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Hong Kong Unemployment Rate May Have Peaked, say Authorities - 2003-09-22

There are new signs Hong Kong's unemployment rate may have reached its peak. And Afghanistan takes steps to bring Afghans' money back home.

Hong Kong authorities say new unemployment data may indicate the territory's economy is turning a corner. Jobless rates decreased by a tenth of a percentage point to 8.6 in the three months to August 31, compared to a record high of 8.7 percent in the previous three-month period.

Financial Secretary Henry Tang says he thinks the change reflects fundamental improvements in consumer confidence. "There are now more tourists. There are people who feel more stable, more positive about our figures, about our trade," he says. "I think many of these contributing factors point to a regain of confidence." Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, dealt Hong Kong's economy a severe blow, particularly the tourism sector. The aviation industry suffered too, but Hong Kong's government says it expects flights to surge more than 16 percent during the National Day holiday on October 1.

In China, the government says inflation rose 0.09 percent in August compared with the same month a year ago. The prices of basic meat and vegetables have risen nearly five percent in some cases since the previous year.

Economists view the consumer price rises as positive, saying they show China's deflationary spiral, which began in the late 1990s, is slowing.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has approved a law to permit international banks to operate in the country.

Mr. Karzai says the move will encourage Afghans living outside the country to move billions of dollars back into Afghanistan. Afghan officials say three banks will get operating licenses at first: Standard Chartered of Britain, the National Bank of Pakistan, and a micro-credit bank funded by the Aga Khan Foundation - a non-governmental international development agency.

Economists say the new law will allow Afghanistan's Central Bank to step back from commercial activities and focus on monetary policy and supervision.

Britain's Financial Times newspaper says it will buy a nearly 14 percent stake in India's Business Standard paper. The deal, worth about $3 million, comes more than a year after India ended a decades-old ban on international investment in its domestic media.

However, India's government still has measures in place to shield editorial content from the possible effects of foreign ownership. A 26 percent stake limit remains in effect for international investments in both print and television news media and India says management and editorial control of news publications must remain in Indian hands.