Pesek on Asia: Singapore, the Sinless City
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Will Japanese debt crisis beat out Tokyo Olympics?
As Japan touts the economic benefits of staging the 2020 Olympics, some well-known investors are adding up the potential risks. Count Takeshi Fujimaki firmly among those fearing a full-blown debt crisis around the time the world's athletes are arriving in Tokyo, or even sooner. "This total debt will continue to increase," the former George Soros advisor, now a member of Japan’s parliament, told Bloomberg News. "I don’t think Japan can survive until 2020.” At the moment, Japan's debt to gross domestic product ratio is approaching 250 percent. By 2020 it will take on far more Olympian proportions.
In India, Rajan moves the goalposts
Three weeks into his stint as Reserve Bank of India governor, Raghuram Rajan may be engineering his own monetary experiment. Central banks testing the boundaries of monetary science isn't terribly new in a world in which the Federal Reserve, Bank of Japan and others are firmly in uncharted territory. But news that India will use consumer prices as the main policy guide, as opposed to other data series, suggests Rajan favors a de facto inflation-targeting regime. The bad news is that last week's rate hike won't be the last. The good news is that India's chances of reining in inflation may be improving.
For Singaporeans, casinos aren't all that
Three years ago, Singapore took a step few ever expected from the conservative city-state: welcoming casinos. Judging from the steady increase in tourist arrivals, especially from China, the gamble is paying off. Yet locals are proving to be less enthusiastic punters than the government expected. The Wall Street Journal reports visits to Singapore's two casinos are down to about 17,000, compared to 20,000 in 2010. That's partly by design, of course. Residents must pay a roughly $80 entrance fee to sit before the sacred green felt. But three years in, it might be time for Singapore to lower the price of entry for millions of potential customers.
Asian bonds at risk as Fed tapers
Since 1997, Asia's efforts to build bigger, deeper and more transparent debt markets have helped insulate the region from crises in the U.S. and Europe. But a new Asian Development Bank report questions how far Asia's capital-market development has really come. "The challenge will be to ensure the region can cope with higher borrowing costs and falling asset prices, which could hurt corporate balance sheets and dampen economic growth," says Iwan Azis, who heads ADB’s regional economic integration push. Asia needs to expedite debt-market-development efforts in this grace period before the Federal Reserve begins to drain liquidity out of markets.
IMF's Lagarde laments economic status of women
A new International Monetary Fund report details how women make up a little over half the world’s population, but their contribution to measured economic activity, growth, and well-being is far below potential. Worse, as IMF head Christine Lagarde points put in a Bangkok Post Op-Ed, "progress toward leveling the playing field for women has stalled. This is bad news for everyone, because it translates into lower economic growth, amounting to as much as 27 percent of per capita GDP in some countries." As self-inflicted economic wounds go, this has to be one of the biggest in world history -- and the dumbest.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)