Zimbabwe’s Government Says Worst of its Economic Woes is Over

Zimbabwe’s government says the country is emerging from a recent economic meltdown that saw shops run out of goods and motorists spend long hours in lines at gas stations. Economists say Zimbabwe’s crisis is not over, as people have no confidence in the currency or in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government.

For weeks now, there have been long and winding queues at most fuel stations in Zimbabwe, as the precious liquid has been in short supply. Lameck Mauriri is one of those now tired of the situation.

“We are really striving but things are tough to everyone,” said Mauriri. “I do not know how those in rural areas, how they are surviving, especially if in Harare it is like this. We are sleeping in fuel queues. There is not fuel, there is no bread, there is no drink. There is no everything. No cash, no jobs.”

For a decade, the country has been without an official currency and relied on U.S. dollars, the British pound and South African rand to conduct transactions. In the past three years, however, all three currencies have been hard to find, paralyzing the economy.

The introduction of bond notes — a currency Zimbabwe started printing two years ago to ease the situation — has not helped.

The bond notes were supposed to trade at par with the U.S. dollar; but, on the black market, a dollar now is now equal to close to three bond notes.

Prosper Chitambara, an economist of the Labor and Economic Development Research Institute of Zimbabwe says the bond notes are partly to blame for the price increases and shortages in the country.

“What is lacking in the economy, in the market is confidence. There is a distrust of the formal economic system,” said Chitambara. “The bond notes have definitely contributed a great deal to the current economic situation, a fallacy economic situation. What they have done is for example to increase money supply in the economy. And that money supply is not actually backed by significant productivity in the economy. That actually gives rise to general of inflationary pressures.”

He said the government’s recent introduction of a 2 percent tax on all electronic transactions pushed prices even higher and caused some shops to close.

Ndabaningi Nick Mangwana, Zimbabwe’s secretary in the Ministry of Information and Publicity, says the situation in the country is normal and there is no need for alarm.

“There is no shortage to oil itself, there is no challenge in terms of production of all these essential services,” said Mangwana. “That is why they are there if you go. There were a few people who panicked, closed a couple of shops, but those opened within hours. There was fake news and people panicked, but it is all under control.”

That is not exactly what seems to be the case on the ground. Some shops remain closed and prices continue rising. Long fuel lines remain the order of the day. 


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Market Can Cope with Push for Zero Iranian Oil Sales, Says US Envoy

The United States still aims to cut Iran’s oil sales to zero and does not expect restored oil sanctions against Tehran to have a negative impact on a market that is well-supplied and balanced, a senior U.S. official said on Monday.

U.S. special envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, was talking to reporters after a visit to India, a major importer of Iranian oil, and talks with officials from France, Britain and Germany before the start of a new round of U.S. sanctions on Nov. 4.

The three European countries have been trying to save the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and multiple global powers since U.S. President Trump announced in May that the United States would withdraw from the pact.

In a conference call from Luxembourg, where Hook was meeting European officials, he said that Iran uses oil revenue to support and fund terrorist proxies throughout the Middle East and that the U.S. goal is for countries to cut Iranian oil imports to zero as quickly as possible.

“We are working with countries that are reducing their imports to ensure that this happens,” he said.

Hook declined to answer questions on possible waivers on sanctions for countries that are reducing their imports but said the U.S. is confident that energy markets will remain stable.

“We are seeing a well-supplied and balanced oil market right now. We should focus on these fundamentals and not be distracted by the emotional and unbalanced claims coming from Tehran.”

Iran, OPEC’s third-largest producer, has repeatedly said that its oil exports cannot be reduced to zero because of high demand in the market.

Washington, meanwhile, plans to continue coordinating with oil producers and maintain U.S. supply.

“Our crude oil production increased by 1.65 million barrels in August compared to one year ago and that is expected to continue rising by as much as 1 million barrels a day within the next year,” he said.

Hook also said that European efforts to create a special purpose vehicle for trade with Tehran would find no demand because more than 100 foreign firms have indicated that they would be leaving the country.


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Why More Americans Are Moving to Smaller Cities

More Americans are moving to smaller cities in search of a better quality of life.

They’re leaving places like Los Angeles, Chicago and New York for mid-sized cities such as Phoenix and Las Vegas, according to an analysis of data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

A huge draw for these second-tier cities is that the cost of housing consumes a much smaller chunk of people’s salaries. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than half of the people who move do so for housing-related reasons. They’re looking for a new or better home, cheaper housing, or to buy a home rather than rent.

It costs about $4,100 a month to rent a place in Manhattan. That’s almost two-thirds of New York City’s median household income of $83,500. Buying a home is even more out of reach. The average cost of a home in the area is $1.1 million.

More than half a million people left the New York boroughs of Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens over a five-year period between 2012 and 2017.

In Los Angeles, the metropolitan county with the largest outbound net domestic migration, rent costs about $2,100 a month — about 38 percent of average income. Houses cost around $630,000, almost 10 times the average annual salary of $66,000.

LA County lost about 381,000 people over a five-year period.

According to the report, the cost of living can be a lot less expensive in the Phoenix area, which welcomed more net domestic newcomers over the past five years — 221,000 people — than any other part of the country.

The average household income in Phoenix is about $63,000, rent is about $1,100 a month, and the median price of a house is $280,000 — that’s $350,000 less than in the LA metropolitan area.

In the Las Vegas area, the rent ($1,000) will only consume 21 percent of the average salary ($57,000) and purchasing a house would set a buyer back about $273,000.

 

The analysis found that housing is about two times cheaper in the top markets that attracted people than in the areas that are losing the most in terms of population.

Chicago appears to be an exception. People are leaving the Windy City to get away from high taxes. Property taxes are higher there than almost anywhere else in the United States.

It is not as though the places that are losing people are suffering due to the exodus. Eight of the 10 counties with the biggest net population losses are still growing overall because of births and immigration.


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Artificial Intelligence Can Help Fight Global Hunger

A world without hunger by 2030 is the theme of this year’s World Food Day, and the goal of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. Events around the world on October 16th will promote awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all. Advances in technology and artificial intelligence can help feed the world. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee explains.


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Using CT Scans to Predict Heart Attacks

One of the joys of computer algorithms and machine learning is their ability to extract new data from old technologies. Doctors at the University of London in Oxford for instance have figured out a way to take regular CT heart scans and predict heart problems years in advance. VOA’s Kevin Enochs reports.


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Facebook: Hackers Accessed 29M Accounts – Fewer Than Thought

Facebook says hackers accessed data from 29 million accounts as part of the security breach disclosed two weeks ago, fewer than the 50 million it initially believed were affected.

The hackers accessed name, email addresses or phone numbers from these accounts, according to Facebook. For 14 million of them, hackers got even more data, such as hometown, birthdate, the last 10 places they checked into or the 15 most recent searches.

 

An additional 1 million accounts were affected, but hackers didn’t get any information from them.

 

Facebook isn’t giving a breakdown of where these users are, but says the breach was “fairly broad.” It plans to send messages to people whose accounts were hacked.

 

Facebook said third-party apps and Facebook apps like WhatsApp and Instagram were unaffected by the breach.

 

Facebook said the FBI is investigating, but asked the company not to discuss who may be behind the attack. The company said it hasn’t ruled out the possibility of smaller-scale attacks that used the same vulnerability.

 

Facebook has said the attackers gained the ability to “seize control” of those user accounts by stealing digital keys the company uses to keep users logged in. They could do so by exploiting three distinct bugs in Facebook’s code. The company said it has fixed the bugs and logged out affected users to reset those digital keys.

 

At the time, CEO Mark Zuckerberg – whose own account was compromised – said attackers would have had the ability to view private messages or post on someone’s account, but there’s no sign that they did.

 

 


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Global Stocks Climb Following Two Days of Sharp Losses

World stocks are climbing Friday after two days of sharp losses. Major U.S. stock indexes are up more than 1 percent, but they’re still on track for their biggest one-week loss since late March.

Technology and internet companies were some of the hardest hit over the last two days and they led the market higher Friday. Apple climbed 2.7 percent to $220.18. Consumer-focused companies also rallied, as Amazon jumped 3.8 percent to $1,783.96 and Netflix surged 4.7 percent to $336.30.

The S&P 500 index climbed 37 points, or 1.4 percent, to 2,766 at 9:45 a.m. Eastern time. The benchmark index tumbled 5.3 percent over the past two days and as of Thursday it had fallen for six consecutive days. The S&P is down 5.6 percent from its latest record high, set Sept. 20.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 305 points, or 1.2 percent, to 25,358. The Nasdaq composite surged 138 points, or 1.9 percent, to 7,467. The Russell 2000 index gained 17 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,563. That index, which is made up of smaller and more U.S.-focused companies, has fallen into a 10 percent “correction” since reaching a record high at the end of August.

On the New York Stock Exchange, winners outnumbered losers eight to one.

Stocks in Europe and Asia also recovered some of their recent losses. The French CAC 40 and the DAX in Germany both rose 0.8 percent while Britain’s FTSE 100 was 0.7 percent higher. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index gained 0.5 percent after sinking early in the day and following a nearly 4 percent loss on Thursday. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 2.1 percent and the Kospi in South Korea rose 1.5 percent.

The market’s recent losing streak started when strong economic data and positive comments from Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell helped set off a wave of selling in the bond market. Investors were betting that the U.S. economy would keep growing at a healthy pace. The sales pushed bond prices lower and yields higher. That drove interest rates sharply higher, which worried investors who felt that a big increase in interest rates could eventually stifle economic growth. Higher yields also make bonds more appealing to investors versus stocks.

The worst losses went to stocks that have led the market in recent years, including technology companies, as well as companies that do better when economic growth speeds up, like industrial firms.

Banks rose as they began to report their third-quarter results. Citigroup jumped 2.4 percent to $70.04. Last year’s corporate tax cut and rising interest rates have helped banks make more money.

Bond prices turned lower as the stock market stabilized. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 3.16 percent from 3.13 percent.

High-dividend stocks lagged the rest of the market, and utilities and household goods makers were little changed. Those stocks held up a bit better than the rest of the market over the last six days. Investors view them as relatively safe, steady assets that look better when growth is uncertain and the rest of the market is in turmoil.

U.S. crude oil added 0.6 percent to $71.43 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, the international standard, was up 0.6 percent to $80.77 a barrel in London.

The dollar rose to 112.17 yen from 111.94 yen. The euro fell to $1.1548 from $1.1594.


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‘Winter Is Coming’: Indonesia Warns World Finance Leaders Over Trade War

Just in case any of the global central bankers and finance ministers gathered in Indonesia missed the message delivered repeatedly this week, the host nation said it again Friday: Everyone stands to lose if trade wars are allowed to escalate.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo didn’t mention the United States or China, the world’s two largest economies, but it was clear who he was talking about in an address to the plenary session of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings on the island of Bali.

“Lately it feels like the relations among the major economies are becoming more and more like Game of Thrones,” Widodo said in a speech peppered with references to the HBO series about dynasties and kingdoms battling for power.

“Are we so busy fighting with each other and competing against each other that we fail to notice the things which are increasingly threatening, all of us alike, rich and poor, large and small,” he said.

Poorer and populous emerging market countries like his are among the most vulnerable to the fallout from the ongoing U.S.-Sino tariff war, and rising U.S. interest rates that are drawing investors away and driving down currencies.

“All these troubles in the world economy, are enough to make us feel like saying: ‘Winter is coming,'” Widodo said, using a phrase that characters in the popular fantasy series constantly repeat to refer to spectral dangers that could destroy them all.

With rivalry growing in the world economy, Widodo said “the situation could be more critical compared to the global financial crisis 10 years ago.”

The market ructions have now cascaded through to developed markets with Wall Street extending a slide into a sixth session on Thursday amid the trade war fears.

The United States and China have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods over the past few months.

The tariffs stem from the Trump administration’s demands that China make sweeping changes to its intellectual property practices, rein in high-technology industrial subsidies, open its markets to more foreign competition and take steps to cut a politically sensitive U.S. goods trade surplus.

Rubbing salt in U.S. wounds, China reported on Friday an unexpected acceleration in export growth in September and a record $34.13 billion trade surplus with the United States.

Mnuchin: China trade talks must include yuan

In an interview with Reuters, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that he told China’s central bank chief that currency issues need to be part of any further U.S.-China trade talks and expressed his concerns about the yuan’s recent weakness.

Mnuchin also said that China needs to identify concrete “action items” to rebalance the two countries’ trade relationship before talks to resolve their disputes can resume.

The U.S. Treasury chief and People’s Bank of China Governor Yi Gang extensively discussed currency issues on the sidelines of the meetings in Bali.

Mnuchin’s comments on China’s currency come ahead of next week’s scheduled release of a hotly anticipated Treasury report on currency manipulation, the first since a significant weakening of yuan began this spring.

Mnuchin said re-launching trade talks would require China to commit to taking action on structural reforms to its economy.

If the relationship could be rebalanced, he said the U.S.-China total annual trade relationship could grow to $1 trillion from $650 billion currently, with $500 billion of exports from each country.

G-20 members and trade issues

Meanwhile, the chairman of a meeting of finance leaders from the Group of 20 leading industrialized and emerging economies admitted that the trade tensions within the group could only be solved by the countries directly involved.

“The G-20 can play a role in providing the platform for discussions. But the differences that still persist should be resolved by the members that are directly involved in the tensions,” Nicolas Dujovne, Argentina’s Treasury Minister, told a news conference after chairing the G-20 meeting in Bali.

More than 19,000 delegates and other guests, including ministers, central bank heads and some leaders, were attending the IMF-World Bank meetings, and Widodo asked them to “cushion the blows from trade wars, technical disruption and market turmoil.”

“I hope you will each do your part to nudge our various leaders in the right direction,” Widodo said, adding that “confrontation and collision impose a tragic price.”

The IMF’s twice-yearly report on the Asia Pacific region, released Thursday, warned that the market rout seen in emerging economies could worsen if the Federal Reserve and other major central banks tightened monetary policy more quickly than expected.

At Friday’s plenary, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde estimated that the escalation of current trade tensions could reduce global GDP by almost one percent over the next two years.

IMF forecasts of global economic growth for both 2018 and 2019 were cut to 3.7 percent, from 3.9 percent in its July forecast.

“Clearly, we need to de-escalate these disputes,” Lagarde told the plenary session.


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Russia Space Agency: Astronauts Will Likely Fly in Spring

The head of Russia’s space agency said Friday that two astronauts who survived the midair failure of a Russian rocket would fly again and would provisionally travel to the International Space Station (ISS) in spring of next year.

Dmitry Rogozin, the head of Russian space agency Roscosmos, was speaking a day after Russian cosmonaut Alexei Ovchinin and American Nick Hague made a dramatic emergency landing in Kazakhstan after the failure of the Soyuz rocket carrying them to the orbital ISS.

Rogozin Friday posted a picture on Twitter of himself next to the two astronauts and said they had now arrived in Moscow. Both men escaped unscathed and feel fine, Roscosmos has said.

The mishap occurred as the first and second stages of a Russian rocket separated shortly after the launch from Kazakhstan’s Soviet-era cosmodrome of Baikonur.

Thursday’s accident was the first serious launch problem experienced by a manned Soyuz space mission since 1983, when a crew narrowly escaped before a launch pad explosion.

The Interfax news agency Friday cited a source familiar with the Russian investigation as saying that a faulty valve had caused the first stage of the Soyuz-FG rocket to malfunction even though the valve had been properly checked before take-off.

NASA has relied on Russian rockets to ferry astronauts to the space station since the United States retired its Space Shuttle program in 2011, although the agency has announced plans for a test flight carrying two astronauts on a SpaceX commercial rocket next April.

Space is an area of cooperation between the United States and Russia at a time of fraught relations. Asked about the mishap, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House he was “not worried” that American astronauts have to rely on Russia to get into space.

Moscow has suspended all manned space launches, while Rogozin has ordered a state commission to investigate what went wrong. Russia’s Investigative Committee has also opened a criminal investigation into the matter.

Unmanned launches of the Progress spacecraft, which carry food and other supplies to the ISS and use the same rocket system as Soyuz, might also be suspended, Interfax has said.

 

WATCH: US-Russian Space Crew Makes Emergency Landing


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US-Russian Space Crew Makes Emergency Landing After Rocket Problem

A U.S. astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut made an emergency return to earth Thursday shortly after launching on what was supposed to be a mission to the International Space Station. Rescuers reached American Nick Hague and Russian Alexei Ovchinin after their emergency landing in Kazakhstan. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb recently sat down with Hague to talk about his future in space, a future now up in the air after his unexpected fall to Earth.


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