Thursday, August 31, 2017

Reuters News - Six big banks join blockchain digital cash settlement project

ZURICH (Reuters) - Six new banks have joined a UBS-led (UBSG.S) effort to create a digital cash system that would allow financial markets to make payments and settle transactions quickly via blockchain technology.
The group aims to launch the system late next year.
Barclays (BARC.L), Credit Suisse (CSGN.S), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO), HSBC (HSBA.L), MUFG (8306.T) and State Street (STT.N) have joined the group developing the “utility settlement coin” (USC), a digital cash equivalent of each of the major currencies backed by central banks, UBS said on Thursday.
The group is in discussions with central banks and regulators and is aiming for a “limited ’go live’” in the latter part of 2018, UBS’s head of strategic investment and fintech innovation told the Financial Times.
The Swiss bank first launched the concept in September 2015 with London-based blockchain company Clearmatics, and was later joined on the project by BNY Mellon (BK.N), Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE), Santander (SAN.MC) and brokerage ICAP.
The USC would be convertible at parity with a bank deposit in the corresponding currency, making it fully backed by cash assets at a central bank. Spending a USC would be the same as spending the real currency it is paired with.
Blockchain works as a tamper-proof shared ledger that can automatically process and settle transactions using computer algorithms, with no need for third-party verification.
Because it does not require manual processing, nor authentication through intermediaries, the technology can make payments faster, more reliable and easier to audit.
Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi Editing by Jeremy Gaunt
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

BBC News - Economic issues are a priority, say UK and German firms

The production line at Volkwagen's Wolfsberg factory
Shared economic interests must be a priority in the Brexit negotiations, UK and German trade bodies have urged.
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) and the Association of German Chambers of Commerce (DIHK) said uncertainty over "business critical" issues such as workers' rights, tax and customs arrangements needed to be tackled.
DIHK said the uncertainty was affecting German firms which traded with the UK.
Most BCC members say they want "at least" a three-year transition period.
The groups called for political leaders to "build an atmosphere of mutual trust and constructive dialogue", to deliver clarity and certainty for businesses.
With the third round of Brexit negotiations getting under way on Monday, a number of critical issues were still unresolved, while there are "hundreds" of practical and technical issues which also needed to be negotiated, they said.
"There is real business appetite from both sides for a focus on practical, day-to-day business concerns, and a desire for clarity on future trading arrangements," said BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall.
"The UK and the EU must begin work on transitional arrangements, particularly on customs, so that firms on both sides of the Channel have the confidence to make investment decisions."
The UK is the third largest market for the export of German goods, while Germany is the UK's second biggest market for exports of goods and services.
German firms employ an estimated 400,000 workers in the UK, while British firms employ around 220,000 workers in Germany.
DIHK chief executive Martin Wansleben said German companies were concerned that Brexit would have "a major negative impact", with more trade barriers such as extra bureaucracy, and stricter border controls, leading to higher costs.
"The terms of exit are still completely unclear.
"Many of our members are reporting that they are already shifting investments away from the UK in anticipation of these barriers," he added.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Bloomberg News - U.K. House-Price Growth Slows in Line With Weakening Economy

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reuters News - China says sanctions won't help as Trump targets Venezuela

BEIJING (Reuters) - Venezuela’s close ally China said on Monday that history shows external interference and unilateral sanctions only make things more complex and will not help resolve problems, after the United States imposed new sanctions on Venezuela.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order that prohibits dealings in new debt from the Venezuelan government or its state oil company on Friday in an effort to halt financing that the White House said fuels President Nicolas Maduro’s “dictatorship”.
Maduro, who has frequently blamed the United States for waging an “economic war” on Venezuela, said the United States was seeking to force Venezuela to default — but he said it would not succeed.
Asked about the new U.S. measure, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China’s position had consistently been to respect the sovereignty and independence of other countries and not to interfere in their internal affairs.
“The present problem in Venezuela should be resolved by the Venezuelan government and people themselves,” she told a daily news briefing.
“The experience of history shows that outside interference or unilateral sanctions will make the situation even more complicated and will not help resolve the actual problem,” Hua added.
China and oil-rich Venezuela have a close diplomatic and business relationship, especially in energy.
This month, China said it believed voting in Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly election was “generally held smoothly”, brushing off widespread condemnation from the United States, Europe and others and evidence of voting irregularities.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel

Friday, August 25, 2017

BBC News - Identity theft at epidemic levels, warns Cifas

By Kevin Peachey and Chris Johnston

Hand on computerImage copyright

Identity theft is reaching "epidemic levels", according to a fraud prevention group, with people in their 30s the most targeted group.
ID fraudsters obtain personal information before pretending to be that individual and apply for loans or store cards in their name.
A total of 89,000 cases were recorded in the first six months of the year by UK anti-fraud organisation Cifas.
That is a 5% rise on the same period last year and a new record high.
"We have seen identity fraud attempts increase year on year, now reaching epidemic levels, with identities being stolen at a rate of almost 500 a day," said Simon Dukes, chief executive of Cifas.
"These frauds are taking place almost exclusively online. The vast amounts of personal data that is available either online or through data breaches is only making it easier for the fraudster."
ID theft accounts for more than half of fraud recorded by Cifas, a not-for-profit organisation that shares fraud prevention tips between businesses and public bodies.
More than four in five of these crimes were committed online, it said, with many victims unaware that they had been targeted until they received a random bill or realised their credit rating had slumped. This would prevent them getting a loan of their own.
Fraudsters steal identities by gathering information such as their name and address, date of birth and bank account details.
They get hold of such information by stealing mail, hacking computers, trawling social media, tricking people into giving details or buying data through the "dark web".
Shredded document

Analysis: Rory Cellan-Jones, technology correspondent

I got a worrying insight into how our online activity can leave us open to identity theft when a security company offered to examine my digital footprint.
Its 30-page report showed that a lot of personal details that might be useful to a criminal were out there on public websites - but if you choose to have an online presence, that is quite hard to avoid.
Far more worrying was the presence in hidden corners of the web of some of my passwords for various accounts, harvested in some of the many hacking attacks on major online firms.
Luckily I had already changed those passwords, but the security researchers told me that anyone in the Western world who used the internet reasonably often was likely to have their details held in one of these data dumps. That information is up for sale on a number of criminal marketplaces.
Identity theft is big business and it is thriving on the dark web.
Victims are more likely to be in their 30s and 40s, often because a good deal of information about them has been gathered online.
The stereotypical image of a fraud victim is someone who is elderly and vulnerable, but the over-60s are the only age group that has seen cases fall this year compared with the first half of the year, according to Cifas.
The age group which has seen the biggest rise is 21 to 30-year-olds. This finding was mirrored in separate research by credit checking company Experian. It said that since 2014, it was increasingly likely that victims were male, aged in their 20s and living in London.
Cifas said it was important that employers needed to be alert to fraud, rather than just consumers. There had been a sharp rise in ID fraudsters applying for loans, online retail, telecoms and insurance products, it added.
"For smaller and medium-sized businesses in particular, they must focus on educating staff on good cyber-security behaviours and raise awareness of the social engineering techniques employed by fraudsters. Relying solely on new fraud prevention technology is not enough," Mr Dukes said.
Katy Worobec, from UK Finance, which represents the banking industry, said: "Tackling fraud and financial crime is a top priority for the industry. Banks have sophisticated controls in place to safeguard the financial system from fraudsters, and work closely with enforcement agencies and government to identify and disrupt criminal activity."

One victim's story

Anil Sharma found out the hard way that fraudsters had enough information about him to obtain new smartphones in his name. Not one but two mobile phone contracts taken out through a well-known high street retailer were posted to his Liverpool home.
He says the chain was quite dismissive of his plight and he was forced to contact the mobile networks to resolve the situation. One was more helpful than the other, Mr Sharma says, but ultimately both accepted that the contracts were taken out fraudulently and cancelled them.
As well as taking a good deal of phone bashing to resolve, the identity theft was also stressful - and affected his credit score as well. "It's very very worrying."
But how did the fraudsters obtain his details? Initially Mr Sharma thought it was the result of losing his wallet a couple of years ago, but Action Fraud says an online breach is the more likely culprit.

How to protect yourself from identity crimes

  • Limit the amount of personal information you give away on social networking sites. Your real friends know where you live and know your birthday
  • Update your computer's firewall, anti-virus and anti-spyware programmes. Up to 80% of cyber-threats can be removed by doing this
  • Never share passwords or PINs (personal identification numbers) with others and do not write them down
  • Use strong passwords and PINs - don't use your date of birth or your child's name, include a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and punctuation marks. Aim for a minimum of 10 characters in a password
  • Do not use the same password or PIN for more than one account
  • Shred all your financial documents before you throw them away

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Reuters News - Globalization's castaways haunt central bankers

MASSENA, New York/JACKSON HOLE, Wyoming (Reuters) - After a turbulent year of anti-globalization backlash, central bankers still argue open borders and free trade are the key to more jobs, growth and prosperity.
But when they meet for the U.S. Federal Reserve's annual research conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, this week, it will be with the growing recognition that the world economic order they helped create could unravel unless the benefits of globalization can reach those left behind.
That means addressing the concerns of people like Grace Paige, a grandmother of seven from the struggling St. Lawrence County in northern New York state.
When Donald Trump promised to revive "middle America" by rolling back decades of globalization, Paige decided to give him a chance. The otherwise dependable Democratic voter sat out the election, contributing to the county's swing from a 57-percent majority for Barack Obama in 2012 to a 51-percent vote for Trump's economic nationalism.
"My grandkids need jobs," she said, counting out the ways her county has been abandoned over the last decade with the shuttering of a General Motors (GM.N) car factory, an aluminum plant, and the Sears (SHLD.O) department store where Paige once worked.
Central bankers reject Trump's economic nationalism, including renewed threats to tear up the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement, if it leads to more protectionism.
But officials at the Fed in particular have in recent months broadened their policy debates to include issues such as racial disparities in labor markets or the fate of geographically or technologically isolated communities in an economy that is in many ways doing well.
"Frankly as economists ... we haven't probably paid enough attention to the transfer from one economy, where you aren't as globalized, to another," Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President Loretta Mester told Reuters ahead of the Aug. 24-26 international gathering dedicated to securing global growth.
"Globalization and technological change is here to stay. And the promise of those is very good - we know that it can raise standards of living," Mester said. "It's just how do you make sure that it's distributed in a way so that the majority of people benefit."
Policymakers acknowledge, however, that there is no quick and easy way to help those whose jobs were moved overseas or were replaced by software and robots, or to tackle the political challenge that poses.


A Reuters analysis of U.S. voting, jobs and demographic data shows that it was in areas like St. Lawrence - neither clearly in the orbit of the globally-connected cities that drive economic growth, nor fully rural - that were key to Trump's success. 
They represent about a third of the roughly 3,100 counties in the continental United States and around 12 percent of the U.S. population, according to census data. Trump outperformed the 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney the most in those counties, which proved vital to his triumph in key swing states.
St. Lawrence - with its smattering of dairy-farm villages, college towns, and shuttered industrial sites - was also among 63 counties where votes swung by 10 percentage points or more to Trump from Obama.
Similarly, areas of Britain on the edges of big cities had an outsized effect on the narrow June 2016 vote to leave the European Union.
Recognizing the challenge, Fed Governor Lael Brainard has made at least 10 visits from Appalachia to Mississippi studying why communities get left behind, extensive travel for a Fed governor outside the usual circuit of civic club and university speeches.
"We really do have to be focused on the kinds of policies that can reconnect those people to the workforce," Brainard said in a recent speech.
Monetary policy geared to an entire economy is ill suited to fix such problems, but the Fed's regional role in community development, as well as the bully pulpit shared by its policymakers, have prompted them to focus on possible options.
For example, in a trip to El Paso, Texas, Brainard explored how the Fed’s bank oversight and interest rate policy might improve financing for basic infrastructure and job training, according to regional Fed staff who helped arrange the tour.
At the regional level, Minneapolis Fed president Neel Kashkari in January set up a research institute on income inequality, and said recently that social considerations in part led him to want to pause on raising interest rates.
     “If we can keep people from being lost permanently, boy that’s a real positive for society," Kashkari said.


The diverging fortunes of St. Lawrence and nearby Clinton County, which shares a similar demographic profile, show how often factors such as location can make all the difference, and how hard they are to overcome.
Clinton County, which backed Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, shares a transportation corridor with Montreal, Canada's second-largest city in the neighboring Quebec province, allowing it to reap the benefits of the North American Free Trade Agreement.
"Our business is to make Quebec successful, to help Quebec with its exports. Now there's a novel idea," Garry Douglas, president of the North Country Chamber of Commerce, said in June of the NAFTA renegotiation talks at a forum in Plattsburg attended by New York Fed President William Dudley.
Plattsburg, Clinton County's hub, bills itself as "Montreal's U.S. Suburb," 15 percent of the county's residents work for subsidiaries of Canadian firms such as Bombardier (BBDb.TO), and more than $1.5 billion flows south across the border in annual investment.
Only 35 miles (56 km) east lies St. Lawrence. With less convenient road, rail and air connections it is just outside Montreal's economic orbit, while still-patchy broadband coverage also work against it. The county's unemployment rate is 1.5 percentage points higher than in Clinton, and 2.5 points above national average. Despite the abundance of good colleges and universities, graduates often leave because of the lack of opportunities. Census data show a net of 4,200 people left the county between 2010 and 2016.
Mairin Merna, a single mother from Ogdensburg, the county's largest city of about 11,000, said job prospects remained dim and would probably force her to move with her daughter to Albany, the state capital 220-miles away.
"Fifteen years ago I was more optimistic," said Merna, 34, leaving a one-stop career center in the nearby town of Canton, where she was among hundreds applying for local clerical work. "I don't know if there will be any change here," she said. "It's sad."
Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Howard Schneider; Editing by David Chance and Tomasz Janowski