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Vanuatu cyclone death toll revised to 11

Posted by pakin On March - 23 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

SYDNEY – The death toll from Vanuatu’s devastating cyclone was revised down to 11 on Monday, according to the United Nations which also said contributions to the South Pacific nation’s recovery have topped US$10 million.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) had on the weekend put the number of fatalities at 16, but its latest update noted that the Vanuatu government had advised the number was 11.

Dozens were initially feared dead from the maximum category-five cyclone, with early reports from OCHA giving an unconfirmed 44 dead.

Its official figure has been revised several times since, climbing as high as 24 before settling at 11 on Monday.

Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam, which hit Vanuatu on March 13, bringing sustained winds of more than 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour, has affected some 166,600 people on 22 of the nation’s 80-plus islands.

“Initial assessment reports confirm destruction ranging from 20 to 90 percent of houses, schools, clinics, churches and crops on all 22 affected islands,” OCHA said.

Lack of shelter remained a key factor, while residents had only limited access to safe water and food stocks were running low.

OCHA said as of Sunday, its financial tracking service had recorded a total of US$10 million in contributions from foreign donors, including Australia, Britain, New Zealand and the European Commission.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who made a flying visit to Vanuatu on Sunday, said that Canberra would assist its Pacific neighbour for the long term.

“We will continue to work closely with the (Vanuatu) government as it begins the long road to recovery,” Bishop told the ABC on Sunday.

BoJ sees zero inflation in Abenomics setback

Posted by pakin On March - 17 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

TOKYO – The Bank of Japan on Tuesday said tumbling energy prices could push inflation to zero, marking another setback for Tokyo’s attempts to kickstart the economy by conquering years of falling or stagnant prices.

While the central bank repeated its view that inflation expectations were “rising on the whole” — and it held fire on launching fresh stimulus — the commentary strikes another blow to efforts to reach a sustained two percent inflation level.

Tokyo’s campaign to stimulate spending faltered after the government raised the country’s sales tax last year to help pay down Japan’s enormous national debt.

That hammered consumer spending and led to a brief recession, while falling oil rates have pulled the carpet on energy-led price increases.

“The year-on-year rate of increase in the consumer price index…. excluding the direct effects of the consumption tax hike, is in the range of 0.0-0.5 percent,” the BoJ said in a statement after a two-day policy meeting.

But it added that inflation “is likely to be about 0 percent for the time being, due to the effects of the decline in energy prices”.

Investors will now be following BoJ chief Haruhiko Kuroda’s regular news briefing later Tuesday for clues about the bank’s plans for its massive two-year-old stimulus.

Kuroda has repeatedly said the bank would further loosen monetary policy if necessary. And policymakers shocked markets in October when they expanded the scheme — which pumps cash into the banking system to kickstart the wider economy — to a rate of about 80 trillion yen ($679 billion) annually.

“While the Bank of Japan kept its powder dry today, we still think that policymakers will step up the pace of easing at the end of next month to signal their determination to hit the two percent inflation target,” Marcel Thieliant from Capital Economics said in a commentary.

The BoJ’s inflation target is a cornerstone of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to resuscitate Japan’s fortunes, dubbed Abenomics, which also includes big government spending and an overhaul of the country’s highly regulated economy.

Japan limped out of recession in the last quarter of 2014 with tepid 0.4 percent growth.

However, inflation in January was just 0.2 percent, the lowest since a zero rate in May 2013, just after the BoJ unleashed its monetary easing programme.

Prices had been on the rise, largely due to Japan having to import pricey fossil fuels to plug an energy gap left by the shutdown of atomic reactors in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima accident.

But plunging oil prices have dealt another blow to the BoJ’s inflation goals, and doubts are growing over the ambitious target — even among bank policymakers.

Minutes from the central bank’s January meeting showed that three of nine BoJ board members doubted the chances of reaching the price target by next year.

S. Korea makes surprise rate cut

Posted by pakin On March - 12 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

SEOUL — South Korea’s central bank cut interest rates for the first time in five months on Thursday in a surprise move, joining the ranks of other economies which have recently taken advantage of lower inflation to ease monetary policy to spur sluggish growth.

The Bank of Korea’s monetary policy committee cut its base rate by 25 basis points to a record low of 1.75%, a media official said without elaborating.

Bond futures rose and the won fell after the decision. Most economists polled by Reuters had expected no rate change at this meeting, though many had still predicted a cut in coming months if the country’s economic recovery continued to struggle to gain traction.

“We think the two key drivers behind today’s decision are a weaker economic outlook and deflation pressures,” said Ronald Man, an economist at HSBC in Hong Kong. “Our baseline scenario is for a further 25 basis point rate cut in Q3 2015, which will bring the policy rate down to 1.5%.”

The Bank of Thailand also cut its policy interest rate on Wednesday in a surprise move. India has cut rates twice already so far this year and China has eased policy two times, with more moves expected. Singapore, Australia and Indonesia have also eased.

The Bank of Korea has been facing mounting pressure to lower borrowing costs in the past few weeks as indicators have shown little evidence that Asia’s fourth-largest economy is on a rapid rebound.

January factory output declined at the fastest pace since December 2008, while exports suffered their worst fall in two years in February.

Members from the central bank’s monetary policy committee also expressed concerns over the economic situation abroad, including the euro zone and China, in minutes from February’s rate meeting released on Tuesday.

Some members highlighted poor exports at home and growing worries over possible deflation in the minutes.

Policymakers have taken a step back from positive talk earlier this year, with the finance minister recently noting the weakness in the economy’s recovery and expressing concerns over persistently low inflation.

South Korea’s annual inflation slowed to a 16-year low in February, though much of it was blamed on low commodity prices rather than weak consumption.

SYDNEY – Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott faced a wave of criticism Wednesday, including that he was unfit to be leader, after describing living in remote Aboriginal communities as a “lifestyle choice”.

The country’s indigenous people are the nation’s most disadvantaged, with a much shorter life expectancy than other Australians while suffering disproportionate levels of imprisonment and social problems such as unemployment.

Abbott said late Tuesday he supported a plan to close more than 100 remote Aboriginal communities across the vast Western Australia state if essential services could not be provided.

“It’s the job of the taxpayer to provide reasonable services in a reasonable way, to indeed to provide high quality services in a reasonable way,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“What we can’t do is endlessly subsidise lifestyle choices if those lifestyle choices are not conducive to the kind of full participation in Australian society that everyone should have.”

Aborigines have lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years and the comments drew stinging criticism, with Abbott’s key indigenous advisor Warren Mundine saying Aboriginal people had a cultural connection to their land, and it was not simply a matter of going to “live in the bush”.

“These people are actually living on their homelands and it affects a lot of things, it affects their cultural activities, it affects their native title, it affects a number of areas,” he said.

“It’s about their life, it’s about their very essence, it’s about their very culture.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said the comments were “baffling” and would cause offence in the indigenous community.

“We’re going to make a situation that’s pretty bad already in those places even worse,” he said.

Abbott defended the remarks on Wednesday, saying he was being realistic.

“If you or I chose to live in a very remote place, to what extent is the taxpayer obliged to subsidise our services?” he said.

“It is incredibly difficult for the kids to go to school if there’s only half a dozen of them and getting teachers there is all but impossible.

“Similarly it’s very difficult for adults to get a proper job if there’s no employment within hundreds of miles. And this is where we have to be a little bit realistic.”

Abbott last year spent almost a week running the government from a remote Aboriginal community in the nation’s far north and will do the same this year.

Rolf de Heer, an acclaimed filmmaker who has made indigenous movies including “Ten Canoes”, said the comments were “so inappropriate that it’s laughable”.

“It shows such ignorance that he has no right to be the prime minister of Australia,” the Sydney Morning Herald quoted him as saying.

Aborigines are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of British settlement in 1788, but there are now just 470,000 out of a total population of 23 million.