March 17th, 2011
01:27 PM GMT
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I recently discovered a tiny nugget of information that I am savoring.

Don’t get too excited. It is just a word; only two syllables of linguistic pleasure. It’s a word that doesn¹t really make sense when you first read it. However, it is quite pleasant to say out loud.

Go on, say it:

“Bushpunk.”

I was doing some online research on African innovation and creativity and stumbled on the concept of ”bushpunk,” which is described as a uniquely African way of making something out of nothing. Or as some might say, “low-tech solutions to high-tech challenges.”

One blog I discovered, www.bombasticelements.blogspot.com, describes ”bushpunk” as when we, “unhitch our imagination” and repurpose or “cannibalize” objects to refashion them to meet our demands.

In Africa, the staggering growth of mobile-phone banking, for example, grew out of this need to use mobile phones for more than just making calls.

In Kenya, a similar description refers to this same sense of grassroots innovation. “Jua kali” literally means sitting in the “hot sun” in Swahili and it describes an industry of roadside inventors creating things in the open-air.

Across the continent, there are numerous examples of how people interpret objects and technology for themselves. We have all seen those homemade radios or the makeshift generators that litter the African urban landscape.

In Lagos, there is a bustling industry of pavement computer experts. In Maputo, satellite dishes are rewired to provide access to whole apartment blocks. In South Africa, I have seen kids fashion toys out of discarded rubbish that make you smile with wonder.

Then there are the local inventions that make you wonder why the research and development department of a global multinational didn’t think of it: bicycles that also charge cellphone batteries while you peddle or the vuvuzela-like washing machine for rural women to use.

It is a fascinating combination of poverty breeding ingenuity. Millions of Africans lack opportunities to better themselves but everyday they create a wealth of innovations that defy the boundaries of their village.

Harnessing the power of “bushpunk” is the next step in Africa's development.

What are the most ingenious African solutions you have seen or heard of?



March 17th, 2011
07:04 AM GMT
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(CNN) – A spiraling crisis caused by the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear drama has turned into a financial crisis for the world’s third largest economy.

In a few short hours, the yen smashed through the 80 yen-to-the-dollar barrier, peaking at 76.25 yen. That was the highest level the currency has hit since World War II.

The health of Japan’s economy is based heavily on exports. A stronger yen can wipe billions of dollars off corporate balance sheets. For example, Toyota loses 30 billion yen, roughly $380 million, for each uptick of the yen against the dollar.

Analysts say timing played a big role in the sudden surge. Trade is typically thin around the end of the U.S. trading day and before Asian markets open. The yen, considered a safe bet in times of crises, had been gradually strengthening over several trading sessions. With risk adverse investors pushing the currency higher, it broke through 80 yen per dollar.

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March 17th, 2011
02:09 AM GMT
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Hong Kong, China (CNN) – My 10-month old daughter loves hard boiled eggs. I buy Japanese eggs to mix into her solids. Here in Hong Kong, I go to Japanese supermarkets to do my grocery shopping. I trust the quality. Then a relative from abroad called this week and asked if I was certain Japanese produce was safe.

Well, that's a tough question to answer at this point. I do know it's a question a lot of families are starting to ask.

Japanese food is hugely popular worldwide, stocking shelves at high-end stores around Asia and specialty shops in Europe and the U.S.  Governments are taking precautions by doing thorough inspections of Japanese produce. Hong Kong's Center for Food Safety has already conducted radiation tests on at least 34 samples of fresh vegetables, meat and fish from Japan. The center reports all test results were satisfactory.

"As far as radiation is concerned, I think the most at-risk articles are those fresh products, perhaps dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. York Chow, Hong Kong's Secretary for Food and Health, at a news conference earlier this week. “In case we detect anything, of course, we will ban those products from Hong Kong."

Thailand's government is focusing on Japanese imports of meat, milk, fish and seaweed.  A radiation physicist from the Office of Atoms for Peace has told CNN the agency will work with Thailand's Health Ministry to do random checks of imported food from Japan. On Tuesday, India also ordered radiation tests of Japanese food at its ports and airports. Only food originating from Japan after March 11 will be tested.

Paul Yang lives in Tokyo, where he grew up, and is a father with two young children. He and his wife are not changing their family's eating habits, he said.

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March 16th, 2011
07:51 AM GMT
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(CNN) – The Tokyo Stock Exchange closed higher Wednesday after the government interjected more than $43.2 billion into the Japanese economy – raising the total of emergency cash pumped directly into the economy to a record $325 billion in the past three days.

As troubling as falling investor confidence is the rising value of the yen, which hurts the profits of export driven companies like automotive maker Toyota and electronics manufacturer Sony. On Wednesday afternoon the yen was trading in Tokyo at 80.92 yen to the dollar – just a little over one yen higher than the currency’s historic high of 79.75 yen in 1995.

The Nikkei 225 finished trading 5.68% higher than Tuesday’s close, following two days of frenzied selling.

On Tuesday, the Nikkei fell 10.6% - it’s greatest one-day drop in more than 23 years as the country struggles with the earthquake and tsunami damage, as well as the escalating drama surrounding several nuclear power plants damaged by Friday’s temblor. The drop was the third worst one-day drop in the Nikkei’s history.

The losses over two days totaled more than 16%. Tuesday’s sell off – lead by foreign investors dumping Japanese equities, market watchers say – was described as a panic reaction to the escalating crisis in Japan and the fear problems at the nuclear power plants could impact human health and extend evacuation orders.



March 16th, 2011
03:04 AM GMT
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(CNN) – Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index rallied some 5% in the first 15 minutes of trade on Wednesday, bouncing off a 10.5% loss in previous session.  Market watchers however warn that the worst may not yet be over given the various challenges Japan faces after the strongest Earthquake ever to hit the country.

"We're hostage to the next headline,” said Richard Yetsenga, HSBC's Asia currency strategist.

Tuesday’s sell off – lead by foreign investors dumping Japanese equities, market watchers say – was described as a panic reaction to the escalating crisis in Japan and the fear problems at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant could impact human health and extend evacuation.

Right now, equity players are watching currency players and vice versa.  The Bank of Japan, in effort to shore up confidence in the Japanese economy, has injected large amounts of cash into the system to keep money moving and make it easy for the economy to function.

In the first hour of trade on Wednesday the central bank injected another $43.2 billion or 3.5 trillion yen into the system. That raises the total of same day cash Tokyo has injected to support its economy to $325 billion in the past three days.

There's talk the BOJ is prepared to do whatever it takes to stabilize the currency – indeed, we saw a weakening of the Yen within minutes of the central bank's move and the opening of the Tokyo trading day.

Stability is key for investor confidence, analysts say, and the BOJ and government moves are a positive signal.  That said, measures of volatility have jumped – the VIX, the so-called ‘fear index,’ jumped 15% during Tuesday’s trade. That's a sign that there are still many unknowns.

There is a huge relief effort already taking place but rolling black outs could impact on productivity in the medium term.  One note from BNP Paribas notes the rolling blackouts by Tokyo Electric Power (the company that runs the Fukashima Daiichi plant) will affect nine prefectures of the north, including Tokyo.  These nine prefectures account for about 40% of Japan's GDP.

So as the drama unfolds, the potential economic impact of the disaster remains unknown.

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March 16th, 2011
03:03 AM GMT
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March 15th, 2011
07:03 PM GMT
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Two so called “Days of Rage” have been etched in the month of March in Saudi Arabian calendars. One just passed without major upheaval, but with a high level of intervention by interior security forces and imams advising followers not to take to the streets in protest.

These scheduled protests are bookends to a 10 day period that could determine the future direction of the region. The most intense calls for change are coming from the Eastern Province, which has the largest Shiite population. How these protests are managed take on greater weight since the province borders Bahrain, where the decibel levels of protest remain very high. One should not forget that a fifth of the global oil reserves rest under the sands of Saudi Arabia as well.

The battle for the future of Libya has naturally taken the collective eyes of the media off the struggle for change in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain. This is where, as many regional analysts and business leaders rightly state, the hard work begins. We will soon find out if reforms - political and economic - will be watered down or if the government cabinets will be more responsive to their populations.

The knee-jerk reaction so far has been to throw money at the problem in an attempt to buy peace. That is exactly what we are seeing in the six states of the Gulf. Foreign ministers of the region inked an agreement to supply $10 billion each for Bahrain and Oman in the hope of sending the signal to protestors that governments can take action.

The largest economy in the region, the most populous in the Gulf and the producer of nine million barrels a day of oil wants to lead that effort. A month ago, King Abdullah returned from convalescing in Morocco and quickly announced a package of $36 billion to address the neediest in the country. Poverty remains surprisingly high with such oil wealth underground. Official unemployment is just above 10 percent, amongst the country’s youth it is more than double that.

This short-term package of spending follows a five-year, $400 billion plan to beef up education, housing, as well as building four new economic cities from scratch - each with a population of one million or more each. Introducing new cities will also introduce a wave of change - something the King was eager to do to speed up economic reforms. It is not clear at this juncture if there is the continued will to do so by those who will need to see this through. The King and the Crown Prince are well into their 80s and Prince Nayef who has been Minister of Interior for 40 years is 77.

With this backdrop, regional chief executives are trying to navigate their bottom lines for the near term and want to see that there will be continued growth based on this young, but rightfully restive population.

Saudi Arabia represents half of infrastructure group Drake and Scull’s $2.1 billion order book. Chief Executive Khaldoun Tabari does not see a letdown on spending by Riyadh over the next four to five years. He described government outlays as “humongous” by any measure.

The spending might solve a medium-term problem, but in this climate it is managing near-term expectations which will prove difficult.

Asset advisor Saud Masud candidly notes that, “We don’t know what Saudi can deliver even if it wanted to,” since constitutional monarchies and other monumental shifts don’t happen overnight. And there is always a danger of backsliding. These governments have been pursuing economic reforms for the better part of seven years.

Economist Turker Hamzaoglu of Bank of America Merrill Lynch is expressing publicly what many are muttering privately, “I have some doubts that liberal policies will rule the day going forward.”



March 15th, 2011
08:59 AM GMT
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(CNN) - Japanese stocks closed down 10.55 percent, recovering from deeper losses earlier in the session, as the nation grappled with a crisis at an earthquake-damaged nuclear power plant and the aftermath of last week's earthquake and tsunami.

It was the third steepest percentage fall in the Nikkei's history.

At one point, the Nikkei plunged more than 1,390 points, or more than 14 percent, nearing the worst-ever plunge of 14.90 percent on October 20, 1987, after the U.S. stock market crash on Black Monday.

The close at 8,605.15, combined with the 6.2 percent drop on Monday, the first full trading day after the quake, marked a nearly 17 percent drop in two days.

A few hours earlier, Prime Minister Naoto Kan said the risk of further releases of radioactive material from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant remained "very high."

The Tokyo market had opened shortly after the owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in northeastern Japan reported an "explosive impact" at the plant's No. 2 reactor, a day after a hydrogen explosion rocked another reactor.

The plant was among the many structures damaged or destroyed by the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

The death toll following the quake has risen to 2,475, authorities said, with at least 3,118 people missing. The Kyodo News Agency said that doesn't take into account reports of thousands of bodies in one northeastern prefecture. More than 450,000 people are reported homeless.

Other Asian markets were also down markedly, a day after modest gains in the face of the Japanese sell-off. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index was off 3 percent in afternoon trading.

U.S. markets were set for a lower open. S&P and Dow futures were lower by 0.6 percent, while Nasdaq futures were down 0.8 percent.

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World markets finished generally lower Monday as investors assessed the impact of the Japanese disaster on the global economy.

In the United States, the Dow Jones industrial average slid 51 points, or 0.4 percent. In Europe, Britain's FTSE-100 ended down 0.9 percent, with France's CAC-40 and Germany's DAX both more than 1 percent lower.

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March 14th, 2011
12:38 PM GMT
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(CNN) - The devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan will rank among the costliest natural disasters on record, experts predict.

Japan's central bank announced plans Monday to inject a record 15 trillion yen ($183 billion) into the economy to reassure global investors in the stability of Japanese financial markets and banks. The Bank of Japan also earmarked an additional 5 trillion yen ($61 billion) in aid for risky assets in an effort to bolster market confidence shaken by the disaster.

Still, Japanese markets dropped sharply on Monday, the first trading day since the disaster. The benchmark Nikkei 225 was down more than 6.2%.

The drop was the largest single day fall since December 2008 during the financial crisis.

The disaster comes at a difficult time for the fragile Japanese economy, which slipped to the world's third largest behind China in 2010. Japan's export-driven business was hit by the financial crisis and a strong yen, which hurt profits from sales abroad.

The rebuilding from the quake also will add to Japan's towering load of public debt; it is nearly twice the size of its total GDP and the highest in the developed world. S&P downgraded Japan's long-term credit ratings in January, citing its high fiscal deficits.

The TOPIX futures index halted trading around 9 a.m. for 15 minutes as trading quickly spiralled down. "The stoppage was a result of a circuit breaker mechanism, triggered "if shares fall beyond a specific range," said Andrew Wong of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Losses from the disaster will total at least $100 billion, including $20 billion in damage to residences and $40 billion in damage to infrastructure such as roads, rail and port facilities, catastrophe modeling firm Eqecat estimated, according to CNNMoney.

Another firm, AIR Worldwide, estimated that losses covered by insurance could reach between $15 billion and $35 billion from the earthquake alone, CNNMoney said. It did not estimate losses from the tsunami or the damage to the the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeastern Japan.

"If claims come in at the middle of that range, the cost of the disaster would surpass all other natural disasters besides 2005's Hurricane Katrina," according to a Barclay's Capital research note released Monday. "Katrina losses cost the insurance industry around US$45 billion."



March 14th, 2011
12:37 PM GMT
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Toyota, Nissan and Honda all chart big drops as markets react to the Japanese quake. CNN's Andrew Stevens reports.



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