April 08, 2021 – SINGAPORE - Singapore currently accounts for a third of the world's cruises its tourism body said on Wednesday, owing to the roaring success of its "cruises to nowhere" at a time of crisis in the industry globally.
Cruises have yet to restart in many parts of the world after taking a beating from the coronavirus pandemic, with some of the earliest big outbreaks found on cruise ships.
The city-state launched what it called "round trips" on luxury liners in November, which have no port of call and last only a few days. Singapore has seen relatively few domestic COVID-19 cases since last year.
The Singapore cruises are open only to its 5.7 million residents, who have been unable to leave the tiny country for leisure and have settled instead for activities like staycations and even indoor camping.
The cruises recorded about 120,000 passengers, according to the Singapore Tourism Board, and run at lower capacity, with stringent health protocols.
The tourism board said it calculated its share of global cruises by using data from the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).
Some cruises from the Caribbean are expected to resume from June while the U.S. Centers for Disease has retained tight curbs on resuming cruises from the United States.
Some cruises have operated in parts of Europe, Asia and the South Pacific, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.
Royal Caribbean said this month that it was extending the season in Singapore for its Quantum of the Seas ship due to "overwhelming demand" through October.
Genting Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean launched their pilot cruises late last year.
STB Chief Executive Keith Tan said Singapore did not expect to be leading in cruises for long.
"Over the next few months, I certainly believe there will be more resumption of cruise business in the Caribbean, and in the Mediterranean as well," Tan said.
Singapore's tourism industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, with visitors dropping nearly 86% to 2.7 million last year.
April 08, 2021 - JERUSALEM -Israel will tell the International Criminal Court it does not recognise the authority of the tribunal, which is planning to investigate possible war crimes in the Palestinian territories, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday.
Netanyahu, after meeting with senior ministers and government officials ahead of a Friday deadline to respond to an ICC notification letter, said Israel would not cooperate with the inquiry, but it will send a response.
"It will be made clear that Israel is a country with rule of law that knows how to investigate itself," he said in a statement. The response will also say Israel "completely rejects" the assertion that it was carrying out any war crimes.
Israel is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the ICC and therefore by definition not a party to the court.
ICC prosecutors, who named groups on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides as possible perpetrators, said letters had been sent on March 9 to all parties concerned, giving them a month to inform the court if they were conducting their own investigations of the alleged crimes and want an ICC inquiry deferred while that is ongoing.
The Palestinians said they would cooperate with the ICC, whose inquiry pertains to alleged war crimes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and in the Gaza Strip, where Palestinian Islamists took control after Israel withdrew in 2005.
"We sent the response to the ICC," said Omar Awadallah, a senior official in the Palestinian Foreign Ministry.
"Full cooperation with the ICC will continue from the State of Palestine, as a member state of the court, to achieve justice for the victims of the Palestinian people and hold Israel accountable for its crimes,” Awadallah said.
In a speech on Wednesday marking Israeli observances of the Holocaust, Netanyahu deemed the ICC inquiry an "absurdity".
"The Hague court's founding was inspired by the Nuremberg tribunal, which tried Nazi war criminals after World War Two," he said. "But a body set up to defend human rights became a body that, effectively, protects those who trample on human rights."
He was referring to Palestinian militant group Hamas, against which Israel fought a 2014 war in Gaza and which an ICC prosecutor said may also have perpetrated crimes.
April 07, 2021 – WASHINGTON - The head of the International Monetary Fund on Wednesday said she would discuss with IMF members whether they back offering low- and no-interest financing to middle-income countries hit hard by the pandemic, not just the poorest countries.
Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said she was concerned about tourism-dependent and other middle-income countries that had weaker fundamentals and high-debt levels, even before the pandemic, and generally backed adoption of a broader definition of what makes a country "vulnerable."
The IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Trust can currently only lend to the poorest countries, which limits the ability of developing countries with higher income levels to get low- or zero-interest loans from the IMF.
The United Nations and other institutions have urged the Group of 20 major economies to expand a freeze in payments on official bilateral debt and a new common framework for debt treatments to include such countries, many of which have been hit hard by the pandemic and its economic fallout.
G20 finance officials on Wednesday backed a $650 billion expansion of the IMF's emergency reserves, or Special Drawing Rights, which richer IMF members will be able to loan to the IMF's PRGT to help the poorest countries.
Georgieva said the IMF expected to finish work on a formal proposal for the $650 billion SDR allocation by mid-June, and was also working on ways for IMF member to lend their reserves to help poor countries.
She said it was "realistic" that members could access the expanded reserves by mid-August, but declined to estimate how many SDRs would likely be shared by richer countries.
While IMF members can already lend excess SDRs to the IMF's PRGT facility, there is no formal IMF mechanism in place to facilitate loans to help middle-income countries.
Georgieva said the issue was raised during Wednesday's G20 meeting, noting a call by Mexico and Argentina for greater debt relief for middle-income countries.
She said there were other ways to support middle-income countries, but she would discuss with members the possibility of opening concessional financing terms to them as well.
Georgieva said her personal view was that the international community should expand its view of "vulnerability" beyond simply income levels to include climate shocks.
"The international community should look into other factors for vulnerability, as we think of appropriate ways to support developing countries, and that discussion is going to be quite intensively going on over the next months," she said.
While Argentina and Mexico warned of a possible looming debt crisis, the IMF chief said she did not expect a systemic debt crisis at the current time, but the Fund would remain watchful.
April 07, 2021 – MILAN - Italian energy group Eni plans to spend around $7 billion in Angola over the next four years along with its partners in a country it sees as key to its future growth strategy.
The money will be invested by Eni and its joint venture partners in the country in exploration and production, refining and solar energy.
The plans were discussed in a meeting between Angolan President Joao Lourenco and Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi on Tuesday, and confirmed by Eni on Wednesday.
Eni, which has been in Angola since 1980, currently produces around 120,000 barrels of equity oil equivalent per day (boe) in the country.
On Tuesday it announced a new offshore light oil discovery in its Block 15/06 where it has discovered over two billion boe since 2018.
Besides its oil and gas activity, Eni is building a solar power plant in the country, which is expected to start operating in 2022, and jointly runs the Luanda Refinery with state oil giant Sonangol.
Angola has been working to improve the investment environment by amending legal and fiscal terms.
Lower prices and increasing competition for investment are driving many African states to make it easier and cheaper for overseas companies to keep their oil and gas output flowing.
April 07, 2021 – PARIS/WASHINGTON - Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has thrown the weight of the U.S. government behind a push for a global corporate minimum tax rate, possibly carving a path to a long-sought deal updating international tax rules for the first time in a generation.
Yellen said on Monday that she is working with G20 countries to agree on a global minimum, which she said could help end a "30-year race to the bottom on corporate tax rates."
WHY A GLOBAL MINIMUM TAX?
Major economies are aiming to discourage multinational companies from shifting profits - and tax revenues - to low-tax countries regardless of where their sales are made. Increasingly, income from intangible sources such as drug patents, software and royalties on intellectual property has migrated to these jurisdictions, allowing companies to avoid paying higher taxes in their traditional home countries.
With a broadly agreed global minimum tax, the Biden administration hopes to reduce such tax base erosion without putting American firms at a financial disadvantage, allowing them to compete on innovation, infrastructure and other attributes.
The Trump administration took a first stab at capturing revenues lost to tax havens with a U.S. corporate offshore minimum tax in 2017. The "Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income," or GILTI, tax rate was only 10.5% - half the domestic corporate tax rate.
WHERE ARE INTERNATIONAL TAX TALKS?
The Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has been coordinating tax negotiations among 140 countries for years on two major efforts: setting rules for taxing cross-border digital services and curbing tax base erosion, with a global corporate minimum tax part of the latter.
The OECD and G20 countries aim to reach consensus on both fronts by mid-year, but the talks on a global corporate minimum are technically simpler and politically less contentious.
The minimum tax is expected to make up the bulk of the $50 billion-$80 billion in extra corporate tax that the OECD estimates companies will end up paying globally if deals on both efforts are enacted.
HOW WOULD A GLOBAL MINIMUM TAX WORK?
If countries agree on a global minimum, governments could still set whatever local corporate tax rate they want. But if companies pay lower rates in a particular country, their home governments could "top-up" their taxes to the agreed minimum rate, eliminating the advantage of shifting profits to a tax haven.
The Biden administration has said it wants to deny exemptions for taxes paid to countries that don't agree to a minimum rate.
The OECD said last month that governments broadly agreed already on the basic design of the minimum tax although the rate remains to be agreed. International tax experts say that is the thorniest issue.
Other items still to be negotiated include whether industries like investment funds and real estate investment trusts should be covered, when to apply the new rate and ensuring it is compatible with the 2017 U.S. tax reforms aimed at deterring tax-base erosion.
WHAT ABOUT THAT MINIMUM RATE?
The Biden administration wants to raise the U.S. corporate tax rate to 28%, so it has proposed a global minimum of 21% - double the rate on the current GILTI tax. It also wants the minimum to apply to U.S. companies no matter where the taxable income is earned.
That proposal is far above the 12.5% minimum tax that had previously been discussed in OECD talks - a level that happens to match Ireland's corporate tax rate.
The Irish economy has boomed in recent years from the influx of billions of dollars in investment from foreign multinationals, so Dublin, which has resisted European Union attempts to harmonize its tax rules for more than a decade, is unlikely to accept a higher minimum rate without a fight.
April 06, 2021 – BOSTON - For decades New York's bankers and fund managers have accepted the city's high tax rates as a part of working in the world's premier financial capital.
But with plans afoot to raise rates as part of a New York state budget agreement, some financiers are exploring exits, emboldened by a pandemic that has illustrated how working on Wall Street may no longer mean working from Wall Street.
"I'm already looking for an apartment in Florida," said one highly paid person at a top-tier bank who asked not to be identified because his employer does not yet know of his plans to move.
Others earning more than $1 million are considering still bolder steps such as moving not only themselves but also their entire investment firms out of the city, arguing higher taxes cut into their ability to pay staff.
A proposal making its way through New York's state legislature would have top New York City earners paying up to 15.73% in combined state and city taxes.
New York state's income tax rates currently range from 4% to 8.82% and New York City's tax ranges from 3.08% to 3.88%, leaving the top earnings paying closer to 12.7%.
Dubbed the "millionaires tax," the proposal would add surcharges to people earning more than $1 million a year and beat out California localities to claim the country's highest combined tax rate.
Some among those who make $1 million or more, putting them in the higher tax bracket, are saying the city's cultural offerings, which were long a salve, no longer outweigh the benefits of lower tax locations like Florida, Utah or Texas, especially given the success of remote working during the pandemic.
PASSAGE SEEMS LIKELY
The tax proposal, which seems likely to pass, is the culmination of a battle between progressive and moderate Democrats. Until recently New York Governor Andrew Cuomo resisted the millionaires tax.
The political dynamics have made the extensive lobbying efforts of businesses and wealthy individuals all but moot.
Large financial companies including Goldman Sachs Group Inc, Virtu Financial Inc and hedge fund Elliott Management have already said they are moving some staff out of New York.
Big companies will probably not abandon their New York headquarters for tax reasons altogether, but some of their staff and smaller firms, like hedge funds that employ only dozens of people, might, sources said. "This is real," one of the smaller fund managers said. "This creates an overwhelming incentive to move."
Last month, a group of business leaders, including those of JPMorgan Chase & Co, Citigroup Inc and BlackRock Inc, took the unusual step of issuing a public letter warning that rich people would move out of New York if a major tax increase came to fruition.
It said companies may have to move staff out of New York because their top talent does not want to be taxed at high levels. Some companies already have initiated moves for expense and corporate tax purposes, said people familiar with the moves.
"When wealthy people don't like something, they don't protest, they just leave," said Geoffrey Weinstein, a tax attorney at Cole Schotz.
"The wealthy are under attack and they are seeing if there isn't a way to lop off 15%. They are looking for options."
April 06, 2021 – BERLIN -Germany and France on Tuesday welcomed a promise by U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to work on a global corporate minimum tax rate as a step towards making a landmark deal achievable, but low-tax Ireland voiced reservations.
Negotiators are racing to agree a minimum corporate tax by mid-year as part of efforts by more than 140 countries to update the rules for taxation of cross-border commerce for the first time in a generation.
The aim is to discourage multinationals from booking profits in low-tax countries regardless of where their income is earned.
Yellen confirmed she was working to agree a global floor on company taxes with counterparts ahead of a G20 meeting this week. While she left open what rate that could be, the Biden administration wants a minimum tax on U.S. corporations of 21% no matter where they earn the income, up from 10.5% currently.
"I'm in high spirits that with this corporate taxation initiative, we'll manage to put an end to the worldwide race to the bottom in taxation," German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, a firm backer of the initiative, said.
He said any deal must include rules on how to tax cross-border business by digital tech giants, which is the second focus of international tax talks underway at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, who had clashed with the previous U.S. administration over international tax, said he welcomed Yellen's pledge.
"A global agreement on international taxation is now within reach," he said. "We must seize this historic opportunity."
The proposed U.S. minimum is higher than that discussed so far at the OECD, which has been closer to 12.5% and happens to be the current Irish corporate tax rate.
Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe voiced concerns about how a global minimum rate would affect a smaller economy such as Ireland's, which had chosen a low-tax model to attract international investment.
But he acknowledged: "The catalysts for that change have been supercharged by the effect of the pandemic because large economies all over the world are now focused on how they can increase their tax revenue in the years ahead."
With its much higher proposed rate for U.S. companies, Washington will be eager to ensure that the rate agreed internationally is as close as possible to its 21% rate.
A French Finance Ministry source said it was not certain the proposed U.S. minimum would make it through Congress, where the bill is likely to face stiff opposition from Republicans, but said the initiative would still add impetus.
"We think that the shift in the American administration's position can breathe new life into negotiations with European countries with extremely low rates," the source said on condition of anonymity.
Swedish Finance Minister Magdalena Andersson said there was "a long journey" until any deal was reached, but the Biden administration has given a positive sign of intent.
"This shows that the United States is interested in being a global player again and being part of the global discussion on important questions," Andersson said.
April 05, 2021 - MANILA - Aides of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday criticised China for what they called territorial incursions by hundreds of its vessels, which his legal counsel warned could damage ties and lead to "unwanted hostilities".
In some of the strongest words yet from Duterte's camp about China's conduct in the South China Sea, his lawyer Salvador Panelo called the prolonged presence of boats an unwelcome stain on relations that risked "unwanted hostilities that both countries would rather not pursue".
"We can negotiate on matters of mutual concern and benefit, but make no mistake about it - our sovereignty is non-negotiable," Panelo said in a statement.
Duterte's spokesman Harry Roque echoed the view and told a news conference: "We will not give up even a single inch of our national territory or our exclusive economic zone (EEZ)."
China's embassy in Manila did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Though Philippine diplomats and top generals have spoken out against China lately, the comments from the presidential palace are unusually strong given Duterte's reluctance to confront Beijing, which he has sought to befriend.
His refusal to press China to respect a landmark 2016 arbitral ruling that clarified the Philippines sovereign rights in its EEZ has frustrated nationalists, who accuse Duterte of gambling with territory in return for elusive Chinese investment.
Duterte has previously said challenging China was pointless and risked starting a war.
The Philippines last month filed a diplomatic protest over a "swarming and threatening" presence of 220 Chinese vessels it believed to be manned by militias at Whitsun Reef, a stance backed by ally the United States.
On Monday, its foreign ministry rejected China's view that Whitsun Reef was a traditional fishing ground in its waters, and said it would send a diplomatic protest each day that China boats stayed there.
It said the boats "blatantly infringe" on Philippine jurisidction.
Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Vietnam also have competing claims for islands and features in the area.
Panelo also said the Philippines would not be blinded by China's humanitarian gestures, referring to millions of COVID-19 vaccines donated by China.
April 05, 2021 – U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on Monday that she is working with G20 countries to agree on a global corporate minimum tax rate to end a "30-year race to the bottom on corporate tax rates."
The global minimum tax is a key pillar of President Joe Biden's $2 trillion infrastructure spending plan, which calls for an increase in the U.S. corporate tax rate to 28%..
Without a global minimum, the United States would again be at a disadvantage to a number of other major economies with lower tax rates, tax experts say, with U.S. commitment helping to jump start negotiations for a tax deal among a number of major economies.
Yellen, speaking to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said she also would use her participation in International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings this week to advance discussions on climate change, improve vaccine access and encourage countries to support a strong global recovery.
The new Treasury chief said it was important to "end the pressures of tax competition" and make sure governments "have stable tax systems that raise sufficient revenues in essential public goods and respond to crises, and that all citizens fairly share the burden of financing government."
Separately, a U.S. Treasury official told reporters that it was important to have the world's major economies on board with a global minimum tax to make it effective.
The official said the United States would use its own tax legislation to prevent companies from shifting profits or residency to tax haven countries and would encourage other major economies to do the same.
The Biden plan proposes a 21% minimum corporate tax rate, coupled with eliminating exemptions on income from countries that do not enact a minimum tax. The administration says the plan will discourage the shifting of jobs and profits overseas.
Yellen said in her remarks that while advanced economies had successfully supported their economies through the COVID-19 pandemic, it was too early to declare victory, and more support for low income countries to gain access to vaccines was needed.
"I am urging our partners to continue a strong fiscal effort and avoid withdrawing support too early, to promote a strong recovery and help avoid the emergence of global imbalances.
April 02, 2021 - WASHINGTON - A motorist rammed a vehicle into U.S. Capitol police on Friday and brandished a knife, killing one officer and injuring another and forcing the Capitol complex to lock down in an attack that police said did not immediately appear to be terrorism-related.
Police responded by firing on the suspect, who died.
Yogananda Pittman, acting chief of the United States Capitol Police, told a news conference that he drove into the officers then hit a barricade and got out of the car, lunging at them with a knife in his hand.
One officer was killed and the other was injured, she said.
"It does not appear to be terrorism-related but obviously we'll continue to investigate," said Robert Contee, acting chief of the Metropolitan Police Department of Washington.
Police said the suspect was unknown to them, they had yet to determine what had motivated him, and they did not identify him.
"Clearly this was someone who was actively trying to just get at whoever or whatever - we just don't know right now, so we have a responsibility to investigate that to get to the bottom of this. Whether the attack was at law enforcement, or whoever, we have a responsibility to get to the bottom of it and we'll do that," Contee said.
Dozens of police cars, marked and unmarked, raced toward the iconic domed white building, in an unwelcome reminder of Jan. 6, when thousands of supporters of then-President Donald Trump overran the complex.
U.S. spy agencies warned in mid-March of an ongoing threat that racially motivated violent extremists, such as white supremacists, will carry out mass-casualty attacks on civilians while militia groups target police and government personnel and buildings.
Roads leading to the complex were blocked by police cars or officers and people inside the Capitol were told to stay away for much of the afternoon before police announced that the lockdown had been lifted.
Members of Congress were not in Washington on Friday, with both the Senate and House of Representatives in recess for the Easter holiday.
Dozens of National Guard troops, who have been stationed at the Capitol since the January attack, quickly deployed. Heavily armed and in riot gear, they jogged in columns to stand in rows at the scene and around the complex.
Authorities have begun only in the past couple of weeks to remove the outer ring of high, razor-wire-topped fencing erected around the sprawling Capitol complex after the Jan. 6 rampage. Many of the thousands of National Guard troops posted at the building in January had also been sent home.
Lawmakers have been arguing about how much security should remain on Capitol Hill, which is a popular park for city residents as well as the seat of government. Members of Congress from both political parties have introduced legislation to make it illegal to erect permanent fencing around the building.
The Jan. 6 assault took place while the House of Representatives and Senate, with the Senate presided over by then-Vice President Mike Pence, was certifying Democratic President Joe Biden's November election victory over the Republican Trump.
At the time Trump's supporters shouted slogans including "Stop the Steal" and "Hang Mike Pence" as they attacked the Capitol and said they hoped to stop the election certification.
Biden took office on Jan. 20.
"This has been an extremely difficult time for U.S. Capitol Police after the events of Jan. 6 and now the events that have occurred here today. So I ask that you keep our U.S. Capitol Police family in your thoughts and prayers," Pittman said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered flags at the Capitol to be lowered to half staff in honor of the slain officer.
Biden also was out of the city, although the White House said he was aware of the incident. He arrived at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland early on Friday afternoon.
April 02, 2021 – SAO PAULO -Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro swore in Fausto Ribeiro as chief executive of Banco do Brasil SA on Thursday, according to a securities filing, just hours after the bank's chairman and a second board member announced their resignations after criticizing Ribeiro's appointment.
The swearing in of Ribeiro, who was CEO of the small business unit of Banco do Brasil, marked Bolsonaro's latest political intervention in a state-controlled company.
Chairman Helio Magalhaes and fellow board member Jose Guimaraes Monforte, whose board resignations were announced in a securities filing, were among the four members of Banco do Brasil SA's eight-member board who said that Ribeiro was not ready for the job.
The four directors said in a publicly issued statement that the board should have the power to appoint its leader.
In his letter of resignation, Magalhaes said he decided to quit because the government has neglected Banco do Brasil and other state-controlled companies.
Currently, Bolsonaro is entitled to nominate Banco do Brasil's chief executive, leaving the bank's board of directors little say, in a deviation from corporate governance best practices.
Ribeiro, whose appointment also makes him a board member, replaces Andre Brandao.
In their statement, board members Magalhaes, Monforte, Luiz Spinola and Paulo Roberto Evangelista de Lima said that while Ribeiro met the legal requirements to become Banco do Brasil's CEO, he lacks management experience to run the bank.
Brandao did not participate in the meeting. He submitted his resignation as CEO in March, two months after Bolsonaro disagreed with cost-cutting measures he had undertaken, such as the closure of some branches and an employee buyout program.
Magalhaes, who previously headed the Brazilian units of Citigroup Inc and American Express Co, wrote that the interference in the efficiency program illustrates the government's disrespect for Banco do Brasil's corporate governance, saying it is no longer among the government priorities for the bank.
April 02, 2021 – Microsoft Corp said on Thursday it has mitigated an issue with its Microsoft 365 services and features, including workplace messaging app Teams and Azure, after many users were unable to access them.
"We have confirmed that the underlying DNS outage has been mitigated. Currently we're validating the recovery of the downstream Microsoft 365 services," it said in a tweet.
Domain Name System (DNS) is effectively an address book of the internet which enables computers to match website addresses with the correct server.
Earlier, outage tracking website Downdetector showed over 8,000 incidents of people reporting issues with its widely used Teams workplace messaging app.
Downdetector only tracks outages by collating status reports from a series of sources, including user-submitted errors on its platform. The outage might be affecting a larger number of users.
March 31, 2021 – Goldman Sachs Group Inc plans to offer investments in bitcoin and other digital assets to its wealth management clients from the second quarter, the latest top-tier company to move into the cryptocurrency space.
Firms including Tesla Inc, BNY Mellon Corp and Square Inc have recently announced they are betting on bitcoin, as the wider adoption of the cryptocurrency for settling transactions and investments gathers pace.
The move by Goldman, reported by CNBC earlier on Wednesday, comes days after a report that rival Morgan Stanley had started offering clients investments to the emerging asset class.
CNBC reported that Goldman would ultimately offer investments in bitcoin and digital assets that would include the physical bitcoin, derivatives or traditional investment vehicles.
A spokesperson for the bank confirmed the details of the report, which cited an interview with Mary Rich, the global head of digital assets for Goldman's private wealth management division.
The rising interest in the cryptocurrency comes after Tesla revealed in February that it had bought $1.5 billion of bitcoin, helping drive the cryptocurrency to record highs and breach $1 trillion in market capitalization for the first time.
The digital currency, however, remains highly volatile.
March 31, 2021 – From delayed car deliveries to a supply shortfall in home appliances to costlier smartphones, businesses and consumers across the globe are facing the brunt of an unprecedented shortage in semiconductor microchips.
The shortage stems from a confluence of factors as carmakers, which shut plants during the COVID-19 pandemic last year, compete against the sprawling consumer electronics industry for chip supplies.
Consumers have stocked up on laptops, gaming consoles and other electronic products during the pandemic, leading to tighter inventory. They also bought more cars than industry officials expected last spring, further straining supplies.
Sanctions against Chinese tech companies have further exacerbated the crisis. Originally concentrated in the auto industry, the shortage has now spread to a range of other consumer electronics, including smartphones, refrigerators and microwaves.
With every company that uses chips in production panic buying to shore up stocks, the shortage has squeezed capacity and driven up costs of even the cheapest components of nearly all microchips, increasing prices of final products.
Automobiles have become increasingly dependent on chips - for everything from computer management of engines for better fuel economy to driver-assistance features such as emergency breaking.
The crisis has forced many to curtail the production of less profitable vehicles. General Motors and Ford Motor Co are among the big carmakers who said they would scale down production, joining other automakers including Volkswagen AG, Subaru Corp, Toyota Motor Corp and Nissan Motor Co.
A shortage of auto semiconductor chips could impact nearly 1.3 million units of global light vehicle production in the first quarter, according to data firm IHS Markit.
IHS said a fire at a Japanese chip-making factory owned by Renesas Electronics Corp, which accounts for 30% of the global market for microcontroller units used in cars, has worsened the situation.
Severe winter weather in Texas has also forced Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, NXP Semiconductors and Infineon to shut down factories temporarily. Infineon and NXP are major automotive chip suppliers, and analysts expect the disruptions to add to the shortfalls in the ailing sector.
At the root of the squeeze is the under-investment in 8-inch chip manufacturing plants owned mostly by Asian firms, which means they have struggled to ramp up production as demand for 5G phones and laptops picked up faster than expected.
Qualcomm Inc, whose chips feature in Samsung phones, is one major chipmaker struggling to keep up with demand. Apple Inc's major supplier Foxconn also warned of the chip shortage affecting supply chains to clients.
The majority of chip production occurs in Asia currently, where major contract manufacturers such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co Ltd (TSMC) and Samsung handle production for hundreds of different chip companies. U.S. semiconductor companies account for 47% of global chip sales, but only 12% of global manufacturing is done in the United States.
WHAT'S BEING DONE ABOUT IT?
Factories that produce wafers cost tens of billions of dollars to build, and expanding their capacity can take up to a year for testing and qualifying complex tools.
U.S. President Joe Biden has sought $37 billion in funding for legislation to supercharge chip manufacturing in the country.
Currently, four new factories are slated in the country, two by Intel Corp and one by TSMC in Arizona, and another by Samsung in Texas.
China has also offered a myriad of subsidies to the chip industry as it tries to reduce its dependence on Western technology.
March 29, 2021 – Visa Inc said on Monday it will allow the use of the cryptocurrency USD Coin to settle transactions on its payment network, the latest sign of growing acceptance of digital currencies by the mainstream financial industry.
The company told sources it had launched the pilot program with payment and crypto platform Crypto.com and plans to offer the option to more partners later this year.
Bitcoin, the most popular crypto coin, jumped to a one-week high on the news, rising as much as 4.5% to $58,300 and heading back toward a record-high above $61,000 hit earlier this month.
Visa subsequently confirmed the news in a statement.
The USD Coin (USDC) is a stablecoin cryptocurrency whose value is pegged directly to the U.S. dollar.
Visa's move comes as finance firms including BNY Mellon, BlackRock Inc and Mastercard Inc take steps to make more use of cryptocurrencies for investment and payment purposes.
Tesla Inc boss Elon Musk, a major proponent of cryptocurrencies, said last week that customers can buy its electric vehicles with bitcoin, hoping to encourage more day-to- day use of the digital currency.
"We see increasing demand from consumers across the world to be able to access, hold and use digital currencies and we're seeing demand from our clients to be able to build products that provide that access for consumers," Cuy Sheffield, head of crypto at Visa, said.
Traditionally, if a customer chooses to use a Crypto.com Visa card to pay for a coffee, the digital currency held in a cryptocurrency wallet needs to be converted into traditional money.
The cryptocurrency wallet will deposit traditional fiat currency in a bank account, to be wired to Visa at the end of the day to settle any transactions, adding cost and complexity for businesses.
Visa's latest step, which will use the ethereum blockchain, strips out the need to convert digital coin into traditional money in order for the transaction to be settled.
Visa said it has partnered with digital asset bank Anchorage and completed the first transaction this month — with Crypto.com sending USDC to Visa's Ethereum address at Anchorage.
March 29, 2021 – LONDON - The owners and charterers of ships unable to sail through the the Suez Canal for nearly a week face at least $24 million in expenses they will be unable to recoup as their insurance policies do not cover them, industry sources say.
Up to 400 ships, which include oil tankers and vessels carrying goods to consumers that had been stuck, are counting the cost after traffic through Egypt's Suez Canal was halted for six days.
A giant container ship that had blocked the waterway since March 24 was refloated on Monday, the canal authority said.
Ships typically have various types of insurance, including protection & indemnity (P&I) for pollution and injury claims. Separate hull and machinery policies cover vessels against physical damage.
"Both exclude loss of earnings," Claudio Blancardi, underwriting director with ship insurer Nordic Marine, said.
Shipping sources said daily expenses were estimated to reach between $10,000 to $15,000 a day for each vessel and it would have to be written off. This includes oil tankers.
"Tanker owners don't get paid demurrage (delay costs) for canal delays, they incur the waiting days and cost on their own account," one shipping source said on condition of anonymity.
Apart from ship owners, charterers of ships who hire the vessel for an extended period would also be unable to claim back losses, leaving them also having to cover these costs, the sources said.
They could also face more than six days of lost expenses as the traffic jam of ships makes its way down the canal.
These expenses include additional fuel costs, lost days when the ship was unable to complete its voyage and extra supplies.
"It'll take days rather than a day to clear the backlog," William Robinson, a managing director at insurance firm Charles Taylor, said.
Owners of cargo on the Ever Given container ship or other ships delayed in the Canal may also not be covered by insurance.
"Generally, if you are shipping anything other than perishable cargo, you don't buy delay insurance," Marcus Baker, global head, marine and cargo, at insurance broker Marsh, said.
Fitch Ratings said on Monday that reinsurers could face losses totalling hundreds of millions of euros from the blockage..
However, industry sources said insurance and reinsurance claims would likely mainly be for damage to the Ever Given itself and to the Canal, as well as dredging costs.
UK Club, the P&I insurer for the Ever Given, said in a statement on Monday it had insured the ship's owner Shoei Kisen for "certain third party liabilities that might arise from an incident such as this - including, for example, damage caused to infrastructure or claims for obstruction".
The ship's hull is insured by Japan's MS&AD Insurance Group. Industry sources said the hull policy would also cover the salvage costs.
Brokers reckon the ship will have been insured for $100-140 million.
March 24, 2021 – MAPUTO -Total will restart construction at its $20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) development in Mozambique after the government increased security, the French energy firm said on Wednesday.
In January, Total withdrew most of its workforce from the site in Mozambique's northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, where there has been an insurgency, now linked to Islamic State, since 2017, after an attack nearby.
The company asked the government for additional security measures, including a 25 kilometre secure buffer zone around the site.
It said on Wednesday this had now been implemented, allowing for the "gradual remobilisation" of the project's workforce and a resumption of construction work.
"The government of Mozambique has declared the area within a 25 km perimeter surrounding the Mozambique LNG project as a special security area," Total said in a statement.
It added that other measures including the reinforcement of security infrastructure and strengthening of Mozambique's security forces had also been implemented.
Total said control of the 25 km zone remains ensured exclusively by Mozambique's public security forces, and that the government had committed that the personnel assigned to protect the project would act in line with international human rights standards.
Amnesty International this month accused both government forces and insurgents of committing war crimes in the province, where insurgents have stepped up their attacks over the last year.
In 2020 the group began regularly taking over entire towns.
The conflict has killed more than 2,500 people, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a consultancy that tracks political violence.
Some 700,000 more have been forced from their homes, according to estimates by the United Nations.
March 24, 2021 – LONDON - Tina Turner opens up about her troubled past and living with PTSD in new documentary "TINA", a film the soul and rock star says is the final act of her public life before bowing out.
Woven around a candid interview with the 81-year-old, testimonies from people who know her and archive material, the film tracks the singer's rise from a self-described "girl from the cotton fields" to a global music icon.
"It wasn't a good life," Turner says in the opening scenes of the film, which is divided into five chapters, starting with "Part 1 - Ike and Tina".
Turner and former husband Ike Turner, who died of a cocaine overdose in 2007, enjoyed huge success in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They divorced in 1978 after a stormy marriage in which she said she was beaten.
The "What's Love Got to Do with It" singer launched her solo career in the 1980s.
"The first thing she said when we were sitting down, she's like 'I don't want to do this'," said "TINA" co-director Dan Lindsay, who was approached by Turner's husband Erwin Bach to make the documentary.
"And we're like 'OK, what does that mean?' ... She just meant ... she's done with press and stuff like that, and the end of the film talks about how do you bow out slowly."
"TINA" recounts the tumultuous years with Ike through Turner's own words and recordings of past interviews she gave.
"To me ... the biggest revelation is the fact that even at this chapter in her life, she suffers from PTSD. And that was so unexpected for us that it fundamentally changed our approach to the entire film," said "TINA" co-director T.J. Martin.
Turner, an eight-time Grammy winner known for songs like "River Deep, Mountain High", "Private Dancer" and "The Best", was born in Tennessee but moved to Switzerland in 1995 to join her German-born record producer husband Bach.
She retired from performing after a sold-out farewell tour, which ended in 2009, and became a Swiss national in 2013.
She came out of retirement to unveil "Tina - The Tina Turner Musical" in 2017.
In the documentary, Turner says the musical and new film mark her farewell from public life.
"TINA" is released on Saturday in the U.S. by HBO and premieres in Great Britain on Sky Documentaries, NOW and Altitude Film on Sunday.
March 24, 2021 – George Segal, the Oscar-nominated actor who sparred with Richard Burton in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf," romanced Glenda Jackson in "A Touch of Class" and won laughs in the TV sitcom "The Goldbergs," has died at the age of 87.
"The family is devastated to announce that this morning George Segal passed away due to complications from bypass surgery," his wife Sonia Segal said in a statement on Tuesday.
Charming and witty, Segal excelled in dramatic and comedic roles, most recently playing laid-back widower Albert "Pops" Solomon on the comedy series "The Goldbergs."
"Today we lost a legend," Adam F. Goldberg, who created the TV series that was based on his own life, wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.
"It was a true honor being a small part of George Segal's amazing legacy. By pure fate, I ended up casting the perfect person to play Pops. Just like my grandfather, George was a kid at heart with a magical spark," Goldberg added.
Segal's long time manager Abe Hoch said in a statement that he would miss his friend's "warmth, humor, camaraderie and friendship. He was a wonderful human."
Segal's acting career began on the New York stage and television in the early 1960s. He quickly moved into films, playing an artist in the star-studded ensemble drama "Ship of Fools" and a scheming, wily American corporal in a World War Two prisoner-of-war camp in "King Rat" in 1965.
Two years later he earned an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor in the harrowing, marital drama "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with Burton and Elizabeth Taylor.
"Elizabeth and Richard were the king and queen of the world at that moment and there was a lot of buzz about it," Segal told The Daily Beast in 2016. "For me, there was a great satisfaction of being involved with it."
But it was in comedies that Segal cemented his star status in a string of films in the 1970s with A-list directors and co-stars such as Jackson, who won an Oscar for her performance in "A Touch of Class."
Segal played a lawyer in the 1970 dark comedy "Where's Poppa" with Ruth Gordon, a gem thief along with Robert Redford in 1972's "The Hot Rock," an out-of-control gambler in Robert Altman's "California Split" and a philandering Beverly Hills divorce attorney in Paul Mazursky's "Blume in Love" in 1973.
He starred opposite Jane Fonda in "Fun with Dick and Jane," fell for the charms of Barbra Streisand in "The Owl and the Pussycat" and played Natalie Wood's husband in "The Last Married Couple in America."
"I always try to find the humor and the irony in whatever character I am playing because I think of myself as a comedic actor," Segal said in an interview with the online movie journal filmtalk.org in 2016. "So that makes drama a lot more fun for me by not taking it so seriously, you know."
He credited an early appearance on the late-night talk show "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" for his switch to comedic roles.
"It was the first time that the people who make movies saw me doing comedy and having this funny interchange with Carson," Segal told the Orlando Sentinel in 1998.
He said he considered himself lucky in a business that he compared to gambling because you're always waiting for your lucky number, or a great part, to come up.
He also had a life-long passion for the banjo and performed at New York's Carnegie Hall in 1981 with his group, the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band.
HITS AND MISSES
George Segal was born on Feb. 13, 1934, in Great Neck, Long Island in New York. Although his ancestors were Russian Jewish immigrants, his family was not religious. In interviews Segal summed up his Jewish experience as going to a Passover Seder at Groucho Marx's house where the comedian asked, "When do we get to the wine?"
Segal was a shy child but said he felt free on the stage. After seeing the film "This Gun for Hire" when he was 9 years old, he knew he wanted to act. Following a stint in the Army and graduating from Columbia University with a drama degree, he made his film debut in "The Young Doctors" in 1961.
Two of Segal's most acclaimed performances - in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and as Biff Loman in the 1966 TV movie of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" - were in roles that actor Robert Redford had turned down.
"I owe Redford a lot. I think I may have thanked him when we did ‘The Hot Rock,’” he told Variety in 2017.
When Segal's film career waned in the 1980s he appeared in TV films and series before returning to the big screen in supporting roles that included "Look Who's Talking" in 1989 and 1996's "The Cable Guy" with Jim Carrey.
He found a younger generation of fans as a women's magazine publisher in the hit TV comedy "Just Shoot Me!," which ran from 1997 to 2003.
"He could make characters who should have been jerks seem lovable," producer Steve Levitan, who worked with Segal on “Just Shoot Me,” told Variety in a 2017 interview.
Segal said he did not contemplate retirement because people kept offering him interesting roles.
“Being in your 70s is OK but, when you get to your 80s, you get creaky," he told Variety. "I’ve got my second wind — although I’m not going as fast as I used to.”
March 19, 2021 - NEW DELHI - Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was urged by a senior U.S senator to convey Washington's opposition to India's proposed purchase of Russian air defence systems as he headed to New Delhi on Friday for talks aimed at deepening security ties.
Austin is making the first visit by a top member of the Biden administration to Delhi as part of efforts to forge a alliance of countries seeking to push back against China's assertiveness in the region.
The leaders of the United States, India, Australia and Japan - countries together known as the Quad - held a first summit last week pledging to work together for a free and open Indo-Pacific and to cooperate on maritime and cyber security in the face of challenges from China.
On Thursday, the deeply strained relations between the United States and China were on rare public display when their top diplomats levelled sharp rebukes of each others' policies in the first high-level, in-person talks of the Biden administration in Alaska.
India drew closer to the United States following its own tensions with China on their disputed Himalayan border, where deadly clashes erupted last year. Washington has helped New Delhi, leasing surveillance drones and supplying cold-weather gear for Indian troops.
During Austin's visit, the two sides will be discussing India's plan to purchase armed drones from the United States as well as a large order for over 150 combat jets for the air force and the navy to help narrow the gap with China, people with knowledge of the matter said.
One thorny issue expected to come up is India's planned purchase of Russian S-400 air defence systems which under U.S. law can attract sanctions. Washington has imposed sanctions on Turkey for buying that equipment.
The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Menendez, urged Austin to make clear to India officials the Biden administration's opposition to deal.
“If India chooses to go forward with its purchase of the S-400, that act will clearly constitute a significant, and therefore sanctionable, transaction with the Russian defense sector under Section 231 of CAATSA," Menendez said in a letter to Austin, referring to the law called Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.
"It will also limit India’s ability to work with the U.S. on development and procurement of sensitive military technology. I expect you to make all of these challenges clear in conversations with your Indian counterparts," he said.
U.S. firms Boeing and Lockheed are front runners for the multi-billion dollar combat jet deals. An Indian government official said no deals were likely to be announced during the visit and that the talks would cover regional and international security issues.
"The U.S. and India are close security partners, we expect to have wide ranging discussion with the U.S. side on how to further defence cooperation," the official said.
March 19, 2021 - MOSCOW - The Kremlin said on Friday that Moscow always hoped for the best but prepared for the worst when it was asked about the possibility of a new Cold War between the United States and Russia.
Diplomatic ties sank to a new low this week after U.S. President Joe Biden said he thought President Vladimir Putin was "a killer" in an interview that prompted Russia to recall its ambassador to the United States. Putin later offered Biden live online talks in the coming days.
On Friday, the Kremlin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Putin's offer of talks remained open and that Putin could do any time that was convenient for Biden, though the offer would not stay on the table indefinitely.
"Putin said that despite everything there's no point in playing at megaphone diplomacy and trading barbs. There is a point in continuing relations," Peskov told reporters on a conference call.
He was asked about a new Cold War between the two countries.
"We, of course, always hope for the best, but are always ready for the worst. As far as Russia is concerned, President Putin has clearly stated his desire to continue ties...," he said.
"But of course, we can't not take into account Biden's comments," he said, in a reference to Biden's interview with ABC News broadcast on Wednesday.
In it, Biden said "I do" when asked if he believed Putin was a killer, prompting Putin to cite a Russian children's playground chant in response saying "he who said it, did it".
Biden also described Putin as having no soul in the interview, and said the Russian leader would pay a price for alleged meddling in the November 2020 U.S. presidential election, something the Kremlin denies.
March 18, 2021 – BEIJING - China faces a severe and complex situation in attracting foreign investment this year, commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters in an online briefing on Thursday.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) jumped 31.5% to 176.76 billion yuan ($27.21 billion) in January and February, up from a year earlier, data showed this month.
Gao attributed the surge to low bases for comparison last year and a recovering economy that boosted investor confidence in China's growth outlook.
He added China will continue to open up to the outside world and cut back on areas barred to foreign investment.
"We'll step up efforts to build a more business friendly environment, so that when foreign firms enter China, they could rest assured of their development here," Gao said.
March 17, 2021 – ZURICH - The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (FINMA) has informed Zug-based financial intermediary Bitcoin Suisse AG that it considers its 2019 application for a banking licence to be ineligible for approval, the markets watchdog said on Wednesday.
"Various elements that are relevant under licensing law make it unlikely that a licence will be granted. Among other things there are indications of weaknesses in the money laundering defence mechanisms.
Bitcoin Suisse AG has now informed FINMA that it is withdrawing the application for a banking licence at the present time. FINMA is therefore terminating the licensing procedure," FINMA added in a statement.
March 16, 2021 – WASHINGTON - Four more states have joined a lawsuit filed by Texas and others against Alphabet Inc's Google that accuses it of breaking antitrust laws to boost its already dominant advertising business, the Texas attorney general said on Tuesday.
Joining the lawsuit filed in December are Alaska, Florida, Montana, Nevada and Puerto Rico, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said. This brings the number of plaintiffs in the lawsuit to 15 states and territories.
The lawsuit was one of three filed last year by the federal government or states against Google.
In announcing Tuesday's amended complaint, Paxton and the other attorneys general also divulged details about Google's relationship with Facebook Inc.
"Our coalition looks forward to holding Google accountable for its illegal conduct and reforming Google’s practices in the future," Paxton said in a statement. "We are confident Google will be forced to pay for its misconduct through significant financial penalties."
Google is fighting the allegations, and a hearing scheduled for Thursday is expected to include discussion of the company's petition for a Texas federal court to move the case to California.
The lawsuit accuses Google of violating the law in how it dominates the steps in the process of placing ads online. It alleges Google quietly teams with its closest online advertising competitor, Facebook, and that it uses the excuse of protecting users' privacy to act unfairly. Publishers complain that one result has been lower revenues.
The amended complaint states that Facebook and Google "work together to identify users using Apple products," without elaborating. Apple Inc in recent years on its Safari browser and iPhones has increased ways to block what it views as privacy-intrusive user tracking by ad tech companies, some of which have tried to devise circumvention measures.
Facebook, Google and Apple did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The revised complaint also adds that beginning in 2015, Google could view messages from Facebook's WhatsApp service that users backed up to Google's Drive cloud storage system.
Google knew users were uninformed about its access, but "did nothing to correct this misunderstanding," the lawsuit states.
Google Drive gained almost 250 million new users by June 2016 because of the WhatsApp partnership, according to the lawsuit.
March 15, 2021 – LOS ANGELES - Taylor Swift and Billie Eilish took the top prizes at the Grammy Awards on Sunday but Beyonce was the big winner on a history making night marked by multiple wins for women.
Beyonce's four Grammys on Sunday - two of them shared with best new artist winner Megan Thee Stallion - took her total career wins to 28, surpassing the previous Grammy record for a female artist set by bluegrass singer Alison Krauss.
Swift's surprise record "Folklore," recorded during coronavirus lockdowns, was named album of the year and made Swift, 31, the first woman to take home that prize three times.
In a socially-distanced ceremony of live and pre-recorded performances, the writers of "I Can't Breathe" by R&B artist H.E.R won song of the year.
It was written in response to the Black Lives Matter protests that roiled the United States last summer following the police killing of George Floyd.
Black culture was also celebrated in Beyonce's single "Black Parade," which was named best R&B performance.
"It has been such a difficult time," said Beyonce, reflecting on the cultural reckoning about racism in the United States.
"I wanted to uplift, encourage, celebrate all the beautiful Black queens and kings that continue to inspire me and inspire the whole world," she added.
Megan Thee Stallion, 26, known for promoting women's empowerment, came away with two more wins for her single "Savage" featuring Beyonce.
Eilish's ballad "Everything I Wanted" won record of the year, and the 19-year-old also won for her theme song for the upcoming James Bond movie "No Time to Die."
Eilish said she was embarrassed by the win, saying it should have gone to Megan. "You deserve it. Genuinely. Can we just cheer for Megan Thee Stallion," Eilish said.
The ceremony was also aimed at moving past the devastating effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the live music industry, including the cancellation of music festivals, touring and concerts.
British singer Dua Lipa won best pop vocal album for her dance-y "Future Nostalgia" and spoke of the value of music during hard times.
"I'm just so grateful and so honored because happiness is something that we all deserve," Lipa said.
Hosted by Trevor Noah, the ceremony was packed with pre-recorded and live performances by the likes of Lipa, Taylor Swift, Post Malone, DaBaby, Black Pumas and Mickey Guyton. Cardi B and Megan teamed up to perform their summer single "WAP" in one of the raunchier moments of the night.
It took place both indoors and outdoors in Downtown Los Angeles but mostly without the elaborate sets and special effects that traditionally mark the highest honors in the music business.
"We're hoping that this is all about what 2021 can be, full of joy, new beginnings and coming together. Never forgetting what happened in 2020, but full of hope for what is to come," Noah said.
Some of Sunday's awards were announced at small venues in cities like Nashville, New York and Los Angeles.
"Thank you to the Grammys for putting this together and letting us, at least, kind of be together," said Miranda Lambert winner of best country album for "Wildcard."
K-Pop band BTS lost in the best pop duo or group performance against Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande for their single "Rain on Me" but performed their hit English-language single "Dynamite" from South Korea at the close of the show.
The seven-member band from South Korea had been hoping to be the first K-Pop act to win a Grammy after a breakthrough year in the United States for the genre.