Today’s collection of headlines from the realm of human transactions and their consequences begins with the jaded avocations of the big winners. From The Guardian:
Super rich shift their thrills from luxury goods to costly experiences
- Gourmet dining, private flights, bespoke safaris, slimming clinics and art auctions emerging as top status symbols
They say money can’t buy happiness but the world’s super rich are still giving it their best shot, spending $1.8tn (£1.1tn)last year on luxury goods and services – with extreme holidays, gourmet dining and art auctions emerging as the status symbols du jour.
“Luxury is shifting rapidly from ‘having’ to ‘being’ – that is, consumers are moving from owning a luxury product to experiencing a luxury,” said BCG senior partner Antonella Mei-Pochtler. “They already have the luxury toys; the cars and the jewellery.”
Of the $1.8tn spent on luxuries in 2013, according to BCG an estimated $1tn went on services – from private airline flights to luxury slimming clinics, to a five-star hospital stay where the patient will be waited on by a butler and the en-suite facilities include a marble bath.
The £1.1tn spent is slightly more than the wealth controlled by the poorest half of the world’s population – 3.5 billion people. Oxfam recently estimated their combined wealth at £1tn in a report on inequality, where it pointed out that this sum was the same as the wealth controlled by the world’s richest 85 billionaires.
Warnings of things to come from the London Telegraph:
Currency crisis at Chinese banks ‘could trigger global meltdown’
- A rise in foreign funding at China’s banks poses a threat for international lenders
The growing problems in the Chinese banking system could spill over into a wider financial crisis, one of the most respected analysts of China’s lenders has warned.
Charlene Chu, a former senior analyst at Fitch in Beijing and now the head of Asian research at Autonomous Research, said the rapid expansion of foreign-currency borrowing meant a crisis in China’s financial system was becoming a bigger risk for international banks.
“One of the reasons why the situation in China has been so stable up to this point is that, unlike many emerging markets, there is very, very little reliance on foreign funding. As that changes, it obviously increases their vulnerability to swings in foreign investor appetite,” said Ms Chu in an interview with The Telegraph.
Reuters covers losses:
Emerging market funds lose $9 billion in past week: data
Investors yanked $9 billion from emerging stock and bond funds during a turbulent past week, with equities seeing their biggest outflow in 2-1/2 years, banks said on Friday citing data from Boston-based fund tracker EPFR Global.
EPFR had released data to clients late on Thursday showing emerging equity funds lost $6.3 billion in the week to January 29, the biggest weekly outflow since August 2011.
This week has seen some major falls in emerging currencies’ exchange rates, with central banks forced into rate rises or market interventions to limit the swings. Those currency losses and rate rises have put pressure on bond and stock holdings, forcing exits.
The New York Times brings it closer to Casa esnl:
Parched, California Cuts Off Tap to Agencies
Acting in one of the worst droughts in California’s history, state officials announced on Friday that they would cut off the water that it provides to local agencies serving 25 million residents and about 750,000 acres of farmland.
With no end in sight for the dry spell and reservoirs at historic lows, Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources, said his agency needed to preserve what little water remained so it could be used “as wisely as possible.”
It is the first time in the 54-year history of the State Water Project that water allocations to all of the public water agencies it serves have been cut to zero. That decision will force 29 local agencies to look elsewhere for water. Most have other sources they can draw from, such as groundwater and local reservoirs.
But the drought has already taken a toll on those supplies, and some cities, particularly in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, rely almost exclusively on the State Water Project, Mr. Cowin said.
MintPress News eases up:
CA Law Enforcement Proposes Softening Drug Laws
If passed, those convicted for drug possession would be sent to substance-abuse treatment centers, sentenced to probation or ordered to perform community service, instead of being incarcerated.
For decades, law enforcement officers across the U.S. have fought the war on drugs by locking users behind bars. But since that strategy hasn’t proven to be successful in the slightest, some officers in California have come together to propose reducing charges for the simple possession of all drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor.
One of the proposal’s biggest supporters is San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, who is working with San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne to push for the inclusion of such a measure on the state ballot this fall.
If passed, those convicted for drug possession, including heroin, would be sent to substance-abuse treatment centers, sentenced to probation or ordered to perform community service, instead of being locked behind bars. Unlike a felony, a misdemeanor charge would not appear on an individual’s permanent record.
The Guardian condescends to profit:
US newspapers fall out over ‘dead peasant’ insurance
Two weeks ago, the publisher of two Californian newspapers – the Orange County Register and Riverside Press-Enterprise – laid off 39 employees, including eight full-time newsroom staff and four part-time sub-editors and designers.
It was part of a restructuring programme by Freedom Communications, following 42 redundancies in December, as it seeks to centralise Press-Enterprise production at the Register’s offices.
Then Freedom followed up that bad news by sending an email to the staff who remain informing them that the company wishes to buy life insurance for them.
But the beneficiaries of the million-dollar-plus policies will not be the employees or their families, but the company’s pension scheme.
A writer in the Los Angles Times (the Register’s rival), Michael Hiltzik, referred to the plan as a “ghoulish corporate strategy”. He went on to explain that it is not illegal – it’s known formally as COLI (“company owned life insurance”).
More losers from Al Jazeera America:
More jobless Americans losing benefits every week
- Unemployment rate remains stubbornly high, as Congress fails to renew payments for more than 1.5 million on the dole
The lifeline of long-term unemployment benefits ended for at least 1.5 million Americans at the end of December, and more will see their payments cut each week that Congress fails to act. Almost 38 percent of the unemployed had been out of work for 27 weeks or more as of December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While the unemployment rate is down to 6.7 percent from 10 percent in October 2008, at the height of the recession, 10.4 million people remained out of work in December.
The Guardian loads up the money bin:
Google reports 17% revenue rise for fourth quarter
- Results come a day after search giant sells Motorola Mobile
- Low-cost mobile ads chip away at the price for online ads
Google’s revenues climbed 17% in the final quarter of 2013, the company announced Thursday, but low-cost mobile ads chipped away at the price the tech giant commands for online ads.
The company’s results came a day after it announced it was selling Motorola Mobile for a fraction of its purchase price. Google’s consolidated revenue, which includes the money-losing Motorola smartphone business, rose to $16.86bn for the quarter from $14.42bn in the fourth quarter of 2012. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected $16.75bn. Profits rose 17% to $3.38bn, or $9.90 a share, up from $2.89bn, or $8.62 per share, for the same period last year.
From The Hill, Hillary-ous idiocy:
Mont. House candidate calls Hillary Clinton ‘Antichrist’
Montana House candidate Ryan Zinke, the early Republican front-runner for Montana’s open House seat, called former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the “Antichrist” in a recent campaign appearance, according to a local newspaper.
“We need to focus on the real enemy,” he said referring to Clinton, according to the Big Fork Eagle, before calling her the Antichrist.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, is one of six Republicans in a crowded field to replace Rep. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), who is running for the Senate. He’s emerged as the early front-runner in the GOP primary due to his fundraising prowess. Zinke raised $450,000 in the last three months of 2013 and has $350,000 in the bank.
Bloomberg plays the middle:
House Republicans’ Economic Agenda Targets Middle Class
U.S. House Republican leaders are preparing an economic agenda that includes energy proposals aimed at lowering utility bills and countering President Barack Obama’s focus on income inequality, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News.
The agenda includes voting on an alternative measure to Obama’s health-care law and re-authorizing a funding program for career and technical education. The framework is designed to reach middle-class voters whose wages have remained stagnant even as the U.S. economy improves.
The broad outline was distributed to Republicans yesterday at a private meeting in Cambridge, Maryland, where lawmakers are concluding a three-day policy retreat today. Republicans, largely blamed for the 16-day partial government shutdown in October, want their positions to be seen as an alternative to those of Obama and the Democrats.
The Guardian spots the flaw:
The problem with retirement savings: making enough money to save
- The president’s new MyRA plan is a tiny, positive step for Americans, but it won’t help so long as wages are shrinking
Americans don’t have a problem saving for retirement. The real issue is that Americans aren’t making enough money.
There’s no question that a retirement crisis is looming. The numbers just don’t work for many Americans right now. For instance, do you think you can live on only $575 a month? That’s for rent, food, utilities, and transportation as well as any fun you may want to have. Probably not: an income of $575 a month is well below the federal poverty line. Yet that’s the estimate of how much the average American with a 401k plan will be able to earn from his or her nest egg. And about half of all Americans don’t even have a 401k plan, often because their employer doesn’t offer one.
Across the Atlantic with Europe Online:
Annual eurozone inflation unexpectedly falls in January
Annual eurozone inflation unexpectedly fell in January, according to data released Friday, adding to deflation fears and increasing pressure on the European Central Bank to deliver a new interest rate cut.
The cost of living in the 18-member currency bloc dropped to 0.7 per cent in January, from 0.8 per cent in December, the European Statistics Office Eurostat said.
The fall in consumer prices took inflation further away from the ECB’s annual inflation target of below but close to 2 per cent.
Bothering BBC News:
Fall in eurozone inflation rate fuels deflation concerns
Calls for European Central Bank action to help protect the eurozone’s fragile recovery have grown after the release of inflation and jobless data.
Official figures showed that eurozone inflation fell to 0.7% in January, down from 0.8% in December and further below the ECB’s 2% target.
It has fuelled worries about whether the euro bloc could suffer deflation, potentially de-railing economic growth.
Separate data showed the unemployment rate in December was unchanged at 12%.
Edible insecurity from EurActiv:
Food security hindered by seed market dominance, MEPs warn
The EU seed market is dominated by a few large seed businesses rather than a diverse range of smaller companies, which has implications for the continent’s food security, says a report commissioned by European Parliament Green group.
Five companies control about 95% of the vegetable seed sector and 75% of the maize market share specifically, according to the report, presented in the European Parliament on Wednesday (29 January).
The assertion goes against European Commission and seed industry’s position that the market, and the five dominant companies, is made up of some 7000 mainly small and medium-sized entreprises, allowing for healthy competition.
“This is simply not true. The EU seed market is not healthy. It is not diversified,” said Bart Staes, a Green MEP from Belgium who presented the report, ‘Concentration of market power in the EU seed market’.
On to Britain with The Guardian:
Real wages have been falling for longest period for at least 50 years, ONS says
- Real wages have been falling by 2.2% a year in the longest sustained period of falling real wages in the UK on record
Real wages have been falling consistently since 2010, the longest period for 50 years, according to the Office for National Statistics, adding that low productivity growth seems to be pushing wages down.
Real wage growth averaged 2.9% in the 1970s and 1980s, 1.5% in the 1990s, 1.2% in 2000s, but has fallen to minus 2.2% since the first quarter of 2010, the ONS figures showed.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Over the last four years British workers have suffered an unprecedented real wage squeeze.
All or none with EUbusiness:
British PM pledges renewed EU referendum push
British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged Friday to force through parliament a bill guaranteeing an in-or-out referendum on EU membership by the end of 2017, after the upper house killed off legislation.
He pledged to wield the Parliament Act, which enforces the supremacy of the elected lower House of Commons over the appointed upper House of Lords.
The act is only rarely used to overcome the Lords blocking the will of the Commons. It has only ever been enacted a handful of times since it was introduced in 1911.
Norway next, with an exclusive from TheLocal.no:
Norway oil fund blacklists Israeli firms
Norway’s huge sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, blacklisted two Israeli companies involved in construction of settlements in East Jerusalem, the country’s finance ministry said Thursday.
The ban on investing in the firms revived a three-year prohibition on them that the Government Pension Fund of Norway had dropped in August last year.
The companies are Africa Israel Investments, an Israeli real estate developer, and its construction subsidiary Danya Cerbus.
The ministry cited the company’s alleged “contribution to serious violations of individual rights in war or conflict through the construction of settlements in East Jerusalem,” a territory where Israel’s claims are not recognised by the international community.
On to Amsterdam and an austerian retreat from DutchNews.nl:
Single parents on welfare benefits ‘won’t have to apply for jobs’
The government has agreed to drop plans to force single mothers with young children and on welfare benefits to apply for jobs.
Kees van der Staaij, leader of the orthodox Christian party SGP, broke the news during a debate organised by the religious paper Nederlands Dagblad. Talks between junior social affairs minister Jetta Klijnsma and opposition parties on reaching a compromise on the reforms are currently ongoing.
Klijnsma wants to shake up the welfare system by making sure claimants are actively looking for work and introducing work for welfare schemes. But she needs the support of opposition parties to get the changes through the upper house of parliament, where the government does not have a majority.
Germany next, first with TheLocal.de:
US view of Germany ‘better than ever’
Despite America’s reputation in Germany taking a hit over the NSA spying scandal, Americans have a more positive impression of Germany than at any time in the last 12 years, according to a study released on Thursday.
The annual Magid study, which has been conducted every year since 2002, included questions on US-German relations as well as Germany’s role in Europe.
Carried out at the end of 2013, it found 60 percent of Americans had an excellent or good impression of Germany, particularly on economics, education and technology.
Germany was also seen as an economic leader and was chosen as the country best suited to lead Europe out of its debt crisis, followed by Great Britain and the US.
Europe Online declines:
German Christmas retail sales unexpectedly slump
German retail sales fell during the key Christmas shopping season, according to data released Friday, setting back hopes of private consumption emerging as a driving force behind growth in Europe’s biggest economy.
Retail sales fell 2.5 per cent in real terms in December, after gaining 0.9 per cent in November. Analysts had expected retail sales to increase by 0.2 per cent.
Year-on-year, retail sales also posted a surprise fall, dropping by 2.4 per cent in December, compared with a 1.1-per-cent rise in November.
Another decline from RFI:
France deports fewer illegal immigrants in 2013
French Interior minister Manuel Valls has announced that 27,000 illegal immigrants were deported in 2013, 9,000 fewer than in 2012. The right-wing opposition slammed the Socialist government’s performance as “laxism”.
Some 46,000 undocumented immigrants were given papers to stay, 10,000 more than the previous year, the figures, published Friday, showed.
Parliamentary elections 2012
They are the first official review of government migration policy since François Hollande came to power in May 2012.
TheLocal.fr hits the bricks:
Thousands march for traditional family values
Tens of thousands of people marched in Paris and Lyon on Sunday against new laws easing abortion restrictions and legalising gay marriage, accusing French President Francois Hollande’s government of “family phobia”.
Police said 80,000 people took to the streets of the French capital, creating a sea of blue, white and pink – the colours of the lead organising movement LMPT (Protest for Everyone) – who gave a far higher turnout figure of half a million.
Demonstrator Philippe Blin, a pastor from nearby Sevres, said he felt a “relentlessness against the family” in France.
At least 20,000 rallied in Lyon, many of them ferried in aboard dozens of buses, waving placards reading “Mom and Dad, There’s Nothing Better for a Child” and “Two Fathers, Two Mothers, Children With No Bearings” — a slogan that rhymes in French.
While France 24 notes odd political bedfellows:
Muslims join Paris protest against gender equality drive in schools
Tens of thousands of supporters of the conservative “Manif pour Tous” movement gathered in Paris on Sunday to protest against gender equality teaching in schools and fertility treatment for same-sex couples.
Sunday’s march included a prominent Muslim contribution in a protest movement, originally opposed to gay marriage legislation that was passed in 2013, that has so far been overwhelmingly linked to far-right political parties and to conservative Catholic groups.
The “Manif Pour Tous” (MPT) mounted huge protests before legislation was passed in 2013 allowing gay marriages. Its focus now is on a family law, due to be debated later in the spring, which would allow for medically-assisted procreation (MAP) and IVF treatment for same-sex couples.
Many protesters also told FRANCE 24 they were worried about the state’s role in sex education, and the supposed “gender theory” lurking behind an “ABCD of equality” initiative aimed at breaking down gender stereotypes in schools.
From Spain, a countermarch from TheLocal.es:
Thousands join Madrid abortion-rights rally
Thousands of pro-choice campaigners converged on the Spanish capital Saturday to voice their opposition to a government plan to restrict access to abortion in the mainly Catholic country.
Demonstrators shouting slogans and carrying banners that read “It’s my right, It’s my life” crowded around a Madrid station to greet a “freedom train” of activists from northern Spain for the country’s first major protest against the plan.
Under pressure from the Catholic Church, Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s conservative government announced on December 20th it would roll back a 2010 law that allows women to opt freely for abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
The new law — yet to pass parliament, where the ruling People’s Party enjoys an absolute majority — would allow abortion only in cases of rape or a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother.
Xinhua takes vows:
Spanish PM Rajoy promises fiscal reform, tax cuts
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy promised on Sunday to see through a program of fiscal reform in the remaining two years of his mandate.
Speaking to close the national convention of his ruling Popular Party (PP), Rajoy said he would continue with the program of reforms his party have introduced in the slightly over two years since they have been in power.
“We will carry out fiscal reform: of course we will,” said Rajoy, who said it would be “an integral reform which will stimulate growth and employment in line with the recovery of the country.”
The ultimate human austerian cost from TheLocal.es:
Spain’s suicide rate highest in eight years
Figures from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics (INE) show a surge in the suicide rate but heart attacks remain the leading cause of death.
The most recent data from 2012, released on Friday, reveals that 402,950 people died in Spain, some 15,039 (3.9 percent) more than in 2011.
There were 3539 suicides (2,724 men and 815 women), up 11.3 percent from the year before, a rate of 7.6 per 100,000 inhabitants. The figures were the highest since 2005.
According to official broadcaster RTVE, suicide was second only to cancer (15 percent of deaths) in the overall 25-34 age group, but the leading cause of death in young men (17.8 percent).
A Fourth Estate loss from TheLocal.es:
Corruption-probing newspaper chief sacked
Spain’s leading centre-right newspaper El Mundo said on Thursday it was dismissing its director Pedro J. Ramirez, under whose leadership the daily broke a series of political corruption stories.
Ramirez’s scoops included a report last year of alleged secret payments to members of Spain’s ruling party, which forced Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to fight off calls to resign.
The paper has vigorously pursued stories of corruption on the right and left, including allegations of fraud involving former officials in the Socialist-run southern region of Andalusia.
The usual suspects, doing quite well, via TheLocal.es:
Spain’s top banks enjoy 2013 profit surge
Top Spanish banks have reported a 2013 profit surge, predicting better times ahead after taking hefty losses in Spain and other crisis-hit eurozone nations.
Santander, BBVA and CaixaBank said they had emerged stronger from banking troubles that led to a 41-billion-euro ($56 billion) rescue of their weaker rivals in Spain.
All Spanish banks have had to set aside money for losses on assets, pounded by the collapse in 2008 of a decade-long property boom.
At the same time, they have been obliged to boost the ratio of rock-solid core capital on their balance sheets.
Analysts say risks remain in the sector, with doubtful loans rising in November to 13.08 percent of all credit extended by Spanish banks, the highest since records began in their existing form in 1962.
Xinhua takes us to Portugal:
Portuguese protest against gov’t austerity measures
Thousands of Portuguese staged a protest Saturday against government austerity measures in the downtown of capital Lisbon.
General Confederation of the Portuguese Workers, or CGTP, who organized the demonstration, called for the Portuguese to struggle against the government, oppose the exploitation and poverty and demand for salary rise, employment and welfare.
Raising high placards, the demonstrators marched from Cais Sodre railway station towards Restaurante Square in downtown Lisbon, chanting slogans against government austerity measures and calling for the government to step down.
Italy next, and a populist movement critiqued via AGI:
M5S has been shown ‘excessive’ tolerance, says Letta
Italy’s Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, said “excessive levels of tolerance” had been shown to the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) following recent controversy.
The group promised to never sit peacefully in parliament again after the President of the Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, used the hotly debated ‘guillotine’ to swiftly convert a decree on the IMU property tax into law, culminating in the group demanding her resignation, as well as the impeachment of Italian President Giorgio Napolitano.
“I think there has been an excessive level of tolerance towards methods falling outside those allowed by democratic rules”, Letta stated during a press conference. “Both the accusations towards President Napolitano and behaviour in parliament must be strongly and clearly condemned”.
After the jump, the ongoing Greek crisis, Ukrainian posturing, Argentine financial woes, Indian uncertainty, Thai electoral turmoil, Malaysian misery, mixed signals from China, Japanese anxieties, ecological disasters, and Fuksuhimapocalypse Now!. . . Continue reading