KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 8 - Alliance Research expects Malaysia's economic growth to moderate to around 5.7 per cent for the third quarter this year as external demand faces headwinds.

In a research note, its chief economist Manokaran Mottain said geopolitical tensions and slower growth in advanced economies would weigh on the country's exports, although the research house has maintained its full-year gross domestic product growth forecast at 5.8 per cent.

Manokaran said the overall September trade performance was in line with signs of the domestic economy moderating in the second half of 2014.

For the month under review, export growth increased marginally to 2.0 per cent year-on-year while import growth weakened substantially to 1.1 per cent, with the trade surplus widening to RM9.3 billion, up from RM3.9 billion in August.

"Although the September trade surplus has widened, it is largely attributed to the weakened import growth, not stronger export demand," he added.

SEOUL, Nov 8 - Nearly nine out of 10 South Koreans disapprove of the National Assembly's job performance due mainly to perennial political wrangling, a poll showed Friday.

According to the survey on 1,011 adults taken by Gallup Korea, 89 percent of the respondents said that Korean lawmakers are not carrying out their role properly, up from 65 percent in a similar poll conducted in June.

Of them, 20 percent cited a persistent political standoff and the lack of communication, followed by 14 percent with lawmakers' maintenance of privileges and 10 percent with failure to handle bills.

The survey said that 61 percent of those polled disapprove of the ruling Saenuri Party;s job performance, up from 43 percent in the June poll.

The respondents also gave poor marks to the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), with 80 percent disapproving of the opposition party's job performance.

Approval ratings for the ruling party and the NPAD came to 45 percent and 20 percent each, with the figure for President Park Geun-hye standing at 46 percent, according to the survey.

The survey, conducted from Tuesday to Thursday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

HARBIN, Nov 8 - China is ramping up protection efforts for Siberian tigers increasingly roaming the China-Russia border.

Police authorities in Heilongjiang Province have launched a campaign to collect traps placed in border forests by poachers, Lan Xu, a border policeman, told Xinhua on Friday.

BANGKOK, Nov 7 –  As peace has once again returned to Thailand, more members of the public came out on Thursday night to celebrate the annual Loy Krathong festival nationwide.

BANGKOK, Nov 7 -- Employers are being asked to provide information on their foreign employees in order to speed up the process of nationality verification identification, a senior Labour Ministry official said today.

Saturday, 08 November 2014 13:46

ASEAN capitals pledge further cooperation

BANGKOK, Nov 7 --  The leaders capital cities in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have pledged to further strengthen their cooperation in various fields including security, economic affairs, social and culture.

PATTANI, Nov 7 -- In an attempt to clear up any misunderstanding among the public, an army spokesman said today that the 2,700 military grade assault rifles given by the government to residents of Thailand's southern border provinces are meant for defending themselves and their communities from attacks by insurgents operating in the area.

Saturday, 08 November 2014 13:27

NACC, OAG disagree on former PM's indictment

BANGKOK, Nov 7 -- Thailand's Office of the Attorney-General (OAG) and the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) remain in disagreement over the indictment of former premier Yingluck Shinawatra in a case related to her role in the now-defunct rice-pledging programme.

Jakarta, Nov 7 - Belgian airline company AD Trade has signed a contract to purchase a unit of CN-235 aircraft manufactured by PT Dirgantara Indonesia.

"The contract is worth 22 to 23 million U.S. dollars. This is the fourth such purchase made by the company. They bought three planes earlier," the President Director of PT Dirgantara Indonesia, Budi Santoso, said here on Thursday.

The CN-235 airplane bought by the Belgian firm is a multi-function aircraft with military capabilities. It can be used for medical evacuations, maritime patrolling and delivery of goods, Santoso stated.

A superior function of the aircraft that has attracted many buyers from Asia and Africa is its capability to land on poor runways, he added.

"The interested buyers include Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam, Pakistan, South Korea, and two African nations," Santoso affirmed.

The president director further noted that PT Dirgantara products were slowly, but surely, attracting more buyers from around the world and that he hoped for this to continue in the future.

"Belgium plans to order two more units," he revealed.

Besides making aircrafts, PT Dirgantara also produces components and provides aircraft and helicopter maintenance services.

SEOUL, Nov 7 - Some of South Korea's big-name financial groups will have disappeared by the end of this year through breakups and mergers, but behind such moves ostensibly aimed at improving efficiency, industry watchers say the very system of operating financial groups needs to be rethought.

Former No. 1 Woori Finance Holdings Co. was absorbed into Woori Bank on Nov. 1, and KDB Financial Group Inc. will be merged with Korea Development Bank (KDB) on Jan. 1. The breakup of the two state-owned banking groups is part of government-led plans to privatize Woori Bank and reorganize the policy financing KDB.

On Oct. 31, Citigroup Korea Inc. was merged with Citibank Korea Inc., and once Standard Chartered Korea is disbanded by the end of this year, Standard Chartered Bank Korea will represent the group.

"As Citibank Korea accounts for 97 percent of Citigroup Korea's assets and business, the merger is aimed at simplifying the governing system and enhancing managerial efficiency," said Shin Hyeon-Jeong, a spokesperson of Citibank Korea.

With the four out of the picture, the number of financial holding companies in South Korea drops to nine.

Some see this as a signal that the era of financial holding companies is fading, arguing that the system is no longer necessary from the perspective of improving fficiency.

Financial holding companies were first introduced in South Korea in 2000 in the aftermath of the 1997 Asian foreign exchange crisis in a bid to create synergy and maximize profit by putting banks, brokerages and insurance firms together into a group.

"The initial slogan of financial holding companies was rearing non-banking sectors and diversification of portfolio. They thought the system would spur mergers and acquisitions (M&As) in insurance and securities industries," said Ku Yong-uk, a senior analyst at KDB Daewoo Securities Co.

After more than a decade, however, only flagship banks have become bigger and bigger, accounting for around 70 percent in profits and assets of their parent companies who, instead of raising their competitiveness or venturing into new businesses, settled for retail banking that guaranteed them stable profits.

Shinhan Financial Group Co. leads the industry with 401 trillion won (US$368.98 billion) in assets and 1.7 trillion won in net profit as of end-September. Its flagship Shinhan Bank contributed 68 percent to assets and 67 percent to net profit, respectively.

Runner-up KB Financial Group Co. has even higher dependency on Kookmin Bank, which accounts for 67 percent in the group's assets and 75 percent of profit.

Such imbalance has caused managerial problems between the holding company and its weighty bank. The group's head tries to wield influence on its affiliate, but the powerful banking unit wants no interference and often snubs the parent firm.

This was blaringly evident in the KB Financial scandal, a textbook example of the power struggle between the chiefs of KB Financial and Kookmin Bank using an expensive computation system change as a proxy. The infighting forced intervention of financial oversight authorities, and both ended up having to resign.

"But it's too early to say that the dissolution of the financial holding company is a 'trend,'" said Ku from KDB Daewoo Securities. "Woori Finance and KDB Financial are state-owned organizations. Their dissolution was a government decision, not a market choice."

As for Citigroup Korea and SC Korea, he argued that they decided to downsize and focus on retail banking business because they weren't doing well in South Korea.

Citibank Korea has closed 56 of its 190 branches across the country this year as part of its restructuring plan.

"The holding company system itself is a good model to encourage financial firms to have diversified portfolios," the analyst said. "But it is a matter of management.

Leaders of the banks have basked in stable interest income from retail banking business but never bothered to seek new profit sources."

The Financial Services Committee (FSC), the top financial regulator, also thinks the current financial governing system is necessary to improve competitiveness in the South Korean financial industry.

It removed regulations that banned holding company officials from taking managerial positions in its affiliates and allowed operation of "open bank offices" that provide consolidated services of banks, insurance and brokerage to customers.

"The holding company system can create synergy through M&As, closer business coordination among its affiliates and better customer service," said the FSC.

"The companies have to make efforts to attract their bank customers to their brokerage and insurance services and instruments. This is the first step to producing the synergy effect of the financial holding company system," said Ku.

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