The year 2009 began with a sigh of relief that a dismal 12 months had ended. For many born after the 1920s, 2008 was a shoe-in for the least favourite year.
By the time 2009 ends, things might get even more bizarre and farcical. Here is how a calendar of key events in Asia may look this year.
18 January: Japan unveiled a new government bond linked to deflation. After years of selling debt adjusted for inflation—and having little of it to adjust for—Asia’s biggest economy admitted defeat and reversed course. It was a reminder that yet another much-ballyhooed recovery had fizzled out. It also explained why Japan’s finance ministry changed its name to the ministry of forget about it.
2 February: China began using its hundreds of billions of dollars of worthless US treasury notes and bonds to sop up pollution in its rivers and lakes. The Chinese threw in the towel after US treasury secretary Timothy Geithner renamed the 10-cent coin the dollar.
Faced with a torrent of criticism about whether the White House had the authority to do such things, US President Barack Obama said: Yes, we can.
18 March: Annoyed by losses in the Bernard Madoff fiasco, Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg shocked Hollywood by moving to Bollywood.
DreamWorks SKG had already gone to Indian billionaire Anil Ambani for funding. Disillusioned by the cracking US economy and enamoured with India’s prospects, Spielberg and Katzenberg moved to Mumbai for good. Stay tuned for Indiana Jones and the Mausoleum in Agra.
1 April: Still pondering what might have been as oil raced towards $150 (Rs7,260) a barrel, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries announced plans to increase production. Even if falling prices were bad for its members, the cartel was acting for the greater global good, according to a press release. Reporters wondering what gives found their answer at the bottom of the document: April Fools!
22 May: Toyota Motor Corp. bought General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Llc. Rather than produce cars that nobody wants, Toyota turned Detroit into a Disney-like theme park with rides including Loser’s Canyon, Gas Guzzler’s Mountain and It’s a Bankrupt World After All.
Michigan state officials rushed to Japan to protest the plan. They ran afoul of voters after it was learnt they used private jets.
14 June: The bubble in US bonds that analysts buzzed about for years began to deflate. It’s one thing for a couple of banks and hedge funds to blow up. It’s quite another for the $5.3 trillion market for the US government debt to plunge.
It’s the main asset held by banks, insurance companies and Asian nations. Asked whether the US had the stuff to stop ultra-low yields from shooting higher, Obama reportedly said for the very first time: Uh, no, we can’t.
21 July: Speaking of bubbles, the bursting of one in US exports took its toll everywhere by July—Australia, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, you name it. Singapore felt the pain in two areas targeted for future growth: auto racing and gambling.
In 2008, Las Vegas Sands Corp. scrapped casino projects in Macau, and Honda Motor Co. Ltd pulled out of Formula One amid economic gloom. 2009 ended with Singapore grappling for new growth strategies. Well, there’s always that giant Ferris wheel.
8 August: Feeling ignored, North Korea tested a new missile and a fresh public-relations strategy. The weapon was decorated with a bouffant hairdo like the one sported by leader Kim Jong Il.
Rather than frighten the world, it became an instant hit on YouTube, with American T-shirt makers and with Japanese manga comic-book publishers.
17 September: The Group of Seven (G-7) won enmity from Ottawa to Rome with changes in membership. Canada and Italy were out, on account of the Chinese and Spanish economies being bigger. The G-7 reconsidered briefly when Italy threatened to halt wine and cheese exports to the offending nations.
2 October: Chicago, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo were shocked to see the 2016 Olympics awarded to Yangon. It was part of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) bringing-democracy-to-developing-nations agenda that worked so well in Beijing in 2008.
Myanmar’s junta, it turned out, had been on double-secret probation. No chances were taken with the announcement. Reporters had to come shoeless, lest one tossed them at IOC president Jacques Rogge.
25 November: Thai protesters, fed up with having a new prime minister each month, built an effigy of Thaksin Shinawatra to run Asia’s eighth biggest economy. The man ousted in 2006 was essentially running Thailand from remote locations around the globe anyway. Why not just formalize the arrangement? Fans of Joseph Estrada, the Philippine president ousted in 2001, wondered if they could do the same in Manila.
30 December: Sovereign wealth funds joined forces to buy Blackstone Group Lp, Carlyle Group, KKR and Co. Lp, and other major private equity firms. Officials from Riyadh to Beijing grew tired missing out on the dwindling number of good investments. They purchased the competition just in time for an expected global growth rebound in 2010. Well, hopefully.
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