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EU Calls for Tougher Checks on Golden Visa Applicants

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The European Union on Wednesday warned countries running lucrative schemes granting passports and visas to rich foreigners to toughen checks on applicants amid concern they could be flouting security, money laundering and tax laws.

EU countries have welcomed in more than 6,000 new citizens and close to 100,000 new residents through golden passport and visa schemes over the past decade, attracting around 25 billion euros ($28 billion) in foreign direct investment, according to anti-corruption watchdogs Transparency International and Global Witness.

 

In a first-ever report on the schemes, the EU Commission said that such documents issued in one country can open a back door to citizenship or residency in all 28 states.

 

Justice Commissioner Vera Jurova said golden visas are the equivalent of “opening the golden gate to Europe for some privileged people.”

 

“We want more guarantees related to security and anti-money laundering. We expect more transparency,” she told reporters in Brussels.

 

Bulgaria, Cyprus and Malta offer passports to investors without any real connections to the countries or even the obligation to live there by paying between 800,000 and 2 million euros ($909,000 to $2.3 million).

 

Twenty EU states offer visas in exchange for investment: Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Spain.

 

 Investment can range from 13,500 euros to over 5 million euros ($15,350 to $5.7 million) in the form of capital and property investments, buying government bonds, one-time payments to the national budget or certain donations to charity.

 

Cyprus toughened up vetting procedures last year after it was accused of running a “passports-for-cash” scheme. It said passport numbers would be capped at 700 a year.

 

The Mediterranean island introduced the scheme in the wake of a 2013 financial crisis that brought the country to the brink of bankruptcy and forced it to accept a multibillion-euro rescue program from creditors. One Cyprus lawmaker has estimated that the scheme generated around 4.8 billion euros ($5.4 billion) between 2013 and 2016.

 

In compiling the report, Commission researchers struggled to obtain clear information about how the schemes are run, the number of applicants and where they come from, as well as how many are granted or refused visas. They noted that EU countries exchange little or no information about the applicants.

 

But the report did find that the security checks run on applicants are insufficient, and it recommends that EU computer databases like the one controlling Europe’s passport-free travel area be used routinely. Tougher “due diligence” controls are also needed to ensure that money laundering rules are not circumvented, while more monitoring and reporting could help tackle tax evasion.

 

Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said the Commission “will monitor full compliance with EU law.”

 

“The work we have done together over the past years in terms of increasing security, strengthening our borders and closing information gaps should not be jeopardized,” he warned.

 

The Commission proposed setting up a working group with EU member countries to study the schemes by year’s end.

 

The report angered Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades, who underlined that, over the past five years, the number of citizenships granted by Cyprus under its scheme amounts to 0.3 percent of the EU’s total.

 

He said that Cyprus has the toughest citizenship criteria among all 20 countries, “and despite this, Cyprus is being targeted.”

 

“These double standards must finally come to an end and I want to be strict about this,” Anastasiades said.

 

Malta welcomed the Commission report, but said it has “reservations on a few issues,” notably that people it accepts under the schemes undergo far more rigorous checks than others granted residency or citizenship. It also underlined that physical presence in Malta is mandatory.

 

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Best and Worst Jobs of the Future

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The hottest job of the future might be app developer. All you have to do is look at what you’re holding in the palm of your hand to figure out why.

“All of us use our cellphones probably more than we should be every day, and that is what is driving the demand for app developers,” said Stacy Rapacon, online editor at personal finance website Kiplinger.com, which has identified the best jobs for the future. “More apps mean more people to develop them.”

The median salary for app developers is $100,000, and the industry is expected to grow by 30 percent over the next decade, according to Kiplinger.

Nurse practitioner is the next best job on Kiplinger’s list. The median income for nurse practitioners is $103,000, and the field is expected to grow 35 percent between now and 2027.

“The field, in general, is booming because of the aging population,” Rapacon said. “Physical therapists, for example, have plenty of patients to work with, especially as people are growing older and health care treatments are improving. Older people who suffer from heart attacks or strokes or other ailments are able to survive those issues and then may need physical therapy or occupational therapy to continue being able to live independently.”

Half of the jobs in the Top 10 — including physician, physician assistant, health services manager and physical therapist — are in the health care field.

That’s likely because, for the first time in history, older people are going to outnumber children in the United States. By 2035, 78 million Americans will be over the age of 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Other occupations on the Top 10 Best Jobs of the Future list include financial manager; marketing research analyst (beneficiaries of the big-data boom); computer systems manager (most businesses use computers); and information security analyst (company computers need to be protected from hackers and others).

On the opposite end of the spectrum are the professions that are dying. These include watch repairer (fewer people are wearing time pieces); builder of prefab homes (a shrinking segment of the U.S. housing market); and textile machine operator — but there is an alternative for those currently working in manufacturing.

“What’s disappearing are the low-skill jobs,” Rapacon said. “So, if there’s a way you can apply more of a human touch to your work, if there’s a way in manufacturing to learn to manage some of the technology that is being put in place in these production processes, then you can still work in those industries and find opportunities.”

Other worst jobs for the future include fabric mender (replaced by technology); shoe machine operator (replaced by technology); and movie projectionist (fewer theaters and less demand for people to work in them).

Kiplinger used available data to develop its lists of the best and worst jobs of the future. However, the job market is changing rapidly and the available data on new and emerging industries is limited.

It’s always possible that the hottest jobs of the next decade haven’t even been invented.

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Davos Annual Meeting Open Amid Trade Wars, Slow Growth and Brexit

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The annual World Economic Forum opened today in Switzerland against a backdrop of anxieties over trade disputes, Brexit and a growth slowdown that some fear could tip the world economy. VOA’s Mariama Diallo reports.

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Minister: Nigeria to Recommend 50 Percent Hike in Minimum Wage

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Nigeria is to send a bill recommending a national minimum monthly wage rise of 50 percent to 27,000 naira ($88) to lawmakers in the national assembly, the labor minister said on Tuesday.

Cost of living is a major campaign issue ahead of a presidential election on 16 February and unions want the minimum wage to be raised from 18,000 naira.

Inflation stood at a seven-month high of 11.44 percent in December.

Disagreements over the minimum wage saw labor unions striking across Nigeria in September. President Muhammadu Buhari said in January that he would increase the minimum wage, but did not specify by how much.

“The 27,000 naira minimum wage is the benchmark,” Labor Minister Chris Ngige told reporters in Abuja on Tuesday. Ngige said some government workers could receive a higher salary of 30,000 naira a month.

The minister did not say when the bill would be sent to lawmakers. Any change would need to be signed into law by Buhari. ($1 = 306.3000 naira)

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Brazil’s Nationalist Leader to Address Davos Globalist Crowd

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will headline the first full day of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with a speech to political and business leaders.

 

The nationalist leader is attending an event that has long represented business’s interest in increasing ties across borders. But globalism is in retreat as populist leaders around the world put a focus back on nation states, even if that means limiting trade and migration.

 

After Bolsonaro’s speech on Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will address the gathering on Wednesday.

 

But several key leaders are not attending to handle big issues at home: U.S. President Donald Trump amid the government shutdown, British Prime Minister Theresa May to grapple with Brexit talks, and France’s Emmanuel Macron to face popular protests.

 

 

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Economists: Political Uncertainties, Trade Tensions Affect Economic Growth

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Economists warn that political uncertainties and trade tensions could undermine global economic growth. Rights groups warn of the dangers of growing economic inequality. About 3,000 political and economic leaders have gathered in the Swiss resort town of Davos to discuss global business and economic trends at an annual economic forum. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

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UN Forecasts Global Economic Growth Around 3 Percent in 2019

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The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will grow by around 3 percent in 2019 and 2020, but says waning support for multilateralism, escalating trade disputes, increasing debt and rising climate risks are clouding prospects

The United Nations is forecasting that the global economy will grow by around 3 percent in 2019 and 2020, but says waning support for multilateralism, escalating trade disputes, increasing debt and rising climate risks are clouding prospects.

The U.N.’s report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects 2019 also stresses that economic growth is uneven and often doesn’t reach countries that need it most.

Per capital income is expected to stagnate or see only marginal growth this year in parts of Africa, western Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says in the forward of the report launched Monday that while economic indicators remain “largely favorable,” the report “raises concerns over the sustainability of global economic growth in the face of rising financial, social and environmental challenges.”   

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UK Leader Unveils Brexit Plan B, Looks a Lot Like Plan A

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British Prime Minister Theresa May unveiled her Brexit Plan B on Monday — and it looks a lot like Plan A.

May launched a mission to resuscitate her rejected European Union divorce deal, setting out plans to get it approved by Parliament after securing changes from the EU to a contentious Irish border measure.

May’s opponents expressed incredulity: British lawmakers last week dealt the deal a resounding defeat, and EU leaders insist they won’t renegotiate it.

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party accused May of being in “deep denial” about her doomed deal.

“This really does feel a bit like Groundhog Day,” he said, referring to the 1993 film starring Bill Murray, in which a weatherman is fated to live out the same day over and over again.

Outlining what she plans to do after her EU divorce deal was rejected by Parliament last week, May said that she had heeded lawmakers’ concerns over an insurance policy known as the “backstop” that is intended to guarantee there are no customs checks along the border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland after Brexit.

May told the House of Commons that she would be “talking further this week to colleagues … to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House.

“And I will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the EU.”

The bloc insists that it won’t renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

“She is wasting time calling for a revision or clarification over the backstop,” said German politician Udo Bullmann, head of the socialist group in the European Parliament.

Amendments

While May stuck doggedly to her deal, she also acknowledged that control over Brexit wasn’t entirely in her hands. She noted that lawmakers will be able to amend her plan when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons on Jan. 29, exactly two months before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Groups of “soft Brexit”-backing lawmakers — who want to keep close economic ties to the bloc — are planning to use amendments to try to rule out a “no-deal” Brexit and make May ease her insistence that leaving the EU means quitting its single market and customs union.

Britain and the EU sealed a divorce deal in November after months of tense negotiations. But the agreement has been rejected by both sides of Britain’s divide over Europe. Brexit-backing lawmakers say it will leave the U.K. tethered to the bloc’s rules and unable to forge an independent trade policy. Pro-Europeans argue it is inferior to the frictionless economic relationship Britain currently enjoys as an EU member.

After her deal was thrown out last week by a crushing 432-202 vote in Parliament, May said she would consult with lawmakers from all parties to find a new way forward.

But Corbyn called the cross-party meetings a “stunt,” and other opposition leaders said the prime minister didn’t seem to be listening.

On Monday, May rejected calls from pro-EU lawmakers to delay Britain’s departure from the bloc or to hold a second referendum on whether to leave.

In a nod to opposition parties’ concerns, she promised to consult lawmakers, trade unionists, business groups and civil society organizations “to try to find the broadest possible consensus” on future ties between Britain and the EU, and said the government wouldn’t water down protections for the environment and workers’ rights after Brexit.

May also said the government had decided to waive a 65 pound ($84) fee for EU citizens in Britain who want to stay permanently after Brexit.

Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the EU Parliament Brexit steering group, welcomed news that the fee was being dropped for 3 million EU nationals, saying it had been a “key demand” for the EU legislature.

Irish border

May’s immediate goal is to win over pro-Brexit Conservatives and her party’s Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. Both groups say they won’t back the deal unless the border backstop is removed.

The backstop proposes to keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU in order to avoid checks on the Irish border. It is meant as a temporary measure that would last until a permanent solution is found. But pro-Brexit U.K. lawmakers fear Britain could become trapped in it, indefinitely bound by EU trade rules.

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz broke ranks with EU colleagues Monday by suggesting the problem could be solved by setting a five-year time limit on the backstop.

The idea got a cool reception. Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said that “putting a time-limit on an insurance mechanism, which is what the backstop is, effectively means that it’s not a backstop at all.”

Britain’s political impasse over Brexit is fueling concerns that the country may crash out of the EU on March 29 with no agreement in place to cushion the shock. That could see tariffs imposed on goods moving between Britain and the EU, sparking logjams at ports and shortages of essential supplies.

Threat of ‘no deal’

Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industry, said Monday was “another bleak day for business.”

“Parliament remains in deadlock while the slope to a cliff edge steepens,” she said.

Several groups of lawmakers are trying to use parliamentary rules and amendments to May’s plan to block the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.

One of those legislators, Labour’s Yvette Cooper, said May was shirking her responsibility to the country by refusing to take “no deal” off the table.

“I think she knows that she should rule out ‘no deal’ in the national interest because it would be so damaging,” Cooper told the BBC. “She’s refusing to do so, and I think she’s hoping that Parliament will do this for her. That is not leadership.” 

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China’s 2018 Economic Growth Edges Down Amid Trade War

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China’s 2018 economic growth decelerated to 6.6 percent after activity in the final quarter of the year declined amid a tariff battle with Washington.

Data announced Monday showed economic growth cooled to a post-global crisis quarterly low of 6.4 percent in the three months ending in December from the previous quarter’s 6.5 percent.

Chinese economic growth has been slowing since regulators tightened controls on bank lending in late 2017 to rein in a debt boom.

Growth held up through much of 2018 despite President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes on Chinese goods in a fight over Beijing’s technology ambitions. But exports contracted in December as the penalties began to dampen demand.

Growth in investment, retail sales and other indicators also slowed.

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Uganda Seeks to Regulate Lucrative Fish Maw Trade

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The sale of Nile Perch fish maw in Uganda has become a lucrative business, especially for distributors. The fish maw – or dried swim bladder – is used as an aphrodisiac in China. But Ugandan fishermen bringing in the perch say they are being exploited while others are reaping the profits. Halima Athumani reports from Kampala.

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Trump Says a Deal ‘Could Very Well Happen’ With China

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U.S. President Donald Trump said on Saturday progress is being made toward a trade deal with China and denied that he was considering lifting tariffs on Chinese products.

“Things are going very well with China and with trade,” he told reporters, adding that he had seen some “false reports” indicating that U.S. tariffs on Chinese products would be lifted.

“If we make a deal certainly we would not have sanctions and if we don’t make a deal we will,” Trump said. “We’ve really had a very extraordinary number of meetings and a deal could very

well happen with China. It’s going well. I would say about as well as it could possibly go.”

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Stocks Rally on Trade Hopes, Dollar Has 1st Weekly Gain of 2019

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World stock indexes jumped on Friday, with Wall Street posting a fourth straight week of gains, and the dollar had its first positive week since mid-December as optimism increased that an end is in sight to the U.S.-China trade conflict.

Stocks were boosted by a Bloomberg report that said China sought to raise its annual goods imports from the United States by more than $1 trillion in order to reduce its trade surplus to zero by 2024.    

That followed a report on Thursday that U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was considering lifting some or all tariffs imposed on Chinese imports. The Treasury denied Mnuchin had made any such recommendation.

Progress in trade talks

While the equity rally lifted all major sectors, trade-sensitive industrials posted among the biggest S&P 500 sector gains, up 1.9 percent on the day. The Philadelphia SE semiconductor index rose more than 2 percent and Germany’s exporter-heavy DAX was up 2.6 percent.    

“There seems to be some progress going in the trade negotiations,” said Bucky Hellwig, senior vice president at BB&T Wealth Management in Birmingham, Alabama.

While that was the biggest influence, “we’ve still got momentum since the first of the year,” he said. “Some of the money that came out of the market at year-end, whether it was high frequency traders or tax-loss selling, is coming back in.”

Adding to strength in equities and supporting U.S. Treasury yields was data that showed U.S. manufacturing output increased the most in 10 months in December. 

Some strategists said relatively light equity trading volume this week indicated that some investors were still waiting on the sidelines.    

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 336.25 points, or 1.38 percent, to 24,706.35, the S&P 500 gained 34.75 points, or 1.32 percent, to 2,670.71 and the Nasdaq Composite added 72.77 points, or 1.03 percent, to 7,157.23.

The S&P 500 registered its biggest four-week percentage gain since October 2011. The index is now 8.9 percent below its Sept. 20 record close after dropping 19.8 percent below that level — near the 20-percent threshold commonly considered to confirm a bear market — on Christmas Eve.

STOXX 600 index is up

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 1.80 percent and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 1.23 percent.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit the United States on Jan. 30 and 31 for another round of talks aimed at resolving the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

Recent indicators show signs that the Chinese economy is losing momentum.

The trade optimism boosted the dollar against other major currencies.

The dollar index rose 0.31 percent, with the euro down 0.26 percent to $1.1365.

U.S. Treasury yields rose to three-week highs as investors piled back into Wall Street.  

Oil prices jump

Benchmark 10-year notes last fell 12/32 in price to yield 2.7878 percent, compared with 2.747 percent late on Thursday.

Oil prices jumped about 3 percent, rising after OPEC detailed specifics on its production-cut activity to ease global oversupply.   

Brent crude gained $1.52 to settle at $62.70 a barrel, or 2.48 percent higher. U.S. WTI crude futures added $1.73 to settle at $53.80 a barrel, or 3.32 percent up.

 

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US Consumer Morale at Two-year Low; Factory Output Surges

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U.S. consumer sentiment tumbled in early January to its lowest level since President Donald Trump was elected more than two years ago as a partial shutdown of the federal government and financial market

volatility stoked fears of a sharp deceleration in economic growth.

The drop in confidence reported by the University of Michigan on Friday was the clearest sign yet that the impasse in Washington over Trump’s demands for $5.7 billion to help build a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico was negatively affecting the economy.

Trump has touted high consumer confidence as an indication of the good job he is doing on the economy. While consumer sentiment remains relatively high, the gathering clouds over the economy could make households

more cautious about spending, leading to slower growth. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the U.S. economy.

“This report on consumer sentiment is the first concrete evidence that the economy is going to fall and fall hard if Washington does not end the shutdown,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York. “It is going to be hard to see real GDP growth of more than 1 to 1½ percent in the first quarter if the consumer goes on a buying strike.”

The longest government shutdown in U.S. history has left 800,000 government workers without paychecks. Private contractors working for many government agencies are also without wages.

The University of Michigan said its consumer sentiment index fell 7.7 percent to a reading of 90.7 this month, the lowest reading since October 2016 and the steepest drop since September 2015. Economists had forecast a reading of a 97.0.

The survey’s measure of current economic conditions decreased to 110.0 from a reading of 116.1 in December. Its measure of consumer expectations tumbled to a reading of 78.3, the lowest since October 2016, from 87.0 in late December.

Several factors

The University of Michigan attributed the decline in sentiment to “a host of issues including the partial government shutdown, the impact of tariffs, instabilities in financial markets, the global slowdown, and the lack of clarity about monetary policies.”

It said that half of the survey’s respondents “believed that these events would have a negative impact on Trump’s ability to focus on economic growth.”

Economists estimate the partial shutdown of the government, which started Dec. 22, is subtracting as much as two-tenths of a percentage point from quarterly GDP growth every week.

Other surveys have also shown an ebb in business sentiment.

“Sentiment among both households and businesses has been coming off the sugar highs, which were caused by tax cut hopes at the beginning of the Trump presidency,” said Harm Bandholz, chief U.S. economist at UniCredit in New York.

U.S. financial markets shrugged off the fall in sentiment, with investors focusing on another report Friday that showed manufacturing output had surged by the most in 10 months in December, and on hopes for progress in the U.S.-China trade row.

Stocks on Wall Street rallied, while the dollar rose against a basket of currencies and U.S. Treasury prices fell.

Factory activity

The broad-based jump in manufacturing output in December reported by the Federal Reserve could allay fears of a sharp slowdown in factory activity.

Manufacturing activity, which accounts for about 12 percent of the economy, is slowing as some of the boost to capital spending from last year’s $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades.

In addition, a strong dollar and cooling growth in Europe and China are hurting exports. Lower oil prices are also slowing purchases of equipment for oil and gas well drilling.

Production at factories increased at a 2.3 percent annualized rate in the fourth quarter after expanding at a 3.7 percent pace in the July-September period. It increased 2.4 percent in 2018, the largest gain since 2012, after advancing 1.2 percent in 2017.

“While the manufacturing strength in December is a favorable signal for the economy, we should keep in mind that it came after soft results in earlier months,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York. “A broad range of manufacturing surveys also have been weakening lately, so the strength in the manufacturing output in December may prove to be short-lived.”

Last month, motor vehicle production surged 4.7 percent after gaining 0.2 percent in November. Excluding motor vehicles and parts, manufacturing advanced a solid 0.8 percent last month after gaining 0.1 percent in November.

December’s surge in manufacturing output, together with a rise in mining production, offset a weather-related drop in utilities, leading to a 0.3 percent increase in industrial production. Industrial output rose 0.4 percent in November. It increased at a 3.8 percent rate in the fourth quarter after

notching a 4.7 percent gain in the third quarter.