Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Southeast Asian margin squeeze snags Singapore Inc

Feb 25 (Reuters) - The most widespread margin squeeze in at

least a decade is pushing some Singapore companies out of the

city state as rising costs and slow growth sap profitability.

A Reuters study of 268 listed Singapore companies showed

that 57 percent reported a year-on-year drop in operating profit

margin for the first three quarters of 2012. That was the

biggest percentage for the nine-month period on record,

according to Thomson Reuters data going back to 2002. Full-year

data for 2012 was not yet available.

A severe labour shortage is hobbling businesses in Singapore

as the government tightens its immigration policies, while

growth has been hard to come by as exports languish in a dull

global economy.

Across Southeast Asia, 54 percent of companies reported

shrinking margins, equalling the percentage recorded in 2009,

when the global economy had tipped into a recession following

the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.

In all, Reuters examined the balance sheets of nearly 1,000

companies in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and the

Philippines with a market value of at least S$100 million ($80.8


The pain is particularly acute in Singapore, a smaller and

more mature market lacking the burgeoning consumer classes of

its emerging market neighbours. Inflation has heated up, with

the consumer price index, due on Monday, expected to show a 4.0

percent rise in January, according to a Reuters poll.

The head of a Singapore business association is among those

moving their corporate headquarters elsewhere, in search of

lower costs and a larger market.

Chan Chong Beng, head of the Association of Small and Medium

Enterprises in Singapore and chairman of Goodrich Global, a

carpet and wallcoverings company with a presence in eight

countries, said he planned to move his firm's headquarters and

operations such as product development to Wujiang, China, near

Shanghai. Sales and marketing will stay in Singapore, he said.

"Businesses today face a very awkward situation," Chan said.

"The worst is we can't find the workers."

"Potentially there's a lot of room to grow in China. Over

here, no matter how much I can push, there's a limit to my

growth," he added.


Singapore, a major financial and trading centre known for

its business-friendly policies, faces a tightening labour market

as authorities curb the influx of foreign workers, spurred by

public grumbling about overcrowding and soaring property prices.

A survey conducted late last year by the American Chamber of

Commerce in Singapore found 15 percent of respondents - U.S.

businesses which are members of the chamber - were considering

moving operations away, while 5 percent had already done so.

Andrew Tjioe, president of the Restaurant Association of

Singapore which has more than 300 members, said the pressure

from rising costs and a shortage of labour was unprecedented.

"I have gone through so many rounds of recessions - the 1997

recession, SARS and then 2008," said Tjioe, who has been in the

food and beverage industry for three decades. "I can feel the

pressure right now. I believe this has got to be the worst."

At Chan's Goodrich Global, sales growth in Singapore has

been slow in the past two or three years while rents have shot

up around 30 percent and labour costs have risen as much as 20


Small and medium-sized businesses like Chan's have been

among the hardest hit. These companies collectively contribute

more than half of Singapore's gross domestic product and employ

seven out of every 10 workers.

Last month, the American Chamber of Commerce in Singapore

and eight other business organisations sent a joint letter to

the city state's government highlighting concerns about tighter

limits on foreign workers.

"While Singapore continues to attract significant foreign

investment we nevertheless fear current implementation of

revised labour policy risks negatively impacting Singapore's

economy and reputation as an open economy," the letter said.

Singapore's Economic Development Board has acknowledged the

impact of tighter immigration measures on industry and has taken

steps including helping companies to boost productivity, the

board's managing director Yeoh Keat Chuan said.

Some companies will be reluctant to move completely out of

Singapore, which offers a strong record in safety, regulation

and transparency, although their expansion efforts will likely

focus on neighbouring countries with faster growth.

That expansion can help them to weather some of the

pressures at home.

Electronics and furniture retailer Courts Asia Ltd

, which has 72 stores in Singapore and Malaysia, is

setting up a 140,000 square-foot (13,000 square-metre) megastore

in eastern Jakarta, which will be the group's largest when it

opens in 2014.

"We don't want to discount Singapore in terms of growth

potential," said Courts Asia Chief Executive Terry O'Connor.

"But of course Indonesia and Malaysia have more greenfield

territories, there are more options. We go to Indonesia, we can

be 'big box' from day one."

Singapore bakery and restaurant chain BreadTalk Group Ltd

, which aims to boost revenue to S$1 billion in the

next few years, is expanding regionally - particularly in China

and Thailand - to balance out cost pressures at home.

"In Singapore's retail environment, rising costs are largely

attributed to rent and labour," said BreadTalk Chief Financial

Officer Lawrence Yeo. "In response, we've had to fine tune our

business model."

($1 = 1.2382 Singapore dollars)

(Reporting by Eveline Danubrata in Singapore and Tripti Kalro

in Bangalore; Additional reporting by Anshuman Daga; Editing by

Emily Kaiser and Edmund Klamann)

Source: http://news.yahoo.com/southeast-asian-margin-squeeze-snags-singapore-inc-210006135--sector.html

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Is the Muslim Brotherhood seeking to kill Egypt's NGOs?

A restrictive draft law sponsored by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's party echoes the philosophy of the Mubarak government, which saw independent groups as a threat.

By Kristen Chick,?Correspondent / February 22, 2013

A demonstrator, who supports the Muslim Brotherhood, waves an Egyptian national flag as he chants slogans in support of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, Feb. 15. Last week, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party's (FJP) proposed a new draft law that echoes the philosophy of the Mubarak government.

Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters


A government minister and member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) has proposed a highly restrictive law that rights activists say would cripple civil society groups in Egypt and mark an alarming shift by the Brotherhood toward the methods of the ousted Hosni Mubarak.

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The draft law is likely to be revised before it is sent to Egypt's legislative body for approval. Even so, nongovernmental organization (NGO) leaders and activists say the draft shows that the FJP is adopting the philosophy of former President Mubarak, whose government saw independent groups as a threat and sought to restrict their actions and funding.

Last year, before the FJP's Mohamed Morsi was elected president, the party proposed a law that earned cautious praise from rights organizations. Last week, Mohamed Ali Bishr, a prominent Muslim Brotherhood and FJP member and minister of local development, proposed a new draft that is closer to the highly restrictive bill proposed by another government ministry.

It would interfere in the details of how NGOs operate and organize, and would tightly restrict the foreign funding that rights organizations in Egypt rely on. For the first time in history it would give a legal role to Egypt's security apparatus in overseeing civil society organizations.

If a law much like the current draft passes, ?NGOs will not work actively. They will work under the pressure of the law and the government; they will not be healthy NGOs. There's no hope for those that work in human rights or criticize the government on human rights to obtain foreign funding,? says Mohamed Zaree, Egypt program manager at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

Mubarak's time

Mubarak's government saw civil society organizations, particularly those focused on human rights, as a threat. Most rely on funding from abroad, and he sought to restrict or control that funding. When Mubarak was ousted by a popular uprising in 2011, the military stepped in to rule Egypt, but the officials responsible for regulating civil society remained. They launched a crackdown on NGOs that were foreign or received foreign funding, raiding offices, confiscating cash and equipment, and investigating employees.

They eventually brought charges against 43 people, including Americans, accusing them of receiving foreign funds illegally. In public statements leading up to the trial, officials implied those charged had been working to destabilize Egypt. Most of the Americans fled the country last year, but one remained to face the charges.

When the FJP proposed a draft NGO law last year, the military was still ruling Egypt. In at least one article of that draft law, the Brotherhood's party took almost word for word the recommendations made by CIHRS and other rights organizations. Rights activists say the law did have portions they considered problematic, but on the whole it was progressive. They were startled to see the FJP's new draft revert to the vision outlined by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs, which has advanced the Mubarak-era approach toward NGOs.

Amnesty International said yesterday that the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs recently sent a letter to the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights saying that local organizations are not allowed toengage with ?international entities? in any way without the permission of the ?security bodies, " apparently on the instructions of the prime minister.?

The first draft law ?was introduced by the Muslim Brotherhood in different political circumstances,? says Bahey el Din Hassan, head of CIHRS, noting that a military junta was then ruling Egypt. Now, with Morsi as president and the FJP dominating the only legislative body currently active, ?they have everything. So why would they make concessions to civil society? This is what changed."

Mr. Zaree says the draft law was presented in a meeting at the Justice Ministry attended by CIHRS as the FJP's proposal. FJP spokesman Mourad Ali would only say that the draft law is still being discussed and is not finalized. He declined to answer further questions, as did other FJP members.

An official at the presidency, who asked not to be named, said "the presidency is keen on building consensus on the associations law. No NGOs law has been submitted to the Shura Council [Egypt's legislative body] yet. We have urged the cabinet to withhold submitting a draft law until a more consensual version is in place."

Damage done

Heba Morayef, Egypt director for Human Rights Watch, says the damage is done when those writing the law start with such a repressive draft, even if they promise revisions. ?The problem is that once you adopt language that is very restrictive, even when you attempt to revise it, the revisions tend to be limited,? she says. ?The first draft is very significant.?

The FJP draft law calls for foreign funding to be tightly restricted. It requires organizations to receive prior approval from a government minister before they can receive funds, and the minister doesn't have to justify a decision to say no. Already, under the current law, authorities are rejecting or holding up many organization's applications for approval to receive funds from abroad, says Zaree.

Mr. Hassan says the ministerial veto could be used against organizations the government sees as a nuisance ? for example, those working to document torture or abuse by security forces.

The most worrying article for many in NGOs is one that designates all NGO funds except member dues as ?public funds.? Zaree, Egypt program manager at CIHRS, says it takes the ?non? out of ?nongovernmental organizations? and ?nationalizes? civil society. That designation would give the government greater oversight and allow it greater interference in NGO work ? including allowing several government entities the right to review the activities and finances of NGOs at any time, says Zaree.

?This gives you a sense that they look at civil society as a branch of the government. It's not independent,? he says.

Next stop: Jail

Hassan says the law means ministry officials can come to an NGO's offices at any time, review anything they want ? related to activities or finances ? and refer the employees on the spot to the prosecutor.

The law would also set up a committee to approve the registration of international NGOs. That committee can reject the registration request of any organization if it decides that Egyptian society is not in need of its work ? for example, if the committee members decide there is no need for investigating torture or raising political awareness. ?It's a very very broad criteria,? says Zaree.

International NGOs that receive foreign government funding, either directly or indirectly, would not be allowed to work in Egypt. That would immediately disqualify many organizations, including the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute, both American organizations targeted in the NGO crackdown. They are affiliated with the Republican and Democratic parties in the US, and receive most of their budget from the government's National Endowment for Democracy.

For local NGOs, the law interferes in minor details of how they organize themselves. Those that receive foreign funding would be required to submit a quarterly report on their activities and finances to the government. That puts an unreasonable burden on NGOs, who would spend most of their time writing those reports instead of working, says Zaree. And the law mandates prison sentences, instead of fines, for those who break the law.

Rights advocates say the regulations in the law would effectively prohibit many international NGOs from working in Egypt, and greatly hinder or stop the work of local NGOs as well. Asked if CIHRS could operate under the draft law, if it were implemented, Hassan said, ?if it was passed like this, I don't think it would be possible. If we didn't shut down they would come and shut us down.?

Source: http://rss.csmonitor.com/~r/feeds/csm/~3/QIRFSmmtdOo/Is-the-Muslim-Brotherhood-seeking-to-kill-Egypt-s-NGOs

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Friday, February 22, 2013

Domenici acknowledges secret son

Former Sen. Pete?Domenici, a New Mexico Republican, made public a long held secret on Wednesday. He fathered a child outside of marriage in the 1970s. The former politician, now 80, was the longest serving senator in the state's history and known as a family man.

By Jeri Clausing,?Associated Press / February 21, 2013

Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. talks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, July 29, 2005.

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite


Former Sen. Pete?Domenici?has disclosed that he fathered a secret child in the 1970s with the 24-year-old daughter of one of his Senate colleagues ? a startling revelation for a politician with a reputation as an upstanding family man.

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Domenici?and Michelle Laxalt sent statements to the Albuquerque Journal that announced the relationship for the first time and identified their son as Nevada attorney Adam Paul Laxalt. They said they decided to go public with their decades-old secret because they believed someone was about to release the information in an attempt to smear?Domenici.

"I deeply regret this and am very sorry for my behavior,"?Domenici, 80, said in his statement. "I hope New Mexicans will view that my accomplishments for my beloved state outweigh my personal transgression."

The Journal reported on the relationship in an article published Wednesday.

Domenici, a Republican, was the longest-serving senator in New Mexico history when he retired in 2008 after six terms. He was known for his unflagging support of the state's national laboratories and military installations, and he became a power broker for his work on the federal budget and energy policy.

Domenici?voted for the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton in 1998 after his affair with Monica Lewinsky, but his floor statement focused on the fact that Clinton had lied under oath, noting that the trial "has never been about the President's private sex acts, as tawdry as they have been."

But in the same speech, he cited the value of "truthfulness" and how it's the first pillar of good character.

Reached at his home in Washington on Wednesday,?Domenici?said he had nothing more to say.?Domenici?and his wife have been married more than 50 years and have eight children.

The scandal has all the elements of an inside-the-Beltway soap opera.

Michelle Laxalt is the daughter of former U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt, himself a significant political figure in the 1970s and '80s as he served as Nevada governor and two terms in the Senate alongside?Domenici.

Michelle Laxalt became a prominent lobbyist, Republican activist and television commentator after the affair. She said in the statement that she chose to raise her son as a single parent and that the two agreed that it would be a private matter.

"One night's mistake led to pregnancy more than 30 years ago," she said.

Laxalt's prominence in national politics occasionally put her in an odd position of publicly discussing the integrity of the man who is the father of her child.

In 2008,?Domenici?was reprimanded by the Senate ethics committee for his involvement in a scandal over the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys.

At the time, Laxalt defended?Domenici's?integrity on CNN, calling him an honorable man who was supporting "no fewer than eight children."

The website for Adam Laxalt's law firm said he is a former U.S. Navy officer and lawyer who served in Iraq. He also worked for then-Sen. John Warner, R-Va., and as a special assistant to an undersecretary of state, according to the website.

Source: http://rss.csmonitor.com/~r/feeds/csm/~3/3NhwVk6XA40/Domenici-acknowledges-secret-son

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