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French Pension Reform Plan Triggers New Strikes, Protests

New nationwide strikes disrupted public transport and schools, as well as power, oil and gas supplies in France Tuesday, while tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in a third round of protests against planned pension reforms.

The protests came a day after French lawmakers began debating a pension bill that would raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64. The bill is the flagship legislation of President Emmanuel Macron’s second term.

Tens of thousands marched in the cities of Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Nantes and elsewhere, as well as in Paris. Protesters in the French capital, many of whom were young, marched peacefully from the Opera area carrying placards reading “Save Your Pension” and “Tax Billionaires, Not Grandmas.”

France’s current pension system “is a democratic achievement in the sense that it is a French specialty that other countries envy,” said one protester, media worker Anissa Saudemont, 29.

“I feel that with high inflation, unemployment, the war in Ukraine and climate change, the government should focus on something else,” she added.

Last week, an estimated 1.27 million people demonstrated, according to authorities, more than in the first big protest day on Jan. 19. More demonstrations, called by France’s eight main unions, were planned for Saturday.

Rail operator SNCF said train services were severely disrupted Tuesday across the country, including on its high-speed network. International lines to Britain and Switzerland were affected. The Paris metro was also disrupted.

Saad Kadiui, 37, a consulting cabinet chief who had to go through a disrupted Paris train station Tuesday, said he did not support the “wearisome” strikes. “There are other ways to protest the pension reform,” he said.

Kadiui said he supported the principle of the pension reform but wanted the bill to be improved in parliament. “I think that for some jobs, 64 is too late,” he said.

Power producer EDF said the protest movement led to temporarily reduced electricity supplies, without causing blackouts. More than half of the workforce was on strike at the TotalEnergies refineries, according to the company.

The Education Ministry said close to 13% of teachers were on strike, a decrease compared to last week’s protest day. A third of French regions were on scheduled school breaks.

Macron vowed to go ahead with the changes, despite opinion polls showing growing opposition. The bill would gradually increase the minimum retirement age to 64 by 2030 and accelerate a planned measure providing that people must have worked for at least 43 years to be entitled to a full pension.

The government argues the changes are designed to keep the pension system financially afloat. France’s aging population is expected to plunge the system into deficit in the coming decade.

The parliamentary debate at the National Assembly and the Senate is expected to last several weeks.

Opposition lawmakers have proposed more than 20,000 amendments to the bill debated on Monday, mostly by the left-wing Nupes coalition.

Philippe Martinez, secretary general of the powerful CGT union, called on the government and lawmakers to “listen to the people.” Speaking on French radio network RT, he denounced Macron’s attitude as “playing with fire.”

Macron wants to show that “he is able to pass a reform, no matter what public opinion says, what the citizens think,” Martinez asserted.

The head of the CFDT union, Laurent Berger, also called on the government to “listen” to the crowd that took to the streets. “One can only respond to social tension through the democratic exercise of power,” he told French newspaper La Croix.

Rancor over the pension plan went beyond parliament’s raucous debate. The speaker of the lower house, the National Assembly, reported that the bill had triggered anonymous voicemails, graffiti and a threatening letter to the head of the chamber’s Social Affairs Committee.

“That’s enough,” Yael Braun-Pivet tweeted. “These acts are an attack on our democratic life. … We won’t tolerate it.”

Several lawmakers from the far-right National Rally party received voicemails during Monday’s debate saying that loved ones were hospitalized, in an apparent ploy to make them leave the assembly. The group’s leader, Marine Le Pen, said she was filing a legal complaint.

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Boeing Plans to Cut About 2,000 Finance, HR Jobs in 2023

Boeing plans to make staffing cuts in the aerospace company’s finance and human resources departments in 2023, with a loss of around 2,000 jobs, the company said.

“We expect about 2,000 reductions primarily in Finance and HR through a combination of attrition and layoffs,” Boeing said in a statement Monday. “While no one has been notified of job loss, we will continue to share information transparently to allow people to plan.”

The company, which recently relocated its headquarters to Arlington, Virginia, said it expects to “significantly grow” the overall workforce during the year. “We grew Boeing’s workforce by 15,000 last year and plan to hire another 10,000 employees this year with a focus on engineering and manufacturing,” the statement said.

Boeing’s total workforce was 156,000 employees as of Dec. 31, 2022, the company said.

The Seattle Times reported Boeing, which has been one of the largest private employers in Washington state, plans to outsource about a third of the eliminated positions to Tata Consulting Services in Bengaluru, India.

Mike Friedman, a senior director of communications, told the Times the other positions will be eliminated as the company makes reductions in finance and human resources support services.

“Over time, some of our corporate functions have grown quite large. And with that growth tends to come bureaucracy or disparate systems that are inefficient,” Friedman said. “So we’re streamlining.”

The Times reported about 1,500 of the company’s approximately 5,800 finance positions will be cut, with up to 400 more job cuts in human resources, which is about 15% of the department’s total staff.

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Global Airline Traffic Recovering to Pre-Pandemic Levels

Global airline traffic rose to over half of pre-pandemic levels in 2022 according to data released by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Monday.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, airlines saw a sharp decline in travel in 2020 and 2021 and lost tens of billions of dollars. Profits started to return in 2022 as traffic picked up again.

Global traffic grew to 68.5% of pre-pandemic (2019) levels in 2022, and 64.4% from 2021.

In 2022, international traffic rose 152.7% in comparison to 2021, and 62.2% compared to 2019. As for domestic travel, it rose 10.9% compared to the previous year and 79.6% of pre-pandemic levels.

China recently reopened its borders after three years on January 8. Analysts emphasize that full recovery to pre-pandemic levels depends on how quickly travel to and from China can return.

Willie Walsh, IATA’s director general, is hopeful that traffic will continue to rise in 2023.

“The industry left 2022 in far stronger shape than it entered, as most governments lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions during the year and people took advantage of the restoration of their freedom to travel. This momentum is expected to continue in the New Year, despite some governments’ over-reactions to China’s reopening,” he said.

“It is vital that governments learn the lesson that travel restrictions and border closures have little positive impact in terms of slowing the spread of infectious diseases in our globally inter-connected world.”

Some information for this report came from Reuters.

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UN Chief: World Needs ‘Wake-Up Call’        

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned Monday that the world needs to wake up and take urgent action to change the trajectory on conflicts and geopolitical divisions, the climate crisis, and economic inequality.

“We need a course correction,” Guterres said as he laid out his 2023 priorities to the U.N. General Assembly.

“The good news is that we know how to turn things around — on climate, on finance, on conflict resolution, on and on,” he added. “And we know that the cost of inaction far exceeds the costs of action. But the strategic vision — the long-term thinking and commitment — is missing.”

He cited the recent announcement by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists to move the so-called Doomsday Clock 10 seconds closer to global catastrophe as a “wake-up call.”

On January 24, the organization’s board, citing Russia’s war in Ukraine and the threat of the use of nuclear weapons, said the planet is now “90 seconds to midnight.”

“This is the closest the clock has ever stood to humanity’s darkest hour, and closer than even during the height of the Cold War,” Guterres warned.

The organization of scientists, of which Albert Einstein was a founding member, created the clock in 1947 as an indicator of how close the world is to manmade global catastrophe.

Adding to the growing list of crises and concerns was Monday’s deadly 7.8 earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria. Guterres said the United Nations is mobilizing to support the emergency response.

“Let’s work together in solidarity to help those hit by this disaster, many of whom are already in dire need of humanitarian aid,” he said.

The quake’s epicenter was in parts of Turkey and Syria with large populations of refugees and people affected by more than a decade of civil war in Syria.

Russia’s war

Guterres has been clear in condemning Russia’s 2022 invasion of Ukraine as a violation of the U.N. Charter and international law. He told the General Assembly that it has inflicted “untold suffering” on the Ukrainian people and had “profound” global implications. He voiced pessimism about the prospects for peace.

“The chances of further escalation and bloodshed keep growing,” he warned. “I fear the world is not sleepwalking into a wider war. I fear it is doing so with its eyes wide open.”

He criticized the “tactical” use of nuclear weapons as an “absurdity.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly warned he is ready to draw on his country’s entire arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons, to defend Russian territory. On Thursday, he repeated the threat in a speech criticizing Germany for helping to arm Ukraine.

“We are at the highest risk in decades of a nuclear war that could start by accident or design,” Guterres said. “We need to end the threat posed by 13,000 nuclear weapons held in arsenals around the world.”

The U.N. chief said the world needs peace, not just in Ukraine, but also in many corners of the planet. He said conflicts and political crises in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Africa’s Sahel region, Haiti, the Middle East and elsewhere are driving the suffering of two billion people.

“If every country fulfilled its obligations under the [U.N.] Charter, the right to peace would be guaranteed,” Guterres said. “When countries break those pledges, they create a world of insecurity for everyone.”

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China’s Oil Demand Bounce May Push Producers to Reconsider Output, IEA Says

Oil producers may have to reconsider their output policies following a demand recovery in China, the world’s second-largest oil consumer, the International Energy Agency’s Executive Director Fatih Birol said Sunday.

Demand in China, the world’s largest crude importer and No. 2 buyer of liquefied natural gas, has become the biggest uncertain factor in global oil and gas markets in 2023 as investors bet on the speed of its recovery after Beijing lifted COVID restrictions in December.

“We expect about half of the growth in global oil demand this year will come from China,” Birol told Reuters on the sidelines of the India Energy Week conference.

He added that China’s jet fuel demand is exploding, putting upward pressure on demand.

“If demand goes up very strongly, if the Chinese economy rebounds, then there will be a need, in my view, for the OPEC+ countries to look at their (output) policies,” Birol said.

Producer group OPEC+ angered the United States and other Western nations in October when it decided to cut output by 2 million barrels a day from November through 2023, instead of pumping more to cut fuel prices and help the global economy as the U.S. advised.

Birol said he hoped such a situation does not repeat, and that OPEC+ — which includes members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and allies such as Russia — will return to a constructive role in the market as demand improves.

OPEC+ rolled over the group’s current output policy at a meeting Wednesday, leaving production cuts agreed last year in place.

Separately, Birol said price caps on Russian oil have achieved the objectives of both stabilizing oil markets and reducing Moscow’s revenues from oil and gas exports. Russia’s revenues likely fell by nearly 30% in January, or about $8 billion, compared with a year before, he added.

G-7 nations, the European Commission and Australia this week approved a $100 per barrel price cap on diesel and a $45 per barrel cap on discounted products such as fuel oil starting from Feb. 5.

This followed a similar measure they implemented Dec. 5 barring Western-supplied maritime insurance, finance and brokering for seaborne Russian crude unless it was sold below a $60 price cap.

Birol said fuel markets might face difficulties in the short term as global trade routes “reshuffle” to accommodate Europe drawing on more imports from China, India, the Middle East and the United States.

That could force other markets such as Latin America to scout for alternative imports, he said.

Europe has decided to end refined fuel imports from Russia starting Sunday.

Birol said however that the fuel market balance could improve from the second half as more refining capacity is added globally.

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Turmoil Threatens Financial Stability Peru Long Took for Granted

Marco Gonzales ventured to the Andean city of Cusco from his home in the Peruvian Amazon in 2007 with little more than $20, a smidgeon of English and a change of clothes poorly suited for the icy mountain air.

He started offering walking tours of the former Incan Empire capital in exchange for tips. Along the way he fell in love with a British backpacker, Nathalie Zulauf, and together the couple built a travel business and family.

But now it’s all at risk of collapsing along with so much of Peru’s once enviable economic stability.

The couple’s company, Bloody Bueno Peru, which caters to mostly foreign tourists from Britain and elsewhere, hasn’t seen a customer since December, when protesters demanding the resignation of caretaker President Dina Boluarte all but cut off access to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. Groups have canceled reservations months in advance, forcing the couple to dip into savings already depleted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re waiting until March to see if the situation improves,” said Gonzales, 38, staring at a calendar he no longer bothers to update. “If it doesn’t we’ll have to explore other options, like shutting down the business and emigrating. At least in England we have Nathalie’s family.”

Others in Cusco have far less to fall back on.

The city of 450,000, normally a polyglot mecca of foreign travelers, is a ghost town these days. The Plaza de Armas, where women dressed in colorful Andean textiles used to pose for snapshots, now attracts demonstrators playing cat-and-mouse with heavily armored riot police.

Political turmoil is nothing new in Peru, which has seen six presidents in the last five years. In 1969, with a military dictatorship in power, Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa posed this now iconic question to start his novel “Conversations in the Cathedral”: “At what precise moment did Peru screw itself?”

For a long time, the dysfunction was held in check and didn’t interfere with sacred cornerstones of the free-market economy like the key mining industry. Since 2000, Peru’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 4.4% — more than any country in South America —with low inflation and a stable currency. Until the pandemic hit, poverty had fallen by half.

But the scale of violence following President Pedro Castillo’s Dec. 7 impeachment and arrest for a clumsy effort to shutter Congress — unrest that has left 57 civilians dead and hundreds more injured — has revived class and racial divisions and has many Peruvians wondering whether the long period of uneasy stability has run its course.

“This dichotomy couldn’t last,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard University political scientist and co-author of the 2018 book, “ How Democracies Die.”

Signs of the economic fallout are everywhere.

In December — as the political crisis got underway — the number of foreigners arriving in Peru had already fallen to the lowest level since 2009, aside from the two years lost to COVID-19. Activity at three major copper and tin mines had been suspended because highways were blocked or their facilities attacked by protesters.

Peru is the world’s largest exporter of grapes and the protests hit during the height of harvest. Shipments in one major growing area are barely 4% of a year ago, according to Darío Núñez, whose company, Uvica, has been unable to fulfill orders by U.S. retailers such as Costco and Sam’s Club.

“The credibility of Peru as a brand is starting to suffer,” said Núñez. “I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Peru’s democratic dysfunction, years in the making, accelerated with Castillo’s surprise election in 2021. A rural schoolteacher, he rose from obscurity to fill a void left by a broken political system, widespread graft and deep-seated racism.

His journey from an adobe home in one of Peru’s poorest areas to the presidential palace was fueled by fury in the long-neglected Andean highlands. But once in office, he shuffled his Cabinet almost weekly and was beset by corruption allegations that underscored his inexperience.

Elites in Congress, although even more discredited than Castillo, went on the offensive, using an obscure constitutional power to seek his impeachment for “moral incapacity.” This triggered Castillo’s move to shut down Congress, which backfired with his arrest on charges of rebellion — and vice president Boluarte’s ascension to power.

The current revolt has coalesced around an urgent demand: Boluarte’s departure. Congress could act by ordering early elections but has so far refused as lawmakers are reluctant to, in effect, fire themselves.

Levitsky said it’s too early to know how Peru’s crisis will unfold. One demand from protesters is that the constitution adopted during Alberto Fujimori’s 1990-2000 authoritarian rule and which strengthened free-market reforms be overhauled.

But whatever happens, Levitsky doesn’t see a return to the status quo.

“A state that doesn’t work is sooner or later going to fall into crisis,” he said. “They had 20 years to build a state and they failed miserably.”

Monuments to that failure are everywhere in Cusco: An unfinished highway that was supposed to bisect the city and the crumbling façade of the Hotel Cusco, a historic landmark owned by the city government.

But perhaps the biggest white elephant is the Hospital Antonio Lorena.

Rising above the city’s red tile roofs, the sleek glass-and-steel structure was supposed to be the most modern in southern Peru when construction began in 2012. But after three years, the Brazilian builder abandoned the project amid an investigation into cost overruns fueled by alleged bribes paid to Cusco’s governor and the wife of Peru’s then-president Ollanta Humala.

Today, the half-built skeleton is covered by graffiti amid peeling paint, exposed power cables and shattered glass. On Dec. 7 — the day Castillo was arrested — a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to mark the start of a 730-day, $ 244 million rescue plan for the project by a new foreign consortium with technical assistance from France.

Jorge Zapata, the head of Peru’s construction lobby, blames greedy politicians for the standstill. Nationwide, over 2,500 state-funded infrastructure projects worth $7 billion are paralyzed due to mismanagement, he said.

Meanwhile, instead of guiding tourists, Gonzales now spends his days scouring Cusco for a propane gas cannister to cook and bathe the couple’s 5-month-old daughter, Willow.

At an industrial depot, dozens of desperate residents were lined up this week in hopes demonstrators blocking the highways would halt their pickets long enough to let the trucks delivering the propane reach the besieged city.

“This is really scary,” said Zulauf, as she bounced her baby on her knees staring at the long line from her car. “In Cusco, people live day-to-day. If they can’t work, I don’t know how they’re surviving.”

Among those in line was Fredy Deza, who spent the night in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk.

Deza, 40, said the all-night vigil recalled another dark period in Peru’s history, when he would wait with his mother in long lines for bread, sugar and other staples during the chaotic 1985-1990 presidency of Alan Garcia.

“It’s like we’re going back in time,” said Deza, who worked as a guide in Machu Picchu until he was let go in December.

Prices for propane and other scarce items in Cusco are soaring due to inflation that jumped to 8.7% in January, near the highest level in a quarter-century. A black market has emerged, with cannisters going for three times the listed price.

Adding to insult, the cooking gas many can no longer afford is pumped by a foreign-owned consortium from the resource-rich department of Cusco and transported by a pipeline to the capital, Lima, where the bulk is then exported. A projected second pipeline, which would deliver it to Cusco and other cities in the south, remains a pipe dream.

“It’s sad,” said Deza, as he prepared for another cold night, “that as owners of our gas we have to be enduring this.”

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Turmoil Risks Financial Stability Peru Long Took for Granted

Marco Gonzales ventured to the Andean city of Cusco from his home in the Peruvian Amazon in 2007 with little more than $20, a smidgeon of English and a change of clothes poorly suited for the icy mountain air.

He started offering walking tours of the former Incan Empire capital in exchange for tips. Along the way he fell in love with a British backpacker, Nathalie Zulauf, and together the couple built a travel business and family.

But now it’s all at risk of collapsing along with so much of Peru’s once enviable economic stability.

The couple’s company, Bloody Bueno Peru, which caters to mostly foreign tourists from Britain and elsewhere, hasn’t seen a customer since December, when protesters demanding the resignation of caretaker President Dina Boluarte all but cut off access to the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu. Groups have canceled reservations months in advance, forcing the couple to dip into savings already depleted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We’re waiting until March to see if the situation improves,” said Gonzales, 38, staring at a calendar he no longer bothers to update. “If it doesn’t we’ll have to explore other options, like shutting down the business and emigrating. At least in England we have Nathalie’s family.”

Others in Cusco have far less to fall back on.

The city of 450,000, normally a polyglot mecca of foreign travelers, is a ghost town these days. The Plaza de Armas, where women dressed in colorful Andean textiles used to pose for snapshots, now attracts demonstrators playing cat-and-mouse with heavily armored riot police.

Political turmoil is nothing new in Peru, which has seen six presidents in the last five years. In 1969, with a military dictatorship in power, Nobel Prize-winning author Mario Vargas Llosa posed this now iconic question to start his novel “Conversations in the Cathedral”: “At what precise moment did Peru screw itself?”

For a long time, the dysfunction was held in check and didn’t interfere with sacred cornerstones of the free-market economy like the key mining industry. Since 2000, Peru’s economy grew at an average annual rate of 4.4% — more than any country in South America —with low inflation and a stable currency. Until the pandemic hit, poverty had fallen by half.

But the scale of violence following President Pedro Castillo’s Dec. 7 impeachment and arrest for a clumsy effort to shutter Congress — unrest that has left 57 civilians dead and hundreds more injured — has revived class and racial divisions and has many Peruvians wondering whether the long period of uneasy stability has run its course.

“This dichotomy couldn’t last,” said Steven Levitsky, a Harvard University political scientist and co-author of the 2018 book, “ How Democracies Die.”

Signs of the economic fallout are everywhere.

In December — as the political crisis got underway — the number of foreigners arriving in Peru had already fallen to the lowest level since 2009, aside from the two years lost to COVID-19. Activity at three major copper and tin mines had been suspended because highways were blocked or their facilities attacked by protesters.

Peru is the world’s largest exporter of grapes and the protests hit during the height of harvest. Shipments in one major growing area are barely 4% of a year ago, according to Darío Núñez, whose company, Uvica, has been unable to fulfill orders by U.S. retailers such as Costco and Sam’s Club.

“The credibility of Peru as a brand is starting to suffer,” said Núñez. “I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Peru’s democratic dysfunction, years in the making, accelerated with Castillo’s surprise election in 2021. A rural schoolteacher, he rose from obscurity to fill a void left by a broken political system, widespread graft and deep-seated racism.

His journey from an adobe home in one of Peru’s poorest areas to the presidential palace was fueled by fury in the long-neglected Andean highlands. But once in office, he shuffled his Cabinet almost weekly and was beset by corruption allegations that underscored his inexperience.

Elites in Congress, although even more discredited than Castillo, went on the offensive, using an obscure constitutional power to seek his impeachment for “moral incapacity.” This triggered Castillo’s move to shut down Congress, which backfired with his arrest on charges of rebellion — and vice president Boluarte’s ascension to power.

The current revolt has coalesced around an urgent demand: Boluarte’s departure. Congress could act by ordering early elections but has so far refused as lawmakers are reluctant to, in effect, fire themselves.

Levitsky said it’s too early to know how Peru’s crisis will unfold. One demand from protesters is that the constitution adopted during Alberto Fujimori’s 1990-2000 authoritarian rule and which strengthened free-market reforms be overhauled.

But whatever happens, Levitsky doesn’t see a return to the status quo.

“A state that doesn’t work is sooner or later going to fall into crisis,” he said. “They had 20 years to build a state and they failed miserably.”

Monuments to that failure are everywhere in Cusco: An unfinished highway that was supposed to bisect the city and the crumbling façade of the Hotel Cusco, a historic landmark owned by the city government.

But perhaps the biggest white elephant is the Hospital Antonio Lorena.

Rising above the city’s red tile roofs, the sleek glass-and-steel structure was supposed to be the most modern in southern Peru when construction began in 2012. But after three years, the Brazilian builder abandoned the project amid an investigation into cost overruns fueled by alleged bribes paid to Cusco’s governor and the wife of Peru’s then-president Ollanta Humala.

Today, the half-built skeleton is covered by graffiti amid peeling paint, exposed power cables and shattered glass. On Dec. 7 — the day Castillo was arrested — a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held to mark the start of a 730-day, $ 244 million rescue plan for the project by a new foreign consortium with technical assistance from France.

Jorge Zapata, the head of Peru’s construction lobby, blames greedy politicians for the standstill. Nationwide, over 2,500 state-funded infrastructure projects worth $7 billion are paralyzed due to mismanagement, he said.

Meanwhile, instead of guiding tourists, Gonzales now spends his days scouring Cusco for a propane gas cannister to cook and bathe the couple’s 5-month-old daughter, Willow.

At an industrial depot, dozens of desperate residents were lined up this week in hopes demonstrators blocking the highways would halt their pickets long enough to let the trucks delivering the propane reach the besieged city.

“This is really scary,” said Zulauf, as she bounced her baby on her knees staring at the long line from her car. “In Cusco, people live day-to-day. If they can’t work, I don’t know how they’re surviving.”

Among those in line was Fredy Deza, who spent the night in a sleeping bag on the sidewalk.

Deza, 40, said the all-night vigil recalled another dark period in Peru’s history, when he would wait with his mother in long lines for bread, sugar and other staples during the chaotic 1985-1990 presidency of Alan Garcia.

“It’s like we’re going back in time,” said Deza, who worked as a guide in Machu Picchu until he was let go in December.

Prices for propane and other scarce items in Cusco are soaring due to inflation that jumped to 8.7% in January, near the highest level in a quarter-century. A black market has emerged, with cannisters going for three times the listed price.

Adding to insult, the cooking gas many can no longer afford is pumped by a foreign-owned consortium from the resource-rich department of Cusco and transported by a pipeline to the capital, Lima, where the bulk is then exported. A projected second pipeline, which would deliver it to Cusco and other cities in the south, remains a pipe dream.

“It’s sad,” said Deza, as he prepared for another cold night, “that as owners of our gas we have to be enduring this.”

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Disney World Unions Vote Down Offer Covering 45,000 Workers

Union members voted down a contract proposal covering tens of thousands of Walt Disney World service workers, saying it didn’t go far enough toward helping employees face cost-of-living hikes in housing and other expenses in central Florida.

The unions said that 13,650 out of 14,263 members who voted on the contract Friday rejected the proposal from Disney, sending negotiators back to the bargaining table for another round of talks that have been ongoing since August. The contract covers around 45,000 service workers at the Disney theme park resort outside Orlando, Florida.

Disney World service workers who are in the six unions that make up the Service Trades Council Union coalition had been demanding a starting minimum wage jump to at least $18 an hour in the first year of the contract, up from the starting minimum wage of $15 an hour won in the previous contract.

The proposal rejected Friday would have raised the starting minimum wage to $20 an hour for all service workers by the last year of the five-year contract, an increase of $1 each year for a majority of the workers it covered. Certain positions, like housekeepers, bus drivers and culinary jobs, would start immediately at a minimum of $20 under the proposal.

“Housekeepers work extremely hard to bring the magic to Disney, but we can’t pay our bills with magic,” said Vilane Raphael, who works as a housekeeper at the Disney Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa.

The company said that the proposal had offered a quarter of those covered by the contract an hourly wage of $20 in its first year, eight weeks of paid time off for a new child, maintenance of a pension, and the introduction of a 401K plan.

“Our strong offer provides more than 30,000 Cast Members a nearly 10% on average raise immediately, as well as retroactive increased pay in their paychecks, and we are disappointed that those increases are now delayed,” Disney spokesperson Andrea Finger said in a statement.

The contract stalemate comes as the Florida Legislature is prepared to convene next week to complete a state takeover of Disney World’s self-governing district. With the support of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the Republican-controlled legislature last April approved legislation to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District by June 2023, beginning a closely watched process that would determine the structure of government that controls Disney World’s sprawling property.

The contract with the service workers covers the costumed character performers who perform as Mickey Mouse — as well as bus drivers, culinary workers, lifeguards, theatrical workers and hotel housekeepers — representing more than half of the 70,000-plus workforce at Disney World. The contract approved five years ago made Disney the first major employer in central Florida to agree to a minimum hourly wage of $15, setting the trend for other workers in the hospitality industry-heavy region.

A report commissioned last year by one of the unions in the coalition, Unite Here Local 737, said that an adult worker with no dependents would need to earn $18.19 an hour to make a living wage in central Florida, while a family with two children would need both parents earning $23.91 an hour for a living wage.

While a wage of $15 an hour was enough for the last contract, “with skyrocketing rent, food, and gas prices in the last three years, it’s no longer possible to survive with those wages,” the report said.

With inflation causing the price of food and gas to shoot up, an employee earning $15 an hour full time currently makes $530 less than the worker would need for rent, food and gas each month, the report said.

Last month, food service and concessions workers at the Orange County Convention Center voted to approve a contract that will increase all non-tipped workers’ wages to $18 an hour by August, making them the first hospitality workers in Orlando to reach that pay rate.

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Nigerian Authorities Call For Calm as Citizens Protest Cash, Fuel Shortages

Nigerian Central Bank authorities are calling for calm as citizens march in the streets protesting cash and fuel shortages days ahead of the February 10 deadline when the country will switch to redesigned currency.  Protesters asked authorities Friday to circulate the new notes or reverse the currency switch decision. President Muhammadu Buhari assured citizens Friday that the problem will be addressed in a matter of days.

Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Godwin Emefiele told reporters Saturday authorities are taking measures to ensure smooth flow of the cash swap and minimize inconvenience.

He said there are enough of the redesigned currency and reiterated that the deadline to exchange the old bills for the new ones will not be extended beyond February 10.

On Sunday, the CBN announced a 10-day extension from January 31 for citizens to exchange world currencies for the new 200-, 500-, and 1,000-naira bills

But across many states, citizens say the new cash is yet to circulate, bringing business to a halt.

The situation snowballed into protests Friday in Oyo, Delta, Osun and Lagos states. Angry mobs vandalized banks and gas stations.

Ogho Okiti, the managing director of BusinessDay Media Ltd. said the new policy, though profitable, is already showing signs of poor implementation.

 

“What I think is happening is that we’re seeing an evidence of poor execution of the policy,” said Okiti. “There’s the dimension of logistics, there’s dimension of restrictions, then the dimension of accessibility, even to make transfers online you’re not able to do that. So, it’s putting so much frustration and pressure on the system”.

 

Nigeria is also facing intensifying fuel shortages across the country due to a disruption in the product distribution chain caused by the activities of cross-border smugglers.

On Friday, Buhari called for calm and said he has met with officials to resolve the problem in a lasting manner.

Oyo state Governor Sheyi Makinde also addressed residents in a televised broadcast, condemning violence in the state’s capital of Ibadan.

 

“The violence that erupted in part of Ibadan today is condemnable and will not be tolerated,” said Makinde. “In response to this I’ve suspended all campaign activities, I’ve also met with the heads of security agencies in Oyo state to restore calm. Violence cannot and will not solve our problems”.  

But across many states, citizens say the new cash is yet to circulate and the old notes have been mostly withdrawn from circulation, making business transactions difficult.

“The protest was actually peaceful, but I guess some people … all these political thugs joined, that is why it actually became violent. The bank was actually damaged totally, because they burgled the ATM machine, sike ?? parts of the windows,” said Stephen Adekunle, an Oyo State Resident.

This is Nigeria’s first currency swap in 19 years. 

Authorities say the measure is already making an impact curbing crimes, counterfeiting and corruption, as well as recalling the excess cash stashed away back into the banking system.

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Indian Tycoon Hit by Allegations of Fraud Faces Huge Losses

Indian business tycoon Gautam Adani is in the eye of a storm after a dramatic crash in the stocks of his companies.

Adani’s businesses have lost more than $100 billion after a U.S. investment firm, Hindenburg Research, alleged that the companies engaged in stock market manipulation and fraud. The Adani Group has called the allegations “nothing but a lie.”

The rout faced by the Adani conglomerate, which spans such key areas as ports, power generation, airports, mining, and renewable power, has raised fears of a potential loss of investor confidence in India’s growing economy. It has also triggered a political storm, with opposition parties demanding a probe into the accusations of malpractice against a business figure perceived to have close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The spectacular rise of the Adani empire over the last decade has catapulted Gautam Adani into the realm of the world’s wealthiest people. He was ranked as the world’s third richest, and Asia’s richest man by Forbes, behind Bernard Arnault and Elon Musk until late January.

That ranking has tumbled since seven listed companies of the Adani group lost nearly half their market capitalization after Hindenburg raised doubts over the business practices of the conglomerate. In a report, it accused the group of artificially boosting share prices by funneling money into stocks through offshore tax havens. The report said the shares were overvalued and their prices had soared more than 800% in the past three years.

Hindenburg is a small investment firm known as a short seller on Wall Street. The firm looks for corporate wrongdoing and makes money if stock prices of the company fall.

Hindenburg said that the “brazen stock manipulation” and accounting fraud by Adani Group was “the largest con in corporate history.” It also said that “substantial debt” puts the group on a precarious financial footing.

In a 413-page response, the Adani Group called the report baseless and a “malicious combination of selective misinformation” and “stale, baseless and discredited allegations.” It said the charges were driven by “an ulterior motive” to allow the U.S. firm to make financial gains.

In a video message to investors Thursday, Adani said that the fundamentals of his group are “strong” and that its record on paying back debt was “impeccable.” The Adani Group called the report an attack on the “growth story and ambition of India.”

Hindenburg countered by saying, “India’s future is being held back by the Adani Group, which has draped itself in the Indian flag while systematically looting the nation.”

The controversy has turned a spotlight on the dizzying rise of the 60-year-old businessman, a college dropout from a middle-class family, who began as a commodities trader before expanding into infrastructure in the 1990s when he built a port in Gujarat state and made a foray into areas such as coal mining. Then came power plants, airports, roads and defense equipment, areas he said were in step with the country’s need for infrastructure. The group became one of the country’s top three conglomerates.

He has also made investments overseas — on Tuesday, even as the controversy raged, Adani stood with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he took control of Israel’s Haifa port, acquired for $1.2 billion. In 2011 he bought a large coal mining operation in Australia. Other investments are lined up in Sri Lanka.

Adani hails from Gujarat state, which Modi headed as chief minister before arriving on the national stage in 2014. Critics point out that his dramatic expansion has coincided with Modi’s rule.

“From the time Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, there were close ties with Adani at the personal level,” said Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst who has written a book on Modi. “However, I did not really look into their association at a business level.”

Adani has denied claims of any preferential treatment by Modi’s government. “These allegations are baseless,” Adani told India Today television saying that their shared origins made him an “easy target” for such claims. “The fact of the matter is that my professional success is not because of any individual leader.”

For the time being, the group faces a crisis of confidence despite a marginal rally in its companies’ stocks on Friday. Adani has scrapped a $2.5 billion share offering that opened after the release of the Hindenburg report, saying he was doing it to insulate investors from potential losses, but that it would not affect his business. The share issue had been seen as a key sign of investor confidence. Although it found support from institutional investors and wealthy Indians, small retail investors had largely shunned it.

Indian Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has said that she did not expect the controversy around Adani’s business empire to affect investor confidence in India.

India remains a “very well-regulated financial market,” she told broadcaster News18 on Friday.

“One instance, however much talked about globally it may be, I would think is not going to be indicative of how well Indian financial markets are governed,” Sitharaman said. “I think the investor confidence which existed before shall continue even now.”

However, calls for a probe are growing amid questions about whether financial regulators had done enough scrutiny of the group. “The allegations made by Hindenburg need an enquiry at the level of the Supreme Court because the charges are serious,” economist Prasenjit Bose said.

The controversy has also turned into a political flashpoint. Parliament was adjourned Thursday and Friday as opposition lawmakers demanded an inquiry either by a joint parliamentary committee or one monitored by the Supreme Court into the allegations and have expressed concerns about exposure that Indian financial institutions have to the Adani Group.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi, a member of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters outside parliament on Friday that “we [the government] have no connection” with the Adani controversy.

Political analyst Mukhopadhyay said, “The Adani meltdown will only have a political impact if there is a negative fallout on the wider stock markets and Indian public financial institutions. Otherwise, it will blow over.”

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US Adds 517,000 Jobs Despite Interest Rate Hikes

America’s employers added a robust 517,000 jobs in January, a surprisingly strong gain in the face of the Federal Reserve’s aggressive drive to slow growth and tame inflation with higher interest rates.

The unemployment rate dipped to 3.4%, a new half-century low.

Friday’s government report added to the picture of a resilient labor market, with low unemployment, relatively few layoffs and many job openings even as most economists foresee a recession nearing. Though good for workers, employers’ steady demand for labor has also helped accelerate wage growth and contributed to high inflation.

January’s job growth, which far exceeded December’s 269,000 gain, could raise doubts about whether inflation pressures will ease further in the months ahead. The Fed has raised its key rate eight times since March to try to contain inflation, which hit a four-decade high last year but has slowed since then.

Companies are still seeking more workers and are hanging tightly onto the ones they have. Putting aside some high-profile layoffs at big tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Amazon and others, most workers are enjoying an unusual level of job security even at a time when many economists foresee a recession approaching.

For all of 2022, the economy had added a sizzling average of 375,000 jobs a month. That was a pace vigorous enough to have contributed to the painful inflation Americans have endured, the worst such bout in 40 years. A tight job market tends to put upward pressure on wages, which, in turn, feed into inflation.

The Fed, hoping to cool the job market and the economy — and, as a consequence, inflation — has steadily raised borrowing rates, most recently on Wednesday. Year-over-year measures of consumer inflation have steadily eased since peaking at 9.1% in June. But at 6.5% in December, inflation remains far above the Fed’s 2% target, which is why the central bank’s policymakers have reiterated their intent to keep raising borrowing rates for at least a few more months.

The Fed is aiming to achieve a “soft landing” — a pullback in the economy that is just enough to tame high inflation without triggering a recession. The policymakers hope that employers can slow wage increases and inflationary pressures by reducing job openings but not necessarily by laying off many employees.

But the job market’s resilience isn’t making that hoped-for outcome any easier. On Wednesday, the Labor Department reported that employers posted 11 million job openings in December, an unexpected jump from 10.4 million in November and the largest number since July. There are now about two job vacancies, on average, for every unemployed American.

The Labor Department’s monthly count of layoffs has amounted to fewer than 1.5 million for 21 straight months. Until 2021, that figure had never dropped so low in records dating back two decades.

Yet another sign that workers are benefiting from unusual job security is the weekly number of people who apply for unemployment benefits. That figure is a proxy for layoffs, one that economists monitor for clues about where the job market might be headed. The government said Thursday that the number of jobless claims fell last week to its lowest level since April.

The pace of applications for unemployment aid has remained rock-bottom despite a steady stream of headline-making layoff announcements. Facebook parent Meta is cutting 11,000 jobs, Amazon 18,000, Microsoft 10,000, Google 12,000. Some economists suspect that many laid-off workers might not be showing up at the unemployment line because they can still find new jobs easily.

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Pakistan ‘Will Have to Agree’ to IMF Conditions for Bailout, PM Says

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said Friday the government would have to agree to IMF bailout conditions that are “beyond imagination.”

An International Monetary Fund delegation landed in Pakistan on Tuesday for last-ditch talks to revive vital financial aid that has stalled for months.

The government has held out against tax rises and subsidy slashing demanded by the IMF, fearful of backlash ahead of elections due in October.

“I will not go into the details but will only say that our economic challenge is unimaginable. The conditions we will have to agree to with the IMF are beyond imagination. But we will have to agree with the conditions,” Sharif said in televised comments.

Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits, stricken by a balance of payments crisis as it attempts to service high levels of external debt, amid political chaos and deteriorating security.

The country’s central bank said Thursday its foreign exchange reserves had dropped again to $3.1 billion, which analysts said was enough for less than three weeks of imports.

Data on Wednesday showed year-on-year inflation had risen to a 48-year high, leaving Pakistanis struggling to afford basic food items.

Bowing to pressure

Ahead of the IMF visit, Islamabad began to bow to pressure with the prospect of national bankruptcy looming.

The government loosened controls on the rupee to rein in a rampant black market in U.S. dollars, a step that caused the currency to plunge to a record low. Artificially cheap petrol prices have also been hiked.

The world’s fifth-biggest population is no longer issuing letters of credit, except for essential food and medicines, causing a backlog of thousands of shipping containers at Karachi port stuffed with stock the country can no longer afford.

“Accepting IMF conditions will definitely increase prices, but Pakistan has no other choice,” analyst Abid Hasan told AFP. “Otherwise, there is a fear of a situation like Sri Lanka and Lebanon.”

Rejecting conditions and pushing Pakistan to the brink would have “political consequences” for the ruling parties, but so will agreeing to IMF measures raising the cost of living, he said.

Political chaos

The tumbling economy mirrors Pakistan’s political chaos, with former prime minister Imran Khan heaping pressure on the ruling coalition in his bid for early elections while his popularity remains high.

Khan, who was ousted last year in a no-confidence motion, negotiated a multibillion-dollar loan package from the IMF in 2019.

But he reneged on promises to cut subsidies and market interventions that had cushioned the cost-of-living crisis, causing the program to stall.

It is a common pattern in Pakistan, where most people live in rural poverty, with more than two dozen IMF deals brokered and then broken over the decades. 

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US Federal Reserve OKs Small Interest Rate Hike, Expects More Jumps

The Federal Reserve raised its target interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday, yet promised “ongoing increases” in borrowing costs as part of its still unresolved battle against inflation. 

“Inflation has eased somewhat but remains elevated,” the U.S. central bank said in a statement that acknowledged the progress made in lowering the pace of price increases from the 40-year highs hit last year. 

Russia’s war in Ukraine, for example, was still seen as adding to “elevated global uncertainty,” the Fed said. But policymakers dropped the language of earlier statements citing the war as well as the COVID-19 pandemic as direct contributors to rising prices. 

Still, the Fed said the U.S. economy was enjoying “modest growth” and “robust” job gains, with policymakers still “highly attentive to inflation risks.” 

“The [Federal Open Market] Committee anticipates that ongoing increases in the target range will be appropriate in order to attain a stance of monetary policy that is sufficiently restrictive to return inflation to 2% over time,” the Fed said. 

The decision lifted the benchmark overnight interest rate to a range between 4.50% and 4.75%, a move widely anticipated by investors and flagged by U.S. central bankers ahead of this week’s two-day policy session. 

But in keeping the promise of more rate hikes to come, the Fed pushed back against investor expectations that it was ready to flag the end of the current tightening cycle as a nod to the fact that inflation has been steadily declining for six months. 

The statement did indicate that any future rate increases would be in quarter-percentage-point increments, dropping a reference to the “pace” of future increases and instead referring to the “extent” of rate changes. 

But those, it said, would take into account how the policy moves so far had impacted the economy, language that linked further rate increases to the evolution of upcoming economic data. 

The Fed hopes it can continue nudging inflation lower to its 2% target without triggering a deep recession or causing a substantial rise in the unemployment rate from the current 3.5%, a level rarely seen in recent decades. Inflation, based on the Fed’s preferred measure, slowed to a 5% annual rate in December. 

The U.S. central bank did not issue new economic projections from its policymakers on Wednesday.

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Boeing Bids Farewell to an Icon, Delivers Last 747 Jumbo Jet

Boeing bid farewell to an icon on Tuesday, delivering its final 747 jumbo jet as thousands of workers who helped build the planes over the past 55 years looked on. 

Since its first flight in 1969, the giant yet graceful 747 has served as a cargo plane, a commercial aircraft capable of carrying nearly 500 passengers, a transport for NASA’s space shuttles, and the Air Force One presidential aircraft. It revolutionized travel, connecting international cities that had never before had direct routes and helping democratize passenger flight. 

But over about the past 15 years, Boeing and its European rival Airbus have introduced more profitable and fuel efficient wide-body planes, with only two engines to maintain instead of the 747’s four. The final plane is the 1,574th built by Boeing in the Puget Sound region of Washington state. 

Thousands of workers joined Boeing and other industry executives from around the world — as well as actor and pilot John Travolta, who has flown 747s — Tuesday for a ceremony in the company’s massive factory north of Seattle, marking the delivery of the last one to cargo carrier Atlas Air. 

“If you love this business, you’ve been dreading this moment,” said longtime aviation analyst Richard Aboulafia. “Nobody wants a four-engine airliner anymore, but that doesn’t erase the tremendous contribution the aircraft made to the development of the industry or its remarkable legacy.” 

Boeing set out to build the 747 after losing a contract for a huge military transport, the C-5A. The idea was to take advantage of the new engines developed for the transport — high-bypass turbofan engines, which burned less fuel by passing air around the engine core, enabling a farther flight range — and to use them for a newly imagined civilian aircraft. 

It took more than 50,000 Boeing workers less than 16 months to churn out the first 747 — a Herculean effort that earned them the nickname “The Incredibles.” The jumbo jet’s production required the construction of a massive factory in Everett, north of Seattle — the world’s largest building by volume. The factory wasn’t even completed when the first planes were finished. 

Among those in attendance was Desi Evans, 92, who joined Boeing at its factory in Renton, south of Seattle, in 1957 and went on to spend 38 years at the company before retiring. One day in 1967, his boss told him he’d be joining the 747 program in Everett — the next morning. 

“They told me, ‘Wear rubber boots, a hard hat and dress warm, because it’s a sea of mud,'” Evans recalled. “And it was — they were getting ready for the erection of the factory.” 

He was assigned as a supervisor to help figure out how the interior of the passenger cabin would be installed and later oversaw crews that worked on sealing and painting the planes. 

“When that very first 747 rolled out, it was an incredible time,” he said as he stood before the last plane, parked outside the factory. “You felt elated — like you’re making history. You’re part of something big, and it’s still big, even if this is the last one.” 

The plane’s fuselage was 225 feet (68.5 meters) long and the tail stood as tall as a six-story building. The plane’s design included a second deck extending from the cockpit back over the first third of the plane, giving it a distinctive hump and inspiring a nickname, the Whale. More romantically, the 747 became known as the Queen of the Skies. 

Some airlines turned the second deck into a first-class cocktail lounge, while even the lower deck sometimes featured lounges or even a piano bar. One decommissioned 747, originally built for Singapore Airlines in 1976, has been converted into a 33-room hotel near the airport in Stockholm. 

“It was the first big carrier, the first widebody, so it set a new standard for airlines to figure out what to do with it, and how to fill it,” said Guillaume de Syon, a history professor at Pennsylvania’s Albright College who specializes in aviation and mobility. “It became the essence of mass air travel: You couldn’t fill it with people paying full price, so you need to lower prices to get people onboard. It contributed to what happened in the late 1970s with the deregulation of air travel.” 

The first 747 entered service in 1970 on Pan Am’s New York-London route, and its timing was terrible, Aboulafia said. It debuted shortly before the oil crisis of 1973, amid a recession that saw Boeing’s employment fall from 100,800 employees in 1967 to a low of 38,690 in April 1971. The “Boeing bust” was infamously marked by a billboard near the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that read, “Will the last person leaving SEATTLE — Turn out the lights.” 

An updated model — the 747-400 series — arrived in the late 1980s and had much better timing, coinciding with the Asian economic boom of the early 1990s, Aboulafia said. He took a Cathay Pacific 747 from Los Angeles to Hong Kong as a twentysomething backpacker in 1991. 

“Even people like me could go see Asia,” Aboulafia said. “Before, you had to stop for fuel in Alaska or Hawaii and it cost a lot more. This was a straight shot — and reasonably priced.” 

Delta was the last U.S. airline to use the 747 for passenger flights, which ended in 2017, although some other international carriers continue to fly it, including the German airline Lufthansa. 

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr recalled traveling in a 747 as a young exchange student and said that when he realized he’d be traveling to the West Coast of the U.S. for Tuesday’s event, there was only one way to go: riding first-class in the nose of a Lufthansa 747 from Frankfurt to San Francisco. He promised the crowd Lufthansa would keep flying the 747 for many years to come. 

“We just love the airplane,” he said. 

Atlas Air ordered four 747-8 freighters early last year, with the final one — emblazoned with an image of Joe Sutter, the engineer who oversaw the 747’s original design team — delivered Tuesday. Atlas CEO John Dietrich called the 747 the greatest air freighter, thanks in part to its unique capacity to load through the nose cone. 

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Delay in Reforms Puts Pakistan’s Economy in Crisis

Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis. Prices of staples like food and fuel are skyrocketing. The country must repay billions in external debt, but its foreign reserves are so low it can barely afford to buy a few weeks’ worth of imports. As the government tries to revive stalled talks with the International Monetary Fund to unlock much-needed assistance, Sarah Zaman looks at how delaying reforms has brought Pakistan to the brink of economic disaster.

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US Treasury to Increase Borrowing Amid Debt Ceiling Standoff

The Treasury Department said Monday it plans to increase its borrowing during the first three months of 2023, even as the federal government is bumping up against a $31.4 trillion limit on its legal borrowing authority. 

The U.S. plans to borrow $932 billion during the January-to-March quarter. That’s $353 billion more than projected last October, due to a lower beginning-of-quarter cash balance and projections of lower-than-expected income tax receipts and higher spending. 

The increased borrowing will take place as Democrats and the White House push for Congress to increase the federal debt limit. President Joe Biden wants the cap raised without any preconditions. The new House Republican majority is seeking to secure spending cuts in exchange for a debt limit increase. 

Treasury officials say the debate over the debt ceiling poses a risk to the U.S. financial position. 

“Even just the threat that the U.S. government might fail to meet its obligations may cause severe harm to the economy by eroding household and business confidence, injecting volatility into financial markets, and raising the cost of capital — among other negative impacts,” Ben Harris, Treasury’s assistant secretary for economic policy, said in a statement. 

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in a letter to congressional leaders earlier this month, said the department had begun resorting to “extraordinary measures” to avoid a federal government default. She said it’s “critical that Congress act in a timely manner” to raise or suspend the debt limit. 

In a letter to House and Senate leaders, Yellen said her actions will buy time until Congress can pass legislation that will either raise the nation’s borrowing authority or suspend the limit for a period of time. She said it is unlikely that cash and extraordinary measures will be exhausted before early June. 

New House Speaker Kevin McCarthy will meet with Biden at the White House this week to discuss the debt limit. 

McCarthy told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday: “I want to sit down together, work out an agreement that we can move forward to put us on a path to balance — and at the same time not put any of our debt in jeopardy at the same time.” 

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