Category Archives: Business

economy and business news

Fiat Chrysler to Invest $1 Billion in Michigan Plant, Add 2,500 Jobs

Fiat Chrysler Automobile said on Thursday it will shift production of Ram heavy-duty pickup trucks from Mexico to Michigan in 2020, a move that lowers the risk to the automaker’s profit should President Donald Trump pull the United States out of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Fiat Chrysler said it would create 2,500 jobs at a factory in Warren, Michigan, near Detroit and invest $1 billion in the facility. The Mexican plant will be “repurposed to produce future commercial vehicles” for sale global markets. Mexico has free trade agreements with numerous countries.

Fiat Chrysler Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne a year ago raised the possibility that the automaker would move production of its heavy-duty pickups to the United States, saying U.S. tax and trade policy would influence the decision.

If the United States exits NAFTA, it could mean that automakers would pay a 25 percent duty on pickup trucks assembled in Mexico and shipped to the United States. About 90 percent of the Ram heavy-duty pickups made at Fiat Chrysler’s Saltillo plant in Mexico are sold in the United States or Canada, company officials said.

Negotiators for the United States, Mexico and Canada are scheduled to meet later this month for another round of talks on revising NAFTA. Canadian government officials earlier this week said they are convinced that Trump intends to announce his intention to quit the agreement.

Trump has threatened to force the rollback of NAFTA, which enables the free flow of goods made in the United States, Canada and Mexico across the borders of those countries.

He also has criticized automakers for moving jobs and investment in new manufacturing facilities to Mexico and prodded them to add more auto production in the United States.

On Wednesday, Toyota Motor Corp and Mazda Motor Corp announced they would build a new $1.6 billion joint venture auto assembly plant in Alabama, drawing praise from Trump.

Vice President Mike Pence praised Fiat Chrysler’s announcement. “Manufacturing is back. Great announcement. Proof that this admin’s AMERICA FIRST policies are WORKING!” Pence said in a Twitter posting.

Chrysler raised its output in Mexico by 39 percent in 2017 to 639,000 vehicles, according to Mexican government data. That made Fiat Chrysler the third-largest producer of vehicles in Mexico in 2017, after Nissan Motor Co and General Motors Co.

The United States and Canada are the principal markets for full-size heavy-duty pickup trucks, most of which are produced in the United States by FCA, GM, Ford Motor Co, Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co.

Miguel Ceballos, FCA spokesman for Mexico, said the company in 2018 and 2019 expects more growth in Mexico, and the moment it stops producing the Ram Heavy Duty pickups it will start to produce the new commercial vehicle, “which still does not have a name,” Ceballos said.

“It is going to be for global distribution, at the moment the Ram is only distributed at the level of NAFTA,” he said. Ceballos said there was no current plan to either reduce or grow the workforce in Mexico.

GM has been readying a plant in Silao, Mexico, to build a new generation of large pickup trucks.

FCA on Thursday said it also would make a special bonus payment of $2,000 to about 60,000 FCA hourly and salaried employees in the United States totaling about $120 million.

Typically, U.S. automakers only pay bonuses to hourly workers as part of collective bargaining agreements.

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Trump’s EPA Aims to Replace Obama-era Climate, Water Regulations in 2018

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will replace Obama-era carbon and clean water regulations and open up a national debate on climate change in 2018, part of a list of priorities for the year that also includes fighting lead contamination in public drinking water.

The agenda, laid out by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in an exclusive interview with Reuters on Tuesday, marks an extension of the agency’s efforts under President Donald Trump to weaken or kill regulations the administration believes are too broad and harm economic growth, but which environmentalists say are critical to human health.

“The climate is changing. That’s not the debate. The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100? … I think the American people deserve an open honest transparent discussion about those things,” said Pruitt, who has frequently cast doubt on the causes and implications of global warming.

Pruitt reaffirmed plans for the EPA to host a public debate on climate science sometime this year that would pit climate change doubters against other climate scientists, but he provided no further details on timing or which scientists would be involved.

Pruitt said among the EPA’s top priorities for 2018 will be to replace the Clean Power Plan, former President Barack Obama’s centerpiece climate change regulation which would have slashed carbon emissions from power plants. The EPA began the process of rescinding the regulation last year and is taking input on what should replace it.

“A proposed rule will come out this year and then a final rule will come out sometime this year,” he said. He did not give any details on what the rule could look like, saying the agency was still soliciting comments from stakeholders.

He said the agency was also planning to rewrite the Waters of the United States rule, another Obama-era regulation, this one defining which U.S. waterways are protected under federal law. Pruitt and Trump have said the rule marked an overreach by including streams that are shallow, narrow, or sometimes completely dry — and was choking off energy development.

Pruitt said that in both cases, former President Barack Obama had made the rules by executive order, and without Congress. “We only have the authority that Congress gives us,” Pruitt said.

Pruitt’s plans to replace the Clean Power Plan have raised concerns by attorneys general of states like California and New York, who said in comments submitted to the EPA on Tuesday that the administrator should recuse himself because as Oklahoma attorney general he led legal challenges against it.

Biofuels and staff cuts

Pruitt said he hoped for legislative reform of the U.S. biofuels policy this year, calling “substantially needed and importantly” because of the costs the regulation imposes on oil refiners.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, ushered in by former President George W. Bush as a way to help U.S. farmers, requires refiners to blend increasing amounts of biofuels like corn-based ethanol into the nation’s fuel supply every year.

Refining companies say the EPA-administered policy costs them hundreds of millions of dollars annually and threatens to put some plants out of business. But their proposals to change the program have so far been rejected by the Trump administration under pressure from the corn lobby.

The EPA in November slightly raised biofuels volumes mandates for 2018, after previously opening the door to cuts.

The White House is now mediating talks on the issue between representatives of both sides, with input from EPA, and some Republican senators from states representing refineries are working on possible legislation to overhaul the program.

Pruitt said he also hoped Congress could produce an infrastructure package this year that would include replacing municipal water pipes, as a way of combating high lead levels in certain parts of the United States.

“That to me is something very tangible very important that we can achieve for the American people,” he said.

Pruitt added that EPA also is continuing its review of automobile fuel efficiency rules, and would be headed to California soon for more meetings with the California Air Resources Board to discuss them.

California in 2011 agreed to adopt the federal vehicle emission rules through 2025, but has signaled it would opt out of the standards if they are weakened, a move that would complicate matters for automakers serving the huge California market.

In the meantime, Pruitt said EPA is continuing to reduce the size of its staff, which fell to 14,162 employees as of Jan. 3, the lowest it has been since 1988, under Ronald Reagan when the employment level was 14,400. The EPA employed about 15,000 when Obama left office.

Nearly 50 percent of the EPA will be eligible to retire within the next five years, according to the agency.

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Walmart Hikes Minimum Wage, Announces Layoffs on Same Day

Walmart will raise entry-level wages for U.S. hourly employees to $11 an hour in February as it benefits from last month’s major overhaul of the U.S. tax code and competes for low-wage workers in a tight labor market.

But on the same day, the world’s largest retailer and private employer, officially called Wal-Mart Stores Inc, announced layoffs as it shuttered many of its Sam’s Club discount warehouse stores.

A senior company official who declined to be named said about 62 stores would be affected, about one-tenth of the chain overall.

About 50 stores will be shut permanently after a review of store profitability and up to 12 more stores will be shut and reopened as e-commerce warehouses, the person said.

Every Sam’s Club store employs about 150 workers, bringing the total number of affected jobs to about 7,500, the person said. Many of them will be accommodated in new jobs at the newly opened warehouses and other stores, the official said.

Earlier Thursday, Walmart announced the wage hike saying it would also offer a one-time cash bonus, based on length of service, of up to $1,000, and expand maternity and parental leave benefits.

Reactions

The layoffs went unaddressed but the wage increase attracted praise from the White House.

“Walmart is the largest employer in the country and to see them make that kind of effort to over a million workers is a big deal … and I think further evidence that the tax reform and tax cut package are having the impact that we had hoped,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters Thursday.

U.S. Treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin also praised Walmart’s decision to raise wages.

The timing of the store closure announcement hours after the wage hike drew some criticism.

“While pay raises are usually a good thing, this is nothing but another public relations stunt from Walmart to distract from the reality that they are laying off thousands of workers and the ones who remain will continue to receive low wages,” said activist Randy Parraz, director of Making Change at Walmart, a United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) affiliate.

Wage hikes

The pay increase, Walmart’s third minimum wage increase since 2015, and bonus will benefit more than 1 million U.S. hourly workers, the company said.

The Walmart wage hike, taking minimum pay up from the current $10 an hour after in-house training, is aimed at helping the company attract workers at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is at 4.1 percent, a 17-year low, making it harder to attract and retain minimum wage employees.

Walmart is likely to save billions of dollars from the new tax law, which slashed the corporate tax rate to 21 percent from 35 percent, and the wage hikes will cost the retailer only a fraction of those gains, analysts said.

“Given how low unemployment is, they would have had to hike wages anyway, the tax bill just made that move easier,” said Edward Jones analyst Brian Yarborough.

Rival retailer Target Corp raised its minimum wage to $11 in September, and said it would raise its minimum wage to $15 by 2020.

Walmart and Target’s new minimum wage levels exceed the state minimum wage, in all but three states, according to a research note from financial services firm BTIG. Eighteen U.S. states increased their minimum wage on Jan.1 but the federal minimum wage has been $7.25 since 2009.

Walmart’s announcement follows companies like AT&T Inc, Wells Fargo & Co and Boeing Co, which have all promised more pay for workers since the Republican-controlled U.S. Congress passed the biggest overhaul to the U.S. tax code in 30 years.

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Samsung Targeted by French Lawsuit Amid Alleged Labor Abuse

Two French rights groups have filed a lawsuit against electronics giant Samsung, accusing it of misleading advertising because of alleged labor abuses at factories in China and South Korea.

It’s the latest labor challenge to Seoul-based Samsung, which has faced growing health complaints from workers in recent years, even as profits soar thanks to its blockbuster semiconductor business.

 

The unusual lawsuit filed Thursday in Paris court by groups Sherpa and ActionAid France names Samsung Global in Seoul and its French subsidiary. It is now up to the court to decide whether to take up the case.

 

It accuses Samsung of “deceptive trade practices,” based on documents from China Labor Watch and others alleging violations including exploitation of children, excessive working hours and use of dangerous equipment and gases.

 

Samsung did not immediately comment. On its website, it says it maintains “a world-class environment, safety and health infrastructure and rigorous standards to safeguard our employees’ well-being.”

 

The lawsuit is part of larger efforts by rights groups to use French courts to hold multinationals to account for alleged wrongdoing, and to push for an international treaty against corporate abuses.

 

The groups argue that French consumers were among those deceived by Samsung’s pledges of ethical treatment of workers, and therefore French courts can rule in the case. But they want to call attention to the problem beyond French borders.

 

“We hope to make things evolve not only in France but on an international level,” said Marie-Laure Guislain, legal director for Sherpa.

 

“It’s not just about Samsung,” she told The Associated Press. “It’s the rights of workers under question.”

 

China Labor Watch has published several reports on child labor at Samsung suppliers in China based on years of undercover investigations. The New York-based nonprofit has long investigated working conditions at suppliers to some of the world’s best-known companies including Walt Disney Co. and Apple Inc.

 

In South Korea, where Samsung is a national icon, courts recently have begun to rule in favor of workers believed sickened by chemicals used in manufacturing. Many former Samsung workers have sought compensation or financial aid from the government or from Samsung for a possible occupational disease.

 

Samsung also is recovering from a management crisis, after its de facto leader Lee Jae-yong was sentenced to prison for bribery and other charges, and the departure of the heads of its semiconductor, mobile business and TV divisions.

 

 

 

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London Mayor: ‘No Deal’ Brexit Could Cost Britain about 500,000 Jobs

Britain could lose almost 500,000 jobs and 50 billion pounds ($67.41 billion) investment over the next 12 years if it fails to agree a trade deal with the European Union, according a report commissioned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Cambridge Econometrics, an economics consultancy, looked at five different Brexit scenarios, from the hardest to the softest form of Brexit, and broke down the economic impact on nine industries, from construction to finance.

The study said that in a no-deal scenario, the industry that fares the worst will be financial and professional services, with as many as 119,000 fewer jobs nationwide.

“If the Government continue to mishandle the negotiations we could be heading for a lost decade of lower growth and lower employment,” Khan said. “Ministers are fast running out of time to turn the negotiations around.”

Britain and the EU will soon begin the much harder task of defining their future trading relationship, after settling the broad terms of their divorce settlement last month.

A stand-off between Britain and the EU over the future access to single market for London’s vast financial services industry is shaping up to be one of the key Brexit battlegrounds before Britain is due to leave the bloc in March 2019.

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China Denies It May Slow Purchases of US Government Bonds

China is denying a published report that it may slow or even stop purchasing U.S. Treasury bonds.

Sources told U.S.-based financial news outlet Bloomberg Wednesday that senior government officials recommended the action as the market for U.S. government bonds is becoming less attractive, along with rising trade tensions with the United States. The Bloomberg report triggered a decline on bond markets and a selloff of the U.S. dollar during the day.

In a statement posted on its website Thursday, China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange said the Bloomberg story was either misinformation or “fake news.” The agency says the country’s huge reserves of foreign currencies are professionally managed on the basis of market conditions and investment needs.

China has the world’s largest foreign-exchange reserves at $3.1 trillion.

The U.S. Treasury Department says China holds about $1.2 trillion in Treasuries, making it the largest foreign holder of U.S. government debt.

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Disregarding Geography, Britain Hopes to Join Pacific Trade Deal

Britain is making known its hopes to one day join the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, a free trade agreement currently being negotiated by eleven countries bordering the Pacific and the South China Sea.

The British government hopes trade with fast-growing economies will make up for losses that may occur after it leaves the European Union as scheduled in 2019.

On a recent trip to China, Britain Trade Minister Liam Fox tentatively suggested his country could one day join the TPP.

“We don’t know what the success of the TPP is going to yet look like, because it isn’t yet negotiated. So, it would be a little bit premature for us to be wanting to sign up to something that we’re not sure what the final details will look like. However, we have said that we want to be an open, outward-looking country, and therefore it would be foolish for us to rule out any particular outcomes for the future,” Fox told reporters during the trip last week.

London sits some 7,000 kilometers from any Pacific coastline. So, does geography no longer matter in 21st century trade? Not so, said Jonathan Portes, an economist and professor at Kings College London.

“There has been an argument put forward that particularly as trade in services expands, and as a result of technology, it will matter considerably less in the future, and that seems to make a lot of sense. However, unfortunately, so far at least, the actual data and evidence don’t really support this contention. For whatever reason, geography at the moment seems to matter as much as it ever did,” he said.

By leaving the European Union’s Single Market and Customs Union on its doorstep, Britain will abandon a free trade agreement that accounts for about half of its global trade. In contrast, all eleven countries currently negotiating the TPP combined accounted for less than 8 percent of British goods exported last year.

Portes said it will take decades for other trade deals to make up ground.

“Our companies are in many cases very closely integrated with the European Union, meaning that there will be substantial disruption as a result of the likely implications of Brexit.”

The countries negotiating the TPP include Chile, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

During his tenure, U.S. President Barack Obama was a driving force behind TPP, but his successor, Donald Trump, pulled the United States out of the deal, claiming it would be bad for America. Negotiations between the eleven remaining countries are progressing slowly.

“The TPP, already as a consequence of the U.S. withdrawal, has its own internal problems. And they’re going to have to work out how to get that back on track,” said Portes.

But Britain’s interest in the TPP has been welcomed by some of the parties involved, particularly Australia.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to visit Asia later this year in an attempt to boost ties ahead of Brexit.

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Trump Administration Bars Oil Drilling Off Florida

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has caved in to pressure from the governor and is banning oil and gas drilling off the Florida coast.

“I support the governor’s position that Florida is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver,” Zinke said in a statement late Tuesday.

He outright admitted that Florida’s Republican Governor Rick Scott pressured him to put the state’s waters off limits.

Last week, the Trump administration proposed opening nearly all U.S. offshore waters to oil and gas drilling, reversing former Obama administration policies.

The White House has said it wants to make the U.S. more energy independent.

But environmental groups and Republican and Democratic governors from coastal states loudly object. They say oil and gas drilling puts marine life, beaches, and lucrative tourism at risk.

The Pentagon has also expressed misgivings about drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, where naval exercises are held.

The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf was the largest such disaster in U.S. history, causing billions of dollars in damage to the Gulf Coast, from Louisiana to Florida, killing more than 100,000 different marine mammals, birds, and reptiles.

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Poverty for Syrian Refugees in Lebanon Could Push Children to Marry and Work

Nearly seven years into Syria’s civil war, Syrian refugees in neighboring Lebanon are becoming poorer, leaving children at risk of child labor and early marriage, aid organizations said on Tuesday.

A recent survey by the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF, U.N.’s World Food Program, and refugee agency, UNHCR showed that Syrian refugees in Lebanon are more vulnerable now than they have been since the beginning of the crisis.

Struggling to survive, more than three quarters of the refugees in Lebanon now live on less than $4 per day, according to the survey which was based on data collected last year.

“The situation for Syrian refugees in Lebanon is actually getting worse – they are getting poorer. They are barely staying afloat,” Scott Craig, UNHCR spokesman in Lebanon, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Around 1.5 million refugees who fled Syria’s violence account for a quarter of Lebanon’s population.

The Lebanese government has long avoided setting up official refugee camps. So, many Syrians live in tented settlements, languishing in poverty and facing restrictions on legal residence or work.

“Child labor and early marriage are direct consequences of poverty,” Tanya Chapuisat, UNICEF spokeswoman in Lebanon said in a statement to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“We fear this (poverty) will lead to more children being married away or becoming breadwinners instead of attending school,” she said.

According to UNICEF, 5 percent of Syrian refugee children between 5-17 are working, and one in five Syrian girls and women aged between 15 and 25 is married.

Mike Bruce, a spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council, said without sufficient humanitarian aid and proper work Syrian families would increasingly fall into debt and more could turn to “negative coping mechanisms” like child labor and marriage.

Cold winter temperatures in Lebanon would also hurt refugees, he said.

“Refugees are less and less able to deal with each shock that they face and severe weather could be one of those shocks,” said Bruce.

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Venezuela’s Congress Declares ‘Petro’ Cryptocurrency Illegal

Venezuela’s opposition-run parliament on Tuesday outlawed a “petro” cryptocurrency promoted by socialist President Nicolas Maduro, calling it an effort to illegally mortgage the cash-strapped country’s oil reserves.

Maduro on Friday said his government would issue nearly $6 billion of petros as a way to raise hard currency and to evade financial sanctions imposed by Washington.

Cryptocurrency experts say Venezuela’s mismanagement of its own economy, combined with the ruling Socialist Party’s historic lack of respect for private property rights, will likely leave investors uninterested in acquiring petros.

“This is not a cryptocurrency, this is a forward sale of Venezuelan oil,” said legislator Jorge Millan. “It is tailor-made for corruption.”

Legislators warned investors that the petro would be seen as null and void once Maduro, who is up for re-election this year, is no longer in office. They added that the petro issue violates constitutional requirements that the legislature approve borrowing.

The Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Maduro has routinely ignored the legislature since his party lost control of it in 2016, and the pro-government Supreme Court has shot down nearly every measure passed since then.

In July, the country elected an all-powerful legislative body called the Constituent Assembly, a vote that was boycotted by the opposition.

The government of U.S. President Donald Trump described the new Constituent Assembly as the consolidation of a dictatorship, and issued sanctions barring U.S. financial institutions from acquiring any debt issued by Venezuela after mid-2017.

That has effectively blocked Maduro’s government from refinancing its hefty debt burden, and would likely add to investor concern about the petro, although it was not specifically mentioned in the sanctions measure.

Maduro hopes it will serve as a payment mechanism for foreign suppliers and avoid the payments delays that have grown more acute since the sanctions went into place.

The government plans in the coming weeks to issue 100 million petros, backed by 100 million barrels of oil reserves.

The petro’s price is initially to be pegged to the value of Venezuela’s basket of oil and fuel exports, which last week closed at $59.07.

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