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Weak economic data across the eurozone pushed European stocks lower Wednesday, as news hit that the 17-country currency bloc is now in its longest-ever recession.
Europe’s economic motor, Germany, returned to growth but still disappointed. Its gross domestic product rose 0.1 percent in the first quarter of the year. That’s less than the 0.3 percent rise analysts were expecting. Meanwhile, the French economy, the bloc’s second-largest, fell back into recession.
Those figures stand is stark contrast to growing signs of a rebound in the United States that drove Asian shares up earlier in the day.
In morning trading in Europe, France’s CAC-40 index was down 0.2 percent to 3,958, while the DAX in Germany fell 0.1 percent to 8,332. Britain’s FTSE index of leading shares dropped 0.2 percent to 6,672.
U.S. markets also looked likely to open down. Dow futures slumped 0.1 percent to 15,161, while S&P futures fell 0.2 percent to 1,645.
While positive earnings reports could turn the tide later in the day, analysts said, the outlook for the European economy will continue to be bad.
“The upside for domestic demand in the eurozone remains constrained by restrictive fiscal policy in many countries, still tight credit conditions, high and rising unemployment, and limited consumer purchasing power despite general very low inflation,” said Howard Archer, IHS Global Insight’s chief European economist. “Meanwhile, global growth is relatively muted and currently stuttering, which is constraining eurozone exports.”
Earlier, Asian stocks focused instead on an improving U.S. economy. On Tuesday, a report from the National Federation of Independent Business showed a slight improvement in confidence among small business owners in the U.S. in April.
Japan’s Nikkei 225 index surged 2.3 percent to close at 15,096.03, propelled by a falling yen and a surge in Sony’s shares.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.5 percent to 23,044.24. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.1 percent to 1,971.26. Benchmarks in India, Thailand, Singapore and Taiwan also rose. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.6 percent to 5,191.70.
But the poor European data was weighing on oil prices since a slowing economy uses less energy. Benchmark oil for June delivery fell 70 cents to $93.51 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.2885 from $1.2937 late Tuesday in New York.
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When a recruiter called last year about a position as a mechanic in British Columbia, Paul Thomas said he could hardly believe it.
The Philippine central bank is considering adjustments to its so-called special deposit accounts, signaling it may limit access to the facility to cut costs and enhance its scope to cool currency gains.
DHAKA, Bangladesh • As Bangladesh reels from the deaths of hundreds of garment workers in a building collapse, the refusal of global retailers to pay for strict nationwide factory inspections is bringing renewed scrutiny to an industry that has profited from a country notorious for its hazardous workplaces and subsistence-level wages.
After a factory fire killed 112 garment workers in November, clothing brands and retailers continued to reject a union-sponsored proposal to improve safety throughout Bangladesh’s $20 billion garment industry. Instead, companies expanded a patchwork system of private audits and training that labor groups say improves very little in a country where official inspections are lax and factory owners have close relations with the government.
In the meantime, threats to workers persist. In the five months since last year’s deadly blaze at Tazreen Fashions Ltd., there were 41 other “fire incidents” in Bangladesh factories — ranging from a deadly blaze to smaller fires or sparks that caused employees to panic, according to a labor organization tied to the AFL-CIO umbrella group of American unions. Combined, the recent incidents killed nine workers and injured more than 660, some with burns and smoke inhalation and others with injuries from stampedes while fleeing.
Wednesday’s collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed more than 300 people is the worst disaster to hit Bangladesh’s fast-growing and politically powerful garment industry. For those attempting to overhaul conditions for workers who are paid as little as $38 a month, it is a grim reminder that corporate social responsibility programs are failing to deliver on lofty promises.
More than 48 hours after the eight-story building collapsed, some garment workers were still trapped alive Friday, pinned beneath tons of mangled metal and concrete. Rescue crews struggled to save them, knowing they probably had just a few hours left to live, as desperate relatives clashed with police.
“Improvement is not happening,” said Amirul Haque Amin, president of the National Garment Workers Federation in Bangladesh, who said a total of 600 workers have died in factory accidents in the last decade. “The multinational companies claim a lot of things. They claim they have very good policies, they have their own code of conduct, they have their auditing and monitoring system,” Amin said. “But yet these things keep happening.”
What role retailers should play in making working conditions safer at the factories that manufacture their apparel has become a central issue for the $1 trillion global clothing industry.
The clothing brands say they are working to improve safety, but the size of the garment industry — some 4,000 factories in Bangladesh alone —means such efforts skim the surface. That opaqueness is further muddied by subcontracting. Retailers can be unwittingly involved with problematic factories when their main suppliers farm out work to others to ensure orders are filled on time.
“We remain committed to promoting stronger safety measures in factories and that work continues,” Wal-Mart said in a statement after the Rana Plaza collapse. The world’s largest retailer says there was no authorized Wal-Mart production in the building. One of the Rana Plaza factories, Ether Tex, listed Wal-Mart as a customer on its website.
Labor groups argue the best way to clean up Bangladesh’s garment factories already is outlined in a nine-page safety proposal drawn up by Bangladeshi and international unions.
The plan would ditch government inspections, which are infrequent and easily subverted by corruption, and establish an independent inspectorate to oversee all factories in Bangladesh, with powers to shut down unsafe facilities as part of a legally binding contract signed by suppliers, customers and unions. The inspections would be funded by contributions from the companies of up to $500,000 per year.
The proposal was presented at a 2011 meeting in Dhaka attended by more than a dozen of the world’s largest clothing brands and retailers — including Wal-Mart, Gap and Swedish clothing giant H&M — but was rejected by the companies because it would be legally binding and costly.
At the time, Wal-Mart’s representative told the meeting it was “not financially feasible instant credit report… to make such investments,” according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Associated Press.
After last year’s Tazreen blaze, Bangladeshi union president Amin said he and international labor activists renewed a push for the independent inspectorate plan, but none of the factories or big brands would agree.
Siddiqur Rahman, former vice president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, denied the factories are responsible for killing the plan, saying the problem was that buyers did not want to pay for it.
“We welcome anything that is good for the garment industry and its workers here,” Rahman said. He also disputed several union groups’ figures of dozens of factory fires since November, saying there had been only one.
Global Solidarity, the AFL-CIO group, said its staff in Bangladesh compiled the list of 41 “fire incidents” from local media and counted any incident that caused injury or evacuation as an indication of compromised safety.
This week, none of the large clothing brands or retailers would comment about the proposal.
Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Gardner did not directly answer questions about the unions’ safety plans in replies to questions emailed by The Associated Press. H&M responded to questions with emailed links to corporate social responsibility websites.
In December, however, a spokesperson for the Gap — which owns the Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic chains — said the company turned down the proposal because it did not want to be vulnerable to lawsuits and did not want to pay factories more money to help with safety upgrades.
H&M also did not sign on to the proposal because it believes factories and local government in Bangladesh should be taking on the responsibility, Pierre Börjesson, manager of sustainability and social issues, told AP in December.
H&M, which places the most apparel orders in Bangladesh and works with more than 200 factories there, is one of about 20 retailers and brands that have banded together to develop training films for garment manufacturers.
Wal-Mart last year began requiring regular audits of factories, fire drills and mandated fire safety training for all levels of factory management. It also announced in January it would immediately cut ties with any factory that failed an inspection, instead of giving warnings first as before.
And the Gap has hired its own chief fire inspector to oversee factories that produce its clothing in Bangladesh.
But many insist such measures are not enough to overhaul an industry that employs 3 million workers.
“No matter how much training you have, you can’t walk through flames or escape a collapsed building,” said Ineke Zeldenrust of the Amsterdam-based Clean Clothes Campaign, which lobbies for garment workers’ rights.
Private audits also have their failings, she said. Because audits are confidential, even if one company pulls its business from a supplier over safety issues, it won’t tell its competitors, who will continue to place orders — allowing the unsafe factory to stay open.
The Tazreen factory that burned last year had passed inspections, and two of the factories in the Rana Plaza building had passed the standards of a major European group that does factory inspections in developing countries. The Business Social Compliance Initiative, which represents hundreds of companies, said the factories of Phantom Apparels and New Wave Style had been audited against its code of conduct which it said focuses on labor issues, not building standards.
“The audits and inspections are too much focused on checklists,” said Saif Khan, who worked for Phillips Van Heusen, the owner of brands Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein, in Bangladesh until 2011 as a factory compliance supervisor.
“They touch on broader areas but do not consider the realities on the ground,” he said.
Johnson reported from Mumbai, India. AP reporter Farid Hossain contributed from Bangladesh. AP Retail Writer Anne D’Innocenzio in New York and AP Business Writer Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong also contributed to this report.
Hyundai Motor Co. said Thursday its first quarter net profit fell 15 percent as a labor dispute slowed car production in South Korea.
The country’s largest automaker said net profit reached 2.1 trillion won ($1.9 billion) in the January-March period, matching market forecasts. A year earlier, net profit was 2.5 trillion won.
Sales rose 6 percent to 21.4 trillion won. Operating profit declined 11 percent to 1.9 trillion won.
The company blamed its lower profit on declining production at domestic plants, which outweighed increased production from new plants in China and Brazil.
Starting March, Hyundai adopted new schedules for workers to remove overnight shifts but has yet to reach an agreement with its labor union on how to compensate workers for weekend and holiday shifts. The company’s Ulsan plant has not produced any vehicles during weekends since March. Exports of locally produced vehicles during the first quarter dropped 11 percent over a year earlier.
The company said it hopes to reach an agreement with the union soon to resume weekend production Same day payday loans.
“Once we reach an agreement over the weekend shifts at the Ulsan factory, we will be able to meet our annual sales target,” Chief Financial Officer Lee Won-hee said during a conference call with investors. Hyundai is aiming for 6 percent growth in 2013 vehicle sales to 4.66 million units.
Another dent to its bottom line came from foreign exchange rates. Sales costs increased from the local currency’s weakness over a year earlier, the company said. Fears of an outbreak of violence on the Korean Peninsula, stemming from North Korea’s recent threats, eroded the value of the South Korean won.
Hyundai Motor is the flagship unit of the world’s fifth-largest automaker, Hyundai Motor Group.
The alleged mastermind of a terror plot to derail a VIA rail train was defiant during his Montreal court appearance, while his co-accused said little during a separate Toronto hearing as his parents and other relatives looked on in disbelief.
Chiheb Esseghaier appeared tired, wearing the same clothes since federal anti-terrorism forces swept in to arrest him just after lunch Monday at a McDonald’s restaurant in Montreal’s central train station.
But the 30-year-old insisted the charges against him are unfounded.
“The conclusions were made based on facts and words that were only appearances,” he told Quebec court judge Pierre Labelle in a five-minute hearing, while plainclothes agents guarded the corridors of the courthouse.
When the hearing concluded, the Tunisian-born doctoral student was ushered away and flown to Toronto to await his formal arrest and court appearance Wednesday morning.
An hour earlier, Raed Jaser appeared before a crowd of journalists and relatives crammed into an Old City Hall courtroom in Toronto. The 35-year-old looked briefly at his parents and brother sitting in the second row, before talking with his lawyer John Norris.
The two men in Canada may not be the only suspects connected with the case.
CTV News reported Tuesday evening that at least two others in the New York area have been under FBI surveillance.
The network says the alleged U.S. suspects do not pose an imminent threat and no one has been arrested there.
Jaser’s relatives left the Toronto courthouse amid a swarm of television cameras with their heads bowed, with one man saying, “We know as much as you do.”
Taher Zibak, Jaser’s brother-in-law, later told the Star that Jaser’s wife and the rest of his family are distraught and shocked by the allegations.
“If you want to do bad things like that you deserve to be punished,” Zibak said outside his North York moving company. “Family or not, that’s the way it is. If he was involved in something like this, it’s not right.”
Zibak said Jaser didn’t talk much about his personal life. “At work you associate with one group of people and outside work with another group. We have no idea how he got into this.”
According to court documents, Jaser has a record of charges for lesser offences dating to 1995. He was convicted with threatening death or bodily harm in May 2001 for an incident in Richmond Hill the previous year.
Jaser prayed regularly with his wife at the Islamic Society for Willowdale mosque, a short walk from his home in North York, but the imam said he largely kept to himself.
“He is quiet, peaceful — a nice guy,” said the imam who asked that his name not be used. “I was in shock, but at the same time, I feel bad for him. He’s probably going through a hard time right now.”
Police credited the Muslim community for a vital tip that helped the investigation, but the imam said the tip did not come from him or as far as he knows anyone from his mosque.
Jaser was arrested Monday at the Bartor Rd. moving company, where he recently worked with his brother-in-law. Nassir Tharani, who works next door, said he watched as police put a handcuffed Jaser into the back of a police cruiser shortly after 2 p.m. About half an hour later, two plain-clothes officers escorted out a woman who was carrying a folder of papers and a carton, Tharani said.
Addressing the media following the court hearing, Norris said Jaser intends to “defend himself vigorously against these charges.”
“He’s in a state of shock and disbelief. He’s anxious to see the evidence that the Crown says it has against him,” said Norris, a well-known Toronto criminal lawyer who has previously represented former Guantanamo detainee Omar Khadr. “The public should wait for the evidence, not a press conference,” he later added.
Norris would not comment on the specifics of the case but confirmed that Jaser is a permanent resident in Canada and has lived here for 20 years bad credit payday advance. “They are very well settled in Canada,” Norris said of the family.
A man has been arrested in connection to a real estate fraud investigation by Toronto police.
The alleged fraud occurred last October when five men, including the suspect, answered the victim’s real estate advertisement selling a commercial property.
The suspects befriended the victim and allegedly promised him a large sum of money coming from South Africa to pay for the property, police said.
The money had a dark coating that had to be cleaned off cash advance loan. The victim was promised more money if he covered the cost of cleaning what seemed like wads of cash, police said.
The coated money turned out to be fake and the victim allegedly lost around $450,000.
One of the suspects, Herman Fankem, 32, of Montreal, has been charged with fraud over $5,000.
Asian stock markets were mostly lower Monday after a disappointing U.S. jobs report, although the Nikkei piled on more gains as the yen’s dramatic fall boosted the country’s powerhouse export sector.
The Japanese yen has weakened sharply in the aftermath of a surprise decision Thursday by the Bank of Japan to overhaul its monetary policy, pledging to double the money supply to achieve a 2 percent inflation target within two years.
The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo shot up 2 percent to 13,091.95. The dollar rose sharply to 98.39 yen from 94.13 yen late Friday in New York. A weaker currency can help make Japanese exports more price competitive in overseas markets.
Elsewhere, however, markets fell after the U.S. government reported a sharp decline in hiring in March. U.S. employers added just 88,000 jobs in March, just half the average of the previous six months on line pay day loans. The closely watched report was a letdown for investors who had become more optimistic about the economy after recent positive signs on housing.
Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell 0.1 percent to 21,692.09. South Korea’s Kospi lost 0.1 percent to 1,924.91. Benchmarks in mainland China, Singapore and Taiwan also fell.
Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.2 percent to 4,901.70.
Benchmark oil for May delivery was up 13 cents to $92.83 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell 56 cents to close at $92.70 in New York on Friday.
The euro rose to $1.2988 from $1.2822.
Stocks were little changed on Wall Street ahead of the release of the government’s March employment report Friday.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up six points, or 0.05 percent, to 14,557 as of 12:45 p.m. EDT Thursday. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose one point, or 0.06 percent, to 1,555. The Nasdaq composite slipped seven points to 3,212.
Signs that the economy cooled in March has dampened optimism about the U.S. recovery and pushed stocks down from record levels. The Dow fell 111 points Wednesday, its biggest drop in more than a month, following weak reports on hiring and service industries. On Monday an industry group reported that U.S. manufacturing growth slowed unexpectedly last month.
There was more discouraging economic news Thursday. The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid rose to a four-month high of 385,000 last week, the Labor Department said. The government will issue its employment report Friday, which investors look at closely for insight into how the U.S. economy is doing.
“The trend seems to be worsening,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Rockwell Global Capital. “We’re seeing a little hesitation in anticipation of tomorrow’s job report.”
The stock market got off to a great start in 2013. The Dow climbed 10 percent in the first three months of the year and closed at a record high of 14,662 Tuesday. Investors were cheered by signs that the housing market was recovering and that hiring was picking up. Rising company earnings and continuing Federal Reserve stimulus also boosted demand for stocks.
“Investors have been looking for a reason to sell, given the rally we’ve seen in the market in the past couple of months,” said Joseph Tanious at JPMorgan Funds. “Today, you’re seeing investors come back into the market and buy on the dip.”
Safer industry groups rose Thursday. Telecommunications companies and utilities led the gains for the S&P 500, rising 0.9 percent and 0 guaranteed approval cash loans.7 percent respectively.
Japanese stocks jumped and the yen sank after the country’s central bank announced aggressive measures for getting the world’s third-largest economy out of a two-decade slump. The Bank of Japan, under new Governor Haruhiko Kuroda, surprised markets by saying it would greatly increase the country’s money supply with the goal of encouraging people and businesses to borrow and spend. The yen weakened 3.5 percent against the dollar, to 96.16 yen, while Tokyo’s Nikkei stock index rose 2.2 percent to 12,634.54.
U.S.-listed shares of Japanese automakers rose sharply. A weaker yen would make Japanese vehicles less expensive in markets outside Japan, and therefore more competitive. The U.S. shares of Toyota rose $4.47, or 4.4 percent, to $105.31, Honda’s rose $1.88, or 5.1 percent, to $39.08 and the Nissan’s rose 84 cents, 4.5 percent, to $19.66. Japanese electronics makers also rose. Sony rose 47 cents, or 3 percent, to $16.90 and Panasonic rose 18 cents, also 3 percent, to $6.61.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, fell to 1.77 percent from 1.81 percent a day earlier. The yield on the note has fallen over the last month as demand for less risky assets increased following the crisis in Cyprus and signs of a slowdown in the U.S. The yield was as high as 2.06 percent on March 11.
Among stocks making big moves, electronics retailer Best Buy jumped 12 percent, or $2.42, to $24.15 after saying it would collaborate with the Korean company Samsung to open Samsung kiosks in its retail outlets.
MetroPCS rose 20 cents, or 2 percent, to $11.16 after Reuters reported that Deutsche Telekom is considering amending the terms of the proposed merger between its T-Mobile USA business and local rival Metro PCS.
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