Pesek on Asia: Bubble in Philippines?
Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
Forget Sony, Loeb Bets on Japan's Softbank
Fresh off his losing battle to make Sony more shareholder-friendly, activist investor Daniel Loeb is putting his money on Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son. Loeb's Third Point hedge fund has taken a stake valued at more than $1 billion in Son's SoftBank. Why? Because Son understands that success means investing in markets outside deflationary Japan. SoftBank, which has been involved in more than 10 deals in the past year, wants to acquire makers of games, music and videos as it tries to generate more revenue from smartphone users. That includes paying $21.6 billion for Sprint Corp. in July. Talk about growth.
Indian banks face bad-debt challenge
At a time when India is welcoming more overseas lenders to open branches, the central bank says rising bad loans among domestic institutions is “a major challenge” as Asia's third-largest economy loses momentum. Nonperforming loans rose to $15.7 billion at the end of March from $10.4 billion a year earlier. The good news is that the specter of increased competition from outside could catalyze bankers to clean up their balance sheets. The bad news is that that task will become more difficult if the economy continues to slow into 2014.
Is the Philippines next bubble to burst?
This Forbes piece isn't the first to question whether one of Asia's hottest markets has grown too frothy for comfort. But it is perhaps the most high-profile publication to ask the question post-Typhoon Haiyan. Personally, I'm more optimistic that President Benigno Aquino's efforts to repair one of the region's most damaged economies -- not from Mother Nature, but from decades of neglect -- will end well. Sure, property prices in Manila may have outrun economic improvements, but more so than Hong Kong, New York, Singapore or Sydney? Still, for the other side of story, it's worth a read.
What ever happened to "Likonomics?"
One of the most interesting questions to emerge from the Communist Party's recent plenum is who holds the economics reins. Over the last 20-plus years it was China's premier -- Zhu Rongji and Wen Jiabao being the two most recent examples. For most of the last 12 months, markets assumed Li Keqiang held the economic reform portfolio, hence talk of "Likonomics." But now, all appearances have President Xi Jinping taking the lead. What that might mean, what "Xiconomics" might entail and how exactly it will be implemented, remains anyone's guess.
Breaking bad with crystal meth, North Korea-style
What's most interesting about this Foreign Policy piece on Kim Jong Un's crystal meth trade is that it's less about the trafficking of illicit drugs than the state of play in Pyongyang. Squeezed by U.N. sanctions and a Chinese government fed up with his antics, North Korean leader Kim is looking for cash anywhere he can find it. Fresh signs his government is nearing the brink of collapse? While only time will tell, the desperation level in Pyongyang is hitting new, well, highs.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)