Efforts afoot to bridge demand, supply gap: Asif

SIALKOT (APP): Federal Minister for Water and Power Khawaja Muhammad Asif said on Saturday that a mechanism was being evolved to bridge gap between demand and supply of electricity in the country. Talking to APP, before leaving for Islamabad, he said the steps were being taken to overcome electricity loadshedding in the country. It was very unfortunate that power generation sector was totally ignored by the previous regimes due to which electricity crisis deepened, he said. The minister said the government was considering various plans for generating electricity and special attention will be accorded on short and long term projects.

‘Energy saving’ drive would soon be initiated, he said and appealed to the electricity consumers that they should refrain from using excess electricity during peak hours and join hands for making energy saving drive a complete success. PML-N on its behalf was trying its utmost to bring the country out of energy crisis but at this juncture the cooperation and support of the consumers had become vital, he said.

“We will be able in adding electricity to national grid in February and hopefully it will help further reducing the duration of loadshedding in the country,” he claimed.

The government is also considering actively on alternative power generation projects in the country aimed at addressing the issue on top priority basis, he added.

Traders laud government for cleanliness on Eid

LAHORE  (Staff Reporter):  The Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Saturday appreciated City District Government (CDG), Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) and Water and sanitation Authority (WASA) for keeping the city clean and environment healthy during Eid-ul-Azha. In a joint statement issued here, LCCI President Engineer Sohail Lashari, Senior Vice President Mian Tariq Misbah and Vice President Kashif Anwar said that it was a matter of great satisfaction that City District Government in cooperation with LWMC and WASA chalked out a comprehensive plan to keep the city free of all kinds of animal waste.

They said that timely distribution of waste bags and literature helped maintain environment clean and healthy to a great extent and for this the entire management of the three departments deserves appreciation.

The LCCI office-bearers said that the constitution of joint committees comprising staffers of City District Government, LWMC and WASA to deal with the problem was an ample proof of Chief Minister’s commitment towards the welfare of masses. The LCCI office-bearers hoped that this practice would continue in future as well to turn Lahore into a beautiful city.

 

Argentina to pay $500m to resolve disputes with foreign cos

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters): Argentina said on Friday it had agreed to pay about $500 million to resolve disputes with several European and US corporations as it seeks to rebuild foreign investor confidence amid a bitter court dispute with some bondholders. The payment will be made in sovereign bonds to four companies that filed complaints at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes and one firm that took its case to the U.N. Commission on International Trade Law, a government statement said. Five agreements were signed with the companies, which agreed to a 25 per cent discount on a total $677 million in claims.

, a communiqué from Argentina’s economy ministry said.

The decision coincides with a sensitive time in the South American country’s battle in US courts with hedge funds that refused to take part in two debt restructurings following Argentina’s 2002 default.

Argentina hopes the Obama administration will ask the US Solicitor General to present arguments to the US Supreme Court on whether the case merits the court’s attention after a lower court ruled in favour of bondholders who will not accept reduced payments under a restructuring agreement.

The country is also looking to present its best face in order to help unlock additional credit lines from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and People’s Bank of China in order to support its dwindling foreign currency reserves.

Companies to be paid in the settlement include France’s Vivendi SA <VIV.PA>, US- based water company Azurix and Blue Ridge Investments, a subsidiary of Bank of America Corp <BAC.N>.

Other companies include CC-WB Holdings LLC, which holds the rights to claims made by Continental Casualty Company, a unit of Chicago-based CNA Financial Corp <CNA.N>, and NG-UN Holdings LLC, which holds rights to claims by British electric and gas utility National Grid PLC <NG.L> at the U.N. commission.

Under the terms of the deal, the firms reduced the amount of compensation they were seeking by 25 per cent.

“The proposals consist of the cancellation of those claims exclusively with public debt, for amounts which represent ... a significant discount on the requested sums and a reasonable period for repayment,” said the government statement.

Argentina’s government will pay the compensation in US dollar-denominated bonds known as Boden 2015 and Bonar X, which offer a 7 per cent annual interest rate.

Neither the government statement, issued as an “administrative decision” by the Cabinet chief, nor the economy ministry communiqué specified the amounts to be paid to each of the companies cited.

Economy Minister Hernan Lorenzino said the compensation will be paid with sovereign bonds governed by Argentine law. He said

the deal should pave the way for the country to receive about $3 billion in World Bank loans over the years ahead.

Argentina faces additional complaints at the World Bank body, including a claim by Spanish oil firm Repsol SA <REP.MC> over the expropriation of its stake in Argentine state-owned oil company YPF SA <YPFD.BA> last year. Repsol has said the value of its stake was about $10 billion, but the company has not yet disclosed the size of the claim it will make at the arbitration panel.

In May 2012, the United States suspended Argentina from the US Generalized System of Preferences program, which waives import duties on certain goods from developing countries, after the South American nation failed to pay compensation awards in disputes involving Azurix and Blue Ridge Investments. It was the first time a country had been suspended from the program for failing to pay an arbitration award.

The United States imported $477 million worth of goods from Argentina under the program in 2011, which was about 11 per cent of total US imports from the country that year.

 

Strike by San Francisco area rail workers enters second day

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters): A strike by San Francisco area rail workers that has snarled roads across the region entered a second day on Saturday with management and unions still at loggerheads over pay and work rules and not even bargaining. Bay Area Rapid Transit employees walked off the job on Friday after talks over a new contract broke down over pay increases and workplace rules, shutting down a system that carries some 400,000 passengers a day. The BART walkout is the second this year, as the agency’s workers went on strike for four and a half days in July. Their unions and BART management were unable to reach a deal in the following months.

Experts say the strike will be an economic drag. The July work stoppage caused from $73 million to $100 million a day in lost productivity for riders, said Rufus Jeffris, spokesman for the Bay Area Council which studies the local economy.

Unions announced the latest strike on Thursday, and a federal mediator ended efforts at conciliation, saying there was no more he could do. Little progress has been made since then, and the two sides did not meet at all on Friday.

Union leaders held a news conference on Friday afternoon, unveiling what they called a new set of proposals that could end the strike later that night if BART officials accepted them.

But BART officials said in a written statement they could not agree to the unions’ “ultimatums,” calling the proposals essentially the same offer that had already been rejected.

Union negotiators have demanded large pay raises, in part to offset being asked to contribute to their pensions and pay more for healthcare.

Under the terms of the last contract offer that has been made public, BART said it offered a 12 per cent pay raise over four years to workers, who management says earn on average $79,000 a year, plus benefits. The unions put the average worker’s salary at $64,000.

Union leaders have justified their demands for higher pay in part by pointing out that San Francisco is among the 10 most expensive US cities in which to live.

After negotiating late every day this week, the unions said the sides had finally reached an overall understanding on pay and benefits, but were at odds over workplace rules the unions said BART had proposed at the last minute.

‘MAD AS HELL’

But Grace Crunican, BART general manager, said in a written statement the work rules had been an issue for six months and were critical to the rail system’s operation.

“Using computers instead of manually recording and transmitting information is essential in the technology age,” she said. Crunican also suggested that union leaders had mischaracterized the nature of the disagreement in the press.

“The unions grabbed the salary offer, but balked at the work rule changes. While BART and the mediators were still at the table, union leaders announced a strike to the media. They offered to submit to binding arbitration on work rules and falsely announced an agreement on salary,” she said.

The proposed workplace rules at issue included allowing same-day schedule changes, eliminating marginal pay increases for certain senior custodial staff and scrapping past practices that included guidelines for how an injured worker would be integrated back onto the job, Service Employees International Union spokeswoman Cecille Isidro said.

Commuters expressed frustration at the stalemate.

“I am mad as hell. It’s a big hassle - thanks to BART,” said Jurgen Ware, who lives in the Bay Area suburb of Dublin and had to carpool to his job in San Francisco. He also blamed rail workers, saying they “have a stranglehold on the city.”

With trains halted for the day on Friday, dozens of commuters, many with bicycles, lined up at a bayside ramp in Alameda to board a morning ferry to San Francisco, with seagulls flying overhead. Some commuters were angry, others nonchalant.

Outside a station often used by poor commuters in El Cerrito, across the bay from San Francisco, about a dozen picketing BART workers on Friday heard honks of support from passing motorists and shouts of abuse from others.

“You’re just being greedy. You’re lucky to have a job. Get back to work,” yelled Dennis Lindsey, a personal trainer, as he waited for a ride from a friend.

After the July walkout California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, obtained a court order preventing another strike for 60 days. But that order has expired and Brown would have to call a special session of the legislature to make another attempt to force an end to the work stoppage.

“An extraordinary special session, at this point, would not lead to the quick solution the people of the Bay Area want and deserve,” Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said in an email.

BART commuter rail service helps alleviate car traffic in San Francisco, which ranks as the third most congested metropolitan area in the nation after Los Angeles and Honolulu, according to roadway traffic software company INRIX Inc.

 

S&P breaks record, Google’s stock tops $1,000 on earnings

NEW YORK (Reuters): The S&P 500 closed at a record high for the second straight day on Friday to cap its biggest weekly gain in three months as stronger-than-expected earnings from Google, Morgan Stanley and others overshadowed worry that earnings growth was faltering. The reassuring signals on profitability augmented investors’ relief over the resolution earlier in the week of the budget impasse in Washington that had threatened to trigger a potentially catastrophic default on the US debt. The S&P 500 closed up 0.7 per cent, while the Nasdaq rose 1.3 per cent to finish at its highest since 2000. It was the largest daily gain for the Nasdaq in a week.

Google Inc  grabbed most of the spotlight, with its shares gaining 13.8 per cent to clear the $1,000 mark for the first time, ending the session at $1011.41. Its rise came a day after the search engine company posted results that beat forecasts and helped lead the S&P technology sector to outperform all other sectors with a 1.8 per cent rise.

“Washington and everything that happened with the budget talks has cleared out, and we are refocusing on earnings. We have companies coming in next week that you think would beat numbers or do pretty well. That should allow this kind of momentum to continue into next week,” said Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager at Synovus Trust Company in Georgia.

Morgan said he expects Netflix and Apple, whose earnings reports are due next week, to perform like Google because they are new tech, unlike International Business Machines <IBM.N>, which reported low revenue from earnings growth on Thursday.

Should Morgan’s view bear out, it could help lift a fairly bleak outlook for third-quarter earnings, which are expected to show year-over-year growth of just 2.1 per cent, less than half the second quarter’s 4.9 per cent and the lowest growth rate in a year.

US stocks caught an updraft beginning Wednesday when it finally became clear that Congress would vote to end a 16-day partial shutdown of the government and extend the federal government’s borrowing authority. Republicans seeking to derail President Obama’s signature healthcare law had been refusing to lift the statutory debt ceiling, leaving the US Treasury just days from being unable to pay the nation’s bills.

The market’s rise was also aided by expectations that the Federal Reserve will delay trimming its massive stimulus measures due in no small part to the damage inflicted on the economy by the government shutdown, which ended on Thursday.

“Truthfully most of this is the market pricing in the high likelihood that there will be a continuation of monetary policy through the spring,” said Jeff Buetow, chief investment officer at Innealta Capital in Austin, Texas, which manages $3 billion in assets.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was up 28.00 points, or 0.18 per cent, at 15,399.65. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index <.SPX> was up 11.35 points, or 0.65 per cent, at 1,744.50. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was up 51.13 points, or 1.32 per cent, at 3,914.28.

For the week, the S&P gained 2.4 per cent, the Nasdaq gained 3.2 per cent, and the Dow Jones industrial average gained 1.1 per cent. For the S&P and Nasdaq, it was the largest weekly gain since mid-July.

The temporary resolution of the budget standoff in Washington also prompted the biggest weekly decline in the CBOE Volatility Index <.VIX> in seven months. Wall Street’s favored gauge of investor fear fell 17 per cent on the week to finish at its lowest end-of-day level in two months.

Health was the only declining S&P sector, down 0.5 per cent, on predictions from UnitedHealth <UNH.N> that the new healthcare law’s provision to decrease private Medicare payments could hurt earnings. [ID:nL1N0I70E9] UnitedHealth shares fell 3.2 per cent to $69.08.

Morgan Stanley <MS.N> shares rose 2.6 per cent to $29.71 after the company reported a 50 per cent rise in quarterly revenue as higher income from equities sales and trading offset a drop in its fixed-income business.

General Electric <GE.N> said its third-quarter profit and revenue fell as its finance business shrunk, but Wall Street looked beyond those numbers to GE’s improving profit margins and growing order demand. GE shares rose 3.6 per cent to $25.56.

Of the 98 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported so far, 62.2 per cent have topped Wall Street’s earnings expectations, just shy of the 63 per cent average since 1994 but below the 66 per cent beat rate over the past four quarters, according to Thomson Reuters data through Friday.

On revenue, 53.1 per cent of the S&P 500 components have beaten expectations, short of the 61 per cent rate since 2002 but above the 49 per cent beat rate over the past four quarters.

Volume was slightly above average at 5.57 billion total shares traded.