Citi has responded swiftly to the disaster in the Philippines caused by Super Typhoon Haiyan. All Citi's commissions from sales and trading in the Asean region tomorrow will be donated to the Philippine Red Cross - so that would be a good day to trade with Citi. In addition, the Citi Foundation has pledged a US$250,000 disaster relief grant to the American Red Cross Pacific Typhoon Fund to support relief and recovery efforts in the communities affected by Haiyan.
In a memo to Citi staff, Stephen Bird, the chief executive for Asia-Pacific, said the bank had also set up a special account to raise funds for the Philippine Red Cross to assist in rebuilding shattered communities. Account Name: Typhoon Haiyan Relief Fund; US dollar account No: 1600125377; Peso account No: 1400172923; Swift code: CITIPHMX; Routing Number: 021-0000-89 (CITINY); Address: Citibank, NA 8741 Paseo De Roxas Ave, Makati City, Philippines.
Hong Kong should donate
Citi's response to the disaster has been in stark contrast to that of the Hong Kong government, which has sat firmly on its hands despite the Disaster Relief Fund at its disposal. This, according to the government, was set up in 1993 "for Hong Kong to respond swiftly to international appeals for humanitarian aid in relief of disasters that occur outside Hong Kong". Given Hong Kong's relationship with the Philippines - notwithstanding the fatal hostage shooting - that goes back decades and when many of their people have worked here as helpers, you would have thought that out of a sense of decency and humanitarianism, the government should put the current spat behind it, and offer some aid. If this event doesn't qualify for a response from the disaster fund, one has to wonder what does.
So far, the countries that have offered aid are the US, Australia and Britain, none of which are in the region. Of course the Hong Kong government is now hamstrung by the hostage shooting, which has been blown up into a major issue largely as a result of domestic Hong Kong political considerations. We're all agreed it was unfortunate and it would have been good to have had an apology earlier from those in charge of the Manila police for the botched handling of that affair. The victims have now received a belated apology from the current mayor of Manila. The suggestion that the Philippine authorities be given an extra month to consider their response to the hostage victims is ridiculous. They obviously have a much bigger problem on their hands now.
Hopefully the Hong Kong government will have the sense to realise that applying sanctions to the Philippines either in one month or six would be nothing short of disgraceful. If it was questionable before to try to squeeze the Philippines for compensation, this saga has now been overtaken by events. It is absurd for people to try to suggest the two events are unrelated. Hong Kong's politicians need to pull their heads in and recognise the enormity of what has happened, and the government needs to be magnanimous rather than trying to curry popularity by jumping on the anti-Manila bandwagon.
This is an opportunity to heal relations with the Philippines and do something to mitigate the ugliness that Hong Kong has displayed in recent months in the discussions surrounding the hostage case.
Wall Street blues
Rolling Stone's Matt Taibbi has a dire warning for banks. Taibbi memorably described Goldman Sachs as "a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money." He writes that there are multiple scandals brewing on Wall Street, "including a whole set of ominous legal cases that could result in punishments so extreme that they might significantly alter the long-term future of the financial services sector." He adds that he's been told, "Whatever those morons put aside for settlements, they'd better double it." The scandals include the manipulation of the world's currency market. Then there are Libor-related cases that are threatening to cancel billions of dollars' worth of Libor-related contracts on that basis that if Libor was not a real number, and was being manipulated for years as numerous companies have admitted, then the Libor-based swaps banks sold to companies are inherently unenforceable.
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