Tuesday, January 31, 2017

End of tax-free living in Saudi Arabia; Apple returns to profit with iPhone 7; California plans sanctuary for immigrants

1 End of tax-free living in Saudi Arabia (The Guardian) Tax-free living will soon be a thing of the past for Saudis after its cabinet on Monday approved an IMF-backed value-added tax to be imposed across the Gulf following an oil slump.

A 5% levy will apply to certain goods following an agreement with the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council in June last year. Residents of the energy-rich region had long enjoyed a tax-free and heavily subsidised existence but the collapse in crude prices since 2014 sparked cutbacks and a search for new revenue.

Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter and the largest economy in the Arab region. It froze major building projects, cut cabinet ministers’ salaries and imposed a wage freeze on civil servants to cope with last year’s record budget deficit of $97bn. It also made unprecedented cuts to fuel and utilities subsidies.

The kingdom is broadening its investment base and boosting other non-oil income as part of economic diversification efforts and aims to balance its budget by 2020. The move is in line with an International Monetary Fund recommendation for Gulf states to impose revenue-raising measures including excise and value-added taxes to help their adjustment to lower crude prices which have slowed regional growth.

2 Apple returns to growth with iPhone 7 (BBC) Apple has reported its highest quarterly revenue, as the iPhone 7 helped it return to a growth in sales in the final three months of 2016. In its first full quarter since the iPhone 7's release, Apple reported net sales of $78.4bn, up 3% on the same period a year ago.

Chief executive Tim Cook said Apple had sold "more iPhones than ever before". It had also set new records for revenues from its Mac, Apple Watch and services divisions, he said. Apple had suffered three quarters in a row of falling revenue as intensifying competition, particularly from Chinese rivals, hit sales of its flagship iPhone.

The firm said it had sold 78.3m iPhones in the three months to 31 December, up from 74.8m a year before. It reported revenue of $54.3bn from iPhone sales, plus $7.2bn from the Mac, $5.5bn from the iPad, $7.1bn from services and $4.0bn from other products, including the Apple Watch.

However, Apple warned that iPhone sales would miss analysts' expectations in the current quarter. It suggested that customers were holding back on phone upgrades in anticipation of the launch of the tenth anniversary iPhone later this year.

3 California plans sanctuary for immigrants (San Francisco Chronicle) Democrats in the California Senate have ramped up their fight against President Donald Trump, advancing bills that would create a statewide sanctuary for people in the country illegally, provide money to pay lawyers for immigrants facing deportation and hamper any attempt to create a Muslim registry.

The moves in the nation's largest state — home to an estimated 2.3 million immigrants without legal authorization — came days after Trump launched his crackdown on immigration and sanctuary cities across the nation. The city of San Francisco sued Trump on Tuesday, claiming his executive order that would cut funding from sanctuary cities is unconstitutional and a "severe invasion of San Francisco's sovereignty."

San Francisco receives about $1.2 billion a year in federal funding for services that include housing, health and social services, and homelessness. In Sacramento, Democrats on the state Senate Public Safety Committee voted along party lines to prohibit state and local law enforcement from cooperating with federal immigration authorities.

California voted overwhelmingly against Trump in November, and Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Jerry Brown have loudly vowed to resist the Republican president. Many of California's largest cities — including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento — already have sanctuary policies that prohibit police from cooperating with immigration agents.

The sanctuary legislation now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee. It's unclear how it might fare if it reaches the Assembly. Speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, has resisted Trump's policies, but the Assembly also has a bloc of moderate lawmakers in swing districts who have balked at legislation favored by the more liberal Senate.

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