sexta-feira, 31 de março de 2017

Former Brazil house speaker Cunha sentenced to 15 years for graft

FILE PHOTO - Former speaker of Brazil's Lower House of Congress, Eduardo Cunha (C), is escorted by federal police officers as he arrives to the Institute of Forensic Science in Curitiba, Brazil, October 20, 2016. REUTERS/Rodolfo Buhrer/File Photo
A federal court sentenced Brazil's former speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, to more than 15 years in prison on Thursday for corruption, making him the highest-profile political conviction yet in the "Operation Car Wash" scandal.

The former politician's defense team said they would appeal the decision. Cunha will remain imprisoned pending appeal.

Cunha, who drove the successful impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, was forced from his position as speaker in July and arrested in October on accusations he received millions in bribes from the purchase of an oil field in Benin by state-controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA.

Over 200 people have been charged in the "Operation Car Wash" probe, a far-reaching investigation that centers on bribes and political kickbacks from contracts at Petrobras and other state firms. The Supreme Court is likely to approve soon the investigation of dozens of sitting politicians.

In February 2015, Cunha, a member of President Michel Temer's Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) that for a decade was the main member of left-leaning Workers Party (PT) governments, defied the wishes of his own coalition to run for and win the speakership of the lower house of Congress.

Just six months later, he officially broke with the Rousseff administration, saying that she was using the Petrobras investigation as a tool of "political persecution" against him.

As speaker, only Cunha could allow impeachment proceedings to begin against Rousseff, whom critics accused of breaking budgetary laws.

He did just that in December 2015, just hours after PT deputies cast deciding votes for him to face an investigation by the House's ethics committee for lying about bank accounts he and his wife held in Switzerland.

By May, Rousseff was impeached and Temer installed as successor. But Cunha could not shake free of corruption allegations that eventually led to his downfall.

Once he was kicked out of congress, Cunha lost the privilege given to sitting politicians that only the badly overburdened Supreme Court can try them.

His case was instead sent to crusading anti-corruption judge Sergio Moro, who has been the driving force behind Brazil's fight against graft. Moro has a reputation for plowing through cases efficiently, with over 98 percent of his convictions in Car Wash cases being upheld by higher courts.

Cunha faces another trial for allegedly receiving $5 million skimmed from Petrobras contracts for two drillships in 2006 and 2007.

Separately on Thursday, federal prosecutors leading the Car Wash probe for the first time accused a party of the civil crime of "misconduct in political office" for taking part in the Petrobas scheme.

The authorities said they are seeking 2.3 billion reais ($731 million) from the Progressive Party (PP) for bribes its members received and for fines. Prosecutors are also demanding six sitting PP congressmen and four former deputies lose their offices and rights to run for office in the future.

Source: Reuters

Ports in China have enough iron ore to build 13,000 Eiffel Towers

A truck drives past piles of iron ore at the dump site of a port in Rizhao, Shandong province October 3, 2013. REUTERS/China Daily
With enough iron ore to construct Paris's Eiffel Tower nearly 13,000 times over, China's ports are bursting with stockpiles of the raw material and some of them are demolishing old buildings to create more storage space, trading sources said.

China's domestic iron ore production jumped 15.3 percent in January-February as a price rally last year extended into 2017, causing imported ore to pile up at the ports of the world's top buyer. Stockpiles are at their highest in more than a decade and are affecting prices.

Inventory of imported iron ore at 46 Chinese ports reached 132.45 million tonnes on March 24, SteelHome consultancy said, the highest since it began tracking the data in 2004. A third of the stocks belongs to traders and the rest is owned by China's steel mills, SteelHome said.

That volume would make about 95 million tonnes of steel, enough to build 12,960 replicas of the 324-metre (1,063-foot) high Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Global iron ore prices are now at just above $80 a tonne from a 30-month peak of $94.86 reached in February, largely due to the growing port inventory.

Prices surged 81 percent last year, bringing relief to miners after a three-year rout. The rally stretched into 2017, inspiring marginal producers to resume business and lifting supply as China's steel demand waned.

Further falls in the price of iron ore risk shuttering Chinese capacity again. That could boost China's reliance on top-grade exporters Vale, Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton.

Some ports, trying to manage their storage space, have in recent weeks rejected vessels carrying lower grade iron ore that is less preferred than higher quality material and could take months to clear, said a source at a foreign trading firm that has millions of tonnes of the steelmaking ingredient at Chinese ports.

"We have sent our people around the major ports in China and some are trying to find extra space. They're demolishing some abandoned buildings to create more space," said the source, who declined to be named because he is not permitted to discuss the matter publicly.

If iron ore stocks continue rising "we're going to reach maximum physical capacity at all ports in China by early June, said the source. "We saw some ports rejecting low-grade shipments which are very difficult to liquidate."

- For graphic on 'China's bulging iron ore stockpiles' click:


Including another 40 million tonnes of iron ore at China's steel mills "that's too much of stock," said Li Xinchuang, vice chairman at China Iron and Steel Association.

"It will be very dangerous for the price. That's what's very worrying about it," Li told Reuters at an industry conference on Thursday. Li said most of the stocks in ports were high quality iron ore despite perceptions in the market that the bulk of it was low-grade.

But officials at key Chinese ports for iron ore imports - Rizhao, Tangshan and Caofeidian - said they have enough storage capacity to take in more cargoes and that they were not turning away any shipments.

An official at Jingtang port in Tangshan said there are 15 million tonnes of iron ore stocked there currently, not far from its capacity of 20 million tonnes. The port in Qingdao, also a major destination for iron ore shipments, did not respond to a request for comment.

Australian miner Fortescue Metals Group, the world's No. 4 iron ore supplier which ships lower grade material mainly to China, said its deliveries to the country are "continuing as normal."

"While port stocks overall are at relatively high levels, Fortescue's share of those stocks aligns with our market share of imported ore into China," Fortescue CEO Nev Power said by email in response to a Reuters query.

Chinese ports can refuse discharge of some shipments and it's up to the importer to find another port but costs due to delays would be borne by the importer, said a shipping manager for a Chinese trading firm.

Still, slow demand could swell port stocks further as more shipments tied to Chinese mills' long-term contracts with miners arrive and traders scour the market for clients.

"We have a fleet of vessels on their way to China with no buyers. We're trying to find buyers," said the foreign trading source.

Source: Reuters

China urges Trump to ease controls on high-tech exports

(FILE) A combo picture made available on 10 February 2017 shows (L) US President Donald J. Trump during Attorney General Jeff Sessions' swearing-in ceremony at the White House in Washington, DC, USA, 09 February 2017, and (R) Chinese President Xi Jinping after signing a bilateral treaty with Czech President Milos Zeman (not pictured) at Prague Castle in Prague, Czech Republic, 29 March 2016. EPA/JIM LO SCALZO/FILIP SINGER
China urged the president of the United States on Friday to ease controls on the export of high-tech goods to China to stem the trade deficit he has repeatedly complained about.

"If the US can relax its control on high-tech exports to China and also create a level playing field... for Chinese investment in the US, that will also be helpful in addressing the trading imbalance between two countries," Vice Foreign Minister Zheng Zeguang said, following Donald Trump's latest criticism of Beijing.

Source: EFE

FIFA completes internal investigation into alleged corruption

A file photo showing FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaking during a press conference after the FIFA Council meeting at the Home of FIFA in Zurich, Switzerland, Jan. 10, 2017. EPA/ENNIO LEANZA
FIFA said on Friday that it had completed an investigation it opened in June 2015 after the office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced investigations into allegations of criminal misconduct, bribery and corruption in world football.

In a statement, FIFA said that more than 2.5 million documents have been analyzed and a large number of key witnesses interviewed since the opening of the investigation.

Source: EFE

Protests begin, foreign pressure mounts on Venezuela's Maduro

Venezuelan opposition protests began and foreign pressure mounted on Friday over a court takeover of Congress that many viewed as a lurch into dictatorship by a leftist government grappling with a plunge in popularity.

"We will not accept usurpation by the Supreme Court," said a student group in Caracas marching to the nation's top tribunal which has assumed the functions of the opposition-led National Assembly .

Elsewhere, protesters blocked a main Caracas motorway, joined by opposition lawmaker Miguel Pizarro.

"We mustn't give up or stop, we have to demand our rights," he said.

Having already shot down most of the National Assembly's measures since the opposition won control in 2015, the pro-Maduro court this week said it was assuming the legislature's functions because it was in "contempt" of the law.

Outraged foes of President Nicolas Maduro accused him of staging a "coup" against an elected body. Maduro, 54, a former bus driver and self-declared "son" of late leftist predecessor Hugo Chavez, was narrowly elected in 2013.

The court move also brought condemnations and concern from the United States, Organization of American States (OAS), European Union, major Latin American nations and the top U.N. human rights official.

Ally Russia, however, bucked the trend in a statement on Friday urging the world to leave Venezuela alone.

"External forces should not add fuel to the fire to the conflict inside Venezuela," it said. "We are confident in the principle of non-interference in internal affairs."

Maduro accuses Washington of leading a push to topple him as part of a wider offensive against leftist governments in Latin America. Brazil, Argentina and Peru have all moved to the right recently.

However, new U.S. President Donald Trump seems to have other priorities or has not yet fully formed policy on Venezuela.

OAS head Luis Almagro, whom the Venezuelan government views as a pawn of Washington, has been pushing for its suspension from the 34-nation regional bloc and wants an emergency meeting after the latest developments.

But suspension appears unlikely, diplomats say, given Venezuela's support from other leftist governments and small nations who have benefited from its oil largesse, and anyway it would only be a symbolic sanction, albeit a strong one.

"It's false there has been a coup d'etat in Venezuela," Venezuela's foreign ministry said, alleging a regional right-wing conspiracy against it.

"On the contrary, institutions have adopted legal correctives to stop the deviant and coup-seeking actions of opposition parliamentarians openly in contempt of decisions by the republic's maximum tribunal."


Venezuela's opposition Democratic Unity coalition, made up of about two dozen parties and groups, declared itself in "permanent session" and promised rolling street protests.

But the coalition is hobbled by disunity: leaders called at least four separate news conferences on Friday.

Opposition supporters are also acutely aware, however, that street tactics have failed on numerous occasions.

Vast rallies in 2002 helped briefly topple Chavez, but he was back about 36 hours later after his supporters poured onto the street and military factions came to his aid.

In 2014, hardline opposition activists led months of protests, but they turned violent and led to 43 deaths, their leader Leopoldo Lopez was jailed, and Maduro consolidated power.

Then last year, hundreds of thousands marched at various times, but still authorities thwarted the opposition's push for a referendum to recall Maduro and also postponed local elections.

The opposition is hoping the military - whose top ranks still pledge absolute loyalty to Maduro though there is believed to be dissent lower down - may nudge him into bringing forward a presidential election slated for the end of 2018.

But there is no public sign of that happening.

"Given that the government controls all the state's institutions, including the armed forces, the security apparatus is likely to strongly repress protesters with opposition leaders facing higher detention risks," said Diego Moya-Ocampos, a Venezuelan analyst with the IHS Markit consultancy.

The Supreme Court's contempt charge stems from vote-buying accusations against three lawmakers from southern Amazonas state. Even though they no longer sit in Congress, the court said parliamentary leaders had not handled their case legally.

Maduro came to power with around 50 percent popularity ratings but has seen that halved as Venezuelans struggle with a fourth year of recession, scarcities of basic food and medicines and the highest inflation in the world.

Critics blame a failing socialist system, whereas the government says foes are carrying out an "economic war" against Maduro. The fall in oil prices since mid-2014 has exacerbated the crisis.

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 29 de março de 2017

After six decades, U.S. set to turn natgas exporter amid LNG boom

Transfer lines are seen at the Dominion Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in Lusby, Maryland March 18, 2014. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
The last time the United States was a net exporter of natural gas was in 1957, when Dwight Eisenhower was president. That should change in 2018 when the country is expected to become the world's third-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

By the end of next year, U.S. LNG export capacity in the lower 48 states will top 6 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd), or 8 percent of the country's domestic consumption, up from zero at the beginning of 2016. Six bcfd of gas can fuel about 30 million U.S. homes, or almost every house in California, Texas and Florida combined.

That growth in U.S. LNG exports is set to transform world energy markets. Just a decade ago, before the shale revolution, the United States was expected to become a growing LNG importer, not an exporter, likely dependent on Russian, Middle East and North African gas, much as it has for decades depended on foreign crude.

Instead, the U.S. will become a competitor to the global gas powers by offering cheaper and more flexible cargoes and even a more politically palatable supplier to buyers such as the Europeans. The increased supply of North American LNG could bring more predictability to pricing through the development of more liquid trading markets.

"We are set to see unprecedented growth in U.S. LNG volumes over the next few years," said Andrew Walker, vice president strategy at Cheniere Marketing, a unit of U.S. LNG company Cheniere Energy Inc (LNG.A).

The U.S. shale revolution produced a massive increase in gas output through the use of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," to extract fuel trapped in shale rocks. The only other countries soon expected to supply more LNG to the world are Australia and Qatar.

LNG is natural gas that has been liquefied at extremely low temperatures for ease of storage and transport, and is increasingly replacing dirtier fossil fuels such as coal and oil to heat homes and businesses and in power plants and other industrial facilities.

The U.S. started to export LNG from the lower 48 states when the first liquefaction train at the Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana, built by Cheniere, opened in February 2016. Five additional export terminals are expected to open by 2020, built by units of Dominion Resources Inc (D.N), Kinder Morgan Inc (KMI.N), Sempra Energy (SRE.N) and Freeport LNG.

Prior to this, the only natural gas exports from the lower 48 states were via pipeline to Mexico, and the U.S. was a net importer overall of natural gas from Canada.

Since opening the terminal, Cheniere's stock price has risen more than 50 percent, and in 2016 it reported record revenue of $1.28 billion, according to Reuters data. The company is expected to control more than half of the U.S. LNG export capacity by 2020, making it one of the nation's biggest buyers of physical gas.

Further upstream, big U.S. shale producers such as Chesapeake Energy Corp (CHK.N), Cabot Oil and Gas Corp (COG.N), Range Resources Corp (RRC.N) and EQT Corp (EQT.N) are set to benefit from increased export demand.

Company spokesman Mike Mackin said Range Resources has signed multiple LNG export contracts, including with Cheniere, saying that the projects will "provide a significant source of incremental demand growth for the U.S."

World LNG demand is expected to double to about 71 bcfd by 2040, up from around 32 bcfd in 2015, the U.S. Energy Department estimates, driven by the rapidly growing economies in Asia, especially China and India.

Even though top LNG exporters Qatar and Australia are geographically better poised to supply the fuel at cheaper shipping costs, major energy firms such as Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSa.L), Korea Gas Corp (036460.KS) and GAIL (India) Ltd (GAIL.NS) have already contracted to buy U.S. LNG.

In addition, European countries fearing supply disruptions from Russia have the potential of looking west. Moscow in the past has limited gas supply at periods of peak winter demand while seeking debt repayments from Ukraine.

The additional supply also means the potential for less reliance on some politically unstable Middle Eastern countries.

"It provides supplier diversification away from the Middle East, where much of the world's LNG supply now comes from as well as supply route diversification," said Jane Nakano, senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.


Analysts said surging LNG exports - the biggest driver of North American gas demand - could boost U.S. gas prices, which have been low in recent years. However, higher prices would also encourage energy firms to boost production to record levels, which could keep price increases small.

Natural gas benchmark prices GT-HH-IDX have averaged $4.42 per million British thermal units over the last 10 years; in 2016, that average was $2.49, lowest since 1999. Even with exports, the price should remain far below that average for several years.

The maturation of the industry means buyers are looking for flexible contracts and the ability to hedge.

Last week, Intercontinental Exchange Inc (ICE.N) said it will introduce a spot contract for U.S. Gulf Coast LNG in May, while some large global LNG buyers, including Korea Gas and China's offshore oil and gas producer CNOOC Ltd (0883.HK), said they were banding together to secure flexible contracts.

LNG was historically sold in other parts of the world through long-term contracts tied to the price of oil. But of the 56 vessels that left Sabine Pass in 2016, 23 carried gas sold under spot transactions, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

"Growing use of spot market transactions will make the LNG market more flexible and responsive to supply and demand," said Craig Pirrong, a finance professor specializing in commodities at the University of Houston.

Source: Reuters

'No turning back': PM May triggers 'historic' Brexit

Prime Minister Theresa May formally began Britain's divorce from the European Union on Wednesday, saying there was "no turning back" from a decision pitching her country into the unknown and triggering years of fraught negotiations.

Nine months after Britons voted to leave, May notified EU Council President Donald Tusk in a letter that Britain was quitting the bloc it joined in 1973.

"The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union," May later told parliament in London. "This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back."

The prime minister, an initial opponent of Brexit who won the top job in the political turmoil that followed the referendum vote, now has two years to settle the terms of the divorce before it comes into effect in late March 2019.

May, 60, has one of the toughest jobs of any recent British prime minister: holding Britain together in the face of renewed Scottish independence demands, while conducting arduous talks with 27 other EU states on finance, trade, security and other complex issues.

The outcome of the negotiations will shape the future of Britain's $2.6 trillion economy, the world's fifth biggest, and determine whether London can keep its place as one of the top two global financial centers.

For the EU, already reeling from successive crises over debt and refugees, the loss of Britain is the biggest blow yet to 60 years of efforts to forge European unity in the wake of two world wars.

Its leaders say they do not want to punish Britain. But with nationalist, anti-EU parties on the rise across Europe, they cannot afford to give London generous terms that might encourage other member states to break away.


May's notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty was hand-delivered to Tusk in Brussels by Tim Barrow, Britain's permanent representative to the EU.

Barrow gave the letter to Tusk, the EU summit chair and former Polish prime minister, in the Council President's offices on the top floor of the new Europa Building, according to a Reuters photographer in the room.

That moment formally set the clock ticking on Britain's two-year exit process. Sterling, which has lost 25 cents against the dollar since the June 23 referendum, jumped to $1.25.

May signed the Brexit letter on Tuesday, pictured alone at the cabinet table beneath a clock, a British flag and an oil-painting of Britain's first prime minister, Robert Walpole.

Source: Reuters

Brazilian mayor takes issue with in graffiti debate Inc dove into a spirited debate about graffiti in Brazil's biggest city, drawing a pointed response on Tuesday from Sao Paulo's mayor, who called the company "opportunist" and challenged it to make a public donation.

Amazon kicked off the controversy with an online ad pegged to Mayor Joao Doria's "Pretty City" campaign, which has attracted both strong criticism and praise for painting over the city's street art and spray-painted tags.

"They covered the city with gray?" reads the minute-long commercial, which shows quotes from famous works of literature projected along major avenues painted over by the mayor. "We covered the gray with stories."

The campaign added fuel to the debate over whether Doria was defending public property or silencing artistic expression in a metropolis defined by the flamboyant graffiti that punctuates an otherwise monotonous urban landscape.

It also pitted Amazon against Doria, a wealthy publisher and former reality TV star whose stunning first-round victory in last year's mayoral election has fed rumors that he could enter the wide-open 2018 presidential race.

"I watched Amazon's commercial using the image of Sao Paulo to sell its products," Doria wrote in a response on Facebook, challenging the online retailer to donate books to city schools. "There are many ways for Amazon to act as a true citizen rather than an opportunist."

Amazon replied with a Facebook post promising to donate hundreds of its Kindle e-readers to "institutions promoting culture and education," without giving further details.

Amazon media representatives in Brazil declined to comment.

The company has been slower than other tech giants to embrace the Brazilian market, where it arrived in 2012 with the Kindle, which faces local competition from Livraria Cultura's Kobo and Livraria Saraiva's Lev.

Amazon began selling physical books in Brazil in 2014 and brought its streaming video service to the country in December.

Source: Reuters

Brazil delays budget announcement again amid pushback on taxes

The Brazilian government's on Tuesday delayed again the announcement of budget cuts and other measures to meet its fiscal target, and politicians and officials said this reflected growing pressure from lawmakers to avoid or limit tax hikes.

This was the second delay in less than a week. Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles on Thursday postponed the disclosure of budget cuts needed to meet a primary budget deficit goal of 139 billion reais ($44.25 billion).

Meirelles has now pushed the decision until Wednesday as his team scrambles to find extra revenues to help limit tax hikes and budget cuts needed to cover a gap of 52 billion reais.

President Michel Temer's options are limited as he tries to balance market demands for austerity with fears among lawmakers in Congress that tax hikes could undermine an economy struggling with its worst recession on record.

"We are trying to avoid tax hikes altogether or implement hikes that will not have a big impact on the economy and inflation," said a close aide to Temer. "We are carefully looking at all extra revenues we can collect to make the decision."

Newspaper Estado de S.Paulo reported on Wednesday that the government was considering doing away with a need for tax hikes by increasing estimated income from a program for Brazilians to receive amnesty by paying taxes and penalties on undeclared assets held abroad.

Still, members of Temer's economic team told Reuters tax increases seem almost inevitable because a painfully slow recovery has reduced tax collection.

Temer's allies in Congress warn that tax hikes would face resistance among his alliance of more than a dozen parties.

"Congress will have difficulties approving tax hikes, so I believe the government needs to look for better options," Efraim Filho, the lower house head of the Democrats Party, an ally party known as DEM, told Reuters.

Other lawmakers said rolling back tax exemptions, which cost the government 18 billion reais a year, would also face resistance in Congress.

The government is searching for tax hikes that would not require legislative approval such as an increase in the Pis/Cofins federal taxes on gasoline and fuel, a government official told Reuters.

There are about 20 billion reais worth of Pis/Cofins tax exemptions across sectors such as food and beverages, healthcare and ethanol that the government could reverse by decree, economists with BNP Paribas said in a report last week.

Meirelles has ruled out hiking the financial transaction tax, known as IOF, on exchange and overall credit operations but left the door open for small tweaks to the levy on other types of credit.

Court decisions allowing the government to auction hydroelectric plants as well a potential change in the way the government calculates its debts could add nearly 19 billion reais in revenues this year, the government has said.

Source: Reuters

segunda-feira, 27 de março de 2017

Brazil sees Russian, Chinese, Spanish interest in north-south rail

Brazil's planned auction of the rights to expand and operate the North-South railway between Tocantins and Sao Paulo states has drawn the interest of major operators from countries including Russia, China and Spain, a government official said on Friday.

Adalberto Santos Vasconcelos, the special secretary running President Michel Temer's infrastructure investment program, told Reuters in an interview that interest was strong in the auction, which is scheduled for the second half of this year.

He also said the government may grant the winner of a concession for the Ferrogrão railway project in northern Brazil exclusive rights to operate along those rails to compensate for roughly 12 billion reais ($4 billion) in needed investments.

The upcoming rail auctions are part of the government's efforts to raise 45 billion reais in private investment for infrastructure projects to boost a recovery from Brazil's worst recession in over a century.

Source: Reuters

China, others lift ban on meat imports in boost for Brazil

China lifted a ban on imports of meat from Brazil on Saturday after Brazilian authorities clarified details of a police investigation into alleged bribery of health inspectors, in a victory for President Michel Temer's efforts to stem damage from the probe.

The move by China, the biggest national consumer of Brazilian meat, was accompanied on Saturday by the lifting of import bans in Egypt and Chile, bringing hope of an end to a crisis that saw one-fifth wiped off the value of Brazilian pork and poultry exports last week.

A slew of major meat importers issued bans after Brazilian federal police unveiled on March 17 an investigation into alleged payments to government health officials by meat processing companies to forego inspections and ignore abuses, codenamed "Operation Weak Flesh".

Temer's government, alarmed the scandal could damage one of the few sectors that has defied a deep recession in Latin America's largest economy, launched a campaign to convince trade partners that any abuses were limited in scope.

Meat is Brazil's third-largest export, after soy and iron ore. The country sold around $13.5 billion in chicken, beef and pork products last year.

Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi welcomed China's decision and said the government retained a ban on exports from 21 processing plants directly linked to the federal police investigation as it carried out its own inspections.

“Lifting this suspension was the result of a giant effort by Brazil to explain that the investigation targeted the conduct of individuals and not the quality of the meat," Maggi told Reuters.

Officials said that the only one of the 21 plants that exported to China is owned by Seara Alimentos Ltda, a unit of Brazil's JBS SA, the world's biggest meatpacking company.

JBS has strongly denied any wrongdoing and said it upholds strict quality standards.

Two sources in China confirmed that a ban remained in place on imports from the Seara plant, as well as any meat approved by seven Brazilian veterinary experts linked to the police investigation.

Brazilian meat imports have already started being cleared in Shanghai, one of the sources said.

China had suspended imports of all meat products from Brazil, the world's top beef exporter, on March 20 as a precautionary measure.

An aide to President Temer told Reuters that he planned to call Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the coming days. In a statement, Temer voiced confidence that other countries would follow China's example in lifting restrictions.

Chile on Saturday said it was ending a ban on meat purchases from Brazil, except for the 21 suspended plants, while Egypt also resumed imports after a two day-suspension.

South Korea had already called off a short-lived ban on chicken imports from Brazil's BRF SA on Tuesday, after just one day.

BRF, the world's largest poultry producer, has denied selling rotten meat and taking part in any corrupt activities.

The decision by China was crucial because of its size: it consumed some $1.75 billion in Brazilian meat imports last year.

In part, Brazil has been fortunate that rivals were ill-placed to fill the gap.

With China's second-largest beef supplier, Australia, still rebuilding its herd after drought, it could not meet fast-growing Chinese demand.

In the poultry sector, where Brazil supplies more than 85 percent of China's imports, other major producers, such as the United States and some smaller European markets, are banned from supplying to China due to bird flu outbreaks.

Despite the government's success in containing the damage from the scandal, sources familiar with the investigation said there was a large amount of unpublished evidence pointing to widespread fraud and not just isolated abuses in the meat industry.

Source: Reuters

Brazil's BRF says it continues some meat exports to Saudi Arabia

A meatpacking company BRF SA's logo is pictured in Sao Paulo, Brazil March 17, 2017. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker
Brazil's BRF SA said it was continuing some exports to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom restricted Brazilian beef and poultry imports following accusations that bribery in Brazil allowed sales of rotten and salmonella-tainted meats.

Saudi Arabia's Food and Drug Authority said on Wednesday it had barred imports from four companies, including BRF, citing safety concerns.

But a spokeswoman for BRF told Reuters over the weekend that only one of its plants was covered by the order, without specifying the volume of exports affected.

"All other factories, including the plants that export to Saudi Arabia, remain functional," the company said in a statement.

Saudi authorities could not be reached for comment.

Source: Reuters

Euro area exports rise in Jan. but trade balance in deficit by $644 million

File image of container ship 'MSC Santhya' mooring in front of cranes at the container terminal in the second-largest German port of Bremerhaven, northern Germany, Mar. 3, 2017. EPA/FOCKE STRANGMANN
The Eurozone recorded an international trade in goods deficit of 600 million euros ($644 million) in the month of Jan. 2017, according to data released by the European statistics office on Friday.

The 19 countries that use the euro currency exported goods to the tune of 163.9 billion euros in Jan. _ an increase of 13 percent compared to the previous year _ and imported 164.5 billion euros from the rest of the world (a 17-percent uptick), which left a net trade deficit of 0.6 billion euros.

This contrasts with Jan. 2016, which, according to the figures provided by Eurostat, left a net trade surplus of 4.8 billion euros for the Eurozone.

The first month of this year also saw 145.7 billion euros in intra-Eurozone trade, a 10-percent rise compared with Jan. 2016.

In the entire year of 2016, goods exports from the Euro area to the rest of the world amounted to 2.047 billion euros _ virtually the same figure as in the previous year _ and imports constituted 1.775 billion euros, a two-percent drop compared to 2015.

This left 2016 with a net balance of 271 billion euros in surplus.

According to Eurostat's first estimates for Jan. 2017, exports from the entire European Union (28 countries) to the rest of the world reached 141.2 billion euros, 16 percent more than in Jan. 2016 (121.4 billion euros).

Meanwhile, imports into the EU hovered around 157.4 billion, an 18-percent increase compared to Jan. 2016.

As a result, the EU bloc showed a trade deficit of 16.2 billion euros with non-EU countries.

The category with the sharpest climb in exports was that of raw materials, which rose 33 percent, while imports of the same increased by 10 percent.

As to imports, the most significant upsurge was recorded in the category of manufactured goods, which increased 35 percent.

Of these, chemical products saw a 60-percent rise in imports, while vehicles and machinery increased by 23 percent.

Source: EFE

EU trade unions call for UK to remain in single market after Brexit

The social partners, (L-R) European Trade Union (ETUC) President Rudy De Leeuw, Sec. Gen. of UIL Trade Union Carmelo Barbagallo, European Trade Union (ETUC) Gen. Sec. Luca Visentini, Secretary General of CGIL Trade Union Susanna Camusso, Sec. Gen. CISL Trade Union Annamaria Furlan at a press conference after a meeting with European Institution in Rome, Italy, 24 March 2017. EPA/CLAUDIO PERI
The European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) on Monday called for the United Kingdom to remain within the European single market and customs union after its exit from the European Union in order to safeguard the rights of both British and EU workers.

As Wednesday's triggering of Article 50 gets closer and the launch of a two-year period of negotiations on the UK's exit from the bloc and future relationship with the EU, the ETUC called on the European Council to issue guidelines that "guarantee that workers will not be used as bargaining chips."

Source: EFE

sexta-feira, 24 de março de 2017

Putin meets with Le Pen, denies Russia wants to influence French elections

Marine Le Pen (L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Mar. 24, 2017. EPA/MICHAEL KLIMENTYEV/SPUTNIK/KREMLIN
The Russian President on Friday met with the far-right French presidential candidate and denied that Moscow wanted to influence the upcoming national elections.

In an impromptu meeting with National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen in Moscow, Vladimir Putin said he in no way wanted to influence events but that he had the right to meet with representatives from all political forces, as is done by Europe and the United States.

Source: EFE

UK police: 2 new arrests in relation to Westminster attack, 9 in custody

Flowers are place in tribute to the victims on Westminster Bridge following the incidents in central London, Britain, Mar. 23, 2017.EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA
Two more people have been arrested during police raids in relation to a terror attack on Westminster that left five dead, including the assailant, London Metropolitan Police said Friday.

Some nine people remained in police custody amid an ongoing security operation across the United Kingdom.

Speaking to the press outside New Scotland Yard, the Met's acting Deputy Commissioner and counter-terror chief, Mark Rowley said: "we have made two further significant arrests overnight_ one in the West Midlands and one in North West."

"We have searches at five addresses that are ongoing_ 16 searches have concluded. So far we have seized 2,700 items from our searches including massive amounts of computer data," Rowley continued.

He also named the 75-year-old man who died overnight in hospital from injuries sustained in the terror attack as Leslie Rhodes, from Streatham, south London.

Two people remained in a critical condition, including one person with life threatening injuries, he said.

Rowley said at least 50 people were injured in the attack, with 31 requiring hospital treatment.

He said those affected were of all ages and at least 12 nationalities, and added: "It is a poignant reminder that the impact of this attack on the Capital will reach around the world."

Rowley appealed to all members of the public to contact the police if they had any information regarding the attacker.

Over 3,500 witness had been contacted, he said.

Rowley also revealed that the birth name of the UK-born attacker was Adrian Russell Ajao, although he had later gone by the name Khalid Masood and other aliases.

"We remain keen to hear from anyone who knew Khalid Masood well; understands who his associates were; and can provide information about places he has recently visited," said Rowley.

In a speech to the lower house of Parliament on Thursday, British Prime Minister Theresa May said the attacker was believed to have acted alone and had some years ago been investigated by the interior security service, MI5.

"He was once investigated in relation to concerns about violent extremism. He was a peripheral figure. The case is historic_ he was not part of the current intelligence picture," said May.

On Wednesday, Masood drove a car through crowds of pedestrians on Westminster Bridge killing three: Aysha Frade, a 43-year-old British national of Spanish origin, Kurt Cochran, an American tourist whose wife was injured in the attack, and Leslie Rhodes.

Masood then attacked police with a knife, killing Police Constable Keith Palmer before being shot dead by armed officers outside Parliament.

Rowley told the press on Friday that the number of armed police officers in London was at near double strength, while across the UK police numbers had been boosted by around a third.

Speaking about the commemorations that took place in central London late on Thursday, Rowley said the cross section of people who had gathered to remember sent a strong message.

"A strong message_ to those inspired by hate and extremism of all persuasions that we will not give in to those who seek to breed discord and fear," he said.

Source: EFE

EU asks Brazil to suspend meat shipments amid scandal

Members of the Public Health Surveillance Agency collect meats to analyse in their laboratory, at a supermarket in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 20, 2017. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
The European Union has asked Brazil to voluntarily suspend all shipments of meat to its member countries to avoid imposing a ban that would take time to lift, but the Brazilian government has not agreed, EU diplomats in Brasilia told Reuters on Thursday.

Brazilian meat exports have in any case ground almost to a halt following a police investigation into corruption involving food-sanitation inspectors and accusations that rotten products were sold.

A spokeswoman said Brazilian Agriculture Minister Blairo Maggi was not aware of the request.

The Brazilian government suspended meat shipments from the 21 meat-packing plants under investigation by the federal police, while insisting the quality of Brazilian meat was not in doubt.

But European farm groups called on the EU Commission on Thursday to take stronger action against Brazilian meat imports because of the scandal. EU experts meet in Brussels on Friday to decide on possible further measures.

The EU had already suspended imports from four Brazilian meat-processing facilities earlier this week.

EU ambassadors have been seeking more information on the irregularities discovered in Brazil's meat industry and have criticized Brazil's government for failing to deal with the problem as a public health issue, according to a European diplomat who attended a EU meeting on Wednesday.

"We asked the Brazilians to suspend all exports but they refused," said the diplomat, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"There is overall disappointment with the way Brazil is treating this as a public relations issue rather than from a public health point of view," the diplomat said.

Another European diplomatic source confirmed the request that Brazil voluntarily suspend all meat shipments to the EU because a ban would take a long time to undo, whereas meat sales could resume at any time if Brazil held off shipments.


The corruption scandal has hurt Brazil's reputation as the world's largest meat exporter, with sales of almost $14 billion last year. The industry employs 4 million workers.

Brazil's JBS S.A. (JBSS3.SA), the world's biggest meat processor, said on Thursday it suspended beef production at 33 of its 36 plants in Brazil for three days because of the lack of sales.

A dozen countries, including Brazil's largest trading partner, China, have suspended imports of Brazilian meat as a precaution, and eight others have stopped imports from the plants under investigation.

Brazil exported beef, chicken, pork and other meat products worth $1.76 billion to EU members in 2017, and a similar amount to China, where some of the largest Chinese food suppliers have pulled Brazilian beef and poultry from shelves.

Brazilian President Michel Temer said he would call his Chinese counterpart to urge China to review its import ban.

Maggi said on Wednesday that Brazilian meat exports sank to $74,000 on Tuesday from a daily average of $63 million. He told a congressional hearing the scandal could cost the meatpackers $1.5 billion or 10 percent of annual meat exports.

He said on Thursday the police announcement of the corruption probe was exaggerated and wrongly suggested meat quality was being investigated instead of the individuals who violated sanitary rules.

Still, European farm groups Copa and Cogeca said corruption cases were unacceptable.

Brazil's failure to apply EU-equivalent food safety standards raises "serious concerns" about ongoing trade talks between the EU and South American trade bloc Mercosur that Brazil is part of, they said in a letter to the EU Commission.

Source: Reuters

Brazil court rules in favor of Petrobras in tax deduction case

The logo of Brazil's state-run Petrobras oil company is seen on a tank in Sao Caetano do Sul, Brazil, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker/File Photo
A Brazilian tax court ruled that state-controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA did not break the law by deducting expenses related to the development of oil and gas field from its 2009 income taxes.

According to a Friday securities filing, the Finance Ministry could still appeal against the ruling by the tax auditing court, known as CARF.

The Finance Ministry is seeking 5.1 billion reais ($1.6 billion) from Petrobras in compensation for the deduction, newspaper Valor Econômico reported on Thursday.

Source: Reuters

Brazil scandal tests JBS, BRF push for overseas units IPOs

Brazil's two largest food processors are striving to restore confidence in their quality controls as they pursue plans to list overseas units after a scandal over alleged bribery of health officials that triggered bans on Brazilian meat exports.

On Friday, police named Brazil's JBS SA, the world's top meatpacker, and BRF SA, the largest poultry producer, alongside dozens of smaller peers in a probe into alleged payments to officials to forgo inspections and overlook practices including processing rotten meat.

The scandal broke weeks before JBS and BRF were due to launch the initial public offerings of their foreign-based units JBS Foods International and One Foods Holdings Inc - which is BRF's halal meats unit. The deals could fetch a combined $2.5 billion and help accelerate expansion outside Brazil.

While JBS and BRF have denied wrongdoing, the reputation of one of Brazil's flagship industries has been hard hit. Exports of Brazilian meat fell to $74,000 on Tuesday from a daily average of $63 million before the scandal.

China, the largest consumer of Brazilian meat, suspended shipments from the South American country at the weekend, with Hong Kong following suit and the European Union halting purchases from four Brazil-based facilities.

Still, four people involved in the deals said JBS and BRF would press ahead with the IPOs while seeking to shore up investor confidence with a campaign arguing the police probe misstated facts. JBS has no intention to delay the $1 billion IPO of JBS Foods in New York, which it hopes to finalize in May or June, one of the people said.

BRF continues to analyze selling a $1.5 billion stake in One Foods through a London IPO or a private placement, another person said.

Sovereign wealth funds are in talks with BRF over a private stake sale in One Foods. Bank of America Corp and Morgan Stanley & Co are advising BRF on the deal, Reuters reported last week.

Neither firm has seen a pushback from potential investors, said the people, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, because of the sensitivity of the matter. JBS and BRF, both based in São Paulo, declined to comment.


The scandal has slashed about $2.2 billion worth of market value from JBS and BRF since Friday, according to Thomson Reuters data.

JBS shares tumbled nearly 11 percent on Friday, the day the scandal broke, the biggest daily plunge since Oct. 26, when a government agency vetoed a plan to move some operations outside Brazil.

BRF is near its lowest level in more than four years. This week, stocks of both firms have slowly recovered, suggesting Friday's selloff might have been overdone.

According to two New York-based and three London-based fund managers, investors are likely to seek more clarity about the facts surrounding "Operation Weak Flesh."

"The future prospects for any transaction like this, anywhere, will be unclear until all the parties involved remove the overhang on the matter," said Nick Field, who helps manage $26 billion in emerging market equities for London-based Schroder Investment Management.

Field, like the other fund managers, declined to say whether his firm might participate in either IPO.

Both companies and industry groups have launched public relations campaigns to repair the damage.

BRF rejected allegations by police that it mixed cardboard in its products and said there was no evidence it sold rotten meat. JBS said all exporting plants in Brazil followed strict international procedures.


JBS executives plan to hold conference calls with banks working on the JBS Foods IPO as early as this week, allowing them to verify information on the probe with third-party sources, the first person said.

While BRF is the more exposed to Brazil - with 55 percent of its sales and most of its poultry production there - none of its halal plants are suspended as part of the probe.

Analysts like Ronaldo Kasinsky of Santander Investment Securities remained wary, saying the ongoing investigation could deal a real setback to both deals. Investors could fret over valuation, undertake a closer look at operational and safety standards or stretch out due diligence procedures, he said.

Others like Carlos Laboy of HSBC Securities were confident the deals would go through.

The IPO of JBS Foods, which serves 350,000 clients around the world, could help parent company JBS morph from a meatpacker into a highly-valued, global food processing player.

JBS will name the banks underwriting the IPO in a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, one of the people said.

For BRF, the One Foods deal should propel expansion into Asian Muslim nations. One Foods already controls 45 percent of the halal poultry market in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 22 de março de 2017

UK Parliament suspends session as shots heard, police seen on London bridge

Armed police following major incidents outside the Houses of Parliament in central London, Britain, Mar. 22, 2017. EPA/ANDY RAIN
The United Kingdom's lower chamber temporarily suspended a debate session on Wednesday as shots were heard outside, the Houses of Parliament said.

Television images showed police activity on Westminster Bridge next to the clock tower housing Big Ben.

House of Commons leader David Lidington told lawmakers in the House of Commons that a "police officer has been stabbed," adding that an "alleged assailant was shot by armed police."

Television coverage from inside Parliament showed the debate being brought to a close.

The Westminster parliament was reportedly on lockdown as police deployed security personnel.

Source: EFE

Canada suspends Brazil meat imports from two plants in food scandal

Canada suspended meat imports from two Brazilian plants under investigation in a meatpacking scandal, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency said on Tuesday, becoming the latest buyer to distance itself from the world's top beef and poultry exporter.

The food inspection agency said both plants were approved to export meat to Canada but neither had done so for six months.

Other nations, including China, Hong Kong, Mexico, Japan and Switzerland, have also curtailed meat imports from Brazil after a probe into corruption by health inspectors and the alleged sale of rotten products.

Source: Reuters

Brazil's president says pension reform will only apply to federal system

Brazil's President Michel Temer said on Tuesday a pension reform proposed by his administration would only apply to federal employees and would not address systems managed by state governments or large cities in the South American country.

In an apparent attempt to dilute an unpopular reform that is already provoking opposition, Temer said planned changes would only apply to those included in the federal pension system. He said that many state governments were already adjusting their own pension systems or were planning to do so.

"Pension reform is for federal employees," Temer told journalists in a statement, adding that the decision followed lobbying by politicians.

Brazil's center-right government has repeatedly said that reining in pension costs by imposing a minimum retirement age and increasing contributions is essential to tackling a budget deficit that hit 9 percent of gross domestic product last year.

Investor enthusiasm for Temer's business friendly reform agenda helped make its currency and stock market amongst the best performing in the world last year.

Raul Velloso, an economist and specialist in public finances, said the announcement by Temer would complicate the budgetary adjustment as governors would face a difficult task in pushing pension reforms past state assemblies.

"This decision will weaken the budgetary adjustment," Velloso said. "It's much easier for governors to simply say that the adjustment came from Brasilia and they have to implement it."

Source: Reuters

South Africa suspends some meat imports from Brazil

South Africa has suspended some meat imports from Brazil citing a scandal in the South American country's meat processing industry, the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said on Wednesday.

Police in Brazil have launched raids to investigate alleged bribes paid to conceal unsanitary conditions in Brazil's meatpacking facilities.

China and Canada also suspended some meat imports from Brazil on Wednesday.

Source: Reuters

Chinese supermarkets pull Brazil meat from shelves as food safety fears grow

The moves by Sun Art Retail Group (6808.HK), China's biggest hypermarket chain, and the Chinese arms of global retail giants Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) and Metro AG (MEOG.DE) come days after China temporarily suspended Brazilian meat imports.

Safety fears over Brazilian meat have grown since police accused inspectors in the world's biggest exporter of beef and poultry of taking bribes to allow sales of rotten and salmonella-tainted meats.

A spokeswoman for Sun Art Retail, which operates 400 Chinese hypermarkets, said on Wednesday the chain had removed beef supplied by top Brazilian exporters BRF SA (BRFS3.SA) and JBS SA (JBSS3.SA) from its shelves from Monday. Brazilian beef accounts for less than 10 percent of Sun Art's beef supply, she said.

Wal-Mart has also removed Brazilian meat products from its stores, a person familiar with the matter said. He declined to be quoted because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Germany's Metro has withdrawn Brazilian chicken legs and wings from its Chinese stores, said a manager, who declined to be named as he was not allowed to speak to media. The retailer, with 84 stores in China, does not sell Brazilian beef., one of China's biggest online retailers, said in an emailed statement it had also removed all listings for imported Brazilian meat and is reviewing orders in process.

While Brazilian officials sought late on Tuesday to reassure consumers that the investigation had revealed only isolated incidents of sanitary problems, the reaction by Chinese retailers suggests that the probe could have far-reaching repercussions for the world's top meat exporter.

Chinese consumers appeared largely unconcerned or unaware of the scandal in Brazil, with few people commenting on the issue on the country's vibrant social media networks.

But the country has been hit by its own safety scandals in the past, making retailers sensitive to any potential risks.

"We removed the product already on March 20," said Sun Art's spokeswoman, noting it was ahead of the Chinese government's first official comment on the issue.

Brazil is the top supplier of beef to China, accounting for about 31 percent of its imports in the first half of last year. Much of it is used in canteens and foodservice and branded Brazilian beef is less prominent in supermarkets than Australian beef.

Importers are expected to wait a few more days before seeking out alternative supplies, which will likely be more costly than Brazil's.

"It's a 45-day lead-time to get any product here. What if they lift the ban by the end of the week?" said an industry source who declined to be identified.

Hong Kong, the second-biggest buyer of Brazilian meat last year, has also issued a ban on imports, following similar steps by Japan, Canada, Mexico and Switzerland.

Major Hong Kong supermarket chain PARKnSHOP said it had removed Brazilian pork, beef and chicken from shelves.

"To cater for the needs of customers, we will increase the supply of meat and poultry products from other countries," it said in a statement, without elaborating.

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 15 de março de 2017

Brazil workers protest against pension reform, disrupt transport

Brazilian civil servants, rural workers and labor confederations staged nationwide demonstrations on Wednesday against President Michel Temer's pension reform plan, with hundreds of protesters occupying the premises of the finance ministry in the capital Brasilia.

Bus and subway services were partially disrupted in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, the country's most populous cities. Drivers remained stranded because of small street demonstrations across several major avenues in São Paulo's eastern, southern and northern corners.

In Brasilia, more than 1,500 people from peasant and homeless groups held protests at the finance ministry, the Landless Peasant Movement said in a statement.

Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said some damage occurred inside the ministry, without providing details.

"Several floors of the building were invaded because of this strike," Meirelles told reporters in Brasilia.

The demonstrations reflect the deep ideological divide among Brazilians as Temer seeks to pass the nation's most ambitious platform of economic reforms in two decades.

Leaders in Temer's 22-party alliance say capping pension benefits would be a key step to pull the country out of its worst recession on record.

Last week, Temer acknowledged that his administration would have to negotiate with Congress to win passage of the pension reform, which would establish a minimum age of retirement and scale back benefits for civil servants.

Still, senior lawmakers have said there is not much room for changes to Temer's original proposal if the country wants to reduce a record budget deficit that is putting the brakes on an economic recovery and hampering investor confidence.

Public transport workers in the cities of Recife, Curitiba and Belo Horizonte were also striking.

Source: Reuters

New robot sent into Fukushima reactor 1 to study radiation

(FILE) A Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) employee measures radiation level of 213 microsievert per hour in front of the No. 2 (L) and No.3 reactor buildings at TEPCO's tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Okuma town, Fukushima prefecture, Japan, 10 February 2016. EPA/TORU HANAI / POOL
The operator of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant introduced a new robot into Reactor No. 1 Tuesday to measure radiation levels inside and evaluate its condition ahead of a future dismantling.

The self-propelled, remotely-operated robot is equipped with a video camera, thermometer as well as dosimeter - to measure radiation - among other sensors, said the Tokyo Electric Power Company in a statement.

Source: EFE

Putin disapproves of debating whether Russia should return to monarchy

File image of visitors attending an exhibition of the unique dual canvas with a portrait of the last Russian Tsar Nicholas II on one side and Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin on the other side in the Stieglitz Art and Industry Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia, Nov. 30, 2016.  EPA/ANATOLY MALTSEV
The Russian president on Wednesday expressed his disapproval at the re-emerging debate in the country as to whether it should return to a monarchic system, a Kremlin spokesman said.

In the past few years, there have been several voices in Russia calling for the restoration of the monarchy, a century after the last Tsar, Nicholas II Romanov, abdicated in the face of revolution.

Source: EFE

Almost 6 million Adelie penguins live in East Antarctica

A handout photo provided by the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) shows Adelie penguins near Casey Research Station in East Antarctica. EPA/AAD/PETER LAYT
Just under six million Adelie penguins live along 5,000 kilometers of East Antarctica's coasts, according to a study published on Wednesday, 3.6 million more than previously estimated.

A team of researchers from Australia, France and Japan used aerial and ground surveys, automated cameras and tagging and resighting data to conduct a census of the penguins over multiple breeding seasons, according to a statement from the official Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).

Source: EFE

segunda-feira, 13 de março de 2017

Massive 'Pharaoh' statue excavated in Egypt

The relics were found in the north-east of Cairo, close to the temple of Ramses II, also known as Ramses the Great, suggesting it may represent him.

A massive statue, that may be of pharaoh Ramses II, one of the country

Egyptians look on as a crane lifts parts of a statue for restoration after it was unearthed at Souq al-Khamis district, at al-Matareya area, Cairo, Egypt, 13 March 2017

Source: BBC

France to hike tax on cheap cigarettes, rolling tobacco in bid to save lives

A file picture showing a woman taking a pack of cigarettes at a tobacco shop in Montpellier, Southern France, Oct. 1, 2012. EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO
The French government on Friday announced it would be hiking the tax on cheap cigarettes and rolling tobacco as part of a campaign to tackle deaths from smoking.

The move follows other initiatives aimed at addressing the figure of some 73,000 annual deaths stemming from the habit.

The tax increase would apply to packs of cigarettes that retail for less than 6.60 euro ($7), which make up about 40 percent of the brands on the market, according to a statement issued by Health Minister Marisol Touraine.

Taxation per packet would increase by 10-20 cents euro, while rolling tobacco costing less than 8 euro per 30 grams would also be affected by the initiative.

The cost of loose tobacco in France went up from 5.10 euro in 2004 to 9.85 euro in 2016.

Other anti-smoking measures adopted in the European nation include the introduction of "neutral" or plain cigarette packaging that is void of branding, proof-of-age checks for tobacco buyers, as well as the banning of flavored liquids for vaporizers.

Source: EFE

Brazil sees American Airlines investment as show of confidence

American Airlines Inc (AAL.O) plans to invest $100 million in an aircraft maintenance center in Sao Paulo, a Brazilian minister said on Thursday, touting it as a sign of confidence in Latin America's largest economy despite Brazil's recession and latest political turmoil.

Investment Partnerships Minister Wellington Moreira Franco said the U.S. airline would set up its first maintenance center in South America at Sao Paulo's Guarulhos international airport.

"An American Airlines executive told me today the company does not share the pessimistic view of Brazil in the media and believes Brazil's market will grow strongly," he told Reuters.

Moreira Franco said road shows in the United States, Britain, France and Japan revealed investor interest in Brazil's changing business climate since conservative President Michel Temer took power following the removal of impeached leftist Dilma Rousseff last year.

American Airlines spokesman Josh Freed said the No. 1 U.S. airline by passenger traffic has plans to invest in Brazil but that he could not immediately confirm the amount.

Moreira Franco said services to other airlines could eventually be offered at the maintenance center, but Freed said any work done in Sao Paulo would only be on American Airlines aircraft.

Private concessions are being decided according to market supply and demand and not by ideological criteria used by Rousseff that discouraged investors from building roads and railways or upgrading airports, Moreira Franco said in an interview.

The Temer government plans to end a 20 percent restriction on foreign stakes in Brazil's airlines and allow open participation by investors from other countries, though a bill must still be sent to Congress.

"You don't need a percentage for ownership stakes. This is a new reality," he said.

Four airports will be auctioned to private concessionaires on March 16, and the state company that manages Brazil's airports will not take part for the first time.

Temer launched a plan for further infrastructure concessions on Tuesday aiming to raise 45 billion reais ($14.43 billion) in investment to build and operate roads, port terminals, railways and power transmission lines.

The plan is at the heart of Temer's efforts to restore Brazil's credibility and pull Latin America's largest economy out of its worst-ever recession after the end of a commodities boom and a decade of rule by the leftist Workers Party.

Temer is betting on private investment to revive the economy despite political turbulence from a massive scandal involving bribery and political kickbacks on government contracts.

Moreira Franco, and the president himself, have been named in plea bargain testimony by defendants as beneficiaries of graft money, along with other cabinet ministers and leaders of his PMDB party. They deny any wrongdoing.

"That has nothing to do with the business world," he said. "Our only concerns are to lower inflation, interest rates, unemployment and restore growth."

Moreira Franco said the government's main challenge was to ensure a majority in Congress to push through a pensions reform bill that is key to bringing a widening budget deficit under control.

Source: Reuters

Brazil's Temer prepared to negotiate on pension reform

Brazil's President Michel Temer gestures during a ceremony at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 7, 2017. REUTERS/Adriano Machado
Brazilian President Michel Temer acknowledged on Friday that his government will have to negotiate with Congress to obtain passage of a bill to overhaul Brazil's costly pension system because it will face objections from politicians.

"We will have to dialogue," he said in an interview with radio broadcaster CBN. His government is worried that there is not much room for concessions in a proposal that could fail to help reduce a ballooning budget deficit if it is watered down.

Source: Reuters

Hate daylight saving time? You may have a point, researchers say

Scott Gow adjusts a tower clock on test at the Electric Time Company in Medfield, Massachusetts. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
For most Americans, daylight saving time means only one thing: losing an hour's sleep. So what is the point?

This is actually a reasonable question, according to a growing body of scientific research.

Daylight saving time is the practice of moving clocks forward by one hour during summer months so that daylight lasts longer into evening. Most of North America and Europe follows the custom, while the majority of countries elsewhere do not.

When clocks in almost all of the United States spring forward by an hour at 2 a.m. on Sunday, it will likely prompt an increase in heart attacks and strokes, cause more car accidents and reduce worker productivity, according to studies. It will also fail to cut the nation's energy bill, contrary to what the experts once believed.

In December, a psychology journal published results showing that federal judges handed out sentences that were on average 5 percent longer the day after daylight saving time began than those given out one week before or after.

Disruptions, even minor ones, to human beings' sleep patterns can have outsized effects, according to researchers.

"Our study suggests that sudden, even small changes in sleep could have detrimental effects," Amneet Sandhu of the University of Colorado told Reuters in 2014 after his study of Michigan hospital data showed a 25 percent jump in heart attacks on the Monday after daylight saving time began.

Daylight saving time, which runs until the fall, was widely adopted during World War Two as an energy-saving measure. The rationale was that a later sunset meant people would spend fewer hours using lights inside their homes in the evening.

But studies have generally failed to show significant energy savings associated with the shift.

Plenty of people expressed frustration on social media on Saturday, as the prospect of losing an hour's sleep loomed large.

"Daylight Savings Time seems like a communist plot to get us all confused and tired and thinking the government wants to help us," wrote Twitter user Michael Farris Jr.

Abolishing daylight saving time – or conversely, extending it year-round – would require a law passed by U.S. Congress. States are allowed to opt out of daylight saving time, but all states are required to follow standard time from November to March.

Legislators in some states have tried unsuccessfully to pass laws abandoning daylight saving time, but Arizona and Hawaii are the only states that do not reset their clocks twice a year. For everyone else, Sunday morning will come just a little bit earlier than usual.

Source: Reuters

sexta-feira, 10 de março de 2017

Brazil banks use M&A to resolve complex restructuring cases

Brazil's largest banks are increasingly demanding that companies put themselves up for sale as a condition to cut loan principal amounts, providing a jolt to an otherwise weak M&A climate in Latin America's largest economy.

Since the start of September, about a dozen Brazilian M&A deals have been related to restructurings, Thomson Reuters data showed. That represents about 15 percent of total Brazilian deals during the period. The percentage is higher among the largest lenders.

Over the same five-month period, eight of the 16 deals in which Banco Bradesco SA (BBDC4.SA), Brazil's top M&A lender, has acted as adviser involved restructuring-related asset sales.

The banks have been bruised by an unprecedented credit downturn that magnified Brazil's harshest-ever recession and the fallout from a corruption scandal that hit many large corporate borrowers.

Lenders have accepted losses north of 40 percent on the value of principal owed by some companies, from lingerie maker Scalina SA to sugar and ethanol mills Antonio Ruette Agroindustrial and Unialco SA Álcool e Açúcar, five people familiar with the cases said.

The sources, who spoke in recent weeks, requested anonymity in order to discuss matters freely.

They said drugstore chain Brasil Pharma SA (BPHA3.SA) could be the next candidate, as banks reduce the chain's 600 million-real ($190 million) debt by 40 percent and Grupo BTG Pactual (BBTG11.SA) transfers its ownership, two of the sources said.

Banks such as Banco Bradesco SA, state-controlled Banco do Brasil SA (BBAS3.SA), Itaú Unibanco Holding SA (ITUB4.SA) and Banco Santander Brasil SA (SANB11.SA) are agreeing to cut principal only if the companies' owners agree to transfer ownership to a third party, the people said. The third party could be a buyout firm or a strategic rival with better prospects of running it profitably.

With Scalina, banks agreed to slash the company's debt by 44 percent after rival Lupo bought the company from a group led by Carlyle Group LP (CG.O) funds, ending a dispute with lenders.

In Unialco's case, the company's assets were sold off as part of a restructuring in which creditors forgave around 85 percent of its debts.

And Antonio Ruette's creditors agreed to cut its debt by 40 percent, but only after a deal was reached in which Proterra Investment Partners, a fund backed by Cargill Inc [CARG.UL], took control of its mills from the ethanol company's eponymous founder.


Brasil Pharma (BPHA3.SA) could find a solution to transfer the ownership within weeks, one of the sources said. Grupo BTG Pactual, BR Pharma and the creditors declined to comment.

Banks are demanding ownership changes in order to stem defaults and curb the large loan-loss provisioning that caused their profits to decline last year for the first time since 2009.

An initial phase of debt restructurings in 2015 had focused solely on extending terms of troubled loans. Bankers say they are hoping the latest deals will bring more definitive solutions.

After refinancing or setting aside provisions for about 140 billion reais of loans last year, lenders have grown wary of leaving existing shareholders in place, a practice that has tended to create a situation of "moral hazard," three of the people said..

The new strategy may be allowing more companies to avert bankruptcy filings, which decreased by 22 percent in the first two months of this year, according to figures from Experian Plc.

The ownership change deals can also create business for the banks in the form of M&A fees, although credit losses tend to overshadow that revenue by a large degree.

Stricter regulatory scrutiny stemming from the corruption scandal has contributed to a 55 percent drop in announced deals in Brazil so far this year, Thomson Reuters data showed, compounding the impact of the recession.

Source: Reuters

Surprise drop in Brazil inflation paves way for sharper rate cut

A machine for credit cards is seen next to groceries on a stall at Feira Livre market on the streets of Pinheiros neighbourhood in Sao Paulo January 6, 2015. REUTERS/Nacho Doce
Brazil's inflation rate eased much more than expected in February to its lowest level since 2010 amid a deep recession, data showed on Friday, strengthening the case for a steeper interest rate cut by the central bank next month.

Consumer prices rose 4.76 percent in the 12 months through February, according to government statistics agency IBGE's IPCA index, slowing from an increase of 5.35 percent in January.

February's inflation came in below expectations of all 24 economists polled by Reuters. The index also undershot expectations for a seventh straight month.

For the first time since 2009, annual inflation is lower in Brazil than in emerging market peer Mexico, where price increases shot up to their highest rate in nearly seven years after the U.S. presidential election sparked a sharp drop in the Mexican currency.

Brazil's sudden inflation slowdown highlights the unprecedented severity of the country's two-year recession and is helping President Michel Temer's economic team to restore the credibility of fiscal and monetary policy to curb price rises.

"That's the kind of inflation rate that every central banker would like to see," said Marco Caruso, an economist with Banco Pine in São Paulo. "But it's a good outcome of something that is really bad: a very poor economic situation."

Yields on interest rate futures fell sharply on Friday as investors saw a greater likelihood that the central bank would cut its benchmark interest rate by 100 basis points in April.

The bank reduced the rate by 75 basis points at its last monetary policy meeting in February.

Most economists expect Brazil's inflation to fall below the official goal of 4.5 percent this year, which would likely lead the government to cut the target for 2019 and beyond, according to Reuters surveys.

The IPCA index rose 0.33 percent in February, the smallest increase for the month since 2000.

Source: Reuters

South Korean court throws president out of office, two die in protest

South Korea's Constitutional Court removed President Park Geun-hye from office on Friday over a graft scandal involving the country's conglomerates at a time of rising tensions with North Korea and China.

The ruling sparked protests from hundreds of her supporters, two of whom were killed in clashes with police outside the court, and a festive rally by those who had demanded her ouster who celebrated justice being served.

"We did it. We the citizens, the sovereign of this country, opened a new chapter in history," Lee Tae-ho, who leads a movement to oust Park that has held mostly peaceful rallies in downtown involving millions, told a large gathering in Seoul.

Park becomes South Korea's first democratically elected leader to be forced from office, capping months of paralysis and turmoil over the corruption scandal that also landed the head of the Samsung conglomerate in detention and on trial.

A snap presidential election will be held within 60 days.

She did not appear in court and a spokesman said she would not be making any comment. Nor would she leave the presidential Blue House residence on Friday.

"Park is not leaving the Blue House today," Blue House spokesman Kim Dong Jo told Reuters.

Park was stripped of her powers after parliament voted to impeach her but has remained in the president's official compound.

The court's acting chief judge, Lee Jung-mi, said Park had violated the constitution and law "throughout her term", and despite the objections of parliament and the media, she had concealed the truth and cracked down on critics.

Park has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing.

The ruling to uphold parliament's Dec. 9 vote to impeach her marks a dramatic fall from grace of South Korea's first woman president and daughter of Cold War military dictator Park Chung-hee. Both her parents were assassinated.

Park, 65, no longer has immunity and could now face criminal charges over bribery, extortion and abuse of power in connection with allegations of conspiring with her friend, Choi Soon-sil.

Graphic: Who's Who in Korea scandal here


Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn was appointed acting president and will remain in that post until the election. He called on Park's supporters and opponents to put their differences aside to prevent deeper division.

"It is time to accept, and close the conflict and confrontation we have suffered," Hwang said in a televised speech.

A liberal presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, is leading in opinion polls to succeed Park, with 32 percent in one released on Friday. Hwang, who has not said whether he will seek the presidency, leads among conservatives, none of whom has more than single-digit poll ratings.

"Given Park's spectacular demise and disarray among conservatives, the presidential contest in May is the liberals' to lose," said Yonsei University professor John Delury.

Relations with China and the United States could dominate the coming presidential campaign, after South Korea this month deployed the U.S. THAAD missile defense system in response to North Korea's stepped up missile and nuclear tests.

Beijing has vigorously protested against the deployment, fearing its radar could see into its missile deployments. China has curbed travel to South Korea and targeted Korean companies operating in the mainland, prompting retaliatory measures from Seoul.

The Seoul market's benchmark KOSPI index .KS11 and the won currency KRW= rose after the ruling.

The prospect of a new president in the first half of this year instead of prolonged uncertainty would buoy domestic demand as well as the markets, said Trinh Nguyen, senior economist at Natixis in Hong Kong.

"The hope is that this will allow the country to have a new leader that can address long-standing challenges such as labor market reforms and escalated geopolitical tensions," he said.

Park was accused of colluding with her friend, Choi, and a former presidential aide, both of whom have been on trial, to pressure big businesses to donate to two foundations set up to back her policy initiatives.

The court said Park had "completely hidden the fact of (Choi's) interference with state affairs".

Park was also accused of soliciting bribes from the head of the Samsung Group for government favors, including backing a merger of two Samsung affiliates in 2015 that was seen as supporting family succession and control over the country's largest "chaebol" or conglomerate.

Samsung Group leader Jay Y. Lee has been accused of bribery and embezzlement in connection with the scandal and is in detention. His trial began on Thursday.

He and Samsung have denied wrongdoing.


The scandal and verdict have exposed fault lines in a country long divided by Cold War politics.

While Park's conservative supporters clashed with police outside the court, elsewhere most people welcomed her ouster. A recent poll showed more than 70 percent supported her impeachment.

Hundreds of thousands of people have for months been gathering at peaceful rallies in Seoul every weekend to call for her to step down.

On Friday, hundreds of Park's supporters, many of them elderly, tried to break through police barricades at the courthouse. Police said one 72-year-old man was taken to hospital with a head injury and died. The circumstances of the second death were being investigated.

Six people were injured, protest organizers said.

Police blocked the main thoroughfare running through downtown Seoul in anticipation of bigger protests.

Park will be making a tragic and untimely departure from the Blue House for the second time in her life.

In 1979, having served as acting first lady after her mother was killed by a bullet meant for her father, she and her two siblings left the presidential compound after their father was killed.

This time, she could end up in jail.

Prosecutors have named Park as an accomplice in two court cases linked to the scandal, suggesting she is likely to be investigated.

North Korean state media wasted little time labeling Park a criminal.

"She had one more year left as 'president' but, now she's been ousted, she will be investigated as a common criminal," the North's state KCNA news agency said shortly after the court decision.

Source: Reuters

Commodities mark worst week in months amid glut, China drag

A motorist holds a fuel pump at a Gulf petrol station in London April 18, 2006.  REUTERS/Luke MacGregor/File Photo
Global commodities from oil to metals and grains were on course to post their steepest weekly declines in months on Friday as the recent rallies in the asset class showed signs of fatigue, pressured by a glut and tepid demand from top consumer China.

Gold, which investors typically run to when they flee risky assets, was not spared from this week's selloff as the metal dropped below the critical $1,200 an ounce support amid a looming U.S. interest rate hike.

The Thomson Reuters CRB index, a measure of 19 commodities, is headed for its biggest weekly fall since November.

China's decision on Sunday to cut its economic growth target this year to around 6.5 percent "came across as slightly negative for commodities," said Vishnu Varathan, senior economist at Mizuho Bank.

"But the underlying tone there is there should be some support on the way down because China hasn't really relinquished its desire for growth stability either," said Varathan."Commodities might take a step back, a bit of a breather from the rally last year, but the hopes are tilted to the upside."

With little pull from China, the market focus shifted back to the surplus of raw materials, dragging down commodities after last year's recovery.

U.S. crude oil, which fell below $50 a barrel on Thursday for the first time since mid-December, has lost nearly 7 percent so far this week, the most since November. It was up 0.8 percent at $49.68 by 0916 GMT.

Brent crude, last up 0.7 percent at $52.55 a barrel, has fallen 6 percent for the week, also the biggest since November.

"Steep price falls in the last two days amid building U.S. inventories show that the market remains concerned about the supply-demand balance," NAB Group Economics said in a note. [O/R]

Three-month copper on the London Metal Exchange, trading near a two-month low at $5,707 a tonne, has declined 3.5 percent this week, heading for its largest such drop since August. [MET/L]

Stocks at LME warehouses have risen to the highest since December amid worries over Asian demand.

Iron ore, at a one-month trough below $87 a tonne, was headed for its worst week since mid-November, amid a growing mountain of stocks at Chinese ports - the highest since at least 2004 at around 130 million tonnes.

Iron ore rallied with steel this year despite rising port stocks. But as steel prices pulled back, concerns emerged over the expanding inventory of the steelmaking ingredient that could increase further. [IRONORE/]

In agriculture, Chicago soybean futures were poised for their biggest weekly loss since December on forecasts for a record Brazilian crop and corn was eyeing its biggest weekly decline since August. [GRA/]

A stronger dollar pulled down spot gold to its weakest since Jan. 31 ahead of key U.S. jobs data that may reinforce expectations for a rate increase next week when Federal Reserve policymakers meet. [GOL/]

The precious metal has dropped 3 percent this week, the most since November.

"Gold will be under pressure going into the FOMC meeting and hover around the $1,185-$1,190 level," said Ronald Leung, chief dealer at Lee Cheong Gold Dealers in Hong Kong.

Source: Reuters

Bets on gold hold ground even as Fed rate hike looms large

One kilogram gold bars are seen in this picture illustration taken at the Korea Gold Exchange in Seoul August 9, 2011. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak
While an imminent hike in U.S. interest rates is putting a downdraft on gold prices, bullion's allure as a safe haven is likely to limit the downside, traders and analysts say, owing to uncertainties in the United States and Europe.

Gold slumped to a 10-month low in mid-December after rates were increased for the first time in a year, but gold investors don't appear to be as jittery ahead of the next Fed meeting and a near-certain rate rise on March 14-15.

The previous slide came also as equity investors cheered the election of U.S. President Donald Trump, but gold has since recovered about 7 percent on a lack of clarity on Trump's policies and worries about upcoming elections in Europe.

"The expectations of rate hikes are already priced into gold unless the expectations grow to four hikes, which we think is unwarranted," said analyst Dominic Schnider of UBS Wealth Management in Hong Kong.

"With a more hawkish Fed, there is no incentive to chase gold. But, the disappointment potential on President Donald Trump is very high. The Congress will not give what he wants."

Higher interest rates make it less attractive to hold non-interest bearing gold, while a firmer U.S. dollar also makes gold more expensive for buyers in other currencies.

Gold has fallen about 5 percent from a three-month peak on Feb. 24 to $1,198 an ounce, but traders say the risks of a sharp technical fall have eased and expect physical demand to emerge in a band from $1,150 to $1,200 an ounce.

"From the fund management industry, some people believe in this political uncertainty trend, and they are buyers of gold," said Hans Brandt, commodity fund manager at Swisscanto Invest.

"Some believe economic growth is picking up, the dollar is getting stronger over the next 3-6 months. Those people are sellers at this level."


Speculative long positions held by hedge funds and money managers in COMEX gold have nearly tripled this year, suggesting a fresh round of allocations into gold in 2017.

However, the 121,720 lots at Feb. 28 were still less than half of the 286,921 contracts held in July 2016, when speculative fever was at its peak as gold prices hit over 2-year highs at $1,374.91 an ounce.

This lower amassed speculator position reduces the threat of a sharp drop in prices should a flood of speculative positions be unwound, said Commerzbank analyst Carsten Fritsch.

Increasing inflation across a number of major economies will also likely dampen appetite for fixed income investments and support gold, said UBS's Schnider.

"There is interest in physical gold if prices drop below $1,200. People will definitely see value below $1,200 and that will help stabilize the market. So far, ETFs also have looked resilient," Schnider said.

Physical gold holdings in exchange-traded funds have fallen since last week, partly because of a stronger dollar, but at 54.45 million ounces are still nearly 3 percent higher than at the start of February. Holdings are also roughly 6 million ounces or 13 percent above where they were in early March 2016.

Meanwhile, gold is expected to be boosted by political risks stemming from Britain's exit from the EU and upcoming contentious elections elsewhere in Europe.

"The impact of a Fed rate hike will be offset as we go into the French elections. This year, we also have German, Dutch and Italian elections and all have the possibility of surprises," INTL FCStone analyst Edward Meir said.

"We saw very good physical demand when prices came near $1,150. Especially, the German public is very keen on buying. Nobody is talking about interest rates there," said Michael Kempinski, Managing Director, Degussa Precious Metals Asia Pte. Ltd.

"People in Europe face uncertainty every day ... when prices come down, they buy more."

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 8 de março de 2017

Chile launches first LatAm study on marijuana benefits for cancer patients

(FILE) A man trims plants on in a cannabis plantation located at Colbun, 270 km south of Santiago, Chile, 11 January 2016. EPA/BENJAMIN HERNANDEZ
The Daya Foundation and Knopf Laboratories, two Chilean institutions specializing in the therapeutic use of marijuana, presented Tuesday their joint project for the first Latin American study on the use of medical marijuana to ease the pain of breast and lung cancer.

"The clinical trial is designed to test the efficacy and security of a cannabis-based pharmaceutical for patients with breast or lung cancer. It is a very relevant study because it means Chile will be leading the way to the democratization of medical marijuana," Ana Maria Gazmuri, president of the Daya Foundation, told EFE.

Source: EFE