Khamis, 9 Januari 2014

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The Star Online: Business

China Dec exports growth slows, 2014 outlook brighter

Posted: 09 Jan 2014 06:21 PM PST

BEIJING: China's export growth slowed more than expected in December due to a higher comparison base a year earlier and a clamp-down on speculative activities disguised as export deals, missing the official target on foreign trade.

But the outlook for 2014 is expected to be brighter as global demand picks up.

"Exports weakened dramatically, but were close to the consensus. The data is positive for China and Asia sentiment as it alleviates concerns that China is slowing too sharply," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, a senior economist and strategist for Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.

Exports rose 4.3% in December from a year earlier, the Customs Administration said on Friday, slowing from 12.7% in November and compared to market expectations of 4.9%.

Imports rose 8.3%, quickening from 5.3% in November and overshooting the same rate expected by the market, raising optimism that domestic demand may remain firm despite signs that the world's second-largest economy is losing steam.

The December trade surplus fell 24.3% from a year earlier to US$25.6bil, missing the forecast of US$31.2bil.

For 2013, exports rose 7.9% and imports rose 7.3%, producing a trade surplus of US$259.8bil, up 12.4% from 2012.


Uncertain global demand, a stronger yuan and rising labour costs have taken their toll on Chinese exporters, but analysts believe sales could pick up modestly in 2014 due to improved demand from the US and Europe.

China's combined exports and imports rose 7.6% in 2013, below the official target of 8%. In 2012, China missed a 10% annual growth target. The government does not set any target on exports.

"China's exporters are facing pressures from rising costs, including increasing labour costs and yuan currency appreciation," customs spokesman Zheng Yuesheng told a news conference, adding that trade is entering a "stabilisation and development stage" in 2014.

China's Commerce Ministry has pledged to maintain steady trade growth this year and further balance the trade structure by increasing imports of raw materials and energy products.

"The biggest surprise is December imports. This suggests China's domestic demand is continuing to improve," said Sun Junwei, China economist at HSBC in Beijing.

"We expect exports to show further recovery in 2014, but the magnitude would be small and at around 10 percent. Imports could be supported by steady domestic demand and are likely to grow around 8 percent this year."

China's leaders want to wean the economy off its heavy reliance on investment and exports in favour of a more sustainable expansion in consumption and have unveiled the boldest economic and social reforms in nearly three decades to pursue that goal – Reuters.

Bernanke gives upbeat assessment of economy to US senators

Posted: 09 Jan 2014 07:32 PM PST

WASHINGTON: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on Thursday offered an optimistic view on the US economy's prospects to Democratic senators, but warned that "tough decisions" were ahead on dealing with long-term budget deficits and healthcare costs, according to lawmakers present.

Bernanke, whose term as chairman ends on Jan 31, told a private lunchtime meeting with senators that the reduction in federal budget deficits and the country's improving energy position were "all positives" contributing to a healthier US economy, according to Senator Thomas Carper of Delaware.

According to Carper, Bernanke said that "the next several years are more encouraging, but we can't forget those long-term challenges and they involve among other things programmes that are concerned with healthcare."

An aging US population will put increasing pressure on the federal government as it struggles to provide retirement and healthcare benefits to the elderly, poor and disabled.

Bernanke did not speak to reporters upon leaving the meeting and a spokeswoman for the US central bank declined to comment.

The Fed last month decided to begin scaling back its bond-buying monetary stimulus, dropping its monthly purchases to US$75bil from US$85bil. Exiting the stimulus programme will likely be the main task on the plate for Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, who was confirmed by the Senate on Monday to succeed Bernanke.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, arguing on the Senate floor that an extension of jobless benefits would boost the US economy, quoted Bernanke as saying that the economy could do much better.

"He talked about the vibrancy of this economy now," said Reid, a Democrat. "He said ... it's not as good as it should be. But he said: 'With a little bit of help it would be on fire.'"

Senate Budget Committee head Patty Murray said Bernanke was "very astute, talking about how things are looking up and some of the things we need to be doing investing in infrastructure and research that will help our economy in the future."

Senator Charles Schumer emerged from the session declaring to reporters that the Fed chief "thinks over the next four or five years the deficit is in very good control but he's much more worried about middle-class incomes and growth of average families than he is about the deficit."

President Barack Obama and his fellow Democrats in Congress are focusing their 2014 political message on the need to narrow the income gap between rich and poor.

Schumer, the Senate's third-ranking Democrat and a senior member of the Senate Banking Committee, said Bernanke also discussed the issue of financial institutions that are deemed "too big to fail."

Asked how Bernanke addressed that issue, Schumer said: "One of the ways is to have market forces deal with the ability of closing banks when they're in trouble and he talked about how the credit rating agencies, realising that the government might not come in and bail out these institutions anymore, have actually lowered their credit ratings, which is a market force" – Reuters. 

Wearable gadgets, like watches to check text messages, not ready for prime time

Posted: 09 Jan 2014 07:31 PM PST

LAS VEGAS/SINGAPORE: Despite the hoopla, wearable gadgets like wristwatches for checking your text messages or eyeglasses that capture video are unlikely to make a splash with consumers anytime soon, given the clumsy designs, high prices and technological constraints of many of the current offerings.

That is the conclusion drawn by many industry executives and analysts who trolled the vast exhibition halls of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Most of the wearable products on display at the industry's premier showcase looked like awkward attempts to shoehorn technology into new forms without an original or compelling benefit for the wearer, skeptics say.

Stacy Rasgon, a semiconductor analyst at Bernstein, spent a day at CES busily snapping photos of every fitness band, watch and other wearable device he came across.

"I have 20 different photos, but if I look at the pictures I couldn't tell you which product is from which vendor. They all look the same," Rasgon said. "Wearables sound like a great idea and there's going to be a lot of experimentation. People are throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks."

Sony Corp <6758.T>, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd <005930.KS> and Qualcomm Inc <QCOM.O> showed off new or recently launched smartwatches, most of which act as extensions to cellphones, letting users check messages and appointments. Wristbands - like the popular Fitbit that tracks physical activity - also accounted for a big chunk of the devices on display at CES.

"For wearables to finally match up with the hype, (they have) to be a true solution, where it isn't about the technology - it's about what the technology enables you to do, something you couldn't do before," saidMike Bell, the senior executive leading Intel Corp's <INTC.O> wearables push.

"The function, form and experience have to be as important as the parts you slap inside," he said.

Intel this week unveiled its take on wearables that Bell believes serve a clear purpose and could catch on, including prototype earbuds with a built-in heart rate monitor that changes the music on asmartphone to keep pace with a workout. It also announced a collaboration with luxury department store Barneys New York to develop smart bracelets intended to look like they were dreamed up by a fashion designer - not an engineer.

The wearables mania gripping the industry is in part a response to slowing smartphone and tablet markets. After growing 39 percent in 2013, global smartphone shipments are forecast to expand by just 18 percent annually through 2017, with prices steadily falling, according to market research firm IDC. Tablet shipments are seen up 22 percent this year, compared with 54 percent in 2013.

Tech executives say many consumers are intrigued by the potential for wearable gadgets, but they are also cautious. A survey by research company Yankee Group in December found less than 10 percent of respondents planned to pay $200 or more for a fitness wellness device.

A survey by Wakefield Research, commissioned by U.S. cloud-services company Citrix Systems <CTXS.O>, last November found 91 percent of respondents were excited about wearables, but 61 percent said they had no plans to purchase one.

Simon Randall, whose British-based OMG Life Plc makes a wearable camera called Autographer, is not surprised. He recalls the lukewarm reception when Nokia <NOK1V.HE>, his employer at the time, introduced camera-phones more than a decade ago.

"New things take time to be broadly adopted but if there's an intrinsic benefit at the heart of them they'll prosper," Randall said.


Samsung's $300 Galaxy Gear may have had the biggest launch of any wearable so far - but it was panned by reviewers. It shipped an estimated 800,000 of the watches in the two months since it was introduced in September, a figure that pales in comparison to the millions its smartphones manage.

Some experts said Apple <AAPL.O> may have the best chance of developing a gadget that will propel the wearable category into prime time, given its track record in consumer devices.

"2014 will be more a year of attempts than of successful products. And for a lot of manufacturers it will be a matter of waiting to see what Apple does," said Carolina Milanesi, a consumer tech analyst at Kantar Worldpanel.

While the electronics show lacked sure-fire winners, some offers were definitely intriguing and drew crowds.

Epson <6724.T> unveiled a $700 pair of eyeglasses that allow the user to simultaneously view data about objects they are looking at. Sony's prototype glasses can display captions and information about programs a viewer is watching on TV.

Another offer was a bracelet made by Netatmo embedded with a sensor that looks like a jewel and which measures exposure to sunlight, helping the wearer decide when to put on sunscreen.

Even Qualcomm, one of the largest companies now touting the impending wearable device revolution and purveyor of the "Toq" smartwatch, acknowledges the hurdles ahead.

Raj Talluri, who oversees the design of its Snapdragon smartphone processors, wants to add the same chips to watches and apparel to let them handle much more sophisticated functions. But more work needs to be done on power consumption.

"The power consumption of processors really needs to get an order of magnitude less," Talluri said. "People's expectation in wearables is not that they have to charge them every day. They want to wear things for weeks." - Reuters


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