Joshua Keating over at Foreign Policy offered a thoughtful commentary on Rob Montz’s North Korea documentary, “Juche Strong,” after last Thursday’s screening at Cato. Keating contended that the film, which suggests that pervasive regime propaganda has created at least some degree of legitimacy in the minds of many North Koreans, makes a case “that the United States needs to maintain its current military commitment to the region.”
No doubt, it would be better for the Republic of Korea and Japan if the North was made up of “cowed and terrified people who will abandon their leaders at the first signs of weakness,” as Keating put it. But even popular determination and commitment—so far untested in an external crisis—go only so far. The question is not whether the so-called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is a threat, but 1) whether it is a threat which cannot be contained by its neighbors and 2) is a sufficient threat to America warranting U.S. led containment. The answers are no.
First, the DPRK has amassed a large army with lots of tanks, but training is limited and equipment is antiquated. The North’s forces could devastate Seoul with artillery and missile strikes and a 4,000 tank surge might reach the South’s capital, but North Korea would be unlikely to ultimately triumph. The latter is weak in the air and with a decrepit economy can ill afford anything other than an unlikely blitzkrieg victory. Nor could Pyongyang look to Russia or China for support: the Cold War truly is over.
More important, the ROK, which currently possesses around 40 times the North’s GDP and twice the North’s population, could do much more in its own defense. South Korea has created a competent, modern, and sizeable military. Is it enough? Only Seoul can answer.
If the South remains vulnerable to a North Korean strike, it is only because the ROK decided to emphasize economic development and rely on America. That made sense during the early days of the Cold War, but no longer. There is no justification for turning what should be a short-term American shield against another round of Soviet- and Chinese-backed aggression into a long-term U.S. defense dole. It doesn’t matter whether the North Koreans are “Juche Strong or Juche Harmless,” as Keating put it. South Korea can defend itself. (Doing so would be even easier if Seoul and Tokyo worked harder to overcome their historical animus. Alas, they feel little pressure to do so as long as they both can rely on Washington for protection.)
Second, the DPRK poses no threat to America requiring an ongoing military commitment. Even in 1950 the Pentagon did not believe the Korean peninsula to be vital strategically, but the Cold War created a unique context for the conflict. Today a second Korean War would only be a Korean War. Tragic, yes. Threat to America, no. Pyongyang is an ongoing danger to its neighbors, not the United States.
The North matters to the United States primarily because Washington remains entangled, with troops, bases, and defense commitments. That is, North Korea threatens America because Washington chooses to allow North Korea to threaten America.
Of course, proliferation would remain a concern even without a U.S. presence in Korea, but America’s garrison does nothing to promote denuclearization. To the contrary, Washington is helpfully providing tens of thousands of American nuclear hostages if the DPRK creates an arsenal of deliverable nuclear warheads. It would be far better for U.S. forces to be far away, out of range of whatever weapons the North possesses.
North Korea is only one side of the Northeast Asian balance. It doesn’t much matter if Pyongyang is weak or strong so long as South Korea and Japan are stronger.
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North Korea declares ‘state of war’ with South
by Giles Hewitt, Agence France-Presse
Posted at 03/30/2013 9:37 AM | Updated as of 03/30/2013 12:35 PM
SEOUL (2nd UPDATE) – North Korea on Saturday declared it had entered into a "state of war" with South Korea and warned Seoul and Washington that any provocation would swiftly escalate into an all-out nuclear conflict.
The United States said it took the announcement "seriously", even though it followed a familiar pattern, while South Korea largely dismissed it as an old threat dressed in new clothing.
It was the latest in a string of dire-sounding pronouncements from Pyongyang that have been matched by tough warnings from Seoul and Washington, fuelling international concern that the situation might spiral out of control.
"As of now, inter-Korea relations enter a state of war and all matters between the two Koreas will be handled according to wartime protocol," the North said in a government statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency.
"The long-standing situation of the Korean peninsula being neither at peace nor at war is finally over," the statement said, adding that any US or South Korean provocation would trigger a "full-scale conflict and a nuclear war".
The two Koreas have technically remained at war for the past six decades because the 1950-53 Korean War concluded with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.
The North had announced earlier this month that it was ripping up the armistice and other bilateral peace pacts signed with Seoul in protest against South Korea-US joint military exercises.
Voiding the ceasefire theoretically opened the way to a resumption of hostilities, although the armistice was approved by the UN General Assembly, and both the UN and South Korea repudiated the North’s unilateral withdrawal.
The White House labelled the latest statement from Pyongyang as "unconstructive" and, while taking it "seriously", sought to place the immediate threat level in context.
"North Korea has a long history of bellicose rhetoric and threats and today’s announcement follows that familiar pattern," said National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden.
In Seoul, the Unification Ministry insisted the war threat was "not really new" and the Defence Ministry added that no notable troop movement had been observed along the border.
Most observers still believe this will remain a verbal rather than a physical battle.
"The North Koreans in recent weeks have turned rhetoric into performance art," said Gordon Flake, a Korea specialist and executive director of the Mansfield Foundation in Washington.
"When they have already declared the armistice null and void, I do not think a declaration of war breaks new ground," Flake said.
But he added that the situation had now become so volatile that any slight miscalculation carried the potential for rapid escalation.
Both China and Russia called for calm Friday, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov voicing particular concern.
"We can simply see the situation getting out of control, it would spiral down into a vicious circle," Lavrov told reporters at a news conference.
His warning came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un ordered missile units to prepare to strike US mainland and military bases, so as to "settle accounts" after US stealth bombers flew over South Korea.
The high-stakes standoff has its roots in North Korea’s successful long-range rocket launch in December and the third nuclear test it carried out in February.
Both events drew UN sanctions that incensed Pyongyang, which then switched the focus of its anger to the annual joint South Korea-US military drills.
As tensions escalated, Washington has maintained a notably assertive stance, publicising its use of nuclear-capable B-52s and B-2 stealth bombers in the war games.
The long-distance deployment of both sets of aircraft out of bases in Guam and the US mainland were intended as a clear signal of US commitment to defending South Korea against any act of aggression.
Analysts have underlined that the threats and counter-threats from all sides have increasingly stressed a conditional element of the other acting first.
"But the danger is, when the North Koreans have threatened a nuclear attack on Washington, they may not know a limit on how much they can get away with," said Flake.
Statistics: Posted by DIGGER DAN — Sat Mar 30, 2013 3:11 am
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South Texas drought taking its toll on cattle ranchers
AgriLife Extension Service | Updated: 03/21/2013
RIO GRANDE CITY – The unrelenting drought is taking its toll on South Texas cattle ranchers who are resorting to a centuries-old emergency method of feeding cattle, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service agent.
“Ranchers down here commonly refer to it as ‘chamuscando,’ the Spanish word for the process of burning off spines from prickly pear cactus so cattle can eat the pods for food and water,” said Omar Montemayor, an AgriLife Extension agent in Starr County. “For many of our aging ranchers, chamuscando (pronounced chah-moos-KAHN-doh) and hauling hay and water to their livestock are last ditch efforts to stay in the cattle business.”
Burning cactus is a practice that dates back to the mid-1700s when Spanish settlers moved here from Mexico City and raised cattle for sustenance along both sides of the Rio Grande, Montemayor said. The pioneers burned cactus over mesquite fires, which eventually gave way to kerosene burners until the 1950s when ranchers switched to butane then propane.
“In times of drought, when pastures have no grass or hay for cattle to feed on, ranchers use a propane-fueled torch to burn the needles off nopal, or cactus. The pads or stems of the plant contain moisture and fiber, but very little protein. Ranchers supplement their cattle’s diets with protein pellets called range cubes.”
Chamuscando and hauling supplemental feed, hay and water to cattle are costly measures, Montemayor said, but for many South Texas ranchers, time may be too short to sell their herds now and rebuild if and when the drought breaks.
“Many of our ranchers are in their late 60s and 70s,” he said. “If they sell their cattle and the drought ends next year, they’ll have to buy young cattle back. If a rancher pays $2,400 for a ‘pair,’ a cow and a young calf, he or she will have to wait four to five years to sell four or five calves just to recoup their investment.
“For a lot of ranchers, that’s time they think they may not have, so they’re doing everything they can to keep their cattle alive now. But it’s hard work and very expensive.”
Once cattle start eating burned cactus, a rancher has to have a plentiful supply on hand.
“When ranchers burn cactus, they have to burn at least a two-day supply because cattle used to eating cactus will eat it with spines and all if the burned cactus runs out. That results in mouth injuries, they stop eating and now a rancher has a whole new set of problems.”
At an average cost of $3.50 per gallon of propane, a rancher with 30 head of cattle will spend about $35 per day just on the fuel to burn cactus, Montemayor said.
“Hopefully, a rancher has plenty of cactus on his ranch land. Then there’s the cost of the protein supplement. Some set out molasses tubs which help with the livestock’s hydration and digestive process.”
Thirsty cattle require lots of water, a commodity long since gone from many South Texas ranches.
“For ranchers without windmills or wells, there’s the cost of hauling water to these ranches where ponds have long ago dried up. Some of these ranchers have been hauling water to their ranches for two or three years. A lactating cow consumes about 20 gallons of water per day, so with 30 head, you’re talking about a lot of water daily. ”
Ranchers use all sorts of make-shift and customized tanks and trailers to haul untreated Rio Grande water from municipal water treatment plants to their ranches behind pickup trucks burning $4 per gallon diesel fuel. Cost of the water is relatively cheap, at about $10 for 500 gallons, but the trips are almost non-stop, Montemayor said.
“Once a drought starts drying up the natural resources of a ranch, expenses and efforts increase tremendously. Equipment gets more use which means added repairs and maintenance; the list just goes on and on.”
Ranchers have also been buying hay, available nearby in the lower counties of the Rio Grande Valley where fields have been irrigated. But that won’t last long either, he said.
“A round bale of hay is going for about $100, but as water districts start cutting back on the irrigation water that hay growers have had, hay will become more scarce and more expensive.”
Montemayor said a South Texas way of life going back more than 250 years is very much at risk.
“Our ranchers are not youngsters,” he said. “The expense and effort they have to put in is taking a terrible toll. With little or no rain since Hurricane Alex in 2009, and none in the forecast, we could be looking at the end of an era here. Ranchers, like farmers, are very optimistic, but how long can they hold out?”
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Thu Mar 21, 2013 10:19 am
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South Africa mining giant sacks 12,000 strikers
Mining company Anglo American Platinum got tough on strikers in South Africa on Friday, announcing it was sacking 12,000 workers. The move only seems likely to inflame labour unrest in the country, which has left dozens dead in recent months.
Tensions between mine owners and workers in South Africa heightened on Friday when 12,000 staff were sacked for taking part in an illegal strike.
The world’s biggest platinum producer, Anglo American Platinum, said it had fired the workers after reporting their walkout had cost the company around $82 million in lost output.
The miners failed to appear for disciplinary proceedings “and have therefore been dismissed in their absence”, AFP reported.
The uncertainty of the platinum mining industry combined with the ongoing unrest means Friday’s move has not come out of the blue to many in South Africa.
“This country is quite used to large figures like this, even if 12,000 seems shocking by European standards,” the Independent’s Cape Town correspondent Alex Duval Smith told FRANCE 24. “There are 125,000 people employed in the industry.”
“Essentially the mining industry says it is overstaffed, it needs to get rid of people, the strikes are illegal and if they continue we are going to do what we intended to do, which is fire people,” Duval Smith added.
The decision appears likely to further inflame an ongoing dispute in a week when labour unrest has left at least six people dead around the country.
Miners reported that police shot and killed a worker when they used tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a crowd of demonstrators gathered overnight Thursday on a hill near a platinum mine in Rustenburg.
Mbubhu Lolo said one of his colleagues had been shot in the stomach by a rubber bullet. "He was shot here by the police," Lolo told Reuters, pointing to his midriff.
Police on the ground near the shanty town 120 km northwest of Johannesburg would not let reporters go up the hill to see the body, saying they were still investigating the scene. Authorities were unable to confirm the death.
The base of the hill was littered with tear gas canisters and empty shell casings that miners said were used to fire rubber bullets.
The country’s President Jacob Zuma has appealed for calm. Police shot dead 34 strikers at Lonmin’s nearby Marikana platinum mine on Aug. 16, the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid in 1994. A further 13 people have died in labour unrest in the area since early August.
A South African transport union is also pushing for rail and port workers to join a strike by more than 20,000 lorry drivers in order to bring the entire transport sector to a standstill.
The lorry driver strike has hit fuel supplies and logistics groups in Africa’s biggest economy. If it expands to railroads and ports, it would also affect exports of commodities such as coal, platinum and gold.
"We are working to have all our members in rail [and] ports join the strike in sympathy for the truck drivers as of next week," said Vincent Masoga, a spokesman for the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Fri Oct 05, 2012 10:03 am
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South African strikes shutdown 39% of capacity, gold prices will benefit says Byron King
Posted on 27 September 2012
Strikes at South African gold mines have shut down about 39 per cent of capacity. This will inevitably trigger higher gold prices in the near future even if it is not happening right now.
The unrest ‘will not end quickly,’ says legendary newsletter writer Byron King today. ‘This is not just ‘the natives are restless, so throw ‘em a bone.’
‘At the face of the mine, workers want more money… but actually, over the past decade, they’ve been earning ‘more money,’ while spending it faster than it comes because of inflation in food, energy, housing costs and other social issues that help keep poor people poor. So even ‘more money’ won’t solve the problem, because More is never enough.
‘Meanwhile, gold mine managers see rising costs pushing against more challenging extraction. Ore grades are declining, while many mines are deeper and deeper… with energy costs rising (oil and electricity)… and overall worldwide cost inflation for concrete, steel, machinery, equipment, spares and repairs, supplies…
‘Then there’s political unrest,’ Byron continues. ‘Illustrated by South Africa’s own Julius Malema with his continuing discussion of ‘nationalizing’ mines, which frightens off foreign investment… While the political landscape in other nations is problematic at best… because many other locales have their own issues with workers, ore grades, technical production issues, political problems… e.g., Ecuador, and even Peru…
‘Add in the fact that new discoveries are fewer and further apart… with lower and lower grades, and lower overall resource estimates…. and often ‘logistically challenged’ such as the new discovery that I visited the other day in mining-friendly Manitoba — a beautiful piece of geology, and in Canada, to boot, but far from roads and power lines.’
So what is it we’re going to be seeing wraps up Mr. King? ‘More and more money chasing less and less gold.’
We’ve reached that conclusion many times before on ArabianMoney but usually because of an increase in the supply of money and not a decrease in the supply of gold. Put both together and you have some neat rocket fuel for the price of gold!
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Thu Sep 27, 2012 10:32 am
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Conservation group buys Montana’s South Ranch
Greg Henderson, Editor, Associate Publisher | Updated: August 22, 2012
A conservation group’s efforts to establish a large prairie-based wildlife reserve in northeast Montana took a giant step forward this week. The American Prairie Reserve (APR) announced the purchase of the 150,000-acre South Ranch near Glasgow, which more than doubles the group’s holdings in the area.
APR’s goals are to “assemble a multi-million acre wildlife park that will conserve the species-rich grasslands of Montana’s legendary Great Plains for the enjoyment of future generations.”
Many local ranchers are critical of APR’s plans and believe the trend of outside money buying Montana ranch land is a detriment to the community and endangers a way of life.
The Bozeman-based APR has raised $48 million through contributions and pledges, and says it hopes to spend $500 million on land acquisition over the next 20 to 30 years. The group targets land adjacent to Montana’s C.M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge for acquisition in an effort to maximize the scope of a large grasslands wildlife preserve. Prior to the purchase of the South Ranch, APR claimed to own or lease 123,000 acres in the area.
Specifically, APR’s mission is to “create and manage a prairie-based wildlife reserve that, when combined with public lands already devoted to wildlife, will protect a unique natural habitat, provide lasting economic benefits and improve public access to and enjoyment of the prairie landscape.”
Eventually, American Prairie Reserve envisions a herd of 10,000 buffalo roaming its land and adjacent federal and state lands.
The Montana Stockgrowers Association is skeptical of the idea of a free-roaming herd of buffalo. “Have Montanans expressed a true desire to see more bison, or is the pressure coming from outside our state?” asks Stockgrowers president Watty Taylor. “We do not know of any area in Montana where the local community is clamoring for a truly free roaming bison herd.”
Indeed, Taylor and others note there are already several bison herds in Montana, and a large free-roaming herd is unlikely to provide benefits for the animals or Montanans.
Major donors to the American Prairie Reserve include candy industry billionaires John and Adrienne Mars, who have provided at least $5 million, and brother Forrest Mars Jr. who has given at least $500,000. A California venture capitalist has also donated at least $2.5 million.
“They keep saying they’re saving it,” Vicki Olson, a reserve opponent and third-generation Phillips County rancher told the Associated Press. “If they get their way, they’re going to sell it back to the government and they’re going to take it off the tax rolls. It’s going to kill the community economically.”
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Wed Aug 22, 2012 9:03 am
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US dryness fears shift south as wheat sowings near
The southern Plains, the seat of drought in the US last year, revived as a centre for this year too, seeing its crops continue to deteriorate even as those in much of the Midwest improved – and ahead of the important wheat sowing period.
The US Department of Agriculture, for a third week, rated domestic corn as 23% in "good" or "excellent" health, showing no further deterioration towards the levels of 1988, the last year drought caused such devastation to US crops.
Soybeans were rated at 31% in good or excellent health as of Sunday, an increase of 1 point on the week, if still the worst figure since 1988, and an improvement at the bottom end of market expectations.
Reports of poor yields, below even USDA expectations, were revealed on Monday on the first day of the ProFarmer tour of major US row crop areas.
‘Continued to deteriorate’
However, the overall USDA crop condition data concealed a difference in experience between states – crops in parts of the southern Plains continued to deteriorate, even as those in much of the Midwest improved.
While some of the Plains state of Oklahoma received rainfall last week, more than half did not and overall the rains "provided no significant improvements to conditions", USDA officials said.
"Concerns about aflatoxin in corn were reported," they added, a reference to a fungal residue commonly found in crops stressed by drought.
In Kansas, "row crop conditions continued to deteriorate last week as the state received only scattered rainfall", they said, cutting their good or excellent ratings of Kansas soybeans by two points to 3%, and of corn by three points to 5%,
"While average temperatures dropped last week, continued lack of precipitation still plagues farmers," the USDA staff said.
‘Greened up considerably’
The comments contrasted with those from Midwest states such as Indiana, where rains allowed soybeans to recover by four points to 20% rated good or excellent.
"Rain showers helped to improve drought conditions with less than half the state still in extreme-to-exceptional drought conditions compared with nearly 70% on July 31," the USDA said.
"Pastures and hay fields have greened up considerably in the last two weeks.
"Later-planted soybeans are benefitting from the recent rainfall with additional growth and pod fill," besides lower spider mite activity and reduced aflatoxin risk in corn.
‘Tight grip of drought’
The concerns over the southern Plains are particularly important since the region is a major winter wheat growing area – Kansas is the top wheat-growing state – and with farmers preparing for sowings, potentially into dry ground.
The USDA warned last week that "prospects in most of the winter wheat area are not good especially in the western winter wheat area of the southern Plains".
At broker RJ O ‘Brien, Richard Feltes highlighted data showing the condition of the US sorghum crop continuing to decline, by two points to 23% good or excellent, "underscoring the tight grip of drought in the southern Plains".
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Tue Aug 21, 2012 6:44 am
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South African police opened fire Thursday on a crowd of striking miners that charged a line of officers trying to disperse them, killing some and wounding others in one of the worst shootings by authorities since the end of the apartheid era.
Police declined to offer casualty figures after the shooting at the Lonmin PLC mine near Marikana, a dusty town about 70 kilometers northwest of Johannesburg. However, the main South African news agency, SAPA, has reported that 18 people have been killed. Police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi acknowledged late Thursday some of the miners there had died as more police and soldiers surrounded the hostels and shacks near Lonmin’s shuttered platinum mine.
The shooting happened Thursday afternoon after police failed to get the striking miners to hand over machetes, clubs and other weapons.
Some miners did leave, though others carrying weapons began war chants and soon started marching toward the township near the mine, said Molaole Montsho, a journalist with the South African Press Association who was at the scene.
The police opened up with a water cannon first, then used stun grenades and tear gas to try and break up the crowd, Mr. Montsho said.
Suddenly, a group of miners rushed through the underbrush and tear gas at a line of police officers. Officers immediately opened fire, with miners falling to the ground. Dozens of shots were fired by police armed with automatic rifles and pistols.
Images broadcast by private television broadcaster e.tv showed the gunfire ending with police officers shouting “cease fire!” By that time, bodies were lying in the dust, some pouring blood. Another image showed some miners, their eyes wide, looking in the distance at heavily armed police officers in riot gear.
It was an astonishing development in a country that has been a model of stability since racist white rule ended with South Africa’s first all-race elections in 1994. The shooting recalled images of white police firing at anti-apartheid protesters in the 1960s and 1970s, but in this case it was mostly black police firing at black mine workers.
President Jacob Zuma said he was “shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence.”
“We believe there is enough space in our democratic order for any dispute to be resolved through dialogue without any breaches of the law or violence,” he said in a statement.
Barnard O. Mokwena, an executive vice president at Lonmin, would say only: “It’s a police operation.” Lonmin is the world’s third largest platinum producer
In a statement earlier Thursday, Lonmin had said striking workers would be sacked if they did not appear at their shifts Friday.
“The striking (workers) remain armed and away from work,” the statement read. “This is illegal.”
The unrest at the Lonmin mine began Aug. 10, as some 3,000 workers walked off the job over pay in what management described as an illegal strike. Those who tried to go to work on Saturday were attacked, management and the National Union of Mineworkers said.
On Sunday, the rage became deadly as a crowd killed two security guards by setting their car ablaze, authorities said. By Monday, angry mobs killed two other workers and overpowered police, killing two officers, officials said. Officers opened fire that day, killing three others, police said.
Tuesday and Wednesday, thousands of miners had gathered at a rocky cliff within sight of the mine’s smelter. They cheered, sang and marched around with machetes and clubs under the watchful eye of police officers in armored trucks. Some leaders of the miners spoke with the police and largely followed their instructions, breaking up the protest as dusk fell.
Operations appeared to come to a standstill Tuesday as workers stayed away from the mines, where 96 percent of all Lonmin’s platinum production comes from. The stoppage has spooked those investing in Lonmin. Stock in Lonmin plunged 7.27 percent in trading Thursday afternoon on the London Stock Exchange.
While the walkout appeared to be about wages, the ensuing violence has been fueled by the struggles between the dominant National Union of Mineworkers and the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. Disputes between the two unions escalated into violence earlier this year at another mine.
Black miners long have faced low salaries and poor living conditions in shantytowns often beset by alcoholism, drug abuse and prostitution. Apartheid kept black African workers from more lucrative jobs offered to whites. Though the nation became truly democratic in the 1990s, the salaries of black miners remain low.
Mining drives the economy of South Africa, which remains one of the world’s dominant producers of platinum, gold and chromium. Lonmin is the world’s third largest platinum producer and its mine at Marikana produces 96 per cent of all its platinum. The violence has shaken the precious metals market, as platinum futures ended up $39, or 2.8 per cent, at $1,435.20 an ounce in trading Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Thu Aug 16, 2012 3:51 pm
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South Korea buys gold
S.Korea raises gold reserves by nearly 30 pct to 70.4
* S.Korea’s third gold purchase since last June
* Stabilising markets in July allow it to pursue purchase
(Adds comments, background)
By Christine Kim and Rujun Shen
SEOUL/SINGAPORE, Aug 2 (Reuters) – South Korea boosted its
gold holdings by nearly a third in July, buying 16 tonnes as
part of the central bank’s efforts to diversify its massive
foreign exchange reserves.
South Korea is Asia’s fourth largest economy and its central
bank said on Thursday that it now holds 70.4 tonnes of gold,
after paying $810 million last month for the purchase.
The increase barely lifted gold prices but supported
expectations that central banks will remain gold’s key buyer as
increased volatility in global markets and waning confidence in
the U.S. dollar fuel a global drive to vary foreign reserves
away from the U.S. currency and government debt securities.
"The markets were stable in July and we judged the
conditions were good for us to make the purchase then," said Lee
Jung, head of the investment strategy team at the Bank of
Korea’s reserve investment division.
Like most central bankers, Lee declined to provide the exact
price per ounce the bank paid for the bullion. Reuters
calculations show the Bank of Korea paid about $1,582 per ounce
on average, slightly lower than the average spot gold price
of about $1,592 for the month.
Gold prices gained nearly 1 percent in June, and hovered
near $1,620, down about 16 percent from the record high above
$1,920 hit last September.
CENTRAL BANKS TO BUY MORE GOLD
The latest purchase was the third by the Korean central bank
since June last year, when it started increasing its reserves
after leaving them unchanged for more than a decade.
In the last 13 months, South Korea’s gold reserves have
grown five-fold but remain only a fraction of China’s over 1,000
tonnes and Japan 765 tonnes, according to the World Gold Council
Central banks bought 80.8 tonnes of gold in the first
quarter, adding to 2011 purchase of more than 450 tonnes, the
WGC said. In recent months, a number of countries including
Russia and Kazakhstan also increased their gold reserves, data
from the International Monetary Fund showed.
"We have been of the view that we would increasingly see
more diversification of reserves and investments into gold,"
said Chirag Mehta, gold fund manager at Quantum Mutual Fund in
Mumbai, India. "This trend is likely to continue".
Gold now accounts for 0.9 percent of the value of South
Korea’s total foreign reserves at the end of July, up from 0.7
percent a month earlier, the central bank said. The total book
value of its gold holdings was at $3.0 billion, it added.
South Korea’s foreign reserves of more than $300 billion
ranked the seventh in the world and were equivalent to about 30
percent of its annual gross domestic product.
The South Korean central bank said it now ranked 40th in the
world in gold holdings at the end of July, up from 43rd in June.
Statistics: Posted by DIGGER DAN — Thu Aug 02, 2012 1:43 pm
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South Jersey towns see more than 16 percent increase in vacant homes
Posted: Saturday, January 14, 2012 9:00 pm | Updated: 9:34 am, Sun Jan 15, 2012.
By STEVEN LEMONGELLO Staff Writer |
New developments riddled with unsold homes, vacant bank-owned homes not yet on the market, an overall mood of gloominess — that’s the legacy of the real estate bust.
U.S. Census reports show that while the number of total housing units increased nationally by almost 14 percent from 2000 to 2010, the number of vacant housing units ballooned by almost 44 percent.
Michael Busler, a fellow at the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Richard Stockton College, says the gloomy trend may not have reached its end point. “It’s going to get a little bit worse before it gets better,” he said.
New Jersey’s numbers are just as striking — an increase in housing of more than 7 percent while the number of vacant units increased by more than 38 percent. One Essex County town, Belleville, for example, saw the number of vacant housing units jump 134 percent as the number of overall units went up just 1 percent.
Locally, 14 of 23 Atlantic County municipalities have seen the number of vacant housing units increase by 16 percent or more from 2000 to 2010. In addition, 11 of 16 towns in Cape May County and 10 of 14 towns in Cumberland County have seen a similar jump.
“People are becoming frustrated by the system, and a lot of them are walking away from properties,” said James Schroeder, an attorney and real estate agent with Keller Williams in Northfield. He cited statistics from the New Jersey Law Review stating that there were 1.5 million homes nationwide in foreclosure and ready for sale, another 3.5 million to 4 million within three to six months of being sold.
In the end, he said, his company believes that it will be another five to seven years before the traditional housing market picks up again.
For Gary Goldfluss, a Realtor at Century 21 Cataneo & Associates in Holmdel who has dealt with the Ocean County market, the situation can be boiled down to two words: “consumer confidence.”
“That’s the real problem,” Goldfluss said. “That’s why rentals are big right now. People don’t know if they’re going to have a job tomorrow.”
Vacancy numbers are complicated by several factors — most of all by the fact that many homes listed as vacant are actually seasonal summer homes, which is why shore town numbers are so high.
The best way of determining which houses are totally unoccupied is to look at the numbers of units that are “for sale” only — but then the numbers are even starker.
Cape May County saw an overall increase in vacant units for sale, not seasonal, of 75 percent compared with just an 8 percent increase in total units.
Upper Township saw an increase of 232 percent (83 vacant units for sale in 2010 compared with 25 in 2000), while Cape May saw a 245 percent increase (38 compared to 11), Wildwood Crest a 442 percent increase (130 compared to 24) and Cape May Point a whopping 650 percent increase (15 compared to 2).
Nine Atlantic County towns have seen increases in vacant units for sale of 75 percent or more, including increases of 100 percent in Longport and Estell Manor, 111 percent in Buena Vista Township, 126 percent in Linwood and 204 percent in Somers Point — which saw the number of homes vacant and for sale almost triple, going from 24 in 2000 to 73 in 2010.
Nine other towns in the county have a double-digit increase in the percentage of vacant units for sale, leading to a 32 percent increase overall — in a county that saw just an 11 percent increase in total units.
In Ocean County, the number of homes vacant and for sale in Barnegat Township more than doubled (76 to 172). In Stafford Township, that figure jumped from 151 to 272.
Within those larger townships, several 55-and-older communities have seen huge disparities in vacant housing compared to new housing. In Holiday City-Berkeley, the number of units stayed practically the same while the number of vacant units for sale rose by 52 percent. The same trends could be seen at Leisure Village East (a 1 percent increase in total units, a 157 percent increase in vacant units for sale) and most dramatically at the smaller Holiday Heights (units grew by 2 percent; vacant units for sale exploded by 400 percent).
Not all the numbers have such a wide gap, however. In many larger townships, which saw a huge amount of new development, the increase in total units was about equal to the increase in vacant units for sale — although that may just mean that many of those new homes went unsold or were foreclosed upon.
Egg Harbor Township, for example, saw a 35 percent increase in total units and a 31 percent increase in vacant units for sale. Galloway Township saw a much higher increase in vacant units for sale (45 percent) than total units (24 percent), as did Hamilton Township (58 percent compared with 35 percent).
But will the situation actually get worse? Busler said one of the reasons for his pessimism was the delay in foreclosures due to legal issues over “robo-signings” — in which mortgage companies didn’t review mortgages and signed them electronically — which has led to a holdup in foreclosures and many bank-owned homes only now hitting the market, Busler said.
The economic picture, he added, doesn’t help either.
“Making things worse is that there is a very low demand for housing due to the high unemployment rate nationwide, and in Atlantic County in particular” Busler said. “Even those who can afford houses are not convinced housing prices have bottomed. They’re staying out of the market until they’re convinced housing prices have stabilized.”
For example, he said, homes that may have been selling for $300,000 four to five years ago, before the crash, may be selling for $200,000 following foreclosure.
“The last thing they want to do is pay $200,000 this year when they could get it for $180,000 next year,” Busler said.
For his part, Schroeder said owners would be better off working out a deal with lenders to stay in the homes while working out some agreement, either to reduce payments, short-sell the home — selling the home to another homeowner at below market value — or work out a deed-in-lieu-of-foreclosure sale, in which the lender pays a fee of about $3,000 to sign over the deed instead of going through the foreclosure process.
“Most lenders say, ‘Please, stay in the house,’ but people have their head in the sand,” Schroeder said. “We want to see those houses go to Realtors and be short sales. We want to see someone move out and someone move in. You don’t want to see a house vacant.”
When houses are vacant, Schroeder said, “it hurts the municipality, because they don’t get paid for taxes, it’s hard on the police … and it’s harder to sell homes in the neighborhood — the grass isn’t cut, the gutters are falling down.”
One such example is a home on Hollywood Drive in Northfield, where a notice on the door dated February 2010 states that “this property has been secured by Field Asset Service Inc.” A newspaper from August 2011 sits a few feet from the front steps, although several dozen old newspapers sit unseen on the front porch, next to an old chair, a broom and a hubcap.
“It’s an eyesore for the neighborhood,” said neighbor Craig France. “I haven’t seen a ‘for sale’ sign on it, and nobody really knows what’s wrong with the house. It had a beautiful pool in back. I’m assuming that’s decimated.”
Craig and his wife, Helen, said that the family that once lived there dealt with several health issues and deaths in the years before foreclosure, something that the recently unemployed France can relate to.
“We’re all in the same boat,” France said. “But my wife and I are lucky. There’s a hell of a lot more people in worse shape than we are.”
As for the house, “I would say that in the foreseeable future, they’re going to have to knock it down,” France said. “I can’t see anybody spending money to improve it.”
Another neighbor, John Carney, agreed.
“It’s so bad in there, the house has to be torn down,” Carney said he was told.
And if appearances weren’t enough, the large glut of vacant homes has other downsides, too, Schroeder added: thieves who “rip out all the copper wire out of a house and rip out the AC units.”
Not all experts are pessimistic, however. New Jersey Association of Realtors President Allan “Dutch” Dechert, the co-owner of Ferguson Dechert Real Estate in Avalon, said he believed “vacant numbers are going to go down for sure. If you’re buying a home, times are good.”
With such stark vacant housing numbers, though, he knows people are skeptical.
“People say, ‘Oh, you’re just trying to sell houses,’” Dechert said. “But … rates are at a record low, and there are good investments out there.”
Busler, however, looked at the still-growing supply of new homes compared to the low demand.
“There’s a large glut of homes on the market,” Busler said. “I try to be as optimistic as possible. I was a real estate developer myself. But it’s just very difficult to see any optimistic signs today for the housing market.
Statistics: Posted by yoda — Sat Jan 21, 2012 12:59 pm
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