents.

Government survey of 2,600 elderly people in Marine Parade finds:
94.3% : Can live independently
71.4% : Do not need health or social services
94% : Have good relationship with family
78.4% : Suffer at least one chronic disease
52% : Do not exercise
15% : Fell in the last 12 months
14.6% : Show signs of depression or dementia
10.6% : Live alone
Source: Ministry of Health

Govt set to curb vehicle population

Singapore's vehicle growth rate is set to be revised downwards this month to further limit vehicle growth.

Transport Minister Lui Tuck Yew told this to reporters on Tuesday but did not reveal the exact figure.

The current growth rate stands at 1.5 per cent.

The cut is likely to send the prices for certificates of entitlements even higher than current levels. Car prices are expected to increase as a result.

Explaining the move, Mr Lui said Singapore has limited space for new roads.

He said the current vehicle growth rate had to be revised to a more sustainable level.

The growth rate determines the number of new cars on the road is one of the instruments that the Government manages vehicle population.

The policy takes into account the number of vehicles scrapped and…

The quota was last reduced in 2009 -- it was halved from three per cent to the current 1.5 per cent.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Death of delivery man moves nation

Touching story to highlight the act of kindness and the beauty of sharing to other needy:

SOUTH KOREA - The death of a Chinese food delivery man who regularly donated a portion of his small salary to help the needy is touching the heart of the nation.

People he barely knew have attended his funeral, expressing condolence. They praised him for carrying out the spirit of sharing despite living on a shoestring budget.

Kim Woo-su, 54, died Sunday, two days after his motorcycle collided with a car while on a delivery run.

Though Kim scratched a living as a delivery man of a small Chinese restaurant, he had given part of his salary to children in need through Child Fund Korea since 2006. He had earned 700,000 won ($600) a month from the restaurant in the southern Seoul town of Ilwon.

On top of his years of donations, he left 40 million won ($34,000) in life insurance money to the charity. He had insured himself against traffic accidents because his job put him at risk of them.

Orphaned at 7, Kim once served time for arson. Six months before release, he began to make donations for children who lived a hard life like he did. His decision to give came in jail after he read about children suffering from domestic violence.

Though Kim pledged to be an organ donor, his wish did not come true as hospitals could not find his family, whose consent was needed.

"I live a very happy life by making donation for children," Kim once said in an interview with a local TV network. "I would rather spend less than stopping my support for children. I wish I could live a long and healthy life so that I can support them as long as possible."

News of his death served as a wakeup call to those who regard giving as someone else's job.

"I felt bad when I heard the news. I failed in business several times, but I didn't make a small effort to help others even when I was well off," said Park Hyun-chul, who learned of Kim's story on Twitter.

Though Kim was single and had never married, he was like a father to the children he supported.

Except for a brief period three years ago when he had to cut his donation due to lung surgery, he donated steadily.

One of the children who received money from him is a 16-year-old girl, surnamed Shin, who lives with her grandmother and three sisters.

"I didn't know you have done so much for me. Not knowing how precious your donation was, I would complain and whine about my situation. I will do my best in everything and help others like you," said Shin in a letter to Kim after his death.

President Lee Myung-bak and politicians have also conveyed messages of condolence.

"Kim had shared what he had with others and proved that small good deeds can give hope and courage to others," Lee said on the Blue House Facebook page.

"I express condolences to Kim, who showed the spirit of caring and sharing. Kim reminds me of an old Chinese saying that everyone around me is greater than me," said Ji Sang-wook, lawmaker of the Liberty Forward Party on Twitter.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Affordable screening programme for needy senior citizens

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) has launched a community screening programme aimed at detecting key chronic ailments and cancers for the needy elderly.

Not only will the screenings be made more accessible to seniors, it will also be more affordable - $2 to test for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity, compared to $30 at private clinics.

The programme was kicked off at the Whampoa neighbourhood on Saturday, where 150 residents registered to be screened.

Besides the chronic conditions, they can also be tested for three cancers - breast, cervical and colorectal.

Screenings for breast and cervical cancer cost $30 and $10 respectively, while the test for colorectal cancer is free.
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