A Malaysian company has signed deals with two foreign partners to build an oil pipeline across northern Malaysia and the Philippine economy grew at its fastest pace in almost two decades in the first quarter of this year. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong has more on these and other business stories from the region.

Malaysian company Trans-Peninsula Petroleum signed deals with Indonesian and Saudi Arabian partners to build a 300-kilometer oil pipeline across northern Malaysia. Work on the project is expected to start next year.

About half of the world's crude oil is now shipped through the Strait of Malacca, a waterway between Indonesia and the Malaysian peninsula.

Yin Shao Yang is a research analyst at Malaysia's Kenanga investment bank. He says the main reason for constructing the pipeline - which aims at diverting up to a third of the strait's oil traffic - is to ease congestion in the crowded waterway.

"That strait is pretty much one of the most busy straits in the world. ? So if anything goes wrong there, oil supply to the Far East could be quite severely disrupted," he said. "So by bypassing the Strait of Malacca - it's what you could say an insurance."

The Philippine economy grew at a higher than expected 6.9 percent in the first quarter, compared with a year ago. Analysts say the country's fastest growth in 17 years was mainly driven by domestic consumption. Money sent home from Filipinos working overseas helped boost consumer spending.

Japan's jobless rate fell to less than four percent in April, the lowest level in nine years. And in another piece of good news from the Japanese economy, overall household spending in the country went up more than expected in the same month, rising 1.1 percent. Retail sales in April, however, dropped by .06 percent compared to a year earlier.

And U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley agreed to buy Australian real estate firm Investa Properties for $3.9 billion. Investa is Australia's largest listed owner of commercial property.