Tag Archives: drive

No skills shortage expected from FIFO recruitment drive

Posted February 21, 2013 14:12:01

Far north Queensland leaders say a new push to recruit fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) workers from the region is unlikely to create a local skills shortage.

The BHP Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) will recruit 250 fly-in, fly-out workers from the Cairns region for its new Daunia and Caval Ridge coal mines in the Bowen Basin.

Cairns Mayor Bob Manning says the boost to the local economy outweighs his concerns about losing workers.

“In terms of attracting industry and diversification of the economy we’ve been out to lunch for a while,” he said.

“We’re back from lunch now.

“We’ll find the mining industry, because of the wages they pay, will attract people away but when men and women go to work on the mines they don’t intend to stay there for the rest of their lives.

“They’ll do two or three or four years there, they’ll get their back accounts nice and fat again and then they’ll come back to the coast again.”

Councillor Manning says there still are not enough job opportunities in the region.

“They don’t take people away forever,” he said.

“They go away, they’re away for awhile, they learn new skills, they come back and settle back into life on the coast, so I don’t see it as a great problem.

“The economy here hasn’t picked up pace yet. It’s starting to but it hasn’t picked up pace, so let’s just see what happens when we’re 12 months down the track.”

Meanwhile, BMA says salaries alone are expected to inject an estimated $40 million into the Cairns economy.

BMA asset president Stephen Dumble says the new workers will start at the mines in the second-half of the year.

“The company looked at Cairns because we’re looking to diversify where we draw our workforce from,” he said.

“We’ve said all along that fly-in, fly-out represents a good opportunity to spread the benefits of our growth and of our industry more broadly in the regions in Queensland and today’s announcement is a good recognition of that.”

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney says it is good news for the Cairns economy.

“It’s 250 salaries that will be spent here on all of the service industries,” he said.

“All of the small businesses here in Cairns will benefit from having an extra 250 families earning a good wage in the central Queensland coalfields.”

Jo Pyne from Tropical North Queensland TAFE says it is looking at ways to plug potential skill gaps.

“I’m confident that we’ll be able to work with local industry to provide the skills that we need,” she said.

“We’ll be able to cope with the demand, I mean this isn’t a huge number that we’re talking about locally but we do need to be working very closely with industry to make sure we … don’t lose the skills that we need to keep industry running here.”

She says the company is looking for experienced mine workers and newcomers to the industry.

“We have been talking to them over the last 18 months really wanting to be quite clear about what their skills needs are so we can make sure that the training we’re delivering is providing skills to people who are interested in finding work in the mining industry,” she said.

Topics: mining-rural, mining-industry, activism-and-lobbying, community-development, regional, regional-development, work, cairns-4870, mackay-4740, rockhampton-4700

Strong bank gains help drive up local market

The Australian share market has resumed its recent winning run, with strong gains for most of the banks and some positive profit reports driving the major indices higher.

The All Ordinaries gained just over 0.5 per cent to 5,083 points, while the ASX 200 closed 29 points up at 5,063.

Regional lender Bendigo and Adelaide Bank climbed 3.25 per cent after more than trebling its profit to $189 million.

The bank’s boss, Mike Hirst, told investors funding costs were starting to fall, putting downward pressure on deposit interest rates and boosting profit margins.

That news helped push most other banks higher; National Australia Bank was up 2.2 per cent, ANZ 2.6 per cent and Westpac closed more than 3.5 per cent higher at $30.20 – it’s highest level since 2007.

Commonwealth Bank shares fell almost 2 per cent, but that was entirely due to it trading without rights to its latest dividend from today onwards.

Telstra also went ex-dividend today, losing six cents to $4.57.

Several companies pleased investors with their first-half profits; none more so than BlueScope Steel, which surged more than 15 per cent to $4.35 after posting a $12 million loss, well down from a loss of over $500m in the same period a year ago.

Clothing, footwear and linen company Pacific Brands also had a huge turnaround; it returned to profitability with a half-year result of $39 million, up from a loss of more than $360 million a year ago.

The owner of brands such as Bonds and King Gee, the company saw its shares climb almost 3.5 per cent on the result.

However, a 39 per cent profit increase was not good enough for Lend Lease shareholders who sold out of the property developer, pushing it 2.5 per cent lower to $10.42.

About 5pm (AEDT) the Australian dollar was a little down compared with the end of last week at 103 US cents. It was also worth 77.15 euro cents and 96.7 Japanese yen.

Spot gold was trading lower at $US1,615 an ounce, West Texas crude was worth just under $US96 a barrel and Tapis was at $US124.

Topics: stockmarket, markets, business-economics-and-finance, australia

First posted February 18, 2013 18:46:27

Rate cut hopes drive dollar down, shares up

The Australian dollar has continued its slide against the major currencies after poor retail sales increased bets that interest rates would fall again soon.

The local dollar was buying around 103.6 US cents at 1:13pm (AEDT).

The Australian share market was up by 0.8 per cent, with most sectors advancing.

The All Ordinaries index had gained 41 points to 4,943, and the ASX 200 index had risen by 40 points to 4,923.

Consumer staple companies are again performing well, led by a 3.6 per cent gain for bread manufacturer Goodman Fielder.

Woolworths had risen 2.3 per cent, while the owner of the rival Coles supermarket group, Wesfarmers, was up 1.6 per cent.

Energy companies were also among the strongest performers.

Santos had risen almost 2 per cent to $12.08, and Caltex was 1.2 per cent higher.

Building materials firm Boral has offset recent losses by rising 4.2 per cent to $4.97.

However, investors have continued to show their disappointment with hearing implant company Cochlear over its half-year results yesterday, with shares slipping another 3.7 per cent after tumbling more than 9 per cent yesterday.

Topics: business-economics-and-finance, markets, currency, stockmarket, australia

Banks, miners drive market higher

The share market has ended the week on a high note, led by gains in bank and mining shares.

Investors looked past weak leads from Wall Street overnight to see the local market return to near-22 month highs.

The All Ordinaries rose by 0.8 per cent to 4,942, and the ASX 200 advanced by 0.9 per cent to 4,921.

The major mining stocks were helped by another rise in the price of iron ore.

BHP Billiton rose by 1.2 per cent to $37.92 and Rio Tinto gained 1.33 per cent.

NAB was the strongest of the major banks. It jumped 2.33 per cent to $28, while the other big banks all rose at least 0.66 per cent.

Shares in outdoor clothing chain Kathmandu rallied by 4.5 per cent to close at $1.85 after the company boosted its guidance for first-half profits.

Virgin Australia shares fell 1.2 per cent after it announced that shareholders of Tiger Airways had approved Virgin’s bid for a 60 per cent stake in Tiger’s Australian operations.

The deal must also be approved by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

Telstra shares rose by 1.1 per cent to $4.65.

The Australian Industry Group’s latest Performance of Manufacturing Index slumped further in January, pointing to further contraction in the industry.

The RP Data Home Value Index has found house prices rose by 1.2 per cent in January, led by gains in Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and Canberra.

Bureau of Statistics figures show the producer price index, which measures the prices businesses pay for goods, rose by 0.2 per cent in the December quarter, which was less than expected.

Domestic prices rose by more than 1 per cent in the period, but this was offset by a 1.7 per cent fall in import prices due to the strong Australian dollar.

Meanwhile spot gold has settled back to to $US1,662 an ounce, West Texas crude oil has slipped to $US97.70 a barrel and Tapis crude has edged up to $US122.20 a barrel.

The dollar has slipped against most major currencies except the yen, since figures on manufacturing activity in China fell short of expectations.

Around 5:00pm AEDT it was buying 104 US cents, 76.4 euro cents, 95.9 Japanese yen and 65.5 British pence.

Topics: stockmarket, markets, business-economics-and-finance, economic-trends, currency, australia

Commerzbank wields axe in cost cutting drive

commerzbankFRANKFURT: Commerzbank, Germany’s second-biggest bank, said on Thursday it is looking to axe more than 10 percent of its workforce over the next three years as it tots up the toll of the financial and sovereign debt crisis.

“As part of our strategic agenda announced in November, Commerzbank is assuming that 4,000-6,000 jobs will be cut group-wide by 2016,” a company spokeswoman told AFP.

The exact number would be determined in talks with unions and labour representatives set to begin in February, she said.

On September 30, 2012, Commerzbank’s total workforce numbered 56,287.

The spokeswoman said it was too early to say where exactly the axe would fall.

But insiders said all areas would be affected, even if it was likely to be the retail division — its high-street branch network — that bears the brunt of the cuts.

The number of branches was boosted sharply when Commerzbank took over rival Dresdner Bank in 2008 and the bank had already set a target of cutting 9,000 jobs in the division by thinning out the network.

While that goal has nearly been achieved, the harsher environment engendered by the long and debilitating financial and sovereign debt crisis means further blood-letting has become necessary.

Announcing a strategic reorientation back in November, chief executive Martin Blessing had said Commerzbank must face up to the challenges and “new normality” in the industry.

Above all, Commerzbank would seek to “reposition itself both strategically and operationally in the private customers business,” he said at the time, adding that “massive cuts” in personnel costs were inevitable.

Blessing pledged that the branch network would become more flexible and the Commerzbank aimed to become a “multi-channel” bank offering customers products and services “anywhere and at any time”.

Insiders say that among the topics under discussion between management and employee representatives would be longer opening hours.

Given the complexity of the issues, however, negotations were expected to be long and protracted.

On the Frankfurt stock exchange, Commerzbank shares were initially among the biggest losers following the announcement, but turned back into positive territory later in the session, adding 0.43 percent in a stagnant to slightly softer market.

Commerzbank had to be bailed out by the state in 2009 and is still partly state-owned.

But it does not appear to be the only bank mulling job cuts.

According to a report in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on Thursday, Munich-based HypoVereinsbank, which is owned by Italy’s UniCredit, is considering cutting 600 jobs this year, particularly in its retail banking division.

A spokesman for HypoVereinsbank declined to comment on the report.

Germany’s biggest lender, Deutsche Bank, is also looking to save billions of euros a year by 2015, including slashing personnel costs.

Last July, Deutsche Bank said it had decided to “reduce headcount predominantly outside of Germany by approximately 1,900 positions,” of which 1,500 would be axed in its corporate banking and securities division.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2013

New Corvette to drive GM revival

Chevrolet Corvette Stingray ahead of the unveiling in Detroit GM hopes its seventh-generation Corvette will help transform the muscle car’s image The lights are dimmed and the guitar is whining as the automotive world gets ready to witness one of the year’s most anticipated car launches, on the sidelines of the Detroit motor show.

More than eight years after American muscle car fans were last treated to a new Corvette, some 100 people have paid more than $1,000 (£620) to watch the Stingray arrive in the city’s Russell Industrial Center.

“This is the name we use to mark special generations of Corvette,” says General Motors (GM) North America president Mark Reuss, explicitly linking the new Stingray with the iconic 1963 version made famous by Elvis.

GM wants the world to know that America’s original muscle car is ready to pump some serious iron.

The new model shares only two parts with its predecessor, and includes features such as magnesium frames for the seats and an all-new 6.2 litre V8 engine that sends it rocketing from nought to 60mph (0-100km/h) in four seconds.

“Corvette is a world-class athlete that has gone back to the gym and has been in training,” says Ed Welburn, GM vice-president of global design.

“It is ready.”

Trying times

The Stingray hits the road not a moment too soon.

GM hopes its ‘halo car’ will appeal to new buyers

Last year, GM’s market share slipped to 17.9%, its lowest in 88 years, and ever since it was bailed out by President Barack Obama following its 2009 bankruptcy filing, the company has struggled to shed its reputation as “Government Motors”. Globally, GM sold fewer cars than Toyota during 2012.

“A lot of people assumed during the bankruptcy that Corvette went away after the bailout,” says Jeremy Anwyl, vice chairman of automotive analysts website Edmunds.com.

GM acknowledges that the latest model was born out of trying circumstances, its launch having been pushed back twice.

“We had to stem the tide post-bankruptcy,” says chief executive Dan Akerson.

But now, the company is beginning the process of reshaping its identity, starting with its most beloved brand.

“This is the first strong statement of what you might see in the next 12-18 months,” says Mr Akerson.

‘Vette fans may be loyal, but they are also relatively old

“It speaks to American resurgence in the automotive industry.”

Sales of the new Corvette are not expected to push beyond about 30,000 cars per year.

But the hope is that the model will serve as a “halo car” that will attract buyers to Chevrolet and other GM showrooms.

GM is unveiling 12 models in addition to the Corvette at the Detroit motor show and the company says that over the next 18 months 70% of its model portfolio will be made up of refreshed or brand new models.

Over time, some of the features in the Stingray could make their way into other Chevrolet models.

“If they can take some of the key performance technologies and introduce them into vehicles like the Camaro, for instance, and say it’s from the Corvette, it does a lot for credibility,” says Mr Anwyl.

Old name, young audience

Old or young, ‘Vette enthusiasts will still cheer almost any new model and the promise of continued American muscle that it brings.

Larry Courtney is one fan who tuned in to see the Stingray unveiled.

A member of America’s Corvette Club of Michigan who has owned four Corvettes, he is planning a 60th birthday party for the car this summer.

Although it has been made famous by appearing in many films, Corvettes do not sell in large numbers

“People will constantly come up to you asking ‘Can we see it, can we be in it, can we drive it?’,” he says during a drive in his ’99 Corvette, painted with a gigantic American flag.

As he stops, a five-year-old boy timidly asks whether he can get behind the wheel. Mr Courtney lifts him into the driver’s seat and gives him a Corvette baseball cap.

“He’ll never forget today,” Mr Courtney smiles.

His actions mirror Corvette’s ambitions – to attract younger enthusiasts.

Corvette owners are the oldest muscle car fans out there – according to Edmunds.com, more than 46% of them are aged 55 or more, older than any other comparable sports car.

To appeal to younger drivers, the company first revealed the new Stingray in a PlayStation video game, Gran Turismo 5.

The emphasis on the car’s interior – the magnesium seat frames, the leather stitching, and the suede steering wheel – are all attempts to lure in buyers who might be attracted to the luxury features of, say, a Porsche 911 but unwilling to pay the higher price.

Mr Welburn says GM has the right idea: The Stingray “needed to be a more youthful design”, he says.

Banks, miners drive market higher

Posted December 05, 2012 18:20:02

The share market has closed higher, lifted by broad gains in banks, utilities and mining shares.

The market edged higher at the open despite a weak close on Wall Street, but wavered after the national accounts showed Australia’s economy had grown by slightly less than expected last quarter.

A late recovery saw the All Ordinaries rise 0.4 per cent, to 4,528, and the ASX 200 closed with a similar gain, at 4,520.

Bank shares were in focus after the Reserve Bank cut the official interest rate yesterday, with NAB the first of the four big lenders to cut its standard variable mortgage and business rates, by 20 basis points.

NAB’s shares closed up a 0.25 per cent.

Late in the day the Commonwealth Bank and Westpac both announced they were also cutting their mortgage rates by the same amount, holding back some of the 25 basis point cut from the RBA.

Commonwealth Bank rose 1 per cent, and Westpac added 0.6 per cent.

ANZ shares rose 0.75 of a per cent, with its rates decision to come on Friday week.

Retail shares also gained in the wake of the rate cut, with David Jones rising 2 per cent and Myer 3.75 per cent.

In other economic news, Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures showed the economy grew by 0.5 per cent in the third quarter, putting the annual rate of growth at 3.1 per cent.

The ABS says growth was driven largely by mining investment, with a fall in government spending dragging on the result.

And the Performance of Services Index by the Australian Industry Group rose slightly last month, but the key services industry still remains deep in contraction.

Shares in the Ten Network were placed on a trading halt until Friday pending an announcement on a possible capital raising.

Ten shares closed down 3 per cent yesterday at 32.5 cents, and are down 59 per cent so far this year.

On the commodities, spot gold was trading slightly higher at $US1,702 an ounce at about 5pm (AEDT).

West Texas crude oil was steady at $US88 a barrel, while Tapis crude was worth $US115.40 a barrel.

The dollar was higher despite yesterday’s rate cut, buying 104.75 US cents, 80 euro cents, 86.2 Japanese yen and 65 British pence.

Topics: markets, business-economics-and-finance, stockmarket, mining-industry, banking, australia

Tourist footfalls drive up mall rents in Dubai

Dubai: The lease rates of retail spaces in Dubai’s shopping malls are expected to increase next year in parallel with a rise in sales propelled by tourists, retailers and analysts say.

Shop rents rise with an increase in sales according to the terms in a contract between the mall operator and the tenant, which stipulate that when sales increase over a set amount, an additional percentage of it is paid towards rent.

“The future is that rents will go up. Retailers are benefiting from tourism-driven business in the UAE and that remains an opportunity to capture those dollars. There will be more sales from tourists in future,” he said.

Rents could rise about 5 to 10 per cent over the coming year, which would require a minimum of 10 per cent growth in revenues to cover the added costs, said Ishwar Chugani, managing director of Giordano.

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“In malls, especially more mature operators, revenue is linked to rental. I see it going upwards,” he said.

This will affect stores whose leases are due for renewal because the rates are fixed in the terms of the contract, said Ashish Panjabi, chief executive of Jacky’s Electronics. Rents depend on supply and demand for retail space. So in top-tier malls, such as Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates that are performing exceptionally well, there will be more pressure on rents because of high demand for those store locations, he said.

Drive Emirati youth toward private sector

Dubai: Emirati graduates target government for work rather than seeking the competitive workplace of the private sector, a phenomenon that the UAE government needs to address more actively according to Dr. Stephane Garelli, Director at the IMD World Competitiveness Centre, who spoke to Gulf News on the sidelines of the Global Competitiveness Summit.

“In the UAE, the presence of Emiratis in the private sector workforce is weak and it might become a problem that needs tackling,” he said.

“Most of the UAE nationals are looking for the public sector when they head to the labour market since it is easy to access, offers more incentives and carries a lot of benefits and advantages.”

“A competitive economy should be driven by knowledge and innovative people. Thus, it falls upon the private sector to foster job placement for home-grown talent.”

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“Moreover, UAE nationals need to be better informed of the range of opportunities available outside the public sector and the government should increase their awareness of the programmes and initiatives that are available.”

Garelli added that there is a brilliant new generation of Emiratis that should deploy in the right workplace and let them work hard rather than leaving them to the easy option in the public workforce or as self-employed running an inherited business.

The UAE government drive to increase the presence of the UAE nationals in the workforce is known as Emiratisation. Facilitating Emirati entry into industry drives knowledge front first, trains local talent, and facilitate the emergence of a sustainable talent pool for the future, strengthening the economic development prospects for the long-term.

Furthermore, Garelli added: “Overall, the UAE is doing very well according to its ranking in the world competitiveness reports.”

While there is a strong debate about tax and inflation as being very critical factors in competitiveness nowadays, he added, the UAE has no issues with these so far.

Consumers drive change

Thanksgiving shopping may have taken a hit in Black Friday sales, but the overall start to the holiday season was solid, according to the latest data released late Tuesday. Chicago-based-ShopperTrak, which analyses foot traffic, said that customer visits were up 8.2 per cent for the four-day weekend, starting with Thanksgiving, while total sales rose 2.7 per cent to $22 billion, compared with the same period a year ago. Last year sales were up 1.7 per cent.

ShopperTrak said that sales generated on Thanksgiving Day totaled $800 million, spurred by a slew of retailers opening earlier on Thanksgiving evening. ShopperTrak’s co-founder Bill Martin expected sales of $500 million to $700 million on the holiday. The firm said Saturday that Black Friday sales unexpectedly dipped 1.8 per cent to $11.2 billion. That’s the first decline for that day since 2008. However, customer counts rose 3.5 per cent on the day after Thanksgiving, indicating shoppers were doing more browsing than buying.

Thursday and Friday accounted for 327 million shopping visits out of the 594 million visits for the four-day weekend.

“This was a pretty good start,” Martin said. But he added, “We are looking at Black Friday as a 30-hour day.”

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This year retailers had their earliest start ever to the holiday shopping season, as major stores including Target Corp. and Sears opened on Thanksgiving evening. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, started its sales at 8pm on Thursday, two hours earlier than a year ago. Martin says the good news was that shopping didn’t fall off dramatically on Saturday and Sunday but remained steady. Sales rose 5 per cent on both days compared with the year-ago period.

ShopperTrak counts foot traffic and its own proprietary sales numbers from 40,000 retail outlets across the US.

The report follows survey results from the National Retail Federation released on Sunday. The Washington-based retail trade group said that a record 247 million shoppers visited stores and websites over the four-day weekend starting on Thanksgiving, up 9.2 per cent from last year, according to a survey of 4,000 shoppers conducted by research firm BIGinsight for the group.

Americans spent more too. The average holiday shopper spent $423 over the entire weekend, up from $398 last year. Total spending over the four-day weekend totaled $59.1 billion, up 12.8 per cent from 2011. The group did not have day-by-day spending details. According to comScore, which tracks online spending, online sales rose 26 per cent to $1.04 billion on Black Friday compared with a year ago. On Thanksgiving, online sales rose 32 percent from last year to $633 million.

“This is the year that everything changed,” said Mike Moriarity, a partner at business consultant A.T. Kearney. “You have to be everywhere all the time.” And he said consumers are driving the change.

Analysts will study November sales results, to be released Thursday by major retailers such as Target and Macy’s, to gain more insight into the start of the holiday shopping season.

MBR City to build on key sectors that already drive Dubai’s economy

Dubai: The Mohammad Bin Rashid City (MBR) is expected to build on the sectors that already drive Dubai’s economy as well as attract a larger mix of international retailers and stimulate competition among major malls in the emirate, analysts say.

The mega-development was announced after Dubai showed signs of recovery from the global financial crisis of 2008, which was when several massive projects were put on hold.

The question on the minds of many is, is it happening too much too soon again?

“If it were to come in one go, it would be too much too soon, that’s why it’s important for it to be phased over a long time,” said Craig Plumb, the head of research with Jones Lang Lasalle.

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At the moment, the market now cannot absorb 100 new hotels or the world’s biggest mall — this will take time and demand-generating offerings such as the Universal Studios theme park that is being planned, he said.

Dubai will not see a repeat of the excessive lending and announcements of grand projects that were eventually put on hold during the crisis, said Mario Maratheftis, global head of macro research at Standard Chartered bank.

“What we saw before was excessive lending and excessive growth, which we are not seeing now. The credit growth is pretty tight and the market conditions are different than before. Lending growth is minimal and I don’t think that will change in 2013,” he said, adding that there will be an appetite for funding long-term projects. Some analysts believe there is more space for retail expansion in Dubai now.

“There’s no question that Dubai needs more mall space. There is a theory that Dubai is ‘over-malled’ but Dubai Mall is seeing footfall of 54 million this year that’s expected to reach 60 million,” said Shane Eldstrom, director of education at the Middle East Council of Shopping Centres. “When you have properties performing at these levels you know there’s room for more space at this retail potential.”

Mohi-den Bin Hendi, president and chairman of the board for Bin Hendi Enterprises, the major retail group, said that the plan for the world’s largest mall was a “challenge” but will be “definitely viable.”

Economic woes drive Catalan separatists

Independence for Catalonia may seem like romantic folly to outsiders. The Spanish region must go back to the Middle Ages to find historic grounds for a separate territory.

It isn’t so much cultural identity that has breathed new life into the secession movement, but frustration over taxes, unemployment and recession.

An increasing number of the most ardent supporters of Catalan independence do not even have roots in the region.

They are immigrants from the rest of Spain who have embraced separatism because they believe Catalonia, historically an economic powerhouse, would be more prosperous on its own.

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Economists cast doubts on that argument. But, right or wrong, these Catalan converts will be key voters on Sunday when the region chooses a new government in an election on Sunday that has become a proxy for a referendum on independence.

Take 72-year-old Josep Periera, who moved to Catalonia during a mid-century wave of immigration from Andalusia, a relatively poor agricultural region in Spain’s south.

When he moved to Catalonia decades ago he was called Jose. He has changed his name to the Catalan equivalent, Josep, and completely integrated.

“Only three years ago I wasn’t pro-independence. But we can’t take this any more,” he told Reuters at a rally for Catalan President Artur Mas, who is seeking re-election after converting to the independence cause in September following a massive demonstration by secessionists.

CiU and three other pro-independence parties from across the political spectrum are expected to take a two-thirds majority in the regional assembly, known as the Parlament.

That majority will back Mas’s pledge to call a referendum on independence in defiance of Spain’s constitution.

With Spain in the grip of recession and unemployment running at 25 per cent, Catalans are increasingly disgruntled that Madrid refuses to renegotiate the current tax system.

They say Catalonia would be able to invest in job creation if €16 billion of its tax revenue did not stay with the central government each year.

Among Catalonia’s 7.5 million people are 3 million with roots outside the region. Polls show that more and more of those immigrants or children of immigrants support statehood.

A poll by the official Catalan statistics agency this month showed 80 per cent of adults whose parents are Catalans support independence. And 41 per cent of adults with non-Catalan parents also want independence — up from 25 per cent in June 2011.

Those converts have helped to push overall support for independence higher than 50 per cent for the first time.

In the past, Andalusian immigrants in Spanish-speaking “ghettos” on the edge of Barcelona suffered discrimination and were even called “xarnego”, a Catalan word for a kind of dog.

But their children speak Catalan and yearn for the years when the region created work for people from all over Spain.

“I’m a circumstantial independence supporter because of the brutal effects of the crisis and the fact Spain has been plundering Catalonia’s wealth for years,” said Lluis Val, 32. His parents moved here decades ago for work but he now has trouble finding well-paid work.

Salvador Garcia Ruiz, a 36-year-old economist, is the son of Andalusian immigrants. Like many Catalans he feels the rest of Spain has misunderstood sentiment in the region.

“People don’t understand that we are not against Spain, we are just pro-independence, and that’s why now it has become mainstream. We still want to have a good relationship with Spain,” he said.

Many Catalans recognize that full independence may be impossible to achieve because the region would probably have to leave the European Union — risking economic disaster — and because the rest of Spain will put up a huge fight for unity.

But polls show a large majority would like the right to vote in a referendum. A pro-independence march in September of around one million people reflected the growing movement.

“An avalanche of people on the street made this happen and the only thing we want is a referendum so at least we can express what we want,” said supermarket worker Miriam Cascales, 32.

Secessionism is particularly strong among young voters like Cascales. According to pollster Metroscopia, around 60 percent of voters between 18 and 35 back the cause. The jobless rate is highest among young people.

“The debate has moved away from being a pure debate about the independence of Catalonia to a wider economic debate,” said Maria Jose Hierro, political scientist at the Pompeu Fabra University.

Polls show that support for independence drops when people factor in the possibility of having to leave the EU.

And plenty of Catalans, immigrants and natives, are upset at the prospect of having to choose between being Catalan or Spanish, since they feel both.

Josep, a 52-year-old business owner, said he supported independence but recognised that many with origins in other parts of Spain were confused.

“Many don’t feel fully Spanish or fully Catalan. There is a big mass of people that don’t know who to vote for,” he said.

He said he did not want to give his surname as he was worried about threats of commercial boycotts from the rest of Spain due to the rising independence fervour.

India’s reform drive faces test in unruly parliament

Posted November 23, 2012 00:04:56

India’s parliament has adjourned in uproar on the first day of what promises to be a stormy new session for the weakened government and its pro-market reform drive.

Unruly protests and shouting led the speaker of the lower house to adjourn proceedings twice before she called a premature end to the sitting of the increasingly dysfunctional legislature around mid-afternoon.

Amid the bedlam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s coalition, facing parliament for the first time since losing its majority, avoided a no-confidence motion, which flopped after being proposed by former ally Trinamool Congress.

The Prime Minister had called on all parties to let parliament function after the last session was almost entirely lost due to protests, which have added to a growing national sense of political and economic malaise.

“We all have an obligation – in opposition as well as in government – to work together to enable our parliamentary democracy,” the 80-year-old leader said in a statement.

“Our parliament has a very heavy legislative agenda during the winter session. I seek cooperation from my colleagues in the house.”

The ruling coalition lost its majority in September when Trinamool Congress withdrew its 19 MPs to protest against the government’s decisions to raise fuel prices and increase foreign direct investment in the retail sector.

Opponents have billed the measures as anti-poor, saying they pander to large foreign corporations, and have demanded they be submitted to parliament for discussion.

The decision to allow foreign supermarkets into the retail sector did not require a vote and has become law, but proposals to open up the gigantic insurance and pensions markets will need parliamentary approval.

“The government has not even made an effort to create acceptance (of foreign investment),” Sushma Swaraj, leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party, told parliament above the din of jeers and shouting.

Singh’s push for pro-market reforms comes as the government faces a slowing economy, a gaping fiscal deficit and high inflation which has built pressure on the left-leaning alliance led by the Congress party.

Gross domestic product expanded at its slowest pace in three years in the second quarter and data for July-September, expected at the end of the month, will likely underline the extent of the downturn.

Analysts say the fractious opposition has not decided whether to unite to try to bring down the vulnerable government and force early elections before their scheduled date in 2014.

To survive, Singh’s coalition will have to depend on outside parties, particularly the regional Samajwadi Party from the state of Uttar Pradesh, which has pledged support but is also hostile to foreign investors.

According to the New Delhi-based think-tank PRS, 102 bills are pending in parliament covering issues like land acquisition, access to food, affirmative action for women and a host of anti-corruption initiatives.

Since re-election in 2009, Singh’s government has been rocked by a string of graft accusations, including charges that officials pocketed millions of dollars when awarding tenders for telecoms and coal-mining ventures.

“Our country is ailing while political institutions look increasingly corruption-ridden, opportunistic and effete in meeting national challenges,” said The Times of India in an editorial Thursday.

“At this hour of crisis, India’s parliamentarians claim without exception that public interest is their top priority. The winter session will show if this is true.”


Topics: business-economics-and-finance, world-politics, india, asia

Britain looks to Chinese tourists to help drive recovery

London: VisitBritain says the luxury clothing brand Burberry has played an almost lone hand at wooing high-spending Chinese tourists to the UK.

France and Italy have aspirational consumer brands such as Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Herms, Christian Dior and Prada, the report says, while Germany’s reputation is enhanced by its cars and consumer electronics. However, the only British brand with any profile in China is the 156-year-old fashion house founded by Thomas Burberry.

VisitBritain’s strategy to boost tourism from China focuses on promoting high-end consumer culture while dispelling the myth that the UK is home to unwelcoming monolinguists whose goods are poor value for money. It also repeats concerns that the UK’s tough visa policy deters potential visitors from China, Russia, India and the UAE.

A Best-of-British delegation of retailers, tourist attractions and sports organisations including Harrods, Selfridges, the Historic Royal Palaces and the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis museum will fly to Beijing next month in the Olympics afterglow, while setting a new tone that contrasts sharply with the Cool Britannia of the Blair era, which promoted Britpop, art and edgy fashion.

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Also in attendance will be Value Retail, owner of Bicester Village, the designer shopping outlet in Oxfordshire, which hopes to lure wealthy visitors out of London and into the countryside. Most tourists visit only the capital.

VisitBritain has set a target of 40 million foreign visitors by 2020, nine million more than today. Tourism accounts for about 9 per cent of GDP and jobs and is the third-largest foreign-exchange earner, behind chemicals and financial services, its report says.

“Seen from a Chinese tour bus, the continent of Europe is not so much an ancient collection of cities and nations as a glittering emporium stocked with brands,” the report adds. “However, Britain’s retail and consumer brands fare poorly relative to their competitors.”

Language barriers are also a competitive issue, says VisitBritain. “In France, shop assistants at the Galeries Lafayette department store speak Mandarin, while hotels with many Chinese guests provide television channels in their native language and teapots [in addition to coffee makers] in their rooms,” the report says.

“In Britain, while some of the leading players such as the West End stores and Hilton hotels have started programmes to welcome Chinese visitors, there is still much to be done to ensure tourism businesses around the country understand the expectations of international markets.”

The highest-spending foreign holidaymakers in Britain are the Qataris, the report says, who spend an average of 215 a night over 15 nights. Kuwaitis spend about 215 a night too, but over 12 days, while Saudis spend 207 a night over 13 nights. The Chinese spend 112 a night over 13 nights; Americans stay for a week and spend 104 a night.

Despite the global recession and European debt crisis, the shrinking economies of France, Germany, Spain and the US account for a third of the money spent by tourists in the UK. The number of visitors from Australia, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and the UAE has increased.

PrintEmail a friend More from Tourism Britain looks to Chinese to help drive recovery UAE top among visitors from GCC to India Jumeirah signs pact with Chinese travel firm Dead Sea Resort and Spa is now open for business

New products will have to drive sales

Rather than have a whole year go by before showcasing what’s in – and what’s not – at the annual showpiece Gitex Shopper series, Dubai wants to have it every six months. This makes sense as consumer attention on new products and technology do not follow any set patterns of a calendar year.

So, what does the local tech retailers make of having to prepare for Gitex Shopper twice a year? Dikran Tchablakian, founder and CEO at CompuMe, offers his thoughts.

Q: What changes will a Gitex Shopper every six months bring about at a retailer’s operations?

A: It will hurt the normal business path, the preparation and logistics for a Shopper takes at least three months. The business will be reduced because consumers will refrain from buying one month before the Shopper opens, thinking they can get good deals there

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If you think of it there are no price differences between retail outlets and Shopper as the same promos are running simultaneously. In October you have the strong selling period until the end of the year where you can liquidate stocks. In April, it will be difficult.

We have to be cautious not to kill the spirit of Gitex Shopper as this event replicated elsewhere did not work. We should not overkill it.

Q: Did Gitex Shopper 2012 meet your sales expectations?

A: The organisers did a super job to have a successful event. There were some logistic issues which I’m sure can be addressed in the coming events. I have been a participant at Gitex Shopper since inception, first with Sakhr and with CompuMe since its inception in 1998.

The budget and target we set for this event were achieved 100 per cent and with profit. Generally, the return on investment for this kind of event is not glorious. We focused on value-offering, as this is what we are good in and were well-positioned to generate profits.

Q: Is there a concern that the tech trade now is driven by a handful of products and brands than at anytime in the past? If yes, will this be mirrored at the Shopper series?

A: We need to check closely with the vendors about the cycle of announcements on new products. The vendors and organisers are key to the success of such events because retailers are caught in the middle with very low margins and little room to maneuver unless they have stocks to unload.

Don’t forget that retailers reckon some 20 per cent of their business is generated through Gitex. With it being held twice a year, it might reach 30 per cent. That’s a big chunk of the business done in low margins. The RoI will be reduced to the lowest.

I would understand that if we were not paying high rentals in the malls to have such activities.

Q: At some point, you will need to consider an e-com option. Do you plan to at the earliest?

A: Regarding the expansion plan into e-com, this is an area that’s growing and we’ve been the first to test it as CompuMe. This did not work in the past due to payment and logistics (issues). Even today that’s a problem.

But it’s getting better and I believe we shall see more e-com sites. We are planning to try once more once we solve the issues of the regional presence – you need a wider market than only Dubai.

Jobs spared in coal mine efficiency drive

Updated October 10, 2012 11:20:16

Wesfarmers Curragh says it is cutting costs at its central Queensland coal mine but no permanent jobs will be lost.

The Curragh Mine, north-west of Blackwater in the Bowen Basin, employs about 600 staff.

The company says most of its workers will move from a seven-day roster to a five-day roster from next month in an effort to cut costs and improve efficiency.

It says it is also planning to shut down the mine for three weeks over the Christmas holiday period.

The company says contractor numbers will be reduced but no direct employees will be affected

The decision has been based on low coal prices and a strong Australian dollar

It says the changes should ensure the mine retains its highly competitive position in the market.

Wesfarmers Curragh says production will remain on target and all supply contracts will be met.

Topics: company-news, coal, mining-rural, mining-industry, regional, regional-development, community-development, blackwater-4717, rockhampton-4700, mackay-4740

First posted October 10, 2012 11:13:02

World bank report: Jobs drive economic development

“It is not just the number of jobs, it is also what people do,” says Martin Rama. The World Bank cautioned that economic growth alone cannot create jobs that improve people’s lives and reduce conflict. PHOTO: FILE.


Creating jobs can help governments improve the lot of their citizens, but some jobs have more impact than others when it comes to helping societies move ahead, the World Bank said in a report on Monday.

As countries around the world struggle with high unemployment, the World Bank cautioned that economic growth alone cannot create jobs that improve people’s lives and reduce conflict.

“It is not just the number of jobs, it is also what people do,” said Martin Rama, the director of the World Bank’s annual World Development Report. This year, the report focused on how employment impacted overall well-being for societies, looking at examples culled from more than 800 surveys and censuses. As an example, Rama pointed to Mozambique, a case similar to Pakistan, where a commodities boom fueled one of the highest growth rates in sub-Saharan Africa. But more than 80% of the citizens work in agriculture, where poverty rates remained stubbornly high.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2012.

Drive against smuggled vehicles picks up pace

Teams to target auto dealer­s evadin­g taxes, custom­s duties. “Criminal elements will be prosecuted and brought to justice irrespective of their social status,” says FBR Chairman Ali Arshad Hakeem. ILLUSTRATION: S.JAMAL

LAHORE: Apparently in a move to appease concerned stakeholders in the auto industry, the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) says it has intensified a nationwide drive against smuggled and non-custom paid vehicles.

FBR Chairman Ali Arshad Hakeem told the APP here on Friday that special staff deployed for the task had been directed to bring all unscrupulous elements involved in the racket to book, without succumbing to any sort of pressure.

He said criminal elements will be prosecuted and brought to justice irrespective of their social status. Hakeem added that the federal government, especially President Asif Ali Zardari, had attached unprecedented importance to the issues faced by the business community.

When contacted, Customs Collector for Lahore Fazal Yazdani told the APP that the anti-smuggling unit had been reorganised on a special directive from the FBR chairman. The unit will operate under the supervision of the additional collector of Customs and conduct a series of surprise raids targeting tax evaders, he revealed. He also appealed to the public to contact authorities if they have any information on smuggled and non-custom paid vehicles.

The FBR chairman further said that all FBR members, Customs chief collectors and collectors, and chief commissioners and commissioners of Inland Revenue throughout the country have been directed to facilitate taxpayers, importers and exporters at their doorsteps. He said that all FBR officers posted at headquarters and in the field have been strictly directed to meet stakeholders in order to obtain firsthand information regarding the complaints of the business community, and to address the same on a priority basis.

Hakeem said that policy is being tailored to streamline and simplify tax filing procedures. He added that the overall working of Regional Taxpayers Offices and Large Taxpayers Units (LTU) across the country is also being improved.

Published in The Express Tribune, September 15th, 2012.

Recovery drive: Mobilink bank accounts locked down

Federa­l Board of Revenu­e blocks accoun­t until recove­ry of ‘under-declar­ed’ Rs8.6 billio­n taxes. GOVT’S CUT: Rs34b is the amount Mobilink paid in form of taxes in 2011.


Tax authorities on Thursday seized all bank accounts of Mobilink until it recovers Rs8.6 billion, an amount the country’s largest cellular service provider collected from customers in form of taxes but did not deposit in the national exchequer.

“All bank accounts of the company have been attached and imports blocked accordingly and further action will be taken by the next working day,” FBR announced in a statement.

An official of the FBR told The Express Tribune that FBR in the next step will seize the company’s head office and regional offices. The move is one of measures the tax authority is pursuing to achieve this year’s revenue target of Rs1.952 trillion. Federal Board of Revenue took the drastic step after the Income Tax Tribunal upheld a decision of Large Tax Payer Unit, sustaining the decision to recover Rs8.6 billion from Mobilink.

It was the second controversial decision taken in less than 24 hours, as FBR earlier waived off penalties and surcharges imposed on withholding agents for illegally withholding tax deducted from taxpayers but did not deposit in the kitty.

From July 2011 to April 2012, the FBR collected Rs1.42 trillion in taxes and has to bag another Rs528 billion in the remaining two months to reach its target. Unofficially, the target has been revised to Rs1.928 trillion, according to an FBR official.

According to the FBR, Mobilink owed Rs8.6 billion to the exchequer on account of misdeclaration of Sales Tax and Federal Excise Duty. It said that the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal recently upheld the decision of the LTU, Islamabad and confirmed the payable tax amount of Rs8.6 billion.

After the Tribunal’s decision, the tax authorities formed various teams to recover the amount from the company through attachment of bank accounts, blocking of imports and recovery through suppliers of the company, which include other telecom companies as well as the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.

“There is some misunderstanding at some stage and we are seeking clarifications from the FBR,” said Mobilink spokesperson Husain Ali Talib. The company would soon issue a statement after seeking clarifications from the FBR, he added.

In the official statement issued later in the day, Mobilink said that the FBR’s ruling on Sales Tax and FED is still sub-judice. Mobilink is one of the largest corporate tax payers in Pakistan, and has always remained at the forefront of making its due contribution to the nation’s exchequer, adds the statement. In 2011 alone, Mobilink paid taxes amounting to Rs34 billion.

Controversial relief

The FBR issued two separate statutory regulatory orders on Thursday aimed at reducing tax liabilities of various sectors. After struggling for at least a year, the FBR through SRO 549, reduced minimum tax rate by 50% for those motorcycle dealers who clear their outstanding liabilities by June 30, 2010. Similarly, to motivate default dealers, the FBR has lured them by waving off 75% of the payable tax for the current fiscal year provided they deposit the amount before the end of the current financial year and help reach its tax collection target.

The FBR also announced amnesty for steel melters and re-rolling mills through SRO 550 on Thursday.

For those who did not meet their tax liabilities last year, the FBR has reduced minimum turnover tax to 0.5% or Rs280 per ton, whichever is higher, provided the melters deposit the amount by June 30. For 2008 to 2010, the withholding tax rate on purchase of steel scrap has also been reduced to 1% or Rs300 per ton.

For 2011 and 2012, the rate of withholding tax on purchase of steel scrap will now be 1% of value of purchase or Rs400 per ton provided the amount is deposited before end of the fiscal year.

For steel re-rolling mills, the rate of minimum tax on turnover is reduced to 0.5% of turnover or Rs315 per ton, provided the millers deposit the outstanding liability of last one year by end of this month.

Similarly, for fiscal years 2008, 2009 and 2010 the rate of withholding tax on purchase of ingots and billets will be 1% of the value of purchase or Rs450 per tons provided they deposit the amount before close of fiscal year.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 25th, 2012.