Thursday, May 31, 2012
Grimacing in pain with almost every step, Andy Murray nearly had to call it quits Thursday because of a bad back at the French Open.
Instead, the fourth-seeded Brit rebounded from an awful first set to beat Jarkko Nieminen 1-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2 and reach the third round.
Murray could barely walk straight when the match started on Court Philippe Chatrier, gingerly trotting around the red clay with the equivalent of a big target on his back. Nieminen took advantage, at the beginning.
But after losing the first four games, Murray called for a trainer. He then broke back to 4-1, and needed more treatment during the changeover.
The first set was over quickly, and Murray took yet another break for treatment. That one really seemed to do the trick.
Despite being broken to open the second set, Murray started to move better and make his shots count. By the time he broke back to even the score at 4-4, Murray was the one getting stronger.
Last year, Murray injured his right ankle at the French Open, but he still made the semifinals. This year, he skipped the Madrid Open with a back problem and said it was still affecting him after a three-set loss to Richard Gasquet in the third round of the Italian Open.
It clearly bothered him Thursday, but he still managed to come through.
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova also reached the third round, beating Urszula Radwanska of Poland 6-1, 6-3.
The fourth-seeded Czech was never really tested on Court Suzanne Lenglen, saving all three break points she faced.
Kvitova secured her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon last year, and then won the WTA Championships. Although she has yet to win a title in 2012, she is seeded fourth in Paris and is expected to go deep into the tournament.
"I don't have any expectation. I know that last season was great for me, and it will be very tough to have similar result as last year," Kvitova said. "So I know this season will be very tough with the pressure and with everything else."
Radwanska is the younger sister of third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who reached the third round on Wednesday by beating seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams.
Later Thursday, second-seeded Maria Sharapova was to face Ayumi Morita of Japan, and defending champion Li Na was to play Stephanie Foretz Gacon of France. Also, defending men's champion Rafael Nadal was scheduled to be action against Denis Istomin of Uzbekistan. Nadal is looking for a record-breaking seventh title at Roland Garros.
For Roger Federer, setting records on the tennis court is becoming ho-hum.
The perks that come with them, like dining with Queen Elizabeth II, are the things to really remember.
"Yes, I have had lunch next to the queen - with the queen, basically," Federer said. "Big honor, obviously ... Thank God, she came."
Federer beat Adrian Ungur of Romania 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3 Wednesday in the second round. With the win, the 16-time Grand Slam champion broke a record he shared with Jimmy Connors for most career victories at major tournaments in the Open era, which began in 1968. He is now 234-35 in tennis' top four tournaments, an .870 winning percentage.
But he was less than his dominant self, wasting two match points in the third set before losing the tiebreaker.
"Instead of being aggressive, I let him show me what he could do," Federer said. "He played two beautiful shots, and then I started not playing very well."
Novak Djokovic also advanced to the third round, as did top-seeded Victoria Azarenka of Belarus.
Google is adding a new entree to its menu: free restaurant ratings from the Zagat review service.
Zagat, which Google bought in September, was charging $25 annually or $5 monthly for online access to its survey of diners. Those diners have rated about 35,000 restaurants in more than 100 cities around the world.
The reviews will be available for free on Zagat.com as well as several services on Google's website as part of a change announced Wednesday.
"Now, the world's highest-quality reviews are available to more people, whether they are at their desks or on the go," Zagat founders Nina and Tim Zagat wrote Wednesday on their Google Plus social-networking page.
Zagat will still charge $10 a year for using an application designed for Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iPad, although Google indicated it may eventually drop that fee. After a six-month free trial, Zagat charges $25 annually to see reviews on its app for mobile devices running on Google's Android software.
The Internet fees helped protect sales of the burgundy-colored guides that Zagat has been putting out since its 1979 inception.
For now, Zagat still intends to publish the guides, which were listed Wednesday on Amazon for $8.75 to $16.
Google Inc. acquired Zagat for $151 million in September to compete against Yelp's popular online rating service. Google and Yelp Inc. are battling to attract more traffic to spur more sales of ads to neighborhood merchants.
Yelp explored a possible sale to Google for a reported $500 million in 2009 before deciding to go its own way. The two companies have since become prickly rivals, driven by Yelp's allegations that Google rigs its search results to favor its own services over its competitors.
The Federal Trade Commission is looking into the complaints lodged against Google by Yelp and other Internet companies as part of a broad antitrust investigation.
The decision to turn Zagat into a free online service comes as part of Google's expanded local business listings in its search results and the Plus service. The overhaul is being billed as "Google Plus Local" as the company continues to promote a social networking alternative to Facebook's popular online hangout.
A search request for a restaurant that has been reviewed by Zagat will now trigger a listing that includes a breakdown of the service's ratings. Zagat's scoring system provides separate ratings on a 30-point scale for the quality of food, decor and service in a restaurant.
The new business listings, which will also appear on Google's online mapping service and mobile device applications, will also include any pertinent recommendations from within a user's contacts on Plus.
Microsoft will ship Windows 8 Release Preview today, several days earlier than expected, according to a blog briefly posted by the company.
Earlier, Microsoft had promised to deliver the Release Preview the first week of June, a timeframe that most, including Computerworld, assumed meant the week of June 4-8. But the company must have thought differently, figuring that Friday, June 1, qualified this week as the month's first.
The late-May debut of Release Preview meshes with a schedule spelled out in March by Michael Cherry, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft, who said that the Redmond, Wash. developer would deliver the build three months after the Consumer Preview, with a "release to manufacturing," or RTM, edition three months later.
According to Cherry's calendar, Microsoft had to deliver Windows 8 Review Preview by the end of May and RTM by the end of August. RTM is the more important of the two yardsticks, as it's the point at which code is made available to device manufacturers for prepping new PCs.
Microsoft has not yet announced a launch date for Windows 8 or prices for the OS, but analysts expect the revamped Windows to debut in October and at prices identical to Windows 7.
Unlike traditional release candidates -- which are feature complete, in that all final features are included -- Windows 8 Release Preview is unfinished.
Two weeks ago, Microsoft acknowledged that it was ditching the "Aero" user interface -- familiar to users of Vista and Windows 7 -- in Windows 8, but would not unveil most of the new look and feel in the Release Preview.
Chan's post, the first on a new blog called "Windows Hardware and Developer," did not say what time today the Release Preview would be available for downloading. The Release Preview will be available here.
Microsoft will presumably post additional information about the Release Preview, including installation instructions, alongside the download.
In the last two weeks roughly 170,000 Britons have joined Facebook, according to marketing firm Socialbakers. That's equivalent to the population of Swansea signing up for the social network, which floated on Wall Street on May 18th.
The share price has since fallen below $30, leading to the IPO being described as the worst major flotation in a decade. The days since then have been filled with articles obsessing over the position of the stock price and asking what that says about the future of Facebook. Meanwhile, the site continues to grow and its 900 million users keep coming back.
Investor and entrepreneur Paul Kedrosky told The Atlantic magazine this week: "Confusing the trainwreck IPO with the company's fortunes is classic market myopia, getting caught up in short-term drama and forgetting what was interesting in the first place."
That's not to say there aren't legitimate concerns about Facebook's future. The countries in which growth is highest are mostly poorer, which means less profit per user for Facebook. And the social network admitted before its IPO that it had struggled to make money from mobile users, which is a problem because users are increasingly likely to use Facebook on their mobile phones.
When the New York Times reported this week that Facebook was planning a mobile phone of its own, nobody was that surprised. This is Facebook's third attempt at creating a mobile phone, according to an anonymous New York Times source, and the company has been recruiting engineers who have worked on Apple's iPhone in a bid to make the project a success this time.
Europe's first "Intel Inside" smartphone has been unveiled by the telecoms firm Everything Everywhere.
The handset is powered by Intel's single-core Atom Z2460 processor and runs Google's Android system.
It was manufactured by the Chinese firm Gigabyte, but will be marketed under EE's Orange brand.
The launch marks Intel's entry into a market dominated by chips based on designs by British firm Arm Holdings.
It will go on sale on 6 June in the UK - where it will be called San Diego - and will be released in France shortly after. There has been no announcement as yet for other markets.Growth market
The handset is the third Intel-based smartphone, following the launch of Lava's XOLO X900 in India in April and the Lenovo LePhone K800 in China on Wednesday.
Intel has also partnered with Google's Motorola Mobility division with devices scheduled to launch in the second half of the year.
Sales of mobile devices are growing at a much faster rate than PCs and some analysts believe the dividing line between the two sectors will blur, so success could be critical for Intel's future.
"This is part of our strategy to grow into what we refer to as adjacent markets, whether that be premium high performance smartphone products in the mature markets or lower cost solutions in some of the emerging markets, and everything in between," Graham Palmer, Intel's country manager for the UK and Ireland told the BBC.
"This is absolutely a core part of Intel's strategy to allow us to take our technology into these new growth sectors."
He added that his firm had worked closely with Google and other developers to ensure apps designed for ARM-based phones would be compatible and run at desired speeds on the Atom chip.
"Our intent is that all applications will run seamlessly on the Intel-based phone," added Mr Palmer.
"A huge amount of effort has been put in already to make that completely transparent to consumers."Mid-range model
Intel and EE are co-funding a multimillion pound marketing campaign - the first to promote an Orange's own-brand device on television.
Despite the big budget the handset is not targeting the top end of the market.
It has a 4.03 inch (10.2cm) screen - smaller than HTC and Samsung's top-end Android models - and runs the Gingerbread version of the system software, rather than the newer Ice Cream release.
Intel said the single core CPU (central processing unit) on its chip outperformed many dual core models on the market, but admitted it would be beaten by recently released handsets featuring quad core technologies.
However, it also sells for a cheaper price: £200 for the pay as you go option.
"It's not about going head-to-head with a [Samsung] Galaxy S3," said Paul Jevons, director of products and devices at Everything Everywhere.
"In targeting those customers who may be new to smartphones and are at a different point in the market we are able to meet an unsatisfied need."
One tech industry watcher expressed surprise at the move.
"In the PC world Intel's brand is associated with the high performance," said Malik Saadi, principal analyst with Informa Telecoms and Media.
"Yet San Diego is positioned as entry level. I don't understand why they have done that, it seems like the wrong decision."Intel everywhere
Unlike most mobiles, the chip designer's branding features heavily.
An Intel Inside logo appears after Orange's when it starts up, and the US firm's insignia also features at the top of the device's screen, its rear and on a screensaver.
Although this might appear unusual, Mr Saadi said this could soon be the norm.
"At the moment there is a rush towards multiple core processors - consumers are aware that more cores means more power and are asking for that," said the analyst.
"Chipmakers have noticed this trend and are now becoming keen to promote their brands.
"Last year Qualcomm announced a branding strategy to promote its Snapdragon chips, and Intel obviously now wants to migrate its campaign from PCs to mobile devices. So expect chips as brands to become more important over the next few years."
Nordex SE (NDX1), a German wind-turbine maker, rose the most in almost a week in Frankfurt trading on speculation a U.S. decision to impose duties on wind-tower imports from China will benefit the company.
Nordex climbed as much as 5.3 percent, the biggest jump since May 25, after the U.S. Commerce Department set duties of as much as 26 percent on Chinese products. The stock traded up 4.6 percent at 3.21 euros as of 12:37 p.m. Frankfurt time.
The U.S. decision “is the only possible reason for the share-price increase,” said Heinz Steffen, an analyst at Fairesearch GmbH in Kronberg, Germany.
The U.S. released preliminary results yesterday of a probe into a claim by the Wind Tower Trade Coalition that its members are harmed by subsidies on Chinese products. The new duties may be a boon to European rivals such as Nordex, Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS)and Gamesa Corp. Tecnologica SA (GAM), which face shrinking profit margins as Chinese production exacerbates a supply glut.
While Hamburg-based Nordex generates most of its sales in Europe, the company last year benefited from wind-energy investment in the U.S., where it won a contract from BayWa AG to supply a 30-megawatt project in Texas in December.
Growth of turbine installations in the U.S., the second- biggest market after China, may tail off next year with the possible loss of a tax credit, the Global Wind Energy Council said last month.
“The U.S. needs to prolong or set up new incentives or the growth in the U.S. will collapse,” Steffen said today.
Italy's high level of taxation is "incompatible" with strong economic growth and the country must cut public spending to fund lower taxes, Bank of Italy Governor Ignazio Visco said on Thursday.
In a keynote speech to the bank's annual assembly, Visco also urged Mario Monti's technocrat government to take every opportunity to sell state assets to cut Italy's massive public debt, equal to around 120 percent of output.
While tough austerity measures had been necessary to try to head off a mounting debt crisis, "we have nonetheless paid the price of raising the tax burden to a level incompatible with rapid growth," Visco said.
Italy has been in recession since the middle of last year and its benchmark borrowing costs, which fell steadily after Monti took office in November to below 5 percent, have risen in recent months to dangerously high levels of 6 percent.
"The scope for reducing the public debt by selling assets in the public domain must be exploited to the full," Visco said.
Monti has so far made little use of privatisation in an austerity drive that has been made up largely of higher taxes.
Visco said that economic contraction this year would hopefully be limited to around 1.5 percent, a more downbeat projection that the government's -1.2 percent forecast, but more upbeat than the -1.9 percent seen by the International Monetary Fund.
Visco also had clear advice for Italy's banks, which he told to cut costs and streamline oversized boards, warning that they would find it hard to counter current low profitability by expanding their volume of lending.
"Bank mergers and acquisitions have not been followed up by sufficient streamlining of groups' organization or reduction in the number of board members," he said.
Visco said the 10 largest banking groups had a total of 1,136 board positions, without counting foreign units.
"Such arrangements are costly in themselves and are not justified by the professional expertise needed to effectively manage banks," he said.
For those unwilling or unable to shell out on these expensive automobiles, the bicycle might be an affordable alternative. With the same standards and quality that we would associate with car manufacturing the bicycle also looks fantastic. The 2012 Mountain bike Enduro, will be loaded with a new Crank Brothers wheel set, thus improving downhill performance due to its superior stiffness. The Fox 32 O/B trail fork will have a travel of 140mm (5.5 inches), adjusting from the 150mm model that existed in the 2011 version.
Despite looking mightily similar to this previous version, there are a lot of adjustments that have been made to improve upon things. Among these is an improved frame, despite weighing the same. The bike comes in metallic black with a bright green contrast on the saddle.
The Touring Bike range has also received an overhaul. The Suntour NCX-D-26" suspension fork with 75mm (2.9 inches) of travel has been implemented, as has the Fox Float RP2 BV boost valve remote shocks on the Mountainbike Cross Country model. New colour combinations have been rolled out and a radial and cross-spoked pattern on the Cruise Bike offering extra stability whilst also looking very much the part.
As for pricing, the bikes are obviously less expensive than a car or motorcycle, but they do still come across as expensive - though they are packed with quality as is expected by BMW. Prices begin from €899 and accelerate upwards to €2,750 for the adult sizes.
Germany's unemployment rate dropped below 7 percent in May, the labor agency reported Thursday, as Europe's largest economy performed well despite problems in the eurozone. However, the labor market's momentum showed signs of slowing.
The jobless rate fell to 6.7 percent in May from 7 percent in April, with the total number of people registered as unemployed down 108,000 to 2.86 million — the lowest level since December. Compared with May 2011, there were 105,000 fewer Germans without jobs.
ING economist Carsten Brzeski noted that the May drop was the weakest month-on-month improvement in that month since 2002.
In seasonally adjusted terms, the drop in the unemployment rate was shallower — to 6.7 percent from 6.8 percent.
"At first glance, today's numbers illustrate the strength of domestic demand, at least partly cushioning the German economy against the negative impact from the debt crisis," Brzeski said in a research note. "At second glance, however, signs are increasing that the resilience of the German labor market is slowly cracking up."
Germany's economy has grown by 3 percent or more in each of the last two years, and returned to unexpectedly strong growth of 0.5 percent in this year's first quarter after contracting in the last three months of 2011. However, business confidence recently dropped after several months on the rise, suggesting that Germany isn't immune to the eurozone debt crisis.
Brzeski said it appears that the unemployment rate is now close to its natural level, and that further significant drops would require new structural reforms.
"The German labor market is losing momentum but this is not yet a cause for concern — at least not for this year," he said. "With a new boost from the latest wage settlements, domestic demand might not be a strong, but definitely an important, growth driver."
Manufacturing and public-sector workers have won strong wage increases in recent negotiations.
As Spain’s third-biggest bank asks Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government for 19 billion euros ($24 billion), international investors are tallying the potential cost for the rest of the industry and betting he won’t be able to foot the bill. With foreign investors shunning Spanish debt, leaving national banks to fund the government, the nation’s 10-year borrowing costs compared with Germany’s are near a record.
“The problem for Spain is that they can’t simply finance all this by issuing debt,” said Edward Thomas, who helps manage $6 billion as head of fixed income investment at Quantum Global Wealth Management in Zug, Switzerland. “It’s a perfect storm for Spain, with more banks now being sucked in.”
Spain needs to bail out lenders still reeling from the collapse of the real-estate boom while its own access to funding increasingly depends on domestic banks being kept afloat by the European Central Bank’s refinancing operations. Rising borrowing costs are putting pressure on Rajoy’s five month-old government to join Greece, Portugal and Ireland in seeking a rescue that would be the European Union’s biggest.
The yield on Spain’s 10-year government bond climbed 21 basis point to 6.63 percent yesterday, close to the euro-era record of 6.78 percent hit on Nov. 17. By contrast, the yield on Germany’s two-year bond fell to zero as investors forgo a return in exchange for safety amid Europe’s escalating crisis.
Spain is facing a credibility problem because of doubts generated by Bankia about “the size of that hole in the banking system,” said Andrew Bosomworth, a money manager at Pacific Investment Management Co., in a Bloomberg Television interview on May 29.
“They know what to do. I think it’s the consequences of doing it -- how do the markets react if Spain applies for official external finance,” said Bosomworth, adding that experience of bailouts for Greece, Ireland and Portugal had been like a “kiss of death.”
An EU and International Monetary Fund rescue for Spain that covered the government’s gross funding needs through the end of 2014 and included 75 billion euros to recapitalize banks could amount to about 350 billion euros, David Mackie, chief economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in London, wrote in a report on May 30.
It’s not clear whether Spain would be able to seek a bailout just for its banks. While the European Commission yesterday backed Spain’s view that euro’s permanent rescue fund should be able to sidestep governments and recapitalize banks directly, Germany continues to oppose the idea.
Views vary on how long Spain, which is twice the combined size of Greece, Portugal and Ireland, can hold out. The Treasury faces its heaviest bond redemptions for the year in October, when 20 billion euros of debt comes due. External auditors are due to publish a stress test on Spanish banks in June, followed by a more detailed report that will make clear how much additional capital banks may need.
“We have to wait for the outcome of the independent audit and that could certainly be another trigger,” Tobias Blattner, a European economist at Daiwa Capital Markets in London, said in a telephone interview.
Some investors aren’t waiting for those reports and instead are using Bankia as a benchmark for the rest of the industry, ignoring Economy Minister Luis de Guindos’s view that Bankia is a “specific” case.
Jose Ignacio Goirigolzarri, the former second-in-command at Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA (BBVA) brought in to run Bankia, went beyond the requirements of de Guindos’s two banking decrees in his cleanup of the group, setting aside provisions for residential mortgages and loans to companies outside the real- estate industry.
If that became the benchmark, lenders including CaixaBank (CABK) SA and Banco Popular Espanol SA (POP) may not be able to cover the shortfall from the profit they generate, Santiago Lopez, an analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, said in report on May 29. That may mean another 45 billion euros of taxpayers’ funds may be needed for the industry, he said.
“Everyone will do their numbers based off Bankia, but what these guys are trying to do is put the bank on a good footing to make money going forward,” said Inigo Lecubarri, who helps manage about $300 million at London-based Abaco Financials Fund, adding that other banks in Spain aren’t in Bankia’s position.
International Investors Flee
Goirigolzarri’s numbers also undermined the government’s credibility as his 19 billion-euro bailout request came two weeks after de Guindos had said 15 billion euros would be enough for the whole industry to meet his latest decree on bank rules.
Foreign investors are responding by selling Spanish bonds. They held 37 percent of the total in April, down from 50 percent at the end of last year, while Spanish banks increased their holdings to 29 percent from 17 percent, Treasury data show.
Even as Rajoy repeated on May 28 that Spanish banks won’t need a European bailout, bond yields continue to move toward the 7 percent level that tipped Greece, Portugal and Ireland into rescue programs. Yields have risen 70 basis points since Bankia was nationalized. A basis point is equivalent to a hundredth of a percentage point.
“I was always worried that there was a risk that Bankia could become a sort of vortex,” said Luis Garicano, a professor at the London School of Economics in a phone interview. “I hope that can be avoided.”
Consideration of licenses to export natural gas from the U.S. will have to wait until the completion this summer of a study that has been delayed for several months, according to the Energy Department.
Since Cheniere Energy Inc. (LNG) received an Energy Department permit to ship gas from Louisiana last year, the agency suspended other applications and commissioned a study of the impact of exports on domestic energy consumption, production, and prices.
The first part of the study was published in January, while the second, initially scheduled to be ready in the first quarter of this year, has not been completed.
“The second part of the study, which will assess the broader economic effects of increased natural gas exports, is ongoing,” William Gibbons, an Energy Department spokesman, said in an e-mail yesterday. “We expect to be able to release the comprehensive study results late this summer.”
The assessments were initiated after complaints from several U.S. lawmakers, including Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, who said sales overseas might increase prices at home.
U.S. energy companies are concerned about the costs related to the delays, said Bill Cooper, president of the Washington- based Center for Liquefied Natural Gas, which advocates for natural-gas shipments. Even after the study is published, it’s not clear how quickly permits can be issued, he said.
“We don’t have any time frame on that at all,” Cooper, said in an interview. “It’s just totally up in the air.”
Investors including Sempra Energy (SRE) in partnership with Mitsubishi Corp. (8058) and Mitsui & Co. Ltd. (8031), Freeport LNG with Macquarie Group Ltd. (MQG), and Dominion Resources Inc. (D), have applied for approvals from the Energy Department.
The permits are required to sell to countries that aren’t free-trade partners with the U.S., a group that includes Japan and Spain.
Trade in gas that has been liquefied for transport surged 50 percent last year as Japan sought to replace lost nuclear power output and demand from the rest of Asia increased, according to the Paris-based International Group of Liquefied Natural Gas Importers. The nation imported 79.1 million tons of LNG last year, 12 percent more than a year earlier, according to the importers group.
Japan’s 54 reactors were shut pending safety checks after last year’s meltdown at Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501)’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant in the northeast of the country. A government panel said on May 12 that the world’s third-largest economy may experience power shortages and blackouts this summer.
Japanese paid $16 per thousand cubic feet, 32 percent more than a year ago, to attract supplies in the first quarter, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.
Those prices are attractive to producers in the U.S. where natural gas on the New York Mercantile Exchange was $2.503 per million British thermal units in the first quarter, an equivalent of $2.57 per thousand cubic feet. U.S. natural gas prices declined 79 percent over the past four years, following the increase in production from shale formations.
"JP Morgan Chase is spinning out the 'special investments group' from its troubled chief investment office as executives clean up the division that caused $2 billion trading losses," the Financial Timesreported citing a source.
The overhaul is part of a broader audit of risk-taking and risk controls at the bank, the report noted.
Special investment group, which was not implicated in the CIO's trading losses, would be moved to the US bank's corporate division and prevented from seeking fresh investment opportunities, the report said.
Special investment group's unit include wireless internet provider, LightSquared, which has filed for bankruptcy protection, it added.
Matt Zames, who replaced Ina Drew as head of the CIO, has decided his division should be refocused on basic asset-liability management. Besides, Norma Corio, a 30-year veteran of the bank, would continue to run the group.
"Exotic activity including the private equity investments and the sorts of risky credit derivatives positions that caused the $2 billion losses, have been banned," the daily said.
Automaker Volkswagen AG is giving its employees in Germany a 4.3 percent wage raise over the next year, in line with a recent deal for other German manufacturing workers.
The 13-month pay agreement for some 102,000 workers reached Thursday runs from June 1 through June 2013.
Volkswagen chief negotiator Martin Rosik said the company and the IG Metall industrial union "kept in view the fact that competition in the automobile industry is accelerating rapidly."
Germany's economy, Europe's biggest, grew strongly over the past two years - thanks partly to exports of cars and machinery. This year, unions demanded hefty pay increases.
IG Metall initially sought a 6.5 percent raise. The Volkswagen deal is in line with a settlement it reached two weeks ago for other manufacturing sector workers.
If you thought it was boring to follow politicians on Twitter, here’s an inspiring example of how lucrative just one click can be. The Venezuelan president has granted a house to the lucky young lady who became the 3 millionth follower of his tweets.
Nineteen-year-old Natalia Valdivieso, who lives on Margarita Island in Venezuela, could hardly imagine her click to “follow” the chavezcandanga would turn into such a juicy affair.
On Wednesday a delegation led by a member of the ruling party visited Natalia to inform her that she will soon have a new house.
The girl seems to be luckier than Chavez’s 2 millionth Twitter follower, who only got a PC from the president in 2011.
Natalia said she loves Chavez and sends him salutary kisses so that he can regain his health. “He always inspired me and I adore his vigor,” the young lady announced.
The Venezuelan president was diagnosed with cancer in 2011. On Thursday a report was released by US journalist Dan Razer, who says Chavez, 57, has an aggressive cancer that has "entered the end stage."
The report quotes a “highly-respected source close to Chavez and who is in a position to know his medical condition” and, according to the source, Chavez is now not expected to live "more than a couple of months at most."
The Venezuelan leader has undergone three operations in less than a year, and received two sessions of radiation treatment. He says the latest surgery was successful, that he is recovering well and will be fit to win a new six-year term at an election in October.
Israel has handed over to the Palestinian Authority the remains of 91 Palestinians who died carrying out attacks against Israel,some of whom died more than 40 years ago.
The transfer began before dawn, when Israel formally gave the bodies to the Palestinians at a location near the West Bank city of Jericho, with 79 of them immediately transferred to Ramallah, and the other 12 sent to Gaza.
Special ceremonies will be held later, before the bodies are buried again.
According to Israeli media, Hamas will hold a full military service for the remains in Gaza, with each coffin receiving a 21-gun salute. They will then be shuttled to various towns for burial.
In Ramallah, rows of coffins have been draped in Palestinian flags outside President Abbas's compound ahead of a ceremony later today.
The dead are considered martyrs by Palestinians, but terrorists by Israelis, and their remains are used as bargaining chips, he says.
Earlier this month Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails agreed to end a mass hunger strike, which had been going on for more than two months.
More than 1,500 Palestinians had been refusing food to demand an improvement in conditions.
There were fears of a violent Palestinian backlash, had any of the inmates died.
New reports filed this week suggest that the an attempt to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad orchestrated by French and Saudi governments was recently abandoned after US President Barack Obama refused to involve America in the attack.
Sources reporting to the Debka news agency in Israel say that a Franco-Saudi plan to oust Assad from his rule in Syria was all but implemented in recent weeks, but the White House’s reluctance to offer US assistance eventually eroded what chance existed for ending Assad’s rule.
According to military and intelligence sources reporting to Debka, a complex plan relying on air strikes and bombardment from the sea was believed to be on the table. When prompted to add US manpower to aid in the attack, however, President Obama repeatedly refused to get involved.
Specifically, the Franco-Saudi plan called for 12 hours of air strikes on Assad’s presidential palace northeast of Damascus that would be accompanied by American fighter jets launched from a US aircraft carrier stationed in either the Mediterranean or Red Sea with their sights set on the Syrian air defense system. Additionally, Obama was asked to approve US warplanes to keep the Syrian Air Force grounded and perhaps even call upon America’s cyberwarfare capabilities to keep Assad’s radar systems and anti-missile programs offline, reports Debka.
The sources say that the White House refused to involve American forces in an anti-Assad military assault because it would “increase the carnage,” but no one in the Obama administration formally refused to engage in future operations in Syria.
India's annual economic growth slumped in the January-March quarter to a nine-year low of 5.3 percent as the manufacturing sector shrank and a fall in the rupee to a record low suggests the economy remains under pressure in the current quarter.
Thursday's figures mark a dramatic slide in fortunes for a country that was growing in the years before the global financial crisis at more than 9 percent, with ambitions to challenge China as the world's top emerging economy.
Foreign investors are now wary after a series of government flip-flops on economic reform and tax, heavy government spending on subsidies and a fiscal budget deficit that is threatening the country's investment-grade credit rating.
"This is definitely a very important signal for the government - this is a make or break situation for India and the government has to step on the panic button," said Rupa Rege Nitsure, chief economist at Bank of Baroda in Mumbai.
"If the government doesn't step in now, India's sovereign ratings may be jeopardized."
The 5.3 percent growth rate was much lower than expected and was even below the lowest forecast in a Reuters poll that had produced a median of 6.1 percent from predictions ranging between 5.5 percent and 7.3 percent.
Quarterly expansion was last lower in the January-March quarter of 2003 at 3.6 percent, Thomson Reuters data showed.
The data showed that the manufacturing sector shrank 0.3 percent in the quarter compared with a year earlier. The farm sector grew just 1.7 percent.
Gross domestic product rose 6.5 percent in the fiscal year to the end of March 2012, the lowest growth rate since 4.0 percent in 2002/03 and a sharp slowdown from the previous year's 8.4 percent.
"The data highlights the unusual degree of weakening of the country's economy, likely driven by poor investment and widening trade gap," said Dariusz Kowalczyk, an economist at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.
"The data also poses a dilemma for policymakers, as they have no fiscal room to stimulate growth, while monetary easing scope is very narrow, at least for now, due to rebounding and high inflation."
The yield on India's benchmark 10-year government bonds was down 13 basis points on Thursday.
India's main stock index .BSESN extended its declines after the data to 1.3 percent on the day.
Anubhuti Sahay, an economist at Standard Chartered Bank in Mumbai, said the data was "shocking".
"A rate cut is a given now," Sahay said.
Standard & Poor's cut India's credit rating outlook in April to negative from stable, worried by India's fiscal and current account deficits. The decision jeopardizes India's long-term rating of BBB minus, the lowest investment grade rating.
The impact of the euro zone debt crisis, a lack of economic reforms and high interest rates dragged on India's growth throughout last year.
Before Thursday's data, private economists had cut forecasts for Asia's third-largest economy to between 6 percent and 6.5 percent for the fiscal year to March 2013. The government forecasts close to 7.5 percent.
The rupee fell on Thursday to a record low beyond 56.50 per dollar. Its slide of 14 percent from its 2012 high adds to inflation concerns in the country and raises its import bill, putting pressure on the trade and current accounts.
That leaves policymakers in a bind. The government ran a fiscal deficit in the year to March 2012 of 5.9 percent of GDP so has little room to stimulate the economy.
The central bank will be wary that reducing rates could fuel inflation, which is already uncomfortably above 7 percent. The government is trying to push through the biggest increase in petrol prices on record to reduce its subsidy bill, sparking popular anger and plans for nationwide strikes.
"The Reserve Bank of India has already adopted a pro-growth policy. But inflation is not softening, so it cannot do a significant rate cut. We think they will focus more on making liquidity surplus," said Sujan Hajra, chief economist at Anand Rathi Securities in Mumbai.
There is little evidence that economic conditions have picked up in the April-June quarter.
The HSBC purchasing managers' index suggested the factory sector picked up in April, but the output index fell for a third straight month.
Car sales in April rose just 3.4 percent from a year earlier, the weakest pace since October, when they dropped 24 percent.
Domestic demand and corporate investment have been hit hard by 13 central bank rate hikes between mid-2010 and last October. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) cut rates by 50 basis points last month, but warned it saw limited scope for further cuts partly because inflation remained high.
"The RBI is fighting a multi-faceted battle - managing the currency, supporting growth, fighting inflation. I think they will wait for fiscal consolidation before cutting rates further," said Rahul Bajoria, regional economist at Barclays in Singapore.
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