Kamis, 24 Juli 2008

Japan trade surplus down nearly 89 percent

TOKYO, Japan (AP) -- Japan's trade surplus in June fell 88.9 percent from a year earlier marking the fourth straight month of decline, the government announced Thursday.
The Finance Ministry said the surplus shrank to 138.6 billion yen ($1.28 billion) as imports grew amid soaring oil prices and other commodities.

Overall imports grew 16.2 percent to 7.21 trillion yen ($66.76 billion) in June, while exports dipped 1.7 percent to 7.16 trillion yen ($66.30 billion), the ministry said.

Japan's politically sensitive trade surplus with the United States fell by 40.2 percent, down for the 10th straight month on slower exports of cars, auto parts and mineral fuels.

The nation's trade surplus with Asia dipped 6.3 percent, falling for the first time in three months due to rising imports of oil, natural gas and coal, the ministry said. The trade surplus with China fell 65.5 percent.

Japan's trade surplus in the first half of 2008, meanwhile, fell 42.1 percent from a year earlier to 2.959 trillion yen ($27.40 billion), the ministry said Thursday. Imports grew 10.5 percent, outpacing exports that increased 3.9 percent


Malaysia's inflation hits 27-year high

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) -- Malaysia's annual inflation rate spiraled to a 27-year high in June after a fuel price hike sent the cost of food and transport soaring, the government said.

Consumer prices in June rose 7.7 percent compared with the same month in 2007, more than double the 3.8 percent annual inflation rate recorded in May, according to data released late Wednesday by the Statistics Department.

Food and nonalcoholic beverages, which account for 31 percent of the price index, spiked 10 percent from a year ago. Transport expenditure surged 19.6 percent; alcoholic beverages and tobacco costs climbed 9.2 percent.

"The main reason for this increase is due to the substantial rise in the price of petrol and diesel announced by the government," the statistics department said.

The inflation figures underscore growing public frustrations over the higher cost of living after the government raised gasoline prices by 41 percent and diesel prices by 63 percent in early June to curb a runaway subsidy bill.

Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Shahrir Samad said June's inflation rate was the highest since April 1981, when consumer prices rose 10.8 percent.

Shahrir said annual inflation would likely remain above 7 percent in July because the government raised electricity tariffs by 18 percent for households and an average of 26 percent for commercial and industry users.

Central Bank Governor Zeti Akhtar Aziz was noncommittal Thursday about whether the sharper-than-expected rise in inflation will prompt the bank to raise its key overnight policy rate -- used by banks to set lending rates -- which has been unchanged at 3.5 percent since 2006.

"We're going to do what is in the best interest of the country," Zeti told reporters, adding that the bank will consider factors such as whether inflation would increase and affect economic growth.

The government has said inflation may cross 5 percent in 2008, but it has pledged not to further raise fuel prices this year. Inflation was around 2 percent last year.

Malaysia's consumer price index is calculated based on retail prices of 460 items in nearly 25,000 outlets nationwide


Brazil increases interest rates

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) -- Brazil's Central Bank says it has raised the country's benchmark lending rate by 0.75 percentage points to 13 percent amid resurgent inflation fears.

"In view of the macroeconomic scenario and in order to bring inflation in line with (established) targets, the Central Bank's Monetary Policy Committee has unanimously decided to increase the interest rate," the Central Bank said in statement Wednesday.

The government has recently raised its inflation target for 2008 to around 6 percent, up from its original target of 4.5 percent.

It was the third consecutive interest hike. The last two increases were of 0.5 percentage points.


Credit Suisse returns to profit

ZURICH, Switzerland (AP) -- Credit Suisse Group returned to profit from subprime losses in the second quarter, posting a net income Thursday of 1.22 billion Swiss francs ($1.16 billion).

Credit Suisse's second-quarter result was 33 percent lower than the net income of 3.2 billion francs in the same period last year. Switzerland's second largest bank, which has weathered the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis better than crosstown rival UBS AG, had gone into the red for the first quarter, posting a net loss of 2.1 billion Swiss francs.

The bank said it had combined net write-downs of 22 million francs ($21.3 million) in the leveraged finance and structured products businesses, which it said was so low as to be "immaterial." In the first quarter, Credit Suisse had net write-downs of 5.3 billion francs for big buyout loans and mortgage securities.

"We are pleased with our second-quarter results, which reflect the resilience and earnings power of our integrated business model and our continued focus on risk and cost management," said Chief Executive Brady W. Dougan.

He said the bank had further reduced its risk positions.

"Our conservative funding structure and our position as one of the world's best capitalized banks remain competitive advantages," Dougan said in a company statement


As fugitive, Karadzic had mistress, fake family War-crimes suspect vows to fight extradition to the Netherlands

BELGRADE, Serbia - Radovan Karadzic's secret life included a mistress, a bogus family he claimed he left behind in the U.S., and frequent visits to a Belgrade pub called The Madhouse, acquaintances said Wednesday.

A lawyer for the former Bosnian Serb leader, who had a bushy white beard and long gray hair when he was captured Monday, said he had a shave and a haircut at his request.

"He looks like new, exactly the same, only 14 years older," said the lawyer, Sveta Vujacic.


Obama arrives in Germany ahead of key speech

U.S. presidential contender Barack Obama arrived in Germany Thursday for the latest leg of an international trip intended to bolster his foreign policy credentials. Obama, the presumptive Democratic candidate, who will also visit France and the UK before heading home, is due to give a public speech in Berlin later following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

But Obama's performance will likely be intended as much for an audience in the U.S. as for the German crowds expected to gather in front of the Victory Column in Berlin's Tiergarten Park.

had originally hoped to speak in front of the iconic Brandenburg Gate, where U.S. President John F. Kennedy was greeted by ecstatic crowds in 1963 when he visited the city shortly after the Berlin Wall had been built.

That suggestion was apparently vetoed by Merkel. But as a youthful candidate promising change who has frequently been compared to Kennedy, Obama's strategists hope a warm welcome from Germans will play well with voters.

CNN European Political Editor Robin Oakley said Obama enjoyed widespread popularity in Europe.

"He is somehow one of those politicians who reaches other parts other politicians don't reach," said Oakley. "After the unpopularity of George W. Bush, the world is waiting to love America again and they see in Obama, with his youth and his optimism, somebody who can bring that about."

But Oakley said Obama also needed to prove to Americans as well that he could defend U.S. interests abroad. Republican rival John McCain's campaign team has frequently criticized Obama as being inexperienced on foreign policy and a recent poll suggested just 48 percent of Americans thought he would make a good commander in chief, compared to 72 percent for McCain.

Talks between Merkel and Obama were expected to include discussion of Afghanistan, Iraq, trade, climate change and NATO. Oakley said European leaders would be seeking confirmation that Obama, if elected, would be a "listening president."

In addition to Merkel, Obama is slated to meet with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and opposition leader David Cameron as well as French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Prior to leaving Israel earlier Thursday, Obama paid a pre-dawn visit to one of Jerusalem's holiest sites, the Western Wall.

Under tight security, he arrived at a section of the Western Wall that had been cordoned off. The visit had not been announced in advance, but dozens of people were waiting in the darkness for his arrival.

Wearing a white yarmulke, the Illinois senator walked towards the site with the Rabbi of the Wall, Shmuel Rabinovich. The rabbi read Psalm 122, and he and Obama looked through a Holy Book before Obama left a note, a custom of visitors to the site.Obama bowed his head and placed his hand on the wall for a few moments. CNN producer Sasha Johnson, a pool reporter for the brief visit, said a man screamed "Obama, Jerusalem is not for sale" despite pleas from the crowd for him to stop.

Obama has already visited Jordan, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. He has said he is making the trip as a senator from Illinois and not a presidential candidate.

On Wednesday Obama said he would be willing to meet with any leader if he thought it would promote the national security interests of the United States, but he said there is a difference between "meeting without preconditions and meeting without preparations."

"That continues to be my position: that if I think that I can get a deal that is going to advance our cause, then I would consider that opportunity," he said.

"My whole goal in terms of having tough, serious direct diplomacy is not because I'm naive about the nature of any of these regimes. I'm not," Obama said. "It is because if we show ourselves willing to talk and to offer carrots and sticks in order to deal with these pressing problems, and if Iran then rejects any overtures of that sort, it puts us in a stronger position to mobilize the international community to ratchet up the pressure on Iran."

After Obama's remarks, McCain's campaign accused the Democrat of shifting his position and said his comments show "his refusal to admit a mistake about what he said."