Prices firm despite blasts
Oil prices were modestly firmer yesterday in Asian trading with sentiment still shaken by the bomb attacks in Saudi Arabia, dealers said. In morning trade, US light sweet crude for June delivery traded at US$28.53 a barrel, up slightly from its close of US$28.50 in New York on Tuesday. The suicide car bombings in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Monday killed at least 29 people and have triggered concerns of disruptions to oil supplies from the world's leading crude producer. However, such worries are unfounded, dealers said. "The attacks in Saudi have not disrupted oil supplies ... Prices are too high given the prevailing weak oil demand," said a dealer with a regional trading firm.
■ Fiscal policy
Japan's surplus shrinks
Japan's current account surplus shrank 26.6 percent in March, reversing an expansion the previous month after a strong yen slowed export growth, the Finance Ministry said yesterday. The surplus was Japanese Yen 1.601 trillion (US$13.7 billion) before seasonal adjustments, the ministry said. The figures reflected a slowdown in exports -- and a smaller merchandise trade surplus -- as the rising yen made Japanese products more expensive in overseas markets. For the entire fiscal year ended in March, the current account surplus expanded 12 percent to Japanese Yen 13.34 trillion (US$114.2 billion), marking the first rise in four years, the ministry said. The fast pace of merchandise export gains were the biggest factor, it said.
Domestic traffic drops
Passenger traffic on China's trains, planes and buses declined last month and into this month as SARS put people off traveling, the National Bureau of Statistics said on its Web site. Domestic passenger traffic on China Southern Airlines Co and the nation's other carriers was down 81 percent from a year earlier during a five-day national holiday that started on May 1, the bureau said. The number of passengers has dropped by more than a quarter to 6 million since the start of last month. The number of passengers on all forms of transport in China fell 6.9 percent last month to 1.2 billion. Passenger numbers on international flights to and from China dropped by 85 percent during the May 1 holiday from a year earlier, while passengers traveling to Hong Kong and Macau decreased by 88 percent from a year ago, the bureau said.
WTO urged to keep deadline
The heads of the World Bank and IMF on Tuesday urged the 146 states in the WTO to stick to an end-2004 deadline for the conclusion of the Doha round of trade liberalization talks. "We do think that trade and the succesful outcome of the Doha round is a key, possibly the key to build confidence in the global economy," IMF managing director Horst Koehler said here. The top IMF official warned that UN poverty reduction targets set for 2015 would not be met without an opening of agricultural markets, a key element on the Doha round. World Bank President James Wolfensohn said there was no way to tackle problems with development in poor countries without dealing with the issue of global trade. Negotiators are struggling to reach agree-ments unblocking talks on the new trade round, which has been dubbed the "development round."