Category Archives: Business

economy and business news

Stock Sell-off Creates Market Jitters

Recent losses on global financial markets, including those in the U.S., have some investors concerned about expectations for their holdings and plans for the future.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 2.5 percent Friday, its largest percentage drop since Britain’s decision in June 2016 to leave the European Union.

The Dow and the broader U.S. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index ended the week roughly 4-percent lower, their biggest weekly drops since early 2016, amid fears of inflation and disappointing quarterly corporate earnings results.

Key stock indexes in Europe also fell Friday. Germany’s DAX index dropped 1.7-percent, while France’s CAC 40 Index declined 1.6-percent.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 Index slid nearly 1-percent and South Korea’s Kospi fell 1.7-percent.

Meanwhile, U.S. bond yields climbed and contributed to the sell-off after the U.S. government reported that wages grew last month at their fastest pace in eight years.

The wage data helped stoke investor concern that the Federal Reserve, the U.S. central bank, will respond to higher inflation by hiking its key interest rate more quickly than anticipated.

Darrell Cronk, head of the Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said an extended period of low interest rates has helped create the uncertainty.

“We’ve enjoyed low interest rates for so long, we’re having to deal with a little bit higher rates now, so the market is trying to figure out what that could mean for inflation.”

The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury notes rose to 2.852-percent, its highest level in more than four years. The rise in bond yields hinders stock performance in two ways: it makes corporate borrowing more expensive and it makes bonds more attractive to investors compared to riskier stocks.

Bond strategists were unwilling Friday to predict what lies ahead for interest rates this week after the markets’ unusual volatility in the past week.

Investors may get a hint of the direction of interest rates when trading resumes in Asia early Monday, and possibly more insight after the U.S. Treasury’s $66 billion in auctions of 3-, 10- and 30-year bonds from Tuesday to Thursday.

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Guest Workers Leave Behind Big Houses, Ghost Neighborhoods

Over the last decades, growing economic hardships forced people in cities and villages around the world to leave their hometowns to find work in other countries. Dreaming of returning one day and enjoying a better life where they grew up, many invested most of their savings buying houses back home. But often, these houses remain empty, making many communities look like ghost towns. Faiza Elmasry has the story. Faith Lapidus narrates.

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Tillerson Visits Argentina to Talk Conservation, Economics

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s Latin American tour took him Saturday to Argentina, where he talked with officials about conservation and diplomacy.

Traveling from Mexico City after meeting with the Mexican president and other senior officials on Friday, Tillerson arrived in Bariloche, a lakeside resort town in Argentina’s Nahuel Huapi National Park.

Local news reports said Tillerson met with park rangers to discuss progress made in joint U.S.-Argentine projects on science and conservation issues. He also met with a student selected for the U.S. Fulbright scholarship program.

Tillerson was scheduled to visit the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires, to meet with his counterpart, Jorge Faurie.

On Monday, Tillerson is set to meet with Argentina President Mauricio Macri to discuss regional issues, including upcoming elections and the political crisis in Venezuela.

Before his visit, Tillerson told reporters that he hoped other countries would follow Argentina’s lead on making economic reforms and generating growth.

On Friday in Mexico, Tillerson said that immigrants bring “enormous value” to the U.S., but added the U.S. government lacked “good discipline” in regulating who enters the country to live.

‘Out of normal order’

After meeting in Mexico City with Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Videgaray and Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, Tillerson told reporters the U.S. had put “many mechanisms in place” over the years to control immigration, but had “never gone back to clean this up.”

“Let’s make sure we have systems in place where we understand who’s coming into the country,” Tillerson said. He said immigration in the U.S. had “gotten out of normal order,” which is why President Donald Trump is pushing Congress to “fix these defects that have risen over the years.”

The Mexican government has repeatedly expressed opposition to Trump’s proposals to curb illegal immigration and have Mexico pay for a reinforced border wall.

Differences over the issue did not preclude Videgaray from praising the U.S. He said the Mexican government’s relationship with the Trump administration was “closer” than it was under former President Barack Obama’s administration. Videgaray acknowledged the two countries “do have some differences” but said “we are working closely and we are about results.”

Tillerson later held a closed-door meeting with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto during a time when relations have also been strained by U.S. threats to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

NAFTA, which Trump alleges costs American jobs, was discussed at the trilateral meeting, along with energy development and drug interdiction.

Tillerson’s travels through Latin America will also take him to Peru and Colombia, with a final stop in Jamaica on February 7.

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Former Utah Monument Lands Open to Claims, but No Land Rush in Sight

The window opened Friday for oil, gas, uranium and coal companies to make requests or stake claims to lands that were cut from two sprawling Utah national monuments by President Trump in December, but there doesn’t appear to be a rush to seize the opportunities.

For anyone interested in the uranium on the lands stripped from the Bears Ears National Monument, all they need to do is stake a few corner posts in the ground, pay a $212 initial fee and send paperwork to the federal government under a law first created in 1872 that harkens back to the days of the Wild West.

They can then keep rights to the hard minerals, including gold and silver, as long as they pay an annual fee of $155.

It was unclear if anyone was doing that Friday.

​Inquiries, but no claims yet

The Bureau of Land Management declined repeated requests for information about how they’re handling the lands and how many requests and claims came in.

The agency says it must comply with a complex web of other laws and management plans.

Steve Bloch, legal director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said he was told by the BLM Friday afternoon that inquiries were made but no claims sent in.

He said other conservation groups that have sued to block the downsized monument boundaries are watching closely to ensure no lands are disturbed in the short-term, hoping a judge will side with them and return the monuments to the original boundaries.

Two of the largest uranium companies in the U.S., Ur-Energy Inc. and Energy Fuels Resources Inc., said they have no plans to mine there. The price of uranium, which has fallen to about $22 per pound, down from more than $100 in the mid-2000s, would “discourage any investment in new claims,” said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

Colorado-based Energy Fuels asked for a reduction of Bears Ears last year in a public comment, but spokesman Curtis Moore said in a statement that the company has higher priorities elsewhere. He noted the lands were open to claims for 150 years before President Barack Obama creating the national monument in 2016.

“There probably isn’t any land available for staking that would be of much interest to anyone,” Moore said.

Coal in Grand Staircase-Escalante

In Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, part of a major coal reserve that a company was preparing to mine before President Bill Clinton protected the lands in 1996, has been made available again but it appears unlikely any company will immediately jump at the chance this time.

Out-of-state demand for Utah’s coal had led to a drop in coal production to about 14 million tons in 2017, down from about 27 million tons in the mid-2000s, said Michael Vanden Berg, energy and mineral program manager at the Utah Geological Survey.

“If a new mine were to open, it would be competing with existing mines in Utah for limited demand,” Vanden Berg said.

Popovich called it “doubtful given market conditions and other factors” that companies interested in coal would put in a lease request.

Vanden Berg noted that a potential coal port in Oakland, California, could open up an Asian market and that technology could be developed to change market forces.

Oil and gas potential

There’s some potential for oil and gas at Grand Staircase, Vanden Berg said. But Kathleen Sgamma, president of an oil and gas industry group called Western Energy Alliance, said heavy oil shale in the area would require an intensive mining operation that doesn’t make sense in today’s market.

“There’s no fracking trucks at the border waiting to rush in,” Sgamma said.

President Trump downsized the Bears Ears National Monument by about 85 percent and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by nearly half. It earned him cheers from Republican leaders in Utah who lobbied him to undo protections by Democratic presidents that they considered overly broad.

Bears Ears, created nearly a year ago, will be reduced to 315 square miles (815.85 square kilometers). Grand Staircase-Escalante will be reduced from nearly 3,000 square miles (7,770 square kilometers) to 1,569 square miles (4,063.71 square kilometers).

Conservation groups called it the largest elimination of protected land in American history.

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Britain Buys Into China’s ‘One Belt’ Initiative, but Washington Offers Warning

Britain has made clear its desire to be part of China’s so-called ‘One Belt One Road Initiative’ — a cornerstone of President Xi Jinping’s vision to boost Chinese investment and influence across Asia, Europe and Africa. There are, however, concerns over the financial and humanitarian costs of the vast infrastructure projects being undertaken. As Henry Ridgwell reports, the United States has issued a blunt warning over what it sees as the dangers of being tied to China’s huge investment projects.

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US Stocks Swoon, Sending Dow Down More Than 650 Points

U.S. stocks slumped Friday, pulling down the Dow Jones industrial average by more than 650 points and handing the market its worst week in two years.

Technology, banks and energy stocks accounted for much of the broad slide. Several major companies, including Exxon Mobil and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, sank after reporting weak earnings.

Fears of rising inflation sent bond yields higher and contributed to the stock market swoon after the government reported that wages grew last month at the fastest pace in eight years.

The sharp drop follows a long period of unprecedented calm in the market. Stocks haven’t had a pullback of 10 percent or more in two years, and hit their latest record highs just one week ago.

“We’ve enjoyed low interest rates for so long, we’re having to deal with a little bit higher rates now, so the market is trying to figure out what that could mean for inflation,” said Darrell Cronk, head of the Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

The increase in bond yields hurts stocks in two ways: it makes it more expensive for companies to borrow money, and it also makes bonds more appealing to investors than riskier assets such as stocks.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 59.85 points, or 2.1 percent, to 2,762.13. That’s the biggest loss for the benchmark index since September 2016. The S&P 500 has lost 3.9 percent since hitting a record high a week ago.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 665.75 points, or 2.4 percent, to 25,520.96. The Nasdaq slid 144.92 points, or 2 percent, to 7,240.95. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 32.59 points, or 2.1 percent, to 1,547.27.

Rise in interest rates

While interest rates are still low by historical standards, meaning borrowing is still relatively cheap for businesses and people, they’ve been rising more swiftly, and that’s what has markets on edge.

“The pace of rate increases is more important than the level,” said Nate Thooft, senior portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management.

The increase in rates has been driven by the prospect of stronger economic growth, and higher inflation, in the U.S. and abroad.

Bond prices declined again Friday, pushing yields higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, a benchmark for interest rates on many kinds of loans, including mortgages, climbed to 2.83 percent, the highest level in roughly four years. The rate was at 2.41 percent four weeks ago and 2.66 percent on Monday.

“Once we started going north of 2.5 percent, and you put that together with an overbought market, it had the ingredients of a sell-off, especially since January was so strong,” said Jeff Zipper, regional investment strategist at U.S. Bank Private Wealth Management.

The S&P 500, which many index funds track, soared 5.6 percent in January, its biggest monthly gain since March 2016.

The expectation among investors has long been for a gradual rise in interest rates, as the Federal Reserve slowly pulls back from the stimulus that it implemented for the economy amid the Great Recession. But if rates rise more quickly than expected, it could upset markets.

The key concern is that the Fed will respond to higher inflation by raising its key interest rate more quickly than expected. The government’s latest job and wage data stoked those concerns Friday.

U.S. jobs

U.S. employers added a robust 200,000 jobs in January, slightly above market expectations for an 185,000 increase. Meanwhile wages rose sharply, suggesting employers are competing more fiercely for workers. The figures point to an economy on strong footing even in its ninth year of expansion, fueled by global economic growth and healthy consumer spending at home.

That’s good news for Main Street USA, but not for Wall Street. Investors fear the pickup in hourly wages, along with a recent uptick in inflation, may make it more likely that the Fed will raise short-term interest rates more quickly in the coming months. Some economists were predicting Friday that the central bank will raise its benchmark rate four times this year, rather than the three times most previously expected.

“With financial conditions continuing to ease and core price inflation also starting to pick up, we expect this will persuade the Fed to hike rates four times this year,” Andrew Hunter, an economist with Capital Economics, wrote in a published note Friday.

The market slide may have been overdue, particularly after the strong start for stocks this year where the S&P 500 had its best January in two decades.

The global economy is still strong, corporate profits and sales have been better than expected this reporting season and buyers for stocks still remain, all reasons to be optimistic about stocks, said Nate Thooft, senior portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management.

“It’s appealing, these 2 to 3 percent pullbacks,” said Thooft, who had been trimming some of his stock holdings after the market’s big January gains. “We look at this and say, ‘Maybe it’s your first day to buy a little bit.'”

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Dow Falls More Than 600 Points as Stocks’ Slide Continues

Stocks closed sharply lower in New York on Friday, extending a weeklong slide, as the Dow Jones industrial average plunged more than 600 points. 

The drop capped stocks’ worst week in two years. The Dow’s drop was its biggest in percentage terms since June 2016.

Several giant U.S. companies’ shares dropped after reporting weak earnings, including Exxon Mobil and Alphabet. Apple and Chevron also fell.

Bond yields rose sharply after the government reported the fastest wage growth in eight years, stoking fears of inflation.

The Dow fell 665 points, or 2.5 percent, to 25,520.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index dropped 59 points, or 2.1 percent, to 2,762. The S&P is down almost 4 percent since hitting a record high a week ago.

The Nasdaq was off 144 points, or 2 percent, to 7,240.

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Britain Embraces China’s ‘One Belt’ Initiative; Washington Offers Warning

Britain has made clear its desire to be part of China’s so-called “One Belt One Road” initiative — a cornerstone of President Xi Jinping’s vision to boost Chinese investment and influence across Asia, Europe and Africa. But there are concerns about the financial and humanitarian costs of the vast infrastructure projects being undertaken.

British Prime Minister Theresa May recently visited Beijing, leading a delegation of ministers and business leaders in an effort to boost trade after Britain’s European Union exit. The two countries signed deals worth $12.7 billion, and May hailed a “golden era” of Sino-British relations.

Her ambassador to Beijing, Barbara Woodward, earlier outlined Britain’s hopes of cooperating in China’s “One Belt One Road” initiative.

“The first is, we’d like to collaborate on practical projects,” she said. “The second area where we’d like to collaborate with China is bringing some of our city of London financing experience. Because these projects are big projects, particularly infrastructure, they require complex funding mechanisms.”

Too complex, according to some.

Approximately 9,500 kilometers away in Uganda, one of China’s latest “One Belt One Road” projects is nearly complete. Soaring above the muddy swamp between the capital, Kampala, and its airport, the new 51-kilometer (31-mile) four-lane expressway was built by the China Communications Construction Company. Its $580 million cost was met with a loan from Beijing.

Kampala’s mayor, Erias Lukwago, says the price is too high.

“Even these Chinese who are coming here from — even these commercial banks we are borrowing from, Exim Banks and what not, the burden will finally come on our shoulders as Ugandans, our children and grandchildren will have to shoulder this burden which is very, very unfortunate,” Lukwago said.

Through the “One Belt” initiative, China has invested across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and even into eastern Europe.

However, Britain’s decision to get involved should not be taken lightly, warns Barnaby Willitts-King of the Overseas Development Institute.

“Particularly in fragile parts of the world where China’s Belt and Road initiative is going to be running through, there are a lot of potential risks around humanitarian concerns, environmental concerns, that I think focusing on just on a trade deal might overlook,” Willitts-King said. “But it’s also got an advantage. The U.K. has worked and invested in a lot of these countries over the years. And it could actually provide some very practical advice to China.”

Washington has gone further in its criticism of China’s trade and foreign policy.

“China, as it does in emerging markets throughout the world, offers the appearance of an attractive path to development. But in reality, this often involves trading short-term gains for long-term dependency,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Thursday, ahead of his trip to Latin America.

Many emerging economies welcome China’s investments, and the involvement of countries such as Britain. However, there are concerns that mounting debts will cause big problems further down the road. 

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India Announces Raft of Measures for Rural Development

With an eye on general elections next year, India has announced several populist measures that include a health insurance program for 500 million people, and billions of dollars for rural development and affordable housing in its annual budget.

 

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the measures aimed at improving “ease of living” for citizens, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas.

 

The announcements came amid widespread rural distress due to falling crop prices. Several farmers protests, sometimes violent, took place last year.

In a country where two thirds of the 1.3 billion people depend on agriculture, there are growing worries the anger in the countryside will pose a challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government when it seeks reelection next year.

Saying “my government is committed to the welfare of the farmers,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley added the government would focus on building rural infrastructure such as roads and irrigation projects, as well as opening new agricultural markets to help farmers get better prices for their crops.

Jaitley promised to sharply increase the price at which government buys food grains for its stocks and said that agricultural trade, which is restricted, will be liberalized to allow farmers direct access to markets.

“We consider agriculture as an enterprise and want to help farmers to produce more from the same land parcel at lesser cost, and simultaneously realize higher prices for their produce,” he said.

Much attention was also focused on the health insurance plan unveiled by the government, which Jaitley called the “world’s largest.” It aims to give medical coverage of about $7,800 to 100 million poor families annually.

The measure is significant in a country where poor people are often forced to sell their assets, such as land and jewelry, to pay for healthcare. Government hospitals, which provide free medical facilities are inadequate and overcrowded, and private hospitals are usually unaffordable for lower income groups, who seldom have health insurance. The government also said it would build more health centers in rural areas.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the budget would spur the country’s development. “It is farmer-friendly, common-man friendly, business environment friendly and development-friendly.”

Jaitley said economic growth, which witnessed a downturn last year, was picking up and Asia’s third largest economy was “firmly on path to achieve eight percent plus growth soon.”

 

But even as the government is making its massive outreach to rural areas, there are worries that it also faces growing disaffection because it has been unable to meet its pledge to create millions of jobs for India’s young population. It was a key plank that catapulted Modi to power in 2014.

 

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