Saturday, May 7, 2016

Canada blaze threatens another province; Saudi oil minister removed in overhaul; Surprising fall in UK food cost

1 Canada blaze threatens another province (BBC) A huge wildfire raging in the Canadian province of Alberta is growing further and could spill in to neighbouring Saskatchewan, officials say. Hot, dry and windy conditions are hampering efforts by hundreds of firefighters to tackle the blaze.

The flames have already caused the evacuation of 80,000 people from the oil city of Fort McMurray. Thousands are still stuck north of the city. "In no way is this fire under control,'' said Alberta Premier Rachel Notley. The wildfire now covers an area of more than 200,000 hectares (495,000 acres), which includes areas still ablaze and areas already burnt.

There is the possibility of rain on Sunday and Monday. Earlier this week, most evacuees headed south but some fled north, sheltering in work camps beyond Fort McMurray. The blaze has ruined entire neighbourhoods, with residents warned it could be some time before they could return.

Despite the mandatory order to leave, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have said they found an elderly man and a family of five in Fort McMurray. They were led to safety. Some 1,600 homes and other buildings have been lost but no deaths or injuries have been reported.

Fort McMurray is in the heart of Canada's oil sands country, and the region has the world's third-largest reserves of oil. As much as a quarter of the country's oil production has been halted by the fire, raising concerns about the effect on the Canadian economy.

2 Saudi oil minister removed in overhaul (BBC) Saudi Arabia's King Salman has removed the country's veteran oil minister as part of a broad government overhaul. Ali al-Naimi has been replaced after more than 20 years in the role by former health minister Khaled al-Falih.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest crude exporter, unveiled major economic reforms in April, aimed at ending the country's dependence on oil. About 70% of its revenues came from oil last year, but it has been hit hard by falling prices.

The government shake-up, announced in a royal decree, sees a number of ministries merged and others, such as the ministry of electricity and water, scrapped altogether. A public body for entertainment is being created, and another for culture.

King Salman's son Prince Mohammad directs the country's economic policy, and Mr al-Naimi's removal is an indication that he wants tighter control over the commodity. Mr Falih has spent more than 30 years working at state oil giant Aramco, most recently serving as chairman. He will take charge of a new department managing energy, industry and mineral resources.

3 Surprising fall in UK food cost (Patrick Collinson & Hilary Osborne in The Guardian) Good news for shoppers: supermarket giants Tesco and Sainsbury’s have cut the price of a basket of basic household goods by 12%-13% over the past four years.

Sainsbury’s this week blamed price deflation for a slide in profits, saying that the cost of goods in its stores has fallen on average by 4% over the past two years. But comparing prices in 2012 with today, shows that the falls have been even sharper, with basics such as bread, eggs and milk all down markedly.

In the year and a half it’s been running, of the 35 categories only two have had price rises: pasta and frozen chips – and then only by a few pence. The biggest fall has been in broccoli (down 59%), but that may be due to seasonal factors, while fresh chicken pieces are down 13%. “Overall, shoppers are 4.5% better off than they were a year ago,” says mySupermarket’s Kim Ludlow.

It’s not just food prices that are falling. The British Retail Consortium said this week that prices in shops – food and non-food – have fallen for 36 consecutive months. Deflation in non-food, running at 2.9% a year, is even deeper than that for food, led by continued falls in the price of clothing.

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