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News Briefs

Singapore Acknowledges Onset of Recession


TOKYO -- Singapore said Tuesday it had slipped into recession, the first Southeast Asian nation to do so since the 1997-98 Asian economic crisis. But economists say it won’t be the last.

“We’re going to see a string of these, either extremely poor or negative numbers in the near future,” said Song Seng Wun, Singapore-based regional economist with G.K. Goh Research. “They’re all getting hammered.”

Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry said the economy fell by a seasonally adjusted 0.8 percent in the second quarter over a year earlier. This is the second consecutive decline in its gross domestic product, which meets the definition of a recession.

Singapore is the first country to report its second quarter results, but Thailand, Taiwan and the Philippines, which also reported negative first quarter growth in its gross domestic product, could also turn out to be in recession when they reveal their second-quarter results in the next few weeks.

Singapore has been among the hardest hit by the U.S. slowdown, given that foreign trade accounts for three times its GDP. This compares with about twice GDP for Malaysia and 0.75 percent for the Philippines. Furthermore, a huge percentage of Singapore’s foreign trade and manufacturing involves in particular electronic goods, which have seen demand fall off the retail shelf as consumers everywhere grow more cautious.

Federal Mediator Says California Might Not Get Power Refund


WASHINGTON -- A federal mediator said Monday that electricity suppliers overcharged California by only a fraction of the nearly $9 billion claimed by Gov. Gray Davis, and suggested the state might receive no refund at all because its utilities’ unpaid bills exceed the overcharges.

The mediator, Curtis L. Wagner, said after two weeks of hearings that refunds of up to $1 billion probably were justified -- a fraction of California’s claim. But in an indication that California might come away from the proceeding empty-handed. Wagner added: “Can a refund be required when overcharges are less than the outstanding bill? The case judge thinks not.”

Wagner said he would present his conclusions to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which had given him 15 days to try to engineer a settlement between California and the energy suppliers. Monday was the 15th day.

FDA to Regulate Certain Fertilization Procedures


WASHINGTON -- The Food and Drug Administration has informed doctors that a controversial class of fertility treatments that until now has been performed without government oversight can only be performed with the agency’s approval, marking the federal government’s first significant foray into regulating the fertility field.

The FDA has long maintained that it has the authority to regulate fertility practices -- a claim that some in the field doubt is legally assured -- and has been edging toward doing so for many years. Until now, however, that oversight has been essentially limited to fertility doctors’ use of drugs and medical devices, a level of regulation that has not raised alarms within the specialty since the agency regulates those areas in medicine generally.