Business Briefs

Reported by Star-Bulletin staff & wire

Japanese companies gaining confidence

Sentiment among large Japanese businesses improved in the quarter ending this month, and companies raised capital spending by 5.3 percent in the second quarter, a Ministry of Finance report said.

Business confidence rose to minus 6.3 in the third quarter from a revised minus 9.5 in the second, the ministry said in Tokyo. A negative number means more respondents are pessimistic about the economy than optimistic. It was the 10th straight quarter that large companies, with more than &YEN1 billion ($8.6 million) in capital, were pessimistic.

Pension contribution cap urged in Japan

Chikara Sakaguchi, Japan's health minister, proposed capping employee pension contributions at 20 percent of income to reduce the burden on workers as the number of retirees in the population increases in the next two decades.

The level of pension benefits in the employees' pension plan also should be lowered to no less than between 50 percent and "mid-50s percent" of their annual salary, Sakaguchi said at a news conference in Tokyo. Retirees can now expect pensions amounting to about 59 percent of their pre-retirement income.

Japan plans to overhaul its public pension system by April 2004 to cope with an increasing burden of pensions, health care and other social programs. The number of people aged 65 or older will swell to almost a third of the population by 2025, from 18 percent in 2001, according to official estimates.

Philippine exports fall more than expected

Philippine exports fell more than expected in July as electronics shipments shrank for a fourth month and shipments to the United States continued their decline.

Overseas sales fell 7.9 percent to $2.97 billion, the National Statistics Office said. That compares with the median estimate of a 1 percent decline in a Bloomberg News survey. Exports rose 4.2 percent in June after falling the previous two months.

Slowdown discourages Korean Air travelers

Korean Air Co., South Korea's largest airline by sales, filled fewer seats with paying passengers in July because an economic slowdown discouraged people from traveling overseas.

The airline filled 70.7 percent of its available seats in July, down from 71 percent a year earlier, Korean Air said. Seat usage was higher than the June figure of 68.3 percent as travelers' concerns over the SARS virus subsided.

Korean Air, Singapore Airlines Ltd. and other Asian carriers have restored some of the 1,150 weekly flights they suspended at the height of the epidemic, which stifled travel demand. The post-SARS recovery slowed in South Korea because consumer confidence fell to a four-month low in July and factory output fell 3.6 percent, its biggest drop in seven years.

Honda set to accelerate Brazil motorbike output

Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Japan's second-biggest automaker by sales, said it will invest about $45 million through next year and hire 200 people to boost output at its motorcycle plant in the Brazilian Amazon.

Honda, which controls 85 percent of Brazil's motorbike market, plans to increase capacity at its plant in Manaus to 1.3 million motorcycles a year in 2004 from 900,000 to tap into growing demand in South America's largest economy, said Yuji Horie, the administrative and financial director at Honda's Brazil unit.

Brazil's motorcycle industry has been growing 15 percent annually in recent years as an economic slump and car loan rates over 40 percent have prompted many people to turn to a cheaper means of transportation, Horie said. Honda's most popular motorcycle in Brazil sells for about 4,400 reais ($1,475), about a third the price of Fiat SpA's Mille, the cheapest car sold in Brazil.

France budget deficit may exceed EU rules

France said its budget deficit may reach 4 percent of the country's gross domestic product this year, 1 percentage point more than allowed by European Union rules and the highest shortfall among the 15 European Union nations.

The deficit is ballooning from 3.1 percent of GDP last year as tax cuts and the slowest pace of economic growth in a decade are hurting government revenue and boosting welfare spending.

So far, Budget Minister Alain Lambert said in April that the deficit might be as high as 3.6 percent of GDP this year.

The increased deficit "reflects the negative impact of very slow growth since the end of 2002 on government and social-security receipts," the finance ministry in Paris said.



New jobs

>> Former Next Design principal and manager Ann Kuataka, former Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo project manager and project architect John Harada and former Kober/Hanssen/Mitchell Architects designer Chad Okinaka have created new architecture firm In+Form. Kuataka serves as president, supervising all operational aspects and providing client services as project manager and architect for primarily retail clients. Harada and Okinaka serve as vice presidents. Harada will use his knowledge of conceptual design and construction documents to manage the company's domestic and foreign projects. Okinaka will use his expertise in computer modeling to communicate designs in three dimensions to clients.

>> State Farm Insurance has hired Larry Bolibol as an agent at its North King Street office, Dee Ann Lee at Kapiolani Boulevard and Cindy Perkins at South Beretania Street. Bolibol joined State Farm as a trainee agent in February. Lee was most recently an agency field consultant for State Farm. Perkins was an agent and investment advisor for Minnesota Life Co.


>> Diagnostic Laboratory Services has promoted Richard Okazaki to president. He has served as general manager since 1995 and started with the company in 1988 as chief financial officer. Okazaki succeeds Dr. John Edwards, who will be retiring.


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