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Deconstructing Canada’s Housing Markets: Finance, Affordability and Urban Sprawl

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Deconstructing Canada’s Housing Markets: Finance, Affordability and Urban Sprawl
Source: OECD

House prices have increased significantly in Canada over the past decade, driving household debt and residential construction activity to historical highs. Although macro-prudential tightening has slowed the pace of household borrowing in the last few years, house prices have continued to trend higher, and affordability remains a major challenge in urban centres. First-time home buyers must therefore spend more of their incomes to purchase a house and are vulnerable to future interest rate hikes. Overbuilding in the condominium sectors of some cities appears to be a source of risk, especially if a major price correction in these segments spills over into other markets. The country benefits from a sound and effective housing finance system, which performed well throughout the global financial crisis thanks to strong regulatory oversight and explicit government backing of the mortgage market. Nonetheless, the dominance of the crown corporation CMHC in the mortgage insurance market concentrates a significant amount of risk in public finances. Improving competitive conditions in the mortgage insurance market could help diversify these risks and reduce taxpayer contingent liabilities, while introducing coverage limits on loan losses would better align private and social interests. There may be a shortage of rental housing in several cities, especially in the range that low-income households can afford. Urban planning policies have resulted in low-density residential development which contributes to relatively high transport-related carbon emissions. Addressing these externalities requires stronger pricing signals for land development, road use, congestion and parking, combined with better integration of public transit planning. To prevent the marginalisation of low-income households, planning policies should support social mix and increase incentives for private-sector development of affordable housing.

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Urban Audit – Comparing United Kingdom and European towns and cities, 2010-12

July 28, 2014 Comments off

Urban Audit – Comparing United Kingdom and European towns and cities, 2010-12
Source: Office for National Statistics

What are UK towns and cities like to live and work in? And how do they compare with other places in Europe?

Urban Audit is a European Commission funded project whose aim is to measure and improve city life by understanding our urban environments and sharing experiences1. Comparable data on a variety of themes are collected by individual nations and supplied to Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union (EU), for publication.

The value of Urban Audit lies in the streamlined methodology of the data collection, despite very different sources, allowing international comparison with other cites and analysis over time. Urban Audit V is the most recent round and provides data for UK and European cities between 2010 and 2012, with the main reference year 2011. There are more than 100 main variables for the UK and many further derived figures based on these. The Eurostat website links to a comprehensive interactive database that details all statistics across all geographies and time periods. Annex A provides more detail on the geography of Urban Audit.

Urban Audit provides a wide range of data, including demography, transport, housing, environment and economy. More than 70% of people in Europe live in towns or cities and this report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) sets out to provide an overview of key variables linked to urban policy themes that are relevant to EU, national and local government. These are motorisation rates, housing type, old age dependency ratios and air quality. The choice of these topics is intended to highlight the type and breadth of available data and does not attempt to paint a comprehensive picture of all aspects of urban life in the UK compared with Europe. However, the results show how similar UK towns and cities are to their European counterparts in some respects and how strikingly different in others. More reports covering specific themes and types of town or city are planned for the future. Information on the policy context for the variables is available in Annex B.

Country Analysis Brief: Algeria

July 25, 2014 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Algeria
Source: Energy Information Administration

Algeria is the leading natural gas producer in Africa, the second-largest natural gas supplier to Europe outside of the region, and is among the top three oil producers in Africa. Algeria became a member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 1969, shortly after it began oil production in 1958. Algeria’s economy is heavily reliant on revenues generated from its hydrocarbon sector, which account for about 30% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), more than 95% of export earnings, and 60% of budget revenues, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

First OECD PISA financial literacy test finds many young people confused by money matters

July 25, 2014 Comments off

First OECD PISA financial literacy test finds many young people confused by money matters
Source: OECD

Around one in seven students in the 13 OECD countries and economies that took part in the first OECD PISA international assessment of financial literacy are unable to make even simple decisions about everyday spending, and only one in ten can solve complex financial tasks.

Some 29 000 15 year-olds in 18 countries and economies* took part in the test, which assessed the knowledge and skills of teenagers in dealing with financial issues, such as understanding a bank statement, the long-term cost of a loan or knowing how insurance works.

Shanghai-China had the highest average score in financial literacy, followed by the Flemish Community of Belgium, Estonia, Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic and Poland.

The gender gap in financial literacy was much smaller than in OECD PISA tests in maths or reading, with there being no significant difference between the performance of boys and girls, except in Italy.

But the inequality gap mirrors that in key school subjects: more socio-economically advantaged students scored much higher than less-advantaged students on average across participating OECD countries and economies. Non-immigrant students also performed slightly better than immigrant students from a similar socio-economic status. The gap between the two groups is larger than the OECD average in the Flemish Community of Belgium, Estonia, France, Slovenia and Spain.

The survey also revealed that skills in mathematics and reading are very closely related to financial literacy. However, high proficiency in one of these subjects does not always signal strong performance in financial literacy.
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UK — The Olympic and Paralympic legacy: Inspired by 2012 – second annual report

July 25, 2014 Comments off

The Olympic and Paralympic legacy: Inspired by 2012 – second annual report
Source: Cabinet Office

This report describes the activities which took place in the second year since the Games to build a lasting legacy across a number of commitments, namely sport and healthy living, the regeneration of east London, bringing communities together, the Paralympic legacy and economic growth.

The report includes a foreword by the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London, and an assessment of progress by Lord Sebastian Coe, the Prime Minister’s Olympic & Paralympic Legacy Ambassador.

Two Decades After Emergency Contraceptive Pills Became Available, Few Women Use Them

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Two Decades After Emergency Contraceptive Pills Became Available, Few Women Use Them
Source: Guttmacher Institute

In many developing countries, most women have never heard of or used emergency contraceptive pills, according to “Knowledge and Use of Emergency Contraception: A Multicountry Analysis,” by Tia Palermo of Stony Brook University. Although the method can help women avoid unplanned pregnancies, in every country surveyed but Colombia, fewer than 50% of women have ever heard of it and fewer than 6% have ever used it. In general, the more educated women were or the wealthier they were, the more likely they were to have known about or used emergency contraception.

The researchers analyzed national survey data from 2000–2010 of women aged 15–49 in 45 countries in four regions.Women’s knowledge and use of the method varied widely within each region. In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, Colombia had the highest proportions of women who knew about the method (66%) and had used it (12%), while Haiti had the lowest (13% and 0.4%, respectively).

Wide ranges in knowledge and use were also seen in the other three regions. In Africa, women’s awareness of emergency contraception ranged from 2% in Chad to 40% in Kenya and use ranged from less than 0.1% in Chad to 4% in Ghana. In Asia, awareness ranged from 3% of women in Timor-Leste to 29% in the Maldives, and use ranged from a low of 0.1% (Cambodia, Nepal and Timor-Leste) to 0.9% (Pakistan). In Eastern Europe and West Asia, Ukraine had the highest rates of awareness and use (49% and 6%, respectively), while Azerbaijan had the lowest (5% and 0.5%).

According to the authors, rates of emergency contraception use in the countries studied tended to be much lower than in countries where the method has been on the market longer, such as France and the United States (17% and 11%, respectively). The exceptionally high levels of knowledge and use found in Colombia, reflect, among other things, a commercial sector that makes nine brands of emergency contraceptive pills easily available.

Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Beyond Sectarianism: The New Middle East Cold War
Source: Brookings Institution

From Syria and Iraq to Libya and Yemen, the Middle East is once again rife with conflict. Much of the fighting is along sectarian lines, but can it really be explained simply as a “Sunni versus Shia” battle? What explains this upsurge in violence across the region? And what role can or should the United States play?

In a new Analysis Paper, F. Gregory Gause, III frames Middle East politics in terms of a new, regional cold war in which Iran and Saudi Arabia compete for power and influence. Rather than stemming from sectarian rivalry, this new Middle East cold war results from the weakening of Arab states and the creation of domestic political vacuums into which local actors invite external support.

OECD releases full version of global standard for automatic exchange of information

July 24, 2014 Comments off

OECD releases full version of global standard for automatic exchange of information
Source: OECD

Taking an important step towards greater transparency and putting an end to banking secrecy in tax matters, the OECD today released the full version of a new global standard for the exchange of information between jurisdictions.

The Standard for Automatic Exchange of Financial Account Information in Tax Matters calls on governments to obtain detailed account information from their financial institutions and exchange that information automatically with other jurisdictions on an annual basis. The Standard, developed at the OECD under a mandate from the G20, endorsed by G20 Finance Ministers in February 2014, and approved by the OECD Council.

The Standard provides for annual automatic exchange between governments of financial account information, including balances, interest, dividends, and sales proceeds from financial assets, reported to governments by financial institutions and covering accounts held by individuals and entities, including trusts and foundations. The new consolidated version includes commentary and guidance for implementation by governments and financial institutions, detailed model agreements, as well as standards for harmonised technical and information technology solutions, notably a standard format and requirements for secure transmission of data.

Select Diaspora Populations in the United States

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Select Diaspora Populations in the United States
Source: Migration Policy Institute

Diaspora populations often perform essential functions in the economic and human capital development of their countries of origin, and can continue playing a strong role in shaping these countries long after they or their forebears departed.The Rockefeller Foundation and the Aspen Institute have launched the Rockefeller-Aspen Diaspora Program (RAD), a joint venture to better understand diaspora members’ financial and human capital investments and to design an approach to foster further growth in these areas. The Migration Policy Institute has partnered with RAD to produce profiles of 15 diaspora communities in the United States, which is home to nearly 60 million first- or second-generation immigrants.

These profiles address 15 different diaspora populations in the United States, gathering in one place key data and analysis on diasporas from Bangladesh, Colombia, El Salvador, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, India, Kenya, Mexico, Morocco, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. Each profile explores the demographic characteristics of first- and second-generation immigrants in a particular diaspora, their educational attainment, household income, employment patterns, geographic distribution, and remittance volume.

Five longer profiles, focusing on Colombia, Egypt, India, Kenya, and the Philippines, also detail historical immigration pathways and contemporary entry trends, poverty status, active diaspora organizations, and country-of-origin policies and institutions related to interaction with emigrants and their descendants abroad.

Country Analysis Brief: Iran

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Country Analysis Brief: Iran
Source: Energy Information Administration

Iran holds some of the world’s largest deposits of proved oil and natural gas reserves, ranking as the world’s fourth-and second-largest reserve holder of oil and natural gas, respectively. Iran also ranks among the world’s top 10 oil producers and top 5 natural gas producers. Iran produced 3.2 million barrels per day (bbl/d) of petroleum and other liquids in 2013 and more than 5.6 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of dry natural gas in 2012.

The Strait of Hormuz, on the southeastern coast of Iran, is an important route for oil exports from Iran and other Persian Gulf countries. At its narrowest point, the Strait of Hormuz is 21 miles wide, yet an estimated 17 million bbl/d of crude oil and oil products flowed through it in 2013 (roughly one-third of all seaborne traded oil and almost 20% of total oil produced globally). Liquefied natural gas (LNG) volumes also flow through the Strait of Hormuz. Approximately 3.9 Tcf of LNG was transported via the Strait of Hormuz in 2013, almost all of which was from Qatar, accounting for about one-third of global LNG trade.

UK — Ofcom publishes report on internet safety measures

July 24, 2014 Comments off

Ofcom publishes report on internet safety measures
Source: Ofcom
Ofcom has today published a report for Government outlining measures the UK’s largest internet service providers have put in place to help parents protect children from harmful content online.

This follows an agreement between the Government and BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, the four largest fixed line internet service providers (ISPs), announced in July 2013. Each ISP committed to offer new customers ‘family-friendly network-level filtering’ by the end of December 2013.

This is the second of three reports the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has asked Ofcom to produce on internet safety measures to protect children. The DCMS asked Ofcom to look at the approach taken by each ISP to implement family-friendly filtering services which block content that may be inappropriate or harmful for children, rather than assess the effectiveness of the filters.

The report also describes measures taken by ISPs to present a pre-ticked ‘unavoidable choice’ to new customers on whether or not to activate the filter, and includes initial take-up data among new customers offered filters.

The filters apply to all web based internet content, on any device that is connected to the fixed broadband network in the home.

Enterprising States 2014: Re-Creating Equality and Opportunity

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Enterprising States 2014: Re-Creating Equality and Opportunity
Source: U.S. Chamber of Commerce

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has released its annual Enterprising States study, offering an in-depth look at the free enterprise policies being implemented to promote economic growth at the state and local levels.

Now in its fifth edition, the Enterprising States study measures state performance overall and across five policy areas important for job growth and economic prosperity. Those five areas include:

  • Talent Pipeline
  • Exports and International Trade
  • Technology and Entrepreneurship
  • Business Climate
  • Infrastructure

The 2014 report relates these policies and practices to the need for collaboration between education, workforce development, and economic development to positively combat the nation’s growing skills gap.

Proximity to Coast Is Linked to Climate Change Belief

July 23, 2014 Comments off

Proximity to Coast Is Linked to Climate Change Belief
Source: PLoS ONE

Psychologists have examined the many psychological barriers to both climate change belief and concern. One barrier is the belief that climate change is too uncertain, and likely to happen in distant places and times, to people unlike oneself. Related to this perceived psychological distance of climate change, studies have shown that direct experience of the effects of climate change increases climate change concern. The present study examined the relationship between physical proximity to the coastline and climate change belief, as proximity may be related to experiencing or anticipating the effects of climate change such as sea-level rise. We show, in a national probability sample of 5,815 New Zealanders, that people living in closer proximity to the shoreline expressed greater belief that climate change is real and greater support for government regulation of carbon emissions. This proximity effect held when adjusting for height above sea level and regional poverty. The model also included individual differences in respondents’ sex, age, education, political orientation, and wealth. The results indicate that physical place plays a role in the psychological acceptance of climate change, perhaps because the effects of climate change become more concrete and local.

2014 BCG Local Dynamos: How Companies in Emerging Markets Are Winning at Home

July 23, 2014 Comments off

2014 BCG Local Dynamos: How Companies in Emerging Markets Are Winning at Home
Source: Boston Consulting Group

Emerging markets remain global growth engines. Although some of these markets are doing better than others, they collectively offer the most promising opportunities for expansion. Yet global companies often struggle to create successful business models in emerging markets. At the same time, many local companies are thriving—building businesses that attract local customers and defeat both other homegrown companies and multinationals. Understanding the successful practices of these companies can help you win in these markets, too.

Several banks, for example, have grown quickly and profitably in emerging markets, even though most consumers frequently have unstable incomes and don’t have even a checking account. In Mexico, Banco Mercantil del Norte, or Banorte, wanted to reach potential customers without constructing expensive bank branches, so it decided to rely on other companies’ bricks and mortar. The bank partnered with Telecomm-Telegrafos, a rural telecom operator with 1,621 retail locations; 7-Eleven, one of the fastest-growing convenience chains in Mexico, with 1,720 contact points; Tiendas Extra, a convenience store with 883 locations; Soriana, a supermarket chain offering 633 points of sale; and Grupo Control, with 75 points of contact as of March 2014. These partnerships aim to offer basic financial products such as deposits, credit cards, remittances, and withdrawals.

Across the Pacific Ocean, Bank Rakyat Indonesia (BRI), the nation’s oldest and most profitable bank, serves the street vendors and merchants that power the nation’s local economy. BRI sends employees equipped with handheld devices into 2,300 busy markets and bazaars, which cater to nearly 6 million customers. The bank is experimenting with floating branches to reach remote customers on Indonesia’s more than 900 inhabited islands.

In all industries, local companies are transforming the constraints of emerging economies into profitable opportunities and becoming thriving commercial enterprises. We have compiled a list of such energetic private-sector companies—or local dynamos—to highlight their accomplishments. Though there are hundreds of dynamos, we focused on just 50 to better see how their practices may be applied more broadly to all companies that want to succeed in these markets.

New report on state of EU Telecommunications markets

July 23, 2014 Comments off

New report on state of EU Telecommunications markets
Source: European Commission

Today the European Commission published a report on the telecommunications market and regulation in the EU. The report covers 2012 – 2013 years.

The main findings of the report:

  • Industry revenues again declined in 2013 but investment is beginning to grow;
  • Use of traditional telephony services is decreasing as internet (VoIP) services become increasingly popular;
  • Data traffic is growing quickly;
  • Mobile voice call and data prices are higher in the EU than in the US, while the usage of mobile is higher in the US, resulting in a higher ‘average revenue per user’ in the US.
  • Only Denmark, Germany, Latvia and Malta met the 2012 target for the authorisation of the specific spectrum bands. 21 Member States did eventually meet the target in 2013, but the delay in assignment of the 800 MHz band has significantly slowed the roll-out of 4G mobile across the EU.
  • The time needed to obtain permits to roll-out new networks ranges from a few days to years depending on where in the EU you are building the network. Most authorities still do not allow for electronic submission of requests.

UK consumers believe that they can’t do without the internet and mobile phones, new Ofcom research reveals

July 23, 2014 Comments off

UK consumers believe that they can’t do without the internet and mobile phones, new Ofcom research reveals
Source: Ofcom

The study examined which communications services UK consumers consider ‘essential’ in their day to day lives and whether they are affordable, particularly for the most vulnerable in society.

This forms part of Ofcom’s on-going work to ensure consumers receive value for money from their communications services. Encouraging and promoting consumer participation in the communications markets is also a key priority for Ofcom.

There was broad consensus among consumers on what ‘essential’ means in relation to communications services.

People said the ability to contact the emergency services, keep in touch with family and friends, or access information, education and entertainment were among the key functions of essential services.

Overall, the study found that telephone services, in particular mobiles, and internet access were most essential to UK consumers. Some 61% of consumers rated voice services (mobile or landline) as essential, 59% considered mobile voice or text services as essential, while 57% regarded personal internet access as essential.

The research also revealed that certain services are considered essential by some, but less important by others, with age being a key factor. Landline telephone services are considered essential by people aged 75 and above (61%), compared to just 12% of 16-24 year olds. However, accessing the internet via a smartphone was considered essential to 53% of 16-24 year olds, but to no one aged 75 and above.

Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: Chinese and Outside Perspectives

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Chinese Military Modernization and Force Development: Chinese and Outside Perspectives
Source: Center for Strategic & International Studies

The goal behind this report is not to present the authors’ view of the balance, but rather to provide the basis for an unclassified dialogue on the military developments in China, including the size and structure of the country’s current and planned military forces. It draws on official US, Chinese, and other Asian official reporting, as well as the work of other scholars and the data bases developed by the IISS and Jane’s in an effort to compare different views of Chinese strategy and military developments, and is meant to provide US, Chinese, and other analysts with a better basis for understanding Western estimates of the changes in Chinese force strength and force quality.

The United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) face a critical need to improve their understanding of how each is developing its military power and how to avoid forms of military competition that could lead to rising tension or conflict between the two states. This report focuses on China’s military developments and modernization and how they are perceived in the UIS, the West, and Asia. It utilizes the unclassified data available in the West on the trends in Chinese military forces. It relies heavily on the data in the US Department of Defense (DoD) Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, particularly the 2013 and 2014 editions.

It relies heavily on the annual military balances compiled by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), though a range of sources are included. It should be noted that this report focuses on Chinese forces, and therefore presents only one side of the US and Chinese balance and the security situation in Asia. It also draws upon a Burke Chair report entitled The Evolving Military Balance in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia, looking at the bilateral US-Chinese balance in more detail.

Accordingly, it focuses on the actual changes taking place in Chinese forces, and it provides a detailed analysis detailed analysis of the trends in Chinese military forces since 1985, examining how the often-conflicting trends in outside sources interact with reporting on Chinese military spending and strategy. It also shows that important changes are taking place in US strategy and that these changes must be considered when evaluating Chinese actions.

Census Bureau Updates Interactive HIV/AIDS Database; New Prevalence Estimates from More Than 100 Countries

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Census Bureau Updates Interactive HIV/AIDS Database; New Prevalence Estimates from More Than 100 Countries
Source: U.S. Census Bureau

The U.S. Census Bureau today released its annually updated interactive global resource on the prevalence of HIV infection and AIDS cases and deaths. First developed in 1987, the database now holds more than 164,000 statistics, an increase of approximately 5,900 new estimates in the last year, and is the most comprehensive resource of its kind in the world.

The Census Bureau database is maintained with funding from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The tool consists of a library of statistics from more than 14,900 sources in international scientific and medical journals, individual countries’ annual HIV/AIDS surveillance reports, and papers and posters presented at international conferences. China represents 28 percent of the new records in the database, the largest increase by a single country.

The menu-driven access tool enables users to search for statistical information in countries and territories across the world, as well as by subpopulation, geographic subarea (such as urban and rural), age, sex and year from the 1960s to 2013.

Defense offsets: From ‘contractual burden’ to competitive weapon

July 22, 2014 Comments off

Defense offsets: From ‘contractual burden’ to competitive weapon
Source: McKinsey & Company

Western defense companies now need to look outside their core markets for growth. In the aftermath of the global economic crisis and over a decade of engagement in southwest Asia, many Western countries have scaled back their defense budgets, favoring instead more targeted spending and austerity plans. In Europe, ministries of defense are downsizing their military operations and procurement programs, and in the United States, the effects of the Budget Control Act of 2011 and sequestration will restrict defense spending through 2021 absent congressional action. By contrast, many countries representing addressable markets in Asia, the Middle East, and South America are investing in defense-modernization programs and over the past few years have increased their defense spending at compound annual growth rates of between 5 and 10 percent.

AU — The arts and culture: a quick guide to key internet links

July 22, 2014 Comments off

The arts and culture: a quick guide to key internet links
Source: Parliamentary Library of Australia

This Quick Guide provides links to:

  • Australian Government organisations responsible for the arts and culture
  • state and territory government websites
  • regional arts websites
  • non-government organisations websites and
  • international organisations.

It also provides links to a range of organisations by art form:

  • ballet and dance
  • film
  • libraries
  • literature
  • museums and galleries
  • music and opera
  • performing arts education
  • theatre and
  • visual arts.
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