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The dream of an “Asean car” was first floated, in broad terms, by former prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, when he spearheaded the creation of Proton in the 1980s. The idea was to form a national Malaysian car company that could be exported to Southeast Asia and beyond.

That didn’t quite work. Proton failed to gain traction much beyond its home market of Malaysia, although it did see some success as a low-priced, competently engineered vehicle in Britain for a time, thanks to the provision of engines by Mitsubishi of Japan.

Now, the idea has resurfaced. Najib Razak, current Malaysian prime minister, has announced that Malaysia and Indonesia plan jointly to develop an “Asean car”. Read more >>

Critics who slam Malaysia for spending beyond its means in racking up a level of household indebtedness that surpasses the US are misjudging the country’s economic resilience, a senior official said.

Abdul Wahid Omar, a minister in the prime minister’s department, told the Financial Times that Malaysia “deserves better” than the negative outlook on its sovereign debt rating that was reaffirmed last month by Fitch, the rating agency.

“We believe we deserve better,” said Wahid Omar, who heads the country’s Economic Planning Unit. “We have demonstrated our ability to manage government finances better (and) we are taking measures to reduce subsidies and introduce the GST (Goods and Services Tax).” Read more >>

Nations have negotiated trade agreements in one form or another for centuries. And for centuries economists have undoubtedly been facing the same question: Do trade agreements really matter?

The orthodox answer is obviously that they do. When you lower the barriers to trade goods flow more freely across borders and businesses, consumers and economies as a whole benefit as a result. But HSBC and the Economist Intelligence Unit are out with a new business survey that offers some interesting practical realities. Read more >>

Of all the colonial legacies left by Britain, France and the Netherlands in Asia, one of the least talked-about – yet arguably one of the most lasting and problematic – is the patchwork of legal systems that divides the region.

Doing business in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) is gradually getting easier thanks to the elimination of tariff barriers, expansion of supply chains and gradual harmonisation of customs procedures.

Yet one of the big “soft” barriers to greater Asean integration, and one which makes life hard for multinationals and ambitious local companies alike, are the differing jurisdictions across the 10-member bloc. Read more >>

“When eating an elephant, take one bite at a time”, US Army officer and Vietnam veteran Creighton Abrams once said.

In his new book, The Rise of the New East, Ben Simpfendorfer does just that. His elephant is “The East”, the group of almost 50 emerging markets ranging from Turkey to China that is home to well over half of the world population.

Simpfendorfer gives his topic a thorough treatment. While his insights seem logical and intuitive, taken together they give an impressive oversight of into key trends shaping the region. beyondbrics noted five insights that particularly stood out. Read more >>

By Jennifer Hughes

Malaysia Airlines was struggling long before its two disasters this year. Higher costs and tougher competition in its own backyard from Tony Fernandes’s AirAsia had already inflicted financial damage in spite of it’s having tapped the markets for $2bn of equity and debt since 2005. Read more >>

It is a truth almost universally recognised that internet penetration in the 10-member bloc known as Asean – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – is low, even though the region is humming economically.

Or is it?

UBS has come out with some interesting research that will give the e-commerce crowd something to cheer. The bank finds that Asean has a 32 per cent “internet penetration rate”, or almost 200m users, out of a total population of 620m.

This contrasts with market data apparently widely accepted – and cited by UBS – saying that penetration could be as low as 62m users. Read more >>

If you are doing business in Asean – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – be prepared for an electric shock.

Analysts at ANZ have looked at what’s happening with electricity prices across the region and are warning that they are set to rise, making it considerably more expensive to run factories. It will also add half a basis point on average to inflation, which is already inching up. Read more >>

This was supposed to be the year of the rise of sukuk markets. As the Malaysian economy recovered and the Arab spring passed, another record year of sharia-compliant debt issuance was predicted.

But that changed after a day in May. Ben Bernanke dropped hints that the Fed would taper its bond-buying programme, and sukuk sales shrivelled in the third quarter. The number of issues this year is expected to be just above that of 2011. Read more >>

Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia and Thailand are on the face of it a relatively homogeneous, integrated group of nations with similar trading partners. So why did the first two emerge from the 2008 financial crisis in a much better shape than the latter?

A working paper from the IMF concludes that it was because Indonesia and the Philippines were less open to trade and had greater fiscal stimuli. Read more >>

Out of 60 countries, Indonesia and the Philippines are home to the most optimistic consumers. Thailand comes fourth on the consumer confidence index compiled by Nielsen, a research company.

Yet ask these consumers how they will spend their cash, and they tell Nielsen they’d prefer to save it, actually. Read more >>

The UK’s decision to launch an Islamic bond has been a long time coming. For a decade the prospect has been raised at the many Islamic finance conferences that have been held in London; Ed Balls, when he was City of London minister, announced the first Shariah-compliant government bonds from the UK Treasury back in April 2007.

The rationale then, as now, was to bolster London’s standing as an international financial centre. The logic then, as now, was that London ought to offer everything it can to financial markets, and that if launching a sovereign sukuk bond helps to create a benchmark for others to issue against, then that’s what it should do so as not to miss out. Read more >>

Malaysia is not a market littered with private equity deals. Nor is the wider region of southeast Asia. Dealmakers have struggled with relatively high asset prices in Indonesia, and governance and other concerns in Malaysia and Vietnam.

But on Wednesday KKR, the big US-based private equity firm, closed a deal to invest Rm642m ($200m) in Weststar Aviation Services, a company that operates helicopters for the offshore oil and gas business. Read more >>

Asian fund passport plans, to borrow the old cliché, are like London buses: you wait ages for one and then three come at once.

Wednesday’s announcement between the regulatory bodies of Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand to create a system for cross-border distribution of mutual funds was the third in the region this year. Read more >>