Friday, July 23, 2010

Eton unveils first affordable housing project

MANILA, Philippines - Encouraged by strong market demand, Lucio Tan-led Eton Properties Philippines Inc. has made a foray into the affordable housing segment with its initial development called Aurora Heights.

Aurora Heights is a transit-oriented project consisting of two 20-storey mid-rise buildings in Loyola Heights, Quezon City.

It features fully furnished, move-in ready condominium units with area of 18 square meters, and 28 square meters priced at P1.5 million and P2.2 million, respectively. Amortization starts at only P10,000 a month.

Eton President Danilo Ignacio said that the project is very ideal for start-up families and students in nearby schools such as Miriam College and Ateneo De Manila University.

The first tower, which will offer 627 rooms, will be completed by December 2013.

If the project becomes successful, Ignacio said they will put up similar developments in Manila and Makati City.

Eton's projects have been enjoying strong demand, with the company's year-to-date reservation sales already matching what was booked for the whole of 2009.

The 3-year-old company has launched a total of 29 projects, which include mid-range to high-end residential projects, office and commercial buildings, and township developments.

Stocks end flat

MANILA, Philippines - The stock market ended little changed on Friday as profit taking in select stocks pared down gains prompted by Wall Street's rally overnight.

The key Philippine Stock Exchange index inched up 1.20 points or 0.04% to 3,416.10.

The broader all-share index rose 4.39 points or 0.2% to 2,173.60.

Except for the industrial and property sectors, all subindices finished in green.

Gainers beat losers, 55 to 45, while 75 issues were unchanged.

A total of 1.39 billion shares worth P4.4 billion were traded.

Philippine National Bank was the most actively traded stock by value, rising 13% to a fresh 30-month high of P43.50. Traders said investors continued to pick up the stock on expectations it will soon merge with affiliate Allied Bank.

Second most active was mall operator SM Prime Holdings Inc., which closed unchanged at P10.50. Of the 34 million shares traded on SM Prime, 31 million shares consisted 3 cross transactions.

Third most active was market heavyweight Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., gaining 0.8% to P2,430.

Meantime, Energy Development Corp. and Semirara Mining were also actively traded.

EDC shares were up as much as 2.2% intraday after it disclosed that its net income more than doubled in the first half of 2010 from last year. EDC shares however closed flat at P4.60.

Semirara, on the other hand, jumped 5.6% to P112, its highest closing price.

Seven out of 91 banks fail Europe's test

LONDON, United Kingdom/MADRID, Spain - Seven European banks would not be strong enough to withstand another recession and would face a capital shortfall of 3.5 billion euros (2.9 billion pounds), tests run in an attempt to revive investor confidence showed on Friday.

Five of Spain's smaller regional lenders, known as cajas, failed the test and their recapitalisation is likely to speed a restructuring of the troubled sector.

Banks in Germany and Greece were also seen as weak spots and in need of restructuring, but state-owned Hypo Real Estate was the only German lender to flunk and state-controlled ATEbank was the only Greek bank to fail.

Analysts had expected five to 10 banks to fail the test. As expected, no big banks failed the health check.

German government bond futures hit one-month lows and the euro briefly pared its losses against the dollar after the results were released.

Europe tested how 91 banks would cope with another recession and losses on government debt after the Greek crisis hit markets and raised fears the euro zone could unravel.

It aimed to repeat a health check on U.S. banks last year that helped restore investor confidence and underpinned a recovery by bank shares.

The Committee of European Bank Supervisors said its test was more severe than the U.S. health check of its banks. The adverse scenario in Europe was a one in 20 years possibility, compared to a one in 7 years probability in the U.S. test, it said.

But markets have had their doubts.

"I see nothing stressful about this test. It's like sending the banks away for a weekend of R&R," said Stephen Pope, chief global equity strategist at Cantor.

Under the most severe scenario banks were tested on how they would cope with a moderate recession this year and next, with additional losses on government bonds.

Any bank whose Tier 1 capital ratio falls below 6 percent by the end of 2011 failed the test, and would be expected to raise funds to make up the capital shortfall.

Of most concern to investors was that government bond losses were only applied to trading books, and not hold to maturity bonds, as the test did not consider there was a risk of any sovereign default.

Banks' holdings of government bonds were subjected to a 23.1 percent loss on their Greek debt, a 12.3 percent loss on Spanish bonds and a 4.7 percent loss on German debt, all based on 5-year bonds and their value at the end of 2009.

Spain, Germany in spotlight

The hunt for weak spots in European banking has focussed on Spain's regional savings banks, as well as regional German lenders, known as landesbanks.

Spain and Germany have set up funds to help weak banks recapitalise and Spain wants more cajas to merge.

With the latest data showing signs of a strengthening recovery in Europe, banks could find themselves in a healthier position than expected.

A stress test on U.S. banks early last year helped draw a line under worries about the sector there. European regulators were aiming to achieve the same.

But there have been clear splits in the 27-nation EU about how to model the test and how much to divulge, stoking worries that it will be less credible.

De Lima urges Aquino to replace whole PCGG board

MANILA, Philippines - Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has asked President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III to replace the whole board of the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG).

De Lima said all of the PCGG commissioners have to be replaced to allow the agency to enforce a new approach in going after the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcos family.

She added that having the whole PCGG board replaced sends a message to the people that there is an "urgency to resolve" the issues hounding the agency.

She said the new board should be conscious of the need to wrap up its task. She said that the PCGG should have already completed its work as it has already been 24 years since it was created.

The justice secretary recently prevented PCGG Commissioner Ricardo Abcede from taking over the leadership of PCGG after the resignation of its chairman, Camilo Sabio, on June 30.

In a July 14 memo, Abcede said he was taking over as officer-in-charge of PCGG until a new chairman is appointed by Malacañang.

De Lima said that Abcede could not sit as chairman because the Department of Justice (DOJ), which has jurisdiction over the PCGG, was still in the process of choosing who among the current commissioners should replace Sabio.

Dancing with Imelda

Abcede had faced criticisms for allowing himself to be associated with members of the Marcos family.

At his birthday party in 2006, when a settlement with the Marcoses was also in the works, Abcede sang and danced with former First Lady Imelda Marcos.

Abcede had said he was just "being amicable."

"I am just being amicable to them. How can we have room for settlement if we are not amicable?" he said.

Abcede also recently said that a final deal with the Marcoses was in the works.

Mrs. Marcos, however, denied they have plans of negotiating with the government because she believes they will be cleared of the charges filed against them.

She said most of the cases filed in the Philippines and US to recover the Marcos family's alleged ill-gotten wealth have been dismissed.

End to poverty and corruption top citizens' SONA wish list

MANILA, Philippines - Bayan Patrollers want freedom from poverty and corruption, a government that serves them, and a chance to improve their lot – possibly mirroring what typical Filipinos would say out loud if they had the chance to tell President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III what they wanted to hear in his first State of the Nation Address (SONA) Monday.

The wishes came from at least 550 citizens who responded to a question posed by Bayan Mo, iPatrol Mo: Ako ang Simula (BMPM), the citizen journalism project of ABS-CBN.

The question, “Anong gusto mong marinig sa State of the Nation Address ni Pangulong Aquino?” sought from citizens what about their livelihood or their community they wished would be addressed when Aquino delivers his SONA for the first time.

Presidents have traditionally outlined programs and legislative agenda when they delivered their SONA every last Monday of July, the Constitutionally-mandated opening of Congress sessions yearly.

BMPM posted this question July 16 on its site (, and on its accounts on Facebook ( and Twitter ( BMPM gathered citizens’ responses a week after and ranked these according to volume.

Topping the list of citizens’ wishes were those related to being freed from poverty. Most mentioned problems were the lack of jobs, the need to improve people’s standards of living, and the need to improve provisions for water and electricity.

In the BMPM’s site , job-related issues comprised 8 of 15 responses. Four of the 15 talked about the need to increase take-home pays. Several others tackled job security and the need to stamp out corruption.

Coming in second among citizens’ top 10 wishes was to rid government agencies of corruption.

The need for better health program and benefits came in third, while discipline and efficiency among state workers ranked fourth.

Education – improving its quality and making it available for more people, especially those in the far-flung areas – was fifth.

Bulk of the citizens responded by texting to BMPM’s SMS/ MMS number 2366, while the rest came through emails to, BMPM staff’s Facebook accounts and Twitter.

The complete list of citizens’ wishes follows:

1. Freedom from poverty (solutions to jobs problem, water and electricity crises)
2. End to corruption
3. Better health program and benefits
4. Discipline and efficiency among state workers
5. Education (Improving quality and equal opportunity for everyone, especially those in the far-flung areas)

6. Caring for the environment (Program on climate change)
7. Crime Prevention (Peace and order)
8. Improvement/ upgrade of infrastructures and technology, road projects, government facilities
9. Overseas Filipino workers' situation (security and benefits, lower taxes)
10. Agriculture (program for small farmers, land reform)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

PLDT posts higher profit in H1

MANILA, Philippines - Telecommunications giant Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) booked higher earnings during the first 6 months of 2010 compared to the year-ago level, its chairman Manual Pangilinan said.

"For our bottom line in the first half, we are ahead of last year," Pangilinan told reporters at the sideline of the turnover ceremony of Meralco's donation to the University of the Philippines.

Pangilinan noted that revenues from cellular voice, broadband and fixed line services were all "up" but revenues from text messaging were weak. "It was the usual profile shown in the first quarter," he said.

Growth in wireless subscribers, meanwhile, was the same as the first quarter.

Pangilinan said they were maintaining revenue targets for the year. He also said that income in 2010 would likely exceed last year's.

PLDT, which is owned by Hong Kong's First Pacific Co. Ltd. and Japan's NTT Communications, earlier set a 2010 core net profit guidance of a little over P41 billion, the same as 2009, as it expects competition to temper earnings.

PLDT plans to invest P28.6 billion in capital expenditures to further expand and improve its infrastructure this year.

For the first quarter, the company's net profit went up 19% to P11.4 billion, driven by higher contributions from its broadband and Internet services, and foreign exchange and derivatives gains.

Aquino gov't raises 2011 growth target

MANILA, Philippines - The new Philippine government on Friday said it would retain the previous administration's target of 5 to 6 percent growth for the current year and raised next year's target range to 7 to 8 percent.

The government said the budget deficit in 2010 would be 325 billion pesos ($7 billion), a record in nominal terms, up from an earlier estimate of about 300 billion pesos and equivalent to 3.9 percent of GDP.

It maintained this year and next year's inflation targets of 3.5 to 5.5 percent and 3 to 5 percent, respectively.

The government of President Benigno Aquino III took office on June 30.

Google gets nod from China to keep search page

SHANGHAI/NEW YORK – China gave Google Inc approval to keep operating its Chinese search page, resolving a months-long censorship dispute that had threatened its future in the world's top Internet market.

The move, announced by Google on Friday, removes another thorn in US-China relations and reflects Beijing's desire to be seen as friendly to major foreign companies in spite of ideological differences, analysts said.

Shares of Google rose 2.4 percent as the news erased some concerns that China would eject the company for taking a hard line against Internet censorship. But analysts said Google's position in China remained fragile and that the country likely would account for a fraction of Google's revenue for some time.

"It's good for Google that they still have some presence. But they're clearly in a more compromised competitive position," said Ryan Jacob of the Jacob Internet fund, which holds Google shares.

"Google is going to have a very difficult time gaining share, and will probably lose share over time."

Google embarrassed China in January by drawing global attention to Beijing's Internet censorship practices, a function of the government's belief that keeping a tight grip on information helps it maintain control.

The Internet company also accused Chinese hackers of orchestrating a sophisticated cyber attack on Google and other major US companies.

Google then declared that it was no longer willing to offer censored search results. This exacerbated tensions between Washington and Beijing, which were also sparring over China's currency, US arms sales to Taiwan, and Tibet.

Washington has forcefully argued against Internet censorship and demanded that Beijing investigate and explain the alleged cyber attacks.

Over the months, tensions between the two countries have eased. But analysts said that while the United States would likely welcome the Google agreement, deeper divisions over freedom of information, Internet policy and cyber security would likely continue.

Face-saving compromise

Google said on Friday that China had renewed its webpage license, which means it can continue to run the Chinese language search site There was no immediate comment from the Chinese or US governments.

Last week, Google offered Beijing a face-saving compromise: it stopped automatically rerouting to its uncensored Hong Kong site. Now, visitors to must click once to go to the Hong Kong page.

Analysts said Beijing had sent a reassuring signal to foreign businesses that it would play by its own rules while keeping an innovative global company such as Google in its domestic market, where Chinese companies can compete with and learn from it.

"They want Google there," said Rebecca MacKinnon, a China expert at the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. "The Chinese government clearly sees Internet and mobile innovation as a major driver of its global economic competitiveness going forward."

China, the world's No. 3 economy, has made no bones about its desire to attract foreign investment and technology.

But despite Beijing's eagerness to project a pro-foreign investment image, executives from multinational companies have long complained about Chinese policies that encourage home-grown corporations over foreign ones.

General Electric Co's Chief Executive Jeff Immelt was cited by the Financial Times newspaper as saying in July that he felt Beijing was growing increasingly protectionist, and suggested his conglomerate was eyeing prospects elsewhere.

Analysts estimate Google's revenue in China at $300 million to $600 million out of its $24 billion annual revenue. It has around a 30 percent share of China's 7 billion yuan ($1 billion) search market, which local rival Baidu Inc dominates. Baidu shares, which have soared about 75 percent since Google's problems in China emerged, fell 1.6 percent.

Elinor Leung, an analyst with CLSA in Hong Kong, expects traffic from Chinese visitors to continue to drop for Google and for advertisers to turn to local choices like Baidu.

"This doesn't really change anything about Google's position in China. The redirection to its Hong Kong site is ongoing so it is the same problem as before," said Leung.

Google's difficulties in China come at a time when investors are concerned that the company's growth rate is slowing. Google faces a plethora of regulatory inquiries and is spending heavily on new but unproven businesses, such as its Android mobile operating system. Its stock is hovering at its lowest level since September 2009, and has declined 26 percent in 2010.

"Google has been a company which people have invested in because they expected the company to outstrip expectations -- and it's not that company anymore," said Hamilton Faber, an analyst at Atlantic Equities.

Its "growth outlook is certainly slowing from where we were a few years back. The company seems to be back on the path of heavy levels of investment. We are back into a situation where margins are declining," Faber said.

China offers Google huge arena for growth. With nearly 400 million users, China has an Internet penetration rate of 25 percent with huge market opportunities in search, e-commerce and online gaming, analysts said.

"China doesn't necessarily want Google to exit the country. China just wants to exert its control over Google in its country," said Colin Gillis, BGC Financial's research director.

He said disputes between Google and China over censorship could flare up again.

"It's going to continue to be a distraction for management. It may look like a positive for now, but it doesn't change the fact that Google is still offering uncensored results," Gillis said. "It's going to continue to be a drag on management's focus.

"In our opinion, there is no chance for Google to earn profits in China in the near term," Gillis said.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Flying V cuts gasoline, biodiesel prices

MANILA, Philippines - Oil company Flying V on Saturday said it has rolled back its biodiesel and kerosene products by P.75 per kilogram.

Flying V said it also cut the prices of its gasoline products by P.50 per kilogram. The price adjustments took effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

The LPG Marketers' Association on Thursday said the prices of liquefied petroleum gas may go down by around P2 per kilogram this month.

The group already cut prices of LPG by P0.50 per kilogram Thursday dawn. It said another round of price rollback will be implemented in the coming weeks.

The downward adjustment reflects declining prices of the commodity in the world market.

Businessmen surrender car sirens, blinkers

MANILA, Philippines - Heeding President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III's call, some 20 businessmen on Saturday brought their high-end cars to the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and surrendered blinkers and "wang-wangs" (sirens).

The LTO compound was turned into a car showroom as the businessmen parked their vehicles. Two vehicles spotted include a Porsche Cayenne and a Range Rover Discovery.

Businessman Nick Tan told ABS-CBN News that he decided to voluntarily surrender his blinkers and car siren as a show of support to President Aquino's "no wang-wang policy."

Tan said it would be shameful for him not to surrender the accessories while President Aquino allows himself to get stuck in traffic as he refuses to use his presidential convoy's sirens.

"Pumunta kami rito para suportahan ang sinabi ng bago nating presidente na walang wang-wang, blinker, walang abusado," he said.

President Aquino is fulfilling his promise during his inaugural address on Wednesday that the road bullying days of the blinkers and sirens owners are over.

After confiscating the car blinkers and sirens, LTO officers destroyed the blinkers.

LTO chief, Transportation Assistant Secretary Alberto Suansing, meanwhile, warned other private car owners against using their blinkers and car sirens.

Suansing said that according to the Presidential Decree 96, only motor vehicles designated for the use of the Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, National Bureau of Investigation, Land Transportation Office, Bureau of Fire Protection, and hospital ambulances can be fitted with sirens, bells, horns or similar gadgets.

He also clarified that the only public official allowed by law to use blinkers and sirens is the President.

"That is understandable. Ang opisyal lang kasi ng gobyerno noon ay si Presidente Marcos. Presidente lang ng Pilipinas," he said.

Former president Ferdinand Marcos issued the presidential decree in January 1973.

Banawe losing 'wang-wang customers

Majority of the car blinkers and sirens seen in Metro Manila come from car accessory stores along Banawe Avenue in Quezon City.

Gai Bikade, who tends one such store on Banawe, said that they usually sell 3 to 5 blinkers and 4 to 6 "wang-wangs" a day.

Bikade said they have not sold a single car siren and blinker since President Aquino declared his "no wang-wang policy."

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies including the LTO, Highway Patrol Group (HPG) and the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority deployed more personnel around Metro Manila streets on Saturday.

The HPG said a total of 10 people have been arrested for using blinkers and sirens since Friday.

In the EDSA-Muñoz area, police stopped a Hyundai Tucson and confiscated its siren.

Police said the owner of the vehicle is a Philippine Navy officer named Lt. Commander Miranda Villamor.

Solons willing to lose 'wang-wangs'

MANILA, Philippines - Lawmakers are now also willing to give up their “wang-wangs” and get stuck in traffic just like President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III.

"If the President submits to non-use of wang-wang and other special privileges in traffic situations, who are we to go beyond it? We are lawmakers and not law breakers," Lakas-KAMPI-CMD's Marikina City 1st District Rep. Marcelino Teodoro said in statement.

Teodoro, despite being a member of the past administration's political party, said lawmakers must heed "the call of the highest official of the land."

He said if congressmen, as lawmakers, could not follow simple traffic rules, they should not have the right to create laws.

Teodoro also urged Congress to strengthen agencies that implement traffic rules and laws against the illegal use of special plates and wang-wang.

"If the implementation of the law is clear and strict then these illegalities will be avoided," he said.

On Friday, President Aquino came 30 minutes late for the turnover rites of the Armed Forces of the Philippines at Camp Aguinaldo after getting stuck in traffic on EDSA.

The presidential convoy went along the snail-paced traffic, without using blinkers and blaring sirens. It also stayed on the same lane all the way from Cubao to the Camp Aguinaldo area.

Special plate

Gabriela Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan said in the same statement that congressmen should avoid abusing the use of the congressional protocol plate No. 8.

"Also, the number 8 plate should be used judiciously. My personal car in Davao City does not have an '8' plate while my Manila vehicle uses that plate only on official trips," Ilagan said.

Teodoro, for his part, said the abusive use of the No. 8 plate is condemnable.

Ilagan said there should be rules on the congressmen's and other public officials' use of special plates and wang-wang during road trips.

"Only during emergencies should the 'wang-wang' be used and the number 8 car plates should not be seen in nightclubs and similar establishments," Ilagan said.

Also on Friday, police traffic enforcers seized the No. 8 plate from former Quezon City congresswoman Annie Susano.

Susano's vehicle was stopped by the police's Highway Patrol Group and brought to Camp Crame, where the protocol plate number was removed and confiscated.

In his inaugural address, President Aquino promised to the people that the public officials' bullying days on roads are over.

"Kayo ba ay nagtiis na sa trapiko para lamang masingitan ng isang naghahari-hariang de-wang-wang sa kalsada? Ako rin," Aquino said in his address.

"Walang lamangan, walang padrino at walang pagnanakaw. Walang wang-wang, walang counterflow, walang tong. Panahon na upang tayo ay muling magkawanggawa," he added.