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Buffett's Japan view unchanged by disasters, scandal
by Staff Writers
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 21, 2011

Thailand growth picks up, floods force outlook cut
Bangkok (AFP) Nov 21, 2011 - Thailand's economic growth accelerated in the third quarter on the back of stronger exports but devastating floods have forced the government to cut its 2011 forecast, official data showed Monday.

Gross domestic product (GDP) rose 3.5 percent year-on-year in the three months through September, after climbing a revised 2.7 percent in the previous quarter, the National Economic and Social Development Board said.

"The rebound in the third quarter was due to the recovery of exports in the industrial sector, which was affected by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan," NESDB secretary-general Arkom Termpitayapaisit said at a briefing Monday.

Thailands GDP gained 0.5 percent in the third quarter from the previous three months, the NESDB reported.

But the NESDB revised its 2011 growth forecast to 1.5 percent, down from 3.5-4.0 percent previously, blaming the massive floods that are still affecting large areas of the country.

The flooding, triggered by months of unusually heavy rains, have killed more than 600 people and damaged the homes and livelihoods of millions around the country.

The waters also forced the closure of thousands of factories -- interrupting global supply chains, putting more than half a million people temporarily out of work and costing the economy billions of dollars.

US billionaire investor Warren Buffett said Monday that neither the March 11 earthquake and tsunami nor the corporate scandal that has engulfed Olympus have changed his view on investing in Japan.

In his first visit to the country, Buffett toured a factory owned by his investment firm Berkshire Hathaway in the disaster hit Tohoku region, roughly 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Known as the "Sage of Omaha" for his investing skills, the 81-year-old told a news conference that "the tsunami didn't change Japanese people and Japanese businesses".

In an interview with Dow Jones Newswires, he added that he was looking for "a big investment" in Japan.

His comments come as Japan is pressured by a strong yen that has hit record highs, eroding the repatriated profits of exporters and making their goods less competitive, prompting concerns over the nation's growth prospects.

The March disasters left 20,000 people dead or missing, triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis while heavily disrupting Japanese industry and shattering component supply chains, sending shockwaves through world markets.

Buffett said that the Olympus scandal -- in which the firm's shares have fallen by around 70 percent since October 13 -- has not changed his view on investing in Japan.

Such scandals "don't affect good businesses," Buffett said, referring to the admission by the maker of cameras and optical equipment that it covered up investment losses dating back to the 1990s.

He added that he had no plans to make "big bets" on European government bonds but saw better prospects for the US economy.

Buffett arrived by helicopter at the factory on Monday where he was welcomed by the plant's 400 workers, the Iwaki City mayor and the deputy governor of Fukushima, Dow Jones said.

Buffett's stock-picking prowess has made him the world's third-richest man, with a fortune of $50 billion, according to Forbes magazine's latest list of the world's billionaires.

Last week he said that Berkshire Hathaway has bought $10.7 billion worth of shares in information technology giant IBM since March.

Buffett told business television network CNBC that his investment amounts to about 64 million shares, the equivalent of a 5.5 percent stake.

-- Dow Jones Newswires contributed to this story --

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Japan passes $157bn recovery budget
Tokyo (AFP) Nov 21, 2011 - Japan's parliament Monday passed a 12.1 trillion-yen ($157 billion) extra budget, the third this year, to finance post-quake reconstruction and boost an economy hit by slow global growth and a strong yen.

The package is the latest government effort to revive an economy reeling from the impact of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which requires the nation's biggest post-World War II reconstruction effort.

The extra budget comes as a strong yen and turmoil from the eurozone debt crisis also continue to cloud the outlook for the world's third-largest economy, after the Bank of Japan last week warned of slowing growth.

The upper house gave widely expected approval to the budget in the wake of a four-trillion-yen package in May and another two trillion yen in July.

The more powerful lower house, controlled by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), approved the budget on November 10.

The bulk of the third supplementary budget for the year to March is earmarked for rebuilding the northern region hit by the March earthquake and tsunami that left 20,000 people dead or missing.

Part of the budget will be used for decontamination and other measures to counter the worst nuclear crisis for 25 years after post-tsunami meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant.

The spending plan also includes two trillion yen in financing for struggling businesses amid the yen's appreciation to historic levels against the dollar.

It includes 500 billion yen in subsidies to companies that build factories and research facilities in Japan.

The government plans to fund the budget through bond issuance, spending cuts, sales of public assets, tax hikes and use of non-tax revenues.

The new reconstruction bonds will further pressure Japan's ballooning public debt, which stands at more than 200 percent of GDP.

However, lawmakers are hoping to quickly pass a related bill paving the way for tax hikes to help fund repayment.

The passage came after the DPJ struggled to compromise with opposition parties, which control the upper house, on extending the redemption period of of planned quake-relief government bonds to 25 years from an originally proposed 10.


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Chemical plant blast kills 14 in China
Beijing (AFP) Nov 19, 2011
Fourteen workers were killed and five injured Saturday in an explosion at a chemical plant in east China, state media reported, citing local authorities. The explosion occurred around 2pm at a melamine production facility in Xintai, in Shandong province, Xinhua news agency reported. Workers were maintaining and repairing a condenser when the blast occurred, Xinhau said, citing a statemen ... read more

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