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Singapore Economic Growth Exceeds Expectations

Strong domestic demand and exports lifted Singapore's economy last year, rising eight-point-four percent. The year-end results exceeded government expectations.

But officials warn that the trade-dependent economy may only grow by five percent this year because of high oil prices and an expected drop in electronics exports.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he is cautiously optimistic about Singapore's economic prospects this year. "This is a moderate rate of growth compared to 2004. But it is in line with our economy's sustainable rate over the medium term and will continue to create jobs for Singaporeans," he said.

Also, the government says it will post a surplus of $100 million at the end of the fiscal year in March, instead of the previously estimated $800 million deficit. For the next fiscal year, Mr. Lee says he projects a surplus of $500 million, about half a percent of gross domestic product.

In Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific and its pilots' union failed to resolve a long-running dispute after the union failed to get enough votes in support of the airline's settlement proposal. The dispute started in 2001 when Cathay Pacific fired 49 pilots who participated in a labor action over pay and work schedules.

The airline offered 10 months' pay or job interviews for junior cargo pilot positions if the pilots dropped their lawsuits. Cathay says the offer was final and that the issue will now be resolved in court.

Vietnam's second stock exchange will open in Hanoi next month as part of the government's efforts to help state companies access fresh funds. Vietnam has been trying to sell off state-owned enterprises to improve their efficiency and transparency and is requiring those that are valued at more than $600,000 to list on the stock market.

Vietnam opened its first stock market in Ho Chi Minh City in 2000. That market now has 26 listed companies and $250 million in market capitalization.

Luxury car sales in China slowed down last year, rising only 15 percent compared with a 75 percent surge in 2003. The German car company, Audi, sold the most cars but state media reported that the company still fell short of its annual target of 80,000 cars.

However, in Thailand, car sales jumped more than 17 percent in January as the economy continued to expand. Car companies sold nearly 53,000 units, with Toyota, Isuzu and Honda cornering 76 percent of the market combined.