On with our compendium of headlines of this in the world of economics, environment, and politics — plus the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!.

From the Department of Wretched Excess via the London Daily Mail, the perfect $98,466 accessory for the modern plutocrat:

Perfect for people with deep pockets: Supercar maker Bugatti reveals a trouser belt that costs £60,000 (more than it costs to buy a Porsche)

The belt is a collaboration with Swiss luxury company Roland Iten

Only 11 of the precision-made belts will be available to buy

More plutocratic sumptuary delights from The Guardian:

Sunseeker, the UK yachtmaker catering to a new wave of multimillionaires

At the London Boat Show, company boss Stewart McIntyre explains why countries such as China are key to its future

Sunseeker’s real boom is from newly minted millionaires and billionaires emerging from China, Russia, Brazil and Mexico. More than half of the 35-year-old British company’s customers now come from outside Europe, a “huge increase on a few years ago”.

The fastest growing market is Mexico, and the company will open new sales offices this summer in Colombia, Panama and Venezuela, which he said “would never have happened five years ago”. Demand is also booming in the Seychelles, a 115-island archipelago in Indian Ocean, which is “the latest playground for Middle Eastern investors”.

And The Independent looks to a growing green power:

As cannabis is widely legalised, China cashes in on an unprecedented boom

The country holds hundreds of patents relating to the drug, which means more profits as decriminalisation spreads globally

Almost 5,000 years ago, Chinese physicians recommended a tea made from cannabis leaves to treat a wide variety of conditions including gout and malaria. Today, as the global market for marijuana experiences an unprecedented boom after being widely legalised, it is China that again appears to have set its eyes on dominating trade in the drug.

The communist country is well placed to exploit the burgeoning cannabis trade with more than half of the patents relating to or involving cannabis originating in China. According to the World Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo), Chinese firms have filed 309 of the 606 patents relating to the drug.

And others hope to capitalize as well. From the Denver Post via the Los Angeles Daily News:

High Times launches investment fund for marijuana business

Executives at High Times, a New York magazine that has covered the marijuana scene for four decades, are launching a new private-equity fund expected to boost a burgeoning American marijuana industry.

The HT Growth Fund plans to raise $100 million over the next two years to invest in cannabis-related businesses.

“What we are looking to do is provide capital and credit to companies that are established and have grown and reached their potential as much as they can without access to traditional capital markets,” said Michael Safir, managing director of the new fund and former business manager of High Times.

CNBC coverts the increasingly left behinds:

Six years post-recession, a tale of Wall St. and Main St.

Heading into a new year and six years after the Great Recession began, small-business owners are modestly growing and adding jobs—not roaring back to life like the stock market.

“It feels totally different to be a small-business owner in America on Main Street than on Wall Street, where they’re popping Champagne corks,” said Beth Solomon, president and CEO of the National Association of Development Companies (NADCO), a Washington-based trade group that supports Small Business Administration lenders.

Job creation among smaller employers traditionally has jump-started recoveries. But this time, the trend has remained largely absent.

From the Washington Post, corruption incarnate:

Koch-backed political network, designed to shield donors, raised $400 million in 2012

The political network spearheaded by conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch has expanded into a far-reaching operation of unrivaled complexity, built around a maze of groups that cloaks its donors, according to an analysis of new tax returns and other documents.

The filings show that the network of politically active nonprofit groups backed by the Kochs and fellow donors in the 2012 elections financially outpaced other independent groups on the right and, on its own, matched the long-established national coalition of labor unions that serves as one of the biggest sources of support for Democrats.

And for a look at the networks, here’s the accompanying graphic, “Inside the $400-million political network backed by the Kochs‘”

South China Morning Post covers a news play:

Chinese tycoon ‘serious’ about buying New York Times

Chen Guangbiao, listed as one of China’s 400 richest people, penned an op-ed in the state-run Global Times newspaper yesterday headlined: “I intend to buy The New York Times, please don’t take it as a joke”.

“The tradition and style of The New York Times make it very difficult to have objective coverage of China,” Chen wrote. “If we could purchase it, its tone might turn around. Therefore I have been involved in discussing acquisition-related matters with like-minded investors.”

One man’s sure to be upset if the Times takeover happens. From The Contributor Network:

Anti-Immigration Advocate Isn’t a Racist, He Just Wants to Preserve White Rule

William Gheen, head of the anti-immigrant group Americans for Legal Immigration (ALIPAC), explained to an Idaho radio host last month that he’s not a racist, he’s just opposed to the people who are trying to change America’s  history of being “predominately governed by people of European descendancy.”

The people who call him a racist, Gheen told host Kevin Miller, are just “looking for any way to create division among any group,” a practice that he claims has increased under the Obama administration.

Channel NewsAsia Singapore offers another uptick:

US factory orders hit 1992 high

New orders for US manufactured goods surged in November to their highest level since 1992, lifted by rises in aircraft and ship orders, the Commerce Department said on Monday.

New factory orders rose 1.8 per cent from October to $497.9 billion in November, the highest monthly level since the current data series began in 1992, the department said.

Excluding transportation, new orders were up 0.6 per cent in November.

The New York Times takes note:

The Bubble Is Back

IN November, housing starts were up 23 percent, and there was cheering all around. But the crowd would quiet down if it realized that another housing bubble had begun to grow.

Almost everyone understands that the 2007-8 financial crisis was precipitated by the collapse of a huge housing bubble. The Obama administration’s remedy of choice was the Dodd-Frank Act. It is the most restrictive financial regulation since the Great Depression — but it won’t prevent another housing bubble.

MarketWatch sounds the alarm:

Company earnings warnings are at record-highs

Either Corporate America has reached its most pessimistic outlook in years in regard to earnings, or executives are pushing the envelope of the low-ball game. How bad are the forecasts? It depends on who you ask, but one thing is certain: companies are lowering expectations as much as they can.

According to John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet, 94 out of the 107 companies on the S&P 500 Index SPX -0.25% that have issued an earnings outlook for the fourth quarter have fallen below Wall Street consensus. That’s a negative rate of 88%, the most pessimistic reading since FactSet started tracking the data in 2006.

It also marks the seventh quarter in a row that the number of companies issuing negative earnings guidance has risen, Butters said. By his count, the estimated earnings growth rate for the S&P 500 in the fourth quarter is 6.3%.

Across the Atlantic with somber news from New Europe:

Bloomberg survey: Eurozone unemployment above 12 per cent

According to a Bloomberg news survey, the Eurozone unemployment rate will stand at 12.1 per cent in November.

Tobias Blattner, senior economist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch in London told Bloomberg that Eurozone unemployment rate will remain high. “Unemployment is bound to remain high amid a sluggish recovery…and with credit remaining scarce and expensive in large parts of the euro area, inflation will fail to creep higher. Deflation fears, however, are unlikely to materialize,” Mr. Blattner said.

Howard Archer, chief European and UK economist at IHS Global insight in London agreed with Mr. Blattner saying that Eurozone unemployment “is likely to stay at a very high level for some considerable time to come.” Mr. Archer stressed that the high levels of unemployment will not have a drastic impact on consumer spending in Eurozone, as the wage growth in most Eurozone countries is particularly weak. “That’s got to have a limiting impact on consumer spending (high unemployment rate), particularly when you think how weak wage growth is in most countries,” the IHS economist stressed.

Spiegel invokes the green monster:

Crisis Management: Europe Eyes Anglo-Saxon Model with Envy

Should the European Central Bank follow the Anglo-Saxon model and buy up vast quantities of sovereign bonds in attempt to finally overcome the euro crisis? ECB head Mario Draghi is under pressure to act now. But what are his options?

Draghi now has two options: Either he can once again pump huge quantities of money into European banks as the ECB did in the winter of 2011/2012, but this time with the condition that the money must be loaned to companies in need of financing. That, however, would be a significant intrusion into the business operation of the banks, which would be forced to take on additional risks. Or the ECB could buy sovereign bonds, thus sinking long-term interest rates, a move which would only work were the bank to focus on purchasing debt from those euro-zone states that are struggling the most.

A bankster victory ahead, from EUbusiness:

EU won’t seek law to separate banking activities: FT

The European Union is set to drop financial reforms that would force big banks to ringfence their retail departments from riskier investment operations, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

A draft European Commission paper, seen by the business paper, would no longer make banks automatically split operations and would give national supervisors more leeway in applying the reforms.

But the draft proposal, drawn up by EU Commissioner Michel Barnier, does add a “narrowly defined” ban on 30 big banks using their own money for trading, so-called proprietary trading.

On to Old Blighty, where The Independent spots a familiar pattern:

Hard-hit high street retailers ‘subsidising’ Bond Street elite

Rate delay helps the likes of Armani but costs Greater Manchester shops £61.5m

Struggling retailers on some of Britain’s most deprived high streets are effectively “subsidising” the likes of Burberry and Chanel following the Government’s two-year delay on business rate revaluation, it has emerged.

The Government was supposed to have revalued all business properties by 2015, a process that takes place every five years. The rental values are used to calculate business rates, but this has been postponed until 2017.

The delay benefits one of the UK’s richest shopping streets, Bond Street in London. Stores will save £66m over two years, according to research by Grimsey Review co-author Paul Turner-Mitchell.

Sky News spots a need:

NHS ‘Needs £1bn’ For Longer GP Opening Hours

The new head of the Royal College of GPs issues a warning over the Prime Minister’s plans for surgeries to open seven days a week.

More than 20,000 extra GPs, nurses and other NHS staff are needed if the Prime Minister wants his plan for longer surgery opening hours to work, the head of the Royal College of GPs has warned.

Sky News again, with the ax in hand:

Hundreds Of NHS Direct Staff Face Job Losses

The 111 phone service for urgent but non-emergency NHS help has been beset with problems and complaints since it started in April. NHS Direct announced in July that it was planning to pull out of its contracts due to severe financial problems.

In October it said it would close after projecting a £26 million deficit for this financial year. Some 200 of its 700 staff have already been told their jobs are safe, as they move to other providers. Of the remaining 500, many may also escape redundancy, with back office staff most likely to lose their jobs.

The Australian Financial Review goes austerian:

UK’s Osborne pushes for more welfare cuts

Britain’s finance minister announced major cuts to the country’s future welfare spending, spelling out the next phase of a push to fix public finances and straining ties within the coalition government.

More from CNNMoney:

More austerity for U.K. despite recovery

Britain faces fresh government spending cuts worth $41 billion, signaling the scars of the financial crisis in one of Europe’s strongest economies have far from healed.

In a speech Monday, Chancellor George Osborne said £25 billion ($40.9 billion) would be cut over two years through to early 2018, equivalent to nearly 2% of government spending over that period.

Faster growth is not generating enough revenue to allow the U.K. to start reducing its debt mountain, and the government doesn’t want to raise taxes further.

Around half of the cuts will hit welfare programs, putting more strain on some of the country’s most vulnerable residents.

South China Morning Post takes a hike:

Lawyers in walkout over plan by UK government to cut legal aid fees

Courts disrupted as barristers and solicitors protest over UK government’s proposal to reduce legal aid charges by up to 30 per cent

Criminal courts across England and Wales were severely disrupted [Monday] as barristers and solicitors staged an unprecedented mass walkout in protest at British government plans to slash legal aid fees by up to 30 per cent.

It is the first time UK barristers have withdrawn their labour, the Criminal Bar Association said, and the first time the two wings of the legal profession have taken co-ordinated, national action.

And The Guardian stalls:

UK services sector growth slows – but still outpaces eurozone average

Britain’s services sector maintains year-long surge in output, while France suffers second successive fall

Britain’s services sector maintained its year-long surge in output during December as businesses reported a rise in confidence for the coming year.

The rise in activity was a little weaker than the previous month and the pace of growth was slowest since June, but still outstripped the eurozone average and especially France, which suffered a second successive month of falling services output – and at an accelerating rate.

Off to Ireland and another pattern from Independent.ie:

Service sector activity at highest level since 2007

The latest services Purchasing Managers’ Index has now shown expansion in each of the past 17 months.

The services sector ranges from banks and hotels to restaurants and bars and accounts for about 70pc of economic output.

According to the Investec figures, the PMI rose to 61.8 in December up from 57.1 the previous month – any figure above 50 indicates growth.

Germany next, where the Australian Financial Review reforms:

Deutsche Bank on road to reform

Deutsche Bank’s corporate banking chief says investment banks will rack up more fines for misconduct this year, but maintains the industry has curbed behaviour that led to the GFC.

A shift perceived from EUobserver:

EU power shifts from Brussels to Berlin

While the eurozone crisis in 2013 lingered in most countries, Germany seemed to be doing better than ever.

It had low unemployment, high productivity and exports so strong that the European Commission asked it to do more to help ailing periphery countries in the single currency bloc.

Chancellor Angela Merkel – the most powerful leader in Europe – was elected once again and took up a third mandate in a coalition government with the Social Democrats.

TheLocal.de fetes:

Inflation falls in boost for economy

German savers celebrated on Monday after figures showed inflation fell to its lowest rate since 2010 in 2013.

Germany still remembers how millions lost their savings in the hyperinflation chaos of the early 1920s – and so are traditionally wary of the potential damage inflation can cause to the economy.

Yet figures released on Monday showed inflation in 2013 was at its lowest rate since 2010, due a fall in petrol and heating costs.

Upbeat news with Capital.gr:

German employment hits record high in 2013

The number of people in employment in Europe’s biggest economy hit a record high for the seventh consecutive year in 2013, although the increase was smaller than in the last two years, Germany?s Statistics Office said on Thursday.

According to Reuters, with 41.8 million people in work, some 232,000 jobs were created last year but the rise was roughly half the size of the average for 2012 and 2011, the office said.

Germany’s jobless rate has held steady at just below 7.0 percent for the last two years and is the envy of crisis-hit euro zone partners such as Spain and Greece where more than one in four people is officially out of work.

While World Socialist Web Site gets a harsh glimpse behind the curtain:

Poverty in Germany hits new high

A few days before the Christmas holidays, the Joint Welfare Association published a report on the regional development of poverty in Germany in 2013 titled “Between prosperity and poverty—a test to breaking point”. The report refutes the official propaganda that Germany has remained largely unaffected by the crisis and is a haven of prosperity in Europe.

According to the report, poverty in Germany has “reached a sad record high”. Entire cities and regions have been plunged into ever deeper economic and social crisis. “The social and regional centrifugal forces, as measured by the spread of incomes, have increased dramatically in Germany since 2006,” it says. Germany faces “a test to breaking point.”

“All the positive trends of recent years have come to a standstill or have reversed. Germany has never been as divided as it is today,” said Ulrich Schneider, executive director of the Joint Welfare Association at the launch of the report.

Kathimerini English investigates:

Germans will also probe tank deal after bribe claims

Prosecutors in Munich are to investigate claims that German firm Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) paid bribes to at least one Greek official for the sale of 170 Leopard 2 tanks more than a decade ago, Kathimerini understands.

The probe is being launched after Apostolos Kantas, deputy head of procurements at Greece’s Defense Ministry between 1996 and 2002, admitted that he accepted about 16 million dollars in kickbacks from a number of suppliers during his time in office.

According to Deutsche Welle, KMW has also launched its own internal probe into the Leopard 2 deal but the company has so far rejected allegations that bribes were paid as part of the agreement. It also points out the sale of the tanks was agreed in 2003, after Kantas had left his position.

On to France and yet another discreditation of pseudo-socialism from The Independent:

Francois Hollande makes drastic U-turn on tax cuts and welfare in bid to save presidency

François Hollande will try to relaunch his foundering presidency in the next 10 days with plans to cut public spending and reduce taxes – especially taxes on jobs and business.

The French President’s new approach, though vague so far, is being compared with the abrupt U-turn towards more market-driven policies enacted by his Socialist predecessor, François Mitterrand, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of the 1980s.

In a series of speeches, Mr Hollande will lay out the main lines of a policy to reduce the cost of labour and try to halt the slide in French industry. His new approach is described as an “acceleration” of the timid reforms undertaken since he was elected in 2012.

The policy has been welcomed by employers but castigated by unions and the left as a break from the President’s statist approach of the past 20 months. Until now, Mr Hollande’s government has been reducing the deficit with tax increases and modest spending cuts. He has tried to push back the rise in unemployment by projects such as job-creation schemes for the young.

Bloomberg Businessweek diagnoses:

More Evidence France Is the New Sick Man of Europe

While Europe’s economic recovery is slowly gaining traction, France is sliding backwards.

That’s the inescapable conclusion about newly reported data on business activity, including a survey released today by Markit Economics showing that France’s service-sector output contracted sharply in December, to a six-month low. An earlier report showed a steep drop in French manufacturing activity during December as well.

Those figures, along with rising French unemployment claims, suggest that France may have “slid back into recession late last year,” says Markit’s chief economist, Chris Williamson.

TheLocal.fr resists:

French workers hold Goodyear execs hostage

French workers facing job cuts rarely lie down without a fight and are often prepared to resort to extreme measures, which was the case at a doomed Goodyear tyre factory in northern France on Monday, where two bosses were being held captive.

Workers have taken two executives hostage at a Goodyear tyre factory in Amiens which was the subject of an international row between a French minister and an American CEO last year.

Union representatives have promised to keep the men captive until they have come to better terms for the 1,173 workers who face unemployment with the proposed closure of the site.

Spain next, and a familiar pattern from El País:

Services sector grows at fastest pace since start of economic crisis

Survey also indicates labor market is showing signs of stabilizing

Activity and new orders in the key Spanish services sector, which accounts for over half of the country’s GDP, grew at the fastest pace in over six years in December, further fuelling expectations that the economy is on track for a significant recovery this year, according to a survey released Monday by consultant Markit.

Markit’s Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) climbed from 51.5 points in November to 54.2 points in the last month of 2013. That was the second successive month in which the index was above the 50-point mark that denotes expansion, while the increase was the sharpest since July 2007, before the current crisis took hold.

A Swiss miss from Sky News:

Swiss Central Bank Loses £10bn On Gold Plunge

The Swiss central bank stops dividend payments to cantons and the capital after suffering significant losses on its gold holdings.

Switzerland’s central bank has revealed losses of £10bn in its gold holdings, after prices for the precious metal plunged 28% last year.

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) said the value of its reserves dropped by 15bn francs and as a result would not pay dividends to local ruling cantons – the members of the federal state – or the capital Bern.

TheLocal.ch cautions:

Employer groups warn against immigrant quotas

Switzerland’s business, farm and hospital lobbies Monday urged voters to reject a law drafted by right-wing populists that would reimpose immigration quotas for European Union citizens.

Passing the “Stop Mass Immigration” proposal in a referendum on February 9th would be a big mistake, hitting a swathe of sectors that rely on foreign labour, a 12-organization coalition warned.

“We owe our success to a flourishing, high-performance labour market,” said Valentin Vogt, head of Swiss employers’ federation UPS.

A recent poll showed that 36 percent of voters oppose the measure, down from 52 percent in October.

After the jump, the latest grim Greek news, Turkish troubles, Latin American elections, Indian angst, Bengali violence, Thai turmoil, Chinese anxieties, Japanese stoicism, and the latest chapter of Fukushimapocalypse Now!. . .

On to Greece, and a slam from Greek Reporter:

Der Spiegel Lashes Out Against Greece

The popular German magazine Der Spiegel, lashes out against Greece, specifically targeting the Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. The magazine refers to the Greek Prime Minister as a “liar” and “out of touch with reality.”

Next to the photograph of Samaras are the words, “The imaginary cured.” The article is a full frontal attack on Greece and characterizes the country as the beggar of Brussels.

Der Spiegel claims that Greece’s fiscal consolidation has been stalled, and that German official Hans-Joachim Fouchtel has been moved to the position of Director General of International Development Cooperation-Hellenic Aid, due to the incompetence of Greek officials in handling the preparations for the country’s European presidency.

A grim statistic from Neos Kosmos:

Nearly half of incomes below poverty line

Over 44 per cent of the Greek population had an income below the poverty line in 2013 according to estimates by the Athens University of Economics and Business

Over 44 percent of the Greek population had an income below the poverty line in 2013 according to estimates by the Public Policy Analysis Group of the Athens University of Economics and Business (AUEB).

The poverty threshold is measured as 60 percent of the price-adjusted average income in 2009, or up to 665 euros per person per month and up to 1,397 for a couple supporting two underage children.

The AUEB researchers also found that last year 14 percent of Greeks earned below the adequate living standards, compared with 2 percent of the population four years ago.

ANSAmed charts a decline:

Crisis: Greece; casinos’ turnover down by 60% in five years

Total turnover in Greece’s casinos has shrunk by about 60% in the last five years, inflicting a blow on state revenues, as Kathimerini online reports. In 2013 casinos had a turnover of some 300 million euros, posting a decline for the fifth year in succession. The best year for casinos was 2008, when turnover had reached 744.5 million euros. In 2011 it had amounted to 419.7 million euros and in 2012 it was at 330 million.

Greek Reporter assigns guilt:

Greek Finance Minister Blames Eurozone

Within the context of research by the European Parliament (EP), focusing on the role of the Troika in the Greek crisis, Greek Finance minister Yiannis Stournaras described mistakes and missed opportunities by the EP, which played a decisive role in the course of the crisis. Despite this, he also highlighted the important part played by Greece’s European partners, which helped to stabilize the situation and will ultimately lead to a recovery of the economy.

Mr. Stournaras criticized the Eurozone for not correctly diagnosing the core problems of the Greek economy in good time. While commenting on the first Memorandum, he highlighted that it included overly ambitious goals for the reduction of deficit and debt, while at the same time underestimated fiscal multipliers and the depth of the recession. Furthermore, the Memorandum had a strict time-table for delivery of crucial reforms based mostly on taxation increases rather than on expenditure reduction. Moreover, the fact that Eurozone officials repeatedly referred to Grexit as if it were unavoidable, made the situation far worse.

He also conceded that Greece made many mistakes, including delays in reforming the tax administration system and combating evasion, along with unnecessary bureaucracy in the public sector, both of which could not be confronted effectively. He also highlighted that since the implementation of the measures set out in the first Memorandum, Greece has lost about 25 percent of GDP, while households have lost more than 35 percent of their disposable income.

On to Cyprus with ANSAmed:

Cyprus records deflation in 2013 for 1st time since 1964

Due to decreases in prices of electricity, air fares, potatoes

Cyprus recorded a rate of deflation in 2013 of -0.4% for the first year since 1964, according to data published on Friday by the Cyprus Statistical Service, as reported by Financial Mirror online.

In December 2013 deflation of -2.3% was recorded for the second consecutive month, compared to a rate of deflation of -2.1% in November 2013 and inflation of 1.1% in December 2012. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) for December 2013 fell by 0.34 units or 0.29% to 117.49 units compared to 117.83 in November 2013.

Turkey next, with Deutsche Welle:

Erdogan family drawn into corruption probe

In the wake of a sweeping corruption probe, the Turkish opposition has requested a parliamentary inquiry into the relationship between Prime Minister Erdogan’s son Bilal and a Saudi Arabian businessman.

Ugur Bayraktutan, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), is one of the opposition politicians demanding that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan make public his family’s ties to Saudi Arabian businessman Yasin al-Qadi.

Within a month, Erdogan must reply to the request. Bayraktutan wants to know whether Bilal Erdogan actually met with al-Qadi, as the media have reported. “Al-Qadi was here illegally, we have photos to prove it,” Bayraktutan told DW.

The Guardian charts a concession:

Turkish PM says he would not oppose coup plot officers’ retrial

Recep Tayyip Erdog(an, hit by corruption inquiry, in talks with judiciary as military claims evidence against officers was fabricated

The Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdog(an, said he would not oppose the retrial of hundreds of military officers convicted on coup plot charges, a case that underlines civilian dominance over a once all-powerful army.

Turkey’s appeals court in October upheld the convictions of retired officers for leading a plot to overthrow Erdog(an’s government a decade ago.

The military last week filed a criminal complaint over the court cases, saying evidence against serving and retired officers had been fabricated.

Latin American next and electoral news from MercoPress:

Ballot test this year in Latam: Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia, Uruguay, Panama, Costa Rica and El Salvador

Seven out of 19 Latin-American countries will be holding elections this year and in four of them, Brazil, Bolivia, El Salvador and Uruguay, left leaning catch-all coalitions will try to hold on to power. Likewise with two conservative governments, Colombia and Panama.

Trade trouble from MercoPress:

Uruguayan minister says trade relations with Argentina “will never be the same”

Industry, Energy and Mining Minister, Roberto Kreimerman, said Uruguay would try to settle disputes with Argentina in order to reestablish trade relations, but he also recognized Uruguay’s relationship with Argentina ‘will never be the same’. The minister revealed that 32 million dollars of Uruguayan exports are blocked at Argentine Customs.

The official explained that even though Uruguay has adopted an attitude of negotiation regarding trade barriers erected by Argentina, “bilateral trade will never return to previous levels.”

This happens “not only because of the things Uruguay may be able to negotiate, but also due to Argentina itself, which is going through a tough time” Kreimerman expressed and added that “industries are clearly suffering. We must be able to recover the commercial relationship” between both countries”.

On to Australia and a claim on the commons from The Guardian:

Post office sell-off would destroy heart of country towns, Coalition senator says

Nationals’ John Williams rejects speculation over Australia Post privatisation arguing that no-one would want to buy a ‘dead dog’

The privatisation of Australia Post could further harm the viability of post offices in rural areas, costing country communities their “heart”, according to the Coalition senator leading an inquiry into the organisation’s performance.

The Nationals senator John Williams greeted reports of a possible sell-off by arguing that Australia Post provided an essential, monopoly service that should stay in government hands. Williams also doubted whether a private buyer would be interested in the declining mail delivery business, asking: “Who wants to buy a dead dog?”

India next with not-so Fast-Moving Consumer Goods [FMCGs] from the Financial Express:

FMCGs witness slump in rural growth story

Although rural incomes remain robust after a bumper kharif harvest, the hinterland is seeing a slowdown in the consumption of FMCG goods. Parle Products, makers of Hide & Seek biscuits, for instance, confirmed rural sales have fallen 5% across categories in the last few months while Dabur India reported that their business has been somewhat lacklustre with a marginal drop in some segments. However, ITC Foods and Britannia Industries have no complaints as yet.

Parle Products GM (marketing) Pravin Kulkarni observed that the growth in rural sales has come off to just 4% in the nine months to 2013.

Dabur India CEO Sunil Duggal confirmed business in rural markets has been dull over the last two quarters. “The drop in our rural sales, however, is minimal and we expect a revival this quarter,” Duggal told FE.

Firstpost lays it out:

Mumbai Police file 9800-page chargesheet in Rs 5,600-crore NSEL scam

The Mumbai Police on Monday filed a 9,800-page chargesheet against five accused arrested in connection with the National Spot Exchange Ltd (NSEL) scam, which involves a payment default of Rs 5,600 crore.

The voluminous chargesheet included the list of attached properties of the arrested and wanted accused, frozen bank account details, information of physical stock available in the warehouses, statements of 297 witnesses, said Joint Police Commissioner (Crime) Himanshu Roy.

Bloomberg covers another scam:

India Savings Deposit Scam Collapse Leaves Thousands Penniless

Sudipta Sen was on the run when police arrested him on April 23 at Hotel Snow Land, a resort with views of the Himalayas in Sonamarg, India, about 2,700 kilometers northwest of his Kolkata base.

Sen’s Saradha Realty India Ltd., the anchor of an empire that took in small deposits and promised payouts of land, apartments or a refund of clients’ money with interest rates as high as 24 percent, was defaulting on thousands of deals. Employees of Sen’s media companies hadn’t gotten paychecks in months. As cash dried up, 1.74 million customers saw savings vanish, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its February issue.

The upheaval didn’t end with Saradha. Panicked depositors rushed to pull money from similar companies. Since April, more than 34 people have committed suicide, 13 of them Saradha agents and investors. A 50-year-old domestic helper south of Kolkata in Baruipur, one of many hubs of Sen’s activities, set herself ablaze after losing 30,000 rupees ($482).

An austerian prescription from the Economic Times:

Intensify reforms, cut subsidies for economic recovery: Rangarajan

Underlining the need for pump-priming the economy by intensifying reforms and trimming subsidies, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council Chairman C Rangarajan today said if India grew at 8 to 9 per cent each year, per capita GDP would rise to $ 10,000 by 2025.

He said that if this growth rate was achieved “then India will also transit from being a low income to a middle income country”.

Emphasising the need to overcome the current low growth phase as quickly as possible, Rangarajan said growth was the answer to many of the country’s socio-economic problems and several schemes aimed at broadening the base of growth had been launched recently.

On to Bangladesh with Channel NewsAsia Singapore:

Bangladesh PM defiant after violent election victory

Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina insisted on Monday her walkover win in an election boycotted by the opposition was legitimate and blamed her rivals for the unprecedented bloodshed on polling day.

In defiant comments the day after her re-election, Hasina accused the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party of making a mistake by shunning the vote and made clear she was not in the mood to offer any olive branches to BNP leader Khaleda Zia, her arch-enemy.

Thailand next, and high anxiety from the Bangkok Post:

Army silence sparks coup panic

The military has emerged as the key player and is under tremendous pressure from all sides in the face of the fierce political conflict that many fear will escalate next week.

Observers are watching with intense interest to see what the armed forces will do ahead of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee’s (PDRC) planned city “shutdown” on Monday with some believing a military coup might be a distinct possibility.

A week before the shutdown, the government is increasingly worried about the prospect of a coup, especially given the army’s recent silence.

And a parallel story from the Toronto Globe and Mail:

Thailand’s political crisis a ‘big cloud’ for investment, economy

Thai markets barely avoided a 12th consecutive day of losses Monday as the country’s worsening political crisis provokes what has become a record-setting rout in shares and the national currency.

For two months now, protesters have taken to Thailand’s streets demanding a change in government. The lengthy series of demonstrations is expected to reach new heights of disruption next Monday, when protest leaders plan to “shut down” Bangkok in hopes of pushing out a political leadership they consider irredeemably corrupt.

But the optimism of the colourful downtown marches has been matched by the financial uncertainty they have sown, with the economically vital tourism industry warning of decreased visits, economists substantially paring back growth expectations and markets tipped into losses.

On to China and a major move from The Register:

China in MASSIVE rare earths industry consolidation

Back to the drawing board as Beijing takes control

China is set to consolidate most of its sprawling rare earth industry under government control in a bid to better manage production and clamp down on smuggling and unlicensed players.

An Economic Information Daily report claimed that a planned six state-run groups would control the majority of production in a country which is said to account for over 90 per cent of global trade in rare earths, according to Caixin.

These include the Middle Kingdom’s largest producer, Inner Mongolia Baotou Steel Rare-Earth Hi-Tech Company, which accounts for just over half of rare earth production.

Global Times delivers a warning:

Moody’s warns on rising local debt

The size of local governments’ direct debts in China has grown beyond their capacity to repay them, pushing the central government to provide additional fiscal resources to deal with the problem, ratings agency Moody’s Investors Service said Monday.

The National Audit Office (NAO) released a report on December 30 saying that China’s total local government debt had reached 17.9 trillion yuan ($2.96 trillion) in June 2013, up 67 percent from the end of 2010. The amount of direct debt was 10.9 trillion yuan in June last year, the NAO said.

Whether the NAO figures “reflect more thorough accounting procedures or an actual sharp rise in debt, or both, this sizable accumulation in local government debt will be a burden on and carry risks to central government finances,” Moody’s said in a press release.

People’s Daily predicts:

China’s retail sales growth to top 13 pct

China’s retail sales of consumer goods will grow by more than 13 percent year on year for 2013, an official said Monday.

The growth will be in a range of relatively fast expansion as seen in the past decade, Minister of Commerce Gao Hucheng told Xinhua.

China’s retail sales grew from 9.4 trillion yuan in 2007 to 21 trillion yuan in 2012, with an annual average increase of 17.6 percent.

Bloomberg does too:

Chinese wages seen jumping in ‘14 amid shift to services from manufacturing

China’s wages are set to increase by 10 percent or more in 2014, driving more low-cost manufacturers out of the country and boosting consumption, according to analysts at firms including Bank of America Corp.

Lu Ting, a Hong Kong-based economist for Bank of America, said in an e-mail that he sees wage growth of 11 percent this year after an estimated 10.7 percent gain in 2013. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Mizuho Securities Asia Ltd. analysts said in interviews that they predict 10 percent to 15 percent increases.

Want China Times butts out:

Luxury cigarette prices fall after Beijing ban

Prices of luxury cigarettes have been slashed in Beijing following the Chinese government’s ban on extravagant official spending, reports the Beijing Youth Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Youth League in Beijing.

The upcoming Lunar New Year holiday is a traditional peak season for cigarette sales but tobacco firms are struggling to strengthen the management of luxury cigarettes after the government’s frugality drive and recent announcement that it will ban officials from smoking in public.

An owner of a cigarette and liquor shop told the paper that luxury cigarette sales are lackluster. Some cigarettes that were previously sold for as high as 2,000 yuan (US$330) per carton are now priced at only 950 yuan (US$160), he said.

The Global Times charts another familiar pattern:

Unofficially cashing in

When heads of state and government end their tenures, some choose to become speakers, consultants or lobbyists, cashing in notable incomes that are sometimes much more than their previous salaries.

And China has become one of their major destinations.

In December, former British prime minister Tony Blair traveled across China giving speeches and meeting officials and business tycoons.

As part of this tour, he appeared in Beijing along with Andrew Liveris, chairman, president and CEO of the US Dow Chemical Company, and visited Science and Technology Minister Wan Gang, China Petroleum and Chemical Corp chairman Fu Chengyu and China National Petroleum Corporation chairman Zhou Jiping, and discussed cooperation on clean energy.

From the Global Times, another familiar pattern:

Private businessmen crimes rise

Private entrepreneurs were found guilty of, or had allegedly committed three-quarters of 357 publicly reported entrepreneurial crimes in the country over the past year, the results of an annual Chinese entrepreneur crime report showed over the weekend.

The report was the fifth of its kind since Faren magazine, a Beijing-based law publication, started -releasing a yearly report on entrepreneur crimes in 2009.

Private entrepreneurs committing crime have increasingly been put under the spotlight over the past five years, according to findings from the annual report, which revealed that 270 out of 357 entrepreneurial crimes in 2013, based on the magazine’s compilation of coverage on China’s major news portals, were committed or allegedly committed by private entrepreneurs.

Bloomberg takes it to the bank:

China to Allow Up to 5 Privately Funded Banks in Trial

China will allow a batch of three to five banks funded by private investment this year to operate under a trial as part of the country’s financial reforms, according to the China Banking Regulatory Commission.

China will guide private investment to participate in the restructuring of existing banks and explore lowering the threshold for foreign banks to enter the industry, the banking regulator said in a statement on its website yesterday. The commission will step up its support of the Shanghai free trade zone, according to the statement.

Reuters takes precautions:

China makes fresh bid to curb shadow banking, contain debt risk

China’s cabinet has published guidelines strengthening regulation of risky off-balance-sheet lending in a new effort to address growing financial risks from an explosion in debt.

The State Council’s guidelines call for tighter regulation of banks’ off-balance-sheet lending and say that trust companies – the biggest non-bank players in what’s called “shadow banking” – should return to their original purpose as asset managers and not engage in “credit-type” business.

A copy of the council’s Document 107, dated December 11, was obtained by Reuters. There’s been no official confirmation of the document, which was addressed to government agencies at the central and local level.

More from The Guardian:

China’s crackdown on risky lending raises economic growth fears

Fall from 2013′s estimated 7.6% GDP growth to below 7% could have serious consequences for economy and social stability

Cabinet officials published guidelines last month strengthening the regulation of lending over the internet and imposing tougher rules on trust businesses that have lent £1.8tn to local authorities in recent years.

Beijing is keen to address growing financial risks from an explosion in debt and appears ready to accept the sharp slowdown in growth that could follow the decision to enforce lending limits on the shadow banking industry.

Reuters inflates the underground:

Rising home prices send China’s ‘Rat Race’ scurrying underground

Despite efforts to discourage property speculation and develop affordable housing, a steady stream of job-seekers from the countryside and a lack of attractive investment alternatives have kept prices soaring. Residential property prices rose 10 percent in November from the same month of 2012, according to data released last week, and have been setting new records every year since 2009. Prices in Beijing are rising even faster – 16 percent a year – with rents climbing 12 percent a year.

That’s pushing more and more newly arrived urbanites underground. Of the estimated 7.7 million migrants living in Beijing, nearly a fifth live either at their workplace or underground, according to state news agency Xinhua. Beijing’s housing authority refuted this statistic, saying in an email to Reuters that a government survey last year found only about 280,000 migrants living in basements and that only a small percentage of Beijing’s basements were being used as dwellings.

Last month, authorities sealed Beijing’s manhole covers after local media discovered a group of people living in the sewers below, with one, a 52-year-old car washer, reported by the local media to have been living there for at least a decade. The sewer dwellers were relocated and those not from Beijing sent back home.

Japan next, and disconcerting news from the Mainichi:

More local government officials suffering from mental illnesses

The number of local public servants suffering from mental illnesses has sharply increased over the past decade, a survey conducted by a government-affiliated body has shown.

The number of local government officials who were on long-term sick leave in fiscal 2012 — those who took such leave for 30 or more consecutive days or a total of at least one month — came to 2,394.9 people per 100,000, a decrease from the peak of 2,465.7 in fiscal 2008.

On the other hand, those who took long-term sick leave for mental illnesses hit a record high of 1,215.6 per 100,000 in fiscal 2012, 2.4 times the figure of a decade earlier, which came to 510.3. The latest figure is also about five times that in fiscal 1997, which stood at 246.9.

Moreover, the ratio of those with mental diseases surpassed half of local public officials on long-term sick leave for the first time in fiscal 2012 at 50.8 percent.

Kyodo News delivers a promise:

Abe pledges further efforts to revive Japan economy

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday said Japan will step up its efforts to sustain economic growth, and again encouraged companies to raise salaries to offset possible negative impacts from the sales tax hike in April.

At his first press conference in 2014, Abe also said he wants to “deepen” nationwide debates on whether to revise the country’s pacifist Constitution to enhance its defense capabilities and play more active roles in contributing to global peace and stability.

“I want a fresh start with a fighting spirit and sense of urgency,” Abe told reporters in the central Japanese city of Ise, where he visited the Ise Shrine, one of the holiest Japanese Shinto sites, to mark the start of New Year as his predecessors did.

Nikkei Asian Review spends:

Japanese consumer spending roars into the new year

Shoppers snatch up New Year’s grab bags at a Tokyo department store.

Japanese retailers started the new year with a bang, and are expected to enjoy brisk sales through March, as consumers continue to stock up before a consumption tax hike takes effect in April.

Department store patrons have been spending more on clothing and expensive items like jewelry, thanks in part to bigger winter bonuses for company employees and rosier sentiment stemming from higher share prices. Five major department store operators said Monday they saw group same-store sales figures in December improve year on year for the second straight month.  And sales climbed higher still in early January.

And the Mainichi feels the heat:

Japan under pressure over tariffs in TPP talks

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free-trade negotiations will enter crucial stages from February because the United States wants to successfully conclude the pact in spring ahead of midterm elections in autumn.

Accordingly, thorny talks on tariffs and intellectual property rights may accelerate, putting pressure on Japan on the tariff sector.

“There is a growing perception of Japan as a villain,” a grim-faced Japanese trade negotiator says. The 12 countries involved in the TPP negotiations abandoned reaching a year-end agreement during a ministerial meeting in Singapore in December.

NewsOnJapan delivers the tainted goods:

Over 200 fall sick after eating frozen food laced with pesticide

More than 200 people in 32 prefectures have complained of falling sick after consuming some of the food products sold by a Japanese company that is at the center of a scandal over tainted frozen food products, a tally by Kyodo News showed Monday.

The local governments are checking whether pesticide was responsible after Aqlifoods Co., a subsidiary of Maruha Nichiro Holdings Inc., revealed last month that some of its frozen food products were tainted with malathion.

Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!

From the Japanese edition of the <a href="http://jp.wsj.com

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