Good morning. Here's my take on some of the stories driving the debate in politics, finance and social issues across Asia today:
A Chinese bubble hiding in plain sight?
The eastern Chinese city of Fenghua is now a metaphor for housing froth. The collapse of a residential building there dovetails with worries China's real estate bubble is about to explode and take the economy down with it. First-quarter figures were ugly enough, home sales having plunged 40 percent in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Trouble is, as this Quartz item argues, property values could be the next to fall over. That would have widespread and unpredictable repercussions for the world's second-biggest economy and the shaky banking system that underpins it.
Why Australia and South Korea rock!
Americans may take exception to news that the U.S. isn't the coolest place to be a teenager. Turns out, that's Australia and, in third place, South Korea, according to the Center for Strategic & International Studies. This is how Time magazine lowered the boom in its story on the report: "Despite the never-ending stream of TV shows glorifying teen life in America, kids in the U.S. don’t have it the best." America came in sixth, followed by Japan in seventh place and Thailand in 10th place. Not a bad showing, Asia region!
Indonesia plots exit from "Fragile Five."
Depending on whom you speak with in the markets, Indonesia is either on the verge of crashing or of confounding the skeptics. Here with the bullish take on Southeast Asia's biggest economy is the Brisbane Times, which suggests the country may be departing the ranks of the "Fragile Five." That's Morgan Stanley's grouping of vulnerable developing nations that includes Brazil, India, South Africa and Turkey. Behind the optimism is hope Jakarta Governor Joko Widodo will win the July presidential election and steer Indonesia further into investment-grade territory.
Asia faces increased interest-rate risks.
Optimism aside, Indonesia and the rest of Asia still face an uncertain several months as the Federal Reserve exits its quantitative-easing program and U.S. bond yields adjust accordingly. As Asian Development Bank economist Cyn Young Park explains, the fear is of U.S. rate hikes "bringing down equity prices and widening credit spreads across Asia." In this uncertain environment, Park adds, "it's crucial that the authorities foster a positive investment climate through deeper structural reforms."
China's overseas farm binge.
Once upon a time, China's growing appetite for overseas farms was about efficiency, variety and economies of scale. Now it's increasingly being driven by environmental concerns. As this South China Morning Post story explains, China is scouring Australia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Chile, Russia, Ukraine and the U.S. as rampant pollution destroys its arable land and water supplies. This spree has a dark side: It takes the onus off China's government to clean up its act. It would be better if China addressed the problem by reducing coal usage and engineering greener growth, and dwindling food supplies would normally catalyze action. The more China drags its feet, the worse its ecological catastrophe will be.
(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @williampesek.)
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