Wednesday, March 15, 2017
US Fed hikes rates to 1%; Trump travel ban blocked again; Kenya bans plastic bags
1 US Fed hikes rates to 1% (Khaleej Times) The Federal Reserve has raised its benchmark interest rate for the second time in three months and signaled that any further hikes this year will be gradual. The move reflects a consistently solid US economy and will likely mean higher rates on some consumer and business loans.
The Fed's key short-term rate is rising by a quarter-point to a still-low range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent. The central bank said in a statement that a strengthening job market and rising prices had moved it closer to its targets for employment and inflation.
The message the Fed sent is that nearly eight years after the Great Recession ended, the economy no longer needs the support of ultra-low borrowing rates and is healthy enough to withstand steadily tighter credit.
The Fed's forecast for future hikes, drawn from the views of 17 officials, still projects that it will raise rates three times this year, unchanged from the last forecast in December. But the number of Fed officials who think three rate hikes will be appropriate rose from six to nine.
The central bank's outlook for the economy changed little, with officials expecting economic growth of 2.1 percent this year and next year before slipping to 1.9 percent in 2019. Those forecasts are far below the 4 percent growth that President Donald Trump has said he can produce with his economic program.
2 Trump travel ban blocked again (BBC) A Federal judge in Hawaii has blocked President Donald Trump's new travel ban, hours before it was due to begin at midnight on Thursday. US District Judge Derrick Watson cited "questionable evidence" in the government's argument that the ban was a matter of national security.
President Trump described the ruling as "unprecedented judicial overreach". The order would have placed a 90-day ban on people from six mainly Muslim nations and a 120-day ban on refugees. Mr Trump insists the move is to stop terrorists from entering the US but critics say it is discriminatory.
An earlier version of the order, issued in late January, sparked confusion and protests, and was blocked by a judge in Seattle. Hawaii is one of several US states trying to stop the ban. Lawyers had argued that the ban would violate the US constitution by discriminating against people on the grounds of their national origin.
3 Kenya bans plastic bags (San Francisco Chronicle) Kenya has become the latest African nation to ban the manufacture and import of all plastic bags used for commercial and household packaging.
Environment Minister Judi W. Wakhungu gave the order published in a gazette notice dated Feb. 28 and released to the public. The new measures will take effect six months from the date of the notice. Thin plastic shopping bags litter the streets of Kenya's capital, Nairobi. They have created towering piles at dump sites.
Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia, Mauritania and Malawi are among the countries that have adopted or announced such bans. Some 100 million plastic bags are handed out every year in Kenya by supermarkets alone, the UN Environmental Program said in a statement. It called plastic bags the top challenge for urban waste disposal in Kenya, particularly in the poorest communities where access to disposal systems is limited.
Plastic bags contribute to the 8 million tons of plastic that leak into the ocean every year. At current rates, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, according to UNEP.