April 27th, 2010
05:26 AM GMT
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April 26th, 2010
02:29 PM GMT
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The economic downturn has hurt many sectors of business around the world, but the restaurant industry may have been one of the hardest hit.

Alain Ducasse is seen at his Tokyo restaurant.
Alain Ducasse is seen at his Tokyo restaurant.

Restaurants around the world have been suffering because of the recession and in January of this year a record 100 restaurants went out of business in the UK alone, according to the “Independent” newspaper.

Many of the world’s top chefs, including Gordon Ramsay, have had to close restaurants with Ramsay closing two of his London locations. Ramsay is also reported to have a overdraft of almost $15 million.

World famous French chef, Alain Ducasse has also had to put plans for a global expansion on hold because of the downturn.

In September 2009, celebrity chef Tom Aitkens put his flagship restaurant in London’s west end into administration. He re-opened the restaurant soon after, enabling him to clear more than $5 million in debt.

But it’s not just the upscale restaurateurs that are feeling the pinch of the global financial crisis.

Many mid-range and inexpensive eateries are being affected, with many of them closing over the past 18 months.

We want to know what you think.

How has the economic downturn affected your eating habits? Are you eating out less? Are restaurants with $200 a head averages just too much?

April 22nd, 2010
09:52 AM GMT
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If you live in Europe or Japan, it is highly likely that the cut flowers you buy at your local market or in the supermarket are from Kenya. So when the Icelandic volcano disrupted air travel into Europe, the impact was keenly felt here in Africa.

The Kenyan Flower Council chief executive, Jane Ngige, told my colleague Zain Verjee, that the Kenyan flower industry lost about two million dollars a day during the crisis. What made the fall-out even worse for Kenyans was that it is now peak export season because Europeans celebrate Mother’s Day in May. The timing, it seems, couldn’t have been worse.

The Kenyan flower growers harvest everyday at this time of the year so they couldn’t store all their unsent blooms in cold rooms. So there are reports of many farmers just dumping tons of roses and other flowers into compost pits or leaving their excess flowers to rot in cargo areas of airports.

Geared for export, the Kenyan flower industry is a large employer, of mostly women, who cut, grade and package flowers for foreign markets. Across the horticultural industry in Kenya, there are reports of at least five thousand laborers who have already lost their jobs as a direct consequence of the volcanic ash cloud financial fall-out. The Kenyan horticultural industry is estimated to be a billion-dollar business.

After this unprecedented grounding of aircraft, there are similar stories here in South Africa. Cargo carriers of perishable foods such as meat, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables are already starting to count the costs of not being able to send their goods into Europe. Industry analysts say cargo volumes from South Africa have halved.

The impact has been felt along the supply chain – fruit suppliers have been told to stop production and fisherman have been put on shore leave until there was a better sense of when flights would resume and schedules would return to normal. The backlog could take weeks to sort out though.

One cargo company told a local newspaper that they had 90 tons of fish and 25 tons of ostrich meat that had to be shipped to Europe immediately or resold to the local market.

So I am expecting to see an increase in ostrich meat specials on the menus of many South African restaurants.

April 22nd, 2010
04:42 AM GMT
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America's biggest banks are rolling in dough again.  The U.S. President is going straight to Wall Street to pitch tough financial reforms to avoid future financial meltdowns.   The regulatory body, the S.E.C., is pursuing civil fraud charges against Goldman Sachs.  And some people are crying conspiracy.  In a rare statement, the head of the S.E.C. said the watchdog does not "coordinate" its "enforcement actions with the White House, Congress or political committees," re-asserting its independence in the face of criticism."

Extraordinary times continue in the financial world.  But what on earth is going on?   If you believe one analyst we featured on World Business Today, this moment in the global financial crisis may be an important one.  Richard Bove, Financial Analyst for Rochdale Securities, fears this could be the start of a pursuit of major financial institutions that could erode confidence in the U.S. financial system.

Bove calls the reaction to the banking crisis in 2008 "hysteria" and says the Goldman transactions may be complex, possibly unsavory, but they are not fraudulent.

"On one side you have a sophisticated investor who wants to short a bunch of mortgages. On the other side, you have two sophisticated investors who've gone through all these mortgages and decided which ones they want to keep, and which ones they don't want to keep.  And they made the decision to buy them. The government is not suing the guy who wants to short, or the guy who bought the mortgages.  The government is going after the middleman.  What's the logic in that?"

Media reports are questioning the strength of the SEC's case.  The agency says it has appropriate evidence that will be presented in court, at the appropriate time.

We should not be pre-trying this case in the media.  But the questions the case raises are important ones and the voices on it, divergent.

Did somebody hear Richard Bove defend Goldman Sachs as good for society? Yes, you did. And that derivatives, the exotic instruments everyone is so upset about here, are good for the economy because they help drive down risk?  Yes, you did.

It's a tough case to make in this climate, but Bove says Goldman should be defending itself as a business that does "societal good,"  because it "lowers taxes, and adds jobs and business opportunities."  However, because of the financial crisis and these charges it is viewed simply as a bunch of greedy bankers who do fraudulent things.

"The U.S. has to raise 1.3 trillion dollars this year to cover the deficit. It has to roll over 3 trillion dollars in existing debt.  Who is going to do that?  Are we going to have a bunch of small community banks to set up desks in front of their branches and sell savings bonds at 25 dollars a pop? Or do we need a very sophisticated company that can access capital markets all over the globe to raise that money? And if it doesn't raise that money what happens to taxes in the U.S. Somebody has to make that money."

Of course, the courts will decide whether Goldman did anything fraudulent.

Bove is firmly in the camp of those who believe the government's case is weak, but he's quick to add: "I would never defend Goldman Sachs. I would not defend their ethics.  I just think in this particular instance they were not guilty of any crime."

April 21st, 2010
01:26 PM GMT
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London, England - At just before 10pm I ran out of my house last night to witness the first British Airways plane flying overhead as it made its approach into Heathrow.

The plane's arrival not only showed the ban on UK travel imposed due to volcanic ash had ended but also broke the silence that west London has enjoyed for five days.

At Heathrow the next day I watch flight after flight take off on the north runway as things quickly got back to normal.

I can't help but wonder if we, the airlines, the airports and the companies in general have learned lessons from this.

One woman I met had no luggage while stranded at Heathrow because her bags were being transferred when the airport shut.

Friends have been emailing from where ever they are stuck telling of missed meetings and conferences.

Schools are having to find supply teachers and I know one family stuck in New York who did a house swap with a family staying in their London house.

Will companies do more teleconferences? Will people take fewer vacations this year in case the volcano acts up again? Will authorities listen to airlines more next time and let them take some of the rick after an eruption? Will airports buy more water and blankets to help stranded passengers? Will hotels be in trouble for doubling room rates - as some did here at Heathrow.

I for one will carry on more clothes and not put credit cards in checked bags.

Will you or your company do anything different or will all just go back to normal by next week?

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Filed under: Air industry

April 21st, 2010
11:10 AM GMT
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April 20th, 2010
02:32 AM GMT
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April 20th, 2010
02:28 AM GMT
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April 20th, 2010
02:07 AM GMT
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Hong Kong, China (CNN) - I bet none of these people ever thought their work would be affected by a volcano in Iceland.

I am at a cargo terminal in Hong Kong.  I'm told about 7,000 tons of cargo passes through this terminal every day and about a quarter of it is for Europe.  But because of the ash cloud, many of the goods can't be delivered to their final destination.  I see an Air France cargo plane on the tarmac.  The executive showing me around tells me the flight was supposed to take off last week.

So far, most of the backlogs are not happening at the terminals but at the farms or the factories.  Some farms are being forced to sell their Europe bound produce in the local markets.  Factories - in China at least - haven't been badly disrupted yet though many here do worry about a potential bottleneck of shipments.  Those who import European components are also concerned their production could stall if the air doesn't clear soon.

Over the weekend, passengers traveling to Europe were stuck in Hong Kong.  One traveler from the Philippines who was supposed to transit to London told me he understood the chaos was being caused by an act of nature but was disappointed with the way the airlines were handling the mess.  He had been sleeping on the airport floor since Friday and was looking for a way to get back home to Manila.  One British family told me the earliest they could get re-booked on a flight to London was in May.  Customer service representatives based here for Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, KLM, and British Airways all informed me the same: If you are traveling to Europe, don't expect to get a confirmed flight till next month.

The airlines are losing hundreds of millions of dollars.  Shippers are re-routing flights to Greece, Turkey, and Spain and transporting their goods via trucks over land when they can. All are wondering, when will the eruption's disruption end?

Which makes me curious: How is your work and life being disrupted by the distant volcano?

Filed under: Business

April 19th, 2010
05:00 PM GMT
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The cloud of ash from an Iceland volcano is casting a shadow over the delicate economic recovery in Europe as the cancellation of flights in key markets entered its fifth day costing the airline industry hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue.

Should the airlines be bailed out?
Should the airlines be bailed out?

By the end of the day on Sunday, a total of 63,000 flights had been canceled in the four days since ash from a volcano under the Eyjafjallajokull glacier in Iceland closed the airspace of a large swath of Europe, according to air traffic authority Eurocontrol.

One industry group said the air travel and freight disruptions are costing airlines at least $200 million a day.

"This crisis is costing airlines at least $200 million a day in lost revenues and the European economy is suffering billions of dollars in lost business," said Giovanni Bisignani, director general and CEO of the International Air Transport Association.

He told CNN that if flight restrictions continue, some small and medium-sized airlines could be put in jeopardy.

Even airlines based far from the ash face a financial knock-on effect: Thai Airways, based in Bangkok, estimates the cloud is costing the airline $3 million a day and has stranded 6,000 of its passengers.

On Monday, the British Airlines Pilot Association called on the UK government to rescue airlines in a banking-style bailout because of the severity of the disruptions.

British Airways also said in a statement that "European airlines have asked the EU and national governments for financial compensation for the closure of airspace."

We want to know what you think.

Should the airlines be bailed out? Should airlines receive financial compensation because of the volcanic ash cloud?

Filed under: BusinessQuest Means Business

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