Stocks turn mixed, dollar faces rate hike uncertainty

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Share markets turned mixed in Asia on Monday amid conflicting signals on the prospects for a truce in the Sino-U.S. trade dispute, while the Federal Reserve’s newly-found concerns over the global economy constrained the dollar.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan dithered either side of flat through a sluggish session. Chinese blue chips manage to add 0.5 percent, as did Japan’s Nikkei.

But E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 slipped 0.36 percent and spread betters pointed to modest opening losses for the major European bourses.

Wall Street had firmed on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump said that he may not impose more tariffs on Chinese goods after Beijing sent a list of measures it was willing to take to resolve trade tensions.

The comment stoked speculation of a deal when Trump meets Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Argentina later this month.

However, Sino-U.S. tensions were clearly on display at an APEC meeting in Papua New Guinea over the weekend, where leaders failed to agree on a communique for the first time ever.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said in a blunt speech that there would be no end to U.S. tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods until China changed its ways.

“The comments from Trump were seen as offering a glimmer of hope that further tariff action could be held in abeyance,” said NAB’s head of FX strategy, Ray Attrill.

“The exchange of barbs between Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping in PNG on the weekend continues to suggest this is unlikely.”

SENSING A FED SHIFT

Also uncertain was the outlook for U.S. interest rates.

Federal Reserve policymakers are still signaling rate increases ahead but also sounded more concerned about a potential global slowdown, leading markets to suspect the tightening cycle may not have much further to run.

“Fed officials are having an easier time showing a slightly less hawkish leaning by noting the emerging global slowdown,” said Deutsche Bank’s macro strategist Alan Ruskin.

“It’s undercutting expectations of rate hikes moving above ‘neutral’,” which the Fed has nominated as between 2.5 and 3 percent. “This shift in tone is subtle, but fits with the more bullish bond market tone of late, and is starting to have a material impact on the dollar.”

That will focus attention on an appearance by New York Fed President John Williams later on Monday to see if he echoes the same theme.

Investors have already lengthened the odds on further hikes, with a December move now priced at 73 percent, down from over 90 percent. Futures imply rates around 2.74 percent for the end of next year, compared to 2.93 percent early this month. <0#FF:>

Yields on U.S. 10-year paper have duly declined to 3.06 percent, from a recent top of 3.25 percent.

The dollar followed to hover at 96.509 against a basket of currencies, down from a peak of 97.693. The euro was parked at $1.1400, while the dollar backed off to 112.72 yen.

Sterling remained vulnerable at $1.2826 after political turmoil over Brexit caused steep losses last week.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday that toppling her would risk delaying Brexit as she faces the possibility of a leadership challenge from within her own party.

With both pro-EU and pro-Brexit lawmakers unhappy with the draft agreement, it is not clear she will be able to win the backing of parliament, raising the risk Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

In commodity markets, gold found support from the drop in the dollar and held at $1,1220.19.

Oil prices suffered their sixth straight week of losses last week, but have found some aid from expectations the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would cut output.

Brent crude was up 54 cents at $67.30 a barrel, while U.S. crude gained 70 cents to $57.16.

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Cambodia reiterates Khmer Rouge tribunal's work is complete

Sar Kheng says UN-backed war crimes court has no need to prosecute anyone beyond the Khmer Rouge senior leadership.

    Cambodia has reiterated it intends to end the work of the UN-backed tribunal that last week convicted the last two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

    Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said the tribunal’s work had been completed and there would be no more prosecutions for acts committed when the Khmer Rouge was in power from 1975 to 1979.

    An estimated 1.7 million people, about one-quarter of Cambodia’s population, died after the Maoist-inspired regime took control of the country in what became known as the “Killing Fields”.

    Sar Kheng cited the terms under which the tribunal, staffed jointly by Cambodian and international prosecutors and judges, had been established, limiting its targets to senior leaders. The rules also allow prosecuting those most responsible for carrying out atrocities.

    Sar Kheng spoke Saturday at a government ceremony in a northern province of Cambodia and his remarks were reported on Sunday.

    On Friday, the tribunal sentenced 92-year-old Nuon Chea, the right-hand man to the regime’s late leader Pol Pot, and 87-year-old Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge’s head of state, to life in prison on charges of genocide against ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims. The two are already serving life sentences after being found guilty of crimes against humanity in an earlier trial.

    In nine years of hearings and at a cost exceeding $300m, the tribunal has convicted only one other defendant, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who was head of the Khmer Rouge prison system and ran the Tuol Sleng torture centre in Phnom Penh.

    Cases of four more suspects, middle-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge, had already been processed for prosecution but have been scuttled or stalled. Without the cooperation of the Cambodian members of the tribunal, no cases can go forward.

    No more investigations

    Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly declared there would be no more prosecutions, claiming they could cause unrest.

    Hun Sen himself was a mid-level commander with the Khmer Rouge before defecting while the group was still in power, and several senior members of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party share similar backgrounds. He helped cement his political control by making alliances with other former Khmer Rouge commanders.

    In his remarks, Sar Kheng, who is also the country’s interior minister, sought to reassure former Khmer Rouge members they would not face prosecution.

    “Because there are some former Khmer Rouge officers living in this area, I would like to clarify that there will be no more investigations taking place [against lower-ranking Khmer Rouge members], so you don’t have to worry,” he said.

    He acknowledged even without more prosecutions, the tribunal still had to hear the appeals expected to be lodged by Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, but aside from that task, its work was finished.


    Inside Story

    Cambodia: Genocide on trial

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    Robber stabs 20-year-old and steals her handbag at bus stop

    A robber held a knife to a woman’s neck before stabbing her hand and stealing her bag while she was waiting at an isolated bus stop.

    The attack, which occurred at about 7.45pm on Saturday, took place while a group of young women and teenagers waited for a Bus Éireann bus at Blanchardstown Shopping Centre westbound slip road in Dublin.

    It is understood the robber, who wore a bandana around his face, approached one of the group – a 20-year-old woman from Ratoath, Co Meath – with a knife and held it to her neck.

    He stabbed the terrified woman in her hand before running away with her handbag.

    A Garda investigation is now underway, but no arrests have been made to date.

    “A female’s bag was taken from her at knife-point and she received a minor injury to her hand at the time of the robbery. Investigations are ongoing,” a Garda spokesperson said.

    Fianna Fáil Meath East general election candidate Deirdre Geraghty-Smith described the bus stop where the attack took place as “notorious”.

    “This is very disturbing and is something no one in the local community either expects or is prepared for. There have been increasing concerns raised by bus users about safety at this bus stop over the last number of months.

    “It is isolated, in darkness and people awaiting buses are extremely vulnerable to opportunistic attacks. This attack should act as a spur to move this bus stop to a safer, more central location to ensure that commuters waiting for a bus can feel safe.”

    A spokesperson for Bus Éireann told the Irish Independent that gardaí were responsible for dealing with anti-social behaviour. “Bus stop locations are also overseen by the National Transport Authority (NTA) and local authorities. Lighting in public areas such as bus stops is provided by local authorities,” they said.

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    Macron renews European army call in a veiled swipe at US

    Emmanuel Macron has said Europe must “take more responsibility for its defence and security”, while visiting Berlin for a remembrance service to victims of war and dictatorships.

    The French president – speaking alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel – warned the continent could not influence global politics if its “content to play a secondary role on the international scene”.

    He added that the two countries were “invested with this obligation not to allow the world to slide into chaos”.

    The comments, made yesterday, could be seen as a swipe at US President Donald Trump, who reacted angrily last week to Mr Macron’s suggestions Europe should develop its own army in order to be less reliant on America.

    Ms Merkel has offered theoretical long-term support for the idea of such an army.

    The remarks came as the two leaders used the visit to also discuss issues including migration, fixing the euro currency, and taxing digital companies.

    It emerged they have struck an agreed position on a common budget for EU countries that use the shared euro – something Mr Macron has persistently pushed for.

    The size of the budget – quoted by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as around €25bn – is far below what the French leader had proposed.

    But the compromise underlines Germany’s reluctance to do anything that might be perceived as transferring taxpayer money from its own economy to the likes of Italy or Greece.

    A European summit in December is also now expected to rubber stamp limited proposals to strengthen the euro currency with a series of measures including upgrading the eurozone’s bailout fund.

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    Dashcams insurance plan faces 'data issue' on footage

    Proposals to use dashcams fitted in cars as a means of promoting road safety – and even potentially identifying fraudulent insurance claims – could be scuttled by strict data regulations.

    A leading barrister has warned the proposed roll-out of dashcams and, critically, the indefinite storage of such footage, could have enormous implications under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

    William Bulman BL stressed the use of the cameras needs to be justified to meet data protection rules, with the long-term storage of such data an additional problem.

    “There is clearly an issue. Even though these cameras are programmed to over-write the footage after a specific period, which is usually quite short depending on the card size, computer technicians can retrieve over-written data.

    “Even though nothing is stored for any great length of time, GDPR is a potential issue,” he said.

    Storage

    “If footage is to be stored for a longer period of time – or permanently stored so that it could be used for legal purposes either in a pending civil or criminal court case – then serious questions about how the data was stored arise.

    “There are also issues such as the storage of data containing a person’s personal details ranging from the registration number of their vehicle potentially through to identifying where they may live,” he said.

    His warning came as insurance giant AXA Ireland partnered with a major camera company to offer up to a 10pc discount on policies for motorists who have a dashcam fitted. Camera firm Nextbase will match this with a 10pc discount on its dashcams bought in specific retailers.

    It is estimated about 150,000 motorists here drive without proper insurance cover.

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    Intense week of talks ahead of Brexit showdown summit

    BRUSSELS (AFP) – European governments get their own say on Brexit this week as they debate future ties with London in the run-up to Sunday’s (Nov 25) summit to sign Britain’s divorce papers.

    Ministers from the other 27 European Union member states are in Brussels on Monday (Nov 19) at the start of what Prime Minister Theresa May calls “an intense week of negotiations”. The British leader has said she will be in the city herself later in the week to meet the head of the EU commission, Mr Jean-Claude Juncker, for last-minute talks.

    Neither Mrs May nor European leaders are keen to reopen the draft Brexit withdrawal agreement that was grudgingly approved by the British Cabinet last week.

    But both sides are scrambling to finalise a parallel political declaration that will set out a road-map for post-Brexit negotiations on future EU-UK ties.

    “The focus this week will be on the future relationship,” Mrs May told Sky News.

    “We won’t agree the leaving part… until we’ve got what we want in the future relationship, because these two go together.”

    Specifically, London wants to lay out in as much detail as possible how to get to a free trade agreement before the end of a 21-month post-Brexit transition.

    Brussels, meanwhile, insists Britain cannot have the same privileged access to the single market as it did as a member state after Brexit on March 29 next year.

    European negotiators plan to publish their version of the statement on future relations on Tuesday, after their ambassadors met over the weekend.

    On Sunday, according to diplomatic sources, the document was fleshed out from just over six pages to around 20 as more details were agreed.

    They also discussed an EU proposal that the draft withdrawal agreement be amended to extend the post-Brexit transition to the end of 2022.

    No decision was taken on this, however, and members are wary of reopening the document and allowing British hardliners to restart a debate on its terms.

    More closed-door talks were to follow on Monday, when the EU’s 27 ministers of European affairs meet to prepare Sunday’s signing summit.

    In the meantime, EU Council president Donald Tusk is going ahead with plans to bring Mrs May and her fellow leaders together on Nov 25 to sign the deal.

    “We now have an intense week of negotiations ahead of us,” Mrs May will tell British business leaders on Monday, according to Downing Street.

    “During that time, I expect us to hammer out the full and final details of the framework that will underpin our future relationship,” she is to say.

    “And I am confident that we can strike a deal at the council that I can take back to the House of Commons.”

    Integrity of the Union

    While the EU 27 and their negotiator Michel Barnier have remained publicly united through the 17-month negotiation – Britain’s political camps are at war.

    Whether or not Mrs May wins an improved future partnership offer this week, she still has to get the withdrawal deal itself past the Westminster Parliament.

    Hardline Conservative Brexiteers and Mrs May’s Northern Irish unionist allies have pledged to vote down the treaty despite the threat of a calamitous no-deal Brexit.

    And the opposition Labour Party, scenting a chance to topple Mrs May’s government, has also warned that its members will not support her deal.

    After making what they regard as an offer that respects Britain’s desire to leave but preserves the integrity of the Union, EU officials are surprised by the furious debate.

    Publicly, they refuse to intervene in Britain’s bitter debate, but privately, they insist both sides “exhausted their margin to manoeuvre” in the divorce negotiation.

    Some member states were annoyed that their rights to fish in British waters were not guaranteed in the withdrawal deal and have been left to future talks.

    And Spain also has concerns about the future status of Gibraltar, the British territory on its southern coast, a diplomatic source said.

    But thee grumbles remained behind closed doors because, in the words of one European diplomat, the ambassadors agreed “not to pour oil into the British fire.”

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    Cambodia's beleaguered opposition and the fight for democracy

    Today, the country is effectively a one-party dictatorship with the opposition party scattered across the world.

      Phnom Penh, Cambodia – In June 2017, Cambodia’s pro-democracy opposition party made unprecedented gains in the local commune elections, casting serious doubt on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ability to extend his 33-year rule in the following year’s national election.

      There was a spirit of optimism when Kem Sokha’s Cambodia National Rescue Party prepared to take on Hun Sen at the ballot box. Decades of political violence seemed to be at an end and democracy, first attempted in 1993, was within Cambodia’s grasp.

      On November 16, 2017, however, the CNRP was forcibly dissolved on spurious allegations of attempted revolution, leaving politicians, analysts, and journalists across the world no choice but to declare Cambodia’s democracy officially dead.

      Today, the country is effectively a one-party dictatorship with the opposition party scattered across the world, only spoken about in whispers in Cambodia.

      Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party occupies all 125 seats in the National Assembly. Kem Sokha is under house arrest for unfounded charges of treason. Other CNRP leaders such as co-founder Sam Rainsy and Sokha’s daughter, Kem Monovithya, live abroad to avoid a similar fate. Their supporters live in a state of constant fear.

      The transition to full-blown authoritarianism was strongly condemned abroad, with the US and European Union threatening to impose sanctions if democracy is not restored. The EU is considering revoking a preferential trade deal with Cambodia, a move that would cost the economy hundreds of millions of dollars. At the top of the West’s list of demands: the unconditional release of Kem Sokha and the reinstatement of the CNRP.

      No future

      Lee Morgenbesser, an expert on authoritarian regimes, said the CNRP has no future under Hun Sen, who has repeatedly declared the party cannot be resurrected.

      “For a brief moment, the CNRP showed ordinary citizens that there was a political party fighting for the emergence of democracy in Cambodia,” he said in a recent email.

      In a forthcoming paper titled Cambodia’s Transition to Hegemonic Authoritarianism, Morgenbesser explains how the recent crackdown was unprecedented and fundamentally changed the nature of Cambodia’s political landscape.

      New constitutional amendments declare that political parties “must place the country and nation’s interests first”, a vague requirement that would give the Cambodian government broad authority to accuse opposition parties of being unconstitutional. Other amendments gave the politically biased Supreme Court the authority to dissolve any political party.

      Not only were these laws used to destroy the CNRP, but they also ensure that nothing like the CNRP can ever challenge Hun Sen again.

      “A few civil society groups and autonomous media organisations might be allowed to operate, and a few political opponents might be allowed to participate, but none will be permitted to threaten the CPP’s newfound hegemony,” Morgenbesser wrote in the article.

      ‘Cautiously hopeful’

      The CNRP was originally formed by the merging of two distinct opposition parties led by Rainsy and Sokha, respectively. After Sokha’s arrest, the party quickly splintered along these old alliances. The deputy leaders did not appear to have a contingency plan, and there were frequent spats between Rainsy supporters and Sokha supporters.

      Just this month, tensions flared again when Rainsy offered to make a wager with Hun Sen on when Sokha would be released. Sokha’s camp blasted the stunt, calling it “immoral” and “indecent”.

      In spite of this, the CNRP’s exiled leaders on both sides still believe the fractured party can return.

      “I am cautiously hopeful that we will regain our space in the country in the near future,” said Sokha’s daughter Monovithya, who has been campaigning for international action against Hun Sen’s regime since her father’s arrest.

      Meanwhile, Rainsy said the party’s dissolution “vindicated” the CNRP, proving it is the legitimate representative of the people.

      “Hun Sen had actually no choice but to dissolve the CNRP in order to remain in power because he knew he would lose any real election,” Rainsy claimed.

      While it might be a stretch to say CNRP definitively would have won a fair election, it was clearly a risk Hun Sen wasn’t willing to take.

      “Hun Sen could dissolve the CNRP on paper but not in the hearts and minds of the people,” Rainsy said.

      It’s true that more than three million supporters didn’t simply disappear, but so far they haven’t been a significant presence during the crackdown. Nobody protested when the CNRP was dissolved and only a handful gathered when Sokha was brought to court in Phnom Penh.

      Heng Ratha, a former member of the CNRP’s provincial working group in Siem Reap, said he wishes the party’s leadership had remained in Cambodia to lead resistance efforts.

      “For my own opinion I don’t think it was so necessary for the CNRP leaders to leave the country like [vice-president Mu] Sochua and Rainsy. They should return to Cambodia to confront and find a solution with [CNRP] members and supporters,” he said.

      International pressure

      While Rainsy has correctly pointed out that returning carries the risk of arrest or even assassination, doing so would force Hun Sen to make a difficult decision, something he has not yet had to do. If Rainsy returned, Hun Sen would have two choices. Either arrest another high profile, popular politician, inviting unrest and increased international pressure, or allow him to assume a leadership position in any resistance movement. For Hun Sen, forcing influential dissidents abroad is the best-case scenario.

      To their credit, the leaders in exile have had significant success in appealing to the international community for pressure and sanctions.

      Other CNRP activists, like the outspoken Kong Mas in Svay Rieng, say they support the decisions the party leaders have made and believe they did everything they could. While the CNRP could have been more prepared or made better decisions during the crisis, judging them too harshly would be akin to victim blaming – they were put in a position they never should have had to deal with in the first place.

      “There were many dialogues between the CNRP and the ruling party, but Hun Sen always violated the agreements,” Mas said.

      Mas sees the revocation of the EU trade deal as the best chance for change, predicting that almost a million garment workers will lose their jobs.

      “That circumstance will make a lot of people angry and people will gather and protest against the government to solve the problem,” he said.

      Others are not so optimistic. Than Sorith in Kampong Cham agrees the CNRP leadership acted appropriately, but doesn’t see a future for the party.

      “I don’t think the CNRP can return to political activity,” he said, adding he doesn’t believe people will protest even if the trade deal is canceled.

      While it’s unlikely the CNRP will return, Morgenbesser does see change on the horizon, noting that demographic trends do not favour the ruling party.

      Citing “deep grievances concerning corruption, inequality, land grabbing, and development”, Morgenbesser warns that Hun Sen has added another problem to his list: “undermining expectations for democracy among Cambodian youth”.


      Inside Story

      Cambodia at a crossroads

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      North Shore Rescue deployed to Mount Seymour for pair of lost hikers

      North Shore Rescue was deployed to Mount Seymour on Sunday night to search for a pair of lost hikers.

      Team Leader Mike Danks said the pair were heading down from Dog Mountain when they got off-trail and became lost after crossing several creeks.

      Danks said it became dark and the pair called for help.

      He said crews located the man and woman near a trail called Magic Kingdom, about 600 metres up Mount Seymour.

      The pair are not injured.

       

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      Climate change clean-up is now a future-proof business

      The disturbing television pictures this year of the fearful damage inflicted by nature is an ever-present reminder of the catastrophic effects of climate change, no matter how people like Donald Trump may choose to deny it.

      Heartbreaking scenes like the magnificent Piazza San Marco in Venice being battered by floods, though not unprecedented, seem to be getting worse.

      The so-called hurricane season that was once someone else’s problem has become a serious concern in this country. But can that which cannot be avoided be managed? The company we are examining today may have some of these answers.

      It is ambitious British equipment rental specialist Ashtead, which has helped the clean-up efforts after storms and hurricanes that have devastated the US in recent years. The company rents out all sorts of equipment from small hand tools to excavators which can lift, move, dig, pump or generate power. In short, do precisely what’s required after a natural disaster.

      Ashtead has been operating in America since the 1990s. Its offshoot, Sunbelt Rentals, has more than 750 locations in 46 states, generating £3.1bn (€3.5bn) in revenues and is now the second biggest equipment rental company in the US.

      While maintaining a headquarters outside London, its British network is much smaller than the US, yet Ashtead is the largest rental group in the UK, with 200 locations, and revenues just under £500m.

      The group’s small operation in Canada has been boosted by the recent acquisition of Ontario-based competitor CRC, which adds scale to its network and gives it access to the eastern Canadian market.

      The group provides a wide range of rental equipment and solutions to a large number of customers. This includes all types of equipment for the construction industry such as forklifts, power saws, excavators, scaffolding and portable traffic systems for major projects.

      Interestingly it also generates power, lighting and other equipment for concerts, festivals and even the US Super Bowl.

      The concept of Ashtead’s business model is simple and resembles what used to happen in the Irish TV rental market years ago.

      The group buys a broad range of equipment directly from manufacturers, and rents it out to a range of customers on a short-term basis.

      After a period of time (five to 10 years) it sells the old equipment into the second-hand market, recovering a proportion of the original price.

      Ashtead has executed its strategy flawlessly and its track record over the last five years has been impressive. Revenues have more than doubled to £3.7bn, helped recently by a weaker pound.

      Pretax profits are 2.6 times higher in the same period of time and it trades today with a healthy 28pc operating profit margin.

      Last year its US operations saw revenues jump 15pc, benefiting from strong markets and the impact of hurricanes. Its UK rental business saw rental income increase but margins were lower. First quarter results this year show a weakening in margins, but revenues and profits rose more than one-fifth and net debt fell slightly.

      The group continues to ramp up investment to capitalise on growth potential, increasing its capital expenditure by almost a fifth. Its shares have taken a hit in the October market fall and now hover around £19 a share, 20pc below the yearly high.

      But investors are pleased that it continues to underpin its share, announcing a £1bn buyback last December.

      The strong dollar also helps its revenues. If the climate keeps changing Ashtead will benefit, and the strength of its balance sheet and free cash flow will continue to allow the company its bolt-on acquisition strategy and expand its geographic footprint.

      While the group plans to achieve double-digit growth for the next three years, it is well to remember this is a cyclical industry.

      Nothing in this section should be taken as a recommendation, either explicit or implicit to buy any of the shares mentioned.

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      New Choa Chu Kang bus interchange to open on Dec 16

      SINGAPORE – The current Choa Chu Kang bus interchange will be relocated from Dec 16 due to construction on the Jurong Region Line and related road works, said the Land Transport Authority (LTA) in a statement on Monday (Nov 19).

      The new interchange will be at the junction of Choa Chu Kang Loop and Choa Chu Kang Drive and will feature the first one-stop service centre in a bus interchange.

      The centre replaces the conventional ticket office and features an e-lobby and seated waiting area. It also has manned counters that provide more customised assistance. The e-lobby is complementary to these counters and provides the majority of the centre’s services.

      The 13 bus services currently operating at the existing interchange will operate from the new interchange. The current interchange will cease operations on Dec 16.

      Services 925 and 927 will no longer ply Choa Chu Kang Avenue 4 due to adjustments made to enter and exit the new interchange.

      There will be close to 100 bicycle parking spaces at the interchange to facilitate active mobility and first-and-last-mile connectivity, said the LTA.

      Information on the bus routes will be available at affected bus stops, as well as at the bus terminal and on the buses. More information can also be found on the LTA’s online and social media platforms.

      GRAPHIC: LAND TRANSPORT AUTHORITY

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