Japan to issue 2.2tn yen bonds to offset trade war’s hit on tax revenues

Finance ministry officials said Tokyo will cut the tax income estimate for the current fiscal year due to a slump in exports amid the US-Sino trade war. (Reuters)
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Updated 14 December 2019

Japan to issue 2.2tn yen bonds to offset trade war’s hit on tax revenues

  • Cabinet OKs budget with 4.5 trillion yen in additional outlay

TOKYO: Japan’s government will issue an additional 2.2 trillion yen ($20.25 billion) of deficit-financing bonds to make up for a tax revenue shortfall, Finance Minister Taro Aso said, after the cabinet approved on Friday an extra budget for the fiscal year ending March 2020.

The extra budget will be compiled along with an annual budget for the year starting in April 2020 and sent to parliament for approval early next year.

It is the first time that the government has resorted to issuing extra deficit financing bonds since 2016, and shows how Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is struggling to balance the budget, a target he has already pushed back by five years to March 2026.

The government’s difficulties raising revenue and trimming debt issuance will further cloud the outlook for the “Abenomics” stimulus policy mix of bold monetary easing, flexible spending and structural reform.

Finance ministry officials said the government will slash the tax income estimate for the current fiscal year by 2.3 trillion yen from its initial target of 62.5 trillion yen as a slump in exports amid the Sino-US trade war has hit revenues.

Aside from the 2.2 trillion yen of additional deficit-covering bonds, the government will also issue additional construction bonds worth about 2.2 trillion yen to finance infrastructure spending.

The extra budget features additional fiscal spending worth about 4.5 trillion yen, the bulk of which will be spent, along with next fiscal year’s annual budget, to fund the stimulus spending of 13.2 trillion yen the cabinet adopted last week, the officials said.

The spending package was aimed at funding disaster recovery, countering downside economic risks and sustaining a fragile economy beyond the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

In addition, the government will tap some additional 1.5 trillion yen from its fiscal investment and loan program, taking advantage of low borrowing costs under the Bank of Japan’s negative interest rate policy.

The amount of extra budget spending was much smaller than the 10 trillion yen that was first floated by ruling party lawmakers last month, highlighting limited fiscal space left for policymakers.

Escalating violence ups pressure for Myanmar sanctions

Updated 07 March 2021

Escalating violence ups pressure for Myanmar sanctions

  • The UN special envoy urged the Security Council to act to quell junta violence that this week killed about 50 demonstrators
BANGKOK: The escalation of violence in Myanmar as authorities crack down on protests against the Feb. 1 coup is raising pressure for more sanctions against the junta, even as countries struggle over how to best sway military leaders inured to global condemnation.
The challenge is made doubly difficult by fears of harming ordinary citizens who were already suffering from an economic slump worsened by the pandemic but are braving risks of arrest and injury to voice outrage over the military takeover. Still, activists and experts say there are ways to ramp up pressure on the regime, especially by cutting off sources of funding and access to the tools of repression.
The UN special envoy on Friday urged the Security Council to act to quell junta violence that this week killed about 50 demonstrators and injured scores more.
“There is an urgency for collective action,” Christine Schraner Burgener told the meeting. “How much more can we allow the Myanmar military to get away with?“
Coordinated UN action is difficult, however, since permanent Security Council members China and Russia would almost certainly veto it. Myanmar’s neighbors, its biggest trading partners and sources of investment, are likewise reluctant to resort to sanctions.
Some piecemeal actions have already been taken. The US, Britain and Canada have tightened various restrictions on Myanmar’s army, their family members and other top leaders of the junta. The US blocked an attempt by the military to access more than $1 billion in Myanmar central bank funds being held in the US, the State Department confirmed Friday.
But most economic interests of the military remain “largely unchallenged,” Thomas Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the rights situation in Myanmar, said in a report issued last week. Some governments have halted aid and the World Bank said it suspended funding and was reviewing its programs.
Its unclear whether the sanctions imposed so far, although symbolically important, will have much ímpact. Schraner Burgener told UN correspondents that the army shrugged off a warning of possible “huge strong measures” against the coup with the reply that, “‘We are used to sanctions and we survived those sanctions in the past.’”
Andrews and other experts and human rights activists are calling for a ban on dealings with the many Myanmar companies associated with the military and an embargo on arms and technology, products and services that can be used by the authorities for surveillance and violence.
The activist group Justice for Myanmar issued a list of dozens of foreign companies that it says have supplied such potential tools of repression to the government, which is now entirely under military control.
It cited budget documents for the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Transport and Communications that show purchases of forensic data, tracking, password recovery, drones and other equipment from the US, Israel, EU, Japan and other countries. Such technologies can have benign or even beneficial uses, such as fighting human trafficking. But they also are being used to track down protesters, both online and offline.
Restricting dealings with military-dominated conglomerates including Myanmar Economic Corp., Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd. and Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise might also pack more punch, with a minimal impact on small, private companies and individuals.
One idea gaining support is to prevent the junta from accessing vital oil and gas revenues paid into and held in banks outside the country, Chris Sidoti, a former member of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said in a news conference on Thursday.
Oil and gas are Myanmar’s biggest exports and a crucial source of foreign exchange needed to pay for imports. The country’s $1.4 billion oil and gas and mining industries account for more than a third of exports and a large share of tax revenue.
“The money supply has to be cut off. That’s the most urgent priority and the most direct step that can be taken,” said Sidoti, one of the founding members of a newly established international group called the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.
Unfortunately, such measures can take commitment and time, and “time is not on the side of the people of Myanmar at a time when these atrocities are being committed,” he said.
Myanmar’s economy languished in isolation after a coup in 1962. Many of the sanctions imposed by Western governments in the decades that followed were lifted after the country began its troubled transition toward democracy in 2011. Some of those restrictions were restored after the army’s brutal operations in 2017 against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar’s northwest Rakhine state.
The European Union has said it is reviewing its policies and stands ready to adopt restrictive measures against those directly responsible for the coup. Japan, likewise, has said it is considering what to do.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, convened a virtual meeting on March 2 to discuss Myanmar. Its chairman later issued a statement calling for an end to violence and for talks to try to reach a peaceful settlement.
But ASEAN admitted Myanmar as a member in 1997, long before the military, known as the Tatmadaw, initiated reforms that helped elect a quasi-civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi. Most ASEAN governments have authoritarian leaders or one-party rule. By tradition, they are committed to consensus and non interference in each others’ internal affairs.
While they lack an appetite for sanctions, some ASEAN governments have vehemently condemned the coup and the ensuing arrests and killings.
Marzuki Darusman, an Indonesian lawyer and former chair of the Fact-Finding Mission that Sidoti joined, said he believes the spiraling, brutal violence against protesters has shaken ASEAN’s stance that the crisis is purely an internal matter.
“ASEAN considers it imperative that it play a role in resolving the crisis in Myanmar,” Darusman said.
Thailand, with a 2,400 kilometer (1,500-mile)-long border with Myanmar and more than 2 million Myanmar migrant workers, does not want more to flee into its territory, especially at a time when it is still battling the pandemic.
Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow at Chulalongkorn University’s Institute of Security and International Studies, also believes ASEAN wants to see a return to a civilian government in Myanmar and would be best off adopting a “carrot and stick” approach.
But the greatest hope, he said, is with the protesters.
On Saturday, some protesters expressed their disdain by pouring Myanmar Beer, a local brand made by a military-linked company whose Japanese partner Kirin Holdings is withdrawing from, on people’s feet — considered a grave insult in some parts of Asia.
“The Myanmar people are very brave. This is the No. 1 pressure on the country,” Chongkittavorn said in a seminar held by the East-West Center in Hawaii. “It’s very clear the junta also knows what they need to do to move ahead, otherwise sanctions will be much more severe.”

China exports soar to highest level in decades after COVID-19 hit

Updated 07 March 2021

China exports soar to highest level in decades after COVID-19 hit

  • Exports were boosted by electronics and mask shipments

BEIJING: China's export growth jumped to the highest in over two decades, official data showed Sunday, with imports also surging in a sharp bounceback from the coronavirus outbreak that had brought activity to a near halt.
Exports spiked 60.6 percent on-year in the January-February period, above analysts' expectations and boosted by electronics and mask shipments, while imports rose 22.2 percent, official data showed Sunday.

California theme parks, stadiums to reopen soon

Updated 07 March 2021

California theme parks, stadiums to reopen soon

  • Parks initially will be open only to state residents amid safety precautions

LOS ANGELES: California health officials on Friday gave Walt Disney Co.’s Disneyland and other theme parks the go-ahead to reopen at limited capacity from April 1, after a closure of almost a year due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

Capacity will be limited to between 15 percent and 35 percent, the California Department of Health said in an update. Masks and other safety measures will be required and the parks initially will be open only to state residents.

Outdoor stadiums and ball parks will also be allowed to reopen at reduced capacity, starting April 1.

Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland Resort, said in a statement that the decision meant “getting thousands of people back to work and greatly helping neighboring businesses and our entire community.”

“With responsible Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world, we can’t wait to welcome our guests back,” Potrock said.

He did not give a date for the reopening of Disneyland in the southern California city of Anaheim.

Disney shares were trading at $195.10 after hours, after closing at $189.99.

Disney in September said it was furloughing some 28,000 workers, mostly across its US theme parks in California and Florida. Walt Disney World in Florida reopened in July last year, with limited capacity.

Friday’s announcement follows a decline in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in California and the rollout of vaccines. A parking lot at Disneyland is currently being used as a mass vaccination site.

Theme parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios, Legoland and Knott’s Berry Farm protested strongly last October when California health officials ruled out any quick reopening of their attractions.

The California Attractions and Parks Association called Friday’s announcement “encouraging news.”

“Parks now have a framework to safely and responsibly reopen ... putting people safely back to work and reinvigorating local economies,” the association said in a statement.

US economy likely to grow between 5-6% in 2021

Updated 07 March 2021

US economy likely to grow between 5-6% in 2021

  • The US economy could grow between 5 percent and 6 percent this year

ATLANTA: The US economy could grow between 5 percent and 6 percent this year, Atlanta Fed President Raphael Bostic said on Friday.

He said the economy is still under “considerable distress” and the Federal Reserve will continue to provide support until the labor market is stronger and average inflation is on track to meet the US central bank’s long-term target.

“We’re ready and able … to support the recovery as long and as strongly as necessary,” Bostic said during a virtual event organized by Stanford University.

The US economy could grow between 5 percent and 6 percent this year, Bostic said. But he cautioned that the labor market could face structural changes as a result of the pandemic that may require some laid-off service-sector workers to train for jobs in new industries.

A decline in business travel and increased use of automation could mean that some of the jobs lost during the pandemic will not return, Bostic said.

“We need to do all we can to minimize the long-term damage from the pandemic crisis and to make sure that the recovery is as broad-based and as inclusive
as possible.”

Asked if he thought the Fed needs to take action to respond to rising bond yields, which could be a sign that investors are raising their inflation expectations, Bostic said high inflation is not a concern right now.

“Inflation has not been a real stress point in terms of the economic performance for quite a long time,” Bostic said, adding that the Fed will continue to monitor for signs of stronger price growth.

How can Saudi firms move on from COVID-19 survival mode?

Updated 06 March 2021

How can Saudi firms move on from COVID-19 survival mode?

  • Alvarez and Marsal has been advising companies in the Kingdom on how best to pivot out of the tough times

JEDDAH: Alvarez and Marsal (A&M) is a New York-headquartered global professional services firm known in the industry as “the turnaround guys.” Legend has it that co-founder Bryan Marsal was one of the first people called when Lehman Brothers looked set to become the first major casualty of the global financial crisis in 2008.

A&M was founded in 1983 and now has representatives in 25 countries, including Dubai, from where it is now attempting to help Middle Eastern clients restructure their businesses after the challenges of 2020. As demand for its services grows, the company is aiming to increase its staff in the Middle East to 150 over the next five years, from 10 in 2015.

According to Paul Gilbert, head of A&M’s Turnaround and Restructuring practice in the Middle East, two of the most important steps management can take to overcome crises are to take total control over cash flow and to put in place a 12-month contingency plan to help the business stay afloat. Gilbert is currently working on the restructuring of Abu Dhabi’s NMC Health and has previously advised on rescue proceedings for South African Airways.

“Continue with cash preservation and cost control. Talk to your suppliers and landlords — those guys are suffering too, but they still want your business to come out of the other end,” Gilbert told Arab News. “These guys want to talk to you because they want to know that you’re going to be around at the end of it to help them rebuild their own businesses.”

According to Dr. Saeeda Jaffar, managing director and head of the Middle East at A&M, the pandemic has impacted companies in three major ways. There were companies that understood what was going on immediately and took “advantage of discontinuity” to find ways to succeed. Those companies already had a digital business model that supported their shift to digital, or had reacted nimbly to acquire a digital solution, so the transition was not as drastic as it has been for others.

The second group went into what Jaffar calls “hibernation mode,” by opting to minimize losses by decreasing costs, conserving cash, restricting loans and balances and generally steering away from bold decisions until the uncertainty passes.

The companies in the third group, Jaffar said, had weak business models and were unattractive to investors, so were bound to face difficulties.

One of the sectors that has suffered most has been retailers, according to Gilbert. “We’ve helped them across Europe with negotiations with landlords, with other creditors and helped them pivot from bricks-and-mortar stores to digital, and concentrated on helping them retain their customer base for when they come out,” he said. “Many of them are coming out of that period with a balance sheet that is either extremely stretched or has been restructured in a way that a number of lenders have now had to take equity back.”

Other sectors, including travel, tourism, aviation and real estate, have suffered tremendous losses during the pandemic as well.

In Saudi Arabia, Jaffar said that domestic tourism numbers exceeded expectations at the end of 2020.

“I think that’s a trend that will continue. That’s very much in line with the Vision 2030. We continuously see that there is a lot of development happening in the Kingdom, new resorts, new places, new developments that help continue to grow the tourism sector,” she said.

Jaffar believes it will take longer for aviation to recover than many industries, perhaps three to four years, she said.

On the other hand, technology — which Jaffar said has been the “backbone” for many other sectors — and healthcare — which has witnessed considerable investment in pharma consumables — have both prospered during the pandemic, a trend that Jaffar expects to continue in the near future.

Both A&M consultants suggest that as companies emerge from the pandemic, many will be looking at potential consolidation. Therefore, they said, mergers and acquisition activity will see a spike in 2021.

“There are a lot of strategic investors from the region that have learned over the last few cycles that investing now, when the valuations are more affordable, is probably a good time in terms of financial attractiveness,” said Jaffar.