Today’s compendium of notable headlines from the realms of economics, politics, and their impacts on the rest of the planet begins with the latest of Banksters Behaving Badly via Reuters:
Deutsche, Citi feel the heat of widening FX investigation
Global investigations into alleged currency market manipulation intensified on Wednesday as U.S. regulators descended on Citigroup’s London offices and Deutsche Bank suspended several traders in New York, sources told Reuters.
The presence of Federal Reserve and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency officials at Citi’s Canary Wharf office in the east of London this week comes after Citi last week fired its head of European spot foreign exchange trading, Rohan Ramchandani, following a prolonged period on leave, one source familiar with the matter said.
The suspensions of staff at Deutsche Bank in New York and possibly elsewhere in the Americas followed investigations into “communications across number of currencies,” a second source said.
Al Jazeera America reaps gold:
Banks report record profits despite massive legal fees
- Wells Fargo becomes most profitable bank, knocking out JPMorgan from the top spot
The nation’s major banks reported record fourth-quarter profits Wednesday, with Bank of America announcing that its profit jumped to $3.44 billion from $732 million in the same quarter in 2012, and Wells Fargo edging out JPMorgan Chase as the nation’s most profitable bank.
The jump represents a major turnaround for Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, the country’s second-largest bank, which was hit last year by an $11.6 billion settlement with home mortgage giant Fannie Mae.
The settlement is the result of the bank’s involvement in the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007-08, which contributed to the massive financial crisis and subsequent economic recession in the U.S. As a result of the crisis, more than 6 million homeowners have an underwater mortgage, meaning they are paying more than what their houses are worth.
Bloomberg Businessweek reads between the lines:
The Accounting Wizardry Behind Banks’ Strong Earnings
Wells Fargo (WFC) reported a personal-best $5.6 billion in fourth-quarter earnings today, overtaking JPMorgan Chase (JPM) as the most profitable U.S. bank. JPMorgan reported $5.3 billion in fourth-quarter income and $17.9 billion for all of 2013, not too shabby for a year in which the bank spent $23 billion on legal settlements.
Upon further review, however, these profits don’t look quite as robust. More than 31 percent of JPMorgan’s 2013 earnings, or $5.6 billion, and about 10 percent of Wells Fargo’s, $2.2 billion, weren’t really earned last year. That money came instead from the banks’ so-called loan-loss reserves, an accounting accrual that’s kind of like a rainy-day fund.
Lenders set aside that cash during and shortly after the financial crisis to cover future losses in case the U.S. economy got worse and consumers couldn’t pay their credit card bills, mortgages, and other loans. But collections on most consumer loans have never been better—banks tightened lending standards, plus people went back to work—so the banks are using that money to bump up earnings.
Fed Student-Loan Focus Shows Recognition of Growth Risk
Outstanding education debt exceeded $1 trillion in the third quarter of 2013, and the share of loans delinquent 90 days or more rose to 11.8 percent, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. By contrast, delinquencies for mortgage, credit-card and auto debt all have declined from their peaks.
“I’m always made very nervous by a credit market that benefits from government guarantees and is expanding very rapidly,” Jeffrey Lacker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, said in response to audience questions after a speech at a Jan. 10 Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce event in North Carolina. “That’s what we’re seeing with student loans, and it’s what we saw with housing.”
Economists at the New York Fed are analyzing student debt as part of their quarterly reports on national household credit. That project emerged six years ago as the credit crisis unfolded, when the researchers and their then-boss, Timothy F. Geithner, realized there wasn’t a good way to study total consumer borrowing.
From the Yomiuri Shimbun, futility:
Obama fails in bid to change IMF
Congress has rejected a funding request from the Obama administration that would have overhauled the International Monetary Fund. The action leaves the 188-nation group without additional resources and blocks an increase in voting power for China and other emerging markets.
The proposal was left out of the $1.01 trillion spending bill that congressional negotiators approved Monday. Both the Obama administration and IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde expressed disappointment but pledged to keep working to win congressional support.
The overhaul was adopted by the IMF’s governing board in 2010. The plan would have doubled the IMF’s lending capacity to about $733 billion.
From Bloomberg, a lack of compassion:
Moms in ‘Survival Mode’ as U.S. Trails World on Benefits
[O]nly 12 percent of workers get paid time off to care for a baby or a sick parent, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Rhode Island this month became the third state to start a paid family leave insurance program, which was initiated by California in 2004 and by New Jersey in 2009.
A bill introduced last month in Congress would create a similar model nationally. That would make more women eligible for a benefit usually offered in the U.S. only at large companies such as Bank of America Corp. or Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Papua New Guinea is the only other nation that doesn’t provide or require a paid maternity leave, according to information on 185 countries compiled by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization. It recommends 14 weeks off at a level no lower than two-thirds of previous earnings.
And more bad news for California’s Fourth Estate from LA Observed:
Register to lay off 39 more at Riverside P-E
A second round of layoffs at the Riverside Press-Enterprise since the purchase last fall by Freedom Communications includes 39 back-office, newsroom, information technology and production workers, the OC Register reports. The story explains that the newsroom losses involve “eight full-time and four part-time copy editor/designers,” but that some expected hiring of new reporters will even it out with “no net loss of jobs in the newsroom.”
Last month, the new Freedom management team in Riverside laid off 42 employees as part of the paper’s restructuring. That reduction included some newsroom positions.
Meanwhile, the nation heads further down the neoliberal road charted by the Reagan administration, with Obama even emulating the Gipper’s so-ca;;ed “enterprise zones.” From The Jacobin:
President Obama’s “Promise Zones” anti-poverty program is a Trojan horse for deregulation.
Last week, President Obama announced the creation of a handful of “Promise Zones” in deprived areas of the United States. While the policy sounds like a euphemism from a forty-year-old sex ed pamphlet, it is in fact the administration’s most recent attempt to tackle poverty in the country.
Obama has promised more than twenty such zones before the end of his term — the first five in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio, the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma, and eight counties in Kentucky. Residents of the zones can expect a bundle of deregulatory measures designed to speed up their access to pre-existing programs and encourage capital investment. These areas will be given bonus points when competing with other locales for aid from various federal programs, and businesses will be given tax breaks as incentives for moving to “Promise Zones.” Some of the locations will receive a handful of AmeriCorps volunteers as part of the program. The policy will also remove “financial deterrents to marriage” for couples on a low income as part of an attempt to “strengthen families.”
Crucially, no new federal money will be allocated.
Big boxing from The Guardian:
US files complaint against Walmart for allegedly violating workers’ rights
- Board points to disciplinary action against striking employees
- Walmart fired 19 workers who took part in protests
US officials filed a formal complaint Wednesday charging that Walmart violated the rights of workers who took part in protests and strikes against the company.
The National Labor Relations Board says Walmart illegally fired, disciplined or threatened more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in legally protected activities to complain about wages and working conditions at the nation’s largest retailer.
In These Times tallies trade pact costs:
NAFTA’s Trail of Destruction
Twenty years after NAFTA, income inequality and the trade deficit have skyrocketed.
That giant sucking sound predicted by Ross Perot commenced 20 years ago last week. It is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) vacuuming up U.S. jobs and depositing them in Mexico.
Independent presidential candidate Perot was right. NAFTA swept U.S. industry south of the border. It made Wall Street happy. It made multi-national corporations obscenely profitable. But it destroyed the lives of hundreds of thousands of American workers.
NAFTA’s backers promised it would create American jobs, just as promoters of the Korean and Chinese trade arrangements said they would and advocates of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal contend it will. They were—and still are—brutally wrong. NAFTA, the Korean deal and China’s entry into the World Trade Organization killed American jobs. They lowered wages. They diminished what America cherishes: opportunity. They contributed to the very ill that President Obama is crusading against: income inequality. There is no evidence the TPP would be any different. American workers need a new trade philosophy, one that protects them and puts people first, not corporations.
Canada next, and a depreciation from CBC News:
Loonie expected to spiral lower in 2014
- Exporters happy, but travellers and shoppers may pay
The Canadian dollar is expected to spiral lower throughout 2014, after a 3.1 per cent slide in the first two weeks of the year has taken the loonie to its lowest levels since 2009.
On Wednesday, the loonie was down 0.07 to 91.27 US before recovering to 91.42 at midday.
The stronger U.S. economy is putting pressure on the loonie, with earnings from bellwether stock Bank of America rising and U.S. job numbers in recovery. A report from the World Bank showing a recovering global economy also reflects badly on Canada.
And a global headline from the Associated Press:
IMF head urges caution to avoid harming recovery
The head of the International Monetary Fund warned policymakers on Wednesday to avoid mistakes that could derail a fragile global recovery.
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that Congress should promptly increase the U.S. government’s borrowing limit and the Federal Reserve should avoid withdrawing its financial support too rapidly.
Lagarde noted that the world economy is still feeling the impact of the Great Recession and 2008 financial crisis.
Europe next, and beyond the pale from Spiegel:
Green Fade-Out: Europe to Ditch Climate Protection Goals
Europe may be backing away from its ambitious climate protection goals.
The EU’s reputation as a model of environmental responsibility may soon be history. The European Commission wants to forgo ambitious climate protection goals and pave the way for fracking — jeopardizing Germany’s touted energy revolution in the process.
The climate between Brussels and Berlin is polluted, something European Commission officials attribute, among other things, to the “reckless” way German Chancellor Angela Merkel blocked stricter exhaust emissions during her re-election campaign to placate domestic automotive manufacturers like Daimler and BMW. This kind of blatant self-interest, officials complained at the time, is poisoning the climate.
But now it seems that the climate is no longer of much importance to the European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, either. Commission sources have long been hinting that the body intends to move away from ambitious climate protection goals. On Tuesday, the Süddeutsche Zeitung reported as much.
On to Britain and a declaration from EUobserver:
‘Reform or we leave EU,’ warns British chancellor
The UK will leave the European Union if the bloc refuses to reform, the country’s chancellor George Osborne said on Wednesday (15 January).
Speaking at the start of a two day conference on EU reform organised by the Open Europe think tank, Osborne said that the EU had to decide whether to “reform or decline”.
“It is the status quo which condemns the people of Europe to an ongoing economic crisis and continuing decline,” he added.
Contra-bluster from EUobserver:
UK to benefit from Bulgarian and Romanian migrants, study says
A Swedish economist has said Bulgarians and Romanians who work in other EU states are likely to contribute more to the economy than they take out in benefits.
A study published last week by Joakim Ruist, a research fellow at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg, found that the UK and Ireland stand to benefit the most from the net contributions.
“The UK and Ireland seem to be two countries in which there are good reasons to expect even more positive results,” Ruist told this website on Wednesday (15 January).
The Independent gets real:
UK immigration: Fewer than 30 Romanian arrivals since border restrictions lifted, says country’s ambassador to Britain
Diplomat also says ten UK companies had been in touch with his embassy, wanting to employ Romanians
Fewer than 30 Romanians have arrived in the UK since the lifting of border restrictions on New Year’s Day, the country’s ambassador to Britain estimates.
Ion Jinga offered the estimate in a comment piece in the Telgraph, insisting that the restictions’ lifting was “the beginning of a win-win game” for both countries.
On 1 January this year, people from Romania and Bulgaria gained the same working rights as other European Union citizens in eight countries, including the UK, Germany, Austria and France. It was hyped in some sections of the press as the day floods of migrants would sweep the country, further encumbering the welfare state.
But Mr Jinga wrote that these floods never materialised, though exact numbers aren’t available. In the UK, new arrivals aren’t made to register with local authorities, but he inferred the numbers from those arriving in the Netherlands, where registration is required.
Sky News offers bounties:
Vouchers For Officials Who Block Asylum Cases
The reward scheme has been set up to encourage Home Office staff to get failed asylum seekers removed from the UK.
Gift vouchers, holiday days and cash bonuses are being offered to Home Office staff who stop failed asylum seekers staying in Britain.
High street shopping vouchers worth up to £50 are dished out to immigration officers who win appeals against Government decisions that the asylum seekers should leave the country.
The incentives are offered as part of a Home Office reward scheme under which all the Whitehall department’s staff are able to win the perks.
Norway next, and business as usual from TheLocal.no:
Yara fined for ‘extraordinary corruption’
Norwegian fertiliser giant Yara International has been fined 295 million kroner ($50m) for bribing high-ranking government officials in Libya and India after an investigation by Norway’s economic crime agency Økokrim.
“It is an extraordinarily serious case of corruption,” Økokrim said in a statement. “The company bribed the oil minister in Gaddafi’s government in Libya, and a senior government official in India. The use of bribes was not a one-time event, but was used in three different countries and for contracts running over many years.”
EurActiv backs off:
Norway backpedals on EU single market compliance pledge
Though Norway promised in November it would live up to its obligations under the EU single market, the Liberal Party which supports the Norwegian government has changed its mind and said it would forge ahead with punitive taxes on imported EU goods.
For more than a year, the European Commission has complained that Norway, a country which is not an EU member state but has access to the single market via its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA), has put extra taxes on imported goods from the EU and failed to implement more than 400 directives, effectively obstructing the EU’s single market.
On 1 January 2013, Norway introduced a tax on certain imported goods, bringing the price of imported EU cheese up by 277% and the the price of imported hydrangea flowers by 72%.
Bernt Reitan, Yara’s chairman, said that the company’s own investigations backed up the bribery charge.
On to Germany, feebly, with BBC News:
German economic growth weaker than expected
Porsche cars ready for export Improvements in the eurozone and US economies are expected to boost German exports this year
Germany’s economy grew by a weaker-than-expected 0.4% in 2013 according to the first official estimates. That is down from the 0.7% growth Europe’s largest economy saw in 2012.
The preliminary figure from the German statistics agency suggests Germany saw little or no growth in the final three months of the year. However, most economists expect the economy to bounce back in 2014 with growth of up to 2%. The government is forecasting 1.7%.
Knockin’ at the door with Spiegel:
Welfare for Immigrants: EU Wants Fortress Germany to Open Up
Brussels is demanding that even foreigners who have never worked in Germany should have access to the country’s unemployment benefits if they hail from an EU member state. The EU is firing Germany’s already overheated immigration debate.
Officials with the Commission, the EU’s executive body, said last week they in no way want to water down “clauses designed to protect against benefit tourism.” At the same time, they also reiterated that they consider one of the central provisions of German social security law to be illegal. The idea that Germany can reject social support to EU nationals without a job runs counter to current EU law, they argue.
On to France with a neoliberal endorsement from the London Telegraph:
Francois Hollande vows ‘supply-side’ assault on French state, doubles down on EMU austerity agenda
French leader Francois Hollande stuns left-wing of his own Socialist Party by calling for a new economic strategy based on “supply-side” policies
French president François Hollande has vowed an “electro-shock” to lift the French economy out of deep slump, promising to shrink the elephantine state and push through a raft of pro-business reforms.
The embattled French leader stunned the left-wing of his own Socialist Party by calling for a new economic strategy based on “supply-side” policies, accompanied by €30bn of fresh spending cuts by 2017 to pave the way for lower taxes and charges on companies.
Endorsement, from EUbusiness:
Hollande measures ‘right direction’ for French economy: EU
Measures announced by French President Francois Hollande to cut public spending and business costs go “in the right direction” and will help the economy, the European Commission said Wednesday.
The steps “are in line with recommendations we made last year … they will boost competitiveness … and have a positive effect on growth and jobs in France,” Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said.
“We share (President Hollande’s) position that substantial savings have to be found … we are happy to see these measures going … in the right direction,” Bailly said.
Another endorsement from RFI:
Germany welcomes Hollande’s turn to austerity
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s right-wing party, the CDU, has welcomed French President François Hollande’s announcement of budget cuts and help to business at a much-publicised press conference on Tuesday. The French right has given the package a mixed reception.
“What the French president presented yesterday is, firstly, courageous,” Foreign Affairs Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters. “That seems to me to be the right way, not only for France, but it can also be a contribution that brings Europe as a whole a bit stronger” out of the region’s financial crisis.
And that old hard times intolerance, as administered with socialist [snicker] Hollandaise sauce by GlobalPost:
France evicted record 19,000 Roma migrants in 2013
France forcibly evicted a record 19,380 Roma migrants in 2013, more than double the figure the previous year, two rights groups said in a joint report on Tuesday.
“In comparison 9,404 Roma were forcibly evicted by authorities in 2012 and 8,455 in 2011,” the Human Rights League (LDH) and the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC) said.
“Forced evictions continued almost everywhere without credible alternative housing solutions or social support,” they said.
TheLocal.fr finds a parallel:
Big business and Europe hail ‘France’s Tony Blair’
The French President François Hollande’s planned reforms to cut labour costs for businesses by €30 billion were hailed by big business, European finance chiefs, and even his enemies on the right on Wednesday and led many to conclude that France had found its own Tony Blair.
Business leaders, European finance chiefs, the Germans and even his sworn enemies on the Right of French politics were all happy. However, there were few smiles on the Left .
This was the general reaction to Hollande’s speech given during a high profile press conference, in which he managed to dodge a grilling about his private life, to announce several planned economic reforms that included cuts to taxes, labour costs and public spending.
And on another note, this from EurActiv:
Defiance against the EU reaches record levels in France: Poll
Trust in national and European institutions has hit a record-low in France, according to a recent poll, leading to a feeling of “gloom” among a growing number of citizens, and perhaps even a rise in support for the reinstatement of the death penalty, EurActiv France reports.
“It’s not a confidence but a defiance poll this time,” said Pascal Perrineau, director of SciencesPo University’s Centre of French Political Studies (CEVIPOF).
Perrineau was addressing the press as he presented the results of a new survey about French people’s confidence in politics, carried out at the end of November among 1,803 citizens.
Since the polls began in 2009, the feeling of exasperation has become more widespread among those surveyed. For the first time, the people surveyed used the word “gloom” to define their current environment.
On to Switzerland with TheLocal.ch and the inevitable suspects:
Swiss scrap social aid for European job seekers
Bern moved on Wednesday to scrap aid for European jobhunters, as rapidly rising immigration to the country fueled fears of “benefits tourism”.
EU citizens as well as those from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway “who come to Switzerland to look for work will have no right to social assistance,” the Federal Office for Migration said in a statement.
Those who hold a Swiss residency permit but who have been unemployed for 12 months or more, would also lose the permit after five years in the country, it added.
Foreigners made up almost a quarter of Switzerland’s eight million residents last year — 3.3 percent more than in 2012, according to official data.
Spaon next, with labor news from TheLocal.es:
Spain’s first prostitute union formed in Ibiza
Prostitutes in the Spanish tourist island of Ibiza have formed a sex workers’ cooperative to pay taxes and gain social security benefits — the first such group legally registered in Spain, they say.
Eleven women registered with local authorities as working members of the Sealeer Cooperative providing sexual services, said their spokeswoman, María Josí López.
“We are pioneers,” she told AFP. “We are the first cooperative in Spain that can give legal cover to the girls.”
Europe Online continues deflating:
Spain reports lowest inflation rate in more than 50 years
Spain finished 2013 with an inflation rate of 0.3 per cent, the lowest annual increase in consumer prices since 1961, data released Wednesday by the National Statistics Institute showed.
The rate is a stark contrast to the consumer price increase of the past few years. Spain recorded an annual inflation rate of 2.9 per cent in 2012, preceded by 2.4 in 2011 and 3 per cent in 2010.
Consumer prices in most areas stagnated over the past year, including prices for culture, entertainment and apparel. Only the transportation sector recorded price increases, and a rise in fuel costs contributed to a small bump in the overall index in December.
TheLocal.es states a demand:
‘Spain must step up war on corruption’: EU
Spain needs to ramp up its fight against corruption by introducing key reforms aimed at greater transparency, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption group said in a new report released on Wednesday.
Corruption in Spain is threatening institutional credibility, said the Council of Europe anti-corruption group (Greco) in its new report.
Citing the numerous corruption scandals in the country and a general lack of public faith in the country’s politicians, the group noted that Spain was slipping in the annual ratings issued by Transparency International.
And more blowback to planned laws to restrict abortions via El País:
Extremadura PP urges government to shelve abortion reform
- Eurodeputies open new front in Brussels in united rejection of “human rights violation”
The voices of opposition to the government’s proposed reform of the Abortion Law within the Popular Party grew to a chorus Wednesday when the conservative group in the Extremadura regional assembly drew up a motion urging Mariano Rajoy’s administration to “open a process of dialogue and debate with other political forces” to seek a less divisive reform “in keeping with today’s plural and educated society, and that is in line with legislation in neighboring countries.”
Regional premier José Antonio Monago, of the PP, also stressed that the government should not push ahead with its reform unilaterally and that the new law must include “the rational combination of time periods with the regulation of specific scenarios such as fetal abnormalities, pregnancy of minors and instances of rape.”
The Portugal News brings theatrical woes:
Box office struggling
Portuguese movie theatres attracted 1.3 million fewer spectators in 2013 than the year before, translating into a year-on-year loss of more than 8.5 million euros.
According to figures from the Cinema and Audiovisual Institute last year’s drop in occupied seats is even more pronounced when compared with 2011.
After jump, the latest from Greece, Russian stagflation, Ukrainian sanctions, Latin American inflation, Aussie dollar woes, Indonesian healthcare, Chinese finances, nuclear power proliferation, GMOs, and Fukushimapocalypse Now!
Greek coverage begins with an offering from To VIma:
Samaras claims that Greece has kept its promises and “delivered”
- Prime Minister outlines the goals and policies of the Greek EU presidency before the European Parliament
The Prime Minister Antonis Samaras addressed the European Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg today and stressed that Greece has kept its promises and “delivered”, while avoiding a default with the help of Europe.
Mr. Samaras, who was accompanied by his consultants Chrysanthos Lazaridis and Stavros Papastavrou, maintained in his speech that Greece suffered due to three reasons: the mistakes made in Greece, the inherent structural problems of the Eurozone and the errors in establishing the first rescue package.
EnetEnglish.gr has cooked books:
How a deficit was baptised a surplus
- Figures boosted by €2bn in profits on Greek bonds held by the central banks in the Eurosystem
Were the methodology of the government’s own economic policy programme followed, the government’s announced €700m primary surplus would in fact be a deficit of €1bn
Serious questions arise from the finance ministry’s announcement on Tuesday that the country will have achieved at least a €700m primary surplus – amounting to 0.4% of GDP – in implementing the state budget in 2013.
To Vima deregulates:
EOF warns sale of drugs in super markers will trigger price hikes
- Ministry of Growth insists on deregulating the sale of non-prescription medication, based on an OECD report
The National Organization for Medicines (EOF) has warned that the sale of non-prescription medication, such as cough syrups, nasal sprays and anti-inflammatory medicine, in super markers will trigger a price increase for about 859 products.
While the Ministry of Health, pharmacists and EOF are all against this measure, since aside from the price increase, there are concerns about the impact on public health. On the contrary, the Ministry of Growth is in favor and intends to legislate by early February, based on an OECD report on the problems in the medicine market.
To Vima again, with electoral dreams:
SYRIZA is preparing for triple elections in May
- Opposition party is closely following the judicial developments and taking extra care in its statements
SYRIZA’s parliamentary group is scheduled to convene today at midday, with its operation regulation being at the top of the agenda. This meeting will be particularly interesting, not only due to the tension caused by the recent independence of MP Petros Tatsopoulos, but also due to the latest judicial developments.
The opposition leader Alexis Tsipras is expected to adopt a critical tone in his speech, arguing that despite the Prime Minister’s assurances, there will be triple elections in May. This is somewhat evident by SYRIZA’s uncharacteristic reserved tone in its press releases regarding the emergent Postbank scandal, which has been attributed to not wanting to “rock the boat” too much.
Kathimerini English packs heat:
Photos of Golden Dawn members brandishing guns added to case file
New photographs of Golden Dawn members posing with guns and making Nazi salutes have emerged after authorities searched the computer of the head of the party’s Nikaia cell, Giorgos Patelis, who has been linked to the murder of rapper Pavlos Fyssas in September.
Further details of the night Fyssas was stabbed to death by Golden Dawn member Giorgos Roupakias were also made public Wednesday as the recordings of conversations between the officers who were first called to the scene and the police dispatcher were added to the case file.
Keep Talking Greece opens the cell door:
Media owner Kontominas released on mammoth bail of 5 million euro
Owner of private Alpha TV Dimitris Kontominas was released on a mammoth bail of 5 million euro. Furthermore he has been prohibited from traveling abroad and he should check at a local police station twice a month. After a marathon meeting the members of judicial council decided to allow Kontominas to return home and imposed a bail unprecedented in Greece: full five million euro. The decision to release the businessman – suspect on the case of bad loans given by the Hellenic Postbank – was taken 2:1 with one judge believing he should be remanded custody.
Kontominas’ lawyers had submitted documents certifying the 75-year-old businessman was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and herniated diaphragm diseases which combined could cause cardiorespiratory problems. He was at constant risk of cardiac arrest as the businessman was sleeping with an oxygen mask, his lawyers said. Further, they focus on the personal assets of Kontominas in Greece – amounting several million euros – saying that they would provide enough guarantee that Kontominas is leading a company group with 1,400 employees.
Sanction pondering via EUbusiness:
US lawmakers mull sanctions on Ukraine
US lawmakers warned Wednesday they may slap sanctions on Ukraine and impose visa bans on its leaders amid a crackdown on pro-Western demonstrators.
“This committee isn’t deaf to those brave people whose capacity for hope and appetite for freedom has compelled them to take to the streets. The world is indeed watching,” Senator Bob Menendez told a senate committee.
He was speaking after some 50,000 Ukrainians massed in Kiev on Sunday to protest the beating of a prominent former minister and opposition leader Yuri Lutsenko.
Russia next, and bad news from Xinhua:
Economists say Russian economy in stagflation
The Russian economy has been experiencing stagflation, a nearly flat economic growth combined with a high inflation rate, a senior executive at the Russian Central Bank said Wednesday.
“In a whole group of developing economies, including Russia, we can speak about stagflation — slow economic growth accompanied by a spike in inflation,” Ksenia Yudayeva, the bank’s first deputy governor, told an economic forum here.
Economists describe stagflation as a rather rare phenomenon in a market economy because a sluggish economy growth normally reduces consumer demand, thus curbing price hikes.
Of to Latin America with inflationary news from MercoPress:
Argentine annual inflation: 28.38%, according to the Congressional index
Argentine annual inflation for 2013 was 28.38% after soaring 3.38% in the month of December alone, according to the Congressional consumer price index, which is a survey that takes the average of several consultancy firms.
Opposition leaders publish the figures to contrast them with the ones released monthly by the INDEC statistics bureau that is widely believed to have been underestimating inflation for years. The government is set to release the official 2013 inflation this week.
Another privatization from the Santiago Times:
La Nación workers protest ‘privatization’ of historic newspaper’s archives
Surprise sale of majority state-owned newspaper’s archives to private university infuriates union workers who claim sale was done in secret.
Nearly a century’s worth of historical photographs and articles printed by the only newspaper in Chile to be majority state-owned, La Nación, were sold to the private Universidad Diego Portales in a surprise transaction Friday.
With bids to begin on the predominantly state-owned newspaper Jan. 16, the government began selling off the newspaper’s assets, including La Nación’s extensive archives dating back to the founding of the paper in 1917.
Union workers opposed to the newspaper’s sale were surprised to hear of the archive’s transfer to Universidad Diego Portales, a private institution.
On to Australasia, starting with a Down Under drop from the Australian Financial Review:
$A drops as number of unemployed rises
The Australian unemployment rate remained steady at 5.8 per cent in December with the number of unemployed across the nation rising by 8000 – sending the Australian dollar down to its lowest level since 2010.
Indonesia next, with a new prescription from the Jakarta Globe:
Indonesia’s Universal Healthcare — Will it Work?
The rollout of universal health coverage in Indonesia has been greeted with public enthusiasm, but health experts warn that inadequate funding could undermine the quality of care.
The government aims to have every Indonesian covered by health insurance by 2019 under a new scheme called Jaminan Kesehatan Nasional (JKN), with nearly 20 trillion rupiah (US$1.6 billion) allocated to cover premiums for the poor in 2014.
Around 65 percent of the country’s 240 million people, including 86 million categorized as poor, are covered by some form of regional or national health program and are automatically entitled to comprehensive coverage under the JKN, which has replaced the previous health schemes.
India next, and a rapprochement approach from China Daily:
US, India officials meet to resume cooperation
Senior US and Indian diplomats met in Washington on Tuesday to discuss strains in relations between the allies over the arrest of a senior Indian consular official in New York last month on charges of visa fraud.
The meeting between US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns and India’s Ambassador to the US Subrahmanyam Jaishankar “committed to moving forward to resume cooperation on the broad range of bilateral issues before us,” the State Department said in a statement.
The meeting was the first since Devyani Khobragade, 39, who was India’s deputy consul-general in New York, was effectively expelled from the United States on January 10 after a month-long dispute between the two countries over her arrest on charges of visa fraud and underpaying her housekeeper.
But the Times of India stays prickly:
Spouses of US diplomats come under govt scanner
The Devyani Khobragade affair may be over for now but that has not stopped India from continuing to clamp down on excesses allegedly committed by US diplomats.
While India has already ruled out restoring what it describes as non-reciprocal privileges and facilitations — like special airport access and blanket immunity — it is now insisting on getting details about spouses of US officials teaching in American schools in Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai. The US has not yet provided these details or those related to the pay scale of ?Indian staff working with the US embassy and consulates.
India’s ambassador to the US, S Jaishankar, raised the issue related to American embassy schools with US deputy secretary of state William Burns in a meeting on Tuesday. One of the “privileges” India quickly wants? to put an end to is the tax exemption given to US nationals working with these schools. According to official sources, there are strong reasons to believe that some US nationals teaching in these schools don’t have the requisite work permit.
China next, with Nikkei Asian Review:
Lending in China hits record as shadow banking spreads
Aggregate financing in China reached an all-time high last year, largely due to an increase in shadow banking, or financial transactions that circumvent banks, according to data the country’s central bank released Wednesday.
Total financing grew about 10% on the year to 17.29 trillion yuan ($2.85 trillion). This indicator, unique to China, shows the amount of money supplied to society as a whole during the period covered. It includes bank loans, corporate bond issuances and lending by parties other than banks.
Yuan-denominated bank loans accounted for 51.4% of total credit, down 0.6 percentage point from the previous year. But business-to-business lending — the main type of shadow banking — doubled to 2.55 trillion yuan. Funding through trust firms grew about 40%. These two types of shadow funding made up 25% of the total, up from 16% in 2012.
People’s Daily has great expectations:
Foreign banks expect rewards from China’s reform: PwC survey
Foreign banks are seeking opportunities through China’s financial reform, according to a survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers(PwC).
Ambitious reforms were announced late last year, including interest rate liberalization and yuan internationalization; challenging but laden with opportunities for commercial banks.
“China’s macroeconomy dramatically changed in 2013. Future policy and regulatory changes, such as RMB internationalization and interest rate liberalization, will have a dramatic impact on the strategies of foreign banks,” remarked one foreign banker in the survey.
The Japan Times exposes:
Corruption probe lifts lid on graft in Chinese military
- Top general accused of land grabs, lining his pockets with gold, grog
Under the cover of night, investigators last year hauled away four truckloads of plunder, including gold statues and boxes of high-end liquor that were allegedly part of the ill-gotten gains of a Chinese general under investigation for corruption, a financial magazine reported.
The investigation, corroborated in an online forum by a National Defense University professor in what was considered an official confirmation, highlights rampant corruption within the Chinese military. Details of the case, against Lt. Gen. Gu Junshan, may never be announced publicly because it is most likely to go before a military tribunal.
The highly regarded financial newspaper, Caixin, published several articles Tuesday on the rise of Gu to a position of great influence within the military and the investigation against him, including details about confiscated goods and a mansion he built modeled on the Forbidden City in Beijing.
SINA English prognosticates:
China-Japan trade outlook remains grim
Trade between China and Japan is expected to continue its lackluster trend in 2014 owing to prolonged political tensions and structural change in East Asia, experts said.
Last year, trade between the world’s second-and third- largest economies declined despite the depreciation of the Japanese yen and China’s achievement of becoming the world’s largest goods trader.
“Political tensions were primarily responsible for the trade slide last year. Economic factors were a secondary reason. The islands dispute and the war shrine visit of Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in late December have frozen bilateral ties. This could never have avoided affecting trade relations,” said Zhang Jifeng, a researcher from the Institute of Japan Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a top government think tank.
And straight to Japan for hands across the Pacific from Nikkei Asian Review:
Japan gains an interest group in US Congress
A pair of U.S. lawmakers have started Congress’ first caucus on Japan and will urge the Obama administration to work with the Japanese government on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other matters.
Tokyo had longed to have such a platform for Japan-related issues on Capitol Hill. Its creation raises hopes for a more vocal Japan lobby in Washington.
Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, and fellow House of Representatives member Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat, are looking to expand their new Japan Caucus, which gets down to business soon.
Next up, Fukushimapocalypse Now!
First, holding back with the Japan Daily Press:
Japan delays energy plans amid public concern regarding nuclear power
The Japanese government is now looking to delay the planned announcement on the country’s long-term energy strategy, this amid increasing signs of public concern against Japan returning to a dependency on nuclear power. Drafts of this plan were made public in December, and the information was very clear about using nuclear power as a way to “stabilize Japan’s energy supply-demand structure.” The administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is known to be supportive of nuclear power, but the public clamor against it may cause problems for the government.
“We are hoping to proceed as soon as possible, but we have received about 19,000 public comments,” said Trade and Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Tuesday after the regular Cabinet meeting. “We shouldn’t decide on it too hastily,” he said. Abe’s pro-nuclear stance is a sharp opposite to the plan by the previous government to phase out nuclear power, a decision made after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster. The long-term energy plan of Abe’s administration was set to be made public around the middle of January, but public opinion may give the government pause.
Navy Times makes demands:
Lawmakers seek data on sailors’ exposure to Fukushima radiation
House and Senate lawmakers want answers on whether U.S. sailors received high doses of radiation while supporting humanitarian operations in Japan following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.
In the fiscal 2014 omnibus budget bill, lawmakers direct Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson to provide Congress a full accounting of those who served on the carrier Ronald Reagan during the operation and any medical problems they later developed.
A group of sailors has filed suit against Tokyo Electric Power Co., alleging they suffered health issues as a result of exposure to radiation leaked from the company-owned Fukushima nuclear power plant when it had a meltdown after the earthquake and subsequent tidal wave.
NHK WORLD turns thumbs down:
TEPCO rejects arbitration body’s settlement plan
The operator of the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has reportedly rejected an arbitrator’s proposal to settle compensation claims by evacuees over their health concerns.
A group of evacuees from Iitate, a village located near the plant, told reporters on Wednesday that Tokyo Electric Power Company had told them it cannot accept the settlement.
They quoted the utility as saying that the grounds for the settlement are not clear.
The Japan Times drives off:
Taxi firm refuses to serve anti-nuclear lawmaker
A taxi company in Tsuruga, Fukui Prefecture, home to a nuclear power plant, refused service to Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Masatoshi Akimoto last week due to his stance against atomic power, the company said Wednesday.
A company employee refused a request from Akimoto’s office for a taxi to take the House of Representatives member on a tour of the Tsuruga nuclear power plant and related facilities next Monday.
According to the firm, the employee who answered the call from Akimoto’s office saw the lawmaker’s website and found his stance against nuclear power.
Seeking approval with NHK WORLD:
Nuke waste storage operator applies for safety check
The operator of an intermediate nuclear waste storage facility being built in Japan has applied for safety screening ahead of its planned start of operations next year.
Recyclable-Fuel Storage Company is owned by 2 nuclear power plant operators, Tokyo Electric Power Company and Japan Atomic Power Company.
On Wednesday, Recyclable-Fuel Storage applied for safety screening with the Nuclear Regulation Authority.
The Japan Times gives the nod:
Tepco business plan, including July reactor restarts, gets official OK
The government approved Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s revised 10-year business plan Wednesday that includes its hope to restart reactors at its Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant in Niigata Prefecture in July.
Faced with drastic increases in the cost of fuel for thermal power to compensate for its idled nuclear reactors, Tepco management considers the Kashiwazaki restarts key to its financial health.
“We had to set a temporary timeline of when to restart reactors to make the business plan. But we cannot predict anything for sure,” Tepco President Naomi Hirose said.
More from Kyodo News:
Gov’t OKs new business turnaround plan for TEPCO, to give more aid
The government on Wednesday approved a new business turnaround plan for Tokyo Electric Power Co., ensuring more financial aid from the state for the utility facing huge compensation payments and other major problems from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.
In line with the plan, TEPCO will seek to restart its idled Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear complex from July and carry out reforms to survive competition expected to intensify through the upcoming shakeup of the overall power sector.
The plan also sets a target of deciding at the end of fiscal 2016 whether to release TEPCO from state control by reducing the ratio of voting shares currently owned by a government-backed fund to less than 50 percent from the current more than 50 percent.
Still more [$19.2 billion] from Jiji Press:
TEPCO Asks for 2 T. Yen in Fresh Loans
Tokyo Electric Power Co. asked creditor banks Wednesday to extend 2 trillion yen in fresh loans which it said will be necessary over the medium to long term.
TEPCO made the request to creditors including Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. and the Development Bank of Japan in a new reconstruction plan approved by the government on Wednesday.
Nikkei Asian Review gets skeptical:
Uncertain fate of key nuclear plant clouds Tepco turnaround
Tepco has a new road map for getting back on its feet, but it lacks prospects for restarting the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant — which is a prerequisite for a corporate recovery — and total costs for dealing with the 2011 nuclear accident remain unclear.
These uncertainties threaten to derail the utility’s rehabilitation efforts despite the high expectations for the management reforms to be spearheaded by incoming Chairman Fumio Sudo.
“We will make big changes to existing management methods and business models,” Sudo said at a news conference Wednesday evening, after the government approved the utility’s new turnaround plan.
NHK WORLD finds fault:
Niigata governor criticizes TEPCO business plan
The governor of Niigata Prefecture, which hosts a nuclear plant run by Tokyo Electric Power Company, has criticized the utility’s 10-year business plan.
Niigata Governor Hirohiko Izumida said on Wednesday that the plan appears impossible to realize.
He said a company that has yet to sum up the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima plant is unqualified to run nuclear reactors.
The Mainichi shrugs:
Fukushima evacuees show tepid response to Tokyo gubernatorial candidates’ nuclear policies
Japan’s nuclear power policy has come under the spotlight following former Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa’s announcement of his candidacy in next month’s gubernatorial race, but for many Fukushima Prefecture residents who have evacuated to Tokyo the race bears little meaning for them.
As of December last year 8,048 people who evacuated in the aftermath of the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, tsunami, and ensuing nuclear disaster were living in the capital. Around 1,100 of them reside in Shinonome Jutaku, a residential complex for civil servants in the capital’s Koto Ward. Most of these residents are from Fukushima Prefecture.
NHK WORLD dons reading glasses:
Japan to accept IAEA nuclear security assessment
Japan’s nuclear watchdog says it will allow a team from the International Atomic Energy Agency to assess security at the country’s nuclear facilities.
The decision came at a regular meeting of the Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday. It is the first time the NRA has agreed to such a move.
NRA member Kenzo Oshima said the Authority will listen to opinions from abroad to reinforce Japan’s security measures and identify points for improvement.
And an agricultural protest from Tokyo Times:
Activist farmer moves back to Fukushima, raises nuclear cows as a protest
Masami Yoshizawa, a Japanese farmer who used to live in the radioactive land of Fukushima, came back to his farm and gathered all the abandoned cows in the area. He is now raising the nuclear cows as a sign of protest against what he considers the Japanese government’s attempts to sweep away the inconvenient truths of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Yoshizawa is protecting the animals against the government’s killing orders.
“These cows are living testimony to the human folly here in Fukushima,” said Yoshizawa, 59. “The government wants to kill them because it wants to erase what happened here, and lure Japan back to its pre-accident nuclear status quo. I am not going to let them.”
Meanwhile, the nuclear industry rushes on, first with this from JapanToday:
Toshiba boosts UK nuclear plans with NuGen deal
Toshiba has agreed to buy 60% of the NuGen UK nuclear joint venture between GDF Suez and Spain’s Iberdrola for 102 million pounds, boosting Britain’s plans to replace its ageing nuclear fleet.
Toshiba’s Westinghouse unit will provide three of its AP1000 nuclear reactors, with a combined capacity of 3,400 megawatts (MW), for construction on the NuGen Moorside nuclear site in northern England, the companies involved said on Tuesday.
The first reactor is due to come online in 2024, they added.
And SINA English doubles up:
East China nuclear plant to double generation capacity in 2014
The Ningde Nuclear Power Station in east China’s Fujian Province will double its generation capacity in 2014 as its second generating unit is expected to be put into commercial use in the first half of this year, a company source said Wednesday.
The second generating unit, which has an installed capacity of 1.09 million kilowatts, went into operation on Jan. 4 and is expected to be in commercial use in the first half of this year, according to a press conference organized by the Fujian Ningde Nuclear Power Co. Ltd., the operator of the plant.
The first generating unit went into operation in April 2013. It produced about 7 billion kilowatt-hours (kwh) of electricity last year.
And for our final item, the shape of things to come? From People’s Daily:
China vows “active, cautious” GMO food stance
An official has stressed China’s “active and cautious” policy toward genetically modified (GMO) food, with the safety certificates for the country’s GMO rice and corn expiring soon.
The Ministry of Agriculture will continue to scrutinize the commercial production of GMO food, vowed Chen Xiaohua, deputy minister of the MOA, on Wednesday.
Chen’s comments in response to a question at a press conference put the spotlight on the hot issue as the safety certificates for China’s GMO rice and corn are scheduled to expire this year and their commercial production is yet to be started.