News That Matters

Lehman Brothers has ended the largest-ever corporate bankruptcy, emerging from Chapter 11 and announcing it will begin making its first payouts to clients next month, reports the FT. However, many disputes surrounding the defunct investment bank remain,

Norway’s state-controlled energy group Statoil is in pole position to buy the Brazilian business of US-listed explorer Anadarko for about $3bn, which would mark the latest big foray by a global oil group into the South American country,

Allen Stanford, the billionaire Texas banker who was once knighted by the government of Antigua, was convicted of stealing $7bn in customer money to fund a high end lifestyle that involved sponsorship of an international cricket tournament,

Greece has threatened to default on any of its bondholders who do not take part in a €206bn debt restructuring that officials believe is key to returning Athens to solvency, a move that turns up the heat on potential holdouts ahead of a deadline on Thursday,


Brazil has overtaken the UK to become the world’s sixth-largest economy despite Latin America’s biggest growth engine sharply decelerating last year in its second worst performance in nearly a decade,

The US and five other world powers agreed on Tuesday to reopen talks with Iran on its nuclear programme in a move seen by many diplomats as a last chance to forge a negotiated solution to the crisis and avoid an air strike by Israel,

Vietnam’s central bank governor has announced plans to cut interest rates by one percentage point in the “next few days”, the FT reports. The move would signal the government’s confidence that it is over the worst of a painful cycle of inflation.

Chinese companies have gradually gained a foothold in the North American oil and gas sector, making $17bn of deals since 2010 through a ‘passive’ strategy of buying minority stakes and avoiding political opposition,

China Investment Corp hopes to gain continued funding from the Chinese government, matching the financing of ‘mature’ sovereign wealth funds in the west, its executive vice president Wang Jianxi has told the WSJ.

Switzerland’s powerful bankers association breathed a collective sigh of relief after parliament on Monday night passed legislation that could defuse a simmering dispute with the US over bank secrecy.  The lower house of parliament approved an amendment that would greatly simplify detection of tax dodgers with undeclared Swiss accounts by US authorities.

The world’s biggest private equity deal is facing rising financial pressure during the next two years with the expiry of contracts that underpinned the takeover of utility TXU. Investors in the $45bn buyout of the company, now known as Energy Future Holdings, fear a sharp drop in revenue as hedges that protected it from a fall in natural gas prices that are used to determine electricity charges in its home state of Texas progressively expire by 2014.

India’s Congress party suffered a bruising defeat in the key Uttar Pradesh state elections on Tuesday in what is a severe blow for Rahul Gandhi, who has staked his political credibility on a strong performance in the northern state. The leftist Samajwadi party emerged as the main winner with 216 seats, according to the electoral commission, enough to form a government in the 403-seat state legislature. Congress trailed in fourth place, winning just 26 seats.
Asian stock markets were lower Wednesday as renewed concerns over global growth and the Greek debt-swap process dented confidence and sent regional exporter stocks and resources plays skidding. Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average, South Korea’s Kospi Composite and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index were all 0.8% lower. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 was down 1.1% and India’s Sensex was off 0.7%. China’s Shanghai Composite was nearly unchanged. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were up 27 points in electronic trading.

Australia’s economy slowed sharply in the final quarter of last year as a soaring currency and Europe’s financial crisis put the brakes on output, pressuring Prime Minister Julia Gillard and the central bank. Australia’s gross domestic product rose 0.4% in the fourth quarter from the previous three months and rose 2.3% from the year-earlier period, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said Wednesday. Most economists had expected GDP to rise 0.8% on a quarterly basis and 2.4% from a year earlier.  The weaker-than-expected figures are a blow to Ms. Gillard’s government after she staked her political

Mitt Romney eked out a narrow win in Ohio and extended his delegate lead on Super Tuesday, but voters failed to deliver a decisive victory that could have brought a swift end to the Republican nominating contest. Mr. Romney notched wins in Ohio, Massachusetts, Idaho, Virginia and Vermont, while Newt Gingrich took Georgia and Rick Santorum won Tennessee, Oklahoma and North Dakota. Alaska returns were the last tallied.

While the Republican presidential contenders spent last weekend girding for Super Tuesday, the Obama campaign mobilized 1,000 volunteers to register voters in Virginia, a major 2012 battleground. Behind the headlines of the noisy Republican primary, President Barack Obama has been running a campaign-in-waiting primed to spring to life when the general election contest kicks in. His campaign has been opening offices in swing states and packing the president’s schedule with fund-raising events.

HSBC Holdings PLC said Wednesday that it has agreed to sell its general-insurance businesses in Hong Kong, Singapore, Argentina and Mexico to AXA Group and Australia’s QBE Insurance Group Ltd. in separate deals valued at about $914 million in cash. The move is part of HSBC’s efforts to diversify away from noncore businesses, while focusing on its core banking operations. Last year, the company said it would sell its global general insurance operations as part of cost-cutting efforts. The deals, which are subject to regulatory approvals, are expected to be completed in the second half of 2012, while the deal in Argentina may be completed earlier, HSBC said a statement.

Apple Inc. is expected to take the wraps off its latest iPad on Wednesday, which analysts widely expect will help the company maintain its dominant position in the fast-growing tablet market. But how the company chooses to respond to the latest competitors most notably the Kindle Fire from could become an indicator as to how closely it plans to hew to the vision of the late Steve Jobs, or whether the company’s existing managers are willing to break off onto new paths.

A surge in oil prices has pushed Indonesia’s government, facing a ballooning subsidy bill, to propose raising fuel electricity prices in a revised budget submitted to the parliament. The fuel-price issue is socially and politically sensitive in a country where nearly half of the population of 240 million people lives on less than $2 a day. But with Middle East tension driving up oil prices, the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono wants to scrap an earlier plan to ration fuel and call instead for price increases.
Gold regained some ground on Wednesday as jewellers in Asia snapped up the metal after prices dropped 2 percent in the previous session, but investors were cautious because of lingering fears about a possible Greek default. Spot gold added $2.92 to $1,676.86 per ounce by 0240 GMT, having hit a low of $1,663.95 on Tuesday, the weakest since January 25. Bullion struck a record around $1,920 per ounce last September.

Brent crude climbed above $122 on Wednesday after China said it would boost energy imports this year while concerns persist over supply risks and Iran’s nuclear program, despite the country’s offer for talks with major powers. Front-month Brent gained 36 cents to $122.34 a barrel by 0450 GMT, after settling $1.82 lower at $121.98 in the previous session. U.S. oil increased by 44 cents to $105.14 after settling $2.02 lower at $104.70.

If you expect the Federal Reserve to launch another round of bond buying to stimulate growth at its meeting next week, you’re almost certain to be disappointed. Similarly, if you think the Fed will declare that recent gains in the job market mean it’s time to throttle back its extraordinary support for the recovery, you’re also probably off base. Fresh off the decision in January to extend its promise on zero interest rates through late 2014, the U.S. central bank is keeping its options open on further bond buying, and it isn’t expected to take any policy action at its meeting next Tuesday.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Tuesday he was troubled by a presidential election in which Vladimir Putin claimed victory and called for a discussion of whether to hold a new election. Prime Minister Putin says he won the election fairly but international monitors said the vote was skewed in his favor. Putin’s opponents accept that he won the most votes but say the official election results exaggerate his popularity.

The economy likely recorded a third month of solid job gains in February, which could further reduce the chances of additional monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve. Employers probably added 210,000 jobs to their payrolls last month, according to a Reuters survey, after creating 243,000 new positions in January. The unemployment rate is expected to have held at a three-year low of 8.3 percent. It would be the first time since early 2011 that nonfarm payrolls have increased by more than 200,000 for three straight months and could be a boost for President Barack Obama, who hopes to win a second-term in office in November.

President Barack Obama announced on Tuesday a cut in fees on many government-backed mortgages that he said could help millions of homeowners refinance, part of an election-year push to boost the shaky U.S. housing market. Under the plan, a typical borrower with a loan backed by the Federal Housing Administration could save a thousand dollars a year by refinancing into a new FHA loan, the White House said. The fee reductions would be on top of any savings from a lower interest rate. Two million to three million borrowers would be eligible, although the White House said participation would more likely number in the “hundreds of thousands.”
Chinese Commerce Minister Chen Deming said a U.S. bill aimed at offsetting government subsidies in countries including China amounted to “pointing fingers,” and was inconsistent with American law. China’s central government hasn’t given banned subsidies to businesses, while aid below the federal level may be more “problematic,” Chen told reporters in Beijing today. The bill, passed yesterday in the Senate, isn’t in line with World Trade Organization rules, Chen said, raising the potential of a trade case should President Barack Obama sign it.

Thaksin Shinawatra, deposed as Thai premier in a 2006 coup, said his sister’s seven-month-old government will avoid the same fate due to her good ties with the army and expressed hope he’d return from exile this year. “As long as there is no issue related to the monarchy, as long as there is no issue about internal security, the military will stay in the barracks,” Thaksin, whose sister Yingluck Shinawatra became prime minister in August, said in an interview yesterday in Seoul. “My sister works hard for the people, she respects the monarchy very much and she can work with the military without conflict.”
Political risk in the Middle East has increased significantly with war between Iran and Israel almost inevitable, and precious metals and equities investments offer some safety, Swiss money manager and long-term bear Marc Faber said on Tuesday. “Political risk was high six months ago and is higher now. I think sooner or later, the U.S. or Israel will strike Iranit’s almost inevitable,” Faber, who publishes the widely read Gloom Boom and Doom Report, told Reuters on the sidelines of an investment conference.
A World Bank report shows a broad reduction in extreme poverty and indicates that the global recession, contrary to economists’ expectations, did not increase poverty in the developing world. The report shows that for the first time the proportion of people living in extreme poverty on less than $1.25 a day fell in every developing region from 2005 to 2008. And the biggest recession since the Great Depression seems not to have thrown that trend off course, preliminary data from 2010 indicate. The progress is so drastic that the world has met the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals to cut extreme poverty in half five years before its 2015 deadline.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke spent six years pushing for an inflation goal. Now that he has it, some investors are betting he’ll breach the 2 percent target in the short run to lower unemployment. The Fed chairman told lawmakers last week that an increase in energy costs will boost inflation “temporarily while reducing consumers’ purchasing power.” He also said the central bank will adopt a “balanced approach” as it pursues its twin goals of price stability and full employment, which it defines as a jobless rate of between 5.2 percent and 6 percent. “The chairman seemed to suggest they will tolerate a misdemeanor on inflation as unemployment continues to fall toward their goal” over several years, said Mark Spindel, chief investment officer at Potomac River Capital, a hedge fund that manages $250 million in Washington.
Bourses across Europe shed more than 3pc each as Greece said it was ready to impose the €206bn restructuring on bondholders who do not vote for it by the 8pm GMT deadline on Thursday. After a meeting in Frankfurt on Tuesday, the Greek Debt Management Agency “confirmed” that, if a majority of bondholders agree to the deal, it “intends… to declare the proposed amendments effective and binding on all holders”. Traders took the statement as a warning that Greece was expecting to use the Collect Action Clauses (CACs) to force through the deal. Rating agencies have warned that the retrospective measure, which was approved by Greek politicians last month, would constitute a sovereign default – the first in the eurozone’s history.

A disorderly Greek default would probably leave Italy and Spain needing outside help to stop contagion spreading and cause more than €1 trillion of damage to the eurozone, the group representing Athens’ bondholders warned. Analysts said the Institute of International Finance Feb. 18 document, marked “IIF Staff Note: Confidential” may have been designed to alarm investors into participating in the exchange. “There are some very important and damaging ramifications that would result from a disorderly default on Greek government debt,” the IIF said in a document obtained by Reuters.

Vince Cable has warned David Cameron that the Government lacks a “compelling vision” of what the country will look like after the cuts and called for the break-up of RBS. The Business Secretary told the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister in a letter that has been leaked that the Government does not have a “clear and confident message about how we will earn our living in the future”, the BBC said. He also calls for the State-owned bank RBS to be broken up to create a British Business Bank with a mandate to increase lending to sound businesses.  Britain lacks a “compelling vision of where the country is heading beyond sorting out the fiscal mess”, Mr Cable said, and the government has missed “valuable opportunities” for growth.

More than a third of recent university graduates are being forced to take low-skilled jobs such as machine operators, postal workers, or cleaners due to the lack of available positions in the job market. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the proportion of graduates employed in jobs requiring less skill than they were trained for stands at 36 per cent, up from just over 25 per cent a decade ago. The findings mean that around 500,000 people of the 1.5 million who graduated in the last six years are in low-skilled work.
Canadian crude has become the poor cousin of the oil world, as a confluence of transportation and market factors threaten oil patch profits for months, if not years, to come. Amid an explosion in oil sands growth, surging Canadian energy output has combined with pipeline problems and rocketing U.S. production to create a supply glut that is severely depressing prices, and profits. Concerns are now rising that the export pipes that sustain Canada’s energy industry are rapidly filling up.

Brazil’s government promised aggressive new stimulus measures after data showed the economy expanded just 2.7 per cent in 2011, raising fears that one of the world’s most dynamic emerging markets is slipping into a new era of mediocre growth. The sharp slowdown during President Dilma Rousseff’s first year in office saw Brazil underperform almost all its peers in Latin America as local industries struggled with soaring business costs and an overvalued currency.

Greece’s privatization fund on Tuesday launched a tender for the exploitation of a large seaside plot on the western resort island of Corfu, part of a massive effort to raise funds through sale of state assets. The Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund said it is seeking to sell the “right of surface” for the 120-acre, forested property at Kassiopi for up to 100 years.
Euro zone GDP growth was revised down to 1.4 per cent for 2011, according to a second estimate issued on Tuesday by the EU statistical office which had previously estimated 1.5 per cent.  In the fourth quarter of 2011, Eurostat said euro zone gross domestic product had contracted 0.3 per cent from output in the previous quarter, unchanged from its first estimate. Third-quarter growth fell 0.1 per cent, said Eurostat which in earlier figures announced a 0.2-per cent increase
China`s regulator issues some policies to encourage more merge and acquirement, which affects the listed companies` integrating resources and effective allocation. However, there are still some obstacles hindering M&A to promote the economic reorganization, Ouyang Zehua, vice-director of the market supervision department of the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), said Tuesday. The supervision concerning the M&A would based on the compulsory information disclosure, and the regulator would encourage more financing products innovation and creation, lead the market to allocation resource befitting the investors and financers, said Ouyang Zehua.

China is mulling further reforms of property tax and expansion of property tax trials, Finance Minister Xie Xuren said at a press conference held on the sidelines of the country’s annual parliamentary session Tuesday. The reform will be promoted “actively yet steadily,” and property tax trails should be expanded to other cities in the nation “at a proper scale,” Xie said. China introduced the property-tax trials in the cities of Shanghai and Chongqing at the beginning of last year as part of its efforts to curb runaway home prices and contain asset bubbles. The Ministry of Finance, together with other departments, is working with the municipal governments of Shanghai and Chongqing, to collect information from the year-long trial for future expansions.

China’s government debt amounts to about 17.5 trillion yuan (2.78 trillion U.S. dollars), about 43 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, Yang Kaisheng, president of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC,), said Tuesday. The debt is composed of 10.7 trillion yuan of local government debt and 6.8 trillion yuan of central government debt, Yang said at a press conference on the sidelines of China’s annual parliamentary session. “Government debt in China now is at a controllable and secure level,” said the banking magnate, citing the government work report delivered by Premier Wen Jiabao on Monday.
Indian CEOs have taken up with their Australian counterparts the issue of imposition of carbon tax on mining activities in Australia and has expressed the hope that a solution would be found to resolve the issue. However, the Australian side has also expressed concern over the new mining law proposed in India that entails profit sharing by mining companies to the tune of 26 per cent to tribal development fund. These issues came up for discussion during the first meeting of the India-Australia CEOs Forum held in New Delhi.

In what is likely to fan inflation, the Railways has hiked freight charges for most commodities including coal, foodgrains and fertiliser.  The late evening revision, which the Railways dubbed a “rationalisation”, caught users unawares, since the Railway Budget is round the corner.  The new rates came into effect from Tuesday.  The charges have gone by up to 20 per cent for most of the commodities, say sources in the know, based on initial calculations.  In a small concession, rates for iron ore exports for which the Railways had been charging the highest have been reduced by up to 31 per cent.
Ratings firm Standard and Poor’s has warned that it could lower India’s ratings if it contues with fiscal excesses or if it does not adopt polcies to boost growth. “We could lower the ratings on India if it continues to have loose fiscal policy or policy setbacks on monetary, financial, and economic fronts, which lower medium-term growth prospects.” said S&P’s report on Asia- Pacific Sovereigns.

Overseas investment by Indian companies stood at USD 2.01 billion in February with Reliance Industries and Tata group holding company Tata Sons emerging as major investors. In February, a total of 401 overseas investment transactions were done by Indian entities. The foreign direct investment (FDI) was at USD 797 million in January, according to the Reserve Bank of India data released today.

India is “less vulnerable” to risks arising from public debt as compared to other developed and emerging market economies, a Finance Ministry Status Paper has said. “India has positive attributes compared to both developed and emerging market economies and is less vulnerable to risky parameters seen either in developed and other EMEs,” the Paper released today said. It further said while several countries face problems in servicing the debts incurred for mitigating the impact of global financial crisis of 2008, the “government was able to finance larger deficit without any disruption in market mainly through domestic financing”.

Concerned over the rising public debt, a finance ministry paper has suggested that government could aim at a fiscal deficit of 4.3 per cent of GDP during the next financial year beginning April 1, 2012.
“Unless this issue (rising public debt) is addressed, it may lead to hardening of yields and may also necessitate utilisation of future revenues more for interest payment,” the Ministry’s Status Paper on Government Debt released today said.  The government has hiked the market borrowing target for the current fiscal to Rs 4.35 lakh crore, from the budgeted Rs 3.43 lakh crore.
South Korea will maintain its current economic policy stance but will be ready to take preemptive action against any danger factors facing the country’s economy, the finance minister said Wednesday. “Though our economy sees continued improvement in employment and other major indicators, it is still difficult to let our guard down in the face of external risk factors such as high oil prices and the eurozone fiscal crisis,” Bahk Jae-wan told a meeting with other policymakers.
The Central Bank of Iran put the gross domestic production (GDP) for the previous calendar year 1389 (ended on March 20, 2011) at over 539 trillion rials (some $41 billion), up 5.8 percent year on year. The GDP growth rate stood at 3 percent in its preceding year, the report added. Meanwhile, the deputy economy minister said in December, 2011 that Iran’s economic growth rate hit 5.5 percent in the previous calendar year. “The Subsidy Reform Plan is being implemented amid tight international sanctions. This issue shows the country’s economic stability,” ISNA news agency quoted Mohammadreza Farzin as saying.

Iran exported over 8,162 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity to the neighboring countries since the beginning of the current calendar year (March 21, 2011), showing some 29 percent rise year on year, Fars news agency reported. Iran has indigenized the technology for building thermal and combined cycle power plants and is now self-sufficient in this field, the director of Iran Power Plant Projects Management Company (MAPNA) said on February 27. Abbas Aliabadi told Mehr news agency that the country is currently exporting technical and engineering services to different countries for building power plants.

Chinese companies have announced readiness to invest in 20 petrochemical plans in Iran, Fars news agency quoted Iranian Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi as saying, without giving any further details.  He added that credits of the National Development Fund, which is around $30 billion at present, could greatly help accelerate inauguration of underway petrochemical projects.  At least 20 percent of the fund’s credits will be allocated to promoting foreign investment, according to Iran’s Finance and Economic Affairs Minister Shamseddin Hosseini.   According to the Fifth Development Plan (2010-2015), the National Development Fund was established to transform oil and gas revenues to productive investment for future generation. Iran transfers 20 percent of oil revenues to National Development Fund.  With around 900 billion cubic meters increase in the past two years, Iran in-situ natural gas reserves has surged to 34 trillion cubic meters, an official with Iran’s Oil Ministry said in November 2011.