Posts tagged "Asia"

Asia curbs US imports of wheat after genetically modified sample found

Billions in food exports at stake following disclosure by US Department of Agriculture of the existence of the GM wheat

The discovery of rogue genetically modified wheat in a farmer’s field in Oregon shook global confidence in the safety of America’s food supply on Friday.

Billions in food exports were potentially at stake following the disclosure by the US Department of Agriculture of the existence of the GM wheat plants.

The GM variant, developed by the agricultural giant Monsanto, has never been approved for human consumption.

The discovery in Oregon, about a decade after field trials ended in that state, raised concerns among the main buyers of America’s wheat abroad, as well as an increasingly active GM movement at home.

The European Union advised member states on Friday to test some wheat shipments from the US. The EU imports more than 1.1m tonnes of wheat a year.

Asia was also shutting its doors to American wheat imports. South Korea, which last year imported half of its wheat from the US, cancelled imports, following Japan’s lead. Thailand puts its ports on alert. China and the Philippines said they were closely watching the USDA’s investigations into the GM escape.

“It’s going to be a pretty serious blow to all wheat farmers. I would imagine probably the price of wheat is already going down some,” said Fred Kirschenmann, a senior fellow at the Leopold Centre for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University, who himself farms 2,600 acres of organic wheat.

“It is definitely going to have an impact because it is right at the time when there is increasing concern about GM and food so this is not going to be good news for the wheat farmers.”

Food safety and environmental groups have grown increasingly active campaigning for greater disclosure of GM ingredients over the last several months.

Vermont, Connecticut and New York are all pursuing laws to require GM labelling – a move furiously resisted by Monsanto and the other big biotech firms.

Kirschenmann said the outbreak could play into public concerns about being given a greater say over whether they choose to eat GM foods, or avoid them.

Others argued the escape in Oregon offered a reminder – yet again – of the enormous difficulties of truly isolating GM products from the food chain.

“This is potentially the tip of the iceberg,” said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a senior scientist at the food and environment programme for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Where people have looked, they have found contamination occurring. But a lot of the time no one is looking,” he said.

The Government Accountability Office in a 2008 report described six outbreaks of GM crops into the US food and feed supply.

Gurian-Sherman noted a few more since then. In almost all of those instances, there were only trace amounts of contamination.

But he said the recurrence of such incidents suggested that the standards, which were below those in Europe, were too lax. “The contamination is very low, considerable less than 1%,” he said. “But even with that caveat, I don’t think people should have a lot of confidence that there hasn’t been contamination events.”

Agricultural companies, such as Monsanto, carry out about 1,000 trials of GM crops every year, often at multiple sites across the country. In any year, companies can be testing GM cotton and feed crop, as well as food, including fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes.

Monsanto in 2011 applied for new permits to test another variant of GM wheat in Hawaii and North Dakota.

“When you add all that together I wouldn’t be surprised it there hadn’t been some other experimental gene that leaked out of some other crops and had been carried along with nobody testing for them,” said Gurian-Sherman.

The government is investigating how the GM wheat plants arrived in that Oregon field.

Monsanto in a statement on its website said it would with the authorities, and that there was no health risk from the outbreak.

“Monsanto will work with the US Department of Agriculture to get to the bottom of the reported genetically modified wheat detection, there are no food, feed or environmental safety concerns associated with the presence of the Roundup Ready gene if it is found to be present in wheat,” the company said.

GM variants are now the norm in US corn, cotton and soybeans, making up virtually all of the soybean crop last year. By some estimates, about two-thirds of US processed foods contain some GM ingredients.

But GM wheat never gained a foothold because of widespread public resistance, and Monsanto did not pursue efforts for its commercial development.

However, the company conducted widespread testing of GM wheat in 16 states between 1998 and 2005. The last such test fields in Oregon were planted a decade ago in 2001, the USDA said.

Those decisions could now return to haunt the US, said Danielle Nierenberg, founder of The Food Tank. “We have spent a lot of time in the last few years putting China and other countries down for food safety issues, but we are messing with people’s faith in the food system here,” she said. “The US has a long history of claiming we have the safest and most abundant food system in the world and this undermines that.”


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Posted by admin - May 31, 2013 at 20:34

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Invensys rail sale shows investor dreams can come true | Nils Pratley

Siemens’ £1.7bn for signalling division may seem over-priced but for long-view German shareholders its a shrewd price

Invensys got a corker of a price from Siemens for its rail signalling division, everybody agrees. And it’s true that £1.7bn in cash looks like silly money for a business that made operating profits of £116m last year on turnover of £775m.

Invensys’ share price rose by a third in response for good reasons. The deficit in the group’s pension fund is more than eradicated; shareholders can have £625m directly; and there’s even a few hundred million left over to invest, assuming nobody turns in the interim to bid for what remains – essentially a controls division and a software automation business.

So how come shares in Siemens didn’t slump after this supposed display of German financial indiscipline? Well, Siemens is a giant company, so even an “overpriced” £1.7bn deal can get lost in the wash, especially when it’s unveiled on the same day as other re-jigs, including a sale of unwanted odds and ends. Even so, Siemens shareholders clearly don’t think their management has lost its marbles in making Invensys investors’ dreams come true. Siemens’ share price actually ticked upwards modestly.

This may be a classic case of German shareholders being less sniffy than their British counterparts about long-term “strategic” deals. Paying 15 times operating profits looks other-worldly on City yardsticks – but it really depends on your horizon. Siemens wants to be in the rail signal business for decades. It likes the resilience of the earnings, the 15% profit margins, and the chance to expand in growing markets in Asia. In half a decade’s time, £1.7bn may not look so wild.

Invensys had to do the deal, of course. The chance to clear the pension headache – the consequence of being born from the marriage of former industrial titans BTR and Siebe – was too good to miss. Nor was Invensys even remotely in a position to start buying rail-signalling rivals itself. But the Germans may still have the last laugh.


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Posted by admin - November 29, 2012 at 23:36

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Austerity is here to stay, and we’d better get used to it | Martin Kettle

We think we know all about the rise of Asia and the decline of the west. But we’ve barely begun to grasp what it really means

As workers across the European Union went on protest strike today, it was hard to disagree with the trade union leader who told the BBC that austerity economics isn’t working. “It’s increasing inequalities. It’s increasing the social instability in society. And it’s not resolving the economic crisis,” she said.

All of that is true and serious. Addressing those things is fundamental. But we are going to have to get used to austerity. Because relative scarcity, and the need to do more with less, are not going to go away in a hurry. Austerity is remaking our world. The point is to make the best of it. Welcome to 21st-century Europe.

Today’s quarterly inflation review by the Bank of England is merely the latest in a series of indicators that remind governments and peoples across Europe and beyond that the old days are simply over, done, finished. Recovery would be sustained but slow, said the Bank. The economy was sluggish. The environment unfavourable. Things might be weaker for longer.

The message is hard to miss. Times have changed. The only thing that is certain is further uncertainty. We may have come out of recession again, but the idea that Britain, let alone the countries of the eurozone, can expect to see any resumption of the kind of growth rates to which we have all been accustomed since the second world war, is increasingly fanciful. We are living through not a downturn but an epochal change, and we need to make a more consistent effort to understand what this implies.

The most interesting news story of the last week – which was nothing to do with the BBC and made few of the newspapers – illustrates what is at stake. During the next 50 years, according to a newly published OECD growth report, the world economy is expected to grow at about 3% a year. Most of that growth, however, will be in Asia and the developing nations. Growth in Europe, including the UK, will be much less robust – and will often actually decline.

Got that? Growth in Britain will often decline over the coming half-century. It will not resume. We can talk all we like about stimulus and investment, as Labour did today in its latest denunciation of George Osborne, quite rightly in its way. But, during the next 50 years, growth is going to be halting and uneven and will sometimes be negative. Just like now, in fact.

The OECD said something else, too. As the world economy grows, it reported, our European share of it will decline. Economic power is shifting to China, whose economy will outstrip that of the eurozone next year and of the United States before Barack Obama leaves the White House in 2016, as well as to India. Without wishing to fall into mercantilist heresy, this means that while the world will have more, we will have less of it – and maybe less in real terms, too. We are confronting scarcity of a sort we have forgotten.

It is tempting to read a report like the OECD’s and say, yeah yeah, we all know all that stuff about the rise of Asia and the decline of the west. And maybe we all do. But probably only at a rather theoretical level. For most of us, relative decline is something we read about but don’t think about until it hits us on the head. Most of us have barely started to grasp what it may mean for our living standards and our politics.

And not just in 50 years’ time, either. These large shifts are already under way. Their impact is now, as well as later. Just look around the world this week.

In China, a nation where annual growth in the last 20 years has never been less than twice that of Europe, even when Europe was thriving, a new leadership is seamlessly introduced for another 10-year span.

In Europe, by contrast, a series of weak leaders, vulnerable to democratic rejection of a sort with which Xi Jinping will not need to concern himself, struggle to assert some degree of control over a floundering currency and unification project. Meanwhile in the US, a re-elected but domestically weak president faces a series of defining political battles over spending and taxes, with only limited chance of achieving radical outcomes, even if that is what he wants.

Smart leaders should recognise that austerity in some form is the context for most of the foreseeable political options in countries like Britain. As a timely American book on this theme this year by Thomas Byrne Edsall argues, scarcity will remake US politics as rising expectations meet diminishing resources on a global scale. The same is true in a different context in Europe. That does not mean there is no alternative to relentless fiscal consolidation, or that all austerity strategies are the same as all other austerity strategies. The opposite is true. But it does mean that political parties in economically developed countries no longer have the same breadth of spending options as they did.

This is not a defeatist but a realistic assessment. It is not necessarily all bad news for the centre left, either. Although the 20th-century social democratic project may have stalled amid economic decline, the financial crisis has undoubtedly opened up a fresh opportunity to redefine the terms on which the rich and poor can coexist without social unrest in times of greater scarcity.

Ed Miliband appears to believe this. So – in an interesting break with the past that illustrates the new options – does a new pamphlet this week from the Blairite group Policy Network. But the hope is likely to prove optimistic if the left simply shouts the old mantras.

Clearly, though, the right is more comfortable in such times. But there is a huge difference between the slash-and-burn right in America and the more collectivist right in Europe in the way they respond. It was significant that George Osborne was so quick this week to align himself with Barack Obama’s re-election victory. Obama’s win, said the chancellor, is proof that incumbent governments can win re-election in economically weak times.

He is right about that. Osborne’s touch may have deserted him recently, but he has the huge advantage of being alive to the context and politics of these new times in ways that the left across Europe is still struggling to match.


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Posted by admin - November 14, 2012 at 23:14

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The tribal grunts of left and right will not rescue us | Simon Jenkins

From the gulf between rich and poor, to welfare reform, old arguments are failing to find answers for a world in flux

Politics has never been so fascinating. It drips from the ceiling. It oozes up through the floor. It reeks across the internet. Reading politics, being informed about it, participating in it, should be the compulsory national service of the 21st-century state. Yet never can the toolkit of political debate have been so empty and the task of understanding the world so titanic.

America has just undergone a monumental exercise in democracy. But no one can now tell whether the result means that the country will decline into “singularity” or soar to a new supremacy. Nor can anyone say whether America has “turned left”, merely by sticking with Barack Obama and rejecting Mitt Romney. All that happened was that the Democrats persuaded more minorities to come out and vote, while an awesome debt remains.

Across the Pacific, China is progressing its epic experiment in non-democratic revolution. The outcome must have huge significance for other “half-free” states in Asia and Africa. Western visitors moan, with more than a touch of hypocrisy, about China’s civil and human rights. But it is like Britons complaining about the Paris streets during the French revolution.

Elsewhere in Asia, the Muslim world is no less engrossing, enmeshed in a cultural upheaval with which few westerners can sympathise or engage. The only certainty is the fragility of reform and the counter-productivity of outside interference. We do not know what we should do, but feel some ancient “white man’s” urge to do something.

In Europe, the political agony is no less acute. The continent seems fated to resume the turmoil between nationalism and supra-nationalism of the first half of the 20th century, albeit on an economic rather than a military plane. As in China, a grand experiment in sub-continental governance faces its greatest test. The refusal of the Brussels elite to see danger in federal union, notably in imposing a single currency on disparate states, is subjecting Greeks and Spaniards to a savage and punitive poverty. One more attempt to create a pan-European empire is turning into the financial equivalent of “bombing them back to the stone age”.

Most Britons still respond to these issues by turning to some “blue remembered hills” in their political upbringing. They fish about in their pockets, take out an ancestral slide-rule and read off the answers from left to right according to taste.

This no longer works. Tories and Labour may bang the antique drum in parliament and print, but they have no idea how to drag the economy back from recession. Standing Keynes on his head, both parties went along with deficit expansion during the boom, and now champion deficit reduction in recession. It makes no sense, yet appears immune to its failure to work.

The welfare consensus may hold, but austerity has denied both left and right any coherent policies on pensions, families, housing, schools, planning, energy or law and order. Not even badgers and ash trees are spared the resulting hesitancy. The right has no answer to the widening gulf between rich and poor. The left has no answer to the chronic need for welfare targeting and means testing. When the right makes changes to health policy, housing subsidies or deregulation, the left howls. When the left proposes higher property taxes or fewer prisoners, the right howls. These are mere tribal grunts.

The one industry to benefit from all this is global risk aversion. America’s defence and security establishment, now employing one in five US workers, seems to be the tail that wags every dog, foreign as well as domestic. No presidential hopeful in the 2012 election dared advocate a cut in defence, despite America facing a big deficit and no conceivable threat to its security or integrity.

Risk aversion in Britain has a more imperialist tinge. A craving for a “world role” echoes in the interventionism of David Cameron and Ed Miliband, both platitudinising about “what we want to see” and “punching above our weight”. Bereft of the old lodestars, politicians of left and right become the “useful idiots” of sectional groups and commercial interests. Across Europe the game is now going to those who know exactly what they really want, to separatists, racists, tax evaders, securocrats and lobbyists. In the kingdom of the blind the beady-eyed are free.

For all this, I do not find the collapse of an ideological route map depressing. I rather find it exhilarating, difficult and important. The world’s great conflicts may be of unprecedented immediacy, but they are not immovable objects facing irresistible forces. They are part of the churning cauldron of human affairs.

I believe – through some rational gene – that these conflicts are best resolved through the creaking mechanism of democracy. But, as China apologists such as Martin Jacques are writing with growing plausibility, this is neither a complete answer, nor one likely to be adopted everywhere. When this week Obama implied that God is an American, I felt very uncomfortable. It was the sort of claim made by the pre-Reformation church.

The right response is not to surrender to the complexity of it all. It is not to agree with the Zen master who said, “The struggle between ‘for’ and ‘against’ is the mind’s worst disease.” It is to lie down with a cold compress on the head and plunge ever deeper into the struggle. That is what America’s voters have just done in all their craziness. Whatever the society and whatever the risk, the citizen’s one duty is always to argue the toss.


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Posted by admin - November 8, 2012 at 21:05

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Life ambitions? Creating space for social enterprise in Singapore

‘Purpose-driven individuals’ have taken the Singaporean innovation space by storm – and the sector is growing

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” That is probably the most common question I would get from any family member, friends of family and head-patting adults in general. It was a question that I enjoyed answering when I was 10. The possibilities were endless. But I also wondered why adults like asking that question. Was it because they found a need to keep up with our fleeting, fantastic answers, or was it that they like to reminisce on what could have been for themselves?

Alas, as I go through adult life, something happens along the way that will eventually rob us of our inherent propensity to imagine, and the courage to create. Call it the education system, parents or the economy, but throughout our educated years, we have been asked to conform – to defined career paths, fixed thinking models, and prescribed paths to make a living, not a life.

This is more prevalent in Asian countries where Confucian values of obedience and collectivism may be revered. This makes it tough for myself and others to come “alive”. The risk of blind conformity is that – a life of unfulfilled potential and unfound purpose.

But to come alive is like trying to succeed in a start-up. Many environmental factors are needed to increase that probability. Just like starting a venture, the first step is often the hardest, it takes courage and a level of stubbornness. Once taken, the rest as they say, is history. Life’s excitement and possibilities are taken to the next level.

In 2010, while working at the Skoll Foundation in Palo Alto, California, I came across The HUB in San Francisco. It was then a 10,000 sq ft space in the old San Francisco Chronicle building. In that space were about a hundred entrepreneurs and non-profit leaders, impact investors and ecosystem builders, innovators and students co-working on their own ideas, building ventures that have positive impact on the world. Some were chatting animatedly, others were attending start-up workshops. At one corner, an investor was being pitched to, and at another, a team was in a conference call to Ghana. Collectively, it was a kind of energy that could make anyone believe that anything is possible, and that it is fine to live by your passion and do some good for the world, even at a young age. I soon found out that The HUB is a global network of community, co-work space and events platform for individuals and teams who are using entrepreneurial approaches for sustainable impact. It existed in 30 cities, but there was none in Asia. Shocking.

After 400 coffee chats and eight months of endless hours of space-finding, fundraising and community-building, Asia’s first HUB was founded in May 2012, in Singapore. I picked Singapore because of its new found hunger to be innovative and more so, to be a hub for social innovation. Also, if done well in Singapore, the region will follow.

But Singapore has its own challenges. For decades, success has been rudimentarily defined through a capitalistic lens and where its success as a nation is rooted in its efficiency and conformity – it is said to be the world’s richest nation by 2050.

Entrepreneurship and living by one’s passion was traditionally frowned upon. The doors of The HUB Singapore have been opened for five months to a throng of what we call “purpose-driven individuals”. They range from technicians to social entrepreneurs, film-makers to bankers, Googlers to Linked-Iners. It is not a space for any one discipline, but for any discipline. The intention becomes the main filtering question to be a Hubber – not status, educational qualifications, wealth or profession. The 5,400 sq ft space in the middle of Orchard, Singapore’s main lifestyle and entertainment street, has quickly become the home for the outliers. At 200-membered strong, companies, foundations and government agencies are starting to come to The HUB for entrepreneurial ideas, to meet with Hubbers and to have a casual chat over Chris’s coffee (we have an in-house barista cafe led by former broker, Chris).

The vision is for the community to grow to 1,000 members in two years. That is 0.0002% of the 5-million-strong population. A drop in the ocean, perhaps, but most movements, ecosystems and innovations start with a small group of individuals. The HUB seeks to be that incubator of new thinking models, unconventional career paths, novel solutions and big ideas. It is a safe place for both failures and successes.

The common curse of individual conformity is the assumption that choices are finite to the availability of existing choices, when the advancement of progress and humanity relies on choices that have not yet been imagined. As adults, can we not embrace the endless possibilities we felt as kids?

Grace Sai is the co-founder of The Hub Singapore, a community and space for purpose-driven individuals, and the founder of Books for Hope, a social enterprise in the field of childrens’ education. Grace will be speaking at the Emerge conference this weekend (27-28 October)

This content is brought to you by Guardian Professional. To join the social enterprise network, click here.


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Posted by admin - October 23, 2012 at 08:07

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Eurozone’s rollercoaster ride unsettles Asia

Europe may have stopped shopping for Chinese and Japanese goods but the crisis offers Asia a knockdown sale of assets

Frustration at the eurozone’s failure to end its rollercoaster ride of recovery and crisis is palpable in Asia. Leaders from China, Japan and South Korea to Indonesia and the Philippines are desperate for the key eurozone countries to fashion a solution that makes life less traumatic and more conducive to trade.

Asian nations have weathered the global economic crisis better than most, but concerns are growing that a prolonged European recession will start to take its toll, particularly if commodity prices continue to decline.

Japan, which has embarked on a massive reconstruction effort after last year’s tsunami, was expected to recover strongly, but European consumers have stopped spendingforcing down Tokyo’s growth to 1.4% in the second quarter. China has also recorded a steep decline in demand for its goods, pushing down its usual double-digit growth rate to 7.8%.

Of the two, Japan is more understanding towards Europe, although frustration is palpable when conversation with government officials turns to the question, “what next for the eurozone?”.

One explanation for the diplomatic attitude could be found in Japan’s application for a free trade deal with Europe. China has one and so does South Korea, but Japan has been slow off the mark. Criticism of European leaders could harm negotiations. Moreover, Japan is not well placed to lecture others about debt, with a debt-to-GDP ratio far worse than Greece, at about 200%.

Chinese officials, on the other hand, have publicly raised concerns about the negative effects of the financial crisis in the west.

Chief among Beijing’s complaints is the west’s reliance on cheap money printed by central banks. Chinese officials are also aghast at the perceived dithering by their European counterparts.

“The way the eurozone has handled the debt resolution issue has been more problematic,” said Jin Liqun, chairman of the supervisory board at the China Investment Corporation. “Too much time has been wasted on debates over the terms and conditions of piecemeal bailouts. Political leaders have been digging in on their own agendas, with their objectives pulling in different directions.” He added: “I’m afraid to say that frailty, thy name is leadership”.

The European Central Bank has refused to follow the quantitative easing programmes of the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England, although it has supplied funds to local banks, which in turn have loaned the money to their governments.

The expansion in the money supply has depressed the value of western currencies and raised the value of Asian currencies, China and Japan’s among them, making their exports more expensive.

Naohiro Yashiro, an economics professor at the International Christian University in Tokyo, says the Japanese and Chinese governments could easily support the eurozone by selling some of their loans to the US government and buying eurozone debt. “Selling the dollar, and buying the Euro bond should be basically neutral to the exchange rate,” he said.

A switch from US Treasury bonds to bonds designed to support indebted countries would bring down borrowing costs and, arguably, give political leaders the confidence they need to reform the currency union and end the crisis. There would be the risk of leaving a safe haven (the US) for a risky project (propping up the euro) but it would be self-fulfilling such is the combined power of China and Japan. It would also prompt a surge in world trade, of which China and Japan would be the chief beneficiares.

Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, supports plans to buy European bonds and effectively increase loans to the eurozone. Japan was one of the first to buy the rescue bonds launched by Brussels and the European Central Bank, although the $430m it committed is small compared to the size of the problem.

But under the surface, Asia is focusing on the opportunities to be had – after hundreds of years of colonialism, buying Europe on the cheap is an opportunity not to be missed. The Chinese have busied themselves buying Greek, Italian and Portugese ports and utilities at knockdown prices.

The Japanese advertising company Dentsu recently bought the Anglo/French marketing group Aegis for £3.2bn. More takeovers are expected.


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Posted by admin - October 18, 2012 at 08:34

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Eurozone crisis live: Markets rally after QE3, as euro ministers meet

Shares have surged in Asia and Europe following the new round of quantitative easing announced by the Federal Reserve last night.




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Posted by admin - September 14, 2012 at 09:18

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Burberry can’t bank on China’s love of luxury – or the rest of the world’s

Investors are slow to let go of the happy notion that wealthy Chinese consumers are God’s gift to European luxury goods retailers

The brief period in which go-go Burberry was worth more than dowdy Marks & Spencer is over, at least for a while. Burberry’s stock market fans have learned an uncomfortable fact: the rich aren’t buying expensive frocks, coats and handbags like they used to. Same-store sales have been falling in recent weeks. Cue a 21% plunge in the share price.

The fan club was warned but didn’t listen. In her July update, chief executive Angela Ahrendts made all the usual boasts about strong “brand momentum” but also included the dreadful phrase “a more challenging external environment.” That should have caused the highl rated shares to stall. Instead, they climbed 15% higher over the course of the next month. Bizarre. Investors, it seems, are slow to let go of the happy notion that wealthy Chinese consumers are God’s gift to European luxury goods retailers.

As it happens, Burberry thinks the weakness in its sales extends well beyond China – the rest of Asia, Europe and the Americas are all affected. If anything, that’s more alarming for immediate prospects since global trends are harder to buck than regional ones.

If a proper storm now follows, there is a limit to how far Burberry can protect itself. Staff have been to told to curb their international travel and rein in publicity jollies (the poor dears). But the heavy corporate expenditure is on stores and it’s too late now to cancel plans to expand space by 13% this year, including the addition of big new shops in London’s Regent Street, Chicago and Hong Kong.

But perhaps Ahrendts wouldn’t wish to anyway. She’s shifted sales from the fiddly wholesale channel to flagship retail shops, and the formula is clearly right for the long term. But it means there is little alternative but to ride out the storm. The company thinks it can still hit the low end of City forecasts for pre-tax profits of £407m this year (up from £376m a year ago). But it’s the following two years, when the City is still expecting steady 10% profts increases, that now look a serious struggle. We’re seen this plot before: when the luxury market turns, it tends to turn sharply.


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Posted by admin - September 11, 2012 at 23:04

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Gatwick plans further investment as turnover and passenger numbers grow

Gatwick’s boss says airport will continue to invest in becoming viable alternative to Heathrow as Asia routes fuel growth

Gatwick airport plans to reinvest its profits to challenge Heathrow, with one eye on a future second runway, its chief executive has said.

Stewart Wingate, the airport’s chief executive, said its upgraded level of service was attracting long-haul airlines from south-east Asia and helping to give Britain the kind of connectivity business leaders say it needs.

Wingate was speaking as the airport announced underlying earnings up 16.9% to £221.5m – although after spending on upgrades actual losses were £48.6m.

The £200m investment in facilities over the last year included enhanced entrances to the south terminal, a north terminal extension that improved check-in facilities, new security lanes and waiting rooms at gates.

Wingate said: “We have been winning new connections to high-growth economies. Now we’ve upgraded the level of service we can see more long-haul airlines coming in.”

Hong Kong Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Air China and Korean had all started services at Gatwick in the last year, he said.

He claimed that Gatwick was now London’s best-connected airport, serving more destinations than Heathrow, with 230 routes to more than 90 countries with 90 different airlines.

Wingate said that while a new runway was not currently on the table, Gatwick had consulted local companies and residents over proposals to add one after 2020. An agreement from 1979 between the previous owners, BAA, and West Sussex council rules out any expansion of Gatwick before 2019.

“We’re safeguarding land to preserve the option of a second runway, as we’ve always said. We’ll also abide by the 2019 agreement that prohibits a second runway.”

He said, however, that “out to 2030 we explore two scenarios, with one or two runways. The business community is very supportive and keen for additional capacity and growth – balanced by some communities, particularly those impacted by noise, being concerned by any future growth.”

Turnover for the financial year 2011-12 was up 8.6% to £517.4m. Underlying passenger growth was up by an estimated 3% – the actual figure of 6.9% was distorted by the disruption from the previous year’s ash cloud.


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Posted by admin - June 25, 2012 at 18:19

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Administrators axe 180 Coryton staff

PricewaterhouseCoopers says 180 of Essex oil refinery’s 500 permanent staff will be made redundant next week

Administrators in charge of Britain’s largest independent oil refinery at Coryton are to axe 180 staff amid warnings that it is “highly unlikely” the plant will survive in its current form.

PricewaterhouseCoopers said approximately 180 of the site’s 500 permanent staff will be made redundant next week following the cessation of refining activities.

“The administrators have been clear there would likely be a substantial number of redundancies from the 500-strong workforce. The administrators met with staff and announced that approximately 180 staff will be made redundant next week,” said PwC. “Conversations will take place over the following days with affected individuals. Following cessation of refining activities last week, the programme to safely wind down operations at the refinery continues.”

PwC said it was still in talks to sell the site, but played down the chances of it being sold as a functioning refinery, despite interest from a former Russian energy minister. Igor Yusufov, who served under Vladimir Putin, is the only suitor interested in maintaining the Essex site as a refinery, in the face of competition from Shell, which wants to convert Coryton into a storage facility that will employs a fraction of the plant’s current workforce. Including contractors, Coryton employs 850 people.

“The administrators are continuing to work with various parties who have expressed an interest in acquiring the Coryton site. It is highly unlikely, however, that it will be sold as a refinery,” said PwC. Last week Coryton staff lobbied the Department of Energy and Climate Change to help save the bankrupt business, but Decc has refused to use state aid to rescue the site, indicating that it has no long term future as a refinery. Decc has also reassured motorists that Coryton’s closure will not affect petrol supplies in the south-east, even though it supplies about 20% of the region’s fuel.

Linda McCulloch, national officer at the Unite trade union, said: “The administrators are moving far too fast with their redundancy programme, when we understand negotiations with a possible bidder are still taking place. There is a very strong case for short-term state aid to be provided by the government until a viable buyer is found.”

Coryton, owned by Swiss company Petroplus, has struggled in the face of overcapacity in Europe and competition from new sites in the Middle East and Asia. Any would be-buyer must also commit to a multimillion pound capital expenditure programme to overhaul the refinery, a 59-year-old fixture of the south Essex landscape.


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