Monday, December 10, 2012

Pay increment, bonus for 2013 expected to dip: report

SINGAPORE: Global consulting firm Hay Group has predicted cautious pay rises for Singaporean workers as 2012 comes to a close.

In its latest report, the group said pay increases and bonuses for next year are expected to slide.

Hay Group said salary increases averaged 4.6 per cent this year - slightly higher than the 4.4 per cent in 2011. But pay increases for next year are expected to dip 0.2 percentage points back to 4.4 per cent.

The Singapore Human Resources Institute agreed, saying increments will hover around 4 per cent.

The Institute expects the manufacturing, construction and logistics sectors to face a tighter squeeze.

The Institute's executive director, David Ang, said: "For those company who are not doing well, and it's sort of breaking even.

"I think the important thing is to inform the workers on the prospect of their business and at the same time collectively bite the bullets to hope for better times to come."

As for bonuses, the actual average variable bonus this year is said to be 2.6 months. For next year, it is expected to dip slightly to 2.5 months.

The Hay Group said hiring seems to have picked up in Singapore, despite the continuing uncertainty in the global economy.

Fifty-eight per cent of those surveyed said they are planning to increase staffing levels, compared to 50 per cent this time, last year.

But economist Dr Tan Khay Boon from SIM Global Education said this does not mean firms will splurge on hiring.

Dr Tan said: "The company want to meet the demand for the customers and therefore they need more workers to help them out in the operations. But, they are also very careful about the bottom-line.

"That's why they prefer to hire the worker at the same cost or better still, at the lower cost instead of expanding the cost to get the workers."

Leading the hiring outlook in the survey are the engineering (33 per cent), sales (29 per cent) and financial (21 per cent) sectors.

Turning to the region, the Hay group said high-growth Asian economies like China, Vietnam, Indonesia and the Philippines can expect significant pay rises in 2013.

The survey, conducted in September, covered over 500 Singapore-based companies from both the private and public sectors.

They were polled on their business sentiments and salary and bonus projections for the next 12 months.

US stocks edge up amid hopes for 'cliff' deal

NEW YORK: US stocks ended slightly higher Monday amid hopes that a political deal over the looming fiscal cliff was in the works.

Markets showed little effect from the fresh turmoil in the eurozone, after Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said he would resign in the coming days and Silvio Berlusconi threatened a comeback on an anti-austerity platform.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 14.75 points (0.11 percent) to 13,169.88.

The broad-market S&P 500 added 0.48 (0.03 percent) to 1,418.55, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite rose 8.92 points (0.30 percent) to 2,986.96.

Trade was light and in a narrow range, with transportation, technology and basic materials shares strongest, while consumer goods slipped.

Troubled Hewlett-Packard surged 2.6 percent on rumors that raider Carl Icahn was moving on the company.

Canadian energy firm Nexen added 13.8 percent after Canadian regulators approved its takeover by Chinese state oil giant CNOOC late Friday.

Excepting Apple (-0.6 percent), big tech stocks were higher: Facebook 1.3 percent, Google 0.2 percent, Cisco 2.4 percent and STMicroelectronics, which said it was leaving a joint venture with Ericsson, added 3.4 percent.

Bond prices edged higher. The 10-year US Treasury yield slipped to 1.62 percent from 1.63 percent late Friday, while the 30-year fell to 2.80 percent from 2.81 percent.

Bond prices and yields move inversely.

Dollar dips as investors expect new Fed stimulus

NEW YORK: The dollar dipped against other major currencies Monday as investors bet the Federal Reserve would provide more stimulus to the lackluster US economy at its rate-setting meeting this week.

The euro was buying $1.2939 at 2200 GMT, up from $1.2928 at the same time Friday.

Against the Japanese currency, the European currency weakened to 106.53 yen from 106.64 yen late Friday, while the dollar edged down to 82.33 yen from 82.46 yen.

"We believe the weakness in the greenback reflects the market's expectations for easier monetary policy from the Fed," said Kathy Lien of BK Asset Management.

The US central bank's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee opens a two-day meeting Tuesday. Stubborn high unemployment and the looming fiscal cliff challenge give the Fed every reason to expand its stimulus efforts, analysts said.

Gathering just before its "Twist" asset-swap operation expires at year-end, there are signs the FOMC will replace it with more outright bond purchases, or "quantitative easing," aimed at lowering interest rates to encourage businesses to invest and hire.

"Given the increasing uncertainty about America's looming fiscal crisis, the Fed is likely to signal that it will continue its outright purchases of mortgage and agency bonds worth $85 billion and maintain lending rates near zero until mid-2015," said Omer Esiner of Commonwealth Foreign Exchange.

"If the Fed signals that further easing next year is likely, the dollar could suffer."

Against the Swiss currency, the dollar fell to 0.9335 francs from 0.9343 francs late Friday.

The British pound fetched $1.6075, up from $1.6039.

US to press on trade in China talks

WASHINGTON: The United States said Monday it would press China on intellectual property rights and other key concerns as the world's two largest economies hold top-level trade talks next week.

The Commerce Department said that Vice Premier Wang Qishan would visit Washington on December 18-19 for the annual Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade, the main US-China forum to discuss trade policies.

US Trade Representative Ron Kirk called the forum "critical" for the future of the often fractious commercial relationship between the United States and China.

"This year, we're focused on delivering meaningful results on issues including enforcement of intellectual property rights, combating pressures to transfer technology, eliminating trade-distortive industrial policies and removing key obstacles to our exports," he said in a statement.

Trade has been a frequent irritant in relations, with the United States accusing China of hurting US companies by not cracking down on widespread counterfeiting and favoring domestic competitors.

China, in turn, has warned the United States against protectionism and called for the removal of restrictions on the sale of sensitive technologies.

The talks come in the wake of the US election, in which defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney vowed to take a tougher stance on China over trade and other issues if he defeated President Barack Obama.

This year's talks will likely be the last involving longstanding players in trade negotiations, adding a level of uncertainty into future rounds.

Wang, an economic expert who is widely known and largely respected in Washington, was named last month as China's top official tasked with fighting corruption -- seen by the Communist Party as a major threat to its rule.

Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, is widely expected to leave his position as the top US trade negotiator when Obama names his new cabinet.

Navy regular critically injured after incident onboard ship

SINGAPORE - A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular serviceman, Military Expert (ME) 2 Chee Weng Fai Jason, was critically injured onboard the Landing Ships Tank RSS Endeavour while it was berthed at Changi Naval Base.

He was caught between the motorised winch and the rope while checking on one of the berthing ropes that was being tightened.

Below is the full press statement from the SAF:

A Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) regular serviceman, Military Expert (ME) 2 Chee Weng Fai Jason, 29, a Weapon Systems Supervisor was critically injured onboard the Landing Ships Tank RSS Endeavour.

At 2.22pm, ME2 Chee was checking on one of the berthing ropes that was being tightened and in the process was caught between the motorised winch and the rope. At the time of the incident, RSS Endeavour was berthed at Changi Naval Base.

The medical centre was alerted to the incident at 2.25pm. From 2.30pm, ME2 Chee was attended to by a medical team led by four medical officers from the Changi Naval Medical Centre.

The medical team stabilised his condition before careful extrication was carried out to prevent further aggravation to his injuries.

Following extrication, ME2 Chee was sent via an SAF ambulance from RSS Endeavour to Changi General Hospital (CGH) at 3.26pm and was admitted to CGH at 3.52pm. The medical officers continued to stabilise him in the ambulance en route to the hospital.

ME2 Chee has undergone emergency surgery and remains in critical condition.

The SAF is conducting an investigation to determine the cause of the incident.

Hiring to pick up despite uncertainty

SINGAPORE - Mr Robert Tan found the right fit when he took on a job as a financial adviser late last year.

It suited his personality as he spends long hours each day meeting and chatting with clients.

"It appeals to me because it is who I am. I am very comfortable when I speak with people and it doesn't really count as work," the 25-year-old told My Paper.

And, as long as he meets his sales targets - he makes about $2,500 a month selling unit trusts and insurance - he feels secure in his role.

Employees in the sector of finance, insurance and real estate can look forward to brighter times.

The sector is the most optimistic when it comes to employment prospects in the first three months of next year, according to results of a survey conducted by workforce-solutions firm Manpower Singapore.

Results of the Manpower Employment Outlook Survey released yesterday show that while employers may be cautious in their expansion plans, there are signs of stability in the labour market.

A sample of 654 employers here was interviewed for the survey.

The country's overall employment outlook for the first three months of next year is good, with a "respectable" increase of 11 per cent and employers in all seven industry sectors expected to raise staffing levels.

Even the services sector, the weakest, is expected to increase staffing by 3 per cent.

A separate report released yesterday by global management consultancy Hay Group said that, despite the continuing uncertainty in the global economy, "hiring seems to have picked up in Singapore".

According to the report, 58 per cent of more than 505 Singapore-based companies from both the private and public sectors are planning to increase staffing levels. This is compared to 50 per cent this time last year.

The companies were polled on their business sentiments, and salary and bonus projections for the next 12 months.

The report showed that the top five areas of recruitment are in engineering, sales, finance and accounting, IT and telecommunications, and marketing.

It also said that Generation Y talent, typically those born between 1981 and 2000, are most attracted and motivated by measures such as financial assistance in education and training, job rotations and overseas-attachment opportunities.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Singapore to deport Chinese bus drivers in strike

SINGAPORE - Singapore will deport 29 mainland Chinese bus drivers and prosecute five others for taking part in the city-state's first strike since the 1980s, the government said Saturday.

The Ministry of Manpower said in a statement that 29 drivers' work permits had been revoked and immigration officials "will be repatriating them" for involvement in a two-day stoppage to demand better pay and working conditions.

"The strike was planned and premeditated. It disrupted our public transport which is an essential service, and posed a threat to public order," the statement said.

A fifth driver has been arrested and will be charged in addition to four others who have been brought to court for allegedly instigating the November 26-27 work stoppage at state-linked transport firm SMRT.

If found guilty of involvement in an illegal strike, they could be jailed for up to a year or fined a maximum of S$2,000 - the equivalent of two months' wages for a driver.

Strikes are illegal in Singapore for workers in "essential services" such as transport unless they give 14 days' prior notice and comply with other requirements.

Full statement from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Manpower

December 1 - The Government acts against instigators and key participants involved in illegal strike.

The Police have substantially completed their investigations into the illegal strike on 26 and 27 November 2012 involving SMRT bus drivers who deliberately failed to turn up for work as required.

The strike was planned and premeditated. It disrupted our public transport which is an essential service, and posed a threat to public order.

The Public Prosecutor has decided to charge a total of 5 bus drivers who instigated or participated in the illegal strike. Between 28 and 29 November 2012, the Police arrested 4 bus drivers who were subsequently charged in Court for engaging in a conspiracy to instigate others to participate in the strike.

On 1 December 2012, the Public Prosecutor obtained a summons for one more person involved in the strike to be charged in Court on Monday, 3 December, under section 9(1) of the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act (Chapter 67). If convicted, the drivers will face a fine not exceeding $2,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or both on each charge.

In addition, 29 SMRT bus drivers have been sternly warned by the Police for participating in the strike. The Controller of Work Passes has revoked their work permits, and the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority will be repatriating them. These bus drivers who persisted in the strike were absent on either or both days of the illegal strike without reason. Some had medical certificates, but notwithstanding this, there is evidence of their involvement in the strike. Barring any new developments, we do not expect further arrests or repatriations related to this illegal strike. The Police will be issuing warnings to the others who were involved, but no further action will be taken against them and they will be allowed to remain and work in Singapore, so long as they continue to abide by our laws.

The actions of these SMRT bus drivers disrupted an essential service and Singapore's industrial harmony. While the SMRT bus drivers may have had grievances, these should have been raised through the legal and proper means available. 5 persons will face charges in court for the offences committed, and will be dealt with in accordance with the law. 29 persons who were blatant and persistent in their unlawful acts have had their Work Permits revoked and will be repatriated. Those who returned to work upon realising that this action was illegal will be issued warnings by the Police.

Monday, November 26, 2012

60 bus drivers did not turn up for work today

SINGAPORE - 60 bus drivers did not turn up for work today and some bus services may be affected as a result.

Statement from SMRT:

This morning (27 Nov), some 60 Service Leaders (SL) did not turn up for work in the morning, some of whom have valid medical reasons.

Some bus services may have been affected this morning as a result, and we have activated other SLs to assist.

We continue to keep our communications open with the Service Leaders, and are also working with the relevant authorities to find an amicable resolution.

Fire at Hougang flat leaves one woman dead

SINGAPORE: A woman died in a fire that broke out at a 6th floor flat in Hougang Avenue 10.

Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said it was alerted to the incident at block 413 around 3.20pm.

Two fire engines, one red rhino, one supporting vehicle and one ambulance were sent to the location.

Officers found the victim on the ground floor, directly beneath the kitchen window.

SCDF said the fire was near the kitchen window and involved newspapers and kitchen products like liquid detergents.

They also found the kitchen gas stove left in an 'on' position but there were no cooking on the stove.

The case has been handed over to the police.

Asian markets rise on Greece deal

HONG KONG: Asian markets rose in early trade Tuesday after the eurozone and the IMF agreed to unlock 43.7 billion euros ($56 billion) in loans to Greece and grant significant debt relief for decades to come.

Tokyo shares rose 0.38 per cent by the break, Hong Kong was up 0.25 per cent and Sydney gained 0.68 per cent.

Seoul opened flat but Shanghai was down 0.76 per cent on concerns over the strength of recovery in the domestic economy.

The Eurogroup of currency partners penned the Greek deal at its third late-night meeting in two weeks, agreeing to release, in December, the funds after months in which Greece was starved of bailout financing.

Greece, struggling to stay afloat despite a series of unpopular austerity measures, has been waiting impatiently for an injection of international loans for several weeks to avoid defaulting on its upcoming debt repayments.

Greece's public creditors agreed to take measures to bring down the country's debt-to-GDP ratio from an estimated 144 per cent to 124 per cent within eight years, in exchange for the bailout funds.

Finance ministers, the IMF and the European Central Bank said the money would be paid in four instalments from December 13 through until the end of March.

Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras said the agreement represented a fresh start for his beleaguered country.

"Everything has gone well," Samaras told local media in Athens. "All Greeks have fought (for this decision) and tomorrow is a new day for every Greek person."

ECB President Mario Draghi said: "The decision will certainly reduce the uncertainty and strengthen confidence in Europe and in Greece."

US markets were feeble in the first session after a slow Thanksgiving holiday week, with the jury still out over how strong the crucial Black Friday holiday sales were for retailers.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished down 42.31 points (0.33 per cent) at 12,967.37.

The broad-market S&P 500 lost 2.86 (0.20 per cent) at 1,406.29, while the Nasdaq Composite rose 9.93 (0.33 per cent) to 2,976.78.

On currency markets the euro was stronger in Asian trade as investors breathed a sigh of relief over the deal for Greece.

The 17-nation currency bought $1.2980 and 106.46 yen in Tokyo morning trade after briefly topping $1.30 for the first time in about a month.

That was up from $1.2971 and 106.38 yen in New York trade late Monday, although the euro eased slightly after the Greece announcement.

The dollar was flat at 82 yen.

On oil markets, New York's main contract, West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for January delivery, bounced 30 cents to $88.04 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude, also for January, jumped 29 cents to $111.21.

Gold was at $1,749.50 at 0310 GMT compared with $1,734.47 late Monday.

Greece wins significant debt relief

BRUSSELS - Greece won big breathing space Tuesday with long-frozen eurozone loans to restart from December and a first clear admission that a chunk of the country's debt burden will need to be written off down the line.

After 13 hours of talks in Brussels, the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund agreed to unlock 43.7 billion euros (US$56 billion) in loans and grant significant debt relief going forward for decades to come.

Greece must still meet a series of agreed conditions but "the decision will certainly reduce the uncertainty and strengthen confidence in Europe and in Greece," said European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who left the talks before a final.

Starved of bailout financing since the summer, Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras hailed the deal in Athens, while German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said the package would be presented to German lawmakers by the end of the week.

"Everything has gone well," Samaras told reporters in Athens.

"All Greeks have fought (for this decision) and tomorrow is a new day for every Greek person," he added.

Finance ministers, the IMF and the ECB said the money would be paid in four instalments from December 13 through until the end of March, conditional on Greece funneling income back to creditors at source and on the implementation by Athens of tax reforms settled with creditors.

The results of the "laborious" negotiations according to IMF head Christine Lagarde are intended to see Greece's debt-to-GDP ratio fall from an estimated 144 percent to 124 percent come 2020, and "substantially below 110 per cent" of gross domestic product by 2022.

"The IMF wanted to make sure the euro partners would take the necessary actions to bring Greece's debt on a sustainable path," said Lagarde. "I can say today that it has been achieved."

There will be a mixture of techniques used to bring down Greece's debt burden.

These will begin with a buyback by Greece of old debt that has fallen in value on commercial money markets as well as national central banks across the eurozone foregoing profits on holdings of Greek debt whose worth has slumped.

Interest rates due to eurozone creditors will also be trimmed or deferred -- Ireland and Portugal can now be expected to demand parity -- while maturity dates will be pushed back by years.

The original bailout rewrite agreed for Greece in March was meant to see Greece's debt fall to 120 percent of gross domestic product by 2020.

"Greece has delivered, now it's delivery time for the Eurogroup and the IMF," said Rehn.

The IMF is pushing for a so-called "haircut" or write-down of debt by eurozone partner governments in the way banks wrote off most of the loans due to them earlier this year, but Germany has come out against this ahead of a general election next year.

Other Triple A-rated states, though, have said they would "not exclude" the possibility of a write-down of debt from 2015 onwards.

France has long been a firm backer of all efforts to keep Greece in the eurozone club, and having lost its Triple-A status, Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said: "Let's assume our responsibilities."

Greece has been waiting since June for a loan instalment of 31.2 billion euros (US$40 billion), part of a 130-billion-euro rescue granted earlier this year.

In exchange, Athens has pledged to implement a new series of radical austerity measures to cut its annual overspending.
Merkel hostile to "haircut"

Samaras' government pushed a fresh batch of deeply unpopular cuts through parliament earlier this month.

Greece's public creditors have decided to give Greece an extra two years, until 2016, to balance the books.

Greece's private creditors have written off more than 100 billion euros in debt, and the IMF has urged the ECB to accept this solution.

But both the central bank and Germany have so far held out against making any similar move, saying it would violate EU mandates against bankrolling individual countries.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said she is "against this debt write-off and I want to find another solution."

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Girl, 11, who wrote songs to pay for eye surgery to see again

SINGAPORE - She was crying for almost an hour.

Afraid of going for her eye operation, Adelyn Koh, 11, had to be reassured by her mother, Ms Mary Lim, 39, that it would be alright.

Adelyn, the musical talent who teamed up with Singapore Idol 3 winner Sezairi Sezali for a Mandarin duet for the President's Star Charity in October last year, underwent a complex surgery on her right eye on Wednesday.

In September, The New Paper reported that the girl had composed songs to raise funds for her eye operation, which was expected to cost about $40,000 per eye.

She had composed four songs and put them into a CD for sale.

Adelyn was born with opaque corneas, or Peter's Anomaly, a rare congenital eye disease. She had gone through four unsuccessful corneal transplants before she turned one.

These corneal transplants were natural, but Adelyn's body had rejected them.

Before her latest operation, Adelyn could make out only lights and shadows.

Last year, Ms Lim discovered a procedure called Boston Keratoprosthesis (Boston Kpro).

According to Associate Professor Leonard Ang, 42, the Boston Kpro is an operation which replaces a diseased cornea with a clear, artificial cornea.

Prof Ang, who is the medical director and senior consultant at The Eye & Cornea Transplant Centre, operated on Adelyn.

The surgery took place at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital at 3.30pm. Only Adelyn's right eye was operated upon.

If all goes well, Adelyn will go for an operation on her left.

"The complex eye surgery was successfully completed in 21/2 hours.

"The aim of the operation was to give Adelyn some vision so that she can be more independent in her daily activities and lead a more normal life," said Prof Ang.

Prof Ang also said that the Boston Kpro operation is particularly useful for restoring vision in patients with severe blinding corneal diseases or those with previous failed corneal transplants.

Adelyn, who returned home from hospital yesterday at 1.30pm, will have her first follow-up session today.

The New Paper visited Adelyn and her mother at their home in Punggol on Thursday.

Although she had gone through a major operation under general anaesthesia just 24 hours earlier, Adelyn was very lively.

"Before I went for the op, I was very afraid as I did not know what was going to happen.

"I spent about 40 minutes crying and I was comforted by my mother and nurses," shared Adelyn.


She said she was fearful of being put under because she did not know exactly what it was, so she asked many people about it before her operation.

"I was scared of the feeling that you would get once they gave you the chemicals to make you fall asleep. It was strange," she said.

Ms Lim said that whether Adelyn can have full eyesight remains to be seen.

She said: "I'm not asking for much, I just hope that her condition improves. I hope that the operation would make a difference (to Adelyn's eyesight)."

The girl is using an eye patch on her right eye to prevent her from rubbing it. She needs eye drops every few hours.

Adelyn, who composes classical tunes, has nearly completed her fifth song and is working on her sixth.

The family is selling Adelyn's music CD at $10.

All proceeds go to Adelyn's medical treatment.

Those interested in Adelyn's story can visit

You can e-mail Ms Lim for CD orders at

Early retirement: Calling it quits early

Retirement is not only a privilege for the elderly anymore.

Retirees are no longer only old people in their sixties with grey hair and frail bodies. Members of a younger generation have become part of this group with their own reasons and purposes that have deconstructed the meaning of retirement itself.

The thought of being able to say goodbye to the daily grind may have made retirement appealing for the young generation. But retirement is more than just about freedom for corporate slaves.

It is also about the chance for young people to pursue a passion that may have been forgotten due to workloads.

Therefore, it is no surprise to find that a number of young individuals are planning to retire early, leaving their established careers along with their comfortable lives so that they can concentrate in their pursuit of passion.

Maudini Virtriana is one of those people. At 30, she has become a senior brand manager for a big multinational company in Jakarta. Having a prestigious position at such a young age, the woman definitely has a bright career ahead of her. Yet Virtri, as her friends call her, plans to leave her job at 35 to follow her passion.

"My passion is not in corporate work. I work only for money so that I can make something out of it," she said.

Virtri hopes that her savings could eventually help her realise her dreams to run a coffee shop and open a school in Yogyakarta.

Passion was the same reason that drove Muadzin Furqanul Jihad to leave his career at a French company a year ago. At 41, the former senior engineer resigned from the company so that he could follow his passion in entrepreneurship.

"I always wanted to retire early ever since I started working. My aspiration is to have my own business," Muadzin explains.

Beyond passion, psychologist Adriana S. Ginanjar sees that there is some kind of "revenge" in these young retirees when they made their decisions, as if they wanted to redeem those long working hours with much more productive activities for their own life satisfaction.

Whatever their motives, according to Adriana, the most important thing for early retirement is to make it as sustainable and enjoyable as possible.

To do that, good preparation and strong plans are needed, because being a retiree also means less income.

Having a pension fund is another way to ensure the lifestyle of young retirees. People nowadays are given a wide array of options to save money for pensions. These early retirees can choose from conventional bank savings to sophisticated investment tools, like mutual funds, among other things.

An NGO worker, Risnauli Simalango, 32, and her husband are aware of the importance of pension savings to support their decision for early retirement.

Therefore, instead of targeting a certain age, the couple aims for Rp 5 billion (US$522,055) in savings before they can retire.

"I imagine that we can still live with that money, even though we won't have a monthly salary anymore," she said.

It is quite a huge amount of money but the couple is optimistic that they can do it in the next 10 years.

Not only that, the mother of one said they had also prepared insurance to ensure the education of their only son in the future.

In relation to preparing money for retirement, financial planner Eko Endarto has shared his formula on how big this fund should be. He said that before deciding to retire, a person must have a reserve capital three times bigger than their monthly spending so they can still enjoy their life.

"But for retirees who want to set up a business, the amount should be six times bigger than their monthly expenses, excluding business capital," he said.

Even though there are no statistics mentioning the exact number of young retirees in Indonesia, Eko believes that most of young people in Indonesia retire because they want to run their own business.

The financial expert referred to a recent survey carried out by himself, mentioning that eight out of 10 people are ready to leave their current jobs and become entrepreneurs.

Adriana adds that this mushrooming entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged by the conducive business environment in Indonesia.

"The current business world is so vast. It is possible to do any kind business now. If you don't have enough start-up capital, you can just use the Internet," she said.

The existence of these so-called young entrepreneurial retirees have no doubt changed the public's perception about retiring. People used to think that retirees only meant those who were no longer working and now spent their days doing nothing.

But, in the hands of these young retirees, retirement days may be as busy as daily office work, only this time they will work to build their own dreams.

That's why even though it may sound cool, early retirement may not be as easy as people think and can be more stressful than office work due to the pressures on individuals for success.

Muadzin said that he experienced that when he tried to start a business after retiring. It was not a smooth start, as he had to close down his business and suffered hundred millions of rupiah in losses.

The same thing happened to Iwan Agustian, 42, Muadzin's business partner. The guy's story was even more extreme than Muadzin, as he decided to retire at 33 after resigning from an underwear company.

"I tried to sell everything from clothes to meatballs, and they all went bankrupt," he said.

Things changes after he met Muadzin and they established a coffee franchise that took them to success. Starting in 2009, the franchise now has more than 420 outlets in 80 cities in Indonesia.

Through all the ups and downs in business world, one thing remains for Iwan, and that is his family.

He said that his wife had disapproved of his decision to retire at first but she finally backed him up in the end.

Adriana said that the support of family and friends is important for retirees so their positive spirit can be bolstered throughout retirement.

Apart from the support of family and friends, passion seems to be another success key to early retirement.

Eko suggested that young retirees to do things passionately - either a business or a hobby - as they will have higher success rate.

"At least, it will make you enjoy everything you do," Muadzin said of his experience.

Planning for early retirement? Finding your passion seems to be a good start.

Singapore inflation likely eased slightly in October

SINGAPORE - Singapore's inflation probably slowed slightly in October as the cost of housing rose at a slower pace, a Reuters poll showed, indicating rising prices will remain a challenge for policymakers even if the economy slips into a recession this quarter.

According to the median forecast of 14 economists, Singapore's consumer price index (CPI) likely rose by 4.5 per cent in October from a year ago, slightly below September's 4.7 per cent pace but well above historical levels of 2-3 per cent.

Core inflation, which excludes the cost of cars and housing as these are more influenced by government policy, probably edged down to 2.3 per cent year-on-year from September's 2.4 per cent.
Singapore has been suffering from higher-than-usual inflation over the past two years, mainly due to a spike in housing rents and car prices even as the economy slows.

A tight job market resulting from measures to make it harder for firms to hire low-cost workers from abroad also contributed to inflation by pushing up the cost of services such as healthcare and cleaning services.

Singapore's economy contracted by 5.9 per cent in the third quarter from April-June on an annualised and seasonally adjusted rate, and banks such as Citigroup said the economy could contract again this quarter amid continued poor demand for its exports, pushing the small city-state into recession.

According to the central bank, Singapore's headline inflation is likely to come in slightly above 4.5 per cent this year before slowing to 3.5 to 4.5 per cent next year, as rising rents and car prices continue to push up the cost of living.

For the first nine months of this year, inflation averaged 4.8 per cent, stronger than most Asian countries.

China, for instance, earlier this month reported October inflation of just 1.7 per cent, the slowest pace in nearly three years.

UOB cuts Keppel target price 

UOB Kay Hian cut its target price on Keppel Corp Ltd , the world's largest rigbuilder, to $12.30 from $12.80, but kept its 'buy' rating, citing lower operating margin assumptions.

By 0208 GMT, Keppel shares were up 0.1 per cent at $10.56, and have risen 13.5 per cent since the start of the year, compared with the Straits Times Index's 12.9 per cent rise.

UOB lowered its offshore and marine margin estimates for Keppel in 2013 and 2014, which resulted in a 4 per cent lower net profit forecast for next year.

However, higher infrastructure earnings will help to support earnings in 2014.

Higher operating margins seen from 2010 to mid 2012 were mainly due to lucrative contracts secured during the boom years of 2007-2008, UOB said.

"We believe Keppel stands a good chance of registering higher offshore and marine margins than Sembcorp Marine as it is building semi-submersible rigs for Brazil," which are not new to the company, the brokerage said.

Cabby: I can't use money which doesn't belong to me

SINGAPORE - A taxi driver Monday returned $1.1 million in cash that had been left behind by a Thai couple in his cab.

The money - in $1,000 bills - was inside a black paper bag left on the rear seat.

ComfortDelGro cabby Sia Ka Tian, 70, had picked up the couple - on vacation here - from The Sail condominium at Marina Bay at around 11.30am yesterday.

After he dropped them off at Golden Mile Complex in Beach Road, he proceeded to look for a parking space so that he could visit a toilet.

After returning from the lavatory, he noticed the black paper bag on the right side of the back seat.
In it was another white paper bag which contained stacks of $1,000 notes.

Said Mr Sia: "When I saw the money, I thought, trouble is here. I was sure there was at least $200,000 in the bag."

Afraid that someone else might get into his cab, he locked its doors and drove straight to ComfortDelGro's lost-and-found department in Sin Ming.

"The money is unimportant to me. It doesn't belong to me, so how can I use it?" said Mr Sia, who has been a cabby for 31 years.

His colleagues at the office were stunned when he handed over the bag of cash. They counted the money and realised it was $1.1 million.

At the same time, the couple had contacted ComfortDelGro via a friend. They went to Sin Ming, where Mr Sia was waiting at the lost-and-found department.

To express their gratitude, they gave him a reward for his honesty. Mr Sia declined to reveal the amount.

The couple also declined to be interviewed and did not disclose why they were carrying such a large amount of cash.

Mr Sia, who joined ComfortDelGro as a cabby in 1981, has made six reports to the lost-and-found department in the past three years.

The items left behind were mostly mobile phones and bags.

ComfortDelGro said this is the largest find to date. In 2009, another cabby returned 5kg of gold bars worth $377,000.

Spokesman Tammy Tan said Mr Sia had acted quickly and with great integrity by returning the money directly.

She said: "Finding $1million in cash is not an everyday affair and, in fact, we wonder how many people would have possibly been tempted by it.

"We are immensely proud of him, and are glad that the passengers recovered their money."

The taxi operator also intends to present Mr Sia with its Crystal Award which is given to cabbies who have provided good service.

Civil servants to get year-end bonus of 0.7 month

SINGAPORE: Singapore's 77,000 civil servants will get a year-end Annual Variable Component (AVC) of 0.7 month.

Lower-wage officers will get an AVC of at least S$1,000, signalling the government's continued commitment to help low-wage workers.

The Public Service Division in the Prime Minister's Office announced the bonus in a statement on Thursday.

The statement said the bonus amount was decided against the backdrop of a "more subdued global economic outlook".

It said: "Singapore's economic growth is expected to remain subdued for the rest of 2012, with the economy expected to grow by around 1.5%.

"The electronics manufacturing cluster would continue to be weighed down by tepid external demand. On the other hand, expansion in the construction sector could provide modest growth support to the overall economy.

"In addition, growth may be slightly lower than forecast if the weakness in the externally-oriented sectors persists into the final quarter of 2012."

The year-end AVC payment was decided in consultation with the unions.

Some 2,000 civil servants earning less than S$1,430 will benefit from the minimum AVC payment of S$1,000. For example, an officer drawing a monthly salary of S$1,200 will get a year-end AVC of S$1,000, instead of S$840 based on 0.7 month of his salary.

About 96% of these 2,000 civil servants are Division IV officers.

All civil servants will also get the Non-Pensionable Annual Allowance (NPAA) of one month, to be paid in December along with the AVC.

Last year, civil servants got a 0.75-month year-end AVC.

In a statement, the labour movement says it is happy that the government has supported its proposal to have a higher dollar quantum to help the low-wage workers.

The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) says this is also in line with the National Wages Council's (NWC) recommendations for 2012/2013 to help low-wage workers with higher dollar quantum.

Mr Stephen Lee, President of the Singapore National Employers Federation, said: "Most of the export sectors are not doing very well. Some of the domestic sectors like construction and healthcare are still doing okay. So I think the demand for labour, the low GDP growth and the negative productivity are the forces that would decide this year's bonus.

"For the private sector, the bonus should depend on their annual result and if some companies do well they should reward their workers fairly."

'Fire' in CTE tunnel on Sunday morning

SINGAPORE - A chain collision between three vehicles travelling in the Central Expressway (CTE) tunnel during the evening peak hours led to a spill of toxic chemicals, a car being engulfed in flames, as well as mass casualties arising from the chain collision.

This was the scenario of the joint emergency exercise conducted by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) in the CTE tunnel early on Sunday morning.

About 200 LTA and SCDF officers took part in the exercise which tested inter-agency readiness in managing a fire situation in the CTE tunnel.

LTA and SCDF carry out joint exercises in road tunnels at least once every year. The last CTE tunnel exercise was conducted in June 2009.

If a fire occurs within the road tunnels, emergency services such as the SCDF, Police, LTA Traffic Marshals and EMAS crew will be activated to manage the fire, assist motorists to evacuate, as well as to implement the tunnel closure and traffic diversion.

The operators at the LTA Operations Control Centre (OCC) will activate the ventilation system to push the smoke downstream out of the tunnel and raise the tunnel lighting level to maximum brightness.

They will also broadcast tunnel closure messages advising motorists to avoid the area through various channels such as radio break-in, LTA traffic news, Twitter and on EMAS signs.

Should motorists encounter a fire or other emergencies while travelling in the tunnel, they can dial 995 for SCDF’s assistance.

They can also tune in to the local radio channels to listen to the LTA emergency announcements and instructions.

 They should stop their vehicles if red crosses are lit on the overhead lane use signs, stay calm, turn off their vehicle engines and leave their vehicle for the nearest escape staircase or cross passage doors to evacuate the tunnel.

NSFs escape death by minutes

SINGAPORE - Just 15 minutes after the 19 full-time national servicemen (NSFs) got off the bus, it exploded.

But the driver of the CNG-fuelled bus died from complications arising from his burns four days later, a coroner's inquiry into his death in the August 2010 incident heard on Wednesday.

Mr Chan Beng San, then 56, had picked up the group of NSFs from Jurong Camp 1 at 6.45am on Aug 13, 2010.

He had ferried them to the Poyang Range at Old Lim ChuKang Road and the group alighted at 7.05am.

The group had smelled something similar to petrol or fuel when they boarded the bus earlier.

They alerted Mr Chan but he dismissed it and even suggested that some previous passengers could have brought durians onto the bus.

He then drove the bus away from the range. About 15 minutes later, the group, which had left some items behind in the bus, called Mr Chan's mobile phone for help.

It was answered by someone who told them that the bus had exploded.

Investigations also revealed that the explosion could have happened while Mr Chan was still in his driver's seat and the bus was on the move.

The explosion, which started at the front of the bus, was so great that all the seats in the bus were pushed backwards.

The windscreens were completely shattered and the roof above the door and the driver's seat were completely burned.

A witness who was driving along the same stretch of Old Lim Chu Kang Road spotted Mr Chan sitting on the road, a short distance away from the front of the burning bus.

The witness pulled him away from the bus to the side of the road and called the police.

When they arrived at the scene, officers found that Mr Chan could not speak and was disorientated.

He was rushed to the Singapore General Hospital by ambulance for treatment.


Mr Chan suffered burns on 39 per cent of his total body surface area. He underwent burns excision and skin grafting the next day.

But he faced complications such as acute renal failure and acute respiratory distress, in his recovery post-operation.

He died of broncho pneumonia on Aug 17.

Investigators later found a gas leak at a joint between the nut and the valve of some black tubing recovered from the rear left compartment of the bus.

There was also a part missing and this meant gas could have leaked out from the joint between the nut and the connector.

The gas had seeped into the passenger cabin of the bus and accumulated at the front of the bus, investigations showed.

An inspection of the bus also found a dashboard- mounted cigarette lighter near the driver's seat.

The court heard that the dashboard-mounted cigarette lighter wasn't part of the bus and that Mr Chan may have mounted it himself.

He was the only driver of the bus since its registration.

The eight CNG cylinders mounted on the roof of the bus were found intact.

The investigation report did not specify what sparked the ignition.

Design lapses

State Coroner Eddy Tham concluded that it was likely that CNG fuel had leaked at the joint of the tubing and had accumulated inside the bus.

An ignition of the leaked CNG fuel into the interior of the bus had resulted in the explosion at the front of the bus, followed by fire that went through the bus, he said.

He also said that the missing part on the tubing could have resulted in the gas leak.

The bus, owned by Sun-Gee Travel (SGT), was still under its one-year warranty.

Though its remaining 22 buses did not have missing parts, investigations by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) revealed that there were other several non-compliances to LTA's pre-registration approval standard in the design of the CNG buses.

The buses were impounded on Aug 24.

The bus manufacturer, Xiamen King Long, acknowledged that there were indeed lapses in their CNG bus design.

The 22 impounded buses were returned to SGT to be converted into diesel-powered ones in January last year. The licences for the buses were reinstated on July 25 last year.

Mr Chan's family members were not present in court during the inquiry.

They also declined to comment when The New Paper visited them at their home yesterday evening.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How to refinance your home loan

It is not uncommon for homeowners to think of refinancing their home loans after a few years of paying their mortgage.

It might be because they want to save money, or even perhaps because they need money.

If you are currently paying a higher interest rate than the current market rate, you may wish to take advantage of better interest rates. You can then refinance your existing loan to lower your existing interest rate and save on mortgage expenses. This can be done by renegotiating loan rates with your current bank.

A change in lifestyle - such as entering retirement age and trying to survive on a reduced income - may make some keen to make some changes to their monthly mortgage.

In this case, they may choose to restructure the loan to lower the payment amounts. You may be paying higher interest rates but making do with more manageable monthly payments.

Tip: Opt for a fixed rate - with the repayment amount remaining the same from month to month. If the proceeds from the home loan have been used to get cash out, it is likely to be cheaper than obtaining personal loans, or maxing out the balances on credit cards. Once the loan is set, the payment amount remains the same from month to month throughout the course of the loan.

Meanwhile, if you're thinking of refinancing your home loan because you need money, you can then use it to monetise your asset.

After years of paying your home loan, effectively, you have been building up the equity, or value, of your house. And although you can sell the unit to take advantage of the rise in home prices, you may prefer other options because you still want to stay in the place. You then have two choices: Take out a home equity loan or do a cash refinancing.

A home equity loan allows the borrower to use the equity as collateral. A lien is created against the borrower's house. A line of credit or a loan is taken in addition to your existing mortgage. It does not replace the old mortgage. You receive a lump sum when you close the loan.

Cash-out refinancing completely replaces your existing mortgage, with new terms and conditions. You receive a lump sum when you close the refinance.

Most people use the lump sum for paying off hefty debts, particularly those with heavy interest rates, home improvements or repairs, hospital bills, and overseas education for the children.

Home refurbishing is an underestimated responsibility. After a certain time, every home needs to be refurbished, and that can cost a bit of money, running into the tens of thousands of dollars.

Refurbishing raises the value of the unit, so it is both consumption and necessary investment.

A word of caution: Refinancing is not a good idea if:
a) The property value is going southward. You will end up paying heavy mortgages for an investment declining in value.

b) You intend to move house in the next one to two years. Any monthly savings will not be larger than the cost of refinancing.

c) You have almost finished repaying your mortgage. Why start from scratch again?

For more information on home loans, check out this website to find out more.

Two new highs in latest COE results

COE for cars in Category A, up to 1,600cc, ended at $77,291, slightly above the previous record of $77,201, from two weeks ago.

Prices for Commercial vehicles in Category C also reached new high of $60,235, up from $59,111 in the last bidding exercises.

Premiums for cars in Category B, above 1,600cc, closed at $93,004, up from $92,400 two weeks ago while the Open Category which can be used to register any vehicle but is usually used for big cars, ended at $93,990.

This is up from $92,100.

Motorcycles were the only vehicles that saw a decrease, finished $1,689, down from $1,959 previously.

Nov 2012 - First bidding
Category Nov 21 prices Nov 7 prices
Cars (1,600CC below) $77,291 $77,201
Cars (above 1,600CC) $93,004 $92,400
Commercial vehicles $60,235 $59,111
Motorcycles $1,689 $1,959
Open category $93,990 $92,100

Declare goods purchased abroad for GST payment: Singapore Customs

SINGAPORE: It's the year-end school holidays and Singaporeans travelling overseas are reminded to keep the invoices or receipts of their overseas purchases, so as to facilitate the computation of tax payable.

The Singapore Customs says travellers who return to Singapore carrying goods with values exceeding their Goods and Services Tax (GST) relief and duty-free allowance are required to declare the goods at the Customs Red Channel for the payment of tax.

Travellers can pay their tax or duty at the Singapore Customs Tax Payment Office or at the self-service Tax Payment Kiosk at the checkpoints.

All goods brought into Singapore such as new articles, souvenirs, gifts or food items meant for the traveller's own use or consumption are subject to 7 per cent GST.

Travellers who spend more than 48 hours overseas will get GST relief for goods valued up to S$600.

Those who are away from Singapore for less than 48 hours will get GST relief for goods valued up to S$150.

GST will be levied on the amount exceeding the value of the goods eligible for GST relief.

The GST relief is not applicable for liquor, tobacco products, petroleum and goods imported for commercial purposes.

And there is no duty-free concession on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

All cigarettes, including those with the 'SDPC' (Singapore Duty Paid Cigarette) mark, and tobacco products are subject to duty and GST when brought in by travellers into Singapore.

Singapore Customs says arriving travellers and returning Singaporeans should familiarise themselves with Singapore's customs regulations available at their

It adds that it is the responsibility of travellers to make an accurate and complete declaration of the dutiable and taxable items in their possession.

Failure to make a declaration is an offence under the Customs Act and the GST Act.

Offenders may be prosecuted in court and fined up to S$10,000 and jailed for up to three years.

The composition sum for out-of-court settlement for a first-time offender is S$200 per packet for cigarettes, and 10 times the amount of duty or GST for other items.

Euro edges higher against dollar on Greece aid hopes

NEW YORK: The euro edged higher against the dollar in thin pre-holiday trade Wednesday as traders appeared optimistic a long-sought Greek aid deal was in reach.

The euro fetched $1.2826 at 2200 GMT, up from $1.2818 at the same time Tuesday.

Against the Japanese currency, the euro rose to 105.84 yen from 104.70 yen late Tuesday, while the dollar also climbed, to 82.51 yen from 81.67 yen.

"Despite the bumbling and fumbling of expected deadlines on Greece, the market continues to rally as if everything is on the up and up," said Neal Gilbert at GFT.

"It seems that nothing can keep the euro down at the moment as the French downgrade failed to do it earlier this week," he said, referring to Moody's removal of France's triple-A credit rating Monday.

European leaders insisted Wednesday that their imminent third attempt in as many weeks to unblock bailout funds for debt-stricken Greece will likely succeed, as Athens warned that the stability of the entire eurozone depended on it.

The eurozone is a "whisker" away from a deal to unblock the money aimed at keeping Greece from going bankrupt, French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici said just hours after marathon talks on the aid package collapsed in Brussels.

Trading volume was weak as many traders left New York early to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday, when all US markets are closed. Markets will reopen Friday for shortened sessions.

The dollar slipped to 0.9389 Swiss francs from 0.9398 francs late Tuesday and dipped a bit against the British pound, which bought $1.5949 compared with $1.5924 the prior day.

US jobless claims fall in storm aftermath

WASHINGTON: New claims for US unemployment insurance benefits plunged more than expected last week, but the data is still being skewed by Superstorm Sandy, the government said on Wednesday.

Jobless claims plummeted by 41,000 to 410,000 in the week ending November 17, the Labour Department said.

That marked a 9 percent decline from the prior week's upwardly revised number of 451,000. Analysts on average had estimated claims would drop to 423,000.

By volume, it was the biggest drop in new jobless claims - an indicator of the pace of layoffs - since early February 2010.

But the improvement came after the prior week's 25 percent jump in claims in the wake of Sandy, which both interrupted reporting and forced people out of work in the northeast.

"Our numbers are still distorted by Hurricane Sandy," a Labour Department official said.

Sandy blasted the northeastern coast of the United States at the end of October and beginning of November, shutting down major cities, leaving millions without power for days, and wrecking homes and businesses in many communities.

The weekly figure remained well above the 360,000-380,000 range for claims of the past year, and pulled the four-week moving average higher, to 386,750.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Poly student dies in accident that almost severes leg

SINGAPORE - He left the shop to deliver what would have been his last pizza order for the night. But Mr Muhammad Amirulhayat Mahadi never got to deliver it.

The 21-year-old student was killed after the Domino's Pizza motorcycle he was riding was hit by a white Mazda RX8 sports car at the intersection of Sembawang Road and Yishun Avenue 5 on Thursday night.

The red motorcycle was completely wrecked, lying crushed below the car, while Mr Amirulhayat's body lay about 10m away.

The storage compartment containing the pizzas was knocked loose and landed on a pedestrian walkway. Blood was splattered over the twisted front of the car and its front windscreen was cracked.
The police and the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) received calls about the accident at about 9.30pm.

Dead at the scene 

When paramedics arrived, they pronounced Mr Amirulhayat dead at the scene.

About an hour later, his family and friends arrived at the scene after being informed of the tragedy.

Overwhelmed with grief on seeing his younger brother's lifeless body, Mr Mahadir Mahadi, 24, kicked the debris from the accident and shouted: "Who is the driver?"

Two police officers and two passers-by rushed forward to restrain him while asking him to control himself.

He struggled in their grasp, demanding that he be allowed to see the Mazda driver, until his friend came forward to console him.

Mr Amirulhayat was a third-year student at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, taking a diploma course in multimedia and animation.

He had taken a part-time job as a delivery rider for Domino's Pizza to earn extra money.

His father, Mr Mahadi Timan, 52, who went to the scene that night, told The New Paper that his son was about to make a legal U-turn in the other direction of Sembawang Road to make his delivery.

It was then that the Mazda collided into the motorbike, causing Mr Amirulhayat to be flung about 10m, he said.

An uncle, Mr Khairudin Timan, told TNP that he was in disbelief when he got to the scene at almost midnight.

"His body was still lying on the road when I got there, and I could see his injuries even though it was quite dark. It was really sad for all of us who were there," he said.

Emotions ran high among his family and friends, with many crying when they saw his body.

Mr Mahadi said that his son's leg was almost severed. He said: "The impact had to be very strong because his leg was very badly injured and his body was flung quite a distance from the bike.

"Plus, the damage of the bike and car was terrible... The car's airbags had inflated as well."

Mr Mahadi said they had to be very careful and delicate in preparing his son's body for the funeral as they did not want to cause more damage to the leg.

The police arrested the Mazda driver for causing death by reckless or dangerous driving.

The driver, who is in his 30s, told Chinese newspaper Lianhe Wanbao that when the accident happened, the traffic light at the intersection was green in his favour.

"When I passed the traffic light, there was a sudden flash of light in front of me. I then heard a loud crash and immediately stopped the car," he said.

He said that it was only then that he realised that his windscreen had cracked and that his car's airbags had been activated.

When he got out of the car, he was shocked to see a body covered with blood lying nearby. If convicted of causing death by reckless or dangerous driving, he could face jail for up to five years.
Police investigations are ongoing.

Bernanke steps up warning over fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON: US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke stepped up his warning Tuesday over the looming 'fiscal cliff,' saying its mandatory tax hikes and spending cuts pose a "substantial threat" to the country's economic recovery.

With government leaders locked in crunch talks on avoiding the cliff and slashing the budget deficit, Bernanke said that rising cuts to federal government spending were already holding back economic growth.

"Congress and the administration will need to protect the economy from the full brunt of the severe fiscal tightening at the beginning of next year that is built into current law -- the so-called fiscal cliff," the US central bank chief said in a speech in New York.

"The realization of all of the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that make up the fiscal cliff, absent offsetting changes, would pose a substantial threat to the recovery," he said, according to the prepared text.

"Indeed, by the reckoning of the Congressional Budget Office and that of many outside observers, a fiscal shock of that size would send the economy toppling back into recession."

Bernanke said the Fed already views growth as disappointingly slow and troubled by threats from the eurozone crisis, slow job creation and the reticence of banks to loosen lending standards -- which Bernanke said is holding back recovery in the housing sector.

The unemployment rate, currently 7.9 percent, remains "well above" what Fed officials want to see, Bernanke said, adding that the country has "some way to go before the labour market can be deemed healthy again."

But Bernanke pointed out that pressures to wind up the stimulus programs and other policy actions designed to pull the country out of recession, and stepped-up efforts to rapidly reduce the federal budget deficit, are now "restraining" gross domestic product growth.

"Indeed, under almost any plausible scenario, next year the drag from federal fiscal policy on GDP growth will outweigh the positive effects on growth from fiscal expansion at the state and local level," he said.

Bernanke's warning came as the White House and top officials from Congress are locked in talks to avert the cliff and set a long-term plan for reducing the deficit, which has topped $1 trillion a year for four years running.

The cliff comprises two challenges: a drastic spending reduction program, and the expiration of a broad range of "temporary" tax decreases.

Both are to take place on January 1, and together would suck at least $500 billion out of the economy, forcing it into recession.

Republicans and Democrats though have sharply differed on what kind of long-term spending reductions and increases in tax revenues should be put in place to replace the cliff.

Bernanke said that the deficit is "on an unsustainable path," requiring a "credible framework" to stabilize and reduce the country's debt and deficit load.

But he warned policy makers "to avoid unnecessarily adding to the headwinds that are already holding back the economic recovery."

"Preventing a sudden and severe contraction in fiscal policy early next year will support the transition of the economy back to full employment."

Asian markets up on US hopes, weak yen helps Tokyo

HONG KONG: Asian markets rose on Wednesday with traders confident the United States will avoid a fiscal cliff and Greece will get its much-needed bailout, while Tokyo was boosted by the weak yen.

The Japanese currency continued its fall against the dollar and the euro on expectations of further central bank easing, given added impetus by data showing Tokyo posted its worst October trade figures in more than 30 years.

Tokyo rose 0.96 per cent, Hong Kong added 0.66 per cent and Seoul was up 0.30 per cent but Sydney was flat. Shanghai was up 0.21 per cent.

Stocks have been buoyed this week by hopes for an agreement in Washington on avoiding the fiscal cliff of tax hikes and spending cuts scheduled to come into effect on January 1.

If they are allowed to come in they will likely tip the US into recession, a danger reiterated by Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke on Tuesday.

Eyes are currently on Europe, where eurozone finance chiefs are holding an emergency meeting to decide whether to give Greece the next trance of much-needed bailout cash to help it avoid a default.

"Greece has delivered (on reform)," said Jean-Claude Juncker, who presides over the Eurogroup of finance ministers from the 17 countries that use the single currency. "(There are thus) good chances of an agreement."

The expectations of fresh cash for Greece lifted the euro against the yen, while it is also holding on to recent advances on the dollar.

The euro bought $1.2810 and 104.95 yen in early Asian trade, compared with $1.2818 and 104.70 yen in New York late Tuesday.

The dollar firmed to 81.93 yen from 81.67 yen in US trade and is sitting at seven-month highs.

Dealers continued to move out of the yen after the Bank of Japan held off further monetary easing on Tuesday but signalled fresh action could be in the pipeline after saying the economy remained weak.

The currency has weakened since last week, when the man likely to become prime minister after next month's general election said he would push for unlimited loosening monetary policy by the central bank.

There was more gloom for the Japanese economy on Wednesday as finance ministry data showed October's trade deficit nearly doubled to 549 billion yen ($6.7 billion) from a year ago, coming on top of weakening factory output.

On Wall Street, the three main indexes all ended flat on weak corporate news.

However, there was support from the Commerce Department, which said home construction rose again in October following September's strong surge, a further sign of recovery in the crucial housing market.

Housing starts rose 3.6 per cent from October, surprising analysts who had expected a fall after September's jump.

Oil prices climbed, with New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in January, rising 55 cents to $87.30 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for January delivery adding 63 cents to $110.46.

Gold was at $1,727.60 at 0230 GMT compared with $1,733.45 late Tuesday.

Singapore cabbie returns $1.1 million to Thai couple

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean taxi driver has been heralded as a hero after he returned $1.1 million in cash to a vacationing Thai couple who left the money in his cab.

Sia Ka Tian, 70, was shocked to find the money in a black paper bag on the back seat on Monday after he dropped the couple off at a shopping centre.

"When I saw the money, I thought, trouble is here. I was sure there was at least $200,000 in the bag," the Straits Times quoted the 31-year veteran in the taxi business as saying.

But when he brought the money to transport company ComfortDelGro's lost-and-found office, his stunned colleagues counted $1.1 million in thousand-dollar bills.

"The money is unimportant to me. It doesn't belong to me, so how can I use it?" he told the newspaper.

The Thai couple reported the loss to the transport company and Sia was waiting for them when they arrived to claim the money.

The report did not say what the couple were doing with that large sum.

The driver received an undisclosed cash reward from the grateful couple, whose names have been withheld, and the company also plans to give him an award for good service.

"Finding one million dollars in cash is not an everyday affair and in fact, we wonder how many people would have possibly been tempted" to pocket it, company spokeswoman Tammy Tan told AFP.

"We are immensely proud of him and are glad that the passengers recovered their money.'

It was the most valuable item returned by a cabbie working for the company. In 2009, another taxi driver returned fives kilos of gold bars worth $377,000.

Olam hits back after Muddy Waters attack

SINGAPORE - Singaporean commodities trader Olam said an attack on its prospects and accounting practices by Carson Block, the founder of shortseller Muddy Waters, was "baseless and unsubstantiated".

Shares in Olam, 16 per cent-owned by Singapore state investor Temasek Holdings - which would not comment on th matter, closed down 7.5 per cent in heavy volume on Tuesday.

Muddy Waters, best known for targeting North American-listed Chinese companies, questioned Olam's capital expenditure and goodwill writedowns.

"We are unable to reconcile its capex (from last year) with announced projects," Block told a conference in London on Monday. He said his investigators had looked at Olam's investments in Africa, Asia and the United States.

"They have been very active in the public debt market. There is a lot of paper to short," he said.
Olam has $4.125 billion outstanding debt, including bonds and loans, according to Thomson Reuters CreditViews. The bulk of its bonds are held by retail investors who can be quick to unload paper, making for volatile prices.

Olam's 5.75 per cent bonds due 2017 fell 5 percentage points to 91/92 cents on the dollar.
Started by the Kewalram Chanrai Group in Nigeria, Olam has grown into a diverse agricultural commodities trading company with interests ranging from cocoa and coffee to nuts and sugar.

Chief executive Sunny Verghese has led an expansion that has seen it take on larger commodity players such as Noble Group and Wilmar International.

Olam also has an industrial raw materials segment which includes cotton, rubber and wood.

"We are dismayed at the nature and lack of substance of these assertions and opinions about Olam's financial position, particularly as we were not contacted in advance by Carson Block or anyone else from Muddy Waters," Olam said.


Olam is the most borrowed stock among Singapore's top 30 companies, suggesting heavy demand from short sellers.

Nearly 80 per cent of Olam's shares that can be borrowed were out on loan, compared with an average of about 6 per cent for the index constituents, according to Markit Securities Finance.

Also at the conference on Monday, John Armitage, chief investment officer of London-based Egerton Capital, said he was short Olam shares, saying the stock was "a great short".

Olam said its annual financial accounts were audited by Ernst & Young, which said the statements gave "a true and fair view of the state of affairs and financial results of the group and the company".

Company officials said in a conference call it would be able to fund operations for 18 months even if it were shut out of the debt markets as a result of the allegations by Muddy Waters, and it would now consider share buybacks after its price fell.

Past reports from Muddy Waters have hit shares in several Chinese companies including Sino-Forest Corp, which filed for bankruptcy protection early this year 10 months after the shortseller said the company had exaggerated its assets.

Muddy Waters has a mixed track record, however, and the share prices of some companies in its reports have bounced back.

"Muddy Waters seems to target companies with quite complex business models and accounting structures. So, it is difficult to get a handle on what is exactly happening in the company," said David Smith, head of corporate governance at Aberdeen Asset Management Asia.

"Given the complexity of the companies that they target, it means that there is always that lingering doubt regardless of what the company says," he said.

In February 2011, Olam denied there were inaccuracies in its accounts after a CLSA analyst raised concerns about internal controls, citing multiple and sometimes significant differences between Olam's audited and unaudited statements.

Olam said CLSA analyst Swati Chopra used examples which were incorrect. Chopra left CLSA a few months after the report was published and now works at a rival.

Olam reported a 26 per cent rise in quarterly net profit last week. Out of 21 analysts tracking the stock, 15 have "buy" or "strong buy" ratings, five have "hold" recommendations, and one has a "sell" call, Thomson Reuters data showed.

Be careful of wanting slower growth: Vivian Balakrishnan

SINGAPORE: Environment and Water Resources Minister Vivian Balakrishnan has warned about wanting slower growth for Singapore in the hope that social inequality might be reduced.

He said if the country does not seize growth opportunities, it could mean fewer and poorer quality jobs for people.

Dr Balakrishnan was asking Singaporeans to think carefully about what they want for their future, in a dialogue with residents on Sunday.

Should Singapore hold on to the values which brought the nation to where it is today?

Environment Minister Vivian Balakrishnan posed this question to Bukit Panjang residents in the ongoing National Conversation.

He said the rapidly evolving global landscape means values in Singapore are also changing.

But the anchor, he suggested, is a fair and just society, so Singaporeans should have their chance to speak up.

Issues raised by residents at the session included overcrowding on public transportation, the adequacy of healthcare facilities, and stress brought about by the education system.

Some also suggested solutions to the problems.

"Subsequently, what the government is going to follow up on these issues are what I would be very concerned about," said resident Alice Lo.

"Because we don't want it to be empty talk, (with) no action or no follow up."

Dr Balakrishnan said there is good reason for Singaporeans to be anxious about the future, as the country is facing intense global competition not witnessed before.

He added that people have to be equipped through education, to take on the jobs of tomorrow.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "The fact that the changes are occurring so rapidly is very unsettling for many of us. So that's the backdrop behind the anxiety which we can feel on the ground. It's important that the conversation, however, leads to a positive conclusion and brings us forward."

Dr Balakrishnan said Singapore has to ensure its family structures and social safety nets are ready, for a future where the population is ageing and communal relations may not be as strong as before.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Dollar creeps higher in cautious trade

NEW YORK: The dollar edged higher Friday as traders grew more cautious amid rising Middle East tensions, which added to worries about the eurozone debt crisis and the US fiscal cliff.

The euro fetched $1.2741 at 2200 GMT, down from $1.2778 late Thursday, and slipped to 103.60 yen from 103.69 yen.

The dollar strengthened against the Japanese currency, buying 81.31 yen compared with 81.16 yen a day earlier.

The euro managed to trim its losses Friday in late New York trade but continued to weaken against the dollar as concerns about the eurozone's festering debt crisis drove investors away from assets deemed riskier, such as the European currency.

And despite encouraging remarks by leaders of the US Congress, both Democratic and Republican, following discussions with President Barack Obama on averting the harsh tax hikes and spending cuts slated for January 1, "the fears over these negotiations continue to fuel risk aversion," said Charles St-Arnaud at Nomura.

"An agreement always takes longer" than politicians would like people to believe, he added.

Escalating border clashes between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip raised global uncertainty, reinforcing fears the world economy could be hurtling toward another crisis, said Joshua Mahony at Alpari UK.

The dollar firmed to 0.9452 Swiss francs from 0.9423 francs late Thursday.

The pound, meanwhile, picked up against the greenback, buying $1.5880 compared with $1.5859 a day earlier.

"The bullish sentiment surrounding the greenback may get carried into the following week as a growing number of Fed officials speak out against tying monetary policy to specific fundamental goals," said David Song at DailyFX.

S&P downgrades ABN Amro, Rabobank

WASHINGTON: Standard & Poor's downgraded Dutch banks ABN AMRO, Rabobank and others Friday citing their exposure to a deeper economic slump in the Netherlands and the recession-hit eurozone.

The ratings on the two large Dutch banks were cut by one notch each, to A from A+ for ABN AMRO and to AA- from AA for Rabobank.

Two other banks, F. van Lanschot Bankiers and SNS REAAL, also were cut by one notch and S&P lowered the outlook on ING Bank, ING Group and Achmea Hypotheekbank to negative, while keeping the ratings unchanged.

"In our view, Dutch banks are exposed to increased economic risks as a result of a potentially more protracted downturn in The Netherlands and wider eurozone," S&P said.

It added that the prolonged correction in the Dutch property market and government deficit-cutting measures would continue to hit the Dutch economy, "although we expect the overall impact on the banking sector to be moderate."

S&P was cautious, saying the Dutch economy remains structurally sound and competitive, and that there is only a low likelihood that banks will experience a sharp increase in housing-related losses.

However, it said: "We could see further pressure on our assessment of economic risk in The Netherlands in the event of a more pronounced correction in the eurozone."

Families of dead servicemen to receive compensation: Mindef

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has said it will strengthen training safety in the light of lapses leading to the deaths of two full-time national servicemen this year.

Private Dominique Sarron Lee, 21, died on April 17 after he experienced breathing difficulties during a training exercise at the Murai Urban Training Facility in Lim Chu Kang. On May 11, Third Sergeant (3SG) Tan Mou Sheng, 20, died after the jeep he was in overturned in the Marsiling training area.


According to a statement by the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), the family of the deceased serviceman will receive a lump sum death gratuity, equivalent to 12 months of the last drawn monthly gross salary of a regular of equivalent rank.

This sum is outside of the compensation framework.

Under the Mindef framework, a sum will be awarded to the family if the death was due to service.

The spokesperson said the amount is consistent with the principles adopted by the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA) and the civil courts, declining to reveal the exact amount due to MINDEF policy.

In addition, if the death had occurred during military training, the family will also receive a Special Award that effectively doubles the total compensation award, compared to what is prescribed under WICA.

For the cases which have resulted in the two deaths, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said "due process" would be followed, whereby the chief military prosecutor would decide - based on military investigations - if the cases are to be put to a general court martial.

He said that the findings of police investigations would be submitted and a decision made later whether there will be any civil prosecution. A coroner may decide to hold an open inquiry as well, he added.

Energy drink may have killed 13 people

The US Food and Drug Administration is investigating 13 deaths that may be linked to consumption of an energy drink called 5-hour Energy, an FDA spokeswoman said Thursday.

"FDA is continuing to investigate reports of illness, injury or death of people who took products marketed under the label 5-Hour Energy," Shelly Burgess told AFP in an email.

There have been a total of 92 patient reports, including 33 hospitalizations and 13 deaths, she said.

She emphasised, however, that "the existence of an adverse event report does not necessarily mean that the product identified in the report actually caused the adverse event."

The FDA warns that energy drinks - rich in stimulants like caffeine - cannot substitute for rest or sleep and advises people to consult a doctor before consuming them, to ensure the product will not aggravate any undiagnosed medical problem.

This is the second investigation the FDA has launched in the last two months into potentially harmful effects from energy drinks.

In late October, the agency announced it was investigating five deaths and a non-fatal heart attack for possible links to consumption of Monster Energy drinks.

Monster Beverage is also being sued in California by the family of Anais Fournier, a teenager who died of an arrhythmia in December 2011, allegedly after drinking two cans of Monster Energy over a 24 hour period.

Her parents accused the company of not warning consumers of the potential dangers of its product.

Two Democratic senators, Dick Durbin from Illinois and Richard Blumenthal from Connecticut, have demanded a meeting with FDA director Margaret Hamburg.

The meeting is "to discuss the steps the agency is taking to ensure the safety of these products," according to a release.

Living Essentials, the maker of 5-hour Energy, said it was taking the reports of deaths very seriously, while insisting it has not yet been proven any deaths were actually caused by consuming 5-Hour Energy.

Monster Beverage released a similar statement in October.

Other deaths/hospitalisations due to energy drinks: 

December 2011: Monster Energy 

Anais Fournier, 14, drank two 24-ounce energy drinks on one December day while hanging out with her friends at the mall. The next day, she went into cardiac arrest and died just six days later.

Her parents are suing the California makers of Monster Energy, alleging that too much caffeine in the popular energy drink led to her death.

2007: Spike Shooter 

Doherty High School in Colorado Springs banned a drink called Spike Shooter after two students were taken to hospital complaining of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and heart palpitations.

They had been drinking Spike, which holds the dubious honor of being the most highly caffeinated 8oz drink. It contains 300 mg of caffeine per eight-ounce can.

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