suspend

Logo of Didi Chuxing is seen at its headquarters building in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Logo of Didi Chuxing is seen at its headquarters building in Beijing, China August 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

April 22, 2019

BOGOTA (Reuters) – Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing said on Monday it is beginning to recruit drivers ahead of its launch in Colombia’s capital Bogota in the coming months.

“We have arrived in Colombia with an attractive offer for those who want to register as drivers and we hope to be able to meet the market’s expectations,” the company said in a statement.

The statement did not specify when Didi’s services would begin in the Andean country.

Didi is planning to take on U.S. rival Uber Technologies Inc in some of Latin America’s fastest-growing markets and has moved senior executives from China to lead its expansion in such places as Chile and Peru.

The company is China’s dominant ride-hailing firm and is backed by investors including Japan’s SoftBank Group Corp.

In 2016, Didi bought Uber’s operations in China following a bruising two-year fight for local domination.

The two firms are already battling for market share in Brazil, where Didi bought local start-up 99 in January 2018, and Mexico, where the Chinese firm lured drivers with higher pay and bonuses for signing up other drivers and passengers.

Uber, is popular in Colombia but illegal and the government has said it will suspend for 25 years the licenses of drivers caught working for the platform.

Didi claims to have 31 million drivers across 15 different products – including services for taxis, buses, bicycles and deliveries – and that it completes more than 10 billion rides a year.

(Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; writing by Julia Symmes Cobb, editing by G Crosse)

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Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they attend a mass anti-government protest outside Defence Ministry in Khartoum
Sudanese demonstrators chant slogans as they attend a mass anti-government protest outside Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

April 22, 2019

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) warned on Monday against protesters blocking roads and limiting the movement of citizens as protests continued after president Omar al-Bashir was forced from power.

The TMC also said it was unacceptable that some young people were exercising the role of the police and security services, in violation of the law, a reference to youths who have been searching protesters taking part in a sit-in outside the Defense Ministry.

The TMC and the opposition have traded threats since Sunday, with the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), the main organizer of the protests, saying it would suspend talks with the Council.

“We have decided to opt for escalation with the military council, not to recognize its legitimacy and to continue the sit-in and escalate the protests on the streets,” Mohamed al-Amin Abdel-Aziz of the SPA told crowds outside the Defense Ministry on Sunday.

The protesters have kept up the sit-in outside the Ministry since Bashir was removed by the military on April 11 and have demonstrated in large numbers in recent days, pressing for a rapid handover to civilian rule.

TMC head Abdel Fattah al-Burhan told state TV on Sunday that the formation of a joint military-civilian council, one of the activists’ demands, was being considered. “The issue has been put forward for discussion and a vision has yet to be reached,” he said.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates said on Sunday they had agreed to send Sudan $3 billion worth of aid, throwing a lifeline to the country’s new military leaders.

(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Gareth Jones and David Holmes)

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The corner stone on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the financial district in New York
The corner stone on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in the financial district in New York City, U.S., March 4, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

April 19, 2019

By Luc Cohen and Corina Pons

CARACAS (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions on Venezuela have led the New York Federal Reserve to crack down on Puerto Rico’s $50 billion offshore banking industry, according to four sources and a document seen by Reuters.

The development will prevent the island’s offshore banks, several of which are owned by citizens of crisis-stricken Venezuela, from opening accounts with the Fed that give them direct access to the U.S. financial system.

Offshore banks in Puerto Rico are able to open accounts with the Fed since the island is a U.S. territory. That gives them a competitive advantage over other offshore banking jurisdictions like the British Virgin Islands, which have to access the U.S. financial system through expensive third-party correspondent banks.

But in a previously unreported Feb. 27 letter, the New York Fed said it had halted approval of new accounts for Puerto Rican offshore banks and other financial institutions “in light of recent events, including the expansion of U.S. economic sanctions relating to Venezuela.”  

It plans stricter requirements for the opening of such accounts in the future, it said.

It did not give further details on why it was taking that step. But the move follows two Puerto Rican offshore banks that have accounts open with the New York Fed being mentioned in federal investigations into money laundering and sanctions evasion related to Venezuela.

“The Fed worries about its reputational exposure, just like anybody else does,” said David Murray, a vice president at the Washington-based Financial Integrity Network and a former Treasury Department official.

A spokeswoman for the New York Fed did not respond to requests for comment.

The decision will only affect Puerto Rican banks that had pending applications with the Fed and will not affect the 17 of Puerto Rico’s 80 offshore banks that the Fed’s website shows already have Fedwire accounts. Reuters was unable to determine how many banks were awaiting responses on their applications to open accounts.

The move to suspend account approvals shows how U.S. sanctions on Venezuela, which are meant to force socialist President Nicolas Maduro from office amid a political crisis and an economic meltdown, are having a ripple effect in other parts of the global financial system.

It could deal a blow to Puerto Rico, which has been using the offshore sector as an economic development strategy as it struggles with a crushing debt load and the impact of natural disasters such as 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

The island has for years nurtured its offshore banking sector by offering tax incentives to bank owners and promoting direct access to the U.S. financial system through the Fed rather than correspondent banks, which charge for their services and can end the relationship at a moment’s notice.

Offshore banking lets individuals and companies deposit money outside their countries of residence in order to legally lower tax bills, but criminal investigations and multilateral organizations have alleged it is also used for tax evasion and money laundering.

The notice also applies to U.S. Virgin Islands offshore banks. Both territories fall under the jurisdiction of the Fed’s New York branch.

‘WE SHARE IT ALL’

George Joyner, the commissioner of Puerto Rico’s banking regulator, declined to say how many of the territory’s offshore banks had applications pending with the Fed. He said the island regulator used the same standards as federal authorities including the Fed to supervise financial institutions, and that anti-money laundering was a “high focus.”

“Our office fully shares everything that we find in our examinations, and we share it with all the federal agencies,” Joyner said in a telephone interview.

He said “a number” of Puerto Rican offshore banks had been created with Venezuelan capital, without elaborating.

The Virgin Islands’ director of banking and insurance did not respond to requests for comment.

Sixteen of Puerto Rico’s 80 offshore banking and financial services firms are owned by Venezuelan individuals or companies, according to a Reuters review of their websites, corporate registry records, and directors’ LinkedIn pages and personal websites.

Several marketed directly to Venezuelan clients, or had past deals with the Venezuelan government, while twelve of the sixteen had Fedwire accounts, according to the Federal Reserve’s website.

Fedwire, a funds transfer system controlled by the Fed, allows banks, businesses and government agencies to send and receive payments in real time.

VENEZUELA CONNECTIONS

In recent years, U.S. prosecutors have examined the role Puerto Rico’s offshore banks have played in efforts to launder Venezuelan funds through the United States. It was not clear if the two cases in question contributed to the New York Fed’s decision to halt the opening of new accounts, but one source at a Puerto Rican bank and industry consultant David Nissman said they were likely an important factor. Joyner said they “certainly didn’t help.”

Federal prosecutors in a sprawling corruption probe unsealed in July of 2018 charged Uruguayan national Marcelo Gutierrez with allegedly conspiring to launder funds embezzled from Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA through a “bank in Puerto Rico” that he owned, according to criminal investigation filings in Florida federal court.

The prosecutors’ complaint does not identify the bank and says the transaction never took place.

Gutierrez’s LinkedIn profile lists him as a director at Vestin Bank International, which Puerto Rico banking regulator records show received a license to operate as an offshore operation on the island in 2015.

Vestin has since been acquired by Asia-focused Standard International Bank and Gutierrez has not been a shareholder since August of 2018, Standard said in a statement, adding that it had no links to Vestin’s prior business, no ties to Venezuela and no plans to enter the Venezuelan market.

Bruce Udolf, a Florida-based defense attorney for Gutierrez, said, “We expect to respond with a vigorous defense to those charges. We are hopeful that he will be vindicated at trial.”

In February, the FBI raided Puerto Rican offshore bank Banco San Juan International (BSJI) as part of a probe of money laundering and evasion of Venezuela-related sanctions, special agent Douglas Leff told reporters at the time. A spokesman for the FBI San Juan field office declined to provide further details.

In 2016, BSJI reached a $300 million credit agreement with PDVSA, according to PDVSA’s financial statements from that year.

BSJI also has an account with the Fed, according to Fed records.

In a statement, BSJI said it had complied with all U.S. sanctions and was cooperating with the FBI investigation.

The source at the bank in Puerto Rico, along with Joyner and Nissman, said most of the island’s offshore banks applied strict scrutiny on customers, and that the decision would punish an entire sector for the actions of a few bad actors.

“It just shuts your businesses down, and what did they do?” said Nissman, a former U.S. attorney for the U.S. Virgin Islands who drafted the territory’s offshore banking law, and now a Puerto Rico-based consultant. He said the Fed should evaluate applications on a “case-by-case basis.”

(Reporting by Luc Cohen and Corina Pons, Editing by Brian Ellsworth and Rosalba O’Brien)

Source: OANN

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends a news conference at his official residence in Tokyo, Japan June 1, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

April 18, 2019

By Tetsushi Kajimoto

TOKYO (Reuters) – More than 60 percent of Japanese companies want authorities to go ahead with a sales tax hike in October, but feel that additional government spending is needed to cushion the blow on the economy, a Reuters monthly poll showed.

Speculation lingers that Japan will once again delay raising the tax to 10 percent from 8 percent, even though Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly said he will proceed with the increase unless there’s a major economic shock.

Abe has twice postponed the planned tax hike — needed to meet rising social welfare costs as the population ages — since the last increase to 8 percent from 5 percent in April 2014 hit consumer spending and triggered an economic slump.

To avoid a repeat of that, Abe’s government has earmarked 2 trillion yen ($17.9 billion) in various spending measures to try to temper any economic downturn.

About 80 percent of companies surveyed say authorities should go ahead with the hike, the poll showed.

Some 18 percent said no extra stimulus was needed, but 61 percent said additional steps are necessary.

“To prevent consumption from slumping after the tax hike, further tax breaks will be needed, such as increasing items subjected to lower tax rates,” a manager of a construction firm wrote in the survey.

Just 21 percent said the planned tax increase should be scrapped altogether, according to the April 3-15 survey.

GROWTH OR REFORM?

Some respondents said boosting government spending defeats the point of the tax hike.

“Raising the tax is meaningless if it involves stimulus to boost spending,” a service firm manager wrote in the survey.

Others expressed concern that the tax hike would undermine Japan’s economic growth, which is already weak.

“Even with higher taxes, government revenue won’t increase because consumer spending will decline and corporate profits will deteriorate,” a manager of an electric machinery maker wrote.

Some economists have warned that Japan could slide into a recession as companies are feeling the impact of the Sino-U.S. trade war and global slowdown, chilling business investment and demand.

Yet Japan needs to shore up its finances as its population rapidly greys. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) urged Japan on Monday to raise the sales tax to as high as 26 percent.

The Reuters Corporate Survey, conducted monthly for Reuters by Nikkei Research, polled 478 large and mid-sized firms with managers responding on condition of anonymity. About 230 firms answered the questions on the sales tax issue.

LONG HOLIDAY

Asked about their operational plans for the unprecedented 10-day holiday in late April and early May to mark the ascension of the new emperor, 47 percent of companies said they would partially halt operations and 38 percent said they would suspend business completely.

The remaining 15 percent said they don’t plan to stop operations at all.

Nearly half, or 47 percent, said they didn’t expect the long break to impact their business. Some 28 percent said they expected to see a drop in output or sales compared to a year earlier, while a quarter projected an increase.

Some reported seeing a bump up in demand as customers stock up on products to cope with the 10-day break as well as due to uncertainty about Brexit, the survey showed.

($1 = 111.8600 yen)

(Reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto; Additional reporting by Izumi Nakagawa; Editing by Malcolm Foster & Shri Navaratnam)

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Sudanese demonstrators rest under the shadow of a tree in front of the Defence Ministry in Khartoum
Sudanese demonstrators rest under the shadow of a tree in front of the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, Sudan April 17, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

April 17, 2019

By Khaled Abdelaziz

KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Deposed ex-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has been moved to Khartoum’s grim high-security Kobar prison from the presidential residence, family sources said on Wednesday, and transitional military rulers announced steps to crack down on corruption.

Sudan’s military ousted Bashir after weeks of mass protests that climaxed in a sit-in outside the Defense Ministry compound. Protests are continuing and their leaders say the unrest will not cease until the ruling Transitional Military Council (TMC) hands power to a civilian-led authority ahead of elections.

The Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA), leading the revolt, has called for sweeping change to end violent crackdowns on dissent, purge corruption and cronyism and ease an economic crisis that worsened during Bashir’s last years in power.

In initial moves to tackle graft, the TMC ordered the central bank to review financial transfers since April 1 and to seize “suspect” funds, state news agency SUNA said on Wednesday.

SUNA said the TMC also ordered the “suspension of the transfer of ownership of any shares until further notice and for any large or suspect transfers of shares or companies to be reported” to state authorities.

The TMC also decreed that all state entities disclose financial holdings within 72 hours, and warned that officials who failed to comply could be fined and face up to 10 years in prison, SUNA reported.

The decree applies to bank accounts and holdings of foreign currency as well as precious metals and jewelry inside and outside Sudan, according to the TMC.

BASHIR IN SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

Bashir, 75, had been detained under heavy guard in the presidential residence inside the compound that also houses the Defense Ministry, before being transferred to Kobar prison late on Tuesday, the family sources said. He was being held in solitary confinement at Kobar, a prison source said.

Kobar, just north of central Khartoum adjacent to the Blue Nile river, housed thousands of political prisoners under Bashir’s nearly 30-year rule and is Sudan’s most notorious jail.

At least some political prisoners have been freed since Bashir’s overthrow, including several SPA figures.

Awad Ibn Auf, an Islamist like Bashir, initially headed the TMC before stepping down after one day in the post. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who has engaged in impromptu dialogue with protesters in the streets of the capital, now heads the council and has promised to hold elections within two years.

REBELS SUSPEND HOSTILITIES

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a rebel group fighting in the southern Blue Nile and South Kordofan states, announced it was ceasing all hostilities until July 31 as a “goodwill gesture” following Bashir’s overthrow.

In a statement conveyed to Reuters in Khartoum, the group’s leader Abdelaziz Adam al-Helew said the move was to help facilitate “the immediate and smooth handover of power to civilians” in Sudan.

The SPLM-N had sought to overthrow Bashir and pushed for autonomy for Blue Nile and South Kordofan states and a redistribution of wealth and political powers in the country.

Bashir ruled Sudan with an iron hand after he seized power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989.

UGANDA MAY OFFER ASYLUM TO BASHIR

Uganda will consider offering asylum to Bashir despite his decade-old indictment by the International Criminal Court, Uganda’s state minister for foreign affairs, Okello Oryem, told Reuters. But Oryem said Bashir had yet to make any contact with Kampala.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has in the past criticized the ICC, calling it a tool of Western justice against Africans.

Bashir faces ICC arrest warrants over accusations of genocide and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region during an insurgency that began in 2003 and led to the death of an estimated 300,000 people. He denies the allegations. Fighting in Darfur has subsided over the past three years.

The head of the TMC’s political committee, Omar Zain al-Abideen, said on Friday the council would not extradite Bashir for trial, suggesting he could be tried in Sudan instead.

In The Hague, an International Criminal Court spokesman declined comment “on hypothetical situations”. ICC member states, which include Uganda, are legally obliged to hand over indictees who enter their territory.

Bashir has defied the ICC by visiting several ICC member states. Diplomatic rows broke out when he went to South Africa in 2015 and Jordan in 2017 and both declined to arrest him for extradition to the ICC in the Netherlands.

London-based Amnesty International called for Bashir to be immediately extradited to ICC custody. “His case must not be hurriedly tried in Sudan’s notoriously dysfunctional legal system. Justice must be served,” said Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty director for East Africa, the Horn and Great Lakes.

“Sudan must take urgent steps to rebuild its justice sector but, in the meantime, the only way victims of his alleged crimes will see progress towards justice are if Bashir faces a fair trial at the ICC,” Nyanyuki said in an Amnesty statement.

On Tuesday, TMC chief Burhan fired Sudan’s three highest-ranking public prosecutors after the SPA-led protest movement demanded an overhaul of the judiciary.

On Monday, the African Union urged the TMC to hand power to a transitional civilian-led authority within 15 days or risk Sudan being suspended from the AU.

(Additional reporting by Elias Biryabarema in Kampala and Anthony Deutsch in the Netherlands; Writing by Yousef Saba; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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FILE PHOTO: The logo of TikTok application is seen on a mobile phone screen in this picture illustration taken
FILE PHOTO: The logo of TikTok application is seen on a mobile phone screen in this picture illustration taken February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/Illustration/File Photo

April 16, 2019

By Aditya Kalra and Sudarshan Varadhan

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Google has blocked access to the hugely popular video app TikTok in India to comply with a state court’s directive to prohibit its downloads, a person with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.

The move comes hours after a court in southern Tamil Nadu state refused a request by China’s Bytedance Technology to suspend a ban on its TikTok app, putting its future in one of its key markets in doubt.

The state court had on April 3 asked the federal government to ban TikTok, saying it encouraged pornography and made child users vulnerable to sexual predators. Its ruling came after an individual launched a public interest litigation calling for a ban.

The federal government had sent a letter to Apple and Google to abide by the state court’s order, according to an IT ministry official.

The app was still available on Apple’s platforms late on Tuesday, but was no longer available on Google’s Play store in India.

Google said in a statement it does not comment on individual apps but adheres to local laws. Apple did not respond to requests for comment, while TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Google’s move.

TikTok, which allows users to create and share short videos with special effects, has become hugely popular in India but has been criticized by some politicians who say its content is inappropriate.

It had been downloaded more than 240 million times in India, app analytics firm Sensor Tower said in February. More than 30 million users in India installed it in January 2019, 12 times more than in the same month last year.

Jokes, clips and footage related to India’s thriving movie industry dominate the app’s platform, along with memes and videos in which youngsters, some scantily clad, lip-sync and dance to popular music.

Bytedance challenged the state court’s ban order in India’s Supreme Court last week, saying it went against freedom of speech rights in India.

The top court had referred the case back to the state court, where a judge on Tuesday rejected Bytedance’s request to put the ban order on hold, K. Neelamegam, a lawyer arguing against Bytedance in the case, said.

TikTok earlier said in a statement that it had faith in the Indian judicial system and was “optimistic about an outcome that would be well received by millions” of its users. It did not comment further on the judge’s decision.

The company however welcomed the decision to appoint a senior lawyer to assist the court in upcoming proceedings.

The state court has requested written submissions from Bytedance in the case and has scheduled its next hearing for April 24.

Salman Waris, a technology lawyer at TechLegis Advocates & Solicitors, said the legal action against Bytedance could set a precedent of Indian courts intervening to regulate content on social media and other digital platforms.

In its Supreme Court filing, Bytedance argued that a “very minuscule” proportion of TikTok content was considered inappropriate or obscene.

The company employs more than 250 people in India and had plans for more investment as it expands the business, it said.

(Additional reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal in Mumbai; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Susan Fenton and Jan Harvey)

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FILE PHOTO: Jet Airways aircrafts are seen parked at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi
FILE PHOTO: Jet Airways aircrafts are seen parked at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis

April 16, 2019

(Reuters) – The management of India’s Jet Airways has proposed to suspend all operations of the debt-laden airline at its board meeting, ET Now reported on Tuesday quoting sources.

Former Chairman Naresh Goyal has withdrawn from making a bid for a stake in the company, the television channel reported.

Jet Airways shares were down as much as 18.53 percent, their worst session since August 2015.

On Monday, the airline in a letter to its employees said it planned to extend its suspension of international flights until Thursday as it had not received any interim funding from lenders.

Jet has been grounding planes in recent weeks as lessors move to de-register and take back their aircraft, even as the company’s lenders sought expressions of interest in the carrier from potential investors.

Local media have reported that as many as six parties have submitted expressions of interest, though it is still far from clear if an acceptable bid will materialize.

Jet Airways did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

(Reporting by Chandini Monnappa in Bengaluru; Editing by Rashmi Aich)

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Suntory's chief blender Shinji Fukuyo smells Ao, Suntory's high-end world whisky, during its promotional event in Tokyo
Suntory’s chief blender Shinji Fukuyo smells Ao, Suntory’s high-end world whisky, during its promotional event in Tokyo, Japan April 4, 2019. Picture taken on April 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ritsuko Ando

April 15, 2019

By Ritsuko Ando and Martinne Geller

TOKYO/LONDON (Reuters) – Japan’s Suntory Holdings, faced with a whisky crunch, is selling a rare mix sourced from around the world as premium whisky, aiming to elevate the status of young blends among discerning drinkers who often swear by aged single malts.

Whisky makers globally, and in Japan in particular, have been forced to suspend some aged bottles in recent years as a surge in demand for mature whisky depleted stocks.

Last year, Suntory suspended the popular 17-year Hibiki – a glass of which Bill Murray’s character in the film ‘Lost in Translation’ famously promoted, saying “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time”. Now it sells online for 40,000 yen ($357) versus 10,000 yen some years ago.

In a bid to expand its options, Suntory, on Tuesday, started selling an unusual alternative, “Ao”, a no-age statement (NAS) blend made with whisky from Scotland, the United States, Ireland, Japan and Canada.

Priced at 5,000 yen per bottle, it is a five-country blend rarely ever tried by whisky makers, but possible for Suntory given the global assets at its disposal following its $13.6 billion purchase of U.S. spirits maker Beam in 2014.

While Ao will be sold exclusively in Japan, with 30,000 dozen-bottle cases being shipped this year, it will be closely watched by rivals across the $6 billion global industry as they too grapple with dwindling supplies of premium stocks.

Unlike other hard liquor such as vodka or gin, whisky needs to be aged in barrels over anywhere between three and 50 years, meaning producers must predict demand decades in advance. As a result, many have introduced NAS whiskies to manage supply.

Global distilleries including The Macallan, owned by Edrington, The Glenlivet, owned by Pernod Ricard, and Diageo’s Talisker have launched NAS variants in recent years.

Pernod says its NAS Founder’s Reserve has been a great success with a new generation of drinkers, becoming the sixth-biggest single malt Scotch globally in 2017 two years after it was launched, when there was a temporary shortage of The Glenlivet 12 Year Old.

    “Since then we have been working hard to future-proof this expression and ensure that supply is secured for the long term,” said Miriam Eceolaza, marketing director for malts at Pernod’s Chivas Brothers whisky unit, adding that Glenlivet 12 is back in some markets, such as Britain, with more to come.

Most NAS whiskies are priced modestly versus longer-aged whiskies, due in part to the industry’s success at persuading drinkers that older whiskies are better.

“It’s no mystery you can charge a lot for something with a very old age statement on it, but how can you add value to younger, NAS whisky, thus making it more profitable?” asked Chuck Cowdery, publisher of The Bourbon Country Reader.

“If you can make a valuable product from a larger inventory pool and be successful with it, that becomes more than just a prestige project. That’s something you can take to the bank.”

PRICING

However, whisky experts say it is hard to say whether a “world whisky” will catch on in the premium category.

Ao’s price is more than Chita, a no-age Japanese single grain, or a 10-year old Laphroaig, both owned by Suntory and available for around 3,400 yen online.

It also costs double rival Nikka’s From the Barrel, a malt and grain blend with no-age statement.

But some observers say Ao’s price does not look outrageous versus say the 63,000 yen Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Maduro blend – one of the few other bottles sourced from five countries but using older whiskies matured in French oak wine barrels.

Suntory, which started in 1899 by making and selling wine, denies “Ao” is a result of the shortage, although its executives said they wanted to expand the range of what is available. The company is private, but its food and non-alcoholic drinks arm, Suntory Beverage & Food is listed.

In addition to the Hibiki 17, Suntory last year halted sales of its 12-year Hakushu too, while rival Nikka, owned by Asahi Group Holdings, has also suspended aged single malts.

“It pains us that there are still limitations in supply, even though we have established increased production,” Kengo Torii, head of the Suntory’s whisky division, has said.

PROVENANCE

Ao’s launch comes amid growing questions around provenance, as loose Japanese regulations have meant imported whisky, when bottled or blended in the country, can be passed off as local.

With Ao, Suntory is aiming at transparency, while showing off its global assets and blending skills.

Suntory’s chief blender, Shinji Fukuyo, says he was initially wary of the assignment.

“I couldn’t at all imagine what it would taste like,” he told Reuters ahead of the launch, adding it took multiple trials to make the “Ao” blend.

Whisky from Alberta Distillers in Canada is Ao’s biggest constituent, followed by liquid from Jim Beam’s Clermont and Booker Noe distilleries. Scotland’s Ardmore and Glen Garioch, Ireland’s Cooley and Japan’s Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries contribute to a lesser extent.

Some whisky aficionados will always seek an age statement for sign of quality, Bernstein’s European beverages analyst Trevor Stirling said, adding that some high-quality blends, like the Johnnie Walker Blue, Green and Gold, deserve recognition.

“So there are some whisky snobs who say if it isn’t single malt I’m not drinking it … I think blended whiskies are unfairly looked down upon.”

(Reporting by Ritsuko Ando in TOKYO and Martinne Geller in LONDON; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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FILE PHOTO: A worker assembles an industrial valve at Emerson Electric Co.’s factory in Marshalltown Iowa
FILE PHOTO: A worker assembles an industrial valve at Emerson Electric Co.’s factory in Marshalltown, Iowa, U.S., July 26, 2018. REUTERS/Timothy Aeppel/File Photo

April 11, 2019

By Lucia Mutikani

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The number of Americans filing applications for unemployment benefits dropped to a 49-1/2-year low last week, pointing to sustained labor market strength that could temper expectations of a sharp slowdown in economic growth.

Other data on Thursday showed producer prices increased by the most in five months in March amid a surge in the cost of gasoline. But underlying producer prices remained soft, the latest indication of tame inflation pressures that strengthen the Federal Reserve’s decision to suspend further interest rate increases this year despite tight labor market conditions.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits fell 8,000 to a seasonally adjusted 196,000 for the week ended April 6, the lowest level since early October 1969, the Labor Department said. Claims have now declined for four straight weeks.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims would rise to 211,000 in the latest week. The four-week moving average of initial claims, considered a better measure of labor market trends as it irons out week-to-week volatility, fell 7,000 to 207,000 last week, the lowest level since early December 1969.

The labor market is the main pillar of support for the economy, which appears to have lost momentum in the first quarter as the stimulus from a $1.5 trillion tax cut package fades and a trade war between China and the United States and softening global demand hurt exports.

Nonfarm payrolls increased by 196,000 jobs in March, well above the roughly 100,000 needed per month to keep up with growth in the working-age population. The unemployment rate is at 3.8 percent, close to the 3.7 percent Federal Reserve officials project it will be by the end of the year.

U.S. stock index futures pared gains slightly after the data while Treasury yields rose. The U.S. dollar gained against a basket of currencies.

PRODUCER PRICES RISE

In a second report on Thursday, the Labor Department said its producer price index for final demand rose 0.6 percent in March, the largest increase since last October. The PPI edged up 0.1 percent in February.

In the 12 months through March, the PPI rose 2.2 percent after advancing 1.9 percent in the 12 months through February. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the PPI would climb 0.3 percent in March and increase 1.9 percent on a year-on-year basis.

A key gauge of underlying producer price pressures that excludes food, energy and trade services was unchanged last month after ticking up 0.1 percent in February. The so-called core PPI increased 2.0 percent in the 12 months through March. That was the smallest annual increase since August 2017 and followed a 2.3 percent rise in February.

Data on Wednesday showed consumer prices rose by the most in 14 months in March, driven by more expensive gasoline. But core inflation remained muted amid a plunge in the cost of apparel.

Slowing domestic and global growth are keeping inflation contained. Wage inflation has also been moderate despite a tight labor market.

Minutes of the Fed’s March 19-20 policy meeting published on Wednesday described inflation as “muted,” though officials expected it to rise to or near the U.S. central bank’s 2 percent target. The Fed’s preferred inflation measure, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, is currently at 1.8 percent.

The minutes showed some Fed officials believed the benign price pressures could be the result of low inflation expectations and also an indication that there was still slack in the labor market despite the very low unemployment rate.

Last month, wholesale energy prices jumped 5.6 percent, with gasoline prices shooting up 16.0 percent, the most since August 2009. Energy prices rose 1.8 percent in February.

Gasoline accounted for over 60 percent of the 1.0 percent rise in goods prices last month. Goods prices increased 0.4 percent in February.

Wholesale food prices rose 0.3 percent in March, reversing a 0.3 percent drop in the prior month. Core goods prices rose 0.2 percent after edging up 0.1 percent in February.

The cost of services increased 0.3 percent in March after being unchanged in the prior month.

Prices for healthcare services fell 0.2 percent last month after rising 0.3 percent in February. The cost of hospital outpatient services fell by the most since July 2014. Those healthcare costs feed into the core PCE price index.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Paul Simao)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Shoppers at a Walmart store in Chicago Illinois
FILE PHOTO: A customer shops for a turkey at a Walmart store in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski/File Photo

April 10, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer prices increased by the most in more than a year in March, but underlying inflation remained benign against the backdrop of slowing domestic and global economic growth.

The Labor Department said on Wednesday its Consumer Price Index rose 0.4 percent, boosted by increases in the costs of food, gasoline and rents. That was the biggest advance since January 2018 and followed a 0.2 percent gain in February.

In the 12 months through March, the CPI increased 1.9 percent. The CPI gained 1.5 percent in February, which was the smallest rise since September 2016. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the CPI climbing 0.3 percent in March and accelerating 1.8 percent year-on-year.

Inflation has remained muted, with wage growth increasing moderately despite tightening labor market conditions. The tame inflation environment, together with slowing economic activity, support the Federal Reserve’s decision last month to suspend its three-year campaign to raise interest rates.

The U.S. central bank dropped projections for any rate hikes this year after increasing borrowing costs four times in 2018.

Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI nudged up 0.1 percent, matching February’s gain.

In the 12 months through March, the core CPI increased 2.0 percent, the smallest increase since February 2018. The core CPI rose 2.1 percent year-on-year in February.

The Fed, which has a 2 percent inflation target, tracks a different measure, the core personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index, for monetary policy.

The core PCE price index increased 1.8 percent on a year-on-year basis in January after a rising 2.0 percent in December. It hit the Fed’s 2 percent inflation target in March last year for the first time since April 2012.

The February and March PCE price data will be released on April 29. The February data was delayed by a 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government that ended on Jan. 25.

Energy prices jumped 3.5 percent in March, accounting for about 60 percent of the increase in the CPI last month, after gaining 0.4 percent in February. Gasoline prices surged 6.5 percent after rising 1.5 percent in February.

Food prices gained 0.3 percent after accelerating 0.4 percent in February. Food consumed at home increased 0.4 percent. Consumers also paid more for rent. Owners’ equivalent rent of primary residence, which is what a homeowner would pay to rent or receive from renting a home, increased 0.3 percent in March after a similar gain in February.

Healthcare costs rebounded 0.3 percent after slipping 0.2 percent in February. Apparel prices fell 1.9 percent, the biggest drop since January 1949, after two straight monthly gains. There were decreases in the price of used motor vehicles and trucks, airline fares and motor vehicle insurance.

The cost of new vehicles, however, rebounded 0.4 percent after declining 0.2 percent in February.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

Source: OANN


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