Monthly Archives: March 2019

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Boeing strikes orders, commitments worth more than $11B at Paris Air Show

LE BOURGET, France – Boeing Co. announced more than US$11 billion worth of orders and commitments for 56 jets Monday as the Paris Air Show, the industry’s main event of the year, got under way.

The Chicago-based aerospace and defence giant opened a day of one-upmanship with traditional rival Airbus by announcing Qatar Airways had ordered six 777 jets in a US$1.7-billion deal.

The European plane-making consortium wasted little time in announcing its own deals, racking up orders and commitments for 142 aircraft valued at US$15 billion.

Boeing also said it had received commitments and orders from two undisclosed buyers for 17 of its hulking 747-8 passenger planes – with a book value of $5.4 billion – and said Los Angeles-based Air Lease Corp. had agreed to buy up to 33 planes in a variety of models worth over $4.2 billion.

Qatar Airways, an upstart, fast-growing Gulf carrier, plans to buy extended versions of the long-range 777-300, CEO Akbar al-Baker told a news conference alongside Boeing’s commercial aircraft chief.

Boeing has now delivered 25 777s to the Qatari flag carrier, and expects to deliver another 15, making the double-aisle plane “the backbone of our long-range aircraft,” al-Baker said.

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The order comes after Airbus recently announced it has delayed the first delivery of two modified versions of its A350 – a 777 rival – by two years, to 2016 and 2017, so engine supplier Rolls Royce can develop a more powerful motor for an extended-range version.

Qatar Airways is the launch customer and largest single buyer for the A350, and is due to receive the first one in the second half of 2013. Half of the 80 A350s it has ordered would be affected by the delay; the other half is for the 350-900, which is not being delayed.

Al-Baker didn’t hide his frustration about the “significant delays” with the A350 program, saying they “will dent our expansion and fleet placement program.”

Separately, Al-Baker said he hopes to finalize this week an order with Airbus on the A320 neo, a revamped A320 that has been re-engineered to be 15 per cent more fuel efficient.

“We are interested in that airplane, but we still have some more work to do,” al-Baker said. “It’s a very fine airplane.”

Meanwhile, the aerospace division of Canada’s Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) announced at the show that an unnamed “major network carrier” had ordered 10 of its new CSeries planes in a contract valued at $616 million. The value of the order could rise to about US$1 billion if the airline exercises six options for the CS100, the smaller of the two CSeries variants.

However, Qatar Airways, which had been seen as the most likely buyer during the show, announced Monday that it was not yet ready to place an order.

Boeing has also faced pressure to come up with its response to the A320 neo. Jim Albaugh, CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said the company will not rush into a decision – expected in the coming months. Boeing is considering whether to re-engine the current 737s, or develop an entirely new plane.

“Now, I know the one that many of you probably came to hear an announcement on today, and are going to be disappointed, is what we are going to do with the small airplanes,” said Albaugh. “We have a very deliberate process in determining what we are going to do.”

“Our view is that the neo will just provide an airplane as capable as the current NG,” Albaugh said of the “next generation” variant of the single-aisle 737.

Boeing said one undisclosed customer had made commitments for 15 747-8 Intercontinentals, and another placed an order for two – in deals that would fetch $5.4 billion at list prices.

In a statement, Albaugh called the orders “a major milestone” in the program. Commitments are not as solid as firm orders in the parlance of the aviation industry.

Boeing’s deal with Air Lease Corp. involves 14 firm orders and four options for Next-Generation 737-800s, and five 777-300 extended range planes and four 787-9 Dreamliners, Boeing said. The leasing company agreed to exercise options on six planes from its order of 60 737-800s last year. At list prices, those planes would be worth more than $4.2 billion.

– With files from The Canadian Press

Wife visits prominent Chinese activist in jail days before scheduled release

BEIJING, China – The wife of a prominent Chinese dissident who was jailed for sedition more than three years ago said she visited her husband Monday, days ahead of his scheduled release.

Activist Zeng Jinyan saw her husband, Hu Jia, at the Beijing Municipal Prison on Monday, Zeng told The Associated Press in an online conversation. Her mobile phones were switched off.

A major figure in China’s dissident community, Hu was active in a broad range of civil liberties issues before he was imprisoned in 2008. His 3 1/2-year jail term is set to end Sunday.

But his scheduled release comes amid one of the Chinese government’s broadest campaigns of repression in years as Beijing has moved to prevent the growth of an Arab-style protest movement.

There are concerns that, like other dissidents released recently from jail, Hu and his wife might be kept under house arrest.

Zeng, 27, would not discuss the visit or Hu’s condition, saying she was not accepting interviews at the moment. She did not provide an explanation but it likely stems from concerns that speaking to the foreign media might jeopardize Hu’s release.

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On her Twitter page, Zeng said eight people escorted her away from Beijing’s airport on Sunday after she arrived from southern China. “I think this is going to be the normal state of life from now on. I will read more books and get more mental and physical rest,” she wrote.

In a posting last week, Zeng said that upon his release, Hu, who suffers from a liver ailment, would be deprived of his political rights for one year and will not be able to speak to the media. “For this one year the focus should be on treating his cirrhosis, caring for parents and child, to avoid being arrested again,” she wrote.

Hu, 37, is known for his activism with AIDS patients and orphans. The sedition charge stems from police accusations that he planned to work with foreigners to disturb the 2008 Olympic Games.

In late 2008, Hu won the European Parliament’s top human rights award, the 50,000 euro ($72,000) Sakharov Prize. Hu was honoured in Strasbourg, France, where because he was in prison, his name was placed in front of an empty seat. He received a minute-long standing ovation from the Parliament.

China’s government heaped scorn on the European Parliament’s award, with Beijing calling Hu a criminal and the award interference.

Initially an advocate for the rights of HIV/AIDS patients, Hu expanded his efforts after the government gave little ground and he began to see the country’s problems as rooted in authorities’ lack of respect for human rights.

Hu used the Internet and telephone to chronicle the harassment and arrests of other dissidents and also published a series of articles criticizing the authorities for using the Olympics to mask serious human rights abuses. He was detained in December 2007 and sentenced in April 2008.

In recent months, hundreds of lawyers, activists and other intellectuals have been questioned, detained, confined to their homes or simply disappeared in the wake of online appeals calling for peaceful protests across the country. Though no protests took place, the calls spooked the Chinese government into launching the clampdown.

China’s rights environment has “considerably deteriorated” since Hu was arrested, said Human Rights Watch senior Asia researcher Nicholas Bequelin.

“This cycle of repression is cutting deeper than previous ones because it was marked by the deliberate use of extra-judicial tactics such as enforced disappearances, longtime house arrest, and arbitrary harassment by the security organs,” Bequelin said.

“Whether Hu Jia will be genuinely free upon his release from prison remains to be seen. The recent record does not give ground for optimism,” he added.

Another activist Chen Guangcheng and his wife have been kept under an unofficial house arrest in their village in eastern China since he was released from jail last fall, and reporters trying to visit them have been kept away by thugs who patrol the village.

Chen angered authorities after documenting forced late-term abortions and sterilizations and other abuses in his rural community, but was sentenced for instigating an attack on government offices and organizing a group of people to disrupt traffic, charges his supporters say were fabricated.

Oil falls to below $92 in Europe as US dollar rises, euro battered by Greek crisis

Oil prices fell to below $92 a barrel Monday as Greece’s deepening financial crisis continued to reverberate around markets.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for July delivery was down $1.09 to $91.92 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost $1.94, or 2 per cent, to settle at $93.01 on Friday.

In London, Brent crude for August delivery was down $1.45 to $111.76 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

A strengthening U.S. dollar has helped drag crude down from almost $115 early last month. A rising dollar makes commodities such as oil more expensive for investors with other currencies.

Talks between eurozone finance chiefs on Greece’s troubled finances ended early Monday without the ministers signing off on a vital instalment of rescue loans needed to avoid bankruptcy next month.

“An expected short-term agreement will likely enable markets to breathe a little easier and allow commodity complexes to stage a respectable bounce on account of a stronger euro,” said Edward Meir of MF Global in New York.

The euro fell to $1.4243 on Monday from $1.4307 late Friday.

If the euro drops below $1.40, crude will likely fall to below $90, energy consultant The Schork Group said.

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While U.S. crude demand continues to slip – driven miles fell 2.4 per cent on the year in April – analysts said the climbing use of fossil fuels for electricity generation in Japan, the world’s third largest consumer of oil, would help sustain prices.

“Japan’s higher oil demand should also prevent a further fall in oil prices,” said analysts at Commerzbank in Frankfurt, citing data showing that Japan’s crude imports rose an annual 6.9 per cent in May.

In other Nymex trading in July contracts, heating oil fell 3.54 cents to $2.9479 a gallon while gasoline dropped 3.67 cents at $2.9093 a gallon. Natural gas futures slid 2.3 cents at $4.302 per 1,000 cubic feet.

___

Alex Kennedy in Singapore contributed to this report.

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Japanese exports drop 10.3 per cent in May as impact from quake and tsunami lingers

TOKYO – Japan’s exports dropped for the third straight month in May, hit by massive production losses in the auto sector following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami disasters, the government said Monday.

Exports fell 10.3 per cent year-on-year to 4.76 trillion yen ($6 billion). Imports rose 12.3 per cent to 5.61 trillion yen, resulting in a trade deficit of 853.7 billion yen – Japan’s second-biggest after a 967.9 billion yen deficit in January 2009, the finance ministry said.

“Exports were down again as auto shipments tumbled in the month. Automakers struggled with parts shortages after the quake, and did not see a recovery in production in May,” said economist Hajime Inoue at the Japan Research Institute Ltd.

The March disasters, which left more than 23,000 people dead or missing in northeastern Japan, destroyed hundreds of factories, forcing automakers – a pillar of this nation’s economy – and manufacturers to suspend production.

Toyota Motor Corp. says the supply crunch cost it production of 550,000 vehicles in Japan by the end of May. Toyota’s car production in May was half of normal levels.

Honda Motor Co. also produced vehicles in Japan at half of its usual level in May due to parts shortages.

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Overall Japanese auto exports in May plunged 38.9 per cent and shipments of auto parts dropped 18.5 per cent, the ministry said.

Among key regions, U.S.-bound auto exports nosedived 43.5 per cent, and auto exports to China – Japan’s biggest trading partner – tumbled 40.1 per cent. Vehicle shipments to Asia and the European Union were down 27.6 per cent and 35.8 per cent respectively.

Economist Inoue said Japanese exports would likely rebound later in the year as auto production was expected to be back at pre-disaster levels in the coming months.

Japan’s exports to the United States fell 14.6 per cent in May, the ministry said. Exports to China declined 8.1 per cent. Asia-bound shipments were down 8.7 per cent, while exports to the European Union fell 8.8 per cent.

EU overhauls rescue funds to keep worsening Greek crisis from spreading to Ireland, Portugal

LUXEMBOURG – Europe has tried to set up a firewall between the financial turmoil ravaging Greece and the destinies of Ireland and Portugal, the two other bailed-out eurozone countries, and increased pressure on Athens to pass new austerity measures in exchange for saving it from default.

Eurozone governments on Monday agreed to reinforce their bailout funds to boost confidence in their ability to stop the crisis from taking down other countries and to help Ireland and Portugal emerge from their debt holes.

Greece’s financial life support from Europe, meanwhile, depends on it taking new deficit-cutting measures.

After days of political chaos, the government in Athens has to survive a confidence vote and then get its austerity plan through parliament. To make sure that happens, eurozone ministers have delayed crucial new loans until after the parliamentary vote.

“Times are difficult, the reform fatigue is visible in the streets of Athens, Madrid and elsewhere, and so is the support fatigue in some of our member states,” said Olli Rehn, the European Union’s Monetary Affairs Commissioner.

But he urged countries to press on with the austerity. “We are about to complete a decisive response to the worst crisis since the Second World War,” he added.

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If the Greek parliament approves the austerity measures – worth about €28 billion ($40 billion) on top of an unpopular €50 billion privatization program – then eurozone finance ministers will gather again on July 3 to approve the next, critical €12 billion installment of Greece’s bailout loans.

The country’s European creditors and the International Monetary Fund are also pushing for the main opposition party to support the measures, which have already sparked violent street protests and forced Prime Minister George Papandreou to reshuffle his Cabinet.

“The greatest weight of responsibility lies on the shoulders of the new Greek government” as well as the other main political forces in the country, said Rehn.

Beyond that, much more remains to be done, as officials conceded Greece will probably need a second bailout of about the same size as the €110 billion ($160 billion) it got from the eurozone countries and the IMF last year.

Many economists question whether Greece can get out of its crisis without restructuring its €340 billion debt load by making creditors take less than they are owed. That’s an option EU officials so far ruled out for fear of the potentially disastrous impact on financial markets.

EU officials acknowledged the political difficulty of meeting the bailout requirements, which are aimed both at forcing Greece to fix its finances and at convincing voters in countries like Germany, who are skeptical of putting up money for others’ mistakes, that progress will be made.

With the tentative deal set on the loan payout, the finance ministers also signed off on important changes to their bailout funds, which they hope will reinforce confidence in the eurozone’s struggling economies and protect them from the market panic afflicting Greece.

Investors were clearly nervous on Monday, with borrowing rates in Portugal, for example, hitting record highs.

To boost market confidence, ministers agreed to raise their guarantees for bailout loans from the current rescue fund to €780 billion ($1.1 trillion) from €440 billion, said Klaus Regling, who manages the Luxembourg-based fund.

That will allow the fund to lend out a total of €440 billion, up from about €250 billion currently.

The European Financial Stability Facility, as the fund is known, requires significant over-guarantees to get a good credit rating and raise cash.

The increase had been agreed to in principle in March, but putting it into force required states to almost double their commitments to the fund – an unpopular move at a time when citizens in rich countries are increasingly frustrated with the cost of helping their weaker neighbours.

On top of that, the ministers also made an important change to their future rescue fund, which they hope will help already bailed-out countries regain access to debt markets.

The so-called European Stability Mechanism, which will come into force in mid-2013, when the EFSF expires, will not have preferred creditor status when it helps countries that have already been bailed out, said Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister who also chairs the meetings of eurozone finance ministers.

That means the fund would not be repaid before any private creditors. Giving the fund preferred creditor status had been criticized for discouraging private investors, who would be last in line to be repaid in the case of a default.

The ESM will kick in at a time when Ireland and Portugal have to start raising money again by selling long-term bonds. However, investors will be reluctant to buy these bonds if they have a high risk of not being repaid if the economic situation in the two countries worsens again.

The ESM will keep preferred creditor status for bailouts for countries that have no previous support programs.

The IMF said in a statement that bigger changes to the fund – such as giving it the power to buy bonds of struggling countries on the open market – were necessary. “Failure to undertake decisive action could rapidly spread tensions to the core of the euro area and result in large global spillovers,” warned the IMF, which funds about one third of the existing eurozone bailouts.

In talks that lasted into the early hours of Monday morning, the finance ministers also agreed to ask banks and other private creditors to share some of the burden of a second bailout for Greece.

However, the ministers stressed that any private-sector involvement would have to be strictly voluntary and could not be considered a partial default by rating agencies.

Greece’s newly appointed finance minister Evangelos Venizelos said the eurozone’s decisions showed that urgent action was necessary in Athens. “We have plenty to do, on a daily basis,” he said in a statement.