■ Confidence at low ebb
Local consumers appear pessimistic about the economic outlook over the next six months, scoring the lowest consumer confidence index among 13 Asia-Pacific markets surveyed by MasterCard International, according to a report released yesterday. Taiwan scored 26.6, its lowest figure since the second quarter of 2003. Consumers in Vietnam (93.1), Hong Kong (85.8) and China (82.3) expressed strong optimism, the six-monthly report said. The latest MasterIndex survey was conducted late last year and involved 5,404 consumers across the region. Five variables were measured -- employment, the economy, regular income, the stock market and quality of life. "Restoring consumer confidence should be a top priority for the government in 2006 as Taiwan's economic growth is now supported solely by the external sector," said Yuwa Hedrick-Wong (王月魂), an economic advisor to MasterCard International in the Asia-Pacific region. "It is strong electronics exports to China that are holding up the economy; and if interest rates rise further as expected, the domestic economy will be extremely vulnerable," he added.
■ Grooming for output
The government will help five industries put out trillions of dollars in products by 2008, according to a new economic strategy worked out by the Council for Economic Planning and Development. Under the council's new plan, semiconductors, image displays, petrochemical raw materials, telecommunications and steel will be the five industries to be groomed to produce the output. The council estimates that by 2008 the output of the semiconductor industry will have reached NT$1.79 trillion (US$55.72 billion), output of the image-display industry will have reached NT$1.43 trillion and output of the petrochemical industry will have reached NT$1.13 trillion.
■ Internet use still rising
A recent survey showed that 67 percent of households were connected to the Internet as of late last year, with the number of households using Internet phone and online shopping services on the rise. The survey was released by the Focus on Internet News and Data group at the Advanced e-Commerce Institute (ACI-FIND) under the Institute for Information Industry on Tuesday. The study indicated that an estimated 5.54 million households, or 76 percent of all households in the country, owned computers at the end of last year. About 4.85 million households were connected to the Internet, with 88 percent of these having a broadband connection. The study also reported a surge in Internet phone use and online shopping, up 75 percent and 47 percent respectively compared with 2004.
■ TAITRA going to Seoul
The Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA) is planning to sponsor a "Taiwan Semiconductor Day" from May 17 to May 20 in Seoul, officials of the semi-official trade promotion body said yesterday. TAITRA officials called on local semiconductor, IC design and packing and testing companies interested in establishing business partnerships with South Korean firms to apply with TAITRA before March 30 to exhibit their products. According to statistics compiled by the Industrial Development Bureau, Taiwan suffered a trade deficit of US$7.08 billion with South Korea in the first 11 months of last year.
■ NT dollar drops further
The New Taiwan dollar continued losing ground against its US counterpart, declining NT$0.126 to close at NT$32.125 on the Taipei foreign exchange market. Turnover was US$1.16 billion.