June 29th, 2010
12:44 AM GMT
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New figures show Japan's job market has taken a hit.

The unemployment rate in the world's second largest economy rose to 5.2 percent in May – up from 5.1 percent in April. That may be hurting confidence among Japanese consumers, as household spending fell 0.7 percent.

Goods rolled out of Japan's factories at a slower pace in May. Industrial production fell a tenth of a percent in May compared to April.



March 1st, 2010
10:25 AM GMT
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The size and scale of the protests in Greece were hard to ignore. Athenians filled Constitution Square in the heart of the capital protesting the austerity measures being put forward by the government of George Papandreou. This is his first major test on the ground since taking office last autumn.

It is quite easy to be swept up into the strike action in Greece and the other labor protests we have been witnessing in Europe during this winter of discontent - affecting industries from the airline sector (Lufthansa and British Airways) to the energy sector (French giant Total) - but it would be a mistake to see them as classic disputes over wages.

In Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy protests go right to the heart of what many in the labor movement and broader society see as a birthright - to continue to enjoy benefits that in today's globalized world are disappearing fast.

Taking Greece for example, investors saw the recent strike by Ministry of Finance workers as somewhat ironic since they are the very members of the civil service who are at the forefront of the restructuring plan itself. It is not often discussed, but many government workers enjoy preferential tax rates, can retire at the age of 54 (in some cases earlier) and enjoy 14 months of pay for 12 months worked.

The Papandreou government is trying to reign in some of those policies. But as leader of the socialist movement, Pasok, those that brought him into power were not expecting changes to what they consider sacred covenants of their day-to-day existence.

I had a chance this year in Davos to share a tea with the Greek Prime Minister who seemed extremely determined to get the job done. He conveyed a certain Zen-like calm about what the job entails. The Prime Minister recalled having to defuse a university sit-in during his first week on the job as Education Minister (in his father’s cabinet), then in his early days as Foreign Minister dealing with a huge row with Turkey over Abdullah Ocalan, the Kurdish rebel leader who was on Greek soil.

While those were big challenges for a cabinet minister, this scale of top-to-bottom reform is clearly in a different league altogether. In today's crisis, no one is really arguing that there will have to be sacrifice, more how deep the pain will go. The strike is an effort by workers and students to carve a line in the marble so to speak.

As this Greek drama plays out with huge consequences for the country's people and finances, there are many in Frankfurt, Paris and Brussels who are looking back at the brief history of the Euro and what led to this "Southern Med" crisis.

There is a lesson in this effort for the counterparts in the Middle East, particularly in the Gulf where development of the single currency is underway. European countries were forced to come together after World War II. Major schisms can provide impetus for change, but it does mean leaders need to build the foundation of the process carefully.

One of the key architects of the European monetary union, former European Commission President Jacques Delors saw the launch of the Euro as a path to deeper political union. With a much bigger vision in mind, those who hurried this process along after the fall of communism and expansion of the European Union from 12 to 27 members overlooked or chose to ignore both the generous entitlements and, worst still, the levels of corruption and tax avoidance that permeate these economies.

In December, Papandreou admitted to other European Union leaders that "systemic corruption" was at the heart of the Greek crisis and said his government intended to take "harsh measures" to root it out.

The Euro has, without contention, created both stability and wealth in Southern Europe. In the past decade citizens have been lulled into believing that a price won't have to be extracted for Europe turning a blind eye to misdeeds. As they take to the streets in protest, they are finding out that the lenient times are drawing to a close.



November 11th, 2009
09:06 AM GMT
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If you thought that lavish bonuses for the financial industry would be a welcome casualty of the current financial crisis, it is time to think again. The New York-based executive search and compensation consultancy, Options Group, put that notion to rest for us in a new report.

Watch CNN's Ali Velshi explain what underlies the return of big bonuses on Wall Street.

Options Group predicts bonuses at financial firms worldwide will increase by an average 40% this year, just months after many of these firms were teetering on the brink of disaster and begging for bailouts.

The report, released this week, says that managing directors in high-yield credit sales will see the biggest bonuses, along with those in commodity sales units. They’ve apparently had a heck of a year. In fact, it is an incredible turnaround in fortunes which came, of course, thanks to a life raft the size of Manhattan!

Still, how could it have happened so fast: A return so promptly to business and bonuses as usual? Interviewed on Monday’s edition of World Business Today, CNN’s Ali Velshi told me, “It’s unusual given the times we are in. It’s less unusual if you’ve been tracking how this market has been doing. When you look at the money these banks are making, they’ve actually made it on trading…. Buying things cheap and selling them high.”

Velshi also points out that many of the big banks making money now have paid back the taxpayer funds they borrowed, and taxpayers have made a profit on those transactions.

However, seven of the big financial firms doling out bonuses are not off the taxpayer’s hook. Their bonuses will reportedly be less handsome.

Velshi says, “Major profits have been taken at companies that have paid that money back… and they want to be free to pay their people. It’s quite a remarkable situation. You wouldn’t have thought six months ago we’d be talking about bonuses that were bigger than last year.”

Some analysts point out that financial firms will offer more in stock and defer more cash payments because of public pressure, and pressure from regulators to pay tie to long-term results rather than rewarding short term risk. That might placate those who believe excessive rewards for short-term risk helped cause the financial meltdown.

Professor Peter Morici, of the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, says, “These bonuses show Wall Street is arrogant and insensitive. These bonuses were earned by investing cheap taxpayer funds, and the profits really belong to all Americans. This entire episode is an outrage.”

The U.S. Federal Reserve is planning to review the 28 largest banks to ensure compensation is not rewarding risk; however, global leaders have tried and failed more than once in the past year to agree on what constitutes excessive risk or excessive compensation.

“You only know it,” explained Barack Obama’s pay Czar Kenneth Feinberg a few weeks ago, “Once it’s staring you in the face,” and by then, of course, it’s too late.

So what’s the message here? Let’s just get used to it? The punch bowl is full once again on Wall Street. To paraphrase the much-maligned quotation attributed in London’s Sunday Times to Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, God’s work is being done. Phew!

So let’s just grit our teeth and pretend we haven’t learned a thing in the past year. There’s no need to wonder what’s going on now; no need to worry about what might be laying the groundwork for the next financial crisis. After all, we’ll know it, once we see it.



December 19th, 2008
06:51 PM GMT
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NEW YORK - As I was walking home from work the other night, I was saddened to see yet another restaurant in my neighborhood closed down.

Sign of the times for Mama.
Sign of the times for Mama.

A typed note was posted on the door.  "Dear Friends and Neighbors, We tried our best, but December 7th will be our last day. Thank you for a great time! With Love, Mama"

The global financial crisis has been unfolding for months now, but the damage to the real economy is more and more visible. And it is more personal.

I felt for the owners when I read the line, "we tried our best." I imagine this was a dream of theirs to open a restaurant. In better economic times they just may have succeeded.

But this is a harsh environment where even big companies are struggling. A few doors down from Mama, a larger clothing chain, puts a sign out everyday offering Big Sales! It is not about profits these days, it is just about survival.

I spend my days trying to explain the complicated issues involved in this global financial crisis, but sometimes an image tells the story best. Right now, when people ask me how the U.S. economy is doing, I think of the shop with a gate across the front and a "for rent" sign in the window.

What are you witnessing?  What is happening in your town or city that is a sign of these economic times? If you can, send us a photos and video along with your post. It may be a sign of just how tough things are...or maybe you are seeing signs of hope or humor.  We want to know.  Send your photos, videos and stories to iReport.com



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