On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Familiar ring to events in other economies

The price of diamonds, according  to the poll, has dropped more than  half 
in places like New Delhi and 
Kuala Lumpur.

In Tokyo, the price of an 18-carat  gold
wedding band has fallen by  more than

That's not all. The cost of a wedding dress, tuxedo and limousine  rental, wedding cake and honeymoon suite at a
five-star hotel have  all plunged.

The poll may not be that accurate  since
it is measured against the 

Most Asians have less money to  spend
these days because whatever  they have
saved is worth less.

Still, there is no doubt that the 
wedding package industry has become more competitive  which is 
good news for singles who believe 
in the institution of marriage.

But in Asia, the Year of the Tiger  isn't
exactly an auspicious time to  get
hitched. With the economic uncertainty, it makes sense for couples to postpone
wedding plans.

The only “comfort'' for Asians is  that
currency speculators have attacked other economies, including  that of Australia and South Africa.

Last month, the Australian media  blamed
George Soros' US$20bil  Soros Funds
Management and the  US$16bil US-based
Tiger Management as among the 100 major 
hedge funds, which control at least 
US$100bil, for attacking the Australian dollar.

And Australian leaders such as  Prime
Minister John Howard have  begun to sound
like Datuk Seri Dr  Mahathir

While others have labelled these 
currency traders as “evil forces'', 
Howard described them as “poorly informed illiterates''.

Even the Australian media,  which had
blamed Dr Mahathir for  speaking up
against currency speculators last year, are beginning to  sound like the Malaysian press.

One Australian newspaper has  advised its
readers not to travel  overseas,
especially to the United  States and

Ironically, these same newspapers had reported that incompetency, bad
management and corruption had allowed currency traders to move in and attack
the ringgit.

They even lampooned Dr Mahathir's idea that currency trading  must be regulated, adding that he  had made it worse by speaking up.

The Australian Broadcasting  Corporation
blamed him for the  currency depreciation
in a documentary, Dr Mahathir: The Wounded Tiger.

Some Malaysians, who regarded  the local
press as docile, began to  believe
everything they read in  Western
publications and on the Internet.

But as the Australian dollar continued to fall over the last 18  months, the Australian media have  changed their tune.

Even Merrill Lynch, which sold  off its
Australian dollars, has been  rapped with
warnings it may lose  future trading
opportunities with  the Australian
Reserve Bank, the  equivalent of Bank Negara.

Currency traders have hit back  at
Howard, saying he runs the risk  of
creating a credibility problem  and
appearing to be out of control.

The Sydney Morning Herald  quoted a
currency analyst as saying that Howard had “no serious  understanding of policy direction''.

The reality of the situation is that 
there has been retrenchment in the 
tourism industry as fewer Asians 
visit Australia.

Demand from Asia for base metals has dropped, resulting in declining prices of
aluminium, copper,  lead and zinc.

And, according to the Australian 
Financial Review, the Australian 
dollar is expected to slide to a record low of US$0.55 in the next
few  months.

Love-struck Australians are unlikely to heed the bad omens expected in the Year
of the Tiger.

According to the FEER poll, it's  cheaper
to marry in Sydney or Canberra these days 
that is, if you  hold the

When exchanging vows, Australians shouldn't forget the familiar  ring in their media reports these  days.