Friday, March 29, 2019

BBC News - Business ‘devastated’ by Brexit vote

Union flag and EU flagImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Business groups have said they are "devastated" after Parliament's latest rejection of the prime minister's EU withdrawal plan.
They urged MPs and the government to find a solution and stave off the "nightmare" of a no-deal Brexit.
"The UK's reputation, people's jobs and livelihoods are at stake," said CBI deputy director-general Josh Hardie.
And the Institute of Directors' Edwin Morgan said businesses were "sick" of being stuck in "spirit-sapping limbo".
Mr Morgan, the IoD's interim director-general, said: "The Brexit merry-go-round continues to spin, but the fun stopped a long time ago."
MPs are set to have another go at reaching a Brexit compromise in another series of votes on Monday and Wednesday next week.
Stephen Phipson, chief executive of manufacturers' group Make UK, said: "Business is devastated that after two years of negotiations, months of increasing uncertainty and weeks of building frustration, after three attempts the withdrawal deal has not been agreed by the House of Commons.
"This now makes the nightmare of a no-deal scenario more likely than ever."
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said businesses were "paying the price of the political uncertainty".
"There are still options open to MPs and they must get behind one of them," she added.
The Food and Drink Federation's chief executive, Ian Wright, said Parliament had to lead the country out of "our current shambles" by seeking a long extension to the UK's EU exit.
"Business - particularly food and drink - requires a stable operating environment and a clear path forward. On Monday, Parliament must create both," he said.
The ADS Group, which represents the aerospace and defence sectors, said that if there was not sufficient support for Theresa May's deal, the UK should "pause and reset the process".
ADS chief executive Paul Everitt said: "It is for government and Parliament to decide the way forward, but the voice of UK businesses, their employees, customers and suppliers must be given greater priority."
Small business representatives also reacted with dismay to the political deadlock over Brexit.
The national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, Mike Cherry, said: "Our small firms are sick and tired of politicians debating and dithering over Brexit. They are trying to get on with their jobs and it's time that politicians get on and do the same."

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Reuters News - Exclusive: China makes unprecedented proposals on tech, trade talks progress - U.S. officials

by Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - China has made unprecedented proposals in talks with the United States on a range of issues including forced technology transfer as the two sides work to overcome remaining obstacles to a deal to end their protracted trade war, U.S. officials told Reuters on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese imports last year in a move to force China to change the way it does business with the rest of the world and to pry open more of China’s economy to U.S. companies.
Among Trump’s demands are for Beijing to end practices that Washington alleges result in the systematic theft of U.S. intellectual property and the forced transfer of American technology to Chinese companies.
China put proposals on the table in the talks that went further than in the past, including on technology transfer, said one of four senior U.S. administration officials who spoke to Reuters.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

BBC News - Trade war: US-China to resume face-to-face talks next week

U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin (2nd L) speaks as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (3rd L) and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross (L) listen during a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (R) in the Oval Office of the White House February 22, 2019 in Washington, DC.Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
US officials plan to travel to China next week to resume face-to-face talks aimed at ending a trade war between them, the White house has confirmed.
And Chinese officials will travel to the US for further talks in Washington in early April.
The US and China have imposed tariffs on billions of dollars' worth of one another's goods over the past year.
A truce at a G20 meeting in December made way for talks, but negotiations have at times been rocky.
Despite that US President Donald Trump has cast talks in a positive light, saying they are going "very well".

Official parties

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will fly to Beijing to start talks with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He on Thursday, 28 March.
The US principals will be accompanied by deputy trade representative Jeffrey Gerrish and other senior officials from the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the Department of the Treasury.
The Chinese delegation led by Mr Liu will visit the US on 3 April with the aim of closing a deal by late April.
The talks have taken longer than some had expected, with officials at times making contradictory comments on their progress.
Previous US and China talks broke up without a deal on 15 February, with the US warning "very difficult issues" remained unresolved.
Even though by the end of the month Mr Trump said the two sides were "very very close" to signing a trade agreement, a deal has not yet been forthcoming.
He also delayed a 1 March deadline for raising tariffs last month citing the progress being made.

What's being discussed?

The US accuses China of stealing intellectual property from American firms, forcing them to transfer technology to China.
Washington wants Beijing to make changes to its economic policies, which it says unfairly favour domestic companies through subsidies and other support, and wants China to buy more US goods to rein in a lofty trade deficit.
China accuses the US of launching the largest trade war in economic history and is unlikely to embrace broader structural changes, which are seen by some as a way to contain its rise.
Important sticking points in negotiations include how to enforce a deal and the pace at which the US and China will roll back tariffs imposed over the past year, the Wall Street Journal said.
Chinese officials say President Xi Jinping does not want to participate in a summit with Mr Trump unless the main issues in the trade talks are agreed to avoid a situation where Mr Trump could walk away at the last minute, according to the Financial Times.

What's at stake?

Failure to achieve a deal would likely see the US more than double the 10% tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods and impose fresh tariffs.
Mr Trump has in the past threatened to tax all of Chinese goods going into the US.
The US has already imposed tariffs on $250bn (£188.6bn) worth of Chinese goods, and China has retaliated with duties on $110bn of US products.
Mr Trump has also threatened further tariffs on an additional $267bn worth of Chinese products - which would see virtually all of Chinese imports into the US become subject to these tariffs.
The damaging trade war has cast a shadow over global trade and is contributing to a slowdown in the world economy.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Reuters News - EU lawmakers back copyright reforms targeting Google, Facebook

STRASBOURG (Reuters) - EU lawmakers have endorsed an overhaul of the bloc’s two-decade old copyright rules, which will force Google and Facebook Inc to pay publishers for use of news snippets and make them filter out protected content.
The European Parliament backed the reforms by 348 votes to 274 on Tuesday after a debate that has pitted Europe’s creative industry against tech companies, internet activists and consumer groups concerned that the new rules may be too costly and block too much content.
The European Commission began reviewing the rules two years ago in a bid to protect an industry that is worth 915 billion euros ($1.03 trillion) a year, accounting for 11.65 million jobs and 6.8 percent of the EU economy.
The Commission’s digital chief for Europe Andrus Ansip welcomed the outcome, saying the reforms would improve the position of writers, journalists, singers, musicians and actors in relation to the big platforms that benefited from their content.
“Today’s vote ensures the right balance between the interests of all players – users, creators, authors, press – while putting in place proportionate obligations on online platforms,” he said in a statement.
But Google said the reforms would lead to legal uncertainty and hurt Europe’s creative and digital economies. The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) echoed the criticism.
“Consumers will have to bear the consequences of this decision. Their concerns had been voiced loud and clearly but MEPs chose to ignore them,” BEUC director general Monique Goyens said.
Lawmaker Julia Reda, a prominent critic of the reforms, said they threatened the free internet.
“Algorithms cannot distinguish between actual copyright infringements and the perfectly legal re-use of content for purposes such as parody,” she said.
($1 = 0.8854 euros)
Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Kirsten Donovan

Monday, March 25, 2019

BBC News - Asia stocks: Markets sink as global growth jitters spread

Man stands in front of stock boards in JapanImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Asian stocks sank on Monday amid growing concerns of a slowdown in the global economy.
Investors dumped stocks in favour of safer bonds, driving Japan's Nikkei index down more than 3%.
The losses in Asia tracked a global stock sell-off on Friday, fuelled by downbeat data and a cautious Federal Reserve.
Unusual moves in the US bond market have also raised concerns about a possible US recession.
Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index dropped 3.1% to 20,948.37.
In China, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 1.6% and the Shanghai Composite lost 1% in afternoon trading.
"Asian markets are taking clues from [the] sharp decline in US equities on Friday," CMC Markets analyst Margaret Yang said.
Downbeat data from the US and Europe, combined with a cautious tone from the Federal Reserve, frightened investors last week.
The first inversion in the US bond yield curve since 2007 also heightened concerns, by raising fears of a recession in the world's largest economy.
The bonds, known as Treasuries in the US, are issued as a form of borrowing by governments to fund spending.
For the first time in more than 10 years, the rate of return (yield) on three-month US bonds rose above 10-year yields, something which is seen as an indicator that a recession could be coming.
US yield curve

Friday, March 22, 2019

Reuters News - Venezuela, China in focus for Trump meeting with Caribbean leaders

by Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump is set to meet with five Caribbean leaders on Friday who have sided with the United States and most Western countries in backing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as head of state.

Trump will meet with leaders from the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Saint Lucia at his private club in Palm Beach, Florida.
The response to OPEC-member Venezuela’s political crisis has split the members of the Caribbean Community, known as CARICOM.
The organization has officially advocated for talks between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and Guaido. Most of its members have rejected resolutions by the Organization of American States supporting Guaido.
Guaido, who heads Venezuela’s national assembly, invoked the constitution to assume the interim presidency in January, saying Maduro’s election last year was not legitimate. Maduro, who still has the support of Venezuela’s military, has clung to power with the support of Russia, China and Cuba.
The Caribbean region has long relied on oil and gas from Venezuela, which offered cheap financing through a program called Petrocaribe, though shipments have declined in recent years because of production problems at Venezuela’s state-owned oil company PDVSA.
The tensions put at risk regional efforts to try to capitalize on deepwater oil and gas exploration, said Anthony Bryan, a Caribbean energy expert and associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
“CARICOM is the body that speaks for energy sustainability in the region. But if you start dividing the states - as apparently an attempt is being made to do - then you, in a sense, almost sabotage from the very beginning that unity that is necessary,” Bryan said in an interview.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

BBC News - Bank keeps interest rates on hold at 0.75%

Bank of EnglandImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
The Bank of England has kept interest rates on hold amid continued uncertainty over Brexit.
All nine members of the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) voted to keep rates at 0.75%, where they have been since August last year.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Reuters News - Exclusive: How Iran fuel oil exports beat U.S. sanctions in tanker odyssey to Asia

SINGAPORE/BAGHDAD/TRIPOLI (Reuters) - At least two tankers have ferried Iranian fuel oil to Asia in recent months despite U.S. sanctions against such shipments, according to a Reuters analysis of ship-tracking data and port information, as well as interviews with brokers and traders.

The shipments were loaded onto tankers with documents showing the fuel oil was Iraqi. But three Iraqi oil industry sources and Prakash Vakkayil, a manager at United Arab Emirates (UAE) shipping services firm Yacht International Co, said the papers were forged.
The people said they did not know who forged the documents, nor when.
The transfers show at least some Iranian fuel oil is being traded despite the reimposition of sanctions in November 2018, as Washington seeks to pressure Iran into abandoning nuclear and missile programs. They also show how some traders have revived tactics that were used to skirt sanctions against Iranbetween 2012 and 2016.
“Some buyers...will want Iranian oil regardless of U.S. strategic objectives to deny Tehran oil revenue, and Iran will find a way to keep some volumes flowing,” said Peter Kiernan, lead energy analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit.
While the United States has granted eight countries temporary waivers allowing limited purchases of Iranian crude oil, these exemptions do not cover products refined from crude, including fuel oil, mainly used to power the engines of large ships.


Documents forwarded to Reuters by ship owners say a 300,000 tonne-supertanker, the Grace 1, took on fuel oil at Basra, Iraq, between Dec. 10 and 12, 2018. But Basra port loading schedules reviewed by Reuters do not list the Grace 1 as being in port during those dates.
One Iraqi industry source with knowledge of the port’s operations confirmed there were no records of the Grace 1 at Basra during this period.
Reuters examined data from four ship-tracking information providers - Refinitiv, Kpler, IHS Markit and Vessel Finder - to locate the Grace 1 during that time. All four showed that the Grace 1 had its Automatic Identification System (AIS), or transponder, switched off between Nov. 30 and Dec. 14, 2018, meaning its location could not be tracked.
The Grace 1 then re-appeared in waters near Iran’s port of Bandar Assaluyeh, fully loaded, data showed. The cargo was transferred onto two smaller ships in UAE waters in January, from where one ship delivered fuel oil to Singapore in February.
Shipping documents showed about 284,000 tonnes of fuel oil were transferred in the cargoes tracked by Reuters, worth about $120 million at current prices.
Officials at Iran’s oil ministry declined to comment.
Singapore customs did not respond to requests for comment.
The Grace 1, a Panamanian-flagged tanker, is managed by Singapore-based shipping services firm IShips Management Pte Ltd, according to data. IShips did not respond to several requests for comment via email or phone.
A Reuters reporter visited the office listed on IShips’ website but was told by the current tenant that the company had moved out two years earlier.
The ship-tracking data analyzed by Reuters showed the Grace 1 emerged from the period when it did not transmit its location almost 500 kilometers south of Iraq. It was close to the Iranian coast with its draught - how deep a vessel sits in water - near maximum, indicating its cargo tanks were filled.
The Grace 1 transferred its cargo to two smaller tankers between Jan. 16 and 22 in waters offshore Fujairah in the UAE, data showed.
One of those vessels, the 130,000 tonne-capacity Kriti Island, offloaded fuel oil into a storage terminal in Singapore around Feb. 5 to 7. Reuters was unable to determine who purchased the fuel oil for storage in Singapore.
The Kriti Island is managed by Greece’s Avin International SA.
The tanker was chartered by Singapore-based Blutide Pte Ltd for its voyage to Singapore, Avin International’s Chief Executive Officer George Mylonas told Reuters. Mylonas confirmed the Kriti Island took on fuel oil from the Grace 1.
There is no indication that Avin International knowingly shipped Iranian fuel oil. Mylonas said his firm had conducted all necessary due diligence to ensure the cargo’s legitimate origin.


Mylonas emailed Reuters a copy of a Certificate of Origin (COO) that he said was provided by the charterers – referring to Blutide - showing the Grace 1 loaded fuel oil at Basra on Dec. 10 and 12, 2018.
“The Certificate of Origin and all the information obtained did not reveal any connection with Iran, let alone that the cargo of fuel oil originated” from there, Mylonas wrote.
Mylonas said the Grace 1’s owners, managers, shippers, receivers and charterers were screened by Avin International. “There were not circumstances that would make the COO of dubious origin,” he said via email.
He said he had been told by the charterers that the Grace 1 only stopped in waters off Iran in late December and early January for “repairs of damaged diesel generators” before sailing to Fujairah.
The document provided by Mylonas says Iraq’s state oil marketer SOMO certified the Grace 1 in December loaded a total of 284,261 tonnes of Iraqi fuel oil.
Reuters shared the document with a SOMO official in Iraq who said it was “faked” and “completely wrong”. The official declined to be identified by name, citing the marketer’s communications policy.
Two other Iraqi oil industry sources with direct knowledge of Basra port and oil industry operations also said the documentation was forged.
The two sources said the document bore the signature of a manager who was not working at Basra port on the stated dates. The document also bears contradictory dates: It indicates a loading period of Dec. 10 and 12, 2018 but a sign-off date for the transaction of Jan. 12, 2018.


Data showed the second tanker into which the Grace 1 transferred cargo was the Marshal Z, also a 130,000-tonne vessel.
It was bound for Singapore in the first half of February but changed course on Feb. 15, parking off western Malaysia. Reuters was unable to determine who owns the Marshal Z, nor who chartered it.
Around Feb. 25, the Marshal Z transferred its cargo to another vessel called the Libya, owned and managed by Tripoli-based General National Maritime Transport Company (GNMTC).
A GNMTC spokesman said the Libya was chartered by Blutide, the same Singapore firm that chartered the Kriti Island.
    Blutide registered as a company in Singapore on May 14, 2018. Its sole listed shareholder and only director, Singaporean Basheer Sayeed, said by telephone on Feb. 7 he was retired and not in a position to comment on the company’s activity.
The Libya’s owner GNMTC “was not aware, at any stage that the cargo is linked in any way to Iran,” the company’s spokesman said via email.
GNMTC provided Reuters with a copy of a COO that it said was issued by shipping services company Yacht International, based in Fujairah, showing the Marshal Z loaded Iraqi-origin fuel oil during a ship-to-ship transfer in UAE waters on Jan. 23.
However, Yacht International shipping manager Prakash Vakkayil said in an email his firm did not issue the certificate and “considers it to be forged”.
The GNMTC spokesman did not respond to follow-up questions from Reuters.
    As of March 20, data showed the Libya was located alongside the Marshal Z offshore western Malaysia, the position vessels typically adopt for ship-to-ship transfers.
Reuters could not immediately determine whether the fuel oil cargo the Libya had been carrying was still aboard the ship.
Reporting by Roslan Khasawneh in SINGAPORE, Ahmed Rasheed in BAGHDAD and Ahmed Elumami in TRIPOLI; Additional reporting by Jonathan Saul in LONDON and Parisa Hafezi in DUBAI; Editing by Henning Gloystein, Christian Schmollinger and Kenneth Maxwell

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

BBC News - UK employment at highest since 1971

Men working in a factoryImage copyrightPA
The number of employed people in the UK has risen again, to a new record number of 32.7 million people between November and January, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.
The 76.1% employment rate is the highest since records began in 1971.
Unemployment fell by 35,000 to 1.34 million in the period, putting the rate below 4% for the first time since 1975.
The figure is 112,000 lower than a year ago, giving a jobless rate of 3.9%, well below the EU average of 6.5%.
Average weekly earnings, excluding bonuses, were estimated to have increased by 3.4%, before adjusting for inflation, down by 0.1% on the previous month but still outpacing inflation.
ONS senior statistician Matt Hughes said: "The employment rate has reached a new record high, while the proportion of people who are neither working nor looking for a job - the so-called 'economic inactivity rate'- is at a new record low."
Employment Minister Alok Sharma said: "Today's employment figures are further evidence of the strong economy the chancellor detailed in last week's Spring Statement, showing how our pro-business policies are delivering record employment."

Where are the new jobs being added?

The number of men in employment increased by 77,000 to a record high of 17.32 million.
The number of employed women rose by 144,000 to a record high of 15.40 million - the largest increase since February-to-April 2014.
Graph of employment figures
The UK's highest regional employment rate was in the south-west of England (79.9%), while the largest estimated increase in workforce jobs was in the south-east of England (59,000).
In December, London (91.5%) had the highest estimated proportion of people working in the services sector, while the East Midlands had the biggest proportion of production jobs (14.5%).
The ONS figures also reveal a record number of 1.67 million people working for the NHS in December - 32,000 more than a year earlier.

What has happened to unemployment?

The unemployment rates for both men and women aged 16 years and above have been generally falling since late 2013.
Men's unemployment then stood at 7.4% and women's at 6.9%.
The new total unemployment rate of 3.9% has not been lower since the November 1974 to January 2015 period.
The 4% figure for men is at its lowest since April to June 1975, while the 3.8% for women is the lowest since comparable records began in 1971.
Graph of unemployment figures
Meanwhile, the number of economically inactive people fell by 117,000 to 8.55 million, a rate of 20.7%, the lowest on record.
The number of job vacancies in the economy increased by 4,000 to 854,000.
Presentational grey line

Why are jobs, but not investment, flourishing?

By Andy Verity, BBC economics correspondent
If you were being uncharitable to politicians, you might say today's jobs figures demonstrate how little they matter. "Crisis, what crisis?" said recruiters as they hired 220,000 people in the three months to the end of January.
How can you reconcile all that job creation with talk of a Brexit-induced slowdown?
One answer is that the jobs market lags behind the rest of the economy.
Recruiting people takes time; it can be months between noticing you need some new staff and their starting work, so the recruitment decisions reflect recruiters' sentiments months ago.
Another reason may be that our jobs market is highly flexible, which is to say the risks fall on employees.
In uncertain times, a company whose order book is expanding may prefer to take on people who can be "let go" later if things go wrong.
That can be less costly than investing large sums in new plant and machinery, for example - investment which might prove wasted if demand for your goods shudders to a halt in a few months' time.
If that story is right, it helps explain why the economy is generating jobs, but not much investment.
And although there are more of us working, notably women and older people joining the workforce, the amount we each produce is barely growing. That puts a question mark over the sustainability of real wage growth of 1.4% - the strongest in more than two years.
Presentational grey line

Are companies ignoring Brexit uncertainty and continuing to hire?

It appears that Brexit is not stopping firms hiring staff - at least, not yet.
Tej Parikh, senior economist at the Institute of Directors, said: "Businesses have been steadfast in bringing on board new staff and in creating vacancies, despite question marks over the future path of the economy.
"But with uncertainty around Brexit reaching a crescendo, firms are becoming more and more cagey over their hiring decisions."
Andrew Wishart, UK economist with Capital Economics, said: "There was no sign in the labour market data of Brexit concerns at the start of the year, as the data beat expectations in every regard."
Stephen Clarke, senior economic analyst at the Resolution Foundation think tank, said that Britain was closing in on Nordic employment rates and added: "While business investment has stagnated, firms are choosing instead to invest heavily in new staff."
Wages are still ahead of inflation, despite a lower increase than last month.
Wages v inflation graph

What does this all mean for interest rates?

Analysts think that the outcome of Brexit could lead to an interest rates rise later this year.
Mr Wishart said: "If there is a long delay to Brexit or a deal is struck, we suspect the [Bank of England's] Monetary Policy Committee will raise interest rates this summer."
And Mr Parikh added: "Employers will want to avoid a disorderly withdrawal from the EU and will above all be urging policymakers to return some much-needed oxygen to the skills and productivity agenda."