Sunday, June 28, 2015

Banks close in Greece as crisis deepens; Why we should care about inequality; The perils of being an Indian journalist

1 Banks close in Greece as crisis deepens (Ian Traynor, John Hooper & Helena Smith in The Guardian) Greeks find their savings blocked and their banks closed for a week from Monday morning following a fateful weekend that has shaken Europe’s single currency.

The Greek government decided on Sunday night it had no option but to close the nation’s banks the following day after the European Central Bank (ECB) raised the stakes by freezing the liquidity lifeline that has kept them afloat during a six-month run on deposits.

The Athens Stock Exchange will not reopen on Monday either. The dramatic move, after 48 hours of sensational developments in Greece’s long-running battles with creditors, was sparked by the country’s prime minister, Alexis Tsipras’s Friday night call for a referendum on its creditors’ demands. That prompted finance ministers of the eurozone to effectively put an end to his country’s five-year bailout by the International Monetary Fund, the ECB and the European commission.

Greek banks will not open until July 7 in an attempt to avoid financial panic, after ECB capped the emergency funds keeping them running The prime minister said that Saturday’s move by the eurozone’s finance ministers to halt Greece’s bailout programme was unprecedented. He called it “a denial of the Greek public’s right to reach a democratic decision”.

During a marathon parliamentary debate that ended in the early hours of Sunday morning, opposition leaders argued that it was, in fact, a vote on whether Greeks wished any longer to be part of the eurozone. It will be Greece’s first referendum since the country voted to abolish its monarchy in 1974.

“We are millimetres away from the total collapse of the Greek financial system,” warned Herman Van Rompuy, until last year the president of the European Council and heavily involved in years of Greek rescue negotiations. “It’s actually suicide that’s taking place in Greece right now.”

2 Why we should care about inequality (Andrew Leigh in Sydney Morning Herald) Dutch economist Jan Pen once suggested a simple way of visualising the amount of inequality in a society. Imagine, he suggested, a parade in which each person's resources were represented by their height.

Suppose we were to conduct such a parade in Australia. People of average wealth would be average height. Those with half the average wealth would be half the average height. Those with twice the average wealth would be twice the average height. Let's suppose the parade took an hour to pass you. What would you see?

For the first half a minute, people would be literally underground. By the 10-minute mark, people are the size of a child's doll. They might own an old car. Twenty minutes have gone by, but still the marchers are no taller than a newborn baby. Ten minutes to go, the marchers are two and a half metres tall, and their heights are rising fast. Five minutes till the end of the parade, and the marchers are four metres high. Now come the giants. Ten metres high, then fifty, then one hundred metres high. Their shoes are as big as the watchers; their faces as high as office buildings.

One-thirtieth of a second before the end of the march, and we're into the BRW rich list. The poorest person on the BRW rich list is twice as high as Centrepoint tower. The rest are taller still. Now, their heads poke into the clouds. The tallest person in the parade is over 30 kilometres high – well on the way to outer space.

Maintaining pro-growth policies, improving our education system and ensuring our welfare spending is targeted to the neediest are good first steps at closing the gulf between the rich and the rest. But this isn't all that needs to be done. Here are three more egalitarian ideas that governments and policymakers should consider:

A. Put new policy ideas under the equality lens. B. Encourage ethical behaviour by firms and executives. C. 3. Consider inequality in competition policy. Our current competition law is silent on the issue of equity. Inequality is fast becoming a central issue of our age. Pen's Parade reminds us that the disparities between rich and poor are significant. A richer conversation about inequality is not only in the interests of the disadvantaged, but of all Australians who want to maintain a fair society.

3 The perils of being an Indian journalist (Zubair Ahmed on BBC) Shahjahanpur in India’s Uttar Pradesh state may be a small town by Indian standards, (population 400,000 as of 2011) but it boasts of no fewer than 150 journalists. Poor communications and woefully inadequate infrastructure have not deterred them from their chosen profession.

They are currently working on a story that saw their town catapulted into the national spotlight. Ironically, it is about the death of one of their fraternity, Jagender Singh, who succumbed to burn injuries following a police raid on his house in early June. Mr Singh ran a Facebook page with thousands of followers, where he posted largely unconfirmed stories on corruption involving government officials and ministers.

Mr Singh's son Rajan told the BBC that his father was regularly harassed by police officers at the behest of a state minister, Ram Murti Singh Verma, who was reportedly a regular subject of Mr Singh's stories. He alleged that, on the day his father died, a group of policemen acting on Mr Verma's orders set him on fire during a raid on their home.

In another incident not long after the death of Mr Singh, another journalist, Sandeep Kothari from Madhya Pradesh in central India, was also burnt to death. Like Mr Singh, Mr Kothari wrote on corruption, but he specifically targeted the mining mafia.

The two deaths are the latest in a number of attacks on journalists working in towns outside India's big cities. They say their confidence is shaken and that they fear for their lives. The Press Council of India (PCI) says 79 journalists have been murdered in India over the past 25 years.

Sardar Sharma was Jagender Singh's boss for three years. He lamented the loss of respect for journalists and blamed reporters themselves for the situation. "There is a criminal nexus between many journalists, politicians and police. Such journalists are fake. They indulge in extortion and blackmail. They have let us down", he said. When reporters are not attached to a specific media organisation, it is much easier to intimidate and threaten them.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Europe's gathering storm clouds; Greece opts for referendum on bailout; Singapore's lessons for America

1 Europe’s gathering storm clouds (Mohamed El-Erian in The Guardian) Dark clouds are lowering over Europe’s economic future, as three distinct tempests gather: the Greek crisis, Russia’s incursion in Ukraine, and the rise of populist political parties. Though each poses a considerable threat, Europe, aided by the recent cyclical pickup, is in a position to address them individually, without risking more than a temporary set of disruptions. Should they converge into a kind of “perfect storm”, however, a return to sunny days will become extremely difficult to foresee any time soon.

As it stands, the three storms are at different stages of formation. The Greek crisis, having been building for years, is blowing the hardest. Beyond the potential for the first eurozone exit, Greece could be at risk of becoming a failed state – an outcome that would pose a multi-dimensional threat to the rest of Europe. Mitigating the adverse humanitarian consequences (associated with cross-border migration), and geopolitical impact of this storm would be no easy feat.

The second storm, rolling in from the EU’s east, is the costly military conflict in Ukraine’s Donbas region. Further Russian interference in Ukraine would present the west with a stark choice. It would either have to tighten sanctions on Russia, potentially tipping western Europe into recession as Russia responds with counter-sanctions, or accommodate the Kremlin’s expansionist ambitions and jeopardise other countries with Russian-speaking minorities (including the EU’s Baltic members).

The third storm – political tumult brought about by the rise of populist political movements – poses yet another serious threat. Energised by broad voter dissatisfaction, particularly in struggling economies, these political movements tend to focus on a small handful of issues, opposing, say, immigrants, austerity, or the European Union – essentially whomever they can scapegoat for their countries’ troubles.

Given the EU’s fundamental interconnectedness – in economic, financial, geopolitical, and social terms – the disruptive impact of each shock would amplify the others, overwhelming the region’s circuit breakers, leading to recession, reviving financial instability, and creating pockets of social tension. Fortunately, the possibility of such a perfect storm is more a risk than a baseline at this point. Nonetheless, given the extent of its destructive potential, it warrants serious attention by policymakers.

2 Greece opts for referendum on bailout (BBC) The Greek parliament has backed plans for a referendum on international creditors' terms for a new bailout. The 5 July referendum was called by PM Alexis Tsipras, who opposes further budget cuts. He urged voters to deliver a "resounding 'no'" to the package.

Eurozone partners have criticised Greece's referendum announcement, and rejected its request to extend the bailout programme beyond 30 June. Greece could default on a €1.6bn IMF repayment due on that day. There are fears the country may leave the euro and that its economy may collapse without new bailout funds.

Mr Tsipras's motion on a referendum easily won the backing in the 300-member strong parliament, with at least 179 MPs voting "yes" in the early hours of Sunday. His government had earlier rejected the creditors' offer of a five-month extension to Greece's bailout programme in exchange for reforms. On Saturday, eurozone finance ministers rejected the Greek proposal for the bailout extension beyond Tuesday's deadline.

When the Greek government thought it had made substantial concessions at the beginning of the week, the creditors said it simply wasn't enough. And while no-one can say for certain that Greece will leave the eurozone, this is already uncharted territory.

3 Singapore’s lessons for America (Fareed Zakaria in Khaleej Times) To help prepare for a trip there next week, I asked the country’s deputy prime minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, what he regarded as the country’s biggest success. I imagined that he would talk about economics, since the city-state’s per capita GDP now outstrips that of America, Japan and Hong Kong. He spoke instead about social harmony.

“We were a nation that was not meant to be,” Shanmugaratnam said. The swamp-ridden island, expelled from Malaysia in 1965, had a polyglot population of migrants with myriad religions, cultures and belief systems. “What’s interesting and unique about Singapore, more than economics, are our social strategies. We respected peoples’ differences, yet melded a nation and made an advantage out of diversity.”

How did Singapore do it? By mandating ethnic diversity in all of its neighborhoods. Over 80 per cent of Singaporeans live in public housing. Every block, precinct and enclave has ethnic quotas. This is what people mean when they talk about Singapore’s “nanny state,” and the minister readily admits it. “The most intrusive social policy in Singapore has turned out to be the most important,” he says.

This belief was at the heart of many of the efforts of the US federal government in the 1950s and 1960s to desegregate schools and to integrate neighborhoods — through court orders, housing laws, and executive action. Those efforts were largely abandoned by the 1980s and, since then, the data show an America that remains strikingly segregated.

Despite the fact that the Supreme Court ordered school desegregation 61 years ago, schools have actually become more homogenous in the last two decades. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan admits that today “only 14 per cent of white students attend schools that you could consider multicultural.”

Singapore is an unusual case. It is a small city-state. It has its critics, who point to a quasi-authoritarian system. Singapore can do things Western democracies cannot. It also has had its own racial problems. All that said, I believe that Singapore is an example of a diverse society that has been able to live together and that we could learn something from. (To be sure, Singapore could learn some lessons from Western democracies as well.)

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Wave of IPOs depress Chinese shares; The Greek tragedy; What competitive sport teaches women about business success

1 Wave of IPOs depress Chinese shares (BBC) Mainland Chinese shares saw sharp losses on Friday as investors began to worry about another wave of new listings drawing up liquidity in the market. Shares of Guotai Junan Securities - China's third-largest brokerage - jumped 44% on its debut after raising $4.8bn in the country's biggest initial public offering since 2010. The Shanghai Composite was down 2.5% to 4,415.25 after falling over 4% earlier. The Hang Seng fell 1.1% to 26,853.04.

Investor sentiment was also weighed on by concerns on whether the government and central bank would continue to ease policy in order to boost growth in a slowing economy. However, Bernard Aw, market strategist at trading firm IG said the "correction" in the market was healthy in the longer term and it is what the central bank wants to see.

2 The Greek tragedy (Christian Science Monitor/Khaleej Times) Will Greece be able to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund and wealthier European nations before it defaults on a $1.8 billion IMF loan due on June 30? And what happens if it can’t?

The history of sovereign debt negotiations is filled with deadlines and warnings by creditors of imminent cataclysm – and defiant vows by debtors to protect national sovereignty. Yet usually an accommodation is reached. But Greece’s financial position is indeed dire, and prolonged and testy negotiations with its creditors have only exacerbated its plight.

What are they arguing about? The socialist government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras doesn’t want further cuts in government spending and tax increases, which the IMF and Europe are demanding. Official Greek unemployment is now at about 25 per cent and government employment has been cut by 50 per cent in the past few years. Tsipras says his people have suffered enough.

What could happen? While a formal default on July 1 seems unlikely, there are enormous risks to Greece’s enfeebled banks, particularly as panic spreads in credit markets. Greek banks experienced a wave of withdrawals last week. Money draining out of banks often begets more money following, and bank runs can undermine an entire system. And then there’s the problem of the government paying its accountants and firemen and teachers. Printing money, since Greece belongs to the euro, isn’t an option. The risks are real for Athens.

What are the odds of a deal? Hard to predict. The atmosphere is rancorous. EU President Donald Tusk was measured in his words and uncompromising. “The game of chicken needs to end and so does the blame game. We are close to the point where the Greek government will have to choose between accepting what I believe is a good offer of continued support or to head towards default,” he said.

Greece could yet end up out of the euro. The country’s financial problems are deep and wide. But the one thing all sides have in common is fear of a terrifying unknown, namely the first crack in a currency union that began 15 years ago. If a rupture is really coming, both sides will probably delay that moment as long as possible.

3 What competitive sport teaches women about business success (Sarah Kiefer in The Guardian) This year, the women’s boat race got equal billing with the men’s race for the first time and 2 million people in the UK tuned in to watch the England v France match in the women’s football World Cup. I participated in that race in 2005 and competitive rowing played a significant part in my life through school, university and full-time employment. There are a number of lessons competitive sport has taught me that have served me well in the workplace.

It’s OK to fail. It often seems that society is sending a message to women that in a competitive work environment failure is too risky and that sometimes it is better just not to try. Sport can impart a different mindset: one that teaches you to enjoy not fear it. In my case, sport has made me more likely to ask for a promotion, apply for a job for which I’m not qualified and speak up in a meeting when I disagree.

Learn to feel comfortable in your own skin. I am unusually tall and broad, which led me to feel uncomfortable and unfeminine as a teenager. Rowing totally changed my relationship with my body, allowing me to see my height and broad shoulders as an advantage. Body confidence undoubtedly makes me happier to take part in an industry panel or comfortable when presenting to important clients.

You have the power to drive your own success. Sport teaches women that hard work leads to tangible results. Although the business world is hardly a perfect meritocracy, my experience of training hard and preparing for big races has given me more confidence and a belief that success is in my control.

Understand the true value of teamwork. Finally, sport teaches women the meaning of teamwork. In sport, as in business, teamwork is not just that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from pulling together for a common goal. It’s about being self-aware of your weaknesses, appreciating others’ strengths and being able to have tough conversations when team dynamics are not working out.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Greece's red lines blur and bend; Facebook beats Walmart in market cap; Bumpy ride for Brazil's bio-fuel business

1 Greece’s red lines blur and bend (Phillip Inman in The Guardian) Like a husband forgiven for countless infidelities, Greek leader Alexis Tsipras is back in Brussels with a wink and a smile and, yes, another kiss and make-up proposal. Only this time, it looks like the marriage is saved.

What his partners want is simple, if difficult to achieve without further sacrifices. They want to close a funding gap in this year’s budget that most analysts estimate at €2bn. It would appear that the leader of the leftist Syriza government has done enough to keep alive his country’s hope of staying inside the euro. The question for his supporters at home will be, has he ditched his principled stand against further austerity, and if he has, do they care?

Tackling the towering cost of the Greek pension system was once considered a no-go area. Already cut by his predecessors, Tsipras had ruled out shaving anymore from the bill. Likewise VAT was off the agenda. Now it seems he is prepared to compromise on both issues. On pensions, Athens appears to have conceded that the government’s coffers must be shielded from a wave of early retirements.
According to documents supplied by Tsipras’s finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis, there are 400,000 Greeks looking to retire this year who qualify for a state pension, most of them under the existing early retirement rules.

Greek economy minister George Stathakis has put forward an increase on tax surcharges that middle and high-income earners pay, together with an extra levy on companies with annual net income of more than €500,000 and a hike in corporation tax from 26% to 29%.

The troika of European Commission, ECB and IMF is now expected to pull out all the stops and wave through the last €7.2bn of funds due under the existing bailout programme. With that, Greece can limp on. But this remains an unhappy relationship.

2 Facebook worth more than Walmart on stock market (San Francisco Chronicle) Facebook is now bigger than Wal-Mart, at least when it comes to its value on the stock market. While the switch is mostly symbolic it signals investors' insatiable appetite for successful tech stocks. Apple, Microsoft and Google top the list of the highest-valued companies in the US, and Facebook looks to be on its way to joining them.

A company's market value is calculated by multiplying the number of shares of stock it has in circulation by the current price of one share. Facebook Inc. was valued at $238 billion on Tuesday. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was valued at $234 billion.

Comparing the two companies' financial results, though, shows just how much Wall Street is investing in growth and potential — Facebook — versus existing size and might — Wal-Mart. In the first three months of this year, Facebook's total revenue of $3.54 billion amounted to just a little more than Wal-Mart's total profit for its fiscal first quarter of $3.34 billion. But while Facebook saw revenue grow 42 percent in the same period, Wal-Mart's declined slightly.

That said, none of the nine companies that follow Apple in the top 10 come even close to the mighty iPhone and Mac maker, whose market capitalization is about $735 billion.

3 Bumpy ride for Brazil’s bio-fuel business (Daniel Gallas on BBC) In the last three years, low petrol prices in Brazil have plunged Brazil’s bio-fuel business into a crisis. Brazil is known for having one of the world's most advanced green transport programmes. It has the world's largest fleet of flex-fuel cars. In the past decade, much of its economy embraced sugarcane-based ethanol as an energy source.

It is widely available in gas stations across the country. The majority of new cars are able to run on either petrol or sugarcane-based ethanol. But in recent years, as Brazil's economy slowed down, ethanol was one of the hardest hit sectors. While oil prices were high globally, petrol was kept artificially cheap for consumers in Brazil by the state run oil company Petrobras.

Fossil fuels received incentives, as Brazil's government moved to tackle another issue: inflation. Paulo Furquim de Azevedo, an Economics professor at Sao Paulo's Insper business school, says Brazil's government did not act deliberately to hurt its ethanol industry, but its economic policy ended up damaging the sector. "The government did whatever it could to decrease the price of gasoline, which is very important in its inflation index."

This policy plunged the town of Sertaozinho into its worst crisis in 30 years. Three out of seven major biofuel plants went bankrupt and now once again the town's producers are having to change tack. Top biofuel producers have started investing in food again. Building biofuel-based power plants is also in decline.

But perhaps local producers have more to look forward to in the coming months. Brazil has overhauled its economic policy again this year, and ethanol is once again a priority. The mandatory mix of ethanol in petrol has increased - from 25% to 27.5%, and the levy on fossil fuel has been reinstated. More importantly, subsidies to petrol have been terminated. Government incentives and Brazil's weak currency are helping to keep ethanol more competitive than petrol. And ethanol sales are up again this year.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Creditors offer six-month reprieve to Greece; Four in 10 say university not value for money; Texting away intelligence

1 Creditors offer six-month reprieve to Greece (Ian Traynor & John Hooper in The Guardian) Greece’s international creditors are aiming to strike a deal to stop Athens defaulting on its debt and possibly tumbling out of the euro by extending its bailout by six months and supplying up to €18bn in rescue funds.

The negotiators representing Greece’s lenders are also proposing to pledge debt relief for the austerity-battered country – but officials stressed that a breakthrough hinged on a positive response from the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras.

A crisis meeting was convened in an attempt to ease Greece’s debt crisis before a critical €1.6bn payment to the International Monetary Fund falls due next Tuesday. Greece’s creditors were still waiting for Tsipras and his Syriza party to formally submit revised fiscal targets, pensions cuts and tax increases in an attempt to secure the six-month lifeline, concessions that the country’s leader has resisted since he came to power five months ago.

Reuters reported on Sunday that €1bn worth of withdrawal orders had been lodged with Greek banks over the weekend – on top of the €4bn that left the country’s banking system last week. With time running out, the only way an IMF default could now be avoided is for the ECB to raise the ceiling on the short-term debt Athens is allowed to sell, officials said.

The six-month rescue extension being mooted would see Greece qualify for €7.2bn in bailout funds still to be disbursed as well as €10.9bn already lent to the country but earmarked for recapitalisation of its weakened banks. The latter sum could be quickly transferred to the government to facilitate debt repayments.

2 Four in 10 say university not value for money (BBC) Four in 10 of the first students to pay higher fees do not believe their courses have been good value for money, a survey suggests. Just over half say their university course has been good value and about 8% are undecided.

Universities UK said the last national student survey found 86% of students were satisfied with their course. The survey focused on undergraduates in their final year of degree courses in 2015. These students were the first to pay higher fees of up to £9,000 per year, after the price of university tuition trebled in 2012.

Many commentators predicted there would be a fall in student numbers but this did not happen. Two-thirds of those studying science, technology, maths and engineering - subjects that require a lot of practical teaching and staff time - said their courses had been good value. And 44% of humanities and social science students, which tend to receive less direct teaching time, said they felt their courses represented good value.

One in eight students said they would still go to university if they had to make the decision again, but would study a different course - according to the survey. Just 3% said they would not go at all. Some 58% felt their courses had left them at least somewhat prepared for the future.

3 Texting away intelligence (Khaleej Times) The Utah Valley University in the US, in all its foolish wisdom, has created text-only lanes on its steps for students who love to look their gadgets in the eye – the kind who do not wish to make any eye contact with fellow Homo sapiens.

Bright green lanes on the way to the wellness centre separate the texters from the walkers and runners. Before we wade, or walk into this debate, here’s a question: why create a new lane for people who do not wish to look straight, forget about looking others in the eye?

The report said the university doesn’t want to discourage smartphone use by 30,000 of its students; it wants to get them laughing. In the same breath, it said the new lane is to ‘engage’ students. Seats of learning should think of other saner ways to engage students — like encouraging them to look where they are going and facing the realities of life. That’s engagement even in the age of WhatsApp and social media.

The university is not the first to introduce texting lanes, Antwerp in Belgium and the Chinese city of Chongqing have chosen such blind alleys in the past with limited success. But nothing beats the Utah university’s attempt at improved stairway mobility for texters. What will we think of coming up with next? An exclusive lane for text-loving motorists on highways?

Friday, June 19, 2015

ECB emergency funding saves Greek banking collapse; Millennials aren't as different as companies think; Working mothers who make it all work

1 ECB emergency funding saves Greek banking collapse (Larry Elliott in The Guardian) The European Central Bank provided just enough support on Friday to stave off the collapse of the Greek banking system as political and financial pressure was piled on Athens before a crisis summit of eurozone leaders on Monday.

With more than €1bn leaving Greek banks on Friday alone, the ECB provided €1.8bn in emergency funding to keep the system operating over the weekend. The ECB’s tough line came as a succession of European politicians demanded the Greek government of Alexis Tsipras come up with proposals that would prevent Greece’s default and its possible exit from the single currency.

Far from buckling, the Greek prime minister put on a show of defiance during a visit to Russia, where he made a pitch for support from Vladimir Putin. “We are ready to go to new seas to reach new safe ports,” Tsipras said. Russia’s deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich had hinted that Russia would consider a loan to Greece.

Failure to end the stalemate between Greece and its creditors at a meeting of eurozone finance ministers on Thursday led to fresh Greek deposit withdrawals, bringing the total for the week to €4.2bn. The British chancellor, George Osborne, said Tsipras should do a deal before it was too late, and that Europe should start preparing for the worst.

2 Millennials aren’t as different as companies think (Kia Croom in San Francisco Chronicle) Millennial workers are misunderstood, according to SAP’s recently released Workforce2020 study. The tech company surveyed 2,700 executives and 2,700 employees in 27 countries. Half of employees surveyed were millennials. The study found similarities between millennial and non-millennial workers.

“We learned millennials are not as different as we think they are,” said Karie Willyerd, Workplace Futurist at SAP. For example, myth number one: millennials care more than non-millennials about making a positive difference in the world through work. According to the study, one-fifth of millennials and non-Millennials alike cite “making a difference” as important to their job satisfaction.

Myth number two: Achieving work life balance is more important to millennials. Survey data indicates 31 percent of non-Millennials say work life balance important to their job satisfaction, vs. 29 percent of millennials. Myth number three: Meeting income goals is less important to millennials as long as they are learning and growing. Research indicates millennials prioritize meeting career goals and income goals, followed distantly by learning and growing.

When it comes to job satisfaction, millennials prioritize meeting career goals (35 percent), meeting income goals (32 percent), and meeting goals for advancement (29 percent). Non-millennials prioritize corporate values that match their own (30 percent), achieving work/life balance (31 percent), and meeting income goals (30 percent).

However, the study suggests millennials and non-millennials differ in terms of how they need to be managed, how they view professional development and how they like to receive feedback from their supervisors. Nearly one-third of millennials say they expect more feedback on their performance than they currently receive—and they want it more often than non-millennials.

More than two-thirds of millennials want informal feedback from their managers at least monthly, whereas less than half of non-millennials expect feedback that often. The non-millennials are perfectly content with the routine 1-2 performance evaluations per year. They want to do their job and be left alone.

3 Working mothers who make it all work (Laura Vanderkam in The Wall Street Journal) Of all the truisms about work and life out there, the most widely accepted may be this: Any woman who tries to combine a high-powered career and a family is going to be one frazzled, sleep-deprived mess. 

The conventional wisdom is that women shy from jobs in consulting, finance, tech, medicine, law and the high ranks of corporations because the grueling hours mean they won’t have an outside life. But this doesn’t match the reality I found. The truth is, women with big jobs often have more balanced lives than the popular narrative conveys. How do they make it work? I saw three realities in these women’s lives.

First, while these women certainly focus on being efficient during the hours they work, the long hours allegedly required by big jobs may be somewhat exaggerated. In my study of women earning six figures, they averaged 44 hours of work a week. No one logged more than 70. To be sure, my sample is small and unscientific, and 80-hour weeks do happen—but they may not be as common as people think.

Second, women who did work long hours often had a good dose of autonomy and flexibility in their big jobs. Close to half of the women in my study worked what I call a “split shift.” They left work at a reasonable hour, spent time with family in the evening, then did more work at night after the kids went to bed.

Finally, women with big jobs earn enough to buy balance, in obvious and less obvious ways. Women in my study spent an average of 10 hours a week on housework and errands; the typical employed American mother spends about 19. Women at the top ordered what they could online, hired cleaning services and had household help to cook family meals. Women with big jobs, in short, have more autonomy and resources than women who earn less, which allows them to have more balanced lives.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Greece faces banking crisis after talks break down; China stocks head for worst week since 2008; Why yoga day is stressing India

1 Greece faces banking crisis after talks break down (Ian Traynor & Phillip Inman in The Guardian) Greece is facing a full-blown banking crisis after a meeting of eurozone finance ministers broke down in acrimony and recrimination on Thursday evening, bringing the prospect of Greek exit from the eurozone a step nearer.

Some €2bn of deposits have been withdrawn from Greek banks so far this week – including a record €1bn yesterday – triggering fears that a breakdown in talks would spark a further flight of funds. The German leader Angela Merkel, French president Fran├žois Hollande and Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras agreed to stage an emergency EU summit on Monday as a last critical attempt to prevent Greece going bankrupt. A representative of the European Central Bank told the meeting it was unsure whether Greek banks would have the funds to be able to open on Monday.

Leaders of the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund aimed bitter criticism at the leftwing Greek government, accusing it of lying to its own people, misrepresenting and misleading other EU leaders, refusing to negotiate seriously, and taking Greece to the brink of catastrophe.

The current bailout for Greece expires on 30 June when Athens is also due to repay the IMF around €1.6bn. If the payment is not made on time, Greece will be declared to be in default and would disqualify itself from receiving any further IMF funds.

2 China stocks head for worst week since 2008 (Straits Times) China's stocks fell, sending the benchmark index toward its steepest weekly loss since 2008, amid concern the government will clamp down on margin trading and valuations are excessive after a world-beating rally over the past year.

The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 1.5 per cent to 4,712.15 at 9:33 a.m. on Friday, extending losses to 8.7 per cent this week. The China Securities Regulatory Commission is working on margin-trading risk management rules for securities firms, the 21st Century Business Herald reported.

3 Why yoga day is stressing India (Geeta Pandey on BBC) Massive preparations are under way in India to celebrate the first International Day of Yoga on Sunday - even as an unsavoury row has broken out over whether practising the ancient discipline makes one a Hindu.

The lawns of India Gate in the heart of the capital are a hive of frenetic activity. Rajpath - the King's Avenue - has been shut to traffic for days, dozens of metal detectors are in place, a massive public address system is being installed and 7,000 yoga mats are being unrolled. This is where 35,000 officials, soldiers and students are expected to perform 35 minutes of exercises, led by trained yoga teachers.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is a huge yoga enthusiast and according to reports practices it daily, will be in attendance though he will not be doing yoga. Similar events are being organised in hundreds of Indian cities and towns and across the globe too. "The numbers are mindboggling, we expect tens of millions to participate," Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said.

But the day, being billed as one to promote "harmony and peace", has hit a controversial note. Some Muslim organisations say yoga is essentially a Hindu religious practise and that chanting "Om" or performing Surya Namaskar (Salutation to the Sun God) is against monotheism that Islam preaches. Angered by the debate, an MP from Mr Modi's party advised Muslims opposed to sun salutation to "go drown in the sea".

The government has been quick to point out that participation in the yoga day is not mandatory. "We're not forcing any one to participate - there's no threat, no coercion," Ms Swaraj said, adding that Hindu chants or the sun salutation were not even part of the yoga day protocol and reports that Muslims were opposed to yoga were exaggerated. But the slugfest has some yoga practitioners worried.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hollande sounds alarm on Grexit; News outlets losing control to Apple, Facebook & Google; India inflation negative for seventh month

1 Hollande sounds alarm on Grexit (BBC) French President Francois Hollande said there was "little time" to prevent Greece from leaving the eurozone. He said the ball was firmly in Greece's court. "It's not France's position to impose on Greece further cuts to smaller pensions, but rather to ask that they propose alternatives," he said.

Talks with Greek and EU officials in Brussels on Sunday failed to reach an agreement that would release bailout funds to Greece. Eurozone finance minister will meet on Thursday, but Greece's Yanis Varoufakis said he did not plan to present new proposals at the meeting. The prospects of a Greek default in just over two weeks' time has worried investors.

Europe wants Greece to make spending cuts worth €2bn (£1.44bn) to secure a deal that will unlock bailout funds. Greece must repay more than €1.5bn of loans to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the end of June and promise further economic reforms to receive about €7bn of bailout funds. The funds have been delayed by three months amid growing fears the government will soon run out of money.

Sticking points between Greece and the IMF and EU remain reforms to VAT, pensions and a primary budget surplus target for this year and next year. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned Athens would stand its ground until its creditors become "realistic". He called on the IMF and EU to "meditate" on the idea that: "We are not only the heirs of a long history of struggle. We are also carrying on our shoulders the dignity of a people, and the hope of the peoples of Europe."

2 News outlets losing control to Apple, Facebook and Google (Mark Sweney in The Guardian) Traditional news outlets face an increasingly uphill struggle to make money as readers move to mobile devices, giving Facebook, Google and Apple increasing control, according to a new international survey.

The use of mobile devices to access news on a weekly basis surged in the last year from 37% of respondents to almost half (46%), according to a 12-country report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ). As smartphones and tablets become the devices of choice for accessing content, traditional news brands are being dis-intermediated by the Silicon Valley giants.

The US firms are in a battle to be the top platform for news, with Facebook recently unveiling its Instant Articles service, and Apple announcing a revamp of Newsstand as Apple News. The report shows a 42% increase year-on-year in referrals from Facebook to the top 20 global news organisations, showing the increasing importance of social media in driving traffic and revenue.

“The reality is that only the most loyal users are downloading and using apps,” said Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, director of research at the RISJ. “For others, social media, messaging apps, email and mobile notifications are becoming an increasingly important route to news”.

Nielsen says the relative difficulty in monetising content on mobile devices compared to traditional desktop websites, and the rise of ad-blocking technology, means that news brands will find it increasingly hard to make money.

3 India inflation negative for seventh month (Times of India) Inflation in India remained in negative territory for the seventh month in May, registering a decline of 2.36% on account of subdued prices of food items, fuel and manufactured goods. In the coming months, however, the price situation will depend on the progress of monsoon, experts said.

The wholesale price index- (WPI) based inflation was -2.65% in April. It has been in the negative zone since November. Inflation in May 2014 was 6.18%.  The lower inflation comes amid a forecast of deficient monsoon this year. The Consumer Price Index inflation had inched up marginally in May to over 5% from 4.87% in the previous month.

Overall, food inflation was 3.8% — much lower than the previous few months. The May inflation in manufactured items (food products, sugar, edible oils, beverages) declined by 0.64% — lowest in past many months. Inflation in fuel and power basket was at -10.51% on annual basis, though slightly up from April.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

No deal for Greece; Delhi stinks, its politicians rotten; A shepherd's life proves a hit

1 No deal for Greece (BBC) The latest round of talks between Greek and EU officials in Brussels has failed to reach an agreement. A European Commission spokesman said while progress was made on Sunday, "significant gaps" remained. Europe wants Greece to make spending cuts worth €2bn (£1.44bn), to secure a deal that will unlock bailout funds.

Greek deputy prime minister Yannis Dragasakis said that Athens was still ready to negotiate with its lenders. He said Greek government proposals submitted on Sunday had fully covered the fiscal deficit as demanded. However, Mr Dragasakis added that the EU and IMF still wanted Greece to cut pensions - something Athens has said it would never accept.

The cash-strapped nation is trying to agree a funding deal with the European Union and IMF before the end of June to avoid a default. Eurozone finance ministers will discuss Greece when they meet on Thursday. The gathering is regarded as Greece's last chance to strike a deal.

Greece is seeking to avoid defaulting on a €1.5bn debt repayment to the IMF due by the end of the month. Creditors have demanded cuts in spending in return for another tranche of bailout funds. But Greece's ruling left-wing Syriza party, led by Alexis Tsipras, was elected in January on promises to ease up on the highly unpopular austerity measures, increase the minimum monthly wage and create more jobs. However, Mr Tsipras has warned Greek people to prepare for a "difficult compromise".

2 Delhi stinks, its politicians rotten (Khaleej Times) Over the weekend — before the strike got called off — TV anchors reporting from India’s capital, wore green surgical masks and earnestly reported about the 15,000 tones of waste, and 12,000 sanitation workers on strike to protest not being paid. The collective salary backlog of the workers was Rs 4.93 billion. Those funds have now been ‘released’.

Who could blame the poor workers — or soldiers, as Rahul Gandhi has called them? Why would anyone clean up putrefying semi-solid meats and rotting vegetables and God knows what other household waste for free? Compassion for the workers apart — with RG on his garbage tourism trip leading the charge — let’s spare a thought for the residents and commuters.

Imagine being stuck in traffic for 45 minutes, in summer. Puns about stinks can’t be avoided when you’re talking about 2,000 to 2,200 metric tonnes of garbage daily generated and not cleared. Worse! Imagine not having a kerchief in hand, to plug your nostrils.

Rotted cherries on the stink-pile in all this are the Sambit Patras of the BJP, and the cry-baby, Ashutosh of the AAP going at each other’s throats saying you pick it up, no ‘YOU’ pick it up. That Rahul Gandhi should emerge the saviour in the saga is the other thing that smells like 12-day-old fish.

3 A shepherd’s life proves a hit (San Francisco Chronicle) James Rebanks sits in his stone farmhouse, describing the hardscrabble mountain life his family has known for six centuries or more. Then his cell phone rings. It's a big London ad agency, hoping to sign him up for a project. Rebanks is probably the world's most famous shepherd, with a hit Twitter account, a best-selling book and TV crews rattling up the lane to his farm. He's gratified by the attention, if a bit bemused.

"Somebody from Hollywood rang up yesterday, wanting to make a movie out of my book," the 40-year-old said. "Which is completely bonkers." Readers around the world have flocked to Rebanks' dispatches from a way of life that has — against the odds — survived industrialization, globalization and mass tourism.

On Twitter, his descriptions of lambing and haymaking have attracted 65,000 followers. "The Shepherd's Life," his book recounting the rhythms of the rural year and the daily struggle to make ends meet, is a best-seller in Britain and Canada and is being translated into German and Swedish. The New York Times called it "captivating." He belongs to one of the few hundred families who farm the rugged valleys and mountains, or fells, of the Lake District in northwest England.

Rebanks' memoir describes that way of life, whose essence has changed little over the centuries. It's also a primal story of fathers and sons, poverty and struggle. Rebanks left school at 15 to work on the farm, but clashed with his father and with the brutal economics of farming. He earned a degree in history from Oxford University in his 20s, came home and struggled to keep the family farm going. The last few decades have been hard for small farmers. Most have second jobs; Rebanks works as an adviser on sustainable tourism to UNESCO.

"We've been going to disappear for 200-odd years," he said. "That's always been the story. Nearly all books about shepherds are 'The Last Shepherd.' There's always 'last' in it because it adds a touch of romance." Rebanks is determined not to be the last of anything. He lives with wife Helen and three children aged between 3 and 9 in Matterdale, one of the Lake District's many narrow valleys. The family owns 450 sheep, rising to 1,000 after lambing season.

He said the popularity reassures him that people do care about the land, even if they're a very long way from it.  "I think there's a sort of Harvard Business School way of looking at the world which is to say, because it's old-fashioned, because it doesn't make very much money, people should rationally choose to go off and be IT consultants or bankers in the City of London," he said. "I think in my early 20s I bought into that. I thought, we're on the wrong side of history. It'll all disappear. Twenty-something years later I'm looking at it, and we haven't gone anywhere."

Saturday, June 13, 2015

End game for Greece crisis; Russia, China gained from Snowden files; A $1trn market as Saudi Arabia opens its bourses to world

1 End game looms for Greece crisis (Helena Smith in The Guardian/Observer) Almost five months after he assumed power, Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras has come to a fork in the road: either he accepts the painful terms of a cash-for-reform deal that ensures Greece’s place in the single currency or he decides to go it alone, faithful to the vision of his anti-austerity Syriza party. Either way, the endgame is upon him.

Thursday’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers is viewed as the last chance to clinch a deal before Athens’s already extended bailout accord expires on 30 June. The drama of Greece’s battle to keep bankruptcy at bay has, with the ticking of the clock, become ever darker in tone. What started out as good-tempered brinkmanship has turned increasingly sour as negotiations to release desperately needed bailout funds have repeatedly hit a wall over Athens’s failure to produce persuasive reforms.

Last week the mood became more febrile as it emerged that Eurocrats, for the first time, had debated the possibility of cash-starved Athens defaulting. The revelation came amid reports that Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, was resigned to letting Greece go. Berlin is by far the biggest contributor to the €240bn bailout propping up the near-bankrupt state.

With both sides seemingly determined to take negotiations to the brink, the nerve-racking game of poker was raised a notch as Tsipras’s closest aides resumed talks with technical teams in Brussels. The EU and IMF say the ball is now in Greece’s court. Following his rejection of their demands as “absurd” last week, the young premier is hoping the officials will be able to bridge outstanding differences on the basis of a new set of “counter proposals”.

2 Russia, China gained from Snowden files (BBC) UK intelligence agents have been moved because Russia and China have access to classified information which reveals how they operate, a senior government source has told the BBC. According to the Sunday Times, Moscow and Beijing have deciphered documents stolen by whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The government source said the countries "have information" that led to agents being moved but added there was "no evidence" any had been harmed. Mr Snowden leaked data two years ago. The former CIA contractor, now living in Russia, left the US in 2013 after leaking details of extensive internet and phone surveillance by American intelligence to the media.

His information made international headlines in June 2013 when the Guardian newspaper reported that the US National Security Agency was collecting the telephone records of tens of millions of Americans. Mr Snowden is believed to have downloaded 1.7 million secret documents before he left the US.

3 A $1trn market as Saudi Arabia opens its bourses to world (Muzaffar Rizvi in Khaleej Times) The opening of Saudi equities to foreign investors this week is a first step towards joining the MSCI Index by 2017, which will be raising the profile of markets in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) by up to $1 trillion, experts say.

Analysts and experts said the opening of the Saudi bourses is a major move in international markets since China allowed foreign investment in local market more than a decade ago. They said the $570 billion market capitalisation of the kingdom is more than the combined value of the Moscow, Malaysia and Mexico markets, and that it would be the seventh-largest emerging nation in the world if it joins the MSCI Index in next two years.

Experts expect that the Saudi market may attract $10 billion to $15 billion in additional foreign inflows into the region. Banks, insurance, petrochemicals, healthcare and retail stocks will be the major beneficiaries of the Saudi move that will lead to a general shift of attention to Saudi companies and potentially pave the way for new business joint ventures and further integration of Saudi businesses into international markets, they added.

Yong-Wei Lee, head of Mena equities at Emirates NBD Asset Management, said: “Three Mena markets — the UAE [$230 billion], Qatar [$180 billion] and Egypt [$70 billion], with a combined market cap of $480 billion — are already included in the MSCI Emerging Market Index. Adding the $570 billion Saudi market, the Mena markets could top $1 trillion and that would place the region in a more prominent position than before.”