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PostPosted: Thu Nov 09, 2017 9:35 pm 
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Will your store credit card survive 'retail apocalypse'?
By MELISSA LAMBARENA
November 9, 2017

Stroll your local mall and you may spot some empty storefronts where mannequins once stood draped in the latest fashions - possible casualties of what some have dubbed the "retail apocalypse."

Not everyone agrees it's all doom and gloom for brick-and-mortar stores, but challenges certainly exist. Major retailers have announced plans to close thousands of locations in the U.S., and the final tally for 2017 could number around 9,500 stores, according to projections from Fung Global Retail & Technology, an industry think tank.

But just because a store turns out its lights doesn't mean the end is also nigh for your store credit card. Its fate depends on the retailer's business plans and decisions made by the bank that issues the card. The better you understand the process, the better you can manage your credit and keep it in good standing.

WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN

The impact of a retail closure on store credit cards may vary by situation and issuer, according to David Boone, head of U.S. partnerships at TD Bank. TD Retail Card Services issues private-label credit cards, which can be used only at a particular store, as well as co-branded credit cards, which have a Visa or MasterCard logo and are widely accepted.

When a store closes, any of the following may happen regarding your store credit card:

- You have to shop online to use the card. If a store moves sales online, you can continue using your private-label store credit card on its website and making your payments online, or by phone or mail. Of course, this also means you may incur shipping costs. If your card is co-branded, it should still be accepted by most merchants.

- The card issuer offers you a new credit card. When a retailer goes out of business entirely, the rewards program eventually goes with it. "Most issuers will attempt to find a replacement product or reward value proposition for the customer," Boone says. Replacement products might include a cash-back credit card or one with a 0 percent introductory APR offer.

- The issuer closes your card. You store card may be shuttered completely along with the store. In this case, you might be notified about a rewards expiration date. Private-label credit cards are more likely to be closed because they can't be used anywhere else.

- The issuer sells your credit card account. Most banks, Boone says, would prefer to retain relationships with existing customers. But the issuer does own your debt and can therefore sell it to another issuer. If that happens, the new issuer is required by federal law to alert you to any significant changes to the terms with a 45-day advance written notice, according to Nessa Feddis, senior vice president for consumer protection and payments at the American Bankers Association. Keep your contact information updated in case an issuer needs to notify you about changes.

POSSIBLE IMPACT ON YOUR CREDIT

Regardless of what happens to your favorite store, you must continue making payments on your card or risk damaging your credit score. Your credit can suffer if you or the issuer close the account, but the impact depends on how long you've had the card and how much of its available credit you're using. Both are factors in popular credit-scoring models. "If a consumer closes a card that has a lengthy credit history, or one that represents a large part of their credit utilization, closing the account can have a large negative effect on his or her credit score," said John Danaher, president of consumer interactive at TransUnion, in an email. (TransUnion is a NerdWallet business partner.) If the card is newer or has a low credit limit, any negative impact "will likely be small and temporary," he adds. If an issuer closes your account, check your credit report to make sure it's documented correctly.

YOUR OPTIONS

You don't have to sit around and wait for the sun to set on your store credit card; you can seek out a better match. Many credit cards with broad acceptance also offer benefits such as rewards and introductory interest-free periods.

An application for a new credit card can ding your credit score because it triggers a "hard pull" from the issuer on your credit report. But it's generally a temporary dent, and it may be worth it if you find a card that works for you. Check your credit score in advance so you can apply for cards in your credit range and improve your odds of approval.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 15, 2017 10:56 pm 
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Butter shortage threatens to dampen France's Christmas fare
15 November 2017

There can arguably be no greater threat to the French way of life than a lack of butter.

For months France has been gripped by a slow burning panic that it is running out of the golden ambrosia, which is the base of croissants and pains au chocolat as well as the whole mouth-watering panoply of French patisseries. Supermarket shelves have been emptied of butter as shoppers worry they will have nothing to put on their breakfast tartines of toasted baguette, while worried bakers fear a "croissant crisis" as prices spiral. "We always loved butter, but we never knew how much," sociologist Remy Lucas, who specialises in people's relationship with food, told AFP. "Now we realise how important it is in our daily lives. Obviously we can replace it nutritionally but the idea that we might be without it is really unbearable," he added.

French people eat more butter per capita than anyone else in the world -- three times more than Americans -- yet still have among the lowest obesity levels of developed countries. Faced with mounting anxiety about having to go without butter, churn makers told AFP that enquiries from city dwellers who clearly had no access to dairy cows had soared, while a spate of YouTube videos showing people how to make butter have been viewed tens of thousands of times within days of going online.

"It's been a long time since I did a video which took off so quickly," said popular recipe blogger Herve Palmieri. "The last one that went viral with a few million views was ironically about how to make a chocolate cake without butter or sugar," he added.

Google said internet searches on how to make butter had rocketed 925 percent between September and October. Wholesale prices for butter more than tripled over the past year driven by rising demand in Asia, with Chinese consumers in particular reportedly developing a weakness for flaky, butter-rich croissants.

With many French supermarkets refusing to pay higher prices because they tend to fix them annually, butter has gone abroad. The drop in supplies has been accentuated by panic buying, with the safety net of the EU's once enormous butter mountain no longer there, having melted away to a mere one percent of its size last year.

Parisian baker Dominique Eury said he had never encountered such a shortage in the 44 years he has been manning his oven in the 17th district of the capital. "Ten days ago I could not get the butter or cream that I needed. Until now we have got by, what is really worrying me is the holidays. The world has gone mad," he said. Eury said he gets through twice as much butter during Christmas as he makes the traditional "buche" chocolate log dessert and the marzipan "galette of the kings" the French eat in January. With his suppliers only able to get their hands on 80 percent of the butter they want, Eury said he was putting stocks aside just in case of a crisis over the Christmas period.

The idea that they could make do with margarine is not something French bakers are prepared to contemplate. "We make everything with butter," said Arnaud Delmontel, who has four bakeries in the capital. Although he believes the shortage is not real, he complained that the rise in prices has become "unreasonable", and some of the butter he has received had clearly been frozen. "People are speculating and making a lot of money," he claimed.

Global demand for butter is outstripping supply, according to the US Department of Agriculture, as consumers turn away from vegetable-oil based products in search of something "safer". Butter's image as a cholesterol-choked dietary bad guy has changed radically in recent years. Many scientists now say it is "neutral" health-wise -- news that Time magazine celebrated with a 2014 cover proclaiming, "Eat butter".

All of which further reinforces the French emotional attachment to its creamy comforts, Lucas argued. Grandmothers in the buttery heartlands of Brittany and Normandy still use it as a cure-all for bumps and bruises and Lucas said this "brings us back to our childhood... to the intimate comforts and joy of butter at breakfast and in afternoon snacks. Naturally butter is something that makes us happy." "Until the shortage," he said, "butter was just something in our fridges. We had taken it for granted because we always had it, except during World War II."

Having to worry about getting enough was "shocking and paradoxical" to French people, the sociologist insisted. "In the 'Land of Butter' we find it extremely difficult to imagine that we can live without it."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 22, 2017 7:45 am 
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Food bank protest staged outside British PM's office
21 November 2017

LONDON (AFP) - Campaigners set up a food bank outside British Prime Minister Theresa May's Downing Street residence on Tuesday in a protest against austerity policies on the eve of a new national budget being announced.

The demonstration by the People's Assembly Against Austerity group saw crates carrying tonnes of tins, milk cartons and fruit juices piled up on the street as campaigners urged the public to donate. "The rich in this country are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer and poorer all the time," Tom Griffiths, one of the organisers, told AFP. "What we would like them to see is that austerity isn't working. They are talking about a strong economy but it's a strong economy for a very small privileged few," Griffiths said.

According to the Trussell Trust, which manages the vast majority of food banks in Britain, some 1.2 million emergency food packages were distributed during the 2016/2017 financial year. That was 29 times higher than in the 2009/2010 financial year just before budget austerity was imposed by then new prime minister David Cameron.

Faiza Shaheen, head of the Centre for Labour and Social Studies, said at the protest: "People are struggling. The levels of personal debt, in terms of household debt, are back to pre-financial crisis level, and that's what triggered the crisis in the first place. This is unsustainable, socially and economically."

Since coming to power in 2016 following the Brexit referendum, May has continued with austerity policies with the aim of reducing the deficit to below 2.0 percent of gross domestic product. The unemployment rate of 4.3 percent is currently at its lowest since 1975 but household purchasing power has been reduced because of higher inflation. A group of economists, including Nobel-winner Joseph Stiglitz, has appealed to Finance Minister Philip Hammond to announce an end to austerity when he reads out his budget in parliament on Wednesday. "We've reached a dangerous tipping point. Austerity has failed the British people and the British economy. We demand the chancellor ends austerity now," they said in an open letter to the Guardian on Tuesday.

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 23, 2017 11:07 pm 
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Turkmenistan currency crisis seen causing cola shortage
23 November 2017

ASHGABAT (AFP) - Fans of Coca-Cola in gas-rich Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat are complaining they can no longer "taste the feeling": their favourite drink has disappeared from shop shelves amidst a sharpening economic crisis.

"You used to be able to find it in every shop, but now only a few are selling it and the price has increased significantly," Mergen Kakayev, a 24-year-old taxi driver told AFP. "People say it is unhealthy, but I have never noticed. For me a good meal is a piece of hot naan bread and a glass of cold Coca-Cola," said Kakayev, who got hooked on the drink ever since it first appeared in the secluded country in the 1990s.

Turkmenistan has imposed increasingly draconian restrictions on foreign currency exchange as global prices for hydrocarbons -- over 90 percent of the country's exports -- collapsed in 2014. A spokeswoman for the drink's producer, Coca-Cola Icecek, which employs around 300 people in Ashgabat, told AFP by telephone it was "facing raw material supply shortages" due to "temporary hard currency conversion issues", but was not planning to leave the market.

Two shopkeepers in Ashgabat told AFP that the cost of Coca-Cola spiked shortly after the conclusion of the Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games Turkmenistan, hosted in Ashgabat in September. The sporting event backed by the Olympic Council of Asia emerged as a key theme in state propaganda and the government lavished $5 billion on an Olympic village for the event alone. Coca-Cola Icecek were among the sponsors of the games.

An AFP correspondent visited several shops in central Ashgabat where employees said that Coca-Cola was now too expensive to stock after the price for a half-litre bottle went from 1.5 to 4 manats ($1.14).

One Turkmen businessman who gave his first name Aigozel told AFP that he was able to withdraw just $50 daily from bank machines during his last trip abroad. The government last devalued its manat currency in January 2015 when it shaved a fifth off its value. But it still appears overvalued: while the official rate is one dollar to 3.5 manats, the greenback fetches over 8 manats on the black market.

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2017 8:13 pm 
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2,500 job losses as UK cigarette supplier collapses
28 November 2017

LONDON (AFP) - Britain's biggest cigarette wholesaler, Palmer & Harvey (P&H), collapsed into administration on Tuesday, with around 2,500 staff facing redundancy, its administrator PwC announced.

The 90-year-old company, which also provides alcohol, groceries and frozen food to 90,000 retail accounts -- including Britain's largest supermarket chain, Tesco -- failed in attempts to secure a buyer. The firm, which employs about 3,400 people, held exclusive takeover talks with the Carlyle Group in October, but the US private equity fund's offer of a significant capital investment in exchange for a controlling stake did not progress. It had also been working with stakeholders Imperial Brands and Japan Tobacco International in a bid to find relief from thin profit margins and a substantial debt burden.

PwC confirmed P&H, one of the largest British companies not listed on the London Stock Exchange, would immediately shed 2,500 jobs at the firm's head office in Hove, southern England, and branch network, with 900 remaining staff still at risk. Matthew Callaghan, joint administrator and PwC partner, said: "This is a devastating blow for everyone who has been involved in the business. "The administration team will focus on working with employees, clients and suppliers to facilitate a smooth and effective wind-down or transfer of operations over the next few weeks."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Wed Nov 29, 2017 5:16 pm 
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Clashes erupt as foreclosed property auctions resume in Greece
29 November 2017

ATHENS, Greece (AP) -- Greek police have used tear gas to hold back dozens of protesters trying to disrupt foreclosed property auctions that resumed after a hiatus of several months.

Protesters pelted police with trash cans, fire extinguishers and other items at the Athens courthouse where the auctions were taking place Wednesday. The auctions are a key component of Greece's bailout talks with creditors. They are seen as essential for banks to get a grip on the huge number of bad loans on their books. Greece's government has promised that primary residences worth up to 300,000 euros ($355,000) won't be auctioned off. But it has also dispatched police so that auctions can proceed, unlike previous times when protesters succeeded in halting proceedings. Moreover, online auctions were due to start for the first time Wednesday.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Thu Jan 25, 2018 4:51 pm 
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Spain's jobless number drops nearly half million in 2017
25 January 2018

MADRID (AP) -- Official statistics show the number of people out of work in Spain dropped by nearly half a million last year, further evidence of the country's resurging economy.

The National Statistics Institute said Thursday that 471,100 fewer people were unemployed at the end of 2017, making for a rounded total of 3.76 million. The unemployment rate finished at 16.6 percent, compared with 18.6 percent at the end of 2016. The figure is still the second-highest rate in the 28-country European Union behind Greece.

Unemployment in Spain peaked at 27 percent in 2013 before it began to emerge from a severe five-year financial crisis. The institute said the jobless number rose by 34,900 in the final quarter, raising the overall rate to 16.6 percent from 16.4 percent in the third quarter.

Source: AP

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 24, 2018 10:55 am 
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Venezuelan professor's worn out shoes bring wave of solidarity
24 July 2018

CARACAS (AFP) - Jose Ibarra is 41, has a masters degree, is studying for a PhD and works as a university professor, but thanks to Venezuela's economic crisis, he cannot even afford to have his shoes repaired.

Ibarra has become something of a social media hit after a tweet he posted in late June went viral. His tweet was a photo of a pair of black shoes with broken soles, accompanied by the message: "I'm not ashamed to say this: I go to the UCV with these shoes. My salary as a university professor is not enough to pay for new soles." The post has been re-tweeted almost 10,000 times, liked 5,400 times, and provoked nearly 1,000 comments plus a whole lot of goodwill.

Ibarra works at the Venezuelan Central University (UCV), the most important in the South American country, and earns 5.9 million bolivars ($1.70 on the black market) a month. In a country gripped by hyperinflation -- the International Monetary Fund projects will hit a mind-blowing one million percent by the end of this year -- that's barely enough to buy a kilo of meat but nowhere near sufficient to pay the 20 million bolivars necessary to get his shoes repaired.

Ibarra's story is a sorry reflection of the catastrophic effects Venezuela's collapsed economy has had on its people. Since he posted his tweet, Ibarra has received donations of shoes, clothes, money and hundreds of messages of support that led him to launch his "Shoes of Dignity" campaign to help other colleagues. "The tweet was an explosion of frustration. As hardly anyone was following me, I thought no one would see it," Ibarra told AFP. "But already I've received 12 pairs of shoes -- of which I've given away nine -- clothes and money. I created the movement because I kept receiving donations."

Messages and offers of help have come from far afield: Argentina, Colombia and even Spain. "We have a shoe shop in Colombia, we repair and make them. How can we send them?" said one Twitter message Ibarra received.

He has kept two pairs of used shoes and one new pair of trainers. He also gained 2,900 followers, more than 10 times the number he had before the tweet. Ibarra plans to give away some of the money he received to "the professors who need it the most so they can buy food," some of whom have "lost weight because they don't eat well." Some public university lecturers have intermittently gone on strike over the last three weeks, demanding improved wages.

Venezuela's economic crisis has had wide-reaching consequences on the country, which is dependent on its vast oil reserves, exports of which provide 96 percent of its hard currency revenue. Food and medicine shortages have hit the population hard but so, too, has a breakdown in public transport. Privately owned bus companies cannot afford to run their vehicles because passenger fares cannot cover maintenance costs such as replacing tires. A shortage of buses led President Nicolas Maduro's government to put on free transport in pick-up trucks known locally as "kennels", but that's been widely criticized due to safety concerns. It all means that people like Ibarra have been forced to walk where once they would have taken public transport, with his soles obviously bearing the added workload. "It's impossible to buy shoes. The money I have doesn't allow me to buy personal effects, not even food," said Ibarra. Lluvia Habibi, in charge of the store in which Ibarra tried to get his shoes repaired, told AFP that prices were high because raw material providers kept pushing up theirs.

Ibarra insists he's lost 15 kilograms (33 pounds) during the crisis and has had to rely on help from family and friends. After his infamous tweet, a friend in Mexico sent him money so he could "eat an ice-cream or pizza." Other members of his family have also lost weight and don't have the money to buy new clothes. It means an old sewing machine in his home gets used regularly to take in baggy clothing.

A study by leading universities, UCV included, found that poverty levels had risen to 87 percent of the population in 2017, with hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the country's crisis in recent years. Despite his travails, Ibarra won't be joining them, though. "Venezuela can be saved," he insisted.

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 19, 2018 9:59 am 
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Greece emerges from bailouts relieved, but not euphoric
19 August 2018

ATHENS (AFP) - The youngest Greeks may not be able to remember what life was like beforehand: the third and last of the country's international bailouts comes to an end on Monday, and while Greece is faring better, it still bears the scars of eight years of austerity.

After Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus, Greece was the last eurozone member to benefit from an international bailout programme in the fallout from the eurozone crisis. In three successive programmes -- 2010, 2012 and 2015 -- the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund loaned debt-wracked Greece a total 289 billion euros ($330 billion).

But the economic reforms its creditors demanded in return almost brought the country to its knees, with a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP) evaporating over eight years and unemployment soaring to more than 27 percent.

The economy is now expanding and the jobless rate in May was back below 20 percent for the first time since 2011. But "it would be arrogant to say that we did everything right in Greece", said Klaus Regling, head of the European Stability Mechanism, which is in charge of the current programme, in a German magazine interview last week. Regling told the online edition of the weekly Der Spiegel that he felt "tremendous respect" for the Greeks, whose salaries and pensions had been cut by as much as a third during the crisis.

Nevertheless, many economists, such as Theodoros Stamatiou of Eurobank, argued that while bailout programmes were "unavoidable" in a country lagging far behind in reforms, they were also too harsh. Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his then Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis tried to soften the terms of the second programme when they came into power in January 2015. But despite the resounding "No" of the Greek population to the international creditors in a public referendum, Tsipras -- faced with a possible ejection of Greece from the single currency area -- was compelled to sign a third bailout programme the following July.

Nonetheless, all of Greece's major political parties, including Tsipras's Syriza, are convinced of the need for serious reforms. Economics professor Nikos Vettas regards this as a favourable development and says that "nobody really thinks any more that Greece will collapse", a view that appears to be widely shared. But Toulouse University economics professor, Gabriel Colletis, is highly critical of the bailout programmes and believes Greece could be facing "inevitable social conflagration".

While the country achieved budget surpluses -- excluding debt repayments -- of around four percent in 2016 and 2017, its hands remain tied. Greece has already legislated new reforms for 2019 and 2020 and will remain under supervision for several years.

Still, this is a win-win situation and Greece will receive debt relief which the international ratings agency Fitch described as "substantial" as it upgraded the country's sovereign debt to "BB-" from "B". Even at that level, Greek debt still remains in the non-investment grade or "junk" category. But another ratings agency, S&P, last month raised its outlook for Greece to "positive," suggesting another upgrade could be coming soon.

The key question remains, however: whether, at 180 percent of GDP -- and the highest in the EU -- Greece's debt remains sustainable. The IMF, for one, is not convinced and, as a result, was only willing to take on observer status in the third bailout programme. Athens argues that -- as a result of the extended maturities for the loans decided by eurozone finance ministers in June -- its annual financing needs will remain below the critical threshold of the 20 percent of GDP. "Not only is Greece's debt not unsustainable, it is in fact highly sustainable", one official insisted.

The government estimates that its financing needs are now covered until the end of 2022, opening up room for it to plan its return to the capital markets. "The euro-area crisis is now long over... August 20 is the epilogue", ESM cief Regling told Der Spiegel.

Nevertheless, the improving economic indicators are not yet translating into tangible improvements in the day-to-day lives of Greeks. Economics professor Vettas believes it is "imperative" to generate "very strong growth" in the coming years. Otherwise, "households that are in a very weak position due to 10 years of cumulative recession will continue to suffer".

Against this backdrop, any triumphalism on the government's part about the ending of the bailout programmes would probably not go down well with the wider population. Especially in view of the deadly wildfires that killed 96 people near Athens just a month ago. According to government-friendly newspapers, premier Tsipras will simply give a televised speech on Tuesday.

On Saturday, Ta Nea, an opposition-friendly daily, summed up sentiment with its headline: "August 21st, zero hour. The bailout is over, the nightmare continues."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Sun Aug 19, 2018 10:09 am 
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Has the eurozone learned from its Greek odyssey?
19 August 2018

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Greece will formally turn the page on its debt saga this week, but the eurozone remains vulnerable to further crises, with economists particularly worried about the situation in Italy.

After eight long years and three austerity-heavy bailouts, Athens will on Monday formally leave the financial rescue umbrella of its creditors from the EU and International Monetary Fund. But while both European and Greek politicians have hailed its return to the markets as "historic" good news, serious challenges remain for the 19 countries that use the single currency.

"The Greek crisis has not been solved, it has just been postponed," said Charles Wyplosz, Professor of International Economics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. Athens will not even start to repay until 2032 the bulk of its huge debt, which remains at a colossal 180 percent of Greece's gross domestic product. In the meantime it is impossible to say where the country will be politically and economically.

The IMF has in recent months issued a series of warnings about the long-term sustainability of Greek debt despite the eurozone's latest arrangements to reduce it. Wyplosz criticised the EU's "spectacular cynicism" during the crisis. "The problems weren't solved but they pretended to believe they were." "One way or another it will explode. Greece will be in crisis again well before 2032."

"We have in no way resolved the problem of public debt, which remains large in Italy, Greece and Portugal, despite their efforts," warned Anne-Laure Delatte, deputy director of the French global economy research body CEPII.

European heavyweights France and Spain also have significant debt, which could further weigh down the eurozone. "Debt is a factor in vulnerability, which can be so violent that it passes onto the markets," added Delatte.

But other countries that have adopted the euro have seen their debt fall and so the single currency area is increasingly polarised between the "good students" and the others, with diverging interests. The first group back budgetary rigour and spending controls -- the second call for more solidarity.

Italy is becoming a serious risk for the eurozone because of its debt, its fragile banks, and above all because of a populist government that seems bent on confrontation with Brussels, say economists. "You've got a country with debt at 130 percent of GDP, serious internal problems, a dirty banking system, and now it's led by people who don't know what they're going to do. The threat is very clear," said Charles Wyplosz.

The new Italian government's economic strategy is still fluid, with contradictory signs coming from Rome. But the deadly collapse of a motorway bridge in Genoa last week saw clashes between Italy -- especially its far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini -- and the EU over its spending limits. "The eurozone doesn't have the tools or the institutions right now to deal with a serious Italian debt crisis," said Philippe Martin, a professor at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, who is close to French President Emmanuel Macron.

The debt crisis has allowed the eurozone to strengthen itself, particularly with the creation of the European Stability Mechanism, the bloc's bailout fund, and the reinforcement of so-called banking union, which sees the same rules for all banks. But the reforms remain unfinished and a push by Macron for further steps -- including a dedicated budget for the eurozone -- still face hostility from the austerity-minded north, which fears paying for the debt-ridden south. "I am not sure there will be agreement on what the euro should be," said Nathalie Janson, from the NEOMA business school in Rouen, France. "The euro has finally become a chaotic currency with permanent turbulence, whereas it was originally designed to guarantee stability."

Source: AFP

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 11, 2018 7:58 pm 
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Argentines seek soup kitchens, barter markets amid crisis
By ALMUDENA CALATRAVA
10 September 2018

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Men wait outside the metal-grill door of a soup kitchen in a slum, hoping to get a small serving of beef and mashed potatoes. At a barter market on the capital’s outskirts, a woman tries to persuade another to exchange for her granddaughters’ tiny shoes.

Argentines are struggling in crisis in what was once one of the world’s most prosperous nations. Consumer prices are soaring, unemployment is high and the Argentine peso has plunged, bringing back haunting memories of the country’s economic meltdown in 2001 that pushed millions into poverty.

A growing number of people arrive at the “Happy Kids” soup kitchen in the Villa 1-11-14 shantytown, where servers try to stretch out steaming pots of stew because many more than expected are lining up for food. “The city government gives us money for 440 rations a day, but we’re being forced to prepare smaller portions so that we can cover 600 rations,” said Cintia Garcia, who runs the soup kitchen.

A series of events battered the economy. First, a severe drought damaged crop yields in the world’s third-largest exporter of soybean and corn. The situation worsened beginning in the first quarter of 2018 as world oil prices increased and then interest rate rises in the United States led investors to pull dollars out of Argentina. That caused jitters among Argentines, who have stashed away dollars as a cushion since the 2001 economic implosion, and a rush to buy scarcer dollars pushed the peso’s value down. Despite several interest rate hikes by the Argentine Central Bank, the peso has lost more than half its value in less than a year.

President Mauricio Macri had to seek a $50 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. Last week, he announced a series of austerity measures, including new taxes on exports and the elimination of several government ministries. He said he would allocate more economic aid and strengthen food plans for poor Argentines. With unemployment around 9 percent and consumer prices surging, some Argentines are again turning to barter clubs, which first emerged during the collapse nearly two decades ago.

The tumbling peso has pushed up prices for fuel and, in turn, transportation costs. That has affected food prices in a country where most grains and other goods are transported in trucks. Inflation is expected to reach an annual rate of more than 40 percent this year, the Central Bank says. “To make doughnuts a month ago, I used to spend 150 pesos (almost $4) for oil and seven bags of flour. Now it’s more than 400 pesos,” complained Gladys Jimenez. Jimenez, who is from Paraguay, is one of those who rely on the “Happy Kids” soup kitchen in Villa 1-11-14, a slum crowded with tens of thousands of Argentines and immigrants from neighboring countries.

The price of beef has also increased in one of the world’s top meat-consuming countries. Nicol Alcocer, a teenager who attends an educational workshop where the food is distributed in the slum, said that previously she would eat roast every Saturday. “Now it’s every four months,” she said.

The rapid fall in the peso brings frequent boosts in the prices charged by vendors, leading to anger. Some slum dwellers recalled that when the peso recently fell to 40 to the dollar, they lined up at small local stores but the owners refused to sell to them. “I told my husband: ‘Let’s go buy.’ People were all riled up seeing that businesses were closed,” said Martina Bilbao. “I remember the looting of 2001 ... and I think it’s going to happen again.”

The crisis 17 years ago was so bad that one of every five Argentines was out of work and more than half of the population fell into poverty. The peso, which had been tied to the dollar, lost about 75 percent of its value. Banks froze deposits and barricaded behind sheet metal as thousands of protesters unsuccessfully tried to withdraw savings. More than 20 people died in protests and looting that swept Argentina in December 2001 as Latin America’s third-largest economy unraveled and eventually defaulted on a debt of more than $100 billion.

The current economic woes are far from that collapse. But analysts say that poverty, which affects about a third of the population, will rise this year, and the economy will take a dive. Those forecasts are far from the promises of Macri. The conservative president took office in 2015 vowing that he would revive Argentina’s weak economy and end poverty. Although his market-friendly reforms were initially praised by international investors, who said they laid the groundwork for growth, they also brought pain to the country’s poor and stoked labor unrest. Since taking office, he has laid off thousands of state workers and cut energy subsidies, sending utility bills and bus fares soaring. Macri also dropped the previous government’s foreign exchange controls, ushering in the sharp devaluation of the peso.

Many of Argentina’s poor live in slums known as “misery villages,” where they often lack access to transportation, running water or sewage. Argentina’s northern regions have chronically high rates of child malnutrition, even though the country remains a top global grain supplier. On a recent day, dozens of women gathered at a barter market in the outskirts of Buenos Aires to trade everything from pants and cosmetics to toys, bags of rice and cooking oil. “We’ve gone back to the same as before. We’ve gone back to bartering,” said Lucia de Leon, who had a table where she offered to trade canned food and used shoes.

Source: AP

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