US Appeals Court Will Not Delay Net Neutrality Case

A federal appeals court said Thursday it would not delay oral arguments set for Feb. 1 on the Trump administration’s decision to repeal the 2015 landmark net neutrality rules governing internet providers.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Tuesday asked the court to delay the arguments over its December 2017 repeal, citing the partial government shutdown. Without comment, the court denied the request.

The FCC had no immediate comment on the decision.

A group of 22 state attorneys general and the District of Columbia have asked the court to reinstate the Obama-era internet rules and block the FCC’s effort to pre-empt states from imposing their own rules guaranteeing an open internet.

Several internet companies are also part of the legal challenge, including Mozilla Corp, Vimeo Inc and Etsy Inc, as well as numerous media and technology advocacy groups and major cities, including New York and San Francisco.

The FCC voted to reverse the rules that barred internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes, also known as paid prioritization.

The FCC said providers must disclose any changes in users’ internet access.

‘Misguided’ repeal

The net neutrality repeal was a win for providers like Comcast Corp, AT&T Inc and Verizon Communications Inc, but was opposed by internet companies like Facebook Inc, Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc.

Major providers have not made any changes in how Americans access the internet since the repeal.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, said on Thursday that the lawsuits are aimed at overturning the agency’s “misguided” repeal of the Obama rules. “The fight for an open internet continues,” she wrote on Twitter.

The panel hearing the case is made up of Judges Robert Wilkins and Patricia Millett, two appointees of Barack Obama, and Stephen Williams, an appointee of Republican Ronald Reagan.

In October, California agreed not to enforce its own state net neutrality law until the appeals court’s decision on the 2017 repeal and any potential review by the U.S. Supreme Court.


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WSJ: US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Weighs Lifting Tariffs on China

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin discussed lifting some or all tariffs imposed on Chinese imports and suggested offering a tariff rollback during trade discussions scheduled for Jan. 30, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday, citing people familiar with the internal deliberations.

But Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer has resisted the idea, and the proposal had not yet been introduced to President Donald Trump, according to the Journal.

U.S. stocks advanced on the news even as a Treasury spokesman working with the administration’s trade team denied the report.

“Neither Secretary Mnuchin nor Ambassador Lighthizer have made any recommendations to anyone with respect to tariffs or other parts of the negotiation with China,” the spokesman said.

“This an ongoing process with the Chinese that is nowhere near completion.”

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He will visit the United States on Jan. 30 and 31 for the latest round of trade talks aimed at resolving a bitter trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies.

In December, Washington and Beijing agreed to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has disrupted the flow of hundreds of billions of dollars of goods.

Mid-level U.S. and Chinese officials met in Beijing last week to discuss China’s offers to address U.S. complaints about intellectual property theft and increase purchases of U.S. goods and services.

Lighthizer did not see any progress made on structural issues during those talks, Republican U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley said earlier this week.

The Trump administration is scheduled to increase tariffs March 2 on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent from 10 percent.

The timeline is seen as ambitious, but the resumption of face-to-face negotiations has bolstered hopes of a deal.

China has repeatedly played down complaints about intellectual property abuses, and has rejected accusations that foreign companies face forced technology transfers.

Industrial stocks, which have been sensitive to trade developments, jumped 1.4 percent after the Wall Street Journal report.


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Indonesian Presidential Candidates Spar Over Corruption

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has accused his election rival of allowing corrupt candidates on his legislative ticket and failing to include women in senior positions.

Widodo and former General Prabowo Subianto, along with their running mates, faced off Thursday in the first of five debates before the April 17 election. The debate focused on terrorism, human rights, corruption, and law and order.

Opinion polls show Widodo commanding 52 percent to 54 percent popular support and Subianto 30 percent to 35 percent. About 10 percent of voters are undecided and another 15 percent are considered swing voters, meaning the race has the potential to tighten.

Subianto, making his second bid for president after being narrowly defeated by Widodo in 2014, waffled when asked why his party has the highest number of candidates with corruption records.

“Maybe the corruption they did was not huge, maybe he or she just, what I mean is, the theft was indeed wrong, but the most important thing to be eradicated was a corrupter who stole trillions of rupiah (hundreds of millions of dollars) of state money, of people’s money,” he said.

Questioning Subianto’s opening statement of a commitment to empowering women, Widodo said he has nine women in important Cabinet positions but there are few women in the leadership of Subianto’s Gerindra party.

Subianto said his party has many female candidates and criticized the quality of decision making by Widodo’s women ministers.

Widodo, the first Indonesian president from outside the country’s Jakarta elite, has made upgrading Indonesia’s infrastructure the signature policy of his five year-term.

In debating human rights, none of the candidates addressed Subianto’s involvement in human rights abuses during the dictator Suharto’s regime that ended two decades ago.

 

 


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Tunisia Hit by General Strike, Amid Economic Tensions

Workers around Tunisia went on strike Thursday to demand higher pay in a standoff with a government struggling to reduce unemployment, poverty and social tensions.

All flights in and out of the North African country’s main airport were cancelled, and schools nationwide were closed. Ports, public transport, hospitals and other public services were also disrupted.

 

Marathon last-minute negotiations between the government and union umbrella group UGTT failed to avert Thursday’s strike by public sector workers.

 

Thousands of people gathered at the national union headquarters in Tunis and marched through the capital’s main thoroughfare, carrying signs reading “Get Out!” and “The People Want the Fall of the Regime.” Rallies were also held in other cities.

 

Addressing the crowd in Tunis, the head of the UGTT, Noureddine Tabboubi, accused the government of “neglecting the workers” as runaway inflation has eroded purchasing power.

 

The International Monetary Fund has urged public sector salary freezes and other reforms in exchanges for loans to Tunisia’s struggling economy.

 

The union boss accused the government of being afraid to “move a little finger without the green light” of the IMF. Unions want an end to salary freezes for Tunisia’s 600,000 public sector workers.

 

President Beji Caid Essebsi has called for calm. Thursday’s strike comes after new tensions erupted last month when a journalist set himself on fire to protest unfulfilled promises of Tunisia’s 2011 Arab Spring revolution.

 

Similar rallies were held throughout the country, notably in southern provinces where the strike nearly paralyzed public services.

 

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed warned that the strike would result in a “considerable cost” to an already fragile economy and might push the government to seek further foreign loans with tough conditions.

 

Speaking on public television Wataniya 1 on Wednesday night, Chahed said, “We did everything possible to avoid the strike in presenting proposals that improve purchasing power while at the same time taking into account the country’s capabilities.”

 

He invited the unions back to the negotiating table after Thursday’s strike.

 

 

 


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Chinese Trade Negotiator to Visit US in Late January

China’s economic czar, Vice Premier Liu He, will travel to the United States later this month for the second round of negotiations aimed at resolving the ongoing trade war between the global economic giants.

Commerce Ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters in Beijing Thursday that Liu will visit Washington on January 30-31. He was invited by U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

U.S. negotiators were optimistic after the first round of talks in Beijing last week that the two sides would be able to resolve tariff disputes that have upset global markets.

The trade talks are the result of an agreement last month between President Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping to stop the tit-for-tat tariff conflict between the two countries for 90 days starting on New Year’s Day.

The United States has long complained about access to the vast Chinese market and Beijing’s demands U.S. companies reveal their technology advances.

If no deal is reached by March 2, U.S. tariffs on $200 billion Chinese goods will rise from 10 percent to 25 percent.


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Want to Buy Ethical Food? Scan with Your Phone for Fast Facts

Whether buying a fish fillet at a supermarket or ordering steak in a restaurant, consumers will soon be able to use their phones to check instantly whether their food is green and ethical. Launched by environmental group WWF and investment firm BCG Digital Ventures, OpenSC is a website that harnesses blockchain technology to allow users to scan a QR code on a product or menu that reveals the full history and supply chain before they buy.

“For those catching and producing things in a very unsustainable way, it’s quite easy for them to hide behind the complexity of supply chains,” said Paul Hunyor, Asia region head at BCG Digital Ventures in Sydney.

“There is a lack of carrots for those doing good at the production end because it is very hard for them to make the end consumer aware of all the good work they’re doing,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Globally, consumers and retailers are demanding more information about what they procure, buy and eat, to ascertain that its production and transportation does not damage the environment, or use illegal and unethical business practices. In response, large consumer goods companies, restaurants and other businesses are looking at ways to attract more customers by offering sustainable products that are guaranteed as free of deforestation or slave labor, for example.

The OpenSC platform, conceived in 2017 when WWF was piloting a tuna fisheries traceability project in the Pacific Ocean, will initially focus on fish and beef. It plans to expand in the next two years to cover other commodities like palm oil and timber. OpenSC allows consumers to cut through the complexity and lack of transparency in supply chains, said Hunyor. The digital tool will cover environmental, social and human rights, and hopes to attract sustainability bodies and schemes, as well as corporations and major commodities producers, said Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of WWF-Australia.

“There is … growing momentum around the world with corporates who are doing and want to do the right thing because their customers are increasing demand,” he said. Austral Fisheries, which is part of the Maruha Nichiro Group, has committed to implement OpenSC this year across its fleet which catches Patagonian toothfish. Customers and staff of supermarkets and restaurants, as well as wholesalers, can use the tool to access instant information.

For fish, that would include where it was caught, if the area is a verified sustainable fishing zone, and conditions along the supply chain. Fish tracked by OpenSC, set up as a social enterprise, will be served at a dinner for world leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week.


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John Bogle, Founder of Vanguard, Dies at 89 

John C. Bogle, who simplified investing for the masses by launching the first index mutual fund and founded Vanguard Group, died Wednesday, the company said. He was 89.

Bogle did not invent the index fund, but he expanded access to no-frills, low-cost investing in 1976 when Vanguard introduced the first index fund for individual investors, rather than institutional clients.

The emergence of funds that passively tracked market indexes, like the Standard & Poor’s 500, enabled investors to avoid the higher fees charged by professional fund managers who frequently fail to beat the market. More often than not, the higher operating expenses that fund managers pass on to their shareholders cancel out any edge they may achieve through expert stock-picking.

Mutual fund industry critic

Bogle and Vanguard shook up the industry further in 1977. The company ended its reliance on outside brokers and instead began directly marketing its funds to investors without charging upfront fees known as sales loads.

Bogle served as Vanguard’s chairman and CEO from its 1974 founding until 1996.

He stepped down as senior chairman in 2000, but remained a critic of the fund industry and Wall Street, writing books, delivering speeches and running the Bogle Financial Markets Research Center.

The advent of index funds accelerated a long-term decline in fund fees and fostered greater competition in the industry. Investors paid 40 percent less in fees for each dollar invested in stock mutual funds during 2017 than they did at the start of the millennium, for example. But Bogle continued to maintain that many funds were overcharging investors, and once called the industry “the poster-boy for one of the most baneful chapters in the modern history of capitalism.”

Bogle also believed that the corporate structure of most fund companies poses an inherent conflict of interest, because a public fund company could put the interests of investors in its stock ahead of those owning shares of its mutual funds. Vanguard has a unique corporate structure in which its mutual funds and fund shareholders are the corporation’s “owners.” Profits are plowed back into the company’s operations, and used to reduce fees.

$5 trillion under management

Vanguard, based in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, manages $5 trillion globally. It helped usher in a new era of investing, and index funds have increasingly become the default choice for investors. In 2017, investors plugged $691.6 billion into index funds while pulling $7 billion out of actively managed funds, according to Morningstar.

Vanguard offers both index and managed funds, but remains best-known for its index offerings. Vanguard’s original index fund, now known as the Vanguard 500 Index, is no longer the company’s biggest, but remains among the company’s lowest-cost funds.

Bogle spent the first part of his career at Wellington Management Co., a mutual fund company, then based in Philadelphia. He rose through the ranks and, in his mid-30s, was tapped to run Wellington.

He engineered a merger with a boutique firm that was making huge sums, but was ousted after the stock market tanked in the early 1970s, wiping out millions in Wellington’s assets. He said he learned an important lesson in how little money managers really know about predicting the market.

Knack for math

Bogle suffered several heart attacks and underwent a heart transplant in 1996, the year he stepped down as CEO. He reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 for Vanguard directors in 1999 and left as senior chairman the next year.

Vanguard did not provide a cause of death. Philly.com is reporting he died of cancer, citing Bogle’s family.

John Clifton Bogle was born in May 1929 in Montclair, New Jersey, to a well-off family; his grandfather founded a brick company and was co-founder of the American Can Co. in which his father worked.

Bogle attended Manasquan High School in Manasquan, N.J, for a time, then got a scholarship to the prestigious all-boys Blair Academy in Blairstown, New Jersey. It was at Blair that Bogle discovered his knack for math. He graduated from Blair in 1947 and was voted most likely to succeed.

Bogle graduated from Princeton with a degree in economics in 1951. His thesis was on the mutual fund industry, which was then still in its infancy.

Bogle is survived by his wife, Eve, six children, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.


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Giant US Bank Reveals 29 Percent Pay Gap Between Men, Women

Female employees at Citigroup Inc around the world are paid just 71 percent of what men earn, the giant bank said on Wednesday, declaring its intentions to close its gender pay gap.

A Citigroup shareholder group that sought data on the pay gap said the bank is the first U.S. company to disclose such figures.

The U.S.-based bank employs more than 200,000 people in more than 100 countries, and more than half those employees are female, it said.

Tackling the 29 percent gap means increasing the number of women in senior and higher-paying roles, promoting women to at least 40 percent of assistant vice president through managing director jobs, Citigroup said in a statement.

Citigroup said it disclosed the data in response to a shareholder proposal from Arjuna Capital, an investment management firm.

The bank said its “raw pay gap” showed median pay for females globally was 71 percent of the median for men.

The raw gap measures the difference in median total compensation not adjusted for job function, level and geography.

With those adjustments, women are paid an average of 99 percent of what men are paid, it said.

“We have work to do, but we’re on a path that I’m confident will allow us to make meaningful progress,” Sara Wechter, head of human resources, said in a statement.

In the United States overall, women last year working full-time year-round earned 80 percent of what men earned, according to commonly cited data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Congress outlawed pay discrimination based on gender in 1963, yet public debate over why wages still lag drastically for women has snowballed in recent years.

Globally, the World Economic Forum reported an economic gap of 58 percent between the sexes for 2016, costing the global economy $1.2 trillion annually.

Last January, Citigroup said it was increasing compensation for women and minorities to bridge pay gaps in the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, becoming the first big U.S. bank to respond to a shareholder push to analyze and disclose its gender pay gap.

This past year it expanded its pay equity review beyond those three countries to its workforce globally, it said.

 


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Busiest US Port Sets All-Time Cargo Record in 2018

The Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach on Wednesday said they set all-time records for moving cargo in 2018, after U.S. retailers and manufacturers pulled forward imports to avoid higher tariffs on Chinese goods. The Port of Los Angeles, North America’s busiest container port, handled 9.46 million 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs) last year, the most in its 111-year history and 1.2 percent more than in 2017.

The neighboring Port of Long Beach processed more than 8 million TEUs for the first time last year, after container cargo totals jumped 7 percent from 2017.

“This is a rush of cargo based on political trade policy,” said Gene Seroka, executive director for the Port of Los Angeles, where direct trade with China accounted for just over half of the $284 billion in cargo the port handled in 2017. “Many people were fearful that we were going to go from a 10 percent tariff on certain items to 25 percent on January 1,” Seroka said.

The U.S. and China in late November agreed to a 90-day cease-fire in their bitter trade war. Under that deal, the U.S. will keep tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports at 10 percent.

That news came after many importers sped up orders for everything from apparel to auto parts to avoid the higher tariffs.

The cargo surge at Los Angeles/Long Beach and other major U.S. ports spurred disruptions that are rippling through the supply chain. U.S. warehouses are stuffed to the rafters, forcing some importers to delay port cargo pickups or to park containers in parking lots.

The National Retail Federation and Hackett Associates’ Global Port Tracker expect 2018 imports to jump 5.3 percent to a record 21.6 million TEUs. They also project cooling in the early months of 2019, as imports typically soften due to a post-holiday drop in demand and Lunar New Year factory shutdowns in Asia.

“We’ll see a little bit of a lull during Lunar New Year and thereafter. That in and of itself will allow us to catch up,” Seroka said.


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UK Businesses Brace for No-Deal Brexit

Brexit has British business owners on edge — and that is great news for Lovespace, a storage and warehousing company outside London.

Lovespace, which collects boxes from customers, stores them and then returns the goods when needed, says revenue from businesses doubled over the past year and inquiries quadrupled as enterprises large and small began stockpiling inventory because of concerns they will be cut off from suppliers if Britain leaves the European Union without an agreement on future trading relations.

“People are working out how to store stuff — how to get things to their own customers as the year progresses,” CEO Steve Folwell said as workers moved boxes around the company’s 20,000 square-foot (1,860 square-meter) warehouse in Dunstable, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) northwest of London. “There’s uncertainty because of Brexit and there’s a lack of trust in the political process at the moment.”

The risk of a no-deal Brexit is increasing amid widespread opposition to the divorce agreement Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated with the EU. While May says her deal is the only way to ensure that trade continues to flow smoothly after Britain leaves the bloc on March 29, U.K. lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected the agreement late Tuesday because opponents fear it will leave the country tied to the EU for years to come.

Without an agreement on future relations, 40 years of free trade between Britain and the EU would be replaced by tariffs, border inspections and other non-tariff barriers, with potentially devastating impacts on the British economy. The government’s own contingency plans raise the specter of lengthy border delays that could cause shortages of food and medicine, and the Bank of England predicts gross domestic product could shrink by as much as 8 percent this year.

“Businesses would face new costs and tariffs,” said Carolyn Fairbairn, director-general of the Confederation of British Industries, which represents 190,000 businesses. “Our ports would be disrupted, separating firms from the parts they need to supply their customers.”

Among those taking precautions is Richard Ellison, the founder of Wanderlust Wine, who imports wines from small producers off the beaten track. Worried that supplies to his customers could be interrupted, he’s stocked up in advance to brace for disruption at the border and the potential for an increase in paperwork.

“Everything will have to be checked at the border,” he said, explaining his precautions. “We bought quite a lot in advance — an extra pallet or two to tide us over.”

Companies ranging from supermarket giant Tesco, which imports food from continental suppliers, to carmakers like Ford, who rely on European parts to feed British production lines, have been lobbying politicians for clarity about future trading relations ever since U.K. voters backed leaving the EU in a June 2016 referendum. Now they are taking action to ensure they can continue to operate in the event no deal is reached.

A survey of U.K. manufacturers found that stockpiles of both finished goods and raw materials rose at near-record rates in December as businesses prepared for a possible disruption in supplies, according to the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply.

More than 60 percent of U.K. manufacturers are preparing to stockpile goods and 29 percent have already begun to do so, according to a November survey of 242 companies by EEF, the manufacturers’ organization. Some are even erecting new buildings to increase storage capacity.

“They are looking for places to store stuff,” said Francesco Arcangeli, the EEF’s economist. “They are looking for space. They are creating new space. That never happened before.”

Charlie Pool, CEO of Stowga, which loosely describes itself as the Airbnb of British warehousing, said customers looking for storage space searched the company’s site 10,000 times in December, up from an average of 3,000 a month. Businesses are sometimes even paying deposits to secure their bookings, which isn’t standard practice, Pool said, comparing it to paying for a hotel before arrival.

“The data we have is proving that stockpiling for Brexit is definitely a thing,” he said. “It’s happening now.”

That is driving up the cost of storage space. The average price to store a pallet of goods jumped to 2.10 pounds ($2.71) a week last month from 1.85 pounds in September. Pool said he wouldn’t be surprised if exceeded 3 pounds should a no-deal Brexit become a reality. That would still be relatively cheap compared with the cost of not getting products to the end consumers, he said.

The dangers of Brexit to business are evident even for storage companies like Lovespace. Despite the boom in revenue, a potential investor pulled back last year because of the uncertainty caused by Britain’s exit from the EU.

The investor said “it seems awfully complex to me,” Folwell said. “People are looking at the U.K. as a bit of a basket case at the moment.”

 


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