Fri, 10 Sep 1999

From: Reuters

Asia unharmed by Sept. 9 bug

SINGAPORE (Reuters): Asia emerged unscathed from a computer bug some feared would strike older systems on 9/9/99, according to reports from around the region on Thursday.

Government bodies, companies and markets in Australia, Japan, China, India, South Korea and other countries were all functioning glitch-free on Thursday with the "four nines" business day drawing to a close for most of the region.

Concerns over Sept. 9, 1999 arose from an old programming convention that used four nines in a row -- 9999 -- to tell computers to stop processing data or to perform a special task.

It was thought to be a precursor to the Y2K or millennium bug, which could strike on Jan. 1, 2000. Early computer programs abbreviated years to two digits, and the year 2000 may be misread as 1900 by older systems, resulting in shutdowns or miscalculated data.

Countries first to see the dawning of Sept. 9 -- New Zealand and Australia -- provided an early indication the "four 9s" was proving a non-event.

As the Indian subcontinent roused to its business day, no problems were reported. "There could be isolated events (of systems getting affected), but we have not heard of anything yet," said Narasimhaiah Seshagiri, the director-general of the National Informatics Center and a member of the government's Y2K Action Force.

Bangladesh's central bank said it had turned off its computer network as a precaution, but would likely start it back up since commercial banks in the country appeared to have no problems.

Checks early on Thursday with Australia's federal and state bodies revealed no computer foul-ups, said Susan Page, chief general manager for the federal government's Year 2000 Project Office. Major banks and telecommunications firms in Australia also found it was business as usual.

New Zealand, along with several other countries in the region, used the advent of 9/9/99 as a warm-up for the new year.

"A number of utilities and organizations took the opportunity of 9/9/99 to test aspects of their processes for managing Y2K," said Basil Logan, chairman of the Y2K Readiness Commission.

The Hong Kong Airport Authority treated the event as a pre- millennium exercise by holding drills, while the territory's Marine Department enforced Y2K requirements for vessels entering Hong Kong waters between 2000 local time (7 p.m. Jakarta time) on Wednesday and 2000 local time on Thursday.

A Hong Kong government official said no reports of incidents had been received.

Japan, a country cited by some experts as lagging in Y2K preparations, also found smooth sailing even though its markets got a dose of pre-9999 jitters on Wednesday.

The Bank of Japan had to pump some 300 billion yen (US$2.7 billion) worth of Treasury bills into the system on Wednesday amid reports some foreign banks were rushing to get more cash before Sept. 9.

Fears of possible computer glitches also contributed to a weaker finish in SIMEX Nikkei futures in Singapore on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, the Tokyo Stock Exchange said its systems were operating normally. A switch of bond futures programs to the Sept. 9 date late on Wednesday had also proceeded glitch-free, an official said.

China, which has been judged as among the least well-prepared countries for Y2K, reported no problems. The Shanghai Stock Exchange said operations were normal as did Shanghai Airlines and major financial firms.

Even Thailand and South Korea, cash-strapped from financial crises, said their critical industries had a problem-free day. The results came as no surprise to Y2K experts.

"We do not anticipate any major disruptions among Asian companies or infrastructure, related to the '9999' computer glitch," said Ana Chapman, of Goldman Sachs' Asia Portfolio Strategy division in Singapore. Goldman issued an Asiawide Y2K company survey in August.