Toppling The Greek Domino Other “PIIGS” To Follow

By P Chong                               3 May 2010

Now that news is all over about Greece toppling as the first of the dominoes,  and the credit downgrading of Spain & Portugal that followed, it appears the rest of the other “PIIGS” nations are just teetering on the fringe. The crucial question is with the political and legal wrangling on what to do with these wayward “PIIGS” nations, will Euro survive?

(“PIIGS” stands for Portugal, Ireland, Italy,Greece & Spain)

Corinth Ancient City Ruins

This Mediterranean Greek nation, the first major sovereign debt domino to topple, is just the Eye of the Sovereign Debt Hurricane. Greece is buried under a massive load of debts and deficits, and the numbers are indeed shocking.

Social unrest & austerity riots, protests, strikes over fiscal cuts

According to the European Union’s (EU) statistics agency which has been combing through Greece’s books, the country’s 2009 deficit tally up to a whopping 13.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) & may even be as high as 14.1 percent.

That’s more than four times the official “limit” for a country in the EU. And the nation’s total debt load is now closing in on $400 billion, or 115 percent of GDP. That’s among the worst ratios on the planet.

Greece is said to be an utterly corrupt nation . . . hence this plight. Towards the end of April 2010, Standard & Poor’s Agency lowered Greek debt to junk causing ripples in the world stock market & shares fell sharply. The other “PIIGS” nations are bound to be contaminated & it would mean just days for Euro to save itself. Already, sooner than expected, Spain & Portugal have also been downgraded by Standard & Poor’s.

Greek interest rates have exploded higher, with yields on 10-year Greek government bonds surging above 10 percent. Meanwhile, two-year note yields soared past 11 percent, more than a sub-prime mortgage borrower pays in the U.S.!

That’s a recipe for disaster for a country that needs to sell $72 billion in debt to cover its deficits just in the coming months.

In a report by Vincent Fernando CFA, from the Business Insider: “ . . . there’s just a broad deterioration in perceived creditworthiness happening right now, but it is particularly severe for the sovereign nation above given that their spreads are hitting record highs.”

Dr Marc Faber, an economic commentator, believed that the “PIIGS” nations will be defaulting & slaughtered. News from BBC carried the same kind of message.

Today’s clever acronym “PIIGS” for these EU nations of Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece & Spain is quite apt.

Facing a full-scale meltdown, Greece did the unthinkable recently by asking for a bailout from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The lifeline will take the form of up to $40 billion in three-year loans from the 15 other nations that share the Euro currency. Those loans will carry a below-market rate of just 5 percent. Greece can also get its hands on another $20 billion in low-rate loans from the IMF.

Greece is far from being alone. We’ll take at one other of the “PIIGS” countries, Portugal:

  • GDP shrank 2.7 percent in 2009, the worst recession in more than six decades.
  • The unemployment rate recently hit a 23-year high of 10.1 percent.
  • Budget deficit jumped to 9.3 percent of GDP.
  • Total debt is more than 85 percent of GDP, the worst in 20 years.

What about Ireland?

  • The budget deficit is almost 12 percent of GDP.

Italy?

  • Its total debt load is on track to hit 117 percent of GDP.

Plus, Spain is battling a budget deficit of 11.4 percent of GDP.

The bottom line is among the “PIIGS” nations, Greece is just the first domino to fall. Many other European countries are next in line. If truth be told, Greece hasn’t done anything different from many other countries including the U.S.

The biggest domino of all will be the U.S.! Budget deficit is soaring . . . debt load is exploding . . . bond yields are starting to rise . . . and their risk premium is beginning to climb.

As evident as it is, it’s been reported what we could expect:

The folks in Washington are sticking their heads in the sand, ignoring the warning signs all around them. They believe the same kind of bond market collapse that just struck Greece can’t happen there. So they’re continuing to bail out banks, brokers, mortgage companies, insurance companies, automakers, unions, homeowners and the unemployed.

But now, with demand for U.S. Treasuries waning — as evidenced by a string of disastrous auctions and continued net selling by China — the only question that remains is, “Who will bail out Washington?”

The simple fact is, no institution or group of institutions on Earth has the resources to save Washington when the bond market finally gives up on their ability to manage their own finances. When that day dawns, the bond market will come apart at the seams. Interest rates will shoot the moon. Their feeble economic recovery could just vanish.”

It’s all very well to go on a spending spree & enjoying lifge as though there’s no tomorrow, but sooner or later, the bills become due which must be paid, and if there’s no cash then what can you expect?

With well over 80% of the American population not trusting Washington with its free spending & free printing of paper money . . . doomsday is predictably not too far off!

In a recent report by Vincent Fernando of the Business Insider, he said that “the U.K. is about to crash along with the sovereign-default “PIIGS”.

Too much freedom in Democracy

Makes control go crazy!

Breaking News Over Aljazeera (Live): “Greekonomics” – Greece been granted a bailout package for 110 Billion Euros for three years from IMF & EU combined.

7 May 2010 Breaking News: Greece is paralyzed … Athens is in flames … rioters are firebombing banks, businesses and government buildings … the euro is plunging … stock markets are reeling …

And now, this great sovereign debt crisis is speeding towards US like a run-away freight train. Other “PIIGS” are cringing – UK included.

Venice – From Sinking To Shrinking


Paul Chong            Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Canals of Venice

That glorious unique exotic paradise with its romantic canals & gondolas, bridges & some of the most exquisite buildings still draws a tourist crowd of some 55,000 visitors per day, that is a staggering 20,000,000 in a year. However, the magic stops there & does not prevent an exodus of its inhabitants.

Gondolas in a Row

There was a time when Venetians were worried about their city sinking & eventually be lost to the surrounding water. Only this time, the threat is not from the rising tides & the subsiding foundations of the island city. The fear of sinking is now switched to shrinking with its population migrating rapidly to the mainland. This is Italian “arrivederci”!

Plazza San Marco

Venice population was 175,000 in 1961 but it has been falling to its present 59,992. This is worrying the City’s administrators as well as the loyal citizens that still remain. Venice though visited & renowned as tourist paradise is not lived in!

One of the Many Bridges

Contrary to popular belief, a popular city that attracts a relentless influx of tourists has generated rising costs in property, food & transport driving out its city’s inhabitants from their ancestral homes. Prices have soared and found to be higher than those in the mainland, so naturally the local Venetians are forced out of this historical city.

Rialto Bridge

A city without vitality or enough lived-in inhabitants could only mean its demise. With a population in decline, something must be done to prevent it from becoming a modern Pompei. This is indeed a far cry from way back in 1960 when we visited the vibrant city. Ladies were then being warned about the Venetians pinching their bottoms! I remember well the great Plazza San Marco (San Marco Square) with its teeming pigeons & Basillica, romantic bridges & canals, gondola rides on the Grand Canal, and endless delightful walking tours among the thousands of tourists.

How do you save a city in decline?

Chinese Western Opera Stars Coming of Age

Chinese Western Opera Stars Coming of Age

Most of the average men & women in the street have never been to a night at the opera, or stepped into the grandeur of the Opera Houses in the world like The Vienna Opera House, Royal Opera House Covent Garden London, Paris National Opera House, Metropolitan Opera House New York, or the Sydney Opera House. A night there in any of those Opera Houses with real life tenors, sopranos, altos & contraltos will be a lifetime experience.

3491119840_f434542623Vienna Opera House

However, in modern times, with the availability of the multi-media, we have been privileged to hear “The Three Tenors” in the persons of Luciano Pavarotti (deceased), Jose Carreras & Domingo. The appearance of the three great tenors singing together has contributed much to the popularity of the opera. Most people are also familiar with The Phantom of the Opera, the stage musical & movie made famous by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The original novel by Gaston Leroux tells of a disfigured musical genius (Gerald Butler) who haunts the catacombs beneath the Paris Opera House.

My romance with the opera stretched back to my early school years in Taiping, Malaysia where we were taught simple appreciation of the classical music. Names of Enrico Caruso, Beniamino Gigli & Björling, the legendary three tenors, come to mind vividly. Caruso with his famous rendering of Verdi’s Rigoletto “La Donna e Mobile” (better known in English as “Woman is Fickle”) was featured in a film by Mario Lanza. As a school cinema operator, with the carbon arc screening 35 mm projector, which by now must be long obsolete, I used to enjoy such great musical shows, and would you believe it, I used to have the voice of Caruso in the my ancient “wire recorder”- a souvenir from the war years.

This afternoon, Hunan Satellite TV presented a tremendous opera program featuring three tenors & three sopranos who have made their talent felt on the world stage. They were demonstrating the unique style of opera singing and what a difference with the conventional pop singing.

Australia’s answer to the famous Three Tenors are the Chinese Trio – Hao Zhou, Stephen Wu & Shidi Chen who came together in early 1990s and were first invited to sing as part of Sydney’s bid for the 2000 Olympics. Since that time the group has performed across Australia as well as in China, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong. They have migrated to Australia charming & amazing audiences with their songs in Italian, French, German, English and Chinese, all in the one program.

3ct09

It’s universally contended that authentic western opera can only be found in Europe. But another tenor Ding Yi has broken both the tradition & the mould. He’s made a place for himself on the world stage, while maintaining his strong foothold in his native mainland China. It’s been a long hard road.

Born of a composer father & a soprano mother . . . the teacher was telling him he lacked the talent to be a good opera singer. Doctor told him he should stabilize his voice with controlling his Adam’s apple.

“Concert of Chinese and Foreign Classic Songs” was performed at the Shenzhen Grand Theatre. Of the dozen singers, the most admired was Ding Yi, a tenor who the MC said is the No 1 singer at the Central Opera House in Beijing. He was certainly good. He and another soprano, Ma Mei (who was great too) wound up the concert with a duet from the famous Madame Butterfly.

Opera Arts described him as “a tenor that has made Italian directors sit up.” He has numerically represented China on the world stage & winning awards & praiseworthy criticism. At home, he is equally in demand whether it’s public or charity performance.

China with a pool of 1.3 billion people & millions taking up music, it goes without saying how much more impact the Chinese tenors & sopranos will have on the world stage. It will only be a question of time.

Paul Chong

A Chinese by Descent

An Australian by Consent

Friday, 17 July 2009