Cement giants discuss mega merger; UK new car sales at 10-year high; South Korea’s struggle with suicide

1 Cement giants discuss mega merger (BBC) The world’s two largest cement makers are in advanced talks to merge into a company that would have a stock market value of more than $30bn euros. A deal between France’s Lafarge and the Swiss Holcim group would be the industry’s biggest ever merger. However, the proposed tie-up could face a lengthy competition inquiry from regulators as the new company would be dominant in Europe and the US.

In statements on Friday, the companies emphasised that no agreement had yet been reached, and that there was no guarantee of a deal. But they pointed to a “strong complementarity” and “cultural proximity” between their operations. A merger would allow the companies to cut costs, trim debt and reduce the sector’s global overcapacity. Although the firms have overlapping operations in Europe, Lafarge is strong in Africa and the Middle East, whereas Holcim is almost absent. Holcim is strong in Latin America, where Lafarge is not established.


2 UK new car sales at 10-year high (Julia Kollewe in The Guardian) New car sales leapt in March to record their biggest month in a decade, fuelled by demand for the new 14 registration plate. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders said new car registrations, a proxy for sales, rose 17.7% to 464,824 last month. Since the move to twice-yearly plate changes in 1999, only March 2004 saw higher registrations, of 466,954.

The society’s chief executive, Mike Hawes, said “Given the past six years of subdued economic performance across the UK, there is still a substantial margin of pent-up demand that is contributing to a strong new and used car market. We expect the market to continue to perform positively for the rest of the year, albeit at a more modest rate.” Sales for the first three months of 2014 stood at 688,122, up 13.7% from the same period last year.

Howard Archer, the chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, described the figures as “extremely good news for the car industry and a significant boost to first-quarter growth prospects for the overall economy”.


3 South Korea’s struggle with suicide (Young-ha Kim in The New York Times) As the author of the novel “I Have the Right to Destroy Myself,” I’m often asked why I think South Korea’s suicide rate is so high. The protagonist in my story is a professional “suicide counselor” who is hired to help clients plan and execute their own deaths. I started writing the novel in 1995, a time when South Korea’s annual rate of suicide was much lower than the average of the other industrialized nations. But it soared in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis — and it has been getting worse ever since.

When the novel was published in 1996 no one, including me, would have thought that suicide could become such a scourge. South Korea has had the highest suicide rate in the industrialized world for eight consecutive years; 14,160 people committed suicide in 2012, an average of 39 people per day and a 219 percent increase from the 6,444 suicides in 2000. It’s the No.1 cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 30. For people in their 40s, suicide is the second most common cause of death, after cancer. Among the older generations, the numbers are even more bleak.

According to research by the department of Family Medicine at Hallym University, some 60 percent of people who attempt suicide are suffering from depression. Yet too many people in South Korea have outdated views of psychological illness. Many people who seek psychiatric treatment are afraid of doctors keeping records.

Satisfactory explanations for the root causes of the epidemic are hard to come by. For the elderly, many analysts cite the breakdown of the traditional family unit, and the poor economy. Among the youth, the pressure over college entrance examinations is often blamed. And for the middle-aged, it’s uncertainty about the economy. But no matter what the age, too many South Koreans see suicide as a viable escape from the stresses of modern life. That attitude has to change.

On the national level, the government is starting to address the problem. But the effort is still too weak: The total national budget for suicide services is close to $7 million. By comparison, Japan spends more than $130 million on suicide programs, and they have seen strong results for their efforts. Today, I could never write a suicide-filled novel like “I Have the Right to Destroy Myself.” I would be too afraid of inspiring others to kill themselves. I look forward to the day when a writer like me can once again comfortably use suicide as the stuff of fiction.



About joesnewspicks

This blog captures interesting news items from around the world for those strained by information overload and yet need to stay updated on global events of significance. The news items displayed are not in order of merit. (The blog takes a weekly off — normally on Sundays — and does not appear when I am on vacation or busy.) I am a journalist for nearly three decades.
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