Showing posts with label BBC.. Show all posts
Showing posts with label BBC.. Show all posts

Apr 30, 2020

Business News | Scotland: Lockdown could cripple builders firms 'in months'

4-5 minutes - Source: BBC



closed building site
Image caption Sites in Scotland have been closed for more than five weeks
Many construction firms in Scotland face the prospect of financial collapse within months unless the lockdown can be eased, an industry body has said.
All but essential construction sites in Scotland have been closed for more than five weeks since the coronavirus restrictions were introduced.
From next week, three of the UK's biggest housebuilders will reopen their sites in England.
The Federation of Master Builders wants the same rules for Scottish firms.
And it has warned that many smaller builders will go bust if they are not allowed to follow suit.
The group is now asking the Scottish government for a timeline - and updated guidance - to allow them to get safely back to work.

'We are adaptable'

FMB Scotland director Gordon Nelson said that financial problems were mounting as each week goes by.
He said: "There's evidence that about two thirds of small and medium-sized construction firms may only have the cash to survive another two to three months if the present circumstances continue.
"We're pleased about the job retention scheme from the UK government for furloughed workers.
"But we're also asking for small grants for more building companies around the country so that they can survive."
"Our members are very keen that we don't unintentionally rush back to work too soon in a way that may lead to a spike in new infections of the coronavirus.
"We're keeping a close eye on, and are in dialogue with, construction firms in England to see what evidence they can demonstrate for safe operating. We want to use that evidence and take it to the Scottish government.
"We are determined to get back to work as quickly as possible so our members can generate work and survive and thrive in the medium to longer term."

'Open the door slightly and get us back to work'

Andrew Haldane's construction firm had to temporarily shut down on 23 March and all its employees are currently furloughed.
He has plenty of orders in his books for when work does resume but says, like all builders, he has serious concerns about the future.
And he believes the Scottish government must "open the door slightly" by agreeing to new working practices that would comply with social distancing instructions.

Staggered breaks

Mr Haldane said: "Only essential works are being done in Scotland, which is understandable given the current situation.
"Down in England they have a different format where contractors are going back to work in the near future.
"I think we just need a collaborative effort from everyone in the business to agree that there is a way we can to go back to work.
"Whether that be our people travelling to work on their own, not using public transport, working in phases with staggered breaks and PPE where that's necessary."

Business News: Shell cuts dividend for first time since WW2

2minutes - Source: BBC



Shell logo Image copyright Getty Images
Royal Dutch Shell has cut its dividend for the first time since World War Two following the collapse in global oil demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The energy giant also suspended the next tranche of its share buyback programme.
The move came as it announced a 46% fall in first-quarter net income to $2.9bn (£2.3bn).
Chief executive Ben van Beurden warned of "continued deterioration in the macroeconomic outlook".
He said Shell was taking "further prudent steps to bolster our resilience" and "underpin the strength of our balance sheet".
Shell is cutting its quarterly dividend by two-thirds, from 47 cents to 16 cents, starting in the first quarter of this year.
The company said it had also cut activity at its refining business by up to 40% in response to the sharp fall in demand for oil.
David Barclay, senior investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said: "Royal Dutch Shell's decision to cut its dividend for the first time since World War Two reflects the unprecedented economic impact of Covid-19.
"There was a great deal of speculation about what the energy company would do leading up to these results and the market was braced for bad news.
"On the face of it, the dividend cut and cancellation of share buybacks may be seen by some shareholders as a negative move in the short term. However, looking further ahead it could well prove to be the right step, as Shell looks to strengthen its financial position and cut costs during a very difficult time."

Apr 29, 2020

Business News | Money | Use of Cash: Coronavirus 'will hasten the decline of cash'

By Kevin Peachey Personal finance reporter




Three people standing at cashpoints Image copyright Getty Images
Coronavirus will hasten the decline in the use of cash as people make a long-term switch to digital payments, experts say.
The lockdown has led to a 60% fall in the number of withdrawals from cash machines, although people are taking out bigger sums.
Payment card use has risen with online shopping, particularly for groceries.
Experts say the long-term future of cash could be at risk, before the UK is ready to cope with the change.
This could leave behind an estimated 20% of the population who rely on cash, they say.
About 11 million cash withdrawals are still being made each week, with £1bn taken out, according to Link, which oversees the UK's cash machine network.
Yet, with many shops as well as bars, cafes and restaurants closed, there is less demand for regular cash withdrawals. People are going out less, but potentially hoarding more cash.
The average ATM withdrawal has risen from £65 last year, to £82 now.

Presentational grey line

'We can process cash in a couple of seconds'



Established more than 100 years ago, Webb's Ironmongery Store has seen locals through many a crisis.
In the current emergency the hardware shop at Tenterden, Kent, is serving items such as garden and home equipment, and paint, from a counter set up in the doorway of the shop.
In order to ensure customers do not have to wait, given social distancing, it has put a sign up pointing out that cash is still accepted.

"We are trying to serve as many people as possible, so they can get it done and we can send them on their way," said co-owner Nigel Webb.

"We take cards, but they may have to wait for the machine. We can process cash in a couple of seconds."

Presentational grey line

Cash use falling

Following a survey of consumers, Link suggested that 75% of people were using less cash, and 54% of those asked said they were avoiding cash.
There were reports early in the coronavirus outbreak about the spread of the virus on banknotes and coins. However, the Bank of England and World Health Organization have stressed that the risk is no greater than on any other items, and repeated the advice on regular hand washing.
Some 76% of people asked in the survey said they expected to use cash less and move instead to other forms of payment, or online shopping more in the next six months.
Natalie Ceeney, who authored a major report on access to cash, said that an estimated 30% of UK residents liked having cash as an option but, as a result of lockdown, may now be comfortable using other methods of payment. She described this as a "sticky habit", which they could stay with in the future.
With 50% of the population already operating predominantly cashless, that left only 20% who relied on notes and coins, many of whom were vulnerable.
Their demand risked being insufficient for the providers of cash infrastructure, such as delivery and ATM services, to be profitable enough to survive. "The cash infrastructure could collapse before we are ready," she said.
But Martin Smith, from cash in transit company Pivotal, said: "It will be hard to judge the true impact of Covid-19 until businesses have reopened. The pandemic has certainly has not changed many of the key reasons why people use cash, including convenience and lack of access to bank accounts."

Presentational grey line
Will this be seen in future years as the crisis which finally ended our love affair with cash? Many shoppers are suspicious of handling it, worried about anything another person might have touched.
Traders who used to wince if you showed them your plastic are happily bringing out their card readers from the back of the stall. These findings do also show that in uncertain times some cling to their notes and coins even more tightly.
And they may be struggling to get hold of cash because they can't leave their homes. But right now there seems little doubt the virus is speeding up the switch to electronic payments.

Central Banks: The Fed's four radical moves to save the economy

8-10 minute - Source: BBC



Fed Chair Jerome Powell Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell is grappling with the worst economic crisis since the 1930
As policymakers from America's central bank prepare to meet - virtually - this week, they will be looking to see if the extraordinary steps they have taken to confront the world's most severe economic crisis since the Great Depression are working.
Since March, the Federal Reserve has pledged to pump more than $4tn (£3.2tn) into the financial system, slashing interest rates, relaxing banking rules, and dramatically expanding its lending.
The Fed's moves, which have increased its balance sheet by more than $2.2tn so far, have been replicated to some degree by many other central banks, including the Bank of England.
The responses, which typically complement massive new government spending packages, are an effort to keep money flowing despite the near-freeze on business activity during the pandemic.
"They've taken basically what they did in the global financial crisis and now it's on steroids," says Frederic Mishkin, a professor of banking and financial institutions at Columbia Business School.

1. The Fed rushed dollars to foreign countries and financial firms

The financial system was under strain this spring, as investors pulled funds out of a collapsing stock market, companies tapped credit lines in anticipation of lockdown losses and people in other countries looked to hold dollars for stability.
Responding to the rush, the Fed used emergency powers to advance funds to major financial institutions. It also made it easier for foreign central banks to exchange their own currencies for dollars through so-called "swap lines".
The Fed was able to respond quickly, since it had developed the programmes during the 2007-2009 financial crisis, says Alan Blinder, professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University. But at that time, the Fed was trying to shield the wider economy from risky bank behaviour, whereas now the Fed is working to protect the financial system from the bigger economic crisis.
"That's not because they care about the bankers," Prof Blinder says. "It's because if the financial system started to implode, which it had started to do, that's going to reverberate back onto the real economy and make things that much worse."

2. The Fed offered to buy debt from big companies

But the Fed has gone beyond simply shoring up the financial system.
Fearing a wave of bankruptcies, as shutdowns create holes in company budgets and worried banks refuse to lend, the Fed in March said it would work directly with big companies on loans and bond offerings. It pledged up to $100bn to the effort, and within weeks had expanded its potential commitment to $750bn.
It has also said it would buy up to $100bn of other kinds of debt, including credit card debt, car financing loans, student loans, commercial mortgages and "leveraged" loans. The list is so extensive, some financial industry commentators on Twitter joked the bank would be buying baseball cards next.
The US Treasury is backing the programmes with $85bn - a sign that unlike most of its actions in 2008, the Fed is worried about losses.
Others have warned the bank's actions could encourage future risky borrowing. "Markets work best when participants have a healthy fear of loss," Oaktree Capital Management co-founder Howard Marks wrote. "It shouldn't be the role of the Fed or the government to eradicate it."
Many economists say those kinds of fears are overblown, given the unique nature of the current coronavirus-triggered crisis - which has created cash-flow problems even for firms on a solid financial footing.
"I think this is such a large external shock, that I think it is appropriate for the central bank to come in to provide liquidity and try to prevent some of the costs [to society]," says economist Nellie Liang, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former director of financial stability at the Fed.

3. The Fed is also lending to small businesses directly

The Fed has announced it would launch its own "Main Street" lending operation, dedicating up to $600bn to fund low-cost four-year loans worth $1m-$25m for mid-sized firms - something it has never done before. The Treasury Department has put $75bn to the plans, which were announced after the government's small business aid programme was overwhelmed by demand.
"It's a big step for the Fed, but I think this crisis is unusual," says Ms Liang. "The issues are not just market liquidity they're also liquidity for smaller firms that don't often have access to the market so to the extent that the Fed can provide some support here, it seems important."
But, she adds: "The Fed has to think really carefully about how to design the Main Street programme to help borrowers and not just increase their debt load."
Indeed, many of the current economic problems can't be solved by lending, Prof Blinder warns, pointing to the need for the government to increase spending on items like healthcare and unemployment benefits.
"Will these activities help the economy weather the storm? The answer is yes, but the operative word in that sentence is help - the Fed cannot do this by itself," he says.

4. The Fed is also helping local governments.

The increased costs of healthcare and social programmes, combined with plunging tax revenue, have created huge problems for local governments. Ordinarily, they could borrow money by issuing bonds. But that market seized up earlier this year, as the enormity of the crisis made investors wary about repayment.
So, the Fed said it would buy up to $500bn in new bonds issued by states, cities and counties of a certain size - something else it has never done before. The Treasury Department is backing the effort with $35bn.
The Fed's promise alone has appeared to re-set demand and help bring down the cost of borrowing, says Michael Belsky, executive director of the Center for Municipal Finance at Chicago University's Harris School of Public Policy. "This is a godsend," he says. "For the most part, I think it's a very creative and appropriate thing to be doing."
But the Fed must guard against creating the expectation that it will be there to backstop cash-strapped local governments in the future, encouraging imbalanced budgets even in ordinary times, says Frederic Mishkin, professor of banking and financial institutions at Columbia Business School.
"Although providing fiscal stimulus was the right thing to do, they've got to make very clear how unusual this is," he says.
After all, the Fed has had difficulty dialling back its activity after the 2008 financial crisis. While many hope the current economic shock will be short-lived, the powers the Fed has assumed may well prove long-lasting.

Apr 28, 2020

UK News | UK Media: Virgin Media goes offline for thousands

2minutes - Source: BBC



A Virgin Media technician works on the cabling in a roadside cabinet Image copyright Getty Images
Virgin Media, one of the UK's largest broadband providers, has gone offline for thousands of users.
Intermittent outages began just after 17:00 BST on Monday, coinciding with the government daily coronavirus press briefing.
The Downdetector service recorded more than 30,000 reports - some said service resumed quickly but others reported ongoing issues hours later.
Virgin said the problem was fixed as of Tuesday morning.
A Virgin Media spokesman told the BBC on Tuesday the issue "saw broadband drop for a minute or so every hour or two and then restore".
"We identified the problem and it's now fixed as of earlier this morning. This wasn't a constant loss of service, it was intermittent," he added.
Some users had reported brief outages continuing into the early hours, causing problems for services - such as customer service chats and online video games - which require a persistent connection.
Virgin Media's website had estimated problems would not be fixed until Tuesday morning for some UK postcodes.
Downdetector indicates that other UK broadband providers - including Sky, BT, TalkTalk and Vodafone - experienced problems for a brief time shortly after midnight, but it is not known whether this was related to Virgin's problem.

Business News: BP profits dive 66% as coronavirus hits oil demand

3-4 minutes - Source: BBC



BP logo Image copyright Getty Images
BP's first quarter profit has dived by two thirds after the global coronavirus crisis hit demand for oil.
The oil giant warned it was facing an "exceptional level of uncertainty" after a sharp reduction in the need for its products.
Lockdowns around the world have been keeping people inside, slashing demand for oil.
It has sent prices to 20-year lows, with US oil turning negative briefly for the first time ever last week.
BP said that underlying replacement cost profit, its definition of net income, was $800m (£645m) in the first three months of 2020 - down from $2.4bn a year earlier.
However, it said it would keep paying investors a dividend.
"Our industry has been hit by supply and demand shocks on a scale never seen before, but that is no excuse to turn inward," said new chief executive Bernard Looney.
"We are focusing our efforts on protecting our people, supporting our communities and strengthening our finances."
Despite the challenging conditions, Mr Looney said the oil giant was still committed to its goal of cutting net carbon emissions to zero by 2050.
But Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at Markets.com, said: "If BP wants to go green and be 'carbon neutral' by 2050, it's going to require higher oil prices to do it. Oil will pay for the shift away from oil."
Brent crude oil, the international benchmark, currently costs about $19 a barrel, down from around $70 in early January. US oil is trading at just $11 a barrel.
Prices were already volatile before the pandemic after in-fighting between producers over output, although earlier this month Opec countries and allies agreed a record deal to slash global production by about 10%.
However, many analysts have said the cuts will not be enough to make a difference.
Elsewhere, the UK's oil and gas industry has warned that 30,000 jobs could be lost as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and lower oil prices.
On Tuesday, trade body Oil and Gas UK said many member firms would struggle to survive the effects of the pandemic, which has caused large parts of the global economy to shut down.
The predicted UK job losses represent about one in five of the 151,000 people employed directly or indirectly by the sector.
Some are calling for the government to offer more financial help. But campaign group Friends of the Earth Scotland said any support must be conditional on the industry adopting more ambitious climate goals and not returning to "business as usual".

Asia News: Sister or spymaster: Who might lead N Korea without Kim?

bbc.com

10-13 minutes - Source: BBC


North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un before a meeting with US President Donald Trump on the south side of the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. Image copyright BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI
Image caption Kim Jong-un has not been seen in public for more than two weeks
Speculation and rumour about Kim Jong-un's health may amount to nothing, but questions about who might succeed him in the short or long term will always be there. The BBC spoke to analysts about the contenders and whether history is on their side.
A male member of the Kim family has been in charge of North Korea ever since its founding by Kim Il-sung in 1948 - and the mythology of this family runs deep throughout society.
Propaganda about its greatness begins for citizens before they can even read: pre-schoolers sing a song called: "I want to see our leader Kim Jong-un."
So how can you imagine a North Korea without this symbolic and political figure at the top? How would elites organise themselves, as well as society as a whole?
The easy answer is: we don't know. More interestingly, they don't know either. They have never had to do it.
Presentational grey line

There has always been a Kim...


As Kim Jong-un was being prepared for power, they even began using the term "Paektu Bloodline" to help legitimise his rule. Paektu is the sacred and mythologised mountain where Kim Il-sung is said to have waged guerrilla war and where Kim Jong-il was reportedly born. Kim Jong-un still goes there when he wants to emphasise important policy decisions.
There has always been a Kim at the ideological heart of the country.
What would North Korea be like without such an heir? Kim Jong-un is believed to have children - but they are far too young. It is thought he has three children, the oldest being 10 and the youngest three. Kim Jong-un himself was considered young when he took power - he was 27.
It is likely that some sort of group leadership would emerge, perhaps as in Vietnam, that leans heavily on the founder's teachings and legitimacy to boost their own standing.
Observers can track who holds certain key positions and can follow news and open-source intelligence about important institutions, but can't really tell how factions are developing, nor who is holding power through personal rather than institutional bonds. Moreover, sometimes vice or deputy directors wield more real power than the titular heads of institutions. This makes all predictions extremely difficult.

The three remaining Kims


The are three Kims who could potentially be involved in the political make-up of North Korea if Kim Jong-un were to disappear. They all face limitations in carrying on family rule.
The first is Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un's younger sister. She is said to have been a favourite of her father who commented on her precocity, her interest in politics from a young age. Her manner is efficient, mild and one suspects rather observant. Much has been made of her closeness to her brother. At the Singapore Trump-Kim summit she was famously on hand to pass him a pen to sign the agreement with, and at the next summit in Hanoi, was pictured peeking out from behind corners as her brother posed for statesman-like photos.
Yet she was not above a temporary demotion after the Hanoi summit - purportedly because of its failure although this will never be confirmed. She doesn't sit on the top policy-making body, the State Affairs Commission, but is an alternate member of the Politburo and vice director of the Propaganda and Agitation Department (PAD) of the Workers' Party of Korea. These may seem like incomprehensible acronyms but the PAD is a powerful organisation that ensures ideological loyalty in the system.
She is a woman, however, and this makes it hard to imagine her occupying the top position in such a deeply patriarchal country. North Korea is an extremely male state, in which gender carries rigid expectations. Being supreme leader, and certainly running the military, does not fit in the range of womanly duties.
The second is Kim Jong-chul. He is Kim Jong-un's older brother, but has never appeared interested in politics or power. (He is known to be interested in Eric Clapton.) At most, he could be a symbolic link to the Kim family: perhaps made the head of a foundation and put forward to read the odd speech.
The final one is Kim Pyong-il, Kim Jong-il's half-brother. His mother - Kim Jong-il's stepmother - was angling to have him become Kim Il-sung's successor. She failed and was sidelined by Kim Jong-il as he rose in influence. Kim Pyong-il was sent to Europe in 1979, where he has held various ambassadorships, returning to North Korea only last year. This means it is very unlikely he has the network to be a central player in elite politics in Pyongyang.

The second-most powerful man in North Korea right now


There are other individuals who have been central in the Kim Jong-un era, but it is difficult to know who among them would form co-operative relationships and who would compete with one another.
One is Choe Ryong-hae. He has had his ups and downs under Kim Jong-un, but having weathered a few storms currently sits on the presidium of the politburo and is also first vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission. Last year he became the first new president in 20 years, replacing the aging Kim Yong-nam - so he is the person who represents the North at international engagements.
Choe has also held high positions in the military and the Organization and Guidance Department (OGD) of the Worker's Party of Korea, responsible for enforcing loyalty throughout the regime. This is an extremely powerful organisation: it enforces the adherence of all citizens to North Korea's ideology. He is probably the second most powerful man in North Korea.

The old spymasters and rising political grandees


Another is Kim Yong-chol. This general paved the way for the Trump-Kim summits, meeting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo several times. He has been head of the United Front Department (responsible for relations with South Korea) and the Reconnaissance General Bureau, the country's main intelligence service. He seems to have suffered a demotion following the collapse talks with the United States, but it is unlikely this spymaster will remain obscure for long.
Yet another is Kim Jae-ryong. As well as being on the State Affairs Commission, he is Premier of the Cabinet, a moderately influential position. Relatively little is known about him, but his star has risen in the past years as others have fallen. He is known for managing industries and ran the most isolated province, home to key military-industrial sites, for several years. This may mean he has been closely involved in the nuclear program.
Jong Kyong-taek is responsible for the State Security Department, which investigates and punishes political crimes. It also helps physically protect the leadership. These are crucial responsibilities that help enforce stability in the system.
Hwang Pyong-so is another official who has held top military posts and has run the OGD in the Kim Jong-un era. Like Choe (and many others) he has been disciplined; he doesn't seem to have been rehabilitated in the same way, however. Other 2010s foreign policy stalwarts Ri Yong-ho and Ri Su-yong have also seen roles diminish recently. They have been replaced by Ri Son-gwon and Kim Hyung-jun. The former is said to be an ally of Kim Yong-chol.

The military enforcers

A handful of top generals of the Korean People's Army (KPA) would also certainly exert influence in any transition period. Currently, two men sit atop the General Political Bureau of the KPA, Kim Su-gil and Kim Won-hong. This bureau enforces political loyalty in the military, something that would be absolutely crucial during periods of uncertainty.
Kim Won-hong, helps illustrate how difficult it is to predict how power would be shared if Kim Jong-un were no longer there. Kim Won-hong and Hwang Pyong-so had been thought to be rivals, competing to influence Kim Jong-un at the other's expense.
Amongst top elites, who would clash and who would ally? Would there be pro and anti-Kim Yo-jong factions? Would the fear of instability stop rivalries from getting out of hand? After all, it is in no elite politician's interest to see the state collapse, opening the door for some kind of takeover by South Korea, or even China.
There is currently no perfect contender: his sister would have to overcome the sexism and the break from tradition of a male heir. Anybody else is not directly descended from that all-important Paektu bloodline. but in the end, they will all have to think of the unity of the state they have defied every international norm to preserve. 

China Faulty Corona disease test Kits: India cancels order for 'faulty' China test kits

Soutik Biswas India correspondent



Employees of Dr Lal PathLabs, that provides diagnostic and health tests, check results of coronavirus tests at their lab during a government-imposed nationwide lockdown as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus, in New Delhi on April 2, 2020. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rapid tests are supposed to detect antibodies in the blood of people who have had Covid-19
India has cancelled orders for about half a million coronavirus rapid testing kits from China after they were found to be "faulty".
Delhi has also withdrawn the kits that were already in use in several states.
The kits take around 30 minutes to deliver a result and are supposed to detect antibodies in the blood of people who may have had the infection.
They help officials quickly understand the scale of infection in a particular area. China disputes India's claims.
"The quality of medical products exported from China is prioritised. It is unfair and irresponsible for certain individuals to label Chinese products as 'faulty' and look at issues with pre-emptive prejudice," Chinese embassy spokesperson Ji Rong said in a statement issued on Tuesday.
The rapid testing kits cannot test for coronavirus itself and several scientists have raised concerns over their use for diagnosis.
Various Indian states had been pushing the Indian Medical Research Council (ICMR) to allow testing with the kits amid concerns that India was not testing anywhere close to enough.
The ICMR was initially reluctant, but cleared the way, importing the kits from two Chinese companies.
Soon after however, states began complaining that the kits had an accuracy rate of only 5%, adding that they had used the kits on patients who they already knew were positive, but the tests had shown a "negative" result for antibodies.
The test kits then also failed quality checks by the ICMR.
On Monday, the issue was further complicated after the Delhi high court capped the price of the tests and suggested that the government had overpaid.
However, officials have told local media that the government will "not lose a single rupee" from cancelling the order kits as they had not paid the amount in advance, and had cancelled the entire shipment.

Apr 27, 2020

Technology: Microsoft Teams fixes funny Gifs cyber-attack flaw

3-4 minutes - Source: BBC



A man laughs at something on his phone while working from home in this photo Image copyright Getty Images
A security problem in Microsoft Teams meant cyber-attacks could be initiated via funny Gif images, researchers have revealed.
Like many chat apps, Teams lets colleagues send each other whimsical animated Gif images.
But CyberArk researchers discovered a problem that meant viewing a Gif could let hackers compromise an account and steal data.
Microsoft has since patched the security hole, researchers said.
The flaw involved a compromised subdomain serving up the malicious images.
All a user had to do was view the Gif to allow an attacker to scrape data from their account.
If left open, the flaw could have led to widespread data theft, ransomware attacks and corporate espionage, the team added.
Microsoft Teams, like many workplace collaboration tools, has seen huge growth in the past month, due to coronavirus lockdown rules.
This attack involves using a compromised subdomain to steal security tokens when a user loads an image - but the end user would just see the Gif sent to them, and nothing else.
"They will never know that he or she has been attacked - making this vulnerability... very dangerous," the team said.
CyberArk said it notified Microsoft of the vulnerability on 23 March - the day lockdown began in the UK - and a patch was released earlier this week. There is no evidence it was ever exploited by cyber-criminals.
It also warned that a similar attack could be replicated in future on other platforms.
Prof Alan Woodward, from the University of Surrey, said this type of exploit had been seen before, when applications fail to do the necessary checks while bringing in content from servers - in this case "apparently harmless gifs".
While the attack pattern is not easy to set up, it is a workable attack and "could spread very rapidly between all the users", he said.
"It would be a very niche attack, probably reserved for high-value targets.
"It is a really good demonstration of how data, however apparently innocuous, brought into a web based app can be used to sneak snippets of code onto your machine and conduct functions you simply shouldn't be authorised to do," added Prof Woodward.
"It also demonstrates very nicely so-called zero-click attacks - my merely displaying the gif in this attack could potentially work, no clicking in dodgy links or opening booby-trapped documents."
But Prof Woodward added that all software was bound to have security flaws occasionally.
"It's a salutary tale of why you need to keep your software updated," he said

Apr 23, 2020

EU News: Why fractious EU still believes together is better

Katya Adler



A picture shows a screen of a video conference call between members of the European Council, seen at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on March 26, 2020 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption EU leaders will meet by video for their summit on Thursday
"EU in disarray!" scream headlines since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Brussels is depicted as "weak"; EU member states as "feuding".
You find endless analyses online focusing on the "lack of solidarity" shown by the rich EU North: Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland - the "frugals" as they've been dubbed - towards the suffering South - i.e. Italy and Spain.
In the UK, the EU's handling of coronavirus feeds into what's left of the Brexit debate.
The UK has already left the EU, of course, but Remainer/Leaver resentments linger. And the question of how close the UK remains to Brussels in the future is not yet enshrined in law.
Does EU behaviour during the pandemic mean we were right to leave or wrong? Twitter is not exactly short of thoughts on that subject.
But are media depictions of the EU and its members so far during this crisis entirely accurate?
"Are they ever?" huffed a key Brussels figure when I asked him. "We've had ugly moments but by now the achievements are stacking up. The massive ECB (European Central Bank) stimulus package was just the beginning. Thursday is a big day."

Agreeing on an emergency fund and common measures

EU leaders meet by video-conference for a summit on Thursday afternoon.
They're expected to sign off on a new €540bn (£470bn; $575bn) emergency fund to protect European workers, businesses and countries worst affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
The fund was difficult to agree between member states but they got there in the end. After considerable push and pull, plus a dramatic intervention by French President Emmanuel Macron, who threatened the end of the EU if agreement wasn't found.
"So much for us failing to show solidarity with Italy," snorted a Dutch colleague to me. "It's a generous package."
Angela Merkel's preferred wording was that solidarity had been shown towards Italy and the South. It would continue to be shown in the future, she said.
Brussels boasts that, in addition to the fund, EU members have been sharing protective medical equipment and specialist medical teams with one another.
In some cases, they've also been treating each other's patients. According to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the cost of providing treatment to patients coming from abroad has cost the German taxpayer €20m so far.
On Thursday, EU leaders are also expected to approve common measures for gradually lifting coronavirus restrictions.
This does not mean coordinating an EU-wide End of Lockdown. Each country has its own health service, with different infection patterns, different lockdown measures in place.
Would the spread of coronavirus have been more easily contained if all EU countries and their neighbours had taken early and uniform precautions?
Indubitably, say medical experts. But that kind of agreed action hasn't been possible amongst the states of the United States of America. It was never going to happen between 27 independent EU countries, with their varying forms of government (federal, regional etc).

Can EU agree roadmap from here?

Brussels admits every member state will now "tailor-make" their exit strategy from lockdown but it wants them to at least inform one other in advance, to avoid complications for people working across national borders.
The Commission has also asked that no EU country lift its Covid-19 restrictions unless:
  1. The number of deaths/infections in that country has been reducing and stable for a sustained period of time
  2. The national health service could cope with a surge of new infections if necessary
  3. The EU country in question has enough testing capacity to identify and quarantine new infections plus people they have recently been in contact with, in order to keep those who have not yet had the virus safe.
EU leaders are broadly in agreement with all of this, but smiles could turn to gritted teeth when they then turn their attention to the future.
One of the summit priorities on Thursday is to discuss a Recovery Plan for Europe: aimed at getting European economies back on their feet after the health crisis is over.
The kind of figure that's being discussed is around €1-1.5 trillion.

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Media captionItaly’s lockdown puts restaurants out of business
The main recipients would be European countries with the weakest economies.
France's President Macron wants the programme to be time-limited to about five years. He hopes it will be "oven-ready", signed off by parliaments across the EU, by the end of the year.
But where the plan is still vague and contested is what form funds should take: loans or grants?
Should the money be raised as part of the next EU budget (which needs to be decided by the December) or alongside?
As always, national politics is key.
Apart from Germany's Angela Merkel - who will not want the EU to fall apart in her last term in office - the big players in this debate are all vying to be re-elected. They're keen to prove their credentials to a domestic audience.

Solidarity or self-interest?

With an eye on Eurosceptic politicians at home, the Dutch prime minister wants to be seen to be protecting Dutch taxpayers' money on the European stage.
Italy's prime minister also needs to show he's sticking up for his country in Brussels. Italy was one of the EU's most Eurosceptic nations even before the coronavirus crisis.
And France? Emmanuel Macron is always looking over his shoulder at arch-Eurosceptic and political rival Marine Le Pen.
He's trying to weave a delicate dance between giving the French the impression that he's leading the post-virus recovery charge in Europe, while trying to get extra cash for the countries of the Mediterranean (including France), yet trying hard not to alienate Berlin, which he hopes will foot the largest chunk of the bill.
Quite the juggling act.
The French (and Italian and Spanish) argument is now refocused, not on solidarity but self-interest.
Their message to the frugal North: we all benefit from the single market. It's worth spending a bit more in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis to rebalance inequalities between members to make the market more competitive and lucrative in the long term.
Otherwise you risk the market faltering altogether.

This message dovetails with the ambitions of the still relatively new presidents of the European Commission and the European Council.
They believe coronavirus has made the failings in the way China and the US function glaringly obvious.
They hope that will make way for a reborn and rebooted EU to play a bigger role on the world stage - economically, in terms of a Green revolution, and digitally - after the crisis is over.
This, anyway, is the cherished dream in Brussels right now.
And as part of such a long wishlist, the details of the post-health crisis Recovery Fund are unlikely to be agreed anytime soon.
Following their Thursday summit, EU leaders will ask the European Commission to come up with concrete proposals but insiders say the painful process of compromise over the fund and the new EU budget is only likely to happen when leaders sit together in person. And who knows when that will next be?
In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, there were calls all over the EU to leave the bloc. This time it's different. Eurosceptic politicians haven't gone away. Plenty of voters are still critical of Brussels. But the call to leave the EU altogether has broadly fallen silent.
EU relations are messy and further complicated by national politics but most EU leaders think the Covid-19 programmes they've got up and running together, are better than those they'd have achieved alone.

Apr 22, 2020

US News: Second US coronavirus wave 'could be even worse'

4-5 minutes - Source: BBC



Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks during a press briefing in Washington, DC, USA, 17 April 2020 Image copyright EPA
Image caption CDC Director Robert Redfield warned that a second wave of coronavirus could overwhelm the US health system
A second wave of coronavirus cases in the US could be even worse than the first, the country's top health official has warned.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield said the danger was higher as a fresh outbreak would likely coincide with the flu season.
It would put "unimaginable strain" on the US health care system, he said.
The US has seen more than 800,000 cases - the highest in the world.
More than 45,000 people have so far died with coronavirus across the US, according to a tally kept by Johns Hopkins University.
California had its highest one-day rise in new cases on Monday while New Jersey, the worst-hit US state apart from New York, saw its highest increase in deaths in one day.
In an interview with the Washington Post newspaper, Mr Redfield said that "there's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through".
He urged officials in the US to prepare for the possibility of having to confront a flu and a coronavirus epidemic at the same time.

'Really, really difficult'

Mr Redfield stressed the importance of getting flu shots. He said that getting vaccinated "may allow there to be a hospital bed available for your mother or grandmother that may get coronavirus".
The CDC chief said that coronavirus had arrived in the US as the regular flu season was subsiding. He argued that if it had arrived at the peak of the winter influenza season, "it could have been been really, really, really, really difficult".
His warning comes as several US states are moving to ease lockdown restrictions.
Mr Redfield said that social distancing remained key to curb the spread of the virus and urged officials to keep stressing its importance even as restrictions on movement were lifted.
Image copyright AFP
Image caption There have been rallies in several cities calling for lockdowns to be lifted
He said recent anti-lockdown protests were "not helpful".
He urged state and federal officials to step up tests to identify those who have coronavirus and the people they have had contact.
He said that the Centers for Disease Control planned to hire more than 650 people - more than doubling its current staff - to help with contact tracing among other things.
The CDC was also exploring the possibility of using Census Bureau workers to help with contact tracing he said.

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Media captionWATCH: A postcard from NYC's Central Park

UK Economy: Cheaper clothes sees UK inflation fall to 1.5%

5-6 minutes - Source: BBC



Shoppers walking past sale sign Image copyright Getty Images
The UK's inflation rate fell to 1.5% in March, largely driven by falls in the price of clothing and fuel ahead of the coronavirus lockdown.
The Consumer Prices Index (CPI) fell from 1.7% in February, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
The ONS said that clothing prices dropped as shops offered discounts as footfall fell just before self-distancing measures were imposed.
Prices of clothes and shoes fell by 1.2% in the year to March 2020.
ONS head of inflation Mike Hardie said: "Clothing prices normally rise between February and March as new year discounting ends.
"However, this year the price of clothes has eased due to some retailers offering discounts due to decreased footfall in stores before the lockdown started."
The ONS added that its data was collected on 17 March, just before lockdown started on the 23rd.
Although it does not yet have a full picture of how new restrictions have affected shoppers, it suggested that people were already spending less time browsing in-store, and perhaps choosing to spend more on necessities, such as food.
The British Retail Consortium has warned that thousands of jobs could be at risk as High Street shops come under pressure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

'Steep recession'

The fall in inflation in March was also partly due to the collapse in oil prices on global markets filtering through to prices at the pump.
Average petrol prices stood at 119.4 pence per litre, the lowest seen since February 2019, while diesel stood at 123.8p
Mr Hardie added: "The cost of raw materials for manufacturers fell significantly over the year, driven by a global fall in the price for crude oil, which is at its lowest level since early 2016."
The UK benchmark for oil has fallen to about $16 (£13) a barrel as economic activity has slowed.

What do I need to know about the coronavirus?

Sarah Hewin, senior economist at Standard Chartered bank, told the BBC's Today programme: "We have seen oil prices falling quite substantially, and that is likely to be a factor going forward.
"It was trading at over $60 a barrel - today it's down at $16. That's over 75% down since the start of the year."
She added: "Normally low inflation would be welcomed as it means people have effectively more to spend in the shop but these are not normal circumstances. The fall in inflation, in addition to low energy prices, is an indication of the steep recession we will see in the coming months."

'More help needed'

CPI remains below the Bank of England's 2% target for inflation.
Inflation is one of the main factors that the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) considers when setting the "base rate". That influences what interest rate banks can charge people to borrow money, or what they pay on their savings.
Last month it took the decision to cut interest rates in an emergency move as it tries to support the UK economy in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption New boss of the Bank of England Andrew Bailey has slashed interest rates to a new low
The UK's central bank brought them down to 0.1% from 0.25%. Interest rates are now at the lowest ever in the Bank's 325-year history.
The Bank said it would also increase its holdings of UK government and corporate bonds by £200bn in an effort to lower the cost of borrowing.
But Melissa Davies, chief economist at Redburn, said the Bank needs to go further: "It will be a volatile ride for inflation over the next year, with negative numbers a possibility followed by a sharp reversal.
"The underlying trend is one of lower prices, however, as the economy is unlikely to catch up the ground lost during this initial shock."
She added: "More stimulus is needed, with only limited QE help from the Bank of England and the Treasury's lending guarantee scheme falling short. Even the furlough scheme is only delaying an inevitable and large spike in unemployment."

Apr 21, 2020

Business News: Oil price still below zero as turmoil persists

7-8 minutes - Source: BBC




An oil production and storage vessel in the Atlantic Ocean Image copyright Getty Images
Negative oil prices on Monday were a "quirk", says one market expert.
The price of US oil - which slumped to minus $37 at one point - was produced by a trading deadline and is now back close to a positive figure.
The UK oil price has been hit too, but the price of a barrel of Brent crude is now at about $23.
"Yesterday's price action is best understood as a quirk or peculiarity of futures trading," said analyst James Trafford of Fidelity International.
He reckons the unprecedented price movement confirms that near-term demand is very weak.
"But it isn't cataclysmic," he said. "We don't see negative oil prices as a new normal, going forward."
Oil prices have weakened sharply because of a combination of oversupply and a collapse in global demand due to the decline in economic activity cased by coronavirus lockdown measures.

What happened?

The price of oil that we see reported is actually the future price of oil. Futures are essentially contracts to deliver the physical commodity at a later date.
So when we look at oil prices, we are actually seeing the market price for future months.
As the delivery date approaches, these contracts need to be rolled over to the subsequent period.
The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, fell into negative territory for the first time in history on Monday.
But that only related to the May contract, which was about to expire.
Traders holding the contract were unable to find buyers, because no one with the ability to take delivery wanted it.
"Nobody wants to take delivery of oil next month because there's nowhere to store it, so the price dropped below zero," explained Rachel Winter, associate investment director at Killik & Co.

Storage issues

The collapse in physical demand for crude products like petrol and jet fuel has left storage hubs at capacity or, as one trader put it: "They're close to the brim."
Storage at US oil hub Cushing has already grown to more than 15 million barrels in the past month - and is expected to soon be at capacity for the first time ever.
"Coronavirus is rewriting the rules of the global economy in front of our very eyes," said Adam Vettese, analyst at eToro.
"With oil demand virtually non-existent, this quite amazing sell-off is almost entirely down to fears over storage."
Paying for extra storage for all that unwanted oil means extra costs for producers and traders.
"Storage constraints are not going away any time soon unless you get a pick-up in demand," pointed out Neil Wilson of Markets.com.

Does that mean oil prices will fall further?

"Oil prices and associated equities in the sector will remain broadly weak over the near term," predicted James Trafford.
He said the supply cuts recently agreed by the Opec group of oil-producing economies were not likely to be sufficient to balance the market any time soon.
Opec is believed to be looking to cut oil output immediately, rather than waiting until next month, to ease the pressure on price.
"The kind of dislocation witnessed on Monday, however much some may downplay it, points to a fundamental problem in oil markets, namely a lack of storage capacity and demand," said Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at Markets.com.
"But it also shows the market trying to do its job, forcing the price down enough to shut production."
Artur Baluszynski, head of research at Henderson Rowe, agreed that the effect was temporary, but warned of its implications.
"While Monday's negative WTI futures price might have been a one-off glitch, it does confirm there is trouble ahead," he said.
"The Covid-19 crisis is destroying the global demand for energy and without a timeline on the end of the lockdown in the developed world, the market is suffering from chronic oversupply."

Will the price of petrol fall?

While the price of petrol is linked to the wholesale price of oil, it is driven by competition.
That means that what motorists pay is not directly linked to crude. Instead, suppliers control the prices they sell petrol at.
So you won't see the wild fluctuation in pump prices that we've seen in oil in recent weeks.
Crucially, a key factor affecting the price of fuel is that the biggest proportion of the money you hand over for a litre of petrol in the UK goes to the government in the form of tax.
Fuel duty is charged at 57.95p per litre. On top of that, you have to pay VAT at 20% on the cost of petrol.
So there's little scope for further reducing the pump price of petrol.

Below £1 a litre?

Competition has driven the price of petrol down close to £1 in recent weeks at some supermarkets, where prices tend to be lowest.
Could this week's oil price turmoil see prices drift below £1 for the first time since the late 2000s?
"In theory, petrol prices could fall below £1 per litre if the lower wholesale costs were reflected at the pumps - but at the same time, people are driving very few miles, so they're selling vastly lower quantities of petrol and diesel at the moment," pointed out RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams.
This means many forecourts will be reluctant to trim their prices any further, he said.
At the same time, more price pressure on petrol could hit the viability of independent garages, he warned.
"We continue to be concerned about smaller forecourts that provide a vital service in areas where the supermarkets don't have a foothold, as many are already finding conditions tough with sales having fallen off a cliff since lockdown.
"It would be bad news all round if these forecourts shut up shop for good."

Are pump prices fair?

Since the end of March, the wholesale price of petrol has been around the 16p a litre mark, according to the AA.
"Add fuel duty at 57.95p a litre, a generous 9p a litre supplier/retailer margin, plus VAT and the average pump price of petrol would normally be around £1 a litre," said the AA's fuel spokesperson Luke Bosdet.
Instead the average pump price is higher because the retailers say they need to charge 10p a litre more to offset the lower volumes of fuel they are selling, he pointed out.
Journey levels are at around 40% of the normal during the working week, falling to 20% by Sunday.
"That means that some drivers, such as NHS and other essential workers, are using their cars and being overcharged on average by more than a fiver a tank," Mr Bosdet said.
"I suspect that when the lockdown comes to an end, coronavirus is beaten and driving starts to return to normal, questions will be asked about the fairness of pump prices during the great oil crash of 2020."

UK Economy: UK employment rate at record high before lockdown

4-5 minutes - Source: BBC





A woman sits at a desk working from home Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many people have started working from home because of the coronavirus outbreak
UK employment was estimated at a record high in the three months to February, before the effects of the coronavirus lockdown started to hit the economy.
Official figures showed 76.6% of people aged 16 to 64 were in paid work, up from 76.4% in the previous quarter.
Unemployment was estimated at 4%, up slightly on the last quarter, the Office for National Statistics said.
However, early estimates for March showed a slight drop in the number of paid employees compared with February.
The figures fell by 0.06%, although they were still 0.8% higher than the same period last year.
Pay in February continued to grow faster than inflation, but its rate of growth has slowed since the middle of last year. The estimated growth for pay excluding bonuses in the three-month period was 2.9%.
There were an estimated 33.07 million people in employment, 352,000 more than a year earlier.


David Freeman, ONS head of labour market statistics, said: "Our final data wholly from before the coronavirus restrictions were in place, showed the labour market was very robust in the three months to February.
"For the first time, we have brought forward information on the number of employees in work using PAYE data to cover a more recent period.
"These experimental statistics show a softening picture in March, but cover the month as a whole, including the period before the coronavirus restrictions were in place."
Next month's figures are expected to reflect the rapid downturn in the economy since the lockdown began.
Andrew Sentance, senior adviser to Cambridge Econometric, told the BBC's Today programme: "It won't be until next month that we get the proper picture when even just the first phase of lockdown had an impact
"The figure showing nearly a million new claims of universal credit, shows there's clearly something in the pipeline of a significant increase in unemployment."
Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG, said: "The latest figures mask the extent of the rise in unemployment expected this year.
"We estimate that as many as 13 million jobs are in sectors highly affected by the lockdown, representing 36% of all jobs in the UK, which could see unemployment rising to just under 9% during the lockdown period.
"An additional spike in unemployment after the lockdown also seems likely, once government support via the Job Retention Scheme ends."


Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said the figures were not "very useful" as they predated the lockdown, but the added that the slight drop in paid employees estimated for March suggested a "small crack in the labour market" may soon "turn into a chasm".
Reflecting on the early March estimates, Howard Archer, chief economic adviser to the EY Item Club, said: "The labour market deteriorated markedly less than had been expected in March."
"The number of workers claiming benefits rose a modest 12.100. Importantly, though, the claims data was based on the situation at 12 March, and there looks to have been a substantial pick-up since then especially when the lockdown was imposed on 23 March."

US News: Immigration to US to be halted due to virus - Trump

6-7 minutes - Source: BBC



People at queue for tests in New York Image copyright AFP
Image caption The US has the highest number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the world
President Donald Trump has said he will sign an executive order to temporarily suspend all immigration to the US because of the coronavirus.
On Twitter, he cited "the attack from the invisible enemy", as he calls the virus, and the need to protect the jobs of Americans, but did not give details.
It was not clear what programmes might be affected and whether the president would be able to carry out the order.
Critics say the government is using the pandemic to crack down on immigration.
Mr Trump's announcement late on Monday comes as the White House argues the worst of the pandemic is over and the country can begin reopening. The restrictions on people's movement, implemented by many states to curb the spread of the virus, have paralysed parts of the economy.
Over the last four weeks, more than 20 million Americans have made jobless claims. That amounts to roughly as many jobs as employers had added over the previous decade.
The US has over 787,000 confirmed cases of Covid-19 and more than 42,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the pandemic globally.
It was not immediately clear who could be affected by Mr Trump's decision, and the White House has not commented. Last month, the US suspended almost all visa processing, including for immigrants, because of the pandemic.
The US has already agreed with both Canada and Mexico to extend border restrictions on non-essential travel until at least mid-May.
Travel has also been sharply restricted from hard-hit European countries and China, though people with temporary work visas, students and business travellers are exempted.
In recent weeks, emergency powers have been used to expel thousands of undocumented migrants on the US border with Mexico. The public health measure lets officials override immigration laws, expediting removal processes.

The reasons behind the move

Donald Trump's efforts at governing by social media should always be taken with a sizable grain of salt. His track record on following through on Twitter directives is decidedly mixed. The details of his temporary ban on all immigration, announced a few hours before midnight on Monday, will shed considerable light on the breadth - and legality - of his actions.
Still, it is no secret that the president, and several key advisers, have long viewed immigration not as a benefit to the nation, but as a drain. And the text of his tweet, that the move is necessary not only to protect the nation's health but also "the jobs of its great American citizens", only emphasises this.
There is little doubt the proposal, in whatever form it takes, will be vigorously opposed by pro-immigration groups, some business interests and the president's ideological adversaries. That is probably just fine with a man who loves drawing political battle lines and goading his opponents whenever possible.
Four years ago, the president campaigned on an aggressive anti-immigration platform, including a total, if temporary, ban on all Muslims entering the country. Now, with an uphill re-election fight looming, he has found a similarly combative measure to champion.

What's the latest in the US?

Earlier on Monday, Democratic governors asked the White House to urge Americans to heed stay-at-home orders amid anti-lockdown protests stoked by the president.
Mr Trump has been accused of inciting insurrection after championing the demonstrators, while telling governors they were in charge.
He has expressed his support of the protesters in recent days, even as state governors say they are following White House guidance for safely reopening in phases.

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Media captionPresident Trump tells reporter: A lot of people love me
A number of southern states in the US are in the process of easing virus-related restrictions.
South Carolina has allowed some retailers, including department stores, to re-open, while most businesses in Tennessee will re-open on 1 May.
Georgia's governor has said residents would be allowed to visit gyms, hairdressers and tattooists from Friday, followed by restaurants and cinemas on Monday, as long as those businesses operated within social distancing guidelines.
The Republican governors of all three states say social distancing measures will remain in place.
The WHO has previously warned about easing restrictions too early to avoid seeing a resurgence of infections.
Mr Trump - who faces an election in November - last week tweeted in all capital letters for several states to be liberated. At Sunday's coronavirus briefing, he said those protesting against their governors' social distancing measures were "great people".
"Their life was taken away from them," he said. "These people love our country, they want to get back to work."

Apr 20, 2020

Business News: US oil prices drop to 21-year low as demand dries up

2-3 minutes



An oil platform ship flagged Bahana Islands passes through the Bosphorus and July 15 Martyrs' Bridge in Istanbul, Turkey. Image copyright Getty Images
The price of US oil has fallen to a level not seen since 1999, as demand dries up and storage runs out.
The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark for US oil, dropped 14% to $15.65 in Asia trading on Monday.
The oil market has come under intense pressure during the coronavirus pandemic with a huge slump in demand.
US storage facilities are now struggling to cope with the glut of oil, weakening prices further.
The oil industry has been struggling with both tumbling demand and in-fighting among producers about reducing output.
Earlier this month, Opec members and its allies finally agreed a record deal to slash global output by about 10%. The deal was the largest cut in oil production ever to have been agreed.
But some analysts said the cuts were not big enough to make a difference.
"It hasn't taken long for the market to recognise that the Opec+ deal will not, in its present form, be enough to balance oil markets," said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axicorp.
Meanwhile, concern continues to mount that storage facilities in the US will run out of capacity, with stockpiles at Cushing, the main delivery point in the US for oil, rising almost 50% since the start of March, according to ANZ Bank. "We hold some hope for a recovery later this year," the bank said in its research note.
Mr Innes said: "It's a dump at all cost as no one, and I mean no one, wants delivery of oil with Cushing storage facilities filling by the minute."
The drop was also driven by a technicality of the global oil market. Oil is traded on its future price and May futures contracts are due to expire on Tuesday. Traders will be keen to offload those holdings to avoid having to take delivery of the oil and incurring storage costs.
Brent oil, the benchmark used by Europe and the rest of the world, was slightly weaker, down 0.8% to $27.87 a barrel.

Apr 16, 2020

Business News: Global economy 'could face deep double recession'

3minutes - Source: BBC



A couple kiss at the window of their home from which flags are displayed during the lockdown in Italy Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Italy has been among the countries worst hit by coronavirus
The world economy already faces an economic downturn worse than the Great Depression.
But this could be followed by another “possibly much worse downturn”, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
World governments are giving trillions of dollars in stimulus packages to help prop up their economies.
Sovereign debts that they are racking up may push the global economy into a second recession, the EIU warns.
Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said the world economy would shrink at its fastest pace in decades, raising fears it will be the worst recession since the 1930s Great Depression.
The EIU now says there is a risk of a subsequent recession, driven by a debt crisis from governments with weak balance sheets.
“Many of the European countries that are among the worst affected by the pandemic, such as Italy and Spain, already had weak fiscal positions before the outbreak,” said Agathe Demarais, the EIU’s global forecasting director.
“A potential debt crisis in any of these countries would quickly spread to other developed countries and emerging markets, sending the global economy into another - possibly much worse - downturn,” she added.
While this is not a central scenario for the EIU, “the long-term impact on growth of mounting fiscal deficits across Western countries is unknown.” A second, or possibly third, wave of the pandemic would make the scenario far more realistic, the EIU warns.

Gradual recovery

Consumer demand is unlikely to bounce back to pre-crisis levels immediately when social distancing is lifted and businesses are allowed to reopen.
At the same time, the EIU says global supply chains may still be disrupted as countries lift restrictions at different times, creating bottlenecks.
“The recovery in the global economy will only be gradual, all the more so as countries will lift lockdowns at different points in time."

News | Science: Biggest cosmic mystery 'step closer' to solution

By Paul Rincon 



Super-Kamiokande detector Image copyright Kamioka Observatory / ICRR / Uni Tokyo
Image caption The Super Kamiokande detector consists of a cylindrical steel tank holding 50,000 tonnes of purified water. The detector wall is covered in photo-sensors known as photo-multiplier tubes (PMTs)
Stars, galaxies, planets, pretty much everything that makes up our everyday lives owes its existence to a cosmic quirk.
The nature of this quirk, which allowed matter to dominate the Universe at the expense of antimatter, remains a mystery.
Now, results from an experiment in Japan could help researchers solve the puzzle - one of the biggest in science.
It hinges on a difference in the way matter and antimatter particles behave.
The world that's familiar to us - including all the everyday objects we can touch - is made up of matter. The fundamental building blocks of matter are sub-atomic particles, such as electrons, quarks and neutrinos.
But matter has a shadowy counterpart called antimatter. Each sub-atomic particle of ordinary matter has a corresponding "antiparticle".
Today, there is far more matter than antimatter in the Universe. But it wasn't always this way.
The Big Bang should have created matter and antimatter in equal amounts.
Image copyright ESA / Planck collaboration
Image caption The Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) is often described as the "afterglow" of the Big Bang
"When particle physicists make new particles in accelerators, they always find that they produce particle-antiparticle pairs: for every negative electron, a positively charged positron (the electron's antimatter counterpart)," said Prof Lee Thompson from the University of Sheffield, a member of the 350-strong T2K collaboration, which includes a relatively large number of scientists from UK universities.
"So why isn't the universe 50% antimatter? This is a long-standing problem in cosmology - what happened to the antimatter?"
However, when a matter particle meets its antiparticle, they "annihilate" - disappear in a flash of energy.
During the first fractions of a second of the Big Bang, the hot, dense Universe was fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs popping in and out of existence. Without some other, unknown mechanism at play, the Universe should contain nothing but leftover energy.
"It would be pretty boring and we wouldn't be here," Prof Stefan Söldner-Rembold, head of the particle physics group at the University of Manchester, told BBC News.
So what happened to tip the balance?
That's where the T2K experiment comes in. T2K is based at the Super-Kamiokande neutrino observatory, based underground in the Kamioka area of Hida, Japan.
Researchers used the facility's detector to observe neutrinos and their antimatter counterparts, antineutrinos, generated 295km away at the Japanese Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-Parc) in Tokai. T2K stands for Tokai to Kamioka.

As they travel through the Earth, the particles and antiparticles oscillate between different physical properties known as flavours.
Physicists think that finding a difference - or asymmetry - in the physical properties of neutrinos and antineutrinos might help us understand why matter is so prevalent compared with antimatter. This asymmetry is known as charge-conjugation and parity reversal (CP) violation.
It is one of three necessary conditions, proposed by the Russian physicist Andrei Sakharov in 1967, that must be satisfied to produce matter and antimatter at different rates.
After analysing nine years' worth of data, the researchers found a mismatch in the way neutrinos and antineutrinos oscillate by recording the numbers that reached Super Kamiokande with a flavour different from the one they had been created with.
The result has also reached a level of statistical significance - called three-sigma - that's high enough to indicate that CP violation occurs in these particles.
The results have been published in the journal Nature.
"While CP violation involving quarks is experimentally well established, CP violation has never been observed for neutrinos," said Stefan Söldner-Rembold.

"The violation of CP symmetry is one of the (Sakharov) conditions for a matter-dominated Universe to exist, but the quark-driven effect is unfortunately much too small to explain why our Universe is mainly filled with matter.
"Discovering CP violation with neutrinos would be a great leap forward in understanding how the Universe was formed."
He said a theory called leptogenesis links the dominance of matter to CP violation involving neutrinos. "These leptogenesis models predict that the matter domination is actually due to the neutrino sector. If you were to observe neutrino CP violation, that would give us a strong indication that the leptogenesis model is the way forward," said Prof Söldner-Rembold.
The results from T2K "give strong hints" that the CP violation effect could be large for neutrinos.
This would mean that the next-generation neutrino experiment DUNE, which is currently being constructed in a mine in South Dakota, might detect the effect faster than expected. The international project is being hosted by the US Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab).
Prof Söldner-Rembold is a member of the DUNE scientific team and the collaboration's spokesperson. The experiment's detector will contain 70,000 tons of liquid argon buried one mile underground. It will be used to discover and measure CP violation with high precision.
He added that the T2K result still "requires a theoretical model which describes how you get from this effect at the beginning, to the Universe today".

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