Saturday, October 11, 2008

Fiscally Vulnerable Countries - World Bank Report

A new World Bank report on Thursday named 28 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East facing financial strains due to high food and fuel costs and now from a cascading credit crisis.

World Bank President Robert Zoellick said the world should not forget the "human rescue" needed in developing countries as it focused on the spreading market crisis.

Among the "fiscally vulnerable" countries are Jordan, Cambodia, Lebanon, Jamaica, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, Madagascar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Malawi, Ivory Coast, Eritrea, Fiji, Haiti, Seychelles and Mauritania.

The Report, published ahead of weekend International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings of finance and development ministers, said many of these countries had little or no room to take on new debt to afford the higher prices.

"Currently these countries, on average, are set to receive no increase in project and program aid," Zoellick said.

The Report on financially-strained countries said policy actions to deal with higher food and energy prices were causing the fiscal pressures.As prices climbed, governments have tried to shield the poor by imposing fuel and food tax rate cuts, increasing subsidies and underpricing electricity from oil and gas.

Zoellick also noted that it was important that the world's industrial countries did not forget their promises of aid to the poorest countries.

Zoellick said the G7 industrial countries were "far behind" on the promises they made at a 2005 summit of world leaders at Gleneagles, Scotland, where they pledged to double aid to Africa by 2010.

"The poorest cannot be asked to pay the biggest price," Zoellick said. "For the poor, the costs of crisis can be life-long," he added.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Number seeking arrears advice soars

The number of people seeking help after falling behind with their mortgage has soared by more than 50% during the past year, figures have showed.

Charity Citizens Advice said it had seen a 51% surge in people contacting it because they were in arrears on their mortgage or a secured loan during the three months to the end of September, compared with the same period last year.

There was also a 10% jump in people contacting it because they were unable to keep up with payments on their fuel bills.

Overall during the past 12 months, staff in bureaux in England and Wales have seen a 35% rise in people with mortgage and secured loan arrears problems, receiving 77,324 new enquiries since October last year.

But the charity said there had been a small reduction in the number of people contacting it because they were struggling with unsecured debts, such as credit, store and charge cards and unsecured loans

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London tycoons lose billions in meltdown

The financial meltdown has cost London's tycoons billions.

Their losses will have a massive impact on the city's economy, forcing hundreds of shops, bars, hotels and restaurants to close.

Steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal was the biggest single loser after seeing £20 billion wiped off the fortune that made him Britain's richest man.

UK property tycoon Robert Tchenguiz is facing losses of up to £1 billion after borrowing heavily from Icelandic bank Kaupthing. Dozens of wealthy Russian and east European oligarchs with properties in London have also suffered huge falls in their fortunes......

However, these are just paper losses for most, they have money to reinvest and the market will recover and they will be quids in again. Its a financial loss if anyone is forced to cash in now...and now is the time to buy...(I hope!)

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Chef Ramsay took KS&F out of the mix

Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay was alongside the local councils and thousands of individuals who put their cash into an Icelandic bank account.

Gordon Ramsay Holdings, which runs the restaurant at Claridge's, Sloane Street, a string of gastropubs and Murano, has confirmed that until recently it banked with Kaupthing Singer & Friedlander [KSF], the UK offshoot of the Icelandic bank.

The firm said last night: "Gordon Ramsay Holdings would like to clarify that the company moved all of its corporate banking from Kaupthing Singer Friedlander [sic] to The Royal Bank of Scotland 10 weeks ago."

Friday, October 03, 2008

How the Bailout Is Like a Hedge Fund.

its funny, but The Wall Street bailout is alive again.

In an effort to make the $700 billion bailout palatable, the architects of the law have larded it up with all sorts of goodies, such as increasing the levels of deposit insurance, sparing some taxpayers the ravages of the Alternative Minimum Tax, and extending tax breaks for alternative energy. Henry Paulson's three-page sprig has sprouted into a 451-page Christmas tree. (The current version of the bill, in all its lengthy glory, can be seen here.)

What's most interesting about the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is just how much it reads like a prospectus for a hedge fund. In the past, hedge funds—secretive pools of capital—were open only to qualified (read: rich) investors. But with the stroke of a pen, President Bush will soon make all American citizens investors in the world's biggest fund—and a democratic one at that. Taxpayers won't just be the investors. We'll own the management company, too. Best of all? For at least a few months, we'll have the former CEO of Goldman Sachs run our investment for a very small fee. Call it the "Universal Hedge Fund."

Hedge funds use leverage: That is, they borrow money to amplify their returns. The Universal Hedge Fund will use massive leverage, borrowing up to $750 billion, which it will use to buy up distressed assets. The Universal Fund might best be described as a multi-multistrategy fund. Its stated goals are to maximize returns to its investors while promoting general market stability and bolstering the crippled housing market.

The fund's bylaws give the manager (the treasury secretary) significant discretion. He can buy troubled mortgage-related instruments from finance companies (Section 3[9][a], Page 5). But he can also invest in "any other financial instrument that the Secretary, after consultation with the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, determines the purchase of which is necessary to promote financial market stability" (Section 3[9]B, Page 6). The manager then has the authority to manage the assets as he sees fit (Section 106[B], Page 22), collecting revenue streams, holding bonds to maturity, or flipping them for a quick profit (Section 106[c], Page 22). Like many of today's sharpest hedge funds, the Universal Fund will also have the ability to drive a harder bargain by demanding equity stakes, or new debt securities, from the institutions it is helping (Section 113[d], Page 35). It can also do what many of the big hedge funds, and so-called "funds of funds," do: bring in outside managers to run the investment (101[C][3], Page 8).

There are some important differences between the Universal Fund and its private sector peers. Hedge funds thrive on secrecy. The Universal Fund will operate with maximum transparency, disclosing all new sales and purchases on the Web within two days (Section 114[A], Page 39). Rather than send in all our money upfront, we hedge-fund investors will give the manager $250 billion to start with (Section 115[A][1], Page 40). And the proceeds won't be distributed via dividends or end-of-year partnership distributions. Rather, revenues and profits "shall be paid into the general fund of the Treasury for reduction of the public debt" (Section 106[d], Page 22).

The Bush administration's desire to turn all Americans into participants in the capital markets through the privatization of Social Security never got off the ground. But in the last months of its second term, it has managed to pull off something of a coup. Soon enough, we'll all collectively own various securities issued by lots of big companies. Too bad the Ownership Society is happening only because we became a Bad Debt Society.

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Rose relief as M&S is down but not out

Sir Stuart Rose earned some breathing space today, with a trading statement that suggests Marks & Spencer may be weathering the worst of the economic storm.

Although sales in the 13 weeks to 27 September fell 6.1%, this was slightly better than the City expected.

Sir Stuart said he is dealing with "unprecedented" conditions.

"Consumer confidence is fragile and the retail environment unpredictable."

Food sales are down 5.9% while general merchandise fell 6.4%. Full-year profits will tumble from the £1 billion recorded this year, perhaps by half, but Sir Stuart insists today's statement did not amount to a profits warning.

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Sir Ian Blair quits the Met

Boris Johnson has forced out Sir Ian Blair as head of the Met.

Britain's most senior police officer resigned tonight after a crisis meeting with the Mayor yesterday afternoon.

The Standard has learned that Mr Johnson, who took control of the Metropolitan Police Authority yesterday, told him he had reached "the end of the line" and should consider his options.

Events unfolded with dramatic speed today. Sir Ian told Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse this morning before informing Home Secretary Jacqui Smith. Sir Ian told her he had to go, because the Mayor had effectively said he could no longer work with him.

The Met Commissioner offered to walk out immediately - but Ms Smith asked him to stay for a few months. They agreed he would leave in early December, more than a year earlier than the expiry of his contract in February 2010.

Sir Ian, 55, is understood to have negotiated a big severance payment, and is entitled to a gold-plated pension after more than three decades of service as a police officer. He was on a salary of £240,813.

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Ireland includes UK banks in its £315bn deposit guarantee

The Irish government today changed the law to allow the offshoots of UK banks Royal Bank of Scotland and HBOS in Ireland into its €400 billion (£315.5 billion) deposit-guarantee scheme.

The scheme, which guarantees 100% of savings and deposits held in six Irish banks and building societies, was signed into law by President Mary McAleese today.

But it is receiving growing criticism from European politicians, who say Ireland has acted unilaterally.

Finance Minister Brian Lenihan said during the late-night debate on the bill that the scheme may no longer be limited just to the six Irish institutions.

This followed two calls from UK Chancellor Alastair Darling yesterday and intense lobbying in Dublin and Brussels from other banks which have sizeable branch networks in Ireland.

The largest is Ulster Bank, a subsidiary of NatWest owner Royal Bank of Scotland. It has 132 branches in Ireland and is said to account for 20% of retail savings there.

National Irish Bank, owned by Danske Bank, has 59 branches in Ireland. Halifax Ireland was set up two years ago as a rebranding of Bank of Scotland's 25 branches in the Republic of Ireland.

A spokeswoman for RBS said: "We will be admitted into the scheme as soon as practicable."

The bill was altered this morning to allow other banks to be included by a simple ministerial order. HBOS and RBS had asked to be included in the guarantee.

It was not immediately clear if HBOS had been invited to join the guarantee scheme.

Mark Duffy, head of HBOS operations in Ireland, said: "It is important that there continues to be a level playing field so that customers enjoy equal choice from all Irish banks."

Financial advisers have reported a surge in interest from UK savers in the past two days, wanting to know if they should shift deposits to Irish banks.

But their enthusiasm has been tempered by a revelation that the Irish government's move was prompted by the potential collapse of at least one, if not two, Irish banks.

Rowling banks £170m in year: Forbes

JK Rowling is the world's best paid author, banking more than £170 million in the last year, the US business magazine Forbes has said.

Rowling, who wrote the first of her best-selling books about boy wizard Harry Potter while an impoverished single mother, earned 300 million US dollars (£170m) over the past year.

The 43-year-old billionaire author's income was six times that of second-placed James Patterson, who wrote Along Came a Spider.

Last month, Rowling donated £1 million to the Labour Party ahead of its annual conference, indicating that her gift was motivated by Labour's record on child poverty and Tory leader David Cameron's offer of tax breaks to married couples.

A Forbes spokesman said: "It was wizardry that transformed JK Rowling from a destitute single mother on welfare into a bestselling billionaire."

The magazine described her work as "a children's literary sensation" and a "publishing hit".

It went on: "Once a single mother on welfare, Rowling can now claim best-selling billionaire status thanks to her Harry Potter franchise.

"Over on the big screen, her Potter franchise has already generated 4.5 billion dollars (£2.6bn) at the worldwide box office - and she still has three more flicks to come."

Last month, she won a New York legal battle and succeeded in blocking publication of a Potter encyclopaedia which she described as "wholesale theft" of her work.

She also said it had forced her to stop work on a new novel because the lawsuit had "decimated my creative work".

Bond film to hit Indian theatres before it reaches US

Breaking away from tradition, the new film on the charming and suave secret service agent James Bond -- "Quantum of Solace" -- will hit the silver screens in India a week ahead of the trip it makes to the US.

The film will be released in India on November 7, a week before it premiers in US. It will hit the UK theaters on October 31. A sequel to the last Bond flick "Casino Royale", "Quantum of Solace", will see Daniel Craig returning to his latest mission and picking up threads from his last adventure to begin a new journey as the elusive British Agent 007.

The film will also be released India in three other languages -- Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. "James Bond has a huge equity in this country and Bond films have always been a hit here. November 7 will see the biggest roll out for any Hollywood film in India as we would like to give our audiences the thrill of seeing 'Quantum of Solace' even before US does.

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Indian food: new crush of Japanese

Tokyo (PTI): In Japan, India is virtually synonymous with 'curry'. Indian food has now got the Japanese hooked and is gradually replacing Chinese and Thai, their other favourites, with hundreds of restaurants mushrooming across its islands and an unprecedented rise in food imports from the country.

In fact, the Japanese are so fascinated with the 'Indian' food that even restaurants owned by Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans display the Indian tricolour and add the prefix 'Indian' to the names of the eateries.

So you have restaurant chains like the Siddique's 'Indian Pakistani', which has over 20 outlets and 'Indian Sri Lankan'.

"The Japanese identify 'Indian' with good and delicious food. If a restaurant serving any South Asian fare does not have the Indian tag, the Japanese will not go to it," says Mohammad Sageer, a chef working for Potahar who came from Islamabad Pakistan eight years ago.

There are others like the Maharaja which has 25 restaurants, Khana (3), Sapla (1), Great India, Bombay, Ali Baba, Jantar Mantar and Agra.

There is also a restaurant named 'Gandhi' in Washington Hotel in Shinzuku that was set up 25 years ago by a Japanese.

Potahar, in Shinzuku, Tokyo, is owned by a Pakistani but the Indian flag hangs outside.

A small eatery with hardly a sitting place for a dozen people, it caters to over 100 people, mostly Japanese, who queue up for "curry and nan" in just two hours during lunch time.

Dell's customers snubbing green initiative

Dell is still finding it an uphill struggle to persuade its customers to take part in its "Plant a Tree for Me" scheme. Under this plan, customers can choose to spend an extra $2 per notebook or $6 per desktop to offset its estimated carbon emissions for the next three years.

Only 300,000 customers opted to pay the levy during Dell's last financial year, which ended in February, said Tod Arbogast, the company's director of sustainable business. Though he declined to enumerate it, that amounts to between $300,000 and $900,000 of voluntary spending by customers - compared to Dell's revenues of $61.1bn and net profits of $2.97bn. As a percentage of customers, it remains well below the 1% mark.

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Hookah, chillum smoking more toxic than cigarette: Study

Traditional hookah and chillum are more injurious to health than cigarette, a study has said.

The study underlines that the old mode of smoking is much more harmful than cigarette smoke as carbon monoxide (CO) level is higher in it, the study conducted by a group of pulmonary doctors of the SMS Hospital Medical College and the Asthma Bhawan here said.

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