All posts by MBusiness

Anti-Corruption Police Arrest Latvian Central Bank Chief

Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis assured the country and Europe “there is no sign of danger,” after anti-corruption police arrested the head of the Latvian central bank Saturday.

“For now, neither I, nor any other official, has any reason to interfere with the work of the Corruption Prevention Bureau,” Kucinskis said.

Neither Kucinskis nor the police gave any reason why central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics was arrested. But a police spokeswoman said there will be an announcement “as soon as possible.”

The Latvian government plans an emergency meeting Monday.

Along with heading the Baltic nation’s central bank, Rimsevics is also one of 19 governors on the European Central Bank.

The U.S. Treasury Department has proposed sanctions against a major Latvian bank for alleged money laundering linked to North Korea’s weapons program.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

US Commerce Department Urges Curbs on Steel, Aluminum Imports

The Commerce Department is urging President Donald Trump to impose tariffs or quotas on aluminum and steel imports from China and other countries.

Unveiling the recommendations Friday, Secretary Wilbur Ross said in the case of both industries “the imports threaten to impair our national security.”

As an example, Ross said only one U.S. company now produces a high-quality aluminum alloy needed for military aircraft.

Raise US capacity

The measures are intended to raise U.S. production of aluminum and steel to 80 percent of industrial capacity. Currently U.S. steel plants are running at 73 percent of capacity and aluminum plants at 48 percent.

Ross emphasized that the president would have the final say, including on whether to exclude certain countries, such as NATO allies, from any actions.

China’s Commerce Ministry said Saturday that the report was baseless and did not accord with the facts, and that China would take necessary steps to protect its interests if affected by the final decision.

Last year, Trump authorized the probe into whether aluminum and steel imports posed a threat to national defense under a 1962 trade law that has not been invoked since 2001. He has to make a decision by mid-April.

Three options

Ross is offering the president three options:

To impose tariffs of 24 percent on all steel and 7.7 percent on aluminum imports from all countries.

To impose tariffs of 53 percent on steel imports from 12 countries, including Brazil, China and Russia, and tariffs of 23.6 percent on aluminum imports from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. Under this option, the U.S. would also impose a quota limiting all other countries to the amount of aluminum and steel they exported to U.S. last year.

To impose a quota on steel and aluminum imports from all sources, limiting each country 63 percent of the steel and 86.7 percent of the aluminum they shipped to the U.S. last year.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Massive Fraud at Indian State-Owned Bank Linked to Celebrity Jeweler

The uncovering of one of the biggest frauds at a state-owned bank in India has rocked the country’s financial sector and brought scrutiny to a billionaire jeweler who counted Hollywood stars among his customers.

The nearly $1.8 billion fraud reported at India’s second-largest state-owned bank is a blow to the government’s efforts to revive the state-owned banking sector, which is already staggering under a mountain of bad debt.

Nirav Modi, whose jewelry boutiques span high-end streets from Hong Kong to London to New York and whose diamonds have been worn by Hollywood stars such as Dakota Johnson and Kate Winslet, is being investigated for the fraudulent transactions. His brand ambassador is Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who has also carved a niche in the United States.

The fraud, which officials say had been going on from a single branch of Punjab National Bank in Mumbai, went undetected since 2011. Calling it a “cancer,” the bank’s chief executive, Sunil Mehta, told a news conference earlier this week that it had been removed. “We will resolve it and we will honor all our bona fide commitments.”

Officials at the bank have accused Modi and his companies of obtaining unauthorized letters of undertaking from junior employees to secure credit from overseas branches of Indian banks. 

Modi has not responded to the allegations and, according to some reports, left the country last month. His home, stores and offices were raided by Indian investigators. His passport is being revoked, according to the Law and Justice Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“No one will be spared,” he said. “The taxpayers’ money will not be allowed to be lost. The investigation is proceeding with great speed and pace.”

Modi, whose worth is estimated at about $1.74 billion, is the 85th richest man in India, according to Forbes. Belonging to a family of diamond traders, the soft-spoken businessman founded a company called Firestone Diamond in 1999 — later rechristened Firestar Diamond — and quickly made a name in the business. He later set up his own jewelry design brand and won the rich and famous among his customers.

In January, he attended the economic summit in Davos, where a large Indian business delegation was present, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two are not related. 

The fraud, which went undetected for years, has reignited concerns about governance standards at Indian banks and norms that are used for lending to corporate customers. Questions have been raised as to why audits failed to detect the fraud for years.

It came to light weeks after the government announced a $14 billion bailout for state banks. These banks, which account for about two-thirds of all bank assets in the country, are the backbone of the financial system, but are saddled with bad debt estimated at $147 billion.

Economists have warned that this mountain of bad loans threatens India’s efforts to accelerate its economy as it slows down efforts by banks to lend to potential investors.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Massive Fraud at Indian State-Owned Bank Linked to Celebrity Jeweler

The uncovering of one of the biggest frauds at a state-owned bank in India has rocked the country’s financial sector and brought scrutiny to a billionaire jeweler who counted Hollywood stars among his customers.

The nearly $1.8 billion fraud reported at India’s second-largest state-owned bank is a blow to the government’s efforts to revive the state-owned banking sector, which is already staggering under a mountain of bad debt.

Nirav Modi, whose jewelry boutiques span high-end streets from Hong Kong to London to New York and whose diamonds have been worn by Hollywood stars such as Dakota Johnson and Kate Winslet, is being investigated for the fraudulent transactions. His brand ambassador is Bollywood star Priyanka Chopra, who has also carved a niche in the United States.

The fraud, which officials say had been going on from a single branch of Punjab National Bank in Mumbai, went undetected since 2011. Calling it a “cancer,” the bank’s chief executive, Sunil Mehta, told a news conference earlier this week that it had been removed. “We will resolve it and we will honor all our bona fide commitments.”

Officials at the bank have accused Modi and his companies of obtaining unauthorized letters of undertaking from junior employees to secure credit from overseas branches of Indian banks. 

Modi has not responded to the allegations and, according to some reports, left the country last month. His home, stores and offices were raided by Indian investigators. His passport is being revoked, according to the Law and Justice Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad.

“No one will be spared,” he said. “The taxpayers’ money will not be allowed to be lost. The investigation is proceeding with great speed and pace.”

Modi, whose worth is estimated at about $1.74 billion, is the 85th richest man in India, according to Forbes. Belonging to a family of diamond traders, the soft-spoken businessman founded a company called Firestone Diamond in 1999 — later rechristened Firestar Diamond — and quickly made a name in the business. He later set up his own jewelry design brand and won the rich and famous among his customers.

In January, he attended the economic summit in Davos, where a large Indian business delegation was present, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two are not related. 

The fraud, which went undetected for years, has reignited concerns about governance standards at Indian banks and norms that are used for lending to corporate customers. Questions have been raised as to why audits failed to detect the fraud for years.

It came to light weeks after the government announced a $14 billion bailout for state banks. These banks, which account for about two-thirds of all bank assets in the country, are the backbone of the financial system, but are saddled with bad debt estimated at $147 billion.

Economists have warned that this mountain of bad loans threatens India’s efforts to accelerate its economy as it slows down efforts by banks to lend to potential investors.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Iraq’s PM Declares Country Open for Business

Iraq’s prime minister was in Kuwait this week, selling his country as a promising investment opportunity. After years of war and sectarian violence, Iraq is moving toward stability and wants to attract the private sector to help fund its $88 billion reconstruction and recovery effort. From the Kuwaiti capital, VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports investors are interested.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Mexico, US Express Cautious Optimism on NAFTA Deal

Top U.S. and Mexican officials on Thursday expressed cautious optimism that the North American Free Trade Agreement will be renegotiated, speaking ahead of the next round of trade talks later this month.

Asked on local television whether it was more likely the $1.2 trillion trilateral trade pact would survive or die, Mexico’s Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray said there was cause for optimism, though Mexico should be prepared for all eventualities.

“We should be prepared for a future with or without NAFTA,” he said.

In Washington, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said it was a priority for the Trump administration to renegotiate NAFTA, declining to speculate on the consequences if the United States withdraws from talks.

The seventh round of negotiations in Mexico City will take place Feb. 25 to March 5, starting and ending a day earlier than initially planned.

There is a “window of opportunity” for concluding the talks in March or April, said Moises Kalach, head of the international negotiating arm of Mexico’s CCE business lobby.

“That’s the objective,” Kalach told reporters.

Talks to renegotiate the 1994 pact have stalled as Canada and Mexico are at loggerheads with the United States over some of the most contentious proposals its negotiators have put on the table.

“I am cautiously hopeful that [U.S. Trade Representative] Ambassador Lighthizer will be renegotiating this deal,” Mnuchin told the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade matters in the U.S. Congress.

“It is a major priority of ours,” he added U.S. President Donald Trump has called NAFTA one of the worst deals in history, blaming it for U.S. manufacturing job losses, and has threatened to quit the agreement unless he can rework it to better suit U.S. interests. His remarks have unsettled financial markets.

At the last round in Montreal, Canada made several proposals to address the U.S. insistence on raising the North American content of autos. Washington also wants a clause that would allow any member to withdraw after five years.

The early March deadline for concluding talks has been extended to at least early April, officials have said. But participants have conceded privately it could take months longer.

If talks run past Mexico’s July presidential election, Mexico’s private sector will work with the president-elect to update NAFTA, Kalach said.

The current frontrunner, leftist contender Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has said Mexico should suspend talks until after the election.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Airbus Expects Strong Growth, Looks Past Plane Troubles

Shares in European plane maker Airbus flew higher on Thursday after the company reported improved earnings and was more upbeat about the future following problems to several of its key aircraft programs.

 

The company said that it surged to a net profit of 1 billion euros ($1.25 billion) in the fourth quarter, from a loss of 816 million euros a year earlier, while revenue was stable around 23.8 billion euros. Airbus delivered a record 718 aircraft last year and expects that figure to rise further in 2018, to 800.

 

CEO Tom Enders credited “very good operational performance, especially in the last quarter.”

 

Shares in the company jumped about 10 percent on Thursday in Paris. Investors seem optimistic that the company is putting behind it the worst of its troubles with three airplane production programs.

Airbus, which is based in Toulouse, France, said it took another charge of 1.3 billion euros on its A400 military plane, which has had cost overruns for years. It said, however, that it had reached a deal with the governments that are buying the planes on a new delivery schedule that should rein in any new charges on the program.

 

The company also acknowledged that it had had more struggles with engines supplied by Pratt & Whitney for the A320neo, a narrow-body plane that’s popular with regional airlines. The supplier had had problems with the engines last year, which it fixed, but reported a new issue more recently that could affect 2018 deliveries, Airbus said.

 

Another of Airbus’ troubled plane models, the A380 superjumbo jet, now has a more stable outlook after the company reached a deal with Emirates airline that will cover the cost of production for years.

 

The various problems with these production programs risked overshadowing what was otherwise a strong year for Airbus in terms of earnings, as global demand for commercial aircraft grows. Airbus raised its dividend by 11 percent and said it expects one of its key earnings metrics — earnings before interest and tax — to rise 20 percent in 2018.

 

 

 

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

Fries, Not Flowers: Fast-Food Chains Try to Lure Valentines

Is that love in the air or french fries? White Castle, KFC and other fast-food restaurants are trying to lure sweethearts for Valentine’s Day.

It’s an attempt to capture a bit of the $3.7 billion that the National Retail Federation expects Americans to spend on a night out for the holiday. Restaurant analyst John Gordon at Pacific Management Consulting Group says it appeals to people who don’t want to splurge on a pricier restaurant. And some customers enjoy it ironically.

White Castle, which has been offering Valentine’s Day reservations for nearly 30 years, expects to surpass the 28,000 people it served last year. Diners at the chain known for its sliders get tableside service and can sip on its limited chocolate and strawberry smoothie. KFC is handing out scratch-and-sniff Valentine’s Day cards that give off a fried chicken aroma to diners who buy its $10 Chicken Share meals or a bucket full of Popcorn Nuggets.

Panera Bread wants couples to get engaged at its cafes; those who do can win food for their weddings from the soup and bread chain. And Wingstop sold out of its $25 Valentine’s Day kit, which came with a gift card and a heart-shaped box to fill with chicken wings. The company says 1,000 of the kits were gone in 72 hours.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

US Inflation Increases Most in a Year

The U.S. on Wednesday reported its biggest increase in consumer prices in a year, pushing stocks lower in early trading.

The consumer price index, which follows the costs of household goods and services, advanced by a half percentage point in January, up from two-tenths of a point in December.

The January increase pushed the year-over-year inflation rate up by 2.1 percent. It was the same 12-month rate recorded in December, increasing fears among investors that firming inflation, along with increasing wages paid to American workers, could lead policymakers at the country’s central bank, the Federal Reserve, to boost interest rates at a faster pace.

The Labor Department said consumer prices, minus the volatile changes in food and energy costs, rose three-tenths of a percentage point in January, the largest increase since January 2017. Analysts had been expecting an increase of 0.2 percent.

Stock indexes were lower at the start of Wednesday, with the key Dow Jones industrial average falling about a third of a percentage point after a string of recent days with massive swings between losses and gains.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!

NYC E-Bike Ban is Disaster for Immigrant Delivery Workers

Electric powered bicycles, known as “e-bikes,” are a common sight among New York’s immigrant delivery workers, who consider the bikes a necessity to make a living wage. The problem is, they’re illegal to operate in the city, creating a dilemma for these immigrants who feel they have no alternative employment options. VOA’s Ramon Taylor and Ye Yuan report.

$1*/ mo hosting! Get going with us!