Changing China

Giant on the move

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from Global Investing:

Home is where the heartache is…

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On a recent trip home to Singapore, I was startled to learn just how much housing prices in the city-state have risen in my absence.

A cousin said he had recently paid over S$600,000 -- about US$465,000 -- for a yet-to-be-built 99-year-lease flat. Such numbers are hardly out of place in any major metropolis but this was for a state-subsidised three-bedroom apartment.

Soaring housing prices have fueled popular discontent -- little wonder as median monthly household incomes have stagnated at around S$5,000.

For its part, the government -- which houses 80 percent of people on the densely populated island -- insists that public housing prices are shaped by 'market forces', pointing to a raft of financing schemes to help first-time buyers.

from Global Investing:

A shoe, a song and the promise of the West

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I found myself at Selfridges this week, specifically in what the London retailer says is the world's largest shoe department.

Slightly dazed by cornucopia of women's shoes on slick display, I was roused only when the haze of muzak wafting over the PA system was suddenly dispersed by the jaunty strains of the Chinese New Year ditty 'Gongxi Gongxi'.

from George Chen:

Winners and losers as Hong Kong rents scale new heights

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

When you walk around Hong Kong's Central commercial and business district these days, you may notice a number of stores are holding "removal sales", which means they can no longer remain in the same location. The reason? In most cases, just blame soaring rents.

Many analysts have forecast declines in residential and commercial property prices in Hong Kong for next year, although at a stable pace rather than a sharp drop. This may be true for some suburban areas where purchase options are more plentiful than those in downtown areas, but until that happens, prices are likely to keep rising, at least for the rest of the year.

from Jeremy Gaunt:

Splendour in China and other branding

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MSCI, the index provider used by leading investors across the world, has decided it needs a name change in Greater China. In a news release this morning the firm (which is no longer owned by Morgan Stanley, the MS in its title) said its Chinese business would henceforth be branded as  MSCI 明晟.

When I tweeted this @reutersJeremyG, one wag suggested  this meant "MSCI small-ladder-bigger-ladder-books-on-a-picnic-table", which is what it indeed looks like to an untrained eye (like mine).  But it is actually Ming Sheng, which  apparently is supposed to symbolise "brightness and transparency, prosperity and splendour".

from Africa News blog:

Was South Africa right to deny Dalai Lama a visa?

By Isaac Esipisu

Given that China is South Africa’s biggest trading partner and given the close relationship between Beijing and the ruling African National Congress, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that South Africa was in no hurry to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama.

Tibet’s spiritual leader will end up missing the 80th birthday party of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel peace prize winner. He said his application for a visa had not come through on time despite having been made to Pretoria several weeks earlier. (Although South Africa’s government said a visa hadn’t actually been denied, the Dalai Lama’s office said it appeared to find the prospect inconvenient).
Desmond Tutu said the government’s action was a national disgrace and warned the President and ruling party that one day he will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government.

China’s pursuit of stability risks greater stress

By Ethan Devine
The author is a guest Breaking Views columnist; the opinions expressed are his own.

While Western economies wither, China is in an entirely different predicament. Beset by high inflation and a frothy real estate market, Chinese policymakers have been trying to cool their economy for going on two years. The central bank, the People’s Bank of China, has led the charge, restricting loans to real estate and hiking the required reserve ratio 12 times in 21 months.

from George Chen:

China is still waiting for inflation to peak

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

How time flies. It's already the end of August and speculations naturally arise about what China's inflation reading will be for this month.

The most optimistic view these days is that the August Consumer Price Index (CPI) could decline to below 6 percent. The most pessimistic view I've heard is that growth has slowed down in August, but probably only to 6.2 percent or 6.3 percent.

Why China can’t save the global economy this time

By Nicholas Consonery
The opinions expressed are his own.

When the global economy broke down in 2008, China was the savior. At that time Beijing rolled out a massive stimulus that was one of the biggest—per size of the economy—that the world has ever seen. The resulting benefits bolstered China’s economic strength at a time when the rest of the global economy was staggering under the weight of failing banks and surging public debt.

But the success of Beijing’s stimulus has masked underlying weaknesses in the country’s growth model. And the market is now waking up to the realization that global economic growth might remain suppressed for years to come.

from The Great Debate:

Can China afford to downgrade the U.S.?

By Joseph S. Nye, Jr.
The opinions expressed are his own.

After the rating agency Standard & Poor’s downgraded America’s long-term debt, China said that Washington needed to “cure its addiction to debts” and “live within its means.” It must have been a delicious moment in Beijing, accustomed over the years to lectures from Washington about its management of the yuan.

But actions speak louder than words. The real test will be whether China moves away from the dollar in any significant manner. While it makes modest adjustments to its reserve holdings, there are few good alternatives to the dollar. And while it calls for an international basket of currencies to replace the dollar, there are few takers. Of course, China might move toward opening its currency and credit markets in an effort to make the yuan a reserve currency, but the authoritarian political system is unwilling and unprepared to move to that degree of economic freedom.

Freedom — with Chinese characteristics

At the Aspen Ideas Festival this week, I’m on a panel that’ll debate the issue of “How Much Freedom is Enough for China.”

Obviously the crux of the question is defining terms — starting with what is China, and who among its 1.3 billion people are you talking about.

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