segunda-feira, 31 de julho de 2017

Putin: US Embassy in Russia to lose 755 staffers

Undated photo showing Russian President Vladimir Putin attending a naval parade in St. Petersburg. EFE

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Sunday that 755 workers at the US Embassy and consulates in his nation - including diplomatic and technical personnel - will have to cease their work starting Sept. 1.

More than 1,000 officials work in Russia for the US Embassy and now 755 of them must stop doing so, said Putin in a interview with Russian state television Rossiya 1.

Source: EFE

For Brazil judge Moro, politicians not yet keen to fight corruption

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Brazilian federal judge Sergio Moro, the man behind Brazil's largest ever corruption investigation, said there is still lack of interest from the country's political establishment to fight corruption, despite the political and economic crisis the practice sent the country into.

In one of his rare interviews and the first since the conviction of former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Moro told Latin American news outlets who comprise the "Investigate Car Wash" cooperative journalism group, that politicians think this is not a task they should consider as their duty.

"Unfortunately, I see the lack of a more vigorous attitude from Brazilian authorities regarding the problem of corruption," said Moro in the interview, which was partially published on Sunday by Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

"There is the impression that fighting corruption is only a task for policeman, prosecutors and judges," said Moro, the judge overseeing the so-called Car Wash investigation that has sent dozens of politicians and businessmen from Brazil's elite to jail.

Earlier this month, Moro sentenced Lula to nearly 10 years in jail after finding him guilty of accepting 3.7 million reais ($1.2 million) worth of bribes from engineering firm OAS SA, money prosecutors said the company spent refurbishing a beach apartment for Lula in return for his help winning contracts with state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA (PETR4.SA).

The ruling marked a stunning fall for one of the country's most popular politicians, and a serious blow to Lula's chances of a political comeback. The former president faces four more corruption trials and will remain free on appeal.

Current president Michel Temer also faces accusations of having taking bribes from meatpacker JBS (JBSS3.SA) to facilitate the firm's businesses in the country. Brazilian Congress will vote during the week if it allows or not the corruption charge to be sent to the Supreme Court for the leader to be put on trial.

In the interview, Moro hit back at criticism from Supreme Court judge Gilmar Mendes regarding some of the methods used by him during the Car Wash investigation, such as prison orders issued even before the trials.

"Judges have different understandings. There are no extraordinary law in the cases judged here. But in the Car Wash, to interrupt the cycle of crime, some drastic measures were needed," said Moro.

Source: Reuters

U.S. coal exports soar, in boost to Trump energy agenda, data shows

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U.S. coal exports have jumped more than 60 percent this year due to soaring demand from Europe and Asia, according to a Reuters review of government data, allowing President Donald Trump's administration to claim that efforts to revive the battered industry are working.

The increased shipments came as the European Union and other U.S. allies heaped criticism on the Trump administration for its rejection of the Paris Climate Accord, a deal agreed by nearly 200 countries to cut carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels like coal.

The previously unpublished figures provided to Reuters by the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed exports of the fuel from January through May totaled 36.79 million tons, up 60.3 percent from 22.94 million tons in the same period in 2016. While reflecting a bounce from 2016, the shipments remained well-below volumes recorded in equivalent periods the previous five years.

They included a surge to several European countries during the 2017 period, including a 175 percent increase in shipments to the United Kingdom, and a doubling to France - which had suffered a series of nuclear power plant outages that required it and regional neighbors to rely more heavily on coal.

"If Europe wants to lecture Trump on climate then EU member states need transition plans to phase out polluting coal," said Laurence Watson, a data scientist working on coal at independent think tank Carbon Tracker Initiative in London.

Nicole Bockstaller, a spokeswoman at the EU Commission's Energy and Climate Action department, said that the EU's coal imports have generally been on a downward trend since 2006, albeit with seasonable variations like high demand during cold snaps in the winter.

Overall exports to European nations totaled 16 million tons in the first five months of this year, up from 10.5 million in the same period last year, according to the figures. Exports to Asia meanwhile, totaled 12.3 million tons, compared to 6.2 million tons in the year-earlier period.

Trump had campaigned on a promise to "cancel" the Paris deal and sweep away Obama-era environmental regulations to help coal miners, whose output last year sank to the lowest level since 1978. The industry has been battered for years by surging supplies of cheaper natural gas, brought on by better drilling technologies, and increased use of natural gas to fuel power plants.

His administration has since sought to kill scores of pending regulations he said threatened industries like coal mining, and reversed a ban on new coal leasing on federal lands.

Taking Credit

Both the coal industry and the Trump administration said the rising exports of both steam coal, used to generate electricity, and metallurgical coal, used in heavy industry, were evidence that Trump's agenda was having a positive impact.

"Simply to know that coal no longer has to fight the government - that has to have some effect on investment decisions and in the outlook by companies, producers and utilities that use coal," said Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association.

Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman at the U.S. Energy Department, said: "These numbers clearly show that the Trump Administration's policies are helping to revive an industry that was the target of costly and job killing overregulation from Washington for far too long."

Efforts to obtain comment from exporters Arch Coal (ARCH.N) and privately held Murray Energy Corp were unsuccessful. Contura Energy, which emerged as part of Alpha Natural Resource's bankruptcy and restructuring, and filed for public offering in May, declined to comment.

A spokesman for Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer, though without a major export profile, said the United States was generally a "swing supplier of seaborne coal."

U.S. Energy Information Administration analyst Elias Johnson said the U.S. coal industry may now be better positioned to meet foreign demand because U.S. miners have learned to produce at lower cost, after coming through a series of recent bankruptcies.

"There's the possibility that the U.S. will become more of a primary player in the global coal trade market," he said.

But he added there are also plenty of reasons the spike in demand could be temporary. For one thing, U.S. coal production and transportation costs are much higher than for other producers such as Indonesia and Australia.

Because coal can often be transhipped from European ports before it is consumed, it is also hard to determine where shipments ultimately end up.

Johnson pointed out that some of the fuel shipped into Western Europe, for example, could be making its way to other places like Ukraine, which is having trouble securing coal from its separatist-held regions.

Trump said last month that his administration is offering more coal to Ukraine, but it was unclear how, given deals are typically worked out between companies.

Source: Reuters

sexta-feira, 28 de julho de 2017

Russia responds to sanctions threat, orders USA to cut its diplomatic corps

A file image shows the US flag waves at the Embassy of the United States of America in Moscow, Russia, Dec 30, 2016. EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV

Moscow has ordered the United States to slash the number of staff at its Russian embassy in response to further sanctions being mulled over in Washington amid a growing diplomatic rift between the two countries, Russia's Foreign Ministry announced Friday.

A package of punitive measures for Russia's alleged meddling in the 2016 US election and for its military venture into eastern Ukraine and the Crimea has passed through both houses of the US Congress and awaits the final verdict from President Donald Trump.

The ministry told the US to cut its Russia-based staff from Sept. 1, and mirror Russia's diplomatic corps in the US: "This means that the total number of personnel involved in the American diplomatic and consular institutions in the Russian Federation is reduced to 455."

Any actions to further reduce the number of Russian diplomatic staff working in the US would be matched tit-for-tat, the statement said, adding: "We reserve the right on other mutual measures, which can affect US interests."

Russian officials also suspended the use of US embassy storage facilities in Moscow as well as a vacation house used by US staff.

Russia denounced what it termed an entrenched Russophobia in the decision-making circles of the US and said the pursuit of further sanctions against Moscow showed that bilateral relations had become hostage to internal political struggles in Washington.

"The US is stubbornly taking one crudely anti-Russian step after another, using the utterly fictitious pretext of Russian interference in its internal affairs," the ministry said.

Moscow's decision came a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin described the US sanctions bill as "anti-Russian hysteria."

Russia maintains that the sanctions being drawn up against it are illegal and baseless but the West maintains its accusation that it interfered in the US vote and of destabilizing eastern Ukraine by supporting pro-Russian rebels in the civil war that erupted there in 2014 as Moscow moved to annex the Crimean Peninsula.

It remains to be seen whether Trump will give his backing to the proposed sanctions, which also include punitive measures against North Korea and Iran.

Members of Trump's inner circle have been dogged by claims that they colluded with Russians to gather information on the then-Republican candidate's Democrat Party opponent Hillary Clinton.

The current White House administration denies collusion.

Source: EFE

Brazil to shift funds from investments to police, air traffic

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Brazil's government will redirect 2.2 billion reais ($700 million) from investments to essential services such as air traffic control to avoid disruptions caused by its austerity drive, Planning Minister Dyogo Oliveira said on Thursday.

With the Brazilian economy still reeling from its worst recession on record, policymakers have frozen about 45 billion reais in federal spending and raised taxes as they struggle to meet their budget target for the year.

In recent weeks, the fiscal discipline has started to disrupt services such as passport services, raising concerns about the feasibility of an agenda that many investors consider crucial for the long-term stability of public debt.

Oliveira said the government will seek to preserve essential services such as civil defense, federal police investigations and road and air traffic control at the expense of spending on public investments under the so-called PAC program.

The program originally had 36 billion reais earmarked for public investments in 2017 but successive budget freezes have whittled it to 19.7 billion reais.

Oliveira reiterated that he expects the budget freeze to be eased later this year with the help of one-off revenues.

Asked whether the government could change this year's budget target, Oliveira said he would not speculate.

Brazil is targeting a budget deficit of 139 billion reais this year before interest payments. The deficit in the 12 months through May reached 167.6 billion reais, equivalent to 2.59 percent of gross domestic product.

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 26 de julho de 2017

Japan aluminium industry fears U.S. trade action may prompt retaliation

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Japan's aluminium industry is worried that any U.S. trade action to block imports of the metal may result in surplus supply elsewhere and prompt a chain-reaction of retaliation by other nations, the head of a trade body said on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump's administration is determined to curb imports of aluminium, along with steel. In April, it initiated a "Section 232" review of the aluminium industry using a 1962 law that allows the imposition of tariffs or quotas on imports if national security is threatened.

Results of the review are still pending, but the move has been widely criticized by diplomats who say it risks retaliation and could undermine global trade if national security becomes an accepted excuse to break international trade rules.

"Direct impact to Japan may be limited given the small portion of its exports that go to the U.S. market, but a possible battle among many other nations to exclude imports would be the biggest threat to free trade," Mitsuru Okada, the new chairman of the Japan Aluminium Association told a small group of reporters.

Japan, which produces about 2 million tonnes of rolled and extruded aluminium products a year, exported nearly 250,000 tonnes of those products in 2016.

About 10 percent of the exported material went to the United States, according to the nation's trade data.

Okada is also president of Japan's biggest aluminium fabricator UACJ Corp, which has been aggressively investing overseas over the past several years, including in China, Thailand and the United States.

If many countries start shutting their doors to imports, it would affect his company's strategy as the UACJ plant in Thailand was built to become an export base to Oceania, the Middle East and points further west, he said.

Okada also expressed concerns over surplus aluminium capacity in top producer China.

"We hear China is cutting smelters' capacity, but we don't know if it will continue," Okada said, pointing to growing ingot demand from local aluminium fabricators that are rapidly expanding production capacity.

Aluminium prices have gained more than 10 percent this year, in part due to the capacity cuts in China. Benchmark prices stood at around $1,943 per tonne on Wednesday.

"The prices have bounced back on hopes for China's capacity reduction and growing demand for automobiles," Okada said.

The global trend toward stricter environmental rules for automobiles will continue, he said, and force automakers to use lighter materials.

Source: Reuters

Russia, EU bristle at proposed new U.S. sanctions on Moscow, warn of action

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Russia warned it was edging closer to retaliation against Washington after the House of Representatives backed new U.S. sanctions on Moscow, while the European Union said the move might affect its energy security and it stood ready to act too.

The lower house of the U.S. Congress overwhelmingly voted to impose new sanctions on Moscow on Tuesday and to force President Donald Trump to obtain lawmakers' permission before easing any punitive measures on Russia.

"This is rather sad news from the point of view of Russia-U.S. ties," said Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman. "We are talking about an extremely unfriendly act."

He said President Vladimir Putin would decide if and how Moscow would retaliate once the fresh sanctions became law, while Russia's deputy foreign minister warned the move was taking bilateral relations into uncharted waters, killing off any hope of improving them in the near future.

The sanctions still need to be approved by the Senate and by President Donald Trump himself. But Bob Corker, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Wednesday the measure was likely to become law "very, very soon".

Trump, who has found his presidency embroiled in a distracting row over his associates' alleged ties to Moscow and is on the defensive over accusations Moscow helped him win election last year, has said he is keen to try to mend relations with Russia that are languishing at a post-Cold War low.

But most White House watchers believe Trump will reluctantly sign off on the new sanctions, given deep support for them among U.S. lawmakers, including fellow Republicans, and his desire to avoid being accused of being soft on Moscow.

The U.S. sanctions demarche has rattled Russia, which fears that its economy, weakened by a 2014 batch of Western sanctions imposed over its role in the Ukraine crisis, will now find it harder to recover and grow. Foreign investors could be scared off and the original sanctions would remain in place longer.

For its part, the European Union frets the new U.S. move could throw up obstacles to its firms doing business with Russia and threaten the bloc's energy supply lines.

The Kremlin, which flatly denies interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to the benefit of Trump - a charge that helped propel the House action - says Washington is in the grip of what it calls anti-Russian hysteria.

Moscow has called the new sanctions "an extremely unfriendly step" that would hurt bilateral ties and international trade.

Peskov complained of a blow against international law. But he said Moscow would wait until the sanctions became law before fully analyzing them and deciding how to respond.

The new sanctions legislation risks sinking Trump's own agenda to improve ties with Moscow altogether.

"Uncharted Territory"

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency that relations were now entering "uncharted territory in a political and diplomatic sense".

Moscow had initially hoped that Trump, who made upbeat statements about Putin before winning the White House, would work to repair the U.S.-Russia relationship.

But it has watched with frustration as the vote-meddling allegations have killed off hopes of any detente despite what it considered a positive first meeting between Trump and Putin at a G20 meeting in Germany earlier this month.

Ryabkov said the latest sanctions step in Congress left no room to improve relations in the near future.

He also made clear Moscow was growing tired of showing restraint over what it sees as a series of diplomatic slights.

The Foreign Ministry said earlier this month that too many American spies were operating in Russia under diplomatic cover and that it might expel some of them to retaliate for the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats last year by then-President Barack Obama's administration.

That warning reflected rising frustration in Moscow over the Trump administration's refusal to hand back two Russian diplomatic compounds seized by the Obama administration at the same time as the diplomats were sent home.

Putin opted not to retaliate immediately at the time, saying he would wait to see what the new Trump administration would do.

However, many Russian politicians increasingly believe Trump's political foes and Congress have successfully squeezed the U.S. president's room for maneuver on Russia to almost nil and they have nothing to lose by retaliating themselves.

Konstantin Kosachyov, who heads the foreign relations committee in Russia's upper house of parliament, urged the Kremlin to devise a "painful" response and said Russian lawmakers had already begun to discuss how best to hit back.

European Union Anger

In Brussels, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU was ready to act "within a matter of days" if it felt the new U.S. sanctions undermined the bloc's energy security.

Brussels fears the new sanctions will damage European firms and oil and gas projects on which the EU is dependent.

"The U.S. bill could have unintended unilateral effects that impact the EU's energy security interests," Juncker said in a statement after a meeting of European Commissioners.

"This is why the Commission concluded today that if our concerns are not taken into account sufficiently, we stand ready to act appropriately within a matter of days. America first cannot mean that Europe's interests come last."

The Commission said the U.S. House bill demonstrated that a number of EU concerns had been taken into account, but did envisage sanctions on any company, including European, that worked on Russian energy export pipelines.

That, it said, could affect maintenance and upgrades of pipelines in Russia feeding natural gas to Europe via Ukraine, or projects crucial to the EU's energy diversification goals, such as the Baltic Liquefied Natural Gas project.

"The EU is fully committed to the Russia sanctions regime. However, G7 unity on sanctions and close coordination among allies are at the heart of ensuring the full implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This is a core objective that the EU and the US share," Juncker said.

The 2015 deal mandated a ceasefire between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists, a pullback of heavy weapons and elections in rebel-held territory. But little has been done, and sporadic fighting continues.

The European Union, the Commission also said, was raising its concerns via "all diplomatic channels".

Source: Reuters

Brazil hikes mining royalties to ease budget deficit

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Brazil unveiled plans on Tuesday to raise revenue from mining royalties by 80 percent, the latest measure to shore up government finances, and cut red tape in attempt to attract more foreign investment amid a weak economic recovery.

President Michel Temer, at the policy launch in the presidential palace, said that this fit into his broader plans to modernize regulation across sectors to draw investment and boost the economy.

"We are just scratching the surface here," Mining Minister Fernando Coelho Filho said, touting Brazil's potential to grow as a mining powerhouse if the government reduces red tape.

"These measures will be fundamental to speed up the growth of the Brazilian economy," he added, defending changes to outdated royalties and clearer rules for mining investors.

While some in the sector voiced support, mining industry body IBRAM, which counts Brazil's largest miner Vale as a member, criticized the policy, saying there was no way to cut costs enough to offset the higher levies.

"Mining companies feel pressured to pass on this new cost increase to the industrial production chain," it said in a statement. "This new condition will increase the risk of loss of competitiveness in the international market for ores."

Brazil's slow economic recovery has weighed on tax revenue, forcing the government to find new sources of funding. Last week, the government said it would raise taxes on fuel and increase a public spending freeze by 5.9 billion reais ($1.9 billion) this year.

Temer announced the first changes to the mining code since the early 1990s via a temporary presidential decree, which will require approval from Congress within 90 days. The royalties would go into effect in November, if approved, while other rule changes take effect immediately.

Royalties will increase by a set rate on diamonds, gold and other materials, while iron royalties will increase in tandem with the price of the mineral, gradually rising from 2 percent if the market price is less than $60 per tonne to a maximum of 4 percent if the price rises above $100 per tonne.

Raw materials used directly in construction would see royalties fall to 1.5 percent.

The royalties will be calculated on gross sales revenue, rather than net sales previously, significantly raising the base of calculation.

The government will also create the National Mining Agency to replace the National Department of Mineral Production that officials said would increase transparency and reduce bureaucracy.

Environmental licenses to miners are issued in four years in Australia but 10 years in Brazil, Coelho said, giving an example of red tape that must be reduced.

Higher Fines

The reforms could help attract billions of dollars in venture capital to Brazil's mining sector by creating an investor-friendly environment, said Ana Cabral-Gardner, a board member at miner Sigma Lithium and veteran mining banker.

"Previously a deadly regulatory combination of arcane rules, lack of transparency and opacity discouraged large established global investors," she said.

The measures would also increase fines for environmental damage up to a ceiling of 30 million reais ($9.47 million) and expressly require companies to clean up degraded areas. Brazil is still recovering from the 2015 Samarco mining disaster, in which a tailing dam burst and unleashed enough mud to fill 12,000 Olympic swimming pools.

Source: Reuters

segunda-feira, 24 de julho de 2017

Colombia's FARC rebel group says it will become political party on Sept. 1

An undated file photograph showing Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (L) shaking hands with Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) leader Rodrigo Londoño (R) during a ceremony at which rebel fighters laid down their arms. EFE
The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group said Monday that it planned to reorganize as a political party effective Sept. 1.

Source: EFE

IMF raises economic growth forecast for Asia

(FILE) Chinese migrant workers rest outside a construction site during lunch time in the central business district (CBD) of Beijing, China, 17 July 2017. EPA/ROMAN PILIPEY

The International Monetary Fund raised its growth forecast for the major Asian economies for 2017 and 2018, after it published World Economic Outlook Update published in Kuala Lumpur on Monday.

The strongest improvement in Asia was registered in China, whose growth is forecast at 6.7 percent in 2017 and at 6.4 percent in 2018, 0.1 and 0.2 percent stronger respectively than projected in April.

Source: Reuters

Brazil's Temer says no more tax hikes, for now

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President Michel Temer said on Friday that his government has no plans for now to raise taxes again in its effort to meet this year's fiscal target, one day after raising taxes on fuels and announcing an additional spending freeze.

"There is no plan. For the time being, our economic team is just looking at this increase (announced Thursday)," Temer told journalists during a meeting of the South American trade bloc Mercosur. He added: "I don't know if there will be a need for more later, but not now."

In a speech earlier, Temer said Brazilians would understand the need to raise taxes to shrink the budget gap and recover investor confidence in Brazil's overdrawn government accounts.

The tax hike was blasted by business leaders as the wrong way to go in restoring fiscal balance because it would hurt Brazilian's incipient recovery from its worst recession on record.

"Their reaction is natural; nobody wants more taxes. But I am sure this will pass when they understand that meeting the fiscal target is fundamental for the country's stability and encouraging growth," Temer said.

The Finance and Planning ministries announced on Thursday that the government was freezing an additional 5.9 billion reais ($1.9 billion) in federal spending this year, and increasing the federal PIS/Cofins social contribution tax on gasoline, diesel and ethanol to raise about 10.4 billion reais in new revenues.

Brazil plans to cut its budget deficit to 139 billion reais this year before interest payments. Earlier this year it had announced a budget freeze of 39 billion reais to meet that target. The deficit in the 12 months through May was at 167.6 billion reais, equivalent to 2.59 percent of gross domestic product.

Brazil lost its investment-grade rating in 2015 after missing budget targets for years. But slow recovery from a two-year recession has meant dismal tax revenues.

Source: Reuters

sexta-feira, 21 de julho de 2017

China says U.S. talks covered joint efforts on excess steel capacity

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Seeking a more positive spin on U.S.-China economic talks viewed as ending in discord, China said on Thursday that the two sides agreed to "active and effective measures" to reduce global excess steel production capacity.

The statement issued a day after the talks by the Chinese embassy in Washington did not elaborate on the measures discussed by U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Chinese Commerce Minister Zhong Shan on Wednesday.

"In this breakout session, the two sides focused their discussion on steel, aluminum and high-tech trade," the embassy said in a statement. "The two sides had in-depth discussion on cutting excess steel production capacity in the world and agreed to active and effective measures to jointly address this global issue."

A U.S. Commerce Department spokesman declined comment on the Chinese statement and referred Reuters to a joint statement from Ross and U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Their statement did not mention steel and cited only one point of consensus, a "shared objective" to work toward reducing the U.S. trade deficit with China.

Late on Wednesday, a Trump administration official told Reuters that China had refused to agree to U.S. demands that it eliminate excess steel capacity and take other steps to open its economy for foreign firms.

The first annual economic summit between the Trump administration and their Chinese counterparts ended with canceled news conferences, no joint statement and no new transaction announcements.

The Chinese embassy statement also said China agreed to "deepen its cooperation" with the United States on expanding trade in services. The two sides also will start work on a one-year economic cooperation plan, determining an "early harvest" as soon as possible.

Before the latest Chinese statement, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced that China would allow imports of U.S. rice for the first time, agreeing to phytosanitary protocols.

Tougher Stances

The rocky dialogue session in Washington was a sharp contrast to U.S. President Donald Trump's rosy first meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-A-Lago, Florida estate in April.

Both sides found each other harder to deal with than expected, China trade experts said.

The Trump team's expectations that Beijing would agree to quick, substantial reforms to shrink the U.S. trade deficit and eliminate excess steelmaking capacity were dashed, while China found that further minor steps and vague action plans would no longer placate the U.S. side.

"There was a misalignment of expectations. The Americans pushed for deliverables, and the Chinese said no, everything is fine," said Scott Miller, an Asia trade expert at the Center for Strategic and Economic Studies in Washington. "These are difficult issues that don't lend themselves toward easy boxes to check."

Domestic politics contributed to both sides taking a tougher stance, said Eswar Prasad, a trade policy professor at Cornell University and former China division chief at the International Monetary Fund.

China faces a once-in-five-years Communist Party congress to set new leadership this autumn, while Trump is keen to hold to campaign promises to help ailing U.S. steel and coal industries and grow U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Prasad said that China found that the Trump administration is "no pushover" on trade and may need to offer bigger concessions to keep its relationship with its biggest trading partner on an even keel.

"The administration seems unwilling to settle for further symbolic, cosmetic victories in terms of access to China’s markets and is pressing for more specific and time-bound commitments from China about opening up its markets to U.S. exporters and investors," he added.

Source: Reuters

Brazil's Lula says he is being persecuted in court as supporters protest

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, a leftist leader who is topping polls for the 2018 election, on Thursday told supporters protesting his conviction for corruption charges that his political opponents were persecuting him in the courts.

In the main avenue of São Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, Lula took aim at Judge Sérgio Moro, who sentenced him to nearly 10 years in prison but allowed him to remain free on appeal, and the prosecutors leading the so-called Car Wash graft investigation.

"Since they're not able to defeat me through politics, they want to defeat me with lawsuits," he said.

Police declined to estimate of the number of people attending the protests in São Paulo, which Lula's Workers Party helped organize. Smaller rallies took place in other major cities, including Rio de Janeiro, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre and Fortaleza.

During his two terms as president between 2003 and 2010, Lula, a former union leader, helped to lift millions from poverty in Latin America's largest economy. But he also contributed to boosting the public deficit as a spending spree aimed at tackling the global financial crisis extended for years to come.

Should an appeals court uphold Lula's conviction, a ruling which is expected to take at least eight months, Lula will be barred from running for office next year.

Source: Reuters

Microsoft profit beats expectations on strong cloud demand

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on Thursday reported strong fourth-quarter earnings on the back of its fast-growing cloud computing business, stoking optimism that the once-stagnant company has found a new groove.

The results were the clearest sign yet that the strategy put in place by Chief Executive Satya Nadella when he assumed the top job in 2014 is paying off. He has shifted the company's focus away from a dying personal computer software business and reinventing it as a provider of cloud computing and subscription-based software.

“Our technology world view of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge is resonating with customers everywhere,” Nadella said on the company’s earnings conference call with investors on Thursday afternoon.

Most notably, revenue from the cloud unit, which includes the flagship Azure platform and server products, rose about 11 percent to $7.43 billion in the fiscal fourth quarter ended June 30.

Analysts on average had expected cloud revenue of $7.32 billion, according to data and analytics firm FactSet. Revenue from Azure, which competes directly with's market-leading AWS division, nearly doubled in the quarter. (

Highlighting Azure's growth were notable increases to Microsoft's long-term unearned revenue, which rose by more than 61 percent year-over-year. The metric is used to indicate long-term commitments for services and products, said Kim Forrest, vice president and senior equity analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, a portfolio management firm.

In a bid to continue this momentum, Microsoft last week launched Azure Stack, a new service that allows customers to run a local version of the company's cloud technology.

“This isn't just a one-quarter wonder,” Forrest said. "Amazon is going to be paying attention to this."

Michael Turits, analyst at Raymond James & Associates, noted that Azure is smaller than Amazon's service but that it is growing faster. "I think it is appealing well to existing enterprise customers who might not immediately be drawn to the Amazon platform," he said.

Beyond cloud, Microsoft's various businesses mostly performed well.

The commercial offering of Office 365 was up 43 percent while Dynamics 365, Microsoft's customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning service, saw a year-over-year increase of 74 percent.

Revenue dropped 2 percent in the personal computer division, which includes Windows 10 and Microsoft's line of Surface hardware. The company said it recorded $306 million in restructuring charges following a reorganization of its sales and marketing teams that was announced earlier this month. The restructuring resulted in layoffs for thousands of Microsoft employees.

"I don't think the layoffs are a worry at all," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "They're just part of the ongoing transition Microsoft is going through as cloud grows and its legacy business shrinks."

Net Income Doubles

Microsoft's net income more than doubled to $6.51 billion or 83 cents per share in the quarter, from $3.12 billion or 39 cents per share in the year-earlier period.

Excluding one-time items, Microsoft earned 98 cents per share. On an adjusted basis, revenue rose 9.1 percent to $24.7 billion.

Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 71 cents per share and revenue of $24.27 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.


quarta-feira, 19 de julho de 2017

Russia to work with OPEC on oil market rebalancing

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Russia is ready to continue working with OPEC to help rebalance oil markets, a Russian energy source said on Wednesday, adding that Moscow welcomed a flexible approach by OPEC's leader Saudi Arabia to accommodate rising output from Nigeria and Libya.

"We welcome the constructive approach and flexibility of our partners in addressing the challenges which arise on the path towards a balanced market," the source, who is close to the Russian delegation negotiating with OPEC, said.

"Russia itself is fully committed to the spirit of the initiative aimed at stabilizing global crude markets and will continue working with other countries to achieve this goal."

On Tuesday, a Saudi Arabian industry source said the kingdom hoped to accommodate the rise in production from Libya and Nigeria through supply adjustments elsewhere but emphasized a need to work together with other producers.

Output from Nigeria and Libya has reached a multi-year high in recent weeks, delaying a long-awaited oil market rebalancing.

Six ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and non-OPEC producers, including Saudi Arabia and Russia, will meet in St Petersburg, Russia, on July 24 to discuss compliance with production cuts and progress toward market rebalancing.

Source: Reuters

Trump, Putin had previously undisclosed visit at G20 dinner

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a previously undisclosed conversation during a dinner for G20 leaders at a summit earlier this month in Germany, a White House official said on Tuesday.

The two leaders held a formal two-hour bilateral meeting on July 7 in which Trump later said Putin denied allegations that he directed efforts to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Trump's interactions with the Russian leader were scrutinized closely because of those allegations, which have dominated his first six months in the White House, and Trump's comments as a presidential candidate praising the former KGB spy.

Trump and Putin first met at the G20 during a gathering of other leaders, which was shown in a video. They later held the bilateral meeting, which was attended briefly by a pool of reporters.

In the evening, both men attended a dinner with G20 leaders. Putin was seated next to U.S. first lady Melania Trump. The U.S. president went over to them at the conclusion of the dinner and visited with Putin, the official said. That conversation had not been previously disclosed.

"There was no 'second meeting' between President Trump and President Putin, just a brief conversation at the end of a dinner. The insinuation that the White House has tried to 'hide' a second meeting is false, malicious and absurd," the official said.

In a tweet late on Tuesday, Trump said: "Fake News story of secret dinner with Putin is "sick." All G 20 leaders, and spouses, were invited by the Chancellor of Germany. Press knew!"

News of the conversation, first reported by Ian Bremmer, the president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, could raise renewed concern as Congress and a special counsel investigate allegations by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered to help Trump, a Republican, win the presidency.

Trump says there was no collusion and Russia denies interference in the election.

Bremmer said Trump got up from his seat halfway through dinner and spent about an hour talking "privately and animatedly" with Putin, "joined only by Putin's own translator."

Democratic congressman Schiff says Trump-Putin dinner talk 'deeply troubling'

The lack of a U.S. translator raised eyebrows among other leaders at the dinner, said Bremmer, who called it a "breach of national security protocol."

The White House official said the leaders and their spouses were only permitted to have one translator attend the dinner. Trump sat next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's wife. His translator spoke Japanese.

"When President Trump spoke to President Putin, the two leaders used the Russian translator, since the American translator did not speak Russian," the official said.

A U.S. official who was briefed by some of his counterparts about the encounter said some of the leaders who attended the dinner were surprised to see Trump leave his seat and engage Putin in an extended private conversation with no one else from the U.S. side present.

"No one is sure what their discussion was about, and whether it was purely social or touched on bilateral or international issues," the official said.

Source: Reuters

Brazil tax revenues rise 3 percent in June from a year ago

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Brazil's federal tax collection rose 3 percent in June from the same month a year ago after adjusting for inflation, the country's tax agency said on Wednesday.

The country collected 104.1 billion reais ($33.1 billion) in federal taxes in the month. Tax revenues rose 0.8 percent in the first half of 2017 compared to a year earlier.

Source: Reuters

segunda-feira, 17 de julho de 2017

South Korea's new government proposes military talks with North Korea

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South Korea on Monday proposed military talks with North Korea, the first formal overture to Pyongyang by the government of President Moon Jae-in, to discuss ways to avoid hostile acts near the heavily militarized border.

There was no immediate response by the North to the proposal for talks later this week. The two sides technically remain at war but Moon, who came to power in May, has pledged to engage the North in dialogue as well as bring pressure to impede its nuclear and missile programs.

The offer comes after the North claimed to have conducted the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) earlier this month, and said it had mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on the missile. South Korea and the United States, its main ally, dispute the claim.

"Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea's nuclear problem," the South's Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a news briefing.

The South Korean defense ministry proposed talks with the North on July 21 at Tongilgak to stop all activities that fuel tension at the military demarcation line.

Tongilgak is a North Korean building at the Panmunjom truce village on the border used for previous inter-Korea talks. The last such talks were held in December 2015.

Cho also urged the restoration of military and government hotlines across the border, which had been cut by the North last year in response to the South imposing economic sanctions after a nuclear test by Pyongyang. In all, the North has conducted five nuclear tests and numerous missile tests.

The South also proposed separate talks by the rival states' Red Cross organizations to resume a humanitarian project to reunite families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War in closely supervised events held over a few days.

The South Korean Red Cross suggested talks be held on Aug. 1, with possible reunions over the Korean thanksgiving Chuseok holiday, which falls in October this year.

The last such reunions were held in October 2015 during the government of Moon's predecessor under a futile push for reconciliation following a sharp increase in tension over border incidents involving a landmine blast and artillery fire.

Source: Reuters

China's steel, aluminum output at record as U.S. mulls penalties

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China churned out record amounts of steel and aluminum in June as producers rushed to cash-in on rallying prices in the wake of a drive by Beijing to crack down on output of low-grade metal.

That could fuel concerns the world's top steel producer will export more metal, stoking global oversupply and fanning tensions with the United States after it accused the nation of flooding international markets with cheap aluminum and steel.

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to use a Cold War-era law to restrict imports for national security reasons as bilateral talks between Washington and Beijing continue.

China has long-denied that it has been offloading metals abroad at the expense of foreign producers.

Chinese steel output last month rose 5.7 percent from the year before to a record 73.23 million tonnes, surpassing April's all-time high of 72.78 million tonnes, data from the National Statistics Bureau showed on Monday.

Aluminum production jumped 7.4 percent year-on-year to 2.93 million tonnes, exceeding December's record of 2.89 million tonnes.

Export data last week showed steel products shipments fell last month, while aluminum sales abroad were steady.

But analysts said the latest numbers should not be seen as provocative move ahead of a decision by the United States on possible import tariffs.

"It's wrong to think that this is some sort of unified, homogenous voice that is deliberately making some provocative statement to the U.S," said Paul Adkins, managing director of aluminum consultancy AZ China.

"That couldn't be further from the truth. What we're really seeing, if anything, is ... a lack of a coordinated response (from Chinese producers)."

Analysts said the increases came as local steel and aluminum prices rose after the government cut back on metals producing capacity earlier in the year as it battles a glut in supply and looks to clamp down on pollution.

"The reason that prices were higher in the first place was the expectation of Chinese cutting back supply of aluminum and steel, yet that is what is inducing its high utilization rates," said Mark Pervan, chief economist at AME Group in Sydney.

Steel rebar margins were almost 1,000 yuan ($147.77) per tonne in June, enticing mills to increase output, said Bai Jing, analyst at Galaxy Futures.

"China's crackdown on low-end steel has left a capacity gap in the market," she said.

In the first half of the year, China eliminated around 120 million tonnes of low-end steel capacity. By May, the country had fulfilled nearly 85 percent, or 42.4 million tonnes, of its 2016 steel capacity cutting target.

The data came as better-than-expected GDP numbers brightened demand prospects for metals and spurred gains in prices, with steel rebar rising 2 percent.

Source: Reuters

Brazil congressional panel votes against putting Temer on trial

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Brazilian congressional committee on Thursday voted against sending a corruption charge against President Michel Temer to the Supreme Court for the leader to be put on trial.

The vote is non-binding and the full house must still vote on the charge, which would only be approved if two-thirds of legislators vote for it.

Temer was charged last month in connection with a graft scheme involving the world's largest meatpacker, JBS SA. General Prosecutor Rodrigo Janot accused Temer of arranging to receive a total of 38 million reais ($11.85 million) in bribes from JBS in the next nine months.

The full house will vote on August 2, after a two-week recess. Though Temer's support has waned, he is widely expected to survive the full house vote.

Janot has said he expects to level at least two new graft charges against Temer in the coming weeks, however.

Several lawmakers have told Reuters in recent weeks that if they were forced into multiple votes to protect the deeply unpopular president from a trial, the chances of one of the charges being accepted by the lower house would greatly increase.

Temer, who replaced impeached President Dilma Rousseff last year, would be removed from office for at least 180 days if he were forced to stand trial in the Supreme Court.

Source: Reuters

sexta-feira, 14 de julho de 2017

Oil firm as signs of higher demand outweigh worries of excess

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Oil prices edged higher on Friday and were on track for solid weekly gains following positive demand signals, production issues in Nigeria and a reported decline in stocks.

Brent crude futures LCOc1, the international benchmark for oil, were up 43 cents at $48.85 per barrel at 1111 GMT.

U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures CLc1 were at $46.45 per barrel, up 37 cents.

Shell declared force majeure on exports of Nigeria's Bonny Light crude oil due to the closure of one of its two export pipelines, boosting both benchmarks.

The contracts had already been trading some 5 percent above the week's lows, boosted by a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) that demand growth is accelerating, from China that crude imports grew significantly and from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) that oil stocks had fallen.

"Those who wanted confirmation about global oil demand had it" in Chinese import figures, said Tamas Varga, an analyst with PVM Oil Associates. He added surging stock markets had added a "feel-good factor" to oil.

China's crude oil imports over the first six months of 2017, hit 212 million tonnes, up 13.8 percent on the same period in 2016, customs data showed.

This added to an IEA report raising its demand estimate. Analysts at Commerzbank said the subsequent reduction in the developed world's oil stocks was likely to continue "so long OPEC does not significantly increase its output any further".

Asian traders are selling oil products out of tanks amid soaring demand, while the EIA reported the largest drop in U.S. crude oil inventories in the week to last week in 10 months.

Still, oil stocks remained comfortably above the five-year average, and prices are more than 16 percent below their 2017 highs, despite an extension to March 2018 of output cuts of 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) coordinated by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries.

OPEC's rebalancing effort has been stymied in part by rising output from Libya and Nigeria, which were exempt from cuts and were producing close to 700,000 bpd more than at the time of the initial November OPEC cut agreement, according to U.S. investment bank Jefferies. Despite force majeure, Bonny Light exports continued via a second pipeline.

U.S. oil production C-OUT-T-EIA has also risen by more than 10 percent over the past year to 9.4 million bpd.

"It's not too long before the market starts looking at the supply situation...which is anything but encouraging," Varga said.

Source: Reuters

North Korea may have more bomb fuel than thought - U.S. think tank

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Thermal images of North Korea's main nuclear site show Pyongyang may have reprocessed more plutonium than previously thought that can be used to enlarge its nuclear weapons stockpile, a U.S. think tank said on Friday.

The analysis by 38 North, a Washington-based North Korean monitoring project, was based on satellite images of the radiochemical laboratory at the Yongbyon nuclear plant from September until the end of June, amid rising international concerns over North Korea's nuclear and missile programs.

The think tank said images of the uranium enrichment facility at Yongbyon could also indicate operation of centrifuges that could be used to increase North Korea’s stock of enriched uranium, its other source of bomb fuel.

There were signs too of at least short-term activity at North Korea’s Experimental Light Water Reactor that could be cause for concern, 38 North said.

Reuters received a copy of the report before its scheduled release later on Friday.

The images of the radiochemical laboratory showed there had been at least two reprocessing cycles not previously known aimed at producing "an undetermined amount of plutonium that can further increase North Korea’s nuclear weapons stockpile," something that would worry U.S. officials who see Pyongyang as one of the world's top security threats.

It was unclear if the thermal activity detected at the uranium plant was the result of centrifuge operations or maintenance.

It said the thermal patterns at the plant's isotope/tritium production facility suggested it was not operational and was therefore not producing tritium, an essential isotope used in boosted yield and hydrogen weapons.

North Korea manufactures atomic bombs using uranium and plutonium and has tested five nuclear bombs. Officials and experts say it could test a sixth at any time, despite U.S.-led international efforts to curb its program.

Pyongyang said its penultimate test in January 2016 was of a hydrogen bomb, something experts have treated with skepticism.

North Korea has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States and last week tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile, which experts said could hit all of Alaska and parts of the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

Experts at 38 North estimated in April that North Korea could have as many as 20 nuclear bombs and could produce one more each month.

A report by U.S.-based nuclear expert Siegfried Hecker published by 38 North last September estimated North Korea had stockpiles of 32 to 54 kg (70 to 119 pounds) of plutonium, enough for six to eight bombs.

Source: Reuters

Brazil's Lula vows to appeal conviction, run for president

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Former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva vowed on Thursday to appeal his conviction on corruption charges and run for president next year, calling the case against him a politicized effort to influence the 2018 election.

"They haven't taken me out of the game," Lula told supporters at the headquarters of his Workers Party a day after he received a nearly 10-year sentence for accepting bribes in return for helping an engineering company win contracts with state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro.

The ruling was a stunning setback for Lula, one of the country's most popular politicians, and a serious blow to his chances of a political comeback. The former union leader, who won global praise for policies to reduce harsh inequality in Brazil, faces four more trials and will remain free on appeal.

If his conviction is upheld on appeal, Lula will be barred from office, removing the front-runner from the 2018 race and opening the door to outsiders playing to widespread outrage over a deep economic recession and evidence of vast political graft.

But Workers Party (PT) leaders and Lula's defense team are working on strategy to delay the decision by an appeals court, using every legal tool available, such as multiple appeals, to slow the process down, possibly allowing Lula to run for the presidency before any appeals court ruling.

However, the head of the appeals court in charge of Lula's case, Judge Carlos Thompson Flores, told Bandnews radio on Thursday that the court would have a ruling finalized before the October 2018 election.

Senator Gleisi Hoffmann, leader of the PT, said that the party would protest Lula's sentence internationally, though she did not define where. Lula's legal team has already asked the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to examine the prosecution of Lula.

Lula remains Brazil's best-known politician and has retained a base of loyal supporters despite his legal woes. As president, he put resources from a commodities boom into social programs helping to lift millions from poverty.

Lula characterized the verdict against him as part of Brazilian elites' backlash against his legacy. He denied any wrongdoing and excoriated the decision handed down by Judge Sergio Moro, who has overseen a sweeping three-year graft probe.

Wearing a bright red shirt and a dark blazer, Lula made an appeal to fellow partisans that was folksy and upbeat, soliciting laughter and cheers from party elders and a crowd of hundreds outside the Workers Party offices in downtown Sao Paulo.

The former president said he continued to support strong democratic institutions, including police and prosecutors, but he lamented what he called politically-driven lies in the case against him.

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 12 de julho de 2017

Brazil's Senate approves labor overhaul by strong margin

Brazil's Senate on Tuesday approved the country's first major overhaul of labor rules in seven decades in a crucial victory for beleaguered President Michel Temer as he seeks to pull the economy out of its worst ever recession.

The bill, which modernizes some labor laws dating back to the 1940s, was passed in a 50 to 26 vote following approval in the lower house of Congress and will be sent to Temer to be signed into law.

The changes, which were opposed by trade unions, give more leeway to collective bargaining and reduce the scope for legal action in labor disputes in Latin America's largest economy. Remote work will become regulated and companies will get more flexibility to allocate work hours and vacation time.

Approval of the labor reform in the Senate did not necessarily mean Temer held enough support in the lower house to avoid being suspended from office later this month to be tried for corruption.

However, it showed continued support in his multiparty coalition for an economic agenda that investors see as crucial to reviving Brazil's economy.

Under the labor bill, labor union dues, currently mandatory, will become voluntary. The bill also gives more flexibility for part-time work and temporary contracts.

"We've raised our forecasts for job growth in coming years after we started to expect the labor reform approval," said Alessandra Ribeiro, an economist with Tendências Consultoria.
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"The changes will make the job market more flexible and above all they will lower the risks associated with new hires."

Unions said the changes reduced job security while weakening their organizing power by eliminating mandatory union dues.

"None of us senators campaigned in our districts in favor of a labor reform," Workers Party senator Gleisi Hoffmann said on the Senate floor Tuesday during a failed opposition attempt to obstruct the vote. "None of you here was mandated to vote this reform."

Some senators within the ruling coalition also opposed some parts of the bill but agreed to pass the proposal exactly as approved by the lower house after Temer vowed to make a few small changes by provisional decree.

Many of Temer's proposals for the economy, including planned auctions for oil licensing rights and transport concessions, have remained on track despite the political crisis.

The government initiative most likely at risk, according to lawmakers, was a proposed overhaul of the social security system. It requires a supermajority of votes in both chambers of Congress to change the constitution.

Temer was charged last month with taking multimillion-dollar bribes, but the lower house of Congress must now vote on whether to allow the Supreme Court to try the conservative leader.

He has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and refuses to resign despite polls showing his government's approval rating is in the single digits.

Source: Reuters

Oil rises above $48 as API reports drop in U.S. fuel stocks

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Oil rose above $48 a barrel on Wednesday in response to a fall in U.S. fuel inventories and a cut in the U.S. government's forecast for crude output, despite suggestions from OPEC that the oil market will see a surplus next year.

U.S. crude inventories fell by 8.1 million barrels last week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said on Tuesday.

Official inventory data from the U.S. government's Energy Information Administration (EIA) is due at 1430 GMT. [EIA/S]

Brent crude LCOc1, the global benchmark, was up 73 cents at $48.25 a barrel by 1247 GMT. U.S. crude CLc1 gained 81 cents to $45.85.

"While further upside could be expected in the short term amid the speculations of a cut in U.S production, gains may be limited by the firm oversupply dynamics of the markets," FXTM analyst Lukman Otunuga said.

The drop in U.S. crude stocks will raise hopes that a long-awaited market rebalancing is under way. A supply glut has stuck around for three years, despite an OPEC-led output cut in 2017, keeping oil at less than half its price of mid-2014.

Also supporting prices, the EIA said on Tuesday it expected U.S. crude oil production to rise by less than previously forecast next year due to a lower price outlook.

The lower 2018 forecast of 9.9 million barrels per day will ease concerns that the OPEC-led supply cut will lead to a flood of competing U.S. shale supplies, swamping the OPEC effort.

Still, output of 9.9 million bpd would be a record for U.S. production.

The production cut led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has lent prices some support, but in recent weeks rising output from Libya and Nigeria - OPEC members exempt from the deal - has pushed supply higher.

In its monthly report, OPEC said its oil output rose by 393,000 bpd in June to 32.611 million bpd led by a rebound in Nigeria and Libya, plus extra barrels from Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

"We remain very optimistic ... (about) helping the market to rebalance itself," OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo said at an industry conference in Istanbul.

A Saudi industry source said on Wednesday that Riyadh planned to reduce shipments in August by more than 600,000 bpd, taking exports for that month to their lowest this year.

OPEC forecast the world will need 32.20 million bpd of crude from its members next year, down 60,000 bpd from this year.

Source: Reuters

Google Earth to let users post stories, photos in coming years

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Alphabet Inc (GOOGL.O) wants users to post millions of stories, video and photos on its Google Earth platform in the next few years, the program chief said on Tuesday at a launch event in Brazil for content focused on showcasing the Amazon rainforest.

The "Voyager" tool allows internet surfers to take interactive tours of exotic destinations on Google Earth led by the likes of primatologist Jane Goodall, with photos, information and maps.

However, regular users will be able to create their own unedited content for private or public use within two to three years, Google Earth Director Rebecca Moore told Reuters.

"The story of your family history, the story of your favorite hiking trip – it could be anything. It doesn't have to be profound," she said at the event in Sao Paulo.

Moore took the stage at an event in Sao Paulo to unveil the "I am the Amazon" project, which has mapped 11 sites to document the relationship between the rainforest and its people, touching on topics like food, water and cultural origins.

To tell the stories of communities such as the Yanomami people, Cinta Larga and the Boa Vista Quilombola, Google and partners used tools like 3D cameras to accompany satellite images with videos and text.

Moore did not reveal the budget for the project but she ruled out the idea of advertising on the platform and said it is not Google's intention to turn a profit from the venture.

"Google Earth is our gift to the world," she told Reuters. "In terms of budget, Google has nice revenue from advertising, and not everything Google does has to make money."

Source: Reuters

segunda-feira, 10 de julho de 2017

Trump backtracks on cyber unit with Russia after harsh criticism

U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday backtracked on his push for a cyber security unit with Russia, tweeting that he did not think it could happen, hours after his proposal was harshly criticized by Republicans who said Moscow could not be trusted.

Trump said on Twitter early on Sunday that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed on Friday forming "an impenetrable Cyber Security unit" to address issues like the risk of cyber meddling in elections.

The idea appeared to be a political non-starter. It was immediately scorned by several of Trump's fellow Republicans, who questioned why the United States would work with Russia after Moscow's alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

"It's not the dumbest idea I have ever heard but it's pretty close," Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told NBC's "Meet the Press" program.

Ash Carter, who was U.S. defense secretary until the end of former Democratic President Barack Obama's administration in January, told CNN flatly: "This is like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary."

Trump's advisers, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, had recently sought to explain Trump's cyber push.

Mnuchin said on Saturday that Trump and Putin had agreed to create "a cyber unit to make sure that there was absolutely no interference whatsoever, that they would work on cyber security together."

But Trump returned to Twitter on Sunday to play down the idea, which arose at his talks with Putin at a summit of the Group of 20 nations in Hamburg, Germany.

"The fact that President Putin and I discussed a Cyber Security unit doesn't mean I think it can happen. It can't," Trump said on Twitter.

He then noted that an agreement with Russia for a ceasefire in Syria "can & did" happen.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona acknowledged Trump's desire to move forward with Russia, but added: "There has to be a price to pay."

"There has been no penalty," McCain, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, told CBS' "Face the Nation" program according to a CBS transcript. "Vladimir Putin ... got away with literally trying to change the outcome ... of our election."

Trump argued for a rapprochement with Moscow in his campaign but has been unable to deliver because his administration has been dogged by investigations into the allegations of Russian interference in the election and ties with his campaign.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the matter, including whether there may have been any collusion on the part of Trump campaign officials, as are congressional committees including both the House of Representatives and Senate intelligence panels.

Those probes are focused almost exclusively on Moscow’s actions, lawmakers and intelligence officials say, and no evidence has surfaced publicly implicating other countries despite Trump's suggestion that others could have been involved.

Moscow has denied any interference, and Trump says his campaign did not collude with Russia.

Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN's "State of the Union" program that Russia could not be a credible partner in a cyber security unit.

"If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow," Schiff added.

Separately, U.S. government officials said a recent hack into business systems of U.S. nuclear power and other energy companies was carried out by Russian government hackers, the Washington Post reported on Saturday.


Trump said he "strongly pressed President Putin twice about Russian meddling in our election. He vehemently denied it."

He added: "We negotiated a ceasefire in parts of Syria which will save lives. Now it is time to move forward in working constructively with Russia!"

In Trump's first attempt at ending the six-year Syrian civil war, the United States, Russia and Jordan on Friday reached a ceasefire and "de-escalation agreement" for southwestern Syria. The ceasefire was holding hours after it took effect on Sunday, a monitor and two rebel officials said.

Any joint U.S.-Russia cyber initiative would have been a different matter. Depending how much it veered into military or espionage operations, it could have faced major legal hurdles.

Language in the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits the Pentagon, which includes the National Security Agency and the U.S. military's Cyber Command, from using any funds for bilateral military cooperation with Russia.

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, also noted restrictions on sharing information with Russia that would clearly prohibit offering Moscow a sense of U.S. cyber capabilities. Russia would be similarly adverse to revealing its capabilities to the United States, he noted.

"It just will not happen," McFaul told Reuters.

Source: Reuters

Lawyer for Brazil's Temer derides corruption case as 'fiction'

REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Brazilian President Michel Temer's legal team said on Wednesday that a corruption charge against him was based entirely on an illegally taped recording and plea-bargain testimony from confessed criminals.

Temer's lawyer Antonio Mariz de Oliveira made the arguments in the written defense he delivered to a congressional committee looking into a charge the conservative leader took bribes.

"The defense believes that the charge is not based on facts; that it's a piece of fiction based on hypothesis and assumptions," Mariz told reporters after delivering the written defense to congress.

Temer has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing. He refuses to resign despite opposition calls to do so and polls showing his government's approval rating is in the single digits.

In the defense, Temer's legal team said a March audio recording, which prosecutors said captured the president condoning payment of hush money to a potential witness, was illegal because it was secretly recorded.

Temer also argued the recording was altered and that the man who made it - billionaire Joesley Batista, whose family controls meatpacking giant JBS SA - was a criminal who had admitted to bribing hundreds of politicians in plea bargain testimony to avoid jail time.

The defense said Temer's remarks in the audio were too vague to support the charge against him.

Temer was charged last week in connection with a graft scheme involving JBS. Executives said the president took bribes for resolving tax matters and facilitating loans from state-run banks.

Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot alleged in the charge that Temer made deals under which JBS would have paid him 38 million reais ($11.54 million) over the next nine months.

Janot's office declined to comment on Temer's written defense or comments from his attorney including the contention that the recording and plea-bargain testimony are the entirety of the case. However, the prosecution has said it has more proof it will reveal.

Janot has said he expects to also charge Temer with racketeering and money laundering in the coming weeks.

Under Brazilian law, two-thirds of the lower house of congress must vote to allow a criminal charge against a sitting president to move to the Supreme Court. The full house is expected to vote by mid-July, although it is possible that could be delayed to early August after a congressional recess.

If the top court accepts a charge and puts the president on trial, he would be suspended for 180 days and replaced by the house speaker, Rodrigo Maia.

Investigators have uncovered corruption in the last three years that has engulfed Brazil's political class and business elites. Much of it centers on companies paying billions of dollars in bribes to politicians and executives at state-run enterprises in return for contracts.

Temer and nine ministers as well as four former presidents and dozens of lawmakers are under investigation or already charged in the schemes.

Nearly 100 people have been convicted on corruption charges in just over three years.

Source: Reuters

Oil falls as evidence points to rising global supply

A worker walks past oil pipes at a refinery in Wuhan, Hubei province March 23, 2012. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

Oil fell on Monday, adding to heavy losses at the end of last week due to rising drilling activity in the United States and no let-up in supply growth from both OPEC and non-OPEC exporters.

Prices dropped even as OPEC signaled it may widen its production caps to include Nigeria and Libya, whose output has recovered in recent months after being curtailed by years of unrest.

Brent crude futures fell 51 cents on the day to $46.20 per barrel by 1120 GMT, while U.S. crude futures were last 49 cents lower on the day at $43.74 a barrel.

"The market is in trouble and looks very vulnerable to lower numbers," PVM brokerage said in a note.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has agreed with some non-OPEC members to curtail production until March 2018 but the move has failed to eliminate a global glut of crude.

Several key OPEC ministers will meet non-OPEC Russia on July 24 in St Petersburg, Russia, to discuss the situation in oil markets.

Kuwait said on Sunday that Nigeria and Libya had been invited to the meeting and their production could be capped earlier than November, when OPEC is scheduled to hold formal talks, according to Bloomberg.

Libya said on Monday it was ready for dialogue but added that its political, economic and humanitarian situation should be taken into account in talks on caps.

Brent prices are 17 percent below their 2017 opening despite strong compliance by OPEC with the production-cutting accord.

ANZ bank said the market "continued to focus on the increasing (U.S.) drilling activity and higher production".

U.S. energy firms added seven oil drilling rigs last week, marking a 24th week of increases out of the last 25 and bringing the count to 763, the most since April 2015, energy services company Baker Hughes said.

U.S. oil production has risen more than 10 percent since mid-2016.

"This is the response of prices to news of increasing oil production in the U.S.," Commerzbank said in a note. "The U.S. Department of Energy reported a marked rise in production that virtually reversed the previous week’s decline."

There are some indicators the oil market might have bottomed as money managers have raised their long positions since the start of July after reducing them to a nine-month low by late June.

Source: Reuters

quarta-feira, 5 de julho de 2017

Oil retreats after bull run, on rising OPEC exports, strong dollar

An employee pumps petrol for clients at a petrol station in Hanoi, Vietnam December 20, 2106. REUTERS/Kham

Oil prices fell more than 1 percent on Wednesday, ending their longest bull-run in more than five years, as climbing OPEC exports and a stronger dollar turned sentiment more bearish.

Benchmark Brent crude futures were down 57 cents, or 1.2 percent, at $49.04 a barrel by 1020 GMT. Prices had climbed for eight straight sessions to Monday.

U.S. WTI crude futures were down 63 cents, or 1.3 percent, at $46.44 a barrel after reaching a one-month high of $47.32 earlier in the session.

"The air is getting thin for oil prices. The price increase just ran out of steam, which is not very surprising, given the newsflow of rising OPEC supplies," said Carsten Fritsch, senior commodity analyst at Commerzbank.

Another analyst said the strong dollar provided less incentive to invest in greenback-denominated commodities such as crude oil.

Oil exports by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries climbed for a second month in June, Thomson Reuters Oil Research data showed.

OPEC exported 25.92 million barrels per day (bpd) in June, up 450,000 bpd from May and 1.9 million bpd more than a year earlier.

The rise in exports comes despite OPEC's vow to rein in production until March 2018 and follows hot on the heels of Reuters' monthly OPEC production survey which found output jumped to a 2017 high last month as OPEC members Nigeria and Libya continued to pump more.

Nigeria and Libya are both exempt from the output pact.

The head of the International Energy Agency told Reuters that rising output from key oil producers could hamper expectations that the oil market would rebalance in the second half of the year.

Traders were also eyeing weekly U.S. crude inventory data, delayed by a day due to the U.S. public holiday on Tuesday.

A Reuters poll showed analysts expected weekly crude stocks to have fallen by 2.8 million barrels. The weekly data showed a surprise rise in inventories last week.

Underlining an expected shift in longer term oil demand, car group Volvo said on Wednesday that from 2019 all of its new models would be fully electric or hybrid vehicles.

Source: Reuters

Brazil senators set final vote on labor reform for July 11

Brazil's Senate has set a final vote on President Michel Temer's landmark labor reform bill for July 11, a sign congressional efforts to help revive a recession-hit economy are on track despite a swelling corruption investigation.

Brazil's Senate on Tuesday evening passed a motion to fast-track the bill in a 46 to 19 vote.

The labor reform bill, the first major overhaul of labor rules in seven decades, has already been approved by the lower house. Trade unions say Temer's plan calls for more temporary work contracts and outsourcing, while weakening their power by eliminating mandatory union dues and other measures.

Temer has heralded labor reform as one of his main initiatives to pull Brazil out from its worst recession since the early 1900s. However, passage has fallen behind schedule after he was ensnared in a major corruption scandal last month.

The bill is widely expected by officials and analysts to be approved by a simple majority in the Senate, despite efforts by opposition parties to obstruct the vote.

Source: Reuters

U.S., South Korea stage show of force after North Korea ICBM test

United States Army/Handout

U.S. and South Korean troops fired missiles into the waters off South Korea, the U.S. military said on Tuesday, in a show of force after North Korea's ICBM test.

"The deep strike precision capability enables the (South Korean)-U.S. alliance to engage the full array of time critical targets under all weather conditions," the U.S. Army said in a statement, adding that the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) and the Republic of Korea's Hyunmoo Missile II were utilized.

Source: Reuters

segunda-feira, 3 de julho de 2017

Brazil unions protest Temer's reforms amid political crisis

Labor unions staged a nationwide strike on Friday to protest against legislative changes to Brazil's labor and pension laws that are central to the economic reform agenda of embattled center-right President Michel Temer.

Subway and bus services shut down in Brasilia, the nation's capital, while demonstrations blocked roads and snarled traffic in the megacities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro as union activists took to the streets.

However, the protest appeared to have limited impact and triggered none of the violent clashes between police and protesters that marked a much larger strike in April.

It came after Brazil was riveted this week by a corruption charge filed against Temer by the country's top prosecutor.

The charge, the first ever leveled against a sitting president in Brazil, marked a milestone in a three-year probe by investigators that has revealed stunning levels of corruption in Latin America's largest country.

Temer, one-third of his cabinet, four past presidents and dozens of lawmakers are either on trial, facing charges or under investigation for corruption. Over 90 people have been found guilty so far.

Brazil's largest oil workers federation said in an emailed statement that Friday's work stoppage would continue for an indefinite period, and that all 10 refineries where it represents workers were affected.

Executives at state-controlled oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA acknowledged that the job action had a limited impact at oil refineries. But they said exploration and production activity, along with logistics, carried on as normal.

Temer, who replaced impeached leftist President Dilma Rousseff last year, was charged with graft on Monday by Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot after executives of the world's biggest meatpacker, JBS SA, accused him of taking millions in bribes.

He has denied any wrongdoing and resisted repeated calls to resign. But the lower house of congress is preparing to vote on whether he should face a trial in the Supreme Court, which would prompt his removal from office for at least 180 days.

Other criminal charges against Temer are widely expected to be filed by Janot, and a ruling on Friday by Supreme Court Judge Edson Fachin appeared to come in anticipation of that.

Fachin said each and every charge against the president would have to be investigated separately, meaning that Temer could potentially face more than one trial before the court.

Unions fiercely oppose Temer's labor reform bill as it reduces their power over workplaces by cutting mandatory dues and allowing companies and employees to negotiate contract terms more freely. The bill has already been approved by the lower house of Congress and will likely pass the Senate within a few weeks.

Unions also criticize Temer's pension overhaul proposal as it would make Brazilians work more years before retiring.

Economists and investors see pension reform as the only way for Brazil to shore up its finances in the long run without resorting to tax hikes.

Source: Reuters

Saudi heavy crude price to Asia may hit highest in over three years

FILE PHOTO: An oil tank is seen at the Saudi Aramco headquarters during a media tour at Damam city November 11, 2007.   REUTERS/ Ali Jarekji/File Photo

World No.1 oil exporter Saudi Arabia could raise prices for the heavy crude it sells to Asia in August to the highest in more than three years, trade sources said.

The move would come after refiner profits on churning out fuel oil from heavy crude hit record highs, with state oil giant Saudi Aramco cutting heavy crude production as part of a drive led by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to rein in global output.

Saudi Aramco may lift the official selling price (OSP) for Arab Heavy crude to Asia by 20 cents a barrel to $1.65 below the average of Oman and Dubai quotes in August, its narrowest discount since December 2013, according to four Asian crude buyers.

A fifth trade source surveyed by Reuters said the price for the grade would remain unchanged from this month.

A hike in prices for Saudi heavy crude could buoy demand for such oil from other Middle Eastern producers, as well as supplies from Russia, Angola and the Americas.

"Maybe they (Saudi Aramco) will cut Arab Heavy supplies for August because of the OPEC cut and summer demand for power generation," said a trader with a North Asian refiner.

Tighter heavy crude supplies have reduced fuel oil output and helped push profits on making that product in Asia to an all-time high of a 59 cents premium against Dubai crude on June 22.

Meanwhile, the four sources who expected a climb in Saudi heavy crude prices predicted that flagship Arab Light's OSP would fall to a two-month low for August, down 20 cents a barrel after the Dubai market weakened last month.

Saudi crude OSPs are usually released around the fifth of each month, and set the trend for Iranian, Kuwaiti and Iraqi prices, affecting more than 12 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude bound for Asia.

Saudi Aramco sets its crude prices based on recommendations from customers and after calculating the change in the value of its oil over the past month, based on yields and product prices.

Saudi Aramco officials as a matter of policy do not comment on the kingdom's monthly OSPs.

Source: Reuters

U.S. no longer a 'friend' in Merkel election program

German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel attends a meeting of their conservative bloc to discuss their election programme in Berlin, Germany, July 3, 2017.    REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
REUTERS/Axel Schmidt

In their campaign program for the German election, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives have dropped the term "friend" in describing the relationship with the United States.

Four years ago, the joint program of her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), referred to the United States as Germany's "most important friend" outside of Europe.

The 2013 program also described the "friendship" with Washington as a "cornerstone" of Germany's international relations and talked about strengthening transatlantic economic ties through the removal of trade barriers.

But the words "friend" and "friendship" are missing from the latest election program - entitled "For a Germany in which we live well and happily" - which Merkel and CSU leader Horst Seehofer presented on Monday ahead of a Sept. 24 election.

Instead, the United States is described as Germany's "most important partner" outside of Europe. CDU officials were not immediately available to comment on the change in wording.

The change in wording underscores how relations between Berlin and Washington have deteriorated since U.S. President Donald Trump entered the White House in January.

During his campaign for the presidency, Trump said that Merkel was "ruining" Germany with migration policies he described as "insane".

He has repeatedly denounced Germany's trade surplus with the United States, accused Berlin and other European partners of owing "massive amounts of money" to NATO, and unsettled western partners with his decision last month to pull out of the Paris climate accord..

A survey by the Pew Research Center last week showed that just 35 percent of Germans have a favorable view of the United States, down from 57 percent at the end of President Barack Obama's term.

Merkel is due to host Trump and other leaders at a G20 summit in Hamburg later this week.

In place of the 2013 passage about strengthening economic ties, the 2017 program refers to historical U.S. support for Germany after World War Two and in the run-up to German reunification.

The new CDU/CSU election program also repeats a line that Merkel used in a speech in Munich in late May after a difficult summit of G7 leaders, where Trump resisted pressure from six other nations to stay in the Paris agreement.

"The times in which we could fully rely on others are, to a certain extent, in the past. We Europeans must take our fate into our own hands more decisively than we have in the past," the program reads.

While affirming Germany's commitment to the NATO military alliance, the program says that the EU must be in a position to defend itself independently if it wants to survive in the long run.

It also adds a special section entitled "Germany and France as the Motor of Europe" which vows to "reinvigorate the friendship" between the two countries.

"We are ready, together with the new French government, to further develop the euro zone step by step, for example through the creation of its own monetary fund," it reads.

But it also rules out the mutualization of debt in Europe and says that "solidarity" will only be possible if EU countries stick to the rules of the bloc's Growth and Stability Pact.

Source: Reuters