The Great Debate UK

from Breakingviews:

Egypt needs a reconstruction fund too

By Hugo Dixon
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

LONDON -- Egypt needs a reconstruction fund too. Japan will be spending tens of billions of dollars on rebuilding after its tsunami. Egypt can't afford to finance an equivalent fund after its political tsunami. But foreign powers could help by showing they are not just interested in bombing neighbouring Libya.

In the long run, the most important thing is to accelerate free trade between Egypt and the industrialised world, notably the European Union. More immediately, as the country teeters on the brink of recession, foreign countries can show they really care about Egypt's transition to democracy by financing a fund to invest in physical and social infrastructure -- such as power generation, transport, housing and education.

Over the two months since the Egyptian revolution began, nothing concrete has emerged -- despite much talk. Western countries want to help but are strapped for cash. There is also an understandable desire to link help to the achievement of the milestones on the road to democracy. Meanwhile, first the Japanese earthquake and then war in Libya has distracted attention from Egypt.

Tide turns against nuclear energy

TAIWAN/

By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

As the nuclear threat in Japan steps up a gear, global politicians have pre-empted a wave of anti-atomic feeling from their public and spoken out against nuclear reactors, which threatens its future as a viable alternative to oil.

As Japan has found out with devastating consequences when things go wrong with atomic energy the effect is both devastating and immediate. Unlike carbon fuels, which have a lagged detrimental effect on the atmosphere, a nuclear accident doesn’t get worse in increments – once radioactive material is released into the atmosphere the damage to the surrounding areas is done.

from Breakingviews:

How Japan’s nuclear industry got here

By Martin Dusinberre
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews guest columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

NEWCASTLE, England -- How did Japan's nuclear industry get here? As the world digests the appalling images from Fukushima of reactors crippled by last week's earthquake and tsunami, the question springs to mind how a country that experienced the horrors of nuclear weapons in 1945 came to embrace nuclear power so expansively in the post-war decades.

from Business Traveller:

Travel as an escape

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As I write this, the first U.S. chartered flights are leaving Japan carrying those military families and private citizens who wish to leave. Unlike the destinations affected by the 2004 tsunami, business travellers know the futuristic conurbation of Tokyo well. Its generation-next skyscrapers and bullet trains make for one of the slickest corporate hubs on the planet.

We, and the rest of the connected world, watch agape as this most civilised country deals with the disaster, very much doubting that if such a cataclysm befell us, we would behave with such patience, decorum, dignity.

from The Great Debate:

The cantankerous effects from Japan’s radiation

JAPAN-QUAKE/

Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, president of Environmental Health Trust, is an award-winning scientist and writer on environmental health issues, author of "The Secret History of the War on Cancer," and "Disconnect" who served as the founding director of the Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology at the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, 1983-93. The opinions expressed are her own.

The discovery of ionizing radiation at the turn of the nineteenth century revolutionized science and society. Within two weeks of their being created at the end of 1895, the stunning x-ray images of his wife's bejeweled hand that physics professor Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen had taken appeared in major newspapers around the world. From Paris, to London and Tokyo, scientists and celebrities engaged in a world-wide medical vogue with fashionable x-ray parties featuring popular demonstrations of moving skeletons.

from Breakingviews:

Japan reminds strapped officials they need buffer

By James Pethokoukis
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

WASHINGTON -- When your credit card is nearly maxed out, dealing with emergencies can be tricky. A massive rebuilding effort may stretch Japan to its financial limits. Politicians in Washington and other overspending capitals should take note of the warning.

from The Great Debate:

Japan shows another side of the press

JAPAN-QUAKE/LEAKAGE

By Anya Schiffrin
The opinions expressed are her own.

Sitting in Japan in the days after the Friday earthquake and watching the official broadcaster NHK cover the disaster has been an unusual experience. There has been the typical blanket television coverage of this tragedy but the flavor of the reporting is different than it would be in the U.S. “Restrained” is how one friend described it. Over and over we’ve seen the same awful footage of the enormous dirty wave sweeping up cars and houses as it inches slowly along the land.

There are the inevitable interviews with displaced people and experts in their offices. But there are very few graphics or charts, no catchy logos and certainly no dead or injured on the screen. Just as U.S. presidents take off their ties when they visit the troops, Japanese officials appearing on television wear the blue uniforms of someone doing physical labor but with their logo of their ministry or office sewn on their pocket. “It’s theatre” a Japanese friend said dismissively as we watched television last night. But the purposefulness and determination of the government officials were evident — and even my skeptical friend agreed that this commitment would be well-received by the electorate.

from Breakingviews:

Tragic quake may add to inflation pressures

The full economic impact of the sixth most powerful earthquake ever recorded is not yet known. Many hundreds of lives have been reported lost in Japan. Aftershocks are a danger and other nations fear a tsunami running across the Pacific will spread the damage more widely. Though uncertainty is rife, the earthquake is more likely to add to global growth and attendant inflationary pressures than subtract from them. It also raises concerns about Japan's long-running fiscal dangers.

The earthquake struck close to a relatively sparsely populated area of Japan. In contrast, the Kobe earthquake in January 1995 struck one of the most populated and industrialized regions, killing 6,434 people and causing damage estimated at around $100 billion. The current quake will leave a large reconstruction bill -- but, on current indications, a smaller one than for Kobe.

Monetary policy: QE2 or the Titanic?

“Those whom the gods would destroy, they first drive mad.” – the words of a wise Roman thinker (or was it a Greek central banker?). At any rate, the gods certainly seem to have no benevolent intentions with regard to this country, judging by the statements coming from the Bank of England, in particular the calls for another round of quantitative easing from one member of the Monetary Policy Committee and the cry of “Spend, spend, spend” from another.

The view emerging from the Bank and the Monetary Policy Committee is that the country is in the grip of a slow-growth recession, facing the threat of Japanese-style deflation and a double-dip recession, and that this grim situation requires near-zero interest rates, supported by QE2 if necessary, in order to restore consumption and lending (including mortgages) to pre-crisis levels.

from MacroScope:

Investment week: Punch drunk and hard to startle

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This week’s rehashing of European banking concerns – related variously to the Basel III impact on German banks, the ongoing morass re Anglo Irish Bank or any other scare story you want to exhume -- provided the latest excuse for a global markets wobble as September kicked off. Yet, with some justified head-scratching over what really was new to the world this week as opposed to last week, price moves showed little conviction. Most losses were quickly recouped and decibel level of the commentariat, still frantically competing to warn you of the next disaster, toned down.

boxerThe world’s major sovereigns and banks have big financial problems, no doubt, and Europe more than its fair share. The rescues of the Spring did not provide a silver bullet and genuine repair will likely take a painfully-long time. But we’ve also had a lot of time to adequately discount these risks and the marketplace at large is already positioned extremely cautiously. That's why the idea of sudden, blind panic on these long-running sagas seems just a little OTT – especially against a relatively stable, if bruised, economic backdrop. The bigger issue many investors are grappling with is the growing difficulty in making money in a hyper-cautious, low-growth environment. Ask Stanley Druckenmiller. If he threw in the towel because money-making conditions are just lousy, then you can be sure others see the same. Anecdotally at least, pressurised hedge funds – who faced rising redemptions through the summer – are ultra-cautious about open positions and seem quick to cut and run on even the slightest gain, long or short. (A bit like continually shouting 'bank!' on reaching £100 pounds on The Weakest Link!) Big institutional funds, meantime, are sufficiently uncertain about the market and economic direction that many are already keen to lock down for the remainder of the year and are hugging benchmarks to preserve whatever capital they have without resorting to zero-yielding cash or barely-more-attractive TBonds. U.S. midterms in November only add the caution. In short, it will take a pretty major positive or negative surprise to truly set these markets alight and there is every chance we won’t get a decisive one for some time.  We already have historically high vol and caution – but relative steady, unspectacular conditions for all that. The smart money may simply be tempted to buy or sell any hysterical extremes. Is may even be possible that some are tempted to foster a long-absent patience gene?

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