December, 2016

 

Mexico fuel price increase seen boosting sales of more efficient cars

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) –  An imminent jump in Mexican gasoline prices should not reduce auto sales in the near term but will ultimately boost the market for more fuel-efficient cars, a leading Mexican auto industry group said on Thursday.

This week, Mexico’s finance ministry said gasoline costs would rise by up to 20.1 percent in January as it moved to end years of government-set prices, prompting economists to begin upwardly revising inflation forecasts for 2017.

Higher driving costs could weigh on hitherto brisk appetite for new autos in Latin America’s second-biggest economy.

Vehicle sales in Mexico rose by 18.5 percent to more than 1.4 million in the year through November, official data shows.

Guillermo Rosales, deputy director of the Mexican association of automobile distributors (AMDA), said higher fuel costs would likely boost demand for more energy-efficient cars.

“In the short-term, I don’t think there will be a decline in the number of vehicles sold,” Rosales said in a statement to Reuters. “In the medium to long term, we’ll see a change in the trend that favors models which consume less (fuel).”

Mexican motorists were downbeat about the immediate outlook, saying they would have to work longer hours and spend less to compensate for higher fuel costs.

“It’s going to have a huge impact,” said Juan Olivar, 35, a Mexico City taxi driver, noting that taxi fares would need to rise to make up for the fuel hike.

Complicating matters further, parts of Mexico have also been hit by fuel shortages, partly due to theft via illegal taps in the pipeline network of state oil company Pemex.

On Christmas Day, the company cautioned Mexicans against making “panic buys” of fuel in the central state of San Luis Potosi as gas stations reported shortages.

Gerardo Chavez, 54, a fuel attendant in the affluent Lomas de Chapultepec neighborhood of Mexico City who depends on tips, said he had earned no tip money to buy food for his family one day last week when his station ran short of gasoline.

“With the fuel increase, people aren’t even going to tip us,” he said.

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)


Putin hopes for steps to restore ties with U.S. after Trump takes office

(Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes Moscow and Washington will be able to take real steps to improve relations after President-elect Donald Trump takes office, the Kremlin quoted Putin as saying in a New Year’s message to Trump.

Putin added that positive developments in relations between Russia and Britain would be mutually beneficial.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt)


Brazil police question officer about missing Greek ambassador: report

(Reuters) – Brazilian authorities questioned a police officer overnight in connection with the apparent murder of Greece’s ambassador to Brazil, and investigated if the diplomat’s Brazilian wife was involved, local media reported on Friday.

The O Globo newspaper, citing family members of the police officer, reported the policeman was questioned for several hours regarding missing Greek Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis.

Globo also reported that detectives found blood on a couch inside the Rio home where the ambassador and his wife were staying, and questioned his wife, Françoise.

A burned corpse was found Thursday evening inside the car that Amiridis, 59, and his Brazilian wife had rented.

The case is being investigated by Rio de Janeiro state’s homicide division, with the O Globo newspaper reporting that police are working on the assumption it was a murder.

In Athens, Greek foreign ministry spokesman Stratos Efthymiou said that “unfortunately there has not yet been identification of the body” and that “we are awaiting the conclusion of the Brazilian coroner” before making a statement.

“However, it is not a good sign that the (burned out) car was rented by our ambassador,” Efthymiou said.

Rio de Janeiro police said they were still investigating and that the charred body found inside the car rented by the ambassador was being examined, but had no further comment.

The car was located in the northern outskirts of Rio, a poor section dominated by powerful and politically connected armed groups mostly comprised of off-duty or retired police and firefighters who control vast areas. They are believed to often extort residents in exchange for keeping drug gangs from taking over the areas.

The armed groups have grown in strength in Rio for several years, and often curry favor with local politicians by promising to deliver votes from entire neighborhoods as long as authorities allow them to carry out their crimes.

On Thursday, police confirmed that the ambassador had been missing since Monday night, when he was last seen leaving the home of his wife’s family. His burned rented car was found nearby, with the charred body inside. The ambassador was reported missing by his wife on Wednesday.

The incident is another blow to Rio’s image, just four months after it hosted the Summer Olympics.

Crime in Rio has been rising and the state is deeply indebted, often unable to pay police and other salaries on time if at all.

Amiridis had served as Greece’s consul general in Rio from 2001 to 2004. He was Greece’s ambassador to Libya from 2012 until he took the top Brazil post at the beginning of 2016.

(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo, Paulo Prada in Rio de Janeiro and George Georgiopoulos in Athens; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)


Ricardo Blackman’s Caribbean Headlines News 12/30

By Ricardo Blackman | CDN Barbados

Dateline Port of Spain, TRINIDAD:

The Massy conglomerate has posted a financial loss in 2016.  Its profit before tax fell to $800.5 million for year ended September 30th, 2016, down from $919 million in 2015, according to Massy’s consolidated income statement published yesterday in the Press.  Massy’s profit after tax stood at $536.1 million in 2016, down from $668.3 million a year earlier.

Dateline Bridgetown, BARBADOS:

Economist Ryan Straughn is warning that the recent upgrade by Standard and Poor’s (S&P) of Sagicor Finance (2015) Ltd by two notches could spell more bad news for Barbados.  Straughn, who is a former President of the Barbados Economics Society (BES) is concerned that given the positive effect of Sagicor’s relocation on its international rating, other companies may opt to follow suit in terms of packing up and leaving the island.  Straughn, the Opposition Barbados Labour Party’s candidate for Christ Church East Central, said the unequivocal message that had been sent was that “all is not well on the island.”

The honeymoon had to come to an end at some time.  Come 2007, both post-paid and pre-paid customers of Digicel will have to dig deeper into their pockets, as the company decided to end its absorption of the VAT increase on mobile phone use.

Barbadian consumers will not be stuck with the bill by Barbados Light and Power’s attempt to hedge international oil prices.  The good news came yesterday following a decision by the Fair Trading Commission (FTC) to reject an application from the power company to pass on the cost associated with its attempt to buy fuel in large amounts at a fixed price in order to protect the company from frequent shifts in the commodity price.

Dateline Castries, ST. LUCIA:

Apparently abandoning its initial “Michelle Obama approach” to its hitherto up-market Citizenship by Investment Programme, namely “when they go low, we go high”, St. Lucia has now gone cheap.  Prime Minister Allen Chastanet, who is also Minister responsible for the CBI programme, has issued an amendment to the citizenship by investment regulations, removing the cap on annual applications, reducing the amount of qualifying contributions and dispensing with the requirement of financial resources of a minimum of US$3 million, prompting some social media posters to describe the country now as the “dollar store” of Caribbean citizenship.

Dateline St. John’s, ANTIGUA:

Hours after he was asked to explain his involvement in a bribery scandal, Antigua and Barbuda’s Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Casroy James, has denied accepting bribe money and has agreed to repay sums, he claims, were paid to him for independent consultancy work.  Prime Minister Gaston Browne said in his year-end Cabinet Review that James will be relieved of his position if he cannot give a “satisfactory explanation if any money has been paid to him” in the on-going international bribery scandal which has its roots in Brazil.


Winter storm socks U.S. New England region

A winter storm socked the U.S. New England region with heavy snow and high winds early on Friday, with some areas expected to see as much as 24 inches (61 cm) of snowfall, the U.S. National Weather Service said.

Winter storm warnings and advisories were in effect for areas stretching from northern New York through most of Maine, where snow was falling at a rate of about 3 inches per hour in parts of the state early on Friday.

“This is the first strong nor’easter New England has seen this season. What is impressive about it is how rapidly it is strengthening tonight from Cape Cod into Maine,” said Todd Foisy, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Caribou, Maine.

Much of the region was set for at least 6 inches (15 cm) of snow with the possibility of 24 inches (61 cm) in some parts, the National Weather Service said, warning of reduced visibility on roadways as gusts of 35 mph (56 kph) blow the snow around.

“Blowing snow will cause whiteout conditions. While lashing a rope to yourself might be an option, it is better to stay inside if at all possible,” the Bangor, Maine Police Department said on Facebook.

Most winter storm warnings in the region were expected to expire by Friday evening.

More than 35,000 customers were without power throughout the region early on Friday as a result of the storms, data from utility companies showed.

Some 20 flights were canceled and another 68 were delayed in and out of Boston’s Logan International Airport on Thursday as a result of the inclement weather, a common part of winter in New England.

A winter storm warning for parts of West Virginia and western Maryland was in effect until Friday afternoon.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Catherine Evans)


Russia will not expel anyone in response to U.S. sanctions, Putin says

MOSCOW (Reuters) –  President Vladimir Putin said Moscow would not expel anyone in response to Washington’s decision to throw out 35 suspected Russian spies and sanction intelligence agencies it believes were involved in computer hacking in the 2016 presidential election.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier proposed expelling 35 U.S. diplomats after outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama ordered the expulsions and sanctions on Thursday.

But Putin said he would wait for the actions of President-elect Donald Trump, who will take office on Jan. 20, before deciding on any further steps in relations with the United States.

“We will not expel anyone,” Putin said in a statement on Friday. “While keeping the right for retaliatory measures, we will not descend to the level of ‘kitchen’, irresponsible diplomacy.”

In withering remarks, Putin even invited U.S. diplomats and their families to a party in the Kremlin.

It was not clear whether Trump, who has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, would seek to roll back the measures which mark a new post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties.

Russian officials have portrayed the sanctions as a last act of a lame-duck president and suggested that Trump could reverse them when he takes over the White House.

“Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out,” said Putin.

The U.S. sanctions also closed two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland that the administration said were used by Russian personnel for “intelligence-related purposes”.

However, a former Russian Foreign Ministry employee told Reuters that the facility in Maryland was a dacha used by diplomatic staff and their children.

Lavrov also proposed banning U.S. diplomats from using a dacha in Moscow’s prestigious waterfront park area, Serebryany Bor.

But Putin said Russia would not prohibit U.S. diplomats and their families from their usual vacation spots. “Moreover, I invite all children of American diplomats accredited in Russia to the New Year and Christmas party in the Kremlin,” he said.

Obama, a Democrat, had promised consequences after U.S. intelligence officials blamed Russia for hacks intended to influence the 2016 election. Officials pointed the finger directly at Putin for personally directing the efforts and primarily targeting Democrats.

Washington put sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies that he said “provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations”.

“EMBITTERED LOSERS”

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was more outspoken in his criticism. “It is regrettable that the Obama administration, which started out by restoring our ties, is ending its term in an anti-Russia death throes. RIP,” he wrote on his official Facebook page.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Obama administration “a group of embittered and dimwitted foreign policy losers”.

Obama said Americans should be alarmed by Russia’s actions in the U.S. election.

“These actions follow repeated private and public warnings that we have issued to the Russian government, and are a necessary and appropriate response to efforts to harm U.S. interests in violation of established international norms of behavior,” he said in a statement from Hawaii, where he is on vacation.

The sanctions were the strongest response yet by the his administration to Russian cyber activities. However, a senior administration official acknowledged that Trump could reverse them and allow Russian intelligence officials back into the United States once he takes office.

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks. He said on Thursday he would meet with intelligence officials soon. “It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” Trump said in a statement.

“Nevertheless, in the interest of our country and its great people, I will meet with leaders of the intelligence community next week in order to be updated on the facts of this situation,” he said, without mentioning Russia.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives before the Nov. 8 presidential election. U.S. intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks were aimed at helping Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told Fox News he did not condone foreign governments hacking U.S. institutions.

“It’s wrong and it’s something we don’t agree with,” Priebus said. “However, it would be nice if we could get to a place where the intelligence community in unison can tell us what it is that has been going on and what the investigation was and what it has led to so that we can respond.”

“PERSONA NON GRATA”

Obama said the State Department declared as “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives and was closing the two Russian compounds. The 45-acre complex in Maryland includes a Georgian-style brick mansion, swimming pool, tennis courts and cottages for embassy staff.

A senior U.S. official told Reuters the expulsions would come from the Russian embassy in Washington and consulate in San Francisco.

The Russians have 72 hours to leave the United States, the official said. Access to the two compounds will be denied to all Russian officials as of noon on Friday.

The State Department has long complained that Russian security agents and traffic police have harassed U.S. diplomats in Moscow, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has raised the issue with Putin and Lavrov.

The U.S. official declined to name the Russian diplomats who would be affected, although it is understood that Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, will not be one of those expelled.

Obama said the actions announced on Thursday were just the beginning.

“These actions are not the sum total of our response to Russia’s aggressive activities. We will continue to take a variety of actions at a time and place of our choosing, some of which will not be publicized,” Obama said.

A report detailing Russia’s interference in the 2016 election as well as cyber attacks in previous election cycles would be delivered to Congress in the coming days, he added.

(Additional reporting by Dustin Volz, Yeganeh Torbati, Eric Beech and Nikolai Pavlov in Washington and Katya Golubkova and Svetlana Reiter in Moscow; Writing by Anna Willard; Editing by David Stamp)


Number of migrants leaving Germany voluntarily rises in 2016

BERLIN (Reuters) –  Nearly 55,000 migrants who were not eligible for or were likely to be denied asylum left Germany voluntarily in 2016, up by 20,000 from the number who left of their own volition in 2015, the government said on Wednesday.

“That’s a considerable increase from last year,” Interior Ministry spokesman Harald Neymanns told a news conference, saying the 2016 figure had climbed to 54,123 through Dec. 27. “The increase is welcome. It’s always preferable when people leave the country voluntarily instead of being deported.”

A Finance Ministry spokesman said the government would boost funding slightly to 150 million euros in 2017 to support efforts to encourage people to leave Germany.

Germany has toughened its stance on immigration in recent months, prompted by concerns about security and integration after admitting more than 1.1 million migrants from the Middle East, Africa and elsewhere since early 2015.

Last week a failed asylum seeker who had sworn allegiance to the Islamic State militant group killed 12 people when he rammed a truck into a Christmas market in Berlin, fuelling growing criticism of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policy.

Most of those leaving in 2016 returned to their homes in Albania, Serbia, Iraq, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iran, Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper said earlier. Those leaving are eligible for one-off support of up to 3,000 euros that is supposed to help support finding employment at home.

Separately, German security officials told Reuters the number of those deported after their asylum requests were rejected rose to almost 23,800 from January to November – up from almost 20,900 in all of 2015.

There has also been a rise in the number of refugees turned away at the borders. A report by the Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung daily said police had turned back 19,720 refugees through the first 11 months of 2016 – up from 8,913 in all of 2015. Most were from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq and Nigeria. They had been registered in other EU countries.

As public support for her pro-refugee policies wanes ahead of September’s federal election, Merkel has said it is vital to focus resources on those fleeing war, and to keep public support up by deporting foreigners to countries where there is no persecution.

Attacks and security alerts involving refugees and migrants have boosted the popularity of the anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, whose rise above 10 percent in opinion polls could complicate Merkel’s re-election hopes.

On Tuesday, seven refugees from Syria and Iraq aged 15 to 21 were detained in Berlin on charges of attempted murder for trying to set fire to a homeless man in an underground station.

(Reporting by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Janet Lawrence)


U.S. coalition says senior Islamic State commander Kuwaiti killed in Syria

(Reuters) – One of Islamic State’s top commanders in Syria has been killed in a U.S.-led coalition air strike, the coalition’s spokesman said on Thursday, corroborating an earlier report.

Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti, a member of Islamic State’s war committee, was killed on Monday by the Tabqa Dam, a strategic objective in northern Syria near Raqqa city, the jihadists’ main stronghold in the country, the spokesman said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, had reported on Tuesday his probable death in combat as the militants sought to stave off an advance towards the dam by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

Islamic State has yet to confirm Kuwaiti’s death.

Kuwaiti was involved in Islamic State’s retaking of the ancient city of Palmyra earlier this month and then went to Tabqa to help shore up the jihadists’ defences against the SDF, the coalition said.

“Abu Jandal was involved in the use of suicide vehicles, IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and chemical weapons against the SDF … his death will degrade ISIL’s ability to defend Raqqa and launch external operations against the West,” the statement said.

The SDF alliance includes the Kurdish YPG militia and is supported by U.S.-led coalition air strikes in northern Syria in its fight against Islamic State.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; editing by John Stonestreet)


No sign Berlin market attacker had network in Italy: PM Gentiloni

(Reuters) – There is no sign the man suspected of killing 12 people with a truck at a Berlin Christmas market on Dec. 19 had a network in Italy, Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Thursday.

Asked at a news conference about Anis Amri, the Tunisian suspect who was shot dead in Milan four days after the attack, Gentiloni said, “We have no evidence of particular networks … that Amri had in Italy.”

Police are investigating whether Amri, who crossed Europe undetected after the attack, was seeking shelter in Italy or trying to reach another country.

(Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni, writing by Isla Binnie, editing by Gavin Jones)


Trump tax reforms could depend on little-known ‘scoring’ panel

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Donald Trump’s goal of overhauling the U.S. tax code in 2017 will depend partly on the work of an obscure congressional committee tasked with estimating how much future economic growth will result from tax cuts.

Known as the Joint Committee on Taxation, or JCT, the nonpartisan panel assigns “dynamic scores” to major tax bills in Congress, based on economic models, to forecast a bill’s ultimate impact on the federal budget. The higher a tax bill’s dynamic score, the more likely it is seen as spurring growth, raising tax revenues and keeping the federal deficit in check.

As Trump and Republicans in Congress plan the biggest tax reform package in a generation, the JCT has come under pressure from corporate lobbyists and other tax cut advocates who worry that too low a dynamic score could show the legislation to add billions, if not trillions of dollars to the federal deficit.

“The problem is that the Joint Committee staff has adopted a whole series of assumptions that truly minimize the effects and underestimate the impact that a properly done tax reform could have,” said David Burton, an economic policy fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

A low dynamic score could force Republicans to scale back tax cuts or make the reforms temporary, severely limiting the scope of what was one of Trump’s top campaign pledges.

Other analysts warn that pressure for a robust dynamic score raises the danger of a politically expedient number that could help reform pass Congress but lead to higher deficits down the road.

Until last year, JCT used a variety of economic models in its arcane calculations, reflecting the uncertainties in such work. But House of Representatives Republicans changed the rules in 2015 to require that a bill’s score reflect only a single estimate of the estimated impact on the wider economy and resulting impact on tax revenues.

Next year’s anticipated tax reform package would be the biggest piece of legislation that JCT has scored using this new, narrower approach, presenting the committee with a daunting challenge.

JCT Chief of Staff Thomas Barthold acknowledged the challenge of dynamic scoring in an interview with Reuters.

“The U.S. economy is so darn complex, you really can’t have one model that picks up all of the complexity and nuance. So the essence of modeling is to try to slim things down, try to emphasize certain points,” he said.

Tax reform is still months away. But the initial legislation expected in 2017 is likely to fall somewhere between two similar but separate plans, one backed by Trump and the other by House Republicans including Speaker Paul Ryan.

The proposals lean heavily for fiscal legitimacy on dynamic scoring. Even the most robust independent scores show both plans adding to the deficit.

But dynamic scoring, like any economic modeling technique, is far from precise and, when it comes to fiscal policy, any theoretical flaws could lead to very real consequences for taxpayers and the U.S. economy.

The JCT has included macroeconomic analyses in its tax bill scores since 2003, providing a range of estimates on economic effects built on a variety of assumptions.

When Dave Camp, as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, produced a tax reform bill in 2014, JCT used two models and forecast revenue gains ranging from $50 billion to $700 billion. The committee also provided economic growth forecasts from as low as 0.2 percent to as high as 1.8 percent.

The tax package likely to emerge next year will probably be even more complex than Camp’s, prompting some to worry that budgetary and economic forecasts will range even more widely.

Some critics, including lobbyists for major corporations that stand to gain from big tax cuts, want JCT’s numbers to look more like the nonpartisan Tax Foundation’s, a research group whose work has been embraced by Trump and House Republicans.

The Tax Foundation estimates that the House Republican tax plan would lead to a 9.1 percent higher gross domestic product over the long term, 7.7 percent higher wages and 1.7 million new full-time-equivalent jobs. It predicts the plan would reduce government revenue by $2.4 trillion over a decade, not counting macroeconomic effects, but by only $191 billion once economic growth is taken into account.

By contrast, the centrist Tax Policy Center estimates the House plan would add 1 percent to GDP over 10 years and erase $2.5 trillion of revenue, even with positive macroeconomic feedback, due to higher federal debt interest.

(Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Leslie Adler)