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Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Slumping market erodes liquidity

In Vietnam Stock Market on January 22, 2010 at 10:49 am

The VN-Index, a measure of 199 companies and four closed-end funds listed on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange, fell 0.83 points, or 0.17 percent, to 477.59 on January 22.

The market saw severely low liquidity, which had just recovered the previous day.

Of the index, 64 stocks gained, 89 fell, and 56 remained unchanged. More than 30 million shares, worth VND1.23 trillion changed hands.

Saigon Commercial Bank or Sacombank (STB), which was unchanged at VND22,400, was the most active stock in volume with more than 1.3 million shares traded.

Next were Vietnam Export Import Bank or Eximbank (EIB), which saw more than 1.17 million shares traded at 0.86 percent down from the previous day or VND22,800; and Saigon Securities Inc. (SSI), which had 1.1 million shares traded at VND83,000.  Vietnam’s largest brokerage edged up 1.22 percent.

Nam Viet Co. (NAV), which manufactures building materials, lost 5 percent to VND13,300. Mineral exploiter Hamico Group dropped 4.97 percent to VND42,100.

The northern market also stayed in the red as the HNX-Index slumped 0.04 percent, or 0.06 points, to close at 157.58.

Total trading volume reached more than 19.3 million shares, worth VND596.4 billion where 153 stocks advanced, 24 were unchanged, and 73 dropped.

The UPCoM-Index gained 0.59 percent, or 0.3 points, to 51.49. A total of 48,870 shares worth VND722.3 million were traded.

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Health ministry announces 3 swine-flu deaths

In Vietnam Health on January 22, 2010 at 10:49 am

A sensor checks the body temperature of passengers at HCMC’s Tan Son Nhat Airport to detect suspected swine flu cases (File photo: Tuoi Tre)

The Ministry of Health said January 20 that three people died of swine flu, including two children.

A two-year-old girl in Tien Hai District, Thai Binh Province, died after contracting the A/H1N1 virus, which caused serious malnutrition and rickets.

The other child to die was an eight-year-old boy in Lang Son Province who was first transferred to the Bac Giang Hospital and then the Central Children’s Hospital in Hanoi where he passed away. 

The third death was that of a man, 39, in Y Yen District, Nam Dinh Province, who died after being transferred to the Central Tropical Diseases Hospital in Hanoi from the National Institute of Hematology and Blood Transfusion, where he was being treated for a blood-related disease.

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Gov’t shouldn’t charge poor for healthcare: official

In Vietnam Health on January 22, 2010 at 10:49 am

In the midst of public discontent over new State-issued health insurance regulations, the Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Social Insurance Office Cao Van Sang has said he disapproves of poor patients having to pay for medical care. The underprivileged and those with chronic or incurable diseases simply cannot afford to pay treatment fees, he said.

Cao Van Sang, director of the Ho Chi Minh City Insurance Company expresses his disapproval of insured patients co-pay treatment fee

Under the new regulations, which took effect January 1, disadvantaged patients are required to pay 5 percent of medical treatment charges; but for many who barely make ends meet, this is still too high, Mr. Sang said.

The Insurance Company director said HCMC has done a good job of implementing the new policies and that over four million new insurance cards have been issued.

Healthcare workers have complained, however, of ambiguity and difficulty in executing the new regulations.

For instance, the Health Insurance Department (under the Ministry of Health) said insurance cardholders could still use their old cards one last time, but must then replace them.

Many complained that this was not made clear before the new rules took effect and thus led to much confusion.

Mr. Sang said that in the past, the law stipulated that patients must pay a portion of treatment fees, but this was later abandoned. The new regulations have brought the fees back, but policymakers and the National Assembly ought to have rejected this, he said.

Parents are also now charged for a portion of their children’s medical treatment, while insurance covers only up to around VND29.2 million (US$1,578). The cost of heart surgery for a child can run up to tens of millions of dong, however. Families that can’t afford such surgery must ask for support from district governments.

Tong Thi Song Huong, head of the Health Insurance Department, said at a recent meeting of the Ministry of Health and the Vietnam Insurance Company that while many difficulties have arisen, medical staffs have done a good job of easing patients’ concerns.

The conference, held in Hanoi on January 21, discussed the first 20 days of implementing the new insurance policies and what was left to be done.

During the meeting, Ms. Huong proposed using the charitable “Fund 139” to help poor patients who are unable to afford hospital fees.

Following Ms. Huong’s proposal, the ministry will ask the government to allow the Fund 139 to assist the poor in covering treatment charges. Hospitals throughout the country will compile information on poor patients and submit a report to the ministry for consideration. The ministry has said it will change the law if necessary to help poor people afford healthcare.

Related article:
Frustration mounts over new health insurance policies
Kids, chronic patients suffer most with new health insurance

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Photo of power plant wins Vietnam Journalists Association contest

In Vietnam Culture on January 22, 2010 at 10:48 am

Tran Dam’s “Cua Dat power plant construction” won the first prize in the “Vietnam – integration and development” photography contest organized by the Vietnam Journalists Association’s Press Photo Club.

“Cua Dat power plant construction” by Tran Dam

Second prizes were awarded to Cao Manh Tien’s “Overcoming destiny” and Huu Tuyen’s “War veterans.”

The organizers also gave away three third prizes and 10 encouragement prizes.

Launched in June to mark Vietnam Revolutionary Press Day, June 21, the contest received more than 3,700 photos from 268 artists.

The pictures had to portray images from politics, economy, culture, and society.

The awards were given away at a ceremony held in Hanoi January 20.

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Documentary explores 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi

In Vietnam Culture on January 22, 2010 at 10:48 am

A documentary film titled “1,000 Years of Thang Long Remembrance” about the millennial anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi will be broadcast on Ho Chi Minh City Television.

A scene of the documentary film is shot in Hanoi (Photo: Tuoi Tre)

The film consists of 140 segments including personal and historical accounts, and cultural and fine arts themes. Thirty-six streets of Hanoi’s Old Quarter district will also be explored in the movie.

The documentary will be screened on HTV7 channel at 22:40 and on HTV9 channel at 23:30 on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday a week from January 21st.

“1,000 Years of Thang Long Remembrance” was co-produced by Ho Chi Minh City Television’s TFS Studio and BHD media, entertainment and communications company.


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More cultural performances coming to Hue Festival

In Vietnam Culture on January 22, 2010 at 10:47 am

This year’s Hue Festival, titled “Cultural Heritage During Integration and Development,” will see a host of new and innovative cultural performances in Hue City and districts in the central province of Thua Thien-Hue from June 5-13.

A floating stage will be set up on Tinh Tam Lake in Hue City for performances of traditional and court music during Hue Festival 2010.

The festival’s organization board made the announcement at a press conference in Hanoi on January 21.

More than 40 art troupes from 31 countries including France, Argentina, the US, UK, Poland, Australia, India, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Senegal and more will take part in the nation’s largest cultural event.

Hue Festival 2010 will feature hundreds of tourism and cultural activities honoring Vietnamese and Hue ancient capital cultural values. The event will also bring together representatives of ancient capital cities and cities with world cultural heritage sites and traditions, said head of the festival’s organization board and Vice Chairman of the Thua Thien-Hue provincial People’s Committee Ngo Hoa.

The festival will offer diverse attractions including royal banquets in Dai noi (Hue Imperial Citadel), food fairs, court music performances, and time-honored royal folk games.

Activities such as the Nam Giao Offering Ritual, Royal Palace by Night, and Legend of the Huong River will also be revived with participation of many local artists and dancers.

To celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Thang Long-Hanoi and Nguyen Phuc Lan Lord’s selection of Kim Long (a village 10km from Hue City) to be the capital city of the Southern Kingdom, a performance of the “Land Reclamation Itinerary” and the “Navy Maneuver Under the Dynasty of Nguyen Phuc Lan Lord” will be re-enacted onstage.

Hue City has a current total of around 6,000 hotel rooms. Local authorities will strictly control room-rental rates during the festival, said Mr. Nguyen Quoc Thanh, deputy director of the Provincial Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Hue Festival 2010 will kick off at Ngo Mon Square on June 5 and will wrap up at the Huong River on June 13.  

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Obama moves to rein in banks in Wall Street assault

In World on January 22, 2010 at 10:47 am

President Barack Obama unveiled plans Thursday to limit the size and scope of US banks and finance firms in a new assault on the Wall Street excesses laid bare by the financial crisis.

“Never again will the American taxpayer be held hostage by a bank that is too big to fail,” Obama vowed, flanked by former Federal Reserve chief Paul Volcker, who advised the president on the rules.

The plans to limit “excessive” risk taking and “protect” taxpayers are aimed at preventing banks or finance institutions from owning, investing in or sponsoring hedge fund or private equity funds.

They will effectively force finance firms to choose between proprietary activities, trading in stocks and sometimes risky financial instruments and commercial activities, like making loans and collecting deposits.

US President Barack Obama delivers remarks on finacial reform at the White House in Washington, DC.

The initiative, which must be approved by Congress, includes a new proposal to limit the consolidation of the finance sector, placing broader limits on “excessive growth of the market share of liabilities” at the largest financial firms.

Obama blamed banks for sparking the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression with “huge reckless risks in pursuit of quick profits and massive bonuses” in a “binge of irresponsibility.”

He vowed to enact the reforms in Congress, even if Wall Street deployed an army of lobbyists to kill them.

“If these folks want a fight, it’s a fight I’m ready to have,” he vowed defiantly.

The announcement was the latest attempt by the White House to harness popular fury at massive Wall Street bonuses and the financial crisis, which is adding up to an angry political mood in a crucial election year.

Separately, the Federal Reserve and other US regulators ordered banks Thursday to follow tougher rules on capital requirements and accounting standards starting in November.

“Banking organizations affected by the new accounting standards generally will be subject to higher risk-based regulatory capital requirements,” said a joint statement by regulators.

The new accounting standards require banks to include a number of off-balance sheet items in their liabilities, which could raise capital requirements.

Wall Street gave an immediate thumbs down to Obama’s plans as US stocks plunged, with the blue-chip Dow Jones Industrial Average down more than 200 points or two percent.

“Rather than arbitrarily banning certain activities, or setting arbitrary size limits, our policy response should focus on improving risk management, internal controls, corporate governance, and supervisory oversight,” said the Financial Services Forum.

It is a nonpartisan group of the chief executives of 18 of the largest and most diversified financial services institutions in the United States.

The Obama administration?s proposal “is inconsistent with achieving” goals, such as promoting responsible lending, increasing jobs and promoting a stronger economy, said Steve Bartlett, president for the Financial Services Roundtable.

The group represents 100 top financial services firms providing banking, insurance, and investment products and services.

Obama’s first year in office was dominated by efforts to rescue a handful of banks that threatened to topple the US economy after being exposed to massive losses on the subprime mortgage market.

According to Treasury officials, about 205 billion dollars was pumped into 707 banks under the government rescue plans.

Obama has sounded a tougher tone towards banks in recent weeks as he faced widespread voter anger at the massive government bailout, which came as Americans faced surging unemployment, home foreclosures and national debt.

Top Obama economic aide Austan Goolsbee sought to counter criticism that the plan is returning to the Depression-era law creating a wall between investment and commercial banks.

“It’s not returning to Glass-Steagall,” Goolsbee said.

While the act repealed in 1999 forbid underwriting securities or investing in securities by any commercial bank, Goolsbee said, “This is not that. This says a bank cannot own a hedge fund, cannot own a private equity fund or do trading for its own account that is not related to its client business.”

He added that the goal is “to get back to the fundamental nature of the bank, which is serving its clients, rather than investing for its own profit.”

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US Airways jet lands when religious item mistaken as bomb

In World on January 22, 2010 at 10:47 am

A US Airways passenger plane was diverted to Philadelphia on Thursday after a religious item worn by a Jewish passenger was mistaken as a bomb, Philadelphia police said.

A passenger was alarmed by the phylacteries, religious items which observant Jews strap around their arms and heads as part of morning prayers, on the flight from New York’s La Guardia airport heading to Louisville.

“Someone on the plane construed it as some kind of device,” said officer Christine O’Brien, a spokeswoman for the Philadelphia police department.

No one was arrested or charged, O’Brien said.

The plane landed without incident and the passengers and crew were taken off the plane, a spokesman for US Airways said.

A plane is escorted by a law enforcement vehicle to a terminal at Philadelphia International Airport in Philadelphia, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2010

Phylacteries, called tefillin in Hebrew, are two small black boxes with black straps attached to them. Observant Jewish men are required to place one box on their head and tie the other one on their arm each weekday morning.

Thursday’s incident was the latest of several false alarms on U.S. flights since the December 25 incident in which a Nigerian man attempted to detonate a bomb in his underpants from materials he smuggled onto the plane just as his flight was about to land in Detroit, authorities said.

The device did not explode and only burned the man, who was pounced on by fellow passengers.

Since then several flights have been diverted by security scares that have turned out to be harmless.

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Railroads signal a tepid US economic recovery

In World on January 22, 2010 at 10:46 am

The nation’s railroad operators expect a tepid recovery for the U.S. economy in 2010, as both businesses and consumers continue to wrestle with the effects of the recession.

The severe economic slump cut shipping demand for the railroads because American consumers and industries have been buying fewer of the cars, chemicals, crops, lumber and containers of imported goods the railroads carry.

Union Pacific Corp., Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. and CSX Corp. — the nation’s top three railroad companies — all say demand for coal, once a lucrative segment, is slumping as U.S. factories and homeowners use less electricity. And as people continue to spend sparingly, shipments of consumer goods will show a slight increase at best.

FILE – In this April 22, 2008 file photo, a Union Pacific train travels through Council Bluffs, Iowa.

The companies reported lower fourth-quarter profits this week and said results won’t improve until they see a firm turnaround in the economy.

“Until employment shows some signs of improvement, you’re going to have consumers stay on the sideline, and I think it’s going to be pretty tough to see any kind of a strong recovery,” Union Pacific Chairman and CEO Jim Young said in an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday.

Economists are forecasting U.S. gross domestic product to rise a little over 3 percent, modest growth for an economy coming out of recession.

Many economists are hoping the U.S. manufacturing sector is beginning to rebound as the economy struggles to emerge from the worst recession since the 1930s. Manufacturing activity has expanded for five straight months, according to the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group. But construction activity remains weak, reflected in the steep drop reported by Union Pacific and Burlington Northern in shipments of industrial products, a category that includes lumber.

Burlington Northern says on its Web site that it transports enough lumber each year to build more than 500,000 homes and enough newsprint each year to print 1 billion Sunday newspapers.

Union Pacific reported a 17-percent drop in fourth-quarter net income Thursday to $551 million, or $1.08 per share. The Omaha-based company handled 5 percent fewer carloads during the quarter.

CSX on Tuesday said fourth-quarter net earnings rose 23 percent compared to a year ago. Burlington Northern’s quarterly earnings fell to $536 million, or $1.55 per share, compared with $615 million, or $1.78 per share. Revenue fell 16 percent. The company expects any economic turnaround to be gradual.

CSX CEO Michael Ward said the railroad expects better results in all of its business segments in 2010, except coal. But CSX, like all the major railroads, will be comparing this year’s results with 2009’s weak performance.

Coal shipments have been hit hard. As industrial production slowed and jobs vanished, plants closed and consumers reduced their electricity consumption. That, combined with mild weather last summer, resulted in large coal stockpiles at many power plants.

CSX is pessimistic about its coal business partly because more utilities in the eastern United States have switched to cheaper natural gas to run power plants. The switch to natural gas isn’t as common in the western U.S. where Union Pacific and Burlington Northern deliver coal.

Automotive shipments should be a bright spot in railroad earnings reports during the first half of 2010. U.S. auto sales were solid in December and should improve from last year’s total of 10.4 million, a 27-year low.

Agriculture shipments offer another opportunity for growth. Already, Union Pacific said its ethanol shipments are up because ethanol plants that used to be owned by bankrupt VeraSun Energy have reopened under new owners.

Citi Investment Research analyst Matthew Troy said railroads will carry more crops later this year if the USDA’s forecasts are correct. Troy said in a research note that sustained improvement in grain traffic could be a bright spot in early 2010.

When consumers start buying more goods and retailers have to replace them, railroads will benefit. That’s because many imported shipping containers are carried inland from ports on trains before being delivered to their final destinations by truck. Union Pacific actually hauled 5 percent more of those intermodal containers in the fourth quarter although revenue for that sector was still down 3 percent.

And Union Pacific officials said they’re watching to see if construction activity picks up this spring as more projects funded by stimulus money get going. That could lead to an increased demand for industrial shipments.

Besides the economy, fuel prices will be another factor in the railroads’ 2010 prospects. When diesel gets expensive, the cost of shipping on railroads becomes more attractive compared to shipping by truck.

“If the economy starts to pick up, you’ll see fuel prices move up. That makes us much more competitive versus moving products on the highway,” Young said.

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The five decisions that defined President Obama’s first year

In World on January 22, 2010 at 10:46 am

These are the five decisions that garnered the most news and the most controversy in President Barack Obama‘s first year – and had the largest effect on the country. As Tuesday’s stunning GOP win in Massachusetts shows, we don’t yet know how each choice will end up. But we do know each is poised to define Obama’s legacy:

5. The “Closing” of Gitmo Throughout his campaign for office, Barack Obama vowed to close the American military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, arguing that it harms America’s reputation and violates our fundamental principles. 

Upon taking office, he almost immediately signed an order to close the prison within one calendar year. Conservatives howled in protest and accused the new president of being “soft on terror.” But the order was a central part of Obama’s generally successful effort to rehabilitate America’s global reputation after the unpopular Bush presidency.

US President Barack Obama

With the deadline looming, however, the administration has conceded that, in the words of Defense Secretary Robert Gates, ”the logistics of it have proven more complicated than we anticipated.” The Pentagon is reportedly ready to release at least 100 of the 200 total prisoners, but it has found few countries willing to take them.  And with reports now connecting former Gitmo detainees with the Christmas Day “underwear bomber” and Al Qaeda in Yemen, the challenges are greater than ever.

This decision embodied what happens when Barack Obama’s high hopes meet the complicated, harsh realities of the so-called “War on Terror.”

4. Supreme Court Justice Sonia SotomayorSome presidential historians would argue that a president’s most significant lasting impact is made through their appointments to the Supreme Court.  The sudden and surprising retirement of Justice David Souter offered Obama his first chance to make his mark on the land’s highest court.

His choice of Sonia Sotomayor was simultaneously highly controversial and not. While Hispanic groups were thrilled at the prospect of having one of their own on the Supreme Court, conservative Republicans were outraged by the Bronx native’s off-the-bench expressions of cultural pride. They railed against her infamous claim that a “wise Latina” would come to better legal decisions by virtue of her experience and argued that what Obama called her admirable “empathy” was truly a liberal double-standard.

But her relatively moderate judicial record and cool demeanor during the hearings allowed her to sail through confirmation. She was confirmed by the full Senate on August 6, 2009, by a vote of 68 to 31. In his brief remarks following her confirmation, President Obama hailed the moment for “breaking yet another barrier and moving us yet another step closer to a more perfect union.”

3. Taking on health care reformAlthough the outcome of the current effort to reform America’s health care system is still unknown, Barack Obama has gotten closer to passing a final bill than any previous president.

President Obama’s core decision in pursuing reform was to leave the drafting of the bill to leaders of Congress. Many attribute President Clinton‘s failure to succeed in 1993 to his administration’s choice to lay out its own plan and demand that Congress pass it. The president’s only specific requests were that costs be contained and that any bill provide quality, affordable health care for all Americans.

The road through Congress, though, has been bumpy. Throughout the summer and fall public battles were fought over the public option, abortion, “death panels,” and total cost. With the exception of a major address in September, President Obama remained mostly behind the scenes, pushing House and Senate leaders to gather enough votes for passage. The House narrowly passed a bill on November 7, the Senate on Christmas Eve.

While the Democrats losing their 60th seat in the Senate will make it difficult, President Obama hopes to be able to sign a reconciled version of the two in the coming weeks.

2. Two surges in AfghanistanWhen he moved into the White House, Barack Obama inherited something no other incoming president ever had: two major wars overseas. Throughout his presidential campaign, Obama stressed the importance of shifting the focus of America’s military effort from the now-stabilizing Iraq to Afghanistan.

“If another attack on our homeland comes, it will likely come from the same region where 9/11 was planned,” he said in a speech last summer. “And yet, today, we have five times more troops in Iraq than Afghanistan.”

So, not surprisingly, within the first month of his presidency, Obama ordered the deployment of 17,000 troops to Afghanistan to support the 38,000 already there. That proved insufficient, however, and in August General Stanley McChrystal, the newly appointed U.S. commander in Afghanistan, made a rather startling announcement: The Taliban had gained the upper hand, and the eight-year war in the region was rapidly failing. To salvage the operation, McChrystal wanted at least 40,000 additional troops.

On December 1, 2009, President Obama, after a period of prolonged deliberation that led right-wing critics like former Vice President Dick Cheney to accuse him of “dithering,” ordered an additional 30,000 troops to report to the region within six months. Their mission would be to counter the expansion of the Taliban and to help train the Afghan security forces to control the country on their own. The president hopes to begin removing U.S. troops from the region by the end of 2011, but no concrete timetable beyond that has been offered.

1. The economic stimulus packageComing into office with the economy in the throes of recession, and many believe on the verge of a much deeper crisis, President Obama’s first major initiative was to pass a massive economic stimulus package in the hopes of jolting the economy back into gear. The $800 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included federal tax cuts, an expansion of unemployment benefits, and money for state governments and public works projects focused on health care, energy, and education.

The bill was viewed by conventional wisdom-makers like the Washington Post’s Dan Balz as a “bold” beginning to the Obama presidency. The administration wasn’t afraid of its price tag or the fervency of those opposed to the idea of government spending in moments of economic crisis. The president’s supporters, including some conservative economists, believe the bill prevented the recession from becoming worse.

But the bill’s passage did not come without a price. No Republicans in the House, and only three in the Senate voted for its passage, and the fight led to an immediate erosion of whatever goodwill existed between the opposition party and the new president. Outside of Washington, the bill polarized Americans’ opinions of the new president and helped give birth to what became the Tea Party movement.

In the months since the passage of the bill, the country remains in what many define as a recession. Many argue that the president must take up a second stimulus bill in the form of a “jobs bill” to fight continuing unemployment.

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