January 26, 2021

Media Decoder Blog: Al Jazeera English Among Winners of DuPont Broadcast Awards

Three regular recipients of broadcast journalism awards, CBS, NBC and HBO, and two relatively new recipients, Al Jazeera English and The New York Times, were among those named winners of the annual Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards on Wednesday.

It is the first-ever DuPont win for Al Jazeera English, an international news network that is trying to make inroads in the United States. The award recognized an Al Jazeera report about the sluggish pace of recovery and reconstruction in Haiti six months after a devastating earthquake.

The DuPonts are awards for excellence in broadcast and digital reporting from Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism, which also presents the Pulitzer Prizes for print and digital reporting. Separately, Columbia recognized Al Jazeera English earlier this year with its Columbia Journalism Award.

The New York Times was awarded a DuPont for two digital stories: “A Year at War,” a multimedia series about a battalion of men and women in Afghanistan, and “Surviving the Earthquake: Children,” a documentary about two children injured in the Haiti earthquake.

The Times has shared two DuPonts in the past for collaborations with television production companies, but this award is the first to be presented solely to The Times for video and multimedia work.

Among the traditional broadcasters, CBS News was recognized for a “60 Minutes” segment featuring the correspondent Lara Logan on the front line of the war in Afghanistan. NBC News and its chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, were recognized for coverage of the uprisings in the Middle East earlier this year.

HBO received DuPonts for a documentary about the Triangle shirtwaist factory fire and for a series of reports on “Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel” about concussions and sports. The latter represented the second win for “Real Sports,” which is the only sports television show ever to have received a DuPont award.

The production studio MediaStorm received an award for “Undesired,” an interactive report about the effects of cultural prejudice in India. The PBS program “Nova” received an award for “Japan’s Killer Quake.” A documentary, “Hell and Back Again,” was recognized for showing a soldier’s experiences at home and at war.

Local stations in New York, Detroit, Atlanta, Dallas, and Nashville were also recognized. The citations are accessible online.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0b58dd5dc51d9657f250b65640a5832c

After Quake, Japanese Choose Peace of Mind Over Great View

They couldn’t wait to leave.

Their high-rise building, as it was designed to do, withstood Japan’s devastating earthquake on March 11, swaying and shuddering to absorb the worst shocks. But Ms. Tsubuku said she was petrified as the tower waved like a reed in the wind. And the elevators were knocked out of service until the next day, effectively stranding the couple and their two cats.

“I never knew how scary it is to live so far above ground,” said Ms. Tsubuku, who blogs about Japanese housing with her American husband, Philip Brasor. “I no longer think that high-rises are designed for people to live in.”

Neither, apparently, do a growing number of other people in and around Tokyo, which is more than a hundred miles from the areas worst hit in the disaster. Sales of high-rise apartment units have plummeted in Tokyo. And some renters like Ms. Tsubuku have moved out.

The new wariness threatens to halt a redevelopment rush that has been a rare bright spot in Japan’s residential real estate market and has transformed the city’s waterfront from an area of warehouses to a gleaming new skyscraper district.

With new or planned development worth billions of dollars at risk here and elsewhere in Japan, troubled real estate could prove to be yet another blow that the March 11 disaster has rendered to the already frail Japanese economy.

The earthquake also exposed the instability of land reclaimed from the sea, which in the last decade has become home to hundreds of thousands of people along Tokyo Bay. In Urayasu, a coastal city just 10 miles east of central Tokyo, the quake tore up pavement and tipped over houses as the ground quickly turned to mud in a phenomenon known as liquefaction.

The jitters and actual damage are unwelcome reminders of the tenuous ways that land-scarce Japan has continually sought to expand its habitable areas.

Over the last century, the nation has undertaken big land-reclamation projects in cities across the country to meet its industrial and residential needs. And since the early 2000s, reclamation has focused on Tokyo’s waterfront, where cheap land had opened up after shipbuilders and other heavy industry gave way to rivals elsewhere in Asia. One popular new neighborhood, with multiple apartment towers, used to be a shipyard operated by the industrial conglomerate IHI.

Now, second thoughts about high-rises and waterfront properties in Tokyo and other Japanese cities are casting a shadow on the country’s $29 trillion real estate market.

In May, unit sales at apartment buildings with 20 or more floors in greater Tokyo fell 39.5 percent from a year earlier, after plunging 82.8 percent in April, according to the Real Estate Economic Institute, a private research center in Tokyo.

The numbers have put a damper on overall apartment sales in metropolitan Tokyo, which grew just 3.6 percent in May — well below analysts’ expectations — after falling 27.3 percent in April.

Stringent building codes meant that the quake caused little actual damage to high-rises — even in the disaster zone up north, where most of the destruction was caused by the tsunami. But since the earthquake, homebuyers are preferring low-rise apartments, developers say, and are looking inland where the ground tends to be firmer.

“Nobody cares so much anymore about a good view,” said Toru Matsumura, head of the real estate investment team at the Tokyo-based NLI Research Institute . “Instead, they’re asking what will happen when the next big quake hits.”

At first sight, Masaru Isogawa’s 12-story apartment building in Urayasu, just east of Tokyo, appears to have escaped the quake unscathed. But the quake jolted the reclaimed land that makes up much of his neighborhood, contorting underground gas, water and sewage pipes.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c9a37ae96cc327ee591dc10ea0a1547d

Quake Takes Toll on Japan Exports in March

The devastating earthquake and tsunami and the power shortages that followed struck Japan just as the economy, the largest after those of the United States and China, had begun to regain some momentum after the deep slump that followed the global financial crisis in 2008.

With the global recovery now on relatively solid ground, analysts and officials are optimistic that the Japanese economy will start to rebound by the second half of the year, if not sooner, as reconstruction spending kicks in and manufacturing and electricity supplies return to normal.

In the short term, however, the pain and uncertainty remain intense, and the trade statistics for March, released by the Japanese Finance Ministry on Wednesday, provided some of most concrete evidence available so far about the economic toll of the disaster.

Exports, which had seen more than a year of solid growth before the quake struck, fell 2.2 percent from the level of a year earlier, to ¥5.9 trillion, or $71 billion. The decline was more pronounced than some analysts had expected and represented a sharp turnaround from the robust rise of 9 percent recorded in February.

“It will take time for exports to recover to pre-earthquake levels, given that supply-chain disruptions and electricity shortages are hampering efforts to restore production,” Hiromichi Shirakawa, an economist at Credit Suisse in Tokyo, wrote in a research note Wednesday.

Mr. Shirakawa noted that the decline in exports in March had not been as bad as he had initially expected, in part because companies probably had exported goods in March that were in stock and had been produced before the disaster. “A sharp decline in production after the earthquake may have a larger impact on exports in April and May,” he added.

Imports rose 11.9 percent, to ¥5.7 trillion, making for a trade surplus of ¥196.5 billion, a drop of 78.9 percent.

The data Wednesday highlighted that the pain was especially acute in the automobile and electronics sectors.

Shipments of motor vehicles, which account for about 10 percent of total Japanese exports, slumped 22.1 percent from March 2010, as car manufacturers like Toyota and Honda had to cut production and idle plants in the weeks after the quake struck.

Many of these plants have restarted production again in the past week or two, but in many cases, operations remain below levels reached before the earthquake and dependent on whether, and how rapidly, the flow of components and spare parts returns to normal in the coming weeks and months.

Toyota, one of the companies hardest hit by the disruption, has resumed production at its plants in Japan, which build nearly half the vehicles the company sells worldwide. However, the factories are running at only 50 percent capacity, and Toyota operations in other parts of the world have also been scaled down significantly as inventories of parts and components dwindle.

On Wednesday, Toyota said production in China would be reduced to between 30 percent and 50 percent of normal until June 3.

On Tuesday, the company had said it would cut production at its plants in North America by 75 percent in the next six weeks to conserve its supply of parts. The plants involved build about 70 percent of the vehicles Toyota sells in North America. As a result, significantly fewer cars — including the Camry and Corolla sedans and the RAV4 crossover — will be available this spring, a prime selling season for the industry.

“This really just reinforces that consumers and dealers haven’t seen the full effects yet of the crisis in terms of inventory and vehicle availability,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst at the research firm IHS Automotive. “The impact will be felt for months to come since production is slowed into June. And there’s a good chance the production won’t suddenly bounce back to 100 percent on June 3.”

Honda, Nissan and Subaru have also trimmed their output in North America as they work to obtain adequate inventories of Japanese-made parts.

Toyota is more affected than other automakers because it builds a larger percentage of its vehicles in Japan. Its popular hybrid car, the Prius, and all but one model for its Lexus luxury brand are exported from Japan.

Economists stress, however, that the problems felt by the car sector do not extend to the Japanese economy as a whole. Activity in many other sectors was less directly affected by the March 11 events and have already returned to normal, said Takuji Okubo, chief Japan economist at Société Générale in Tokyo.

In addition, fears that power constraints may intensify once electricity demand picks up over the summer may be overstated, he said.

“Japanese manufacturers can probably manage the impact by shifting some activity to nighttime and weekends,” he said. “Consumption and manufacturing will probably decline, yes, but the effect is probably in the magnitude of 2 to 3 percent, rather than 5 to 6 percent.”

Nick Bunkley contributed reporting from Detroit.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=313c6a35794272da5b9c14718c2f367b

Hard Knocks and High Hopes

While the full effect of a devastating earthquake in Japan is unclear and political turmoil across North Africa and the Middle East is still unfolding, holders of most types of mutual funds recorded moderate to strong gains for the period, as investors apparently took inspiration from a generally improving tone in economic and corporate data.

The average domestic equity fund in Morningstar’s database rose 6.2 percent during a volatile first quarter in which the Standard Poor’s 500-stock index rose nearly 7 percent at one point, then lost all of that and a bit more, before recovering in the last two weeks of March to finish 5.4 percent higher.

Commodity funds showed particular strength during the quarter, with gains of 7.6 percent, on average, for diversified funds and 13.8 percent for portfolios focusing on energy. Funds that specialize in smaller companies and such sectors as health care, communications, cyclical industries and technology gained more than 6 percent, on average.

International funds were so-so performers among stock funds, gaining 2.6 percent. They were dragged down by weakness in Asian stock markets, especially Japan’s.

Bond funds, meanwhile, eked out modest gains; the average one was up 1.6 percent, as Treasury bond yields were little changed in the quarter but spreads on lower-quality debt contracted, sending prices higher.

Professional investors attributed the up-down-and-up-again performance of stocks to a tug of war between mounting evidence that the economic recovery is gaining momentum — net job creation has been positive for the last six months, something that hasn’t happened since June 2007 — and the troubling events abroad. They marveled at the stock market’s ability to hold up so well amid trying and virtually impossible-to-foresee circumstances.

“There are two crosscurrents that kind of cancel each other out,” said Thomas H. Forester, manager of the Forester Value fund. “Despite what’s going on in the Middle East and Japan, the market is extremely resilient. In other cases it would be down 10 to 15 percent.”

Mr. Forester expressed exasperation at the United States’ economic gains because the Federal Reserve has had to devote so many resources to QE2 — the second round of quantitative easing, or Treasury bond purchases — in order to achieve them.

Speaking of the part of the stock rally that began last summer, around the time QE2 was announced, he said: “I look at the market and would say that it’s largely the Fed pumping in liquidity. The problem is if the Fed has to take liquidity out of the market, we could end up with a 2000 kind of event” — when stocks, led by the technology sector, fell sharply. “If and when it gets taken back, what happens? Do we get QE3, QE4 and QE5?”

If investors start to think that the Fed has backed itself into a corner, the stock market may fare badly, Mr. Forester warned.

THE same applies to the bond market, said Thomas H. Atteberry, co-manager of the FPA New Income fund and a partner at First Pacific Advisors. He sees signs that this is happening already — notably in a rise in Treasury yields since QE2 began.

“The Federal Reserve Bank is likely to be the biggest holder of Treasury bonds” after QE2 is done, Mr. Atteberry said. “Who are they going to sell to?”

Another potential headwind for the stock market results from the robust growth in corporate profits. Standard Poor’s estimates that operating earnings for the S. P. 500 companies reached $22.17 in the first quarter, the most since the second quarter of 2007.

Brett Hammond, chief investment strategist at TIAA-CREF, warned that such strength could be a tough act to follow.

“What we should watch for is companies being squeezed on earnings in terms of percentage growth,” he said. “We could solve Japan and the Middle East and still have a squeeze on earnings growth by the end of the year.”

Jonathan Golub, a strategist at UBS, views the gains made by the economy and businesses with more unalloyed optimism. “We’re seeing substantial improvement in incoming economic data, in particular the employment picture,” he said. He minimized the potential impact of higher energy prices, saying, “If you take an unemployed guy and give him a job, he’s happy to pay more for gas.”

Mr. Golub highlighted stronger readings in surveys of manufacturing activity, and said he expects earnings to keep improving, even from high current levels. He sees the stock market rising a further 10 percent or so this year and recommends owning sectors exposed to continued robust economic expansion, including technology, financial services and cyclical industries, as well as shares of smaller companies.

Less optimistic investment advisers encourage putting an emphasis on stability and value.

“Stocks are not necessarily something you want to run screaming from, but you want to rotate out of cyclical stuff like energy and into countercyclical stuff like health care,” Mr. Hammond said. He generally prefers larger companies that can take advantage of opportunities to do business in countries with strong currencies, and he likes real estate investment trusts, too.

For Mark R. Freeman, manager of the WHG Income Opportunity fund, “we come back to where we were finding value before this turbulence” overseas, he said. “Higher-quality, upper-market-capitalization companies offer the most opportunities at the moment.” He noted that large companies were recently trading at about three-quarters of the valuation of smaller companies.

Mr. Freeman especially likes health care and, in a contrarian play, insurance companies with exposure to Japan. As for bonds, he said that “the fixed-income opportunity set is limited.”

MR. ATTEBERRY has the same opinion on bonds. “I have told people that bonds are not a place where I would be putting risk capital these days because I don’t think you’re getting paid for the risk you’re taking,” he said.

With the possibility that such an observation may apply to many stocks, too, Mr. Hammond recommends that investors avoid counting too much on any one type of asset.

“The events of the last few weeks show the importance of not putting all your eggs in one basket,” he said. “How would you have anticipated the Middle East and Japan? Those kinds of shocks to the system are very difficult to anticipate. We’re seeing volatility increase, and that’s going to continue. A diversified portfolio is important.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=93832157d6183faf61e478787ab96065

Bank of Japan Pledges Aid for Rebuilding From Quake

HONG KONG — The Japanese central bank announced measures Thursday to help reconstruction efforts in areas affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunami last month but held off deploying any more sweeping measures in its economy-stimulating arsenal.

The Japanese economy, already burdened by deflation and anemic growth, was dealt a heavy blow by the disasters that struck the northeast on March 11. The direct damage caused by the quake and tsunami, combined with subsequent power shortages and disruption to supply chains, caused production to plunge.

In an immediate reaction to the turmoil last month, the Bank of Japan pumped liquidity into the financial markets, beefed up an asset purchase program and intervened in the foreign exchange markets in a bid to stop a sharp spike by the yen.

The steps helped calm the markets. The Nikkei 225-stock index has recouped more than half of the losses it suffered in the week after March 11, while the yen’s postquake ascent has been reversed. That means the central bank, at least for now, can provide more limited, focused support for the economy, analysts said.

The bank announced Thursday that it would offer a loan program totaling ¥1 trillion, or about $11.7 billion, to financial institutions in the disaster area, in an effort to help them meet future demand for funding needed for reconstruction.

“Japan’s economy is under strong downward pressure, mainly on production, due to the earthquake,” the bank said in a statement. “There is high uncertainty about the possible effects of the earthquake disaster on Japan’s economy.”

As had been widely expected, the bank kept its key interest rate unchanged in a range between zero and 0.1 percent.

Analysts say they believe the Bank of Japan may take more action at its next policy meeting, on April 28, by which time there will be more data about the quake’s effect on the economy. There should also be more clarity by then about how the government plans to finance reconstruction.

Statistical data so far have only partially captured the effect of the quake and the crisis at the quake-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which began later in March. Four weeks after the calamity, it still remains unclear how lasting and widespread the disruption to manufacturing will be. There is also little evidence as yet of how consumer sentiment — a key factor for the economy’s future trajectory — has been affected.

“It is one thing to assess the immediate impact of the quake,” said Masaaki Kanno, an economist at J.P. Morgan in Tokyo. “But the far more interesting question now is what will happen in coming months.”

Power shortages stemming from the nuclear crisis have disrupted activity well beyond the disaster zone, notably hitting the Kanto region, which encompasses Tokyo and the surrounding areas and accounts for about 40 percent of gross domestic product, Mr. Kanno said.

That, in turn, has affected supply chains, with some factories running short of parts needed in their manufacturing processes.

The full extent of the disruption remains difficult to gauge. Analysts say the next few weeks will shed more light on whether supplies will return to normal levels and whether companies are managing to obtain key parts from elsewhere. Many of the analysts, however, say they are growing more optimistic that the supply pinch will mean bottlenecks for individual companies and sectors, rather than the widespread gridlock that some had feared earlier.

The governor of the Bank of Japan, Masaaki Shirakawa, said Thursday that he was confident the supply constraints could be resolved by June or July, Reuters reported.

In the longer term, a marked rebound is likely to be felt once reconstruction activities have started and power supplies have begun to return to normal. Some economists say that could happen during the current quarter, though others say it may not get under way until later in the year.

“There will be a short-term impact in the second quarter of this year,” said Stephen Schwartz, a regional economist at the Spanish bank BBVA in Hong Kong. “But as long as the nuclear issue is contained, the outlook for the next quarters looks considerably better.”

BBVA is in the process of revising its full-year economic growth forecast from 1.5 percent to 1 percent but remains “reasonably upbeat” on Japan, he added.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=45717f6c16abb2b1ecd6ea113a4361f2

Green Column: Pragmatism Influencing Energy Debates

A theory of “peak everything” suggests the world is running short of vital assets like clean water, carbon-free air, some minerals, fish stocks and the cheap fossil fuels that have powered the world economy and helped rein in the price of food.

If countries want to secure domestic supplies and curb carbon emissions, too, then energy options are limited. And that fact has clearly dawned on governments.

Take, for example, the deadly blowout last year at BP’s Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, which all but stalled deep-water drilling in the United States.

Licensing there has now resumed, while other countries had dismissed a deepwater freeze from the start, including Britain, whose output is dwindling in the shallower North Sea.

The world’s response to the nuclear crisis caused by the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan on March 11 is still evolving, but a bump in the road looks more plausible than a full stop.

President Barack Obama, for instance, laid out a plan last week to cut oil imports by a third by diversifying toward renewable energies and relying on nuclear power.

Italy and China plan one-year moratoriums in new construction for nuclear power, and Japan intends to carry out a policy review. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives lost power in a regional stronghold last week, partly because of her party’s pro-nuclear stance.

Over all, the anti-nuclear sentiment is likely to be less strong than after the more serious Chernobyl reactor explosion in the former Soviet Union in 1986. And the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 in the United States caused a severe backlash there.

“In the United States, this is having much less of an impact,” said Robert N. Stavins, director of the environmental economics program at Harvard University. “It’s not just because it’s overseas. It’s because of climate change. That just changed the legitimacy of nuclear power in the U.S., the perception of it.”

Similarly, there is broad support for offshore drilling even after the gulf oil spill, Mr. Stavins said, because of Republicans’ concerns about energy security and Democrats’ desire to gather support for climate legislation.

Other observers said the driving force for offshore drilling, nuclear power and other resources was the simple need to provide for a global population set to reach nine billion by 2050.

“We could see some continuing support for nuclear, despite what is happening in Japan, but it won’t be fueled by climate change concerns,” said Emmanuel Fages, head of analysis of European energy at Société Générale in Paris.

“It will be because of economic and energy pragmatism,” he said. By that argument, nuclear power may be hit most by rising safety and insurance costs after Fukushima.

The International Energy Agency, the energy watchdog for industrialized countries, said global crude oil output had peaked in 2006, and the world is now forced to get oil from sources like oil sands and natural gas liquids.

Those alternatives, as well as renewable energy and nuclear power, are more expensive and would force the world into a more frugal future, according to Richard Heinberg, who coined the notion of “Peak Everything” in his 2007 book of the same title.

Fukushima could stall nuclear power, he added.

“The real upshot is — the strong likelihood is — we’ll have less energy in the future, and it will be more expensive energy. We’re really looking at a different kind of society,” at least for the next 20 or 30 years before new breakthroughs emerge, he said.

“This was the great benefit of fossil fuels in the early days: We had to invest trivial amounts, and we got this enormous return,” he added

Of course, theories of impending shortages have often turned out wrong, like the 1798 prediction by Thomas Malthus, the British scholar, that population growth would outstrip food production. At the time, the world population was just one billion.

The right strategic response could deal with the risks of resource scarcity, oil depletion and climate change, said Nick Mabey at the London-based environment group E3G. “No one actually is gripping the strategic consequences of these risks,” he said.

To manage risk, government spending priorities should be energy efficiency, interconnected grids to link up different power sources across wide regions, smart grids to smooth demand and absorb volatile wind and solar power, and electric cars.

“Energy policy is about balancing risks,” said James M. Acton of the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who added, “all forms of energy carry risks.”

And the tsunami was beyond the design of the Fukushima plant. “The real challenge is to improve our ability to predict natural and man-made disasters,” he said.

Some green groups said that there was no trade-off and that renewable energy coupled with energy efficiency could solve the problems.

Sven Teske, director of renewable energy at the environmental group Greenpeace International, said big shifts were under way with developed nations closing more coal-fired plants than they opened.

“There is a phase-out of coal already. The reality is that everybody is moving towards renewables and gas. But some of the government rhetoric will remain in favor of nuclear,” he said.

Gerard Wynn and Alister Doyle are Reuters correspondents.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/04/business/energy-environment/04green.html?partner=rss&emc=rss